What is austerity? Very simply put, it is when governments decide to ‘tighten the belt’ in order to resolve ‘debt crises.’ A government starts running a deficit, and thus has to review its budget. While that sounds like a very basic accounting job, it is inherently extremely political. Why? Because you have to decide on which expenditures to cut, or which sources of income to raise.

Two large scale anti-austerity protests have taken place in the past couple of months. All around Montreal, you can still see ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars covered with “On n’a rien volé” stickers. Clearly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Parti Libéral du Quebec’s (PLQ) cuts are real, but they are in no way new, or unexpected.

The Maple Spring of 2012 brought hundreds of thousands of students to the streets. Why did the students take to the streets? Back in 2012, PLQ announced that it was planning on raising tuition fees by $1625 over five years. That was an unacceptable policy, mainly because education is supposed to be a basic right, and not a privilege.

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From the November 29 Anti-Austerity March

Of course, the PLQ’s decision to raise tuition fees was not out of the blue. Quebec was (and curiously, still is) facing a rising debt crisis. What happens when you find out that your balance is in the negative? You try to break even. This sounds all logical and rational. Yet, breaking even can turn out to be problematic, if you have your priorities set wrong.

In 2012, PLQ assumed incorrectly that students could be made to bear the burden of the provincial government’s debt crisis. The Maple Spring was the students’ response to this misjudgment, and it was without a doubt very polarizing. While there were hundreds of thousands of students taking to the street almost every week, there were others who wanted none of this.

The problem with the pacifist mind frame is that not everyone can afford to be apathetic. To some, an increase of a thousand dollars over the course of five years might not be too much; but for others it effectively means that higher education is barred to them.

At any rate, after the Maple Spring, the PLQ was replaced by the Parti Québecois (PQ), which declared that the tuition hikes would not take place. However, the PQ decided to cut university budgets by $123 million. So instead of directly barring education to some students, the provincial government succeeded in reducing the quality of education for everyone.

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From the May 22 student protests in 2012.

Similar to Bill 10 which would overhaul Quebec’s health bureaucracy, and Bill 3 that will overhaul municipal pensions, the cuts to university budgets are part of the same austerity regime based on all the wrong priorities. The provincial government finds itself in a debt of about $3.9 billion and figures that the solution is cutting social services.

The Maple Spring showed that students were more than willing to fight a government that encroached on its basic rights. And more recently, the past two months have shown that mobilization against austerity is not just a possibility, but a reality. It is a little disappointing that people start caring about the consequences of austerity only after they themselves are affected, but that does not matter anymore.

Enter the Spring 2015 Committee. Take a look at what they say on their website:

“While they reach for the last pennies in our pockets, federal and provincial governments increase military spending, invest in prisons, police, and security measures, and roll out the red carpet for the extraction industries. People with friends in high places, the rich, large companies, multinationals, banks and lobbying firms are running the show. A small minority is strangling the community. If the interests of the majority do not orient the actions and priorities of the government, it is illusory to continue to speak of this as a democracy. In a just and equitable society, wealth should not be accumulated at the expense of our environment and should be fairly redistributed among all.”

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“Like wolves, humans act collectively and form groups in order to survive and defend our common interests.”

There is nothing innocent about austerity. It is not simply an apolitical economic decision to break even; mainly because there can be no such thing as an apolitical economic decision. Governments have priorities, and this government has shown us that their priorities are not social justice, social equality, or even simply social services.

It seems, however, that there is enough money in the provincial coffers to fund the $1.2 billion required for the infrastructure projects for the infamous Plan Nord.

It is clear that the governments of this province, both PLQ and PQ, have got their priorities wrong. It then falls on us to collectively fight against austerity and stand in solidarity with one another.

Of course, none of the political choices available might be pleasing. In fact, you might be completely against the system to begin with. But the realistic choice is fighting one battle at a time; while keeping the dream of social justice and social equality alive. It is realistic, because at least we know we can fight the good fight.

This is not just the students’ fight anymore; although I daresay students have led the charge, and are still leading the charge. But it is time to realize that austerity affects us all. As such, it is our collective responsibility to stand in solidarity, and say no to austerity.

 

On the March 5, 2013 Paulo Portas, the vice prime-minister of Portugal, and leader of the Partido Popular (the right-wing neo-liberal member of the austerity governing coalition) visited India for a business trip. The objective of this short visit on behalf of the vice admiral of a sinking Portuguese vessel was to insure a safe route for the influx of foreign capital — in this case Indian capital — to reinvigorate the ailing Portuguese economy. There, in New Delhi, and in front of flashing cameras and journalists Paulo Portas gave out  the first ‘Golden Visa,’ which has become quite infamous in Portugal over the past weeks.

Now this ‘Golden Visa’ might seem like the Golden Ticket in the fable of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and that idea isn’t that far off. The system of Golden Visas was implemented, in the words of its promoters, to facilitate foreign investment in Portugal, and to boost the economy with innovative projects. Thus any foreign citizen with enough money and a project to invest in some section of the Portuguese economy a considerable amount of money was given access to the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a sort of express lane without tolls which would allow the rich and the affluent, in other words, the job creators of this world to come and spread their magical dust, and spread economical healthiness throughout the land of Lusitans. It was the magical solution to resolve of Portugal’s economic woes, insourcing entrepreneurship and the audacity of the foreign masters of capital.

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The only problem with the entire scheme is that things didn’t quite work out according to plan. Thus on November 13, a political earthquake shook Lisbon. Four public offices became the targets of special anti-corruption unit raids: Portuguese border services agency, the entity which was in charge of directly issuing the Visas; the Ministry of Justice and the Institute of Registries and Notaries, the equivalent of our Ministry of National Revenue; and the Ministry of Internal Administration, the equivalent of our Ministry of Public Works and Governmental Affairs.

The heads of all these institutions have been questioned by Portuguese police, and have been accused of, corruption, trafficking of influence and money laundering, among other things. Two companies Golden Visas Europe and JMF-Projects and Business Inc. offered services for foreign private investors looking to dry their money in the sun on some picturesque Portuguese beach.

A travel agency for capital, Marx would have been delighted!

Both of these companies had direct ties to the legal public authorities, who were quintessential in the issuing of the infamous Golden Visas. For example Miguel Macedo the Minister of Internal Administration had a direct stake in Golden Visas Europe; he had been the founding partner of the enterprise — even though he was already minister at the time — with a young lady by the name of Luísa Oliveira Figueiredo, who happened to the daughter of António Figueiredo, the head of the Institute of Registries and Notaries.

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It was all a coincidence obviously!

In the year 2013 alone, 110,000 Portuguese of all ages, and from all walks of life migrated and initiated ajourney whichwe call saudade, the longing for the return to the mother land. Austerity measures continue to hit Portugal hard, but at least some at the top of the Portuguese political ladder have understood the mechanisms that will allow them to profit from the suffering and the misery of the common Portuguese Joe or in this case João.

Some authors in the past spoke of monopoly capitalism when referring to the uber concentration of capital within the orbit of a few corporations, multinational enterprises, of wealth. For Paul Sweezy, capitalism under Pax Americana in the mid-1960s was far from being the rule of the ‘free-market’ that Adam Smith had theorized. Rather it was an oligarchy, a saturated orgy of the rich and powerful that always reproduced their power through new business ventures and “created” new markets when necessary.

The scandal of the ‘Golden Visas’ underlines the hypocrisy of the extreme right-wing rhetoric, which is in vogue throughout Europe, and is represented in Portugal by the Partido Nacional Renovador (PNR). Hundreds and thousands of poor and toiling African immigrants amass at ‘Fortress Europe’s’ borders; the “wretched of the earth” as Frantz Fanon said. Upon their arrival in Europe they join the ranks of the lowest of the lowest classes, yet form the invisible and voiceless backbone of an economy in shambles.

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We demonise them, tarnish their image. They are the incarnation of all the wrath that the laborious people of Portugal feel. In the meantime multi-millionaire gangsters have made a paradise, coached in the misery of both the Portuguese and the migrant working classes. The focus that the extreme right puts on immigrant populations is a diversion tactic, used as a veil to hide the real illegal immigrants that capitalize on the economic crisis: The ‘Golden’ immigrants, the avatars of the ‘free’ circulation of capital. Unfortunately for them, this inherent contradiction has been unveiled and the emperor is revealed to be naked.

The Golden Visas and the story of Portugal since 2011 is the perfect example of the rise of a new form of capitalism, which can be called ‘casino capitalism.’ It is a mix between libertarian paradise and state-capitalism à la Xiaoping. Its most brutal manifestation is this system of Golden Visas; a rigged lottery which only favours the ‘free’, and the automatization of capital servant of the markets and financial cartels pushed through by a neo-liberal state — the state after all isn’t that bad when it serves the interests of capital!

Within this new economic world everything becomes possible. While millions of young and talented Portuguese leave toiling to put an end to their precarity, the country is being stripped to pieces and sold to the highest bidder. Soon every aspect of Portuguese life will be liberated from the constraints of the state — no regulation whatsoever. In this brave new world modeled through the lense of Atlas Shrugged, everyone will be under the yoke of those that have enough influence and power to make and break the market, those that write the laws of an unfree market.

A luta continua!

This past Monday, November 17, marked the 41st anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising, which pitted young Greeks against the oppressive regime of a military junta.

Fast forward 41 years, and once again young Greeks are up in arms, not against a military junta, but against a technocratic junta, which has imposed severe austerity measures and liberalization policies across the board. 41 years ago, the protesters were met with the bone-cracking force of the military. On Monday, the protests were met with a similarly lethal force; but this time it was disguised under the mantle of so-called ‘responsible’ economic management.

The revolutions of the 1970s brought about the downfall of dictatorships, such as those of Salazar and Franco in the Iberian Peninsula, and of military juntas, such as those in Greece and Cyprus. This marked the start of the velvet revolutions. The term velvet revolution is usually used for the Eastern European uprisings of November 1989, but it can also be used for the Southern European revolutions of the 1970s.

As seen through the lens of official historiography the velvet revolutions signified the overthrowing of antiquated socioeconomic structures; By which, we are to understand an amalgamation of Communist regimes, fascistoïd dictatorships, and military juntas openly supported by the ‘free world.’ History has re-framed these revolutions, and portrayed them as the vindication of economic laisser-faire  and liberal democracy. Thus the bells of have history rung, the curtains fell. The play was over chaps!

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Václav Havel, Czech playwright, dissident, and statesman, honoring the wounded at the Prague protest in 1989.

What a brutal awakening it must have been for those who have said, time after time, that no matter how bad the dictatorial measures of austerity might be, that “we’re still better off”, that “we’ve got freedom now”, when they saw the images of the central campus of Athens Polytechnic under a cloud of tear gas. A subliminal image, almost as if it were looped. In 41 years we had traveled only to wind-up back at square one. It was a bone-chilling reminder for those who want to impose their neoliberal model, that the shadows of the unfulfilled revolutionary aspirations will not be quenched so effortlessly.

The velvet revolutions were the amalgamations of various dissident movements ranging from liberal movements, to left-wing socialist and communist movements. However, the official discourse is that that liberals and conservatives were the ones that caused the velvet revolutions. We must not forget that the instigator of the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe was a libertarian socialist trade union named Solidarność (Solidarity). Similarly, the bulk of the opposition against military juntas and dictatorships alike was made up of militant left-wing movements, which had no intention of trading the direct dictatorship of the few, for an invisible dictatorship of the few.

From the Iberian Peninsula, through Eastern Europe, and thence to Greece and Cyprus these velvet revolutions had the objective of creating new structures, in which economic and social rights were guaranteed. Adequate housing, social housing and land reform were the central objectives of the Portuguese, Spanish and Greek velvet revolutions. New forms of direct democracy were put in place during a brief period of time in many Eastern European countries during the post-velvet revolution period — a heritage of the anti-authoritarian Budapest and Prague uprisings.

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Anti-austerity protests in Greece.

The clergy of austerity and neoliberal policies has claimed that its ideology was vindicated by such velvet revolutions, and that such velvet revolutions were produced by the fact that the oppressed peoples of Eastern and Southern Europe ‘wanted in’ on Western capitalism. This clergy argues that these people wanted complete market liberalization, mass privatizations, and now massive unemployment; and that they wanted to ‘liberate’ the job market and their stock exchanges.

In the wake of the velvet revolutions, the peoples of the newly ‘liberated’ Europe said that they were in awe of another form of liberation. They wanted liberation from hunger, liberation from homelessness, liberation from poverty, liberation from precarity, and liberation from the brutality of state sanctioned violence. And they set these demands in stone, by putting them in their new constitutions.

Today, as millions of young Greeks, Portuguese, Hungarians, Czechs, Cypriots, and Italians are protesting, they carry the revolutionary flame of the past generations of 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1989. Austerity in this case is a strategy. It is a strategy to remove from these states all of their social aspirations; a strategy to transfer the public wealth, amassed through the struggle of many generations to build a social structure that would provide for everyone, into the hands of an elite. Austerity is thus a form of ‘new’ primitive accumulation, as Marx would call it, and the transfer common capital into the private sphere. Austerity is a direct assault on the established social rights that are the heritage of such velvet revolutions.

Austerity is nothing more, and nothing less, than rhetorical prowess capable of legitimizing systemic robbery. Austerity is thus a synonym for kleptocracy!

A luta continua!

Wednesday April 4, 2012. Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece is bustling at its habitual frantic pace. A 77 year old man stands solemnly in front of the Greek parliament, holding a handgun. Then, he shoots himself in the head, putting an end to his life, and leaving behind a note: An outline of what had lead to the unfolding of this tragic end.

“I have no other way to react apart from finding a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage for food,” he has written on the note.  His last wish was “to leave no debts to his children.”

The fact that the 77-year-old pensioner shot himself in front of the Greek parliament wasn’t a coincidence, it was a symbolic act. It could even be considered a “terrorist” act if we employ the same logic as the mainstream Canadian media has in the wake of the Ottawa shooting.

In August 2001, economic punishment claimed yet another life. Kimberly Rogers, a 40 year-old, 8 month pregnant Ontarian, died while she was under house arrest for welfare fraud, because of the restraints that the Ontario social services had imposed on her, under the directives of the Mike Harris government and the guidelines of the Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty.

Ms. Rogers only had a total of 18$ to spend on common necessities such as rent, food and hydro per month.

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Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. The correlation between the imposition of austerity measures that produce economic hardship on the most impoverished sections of society and the increase in suicide rates has been verified by several studies since the start of the economic recession in 2008. Most recently, a British conducted study claimed that austerity measures caused over 10,000 deaths since the start of the economic crisis. This just goes to prove that there is an undeniable link between economic conditions and mental health.

In the past few weeks, many have qualified the Ottawa shooting, a suicidal attempt in many ways, as an “act of terrorism,” and yet, somehow, the events just described above do not qualify as terrorist.

Wasn’t the shooting in front of the Greek parliament in itself an act of terrorism, for did it not instill terror? In the past few weeks many have come out stating the obvious: Michael Zehaf Bibeau had mental health issues. This being said, neither the mainstream media nor politicians have asked the real question that requires an answer: what was the cause of his mental health issues?

First and foremost, whereas the tragic crime of Michael Zehaf Bibeau can be qualified as terrorism, the desperate act of a 77 year-old pensioner in Greece can’t. The reason is simple, the former’s motive was to push for a political agenda, while the latter aimed to discredit the dominant political discourse.

The only difference I see is that Zehaf Bibeau committed a murder, which is a crime and is inexcusable. But both events, in terms of symbolic importance, are the same. They are both attacks on the political consciousness. But most importantly, they are both the manifestations of a profound sickness within the societies in which they took place.

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At the end of the nineteenth century, amid profound social transformation unleashed by the industrial revolution, the forefather of modern sociology Émile Durkheim established the link—after an extensive study of suicide in France and Germany—between the changing economic sphere, economic marginalization, the weakening of social links and a sharp rise in suicide rates. The idea that dismal economic situations, extreme poverty and alienation in the workplace, which produced massive marginalization and a rise in mental health issues, was continued during the second half of the twentieth century by Michel Foucault, who wrote Madness and Civilization: A history of insanity.  In his book, Foucault elaborated that “folie” or mental health issues transformed in advanced capitalism. Further, Gilles Deleuze underlined in his works the correlation between some capitalist activities and schizophrenia.

Despite being very straightforward, the fact that our social environment, the structure within which we work and live, and the economic system that rules over our daily lives have very direct and real influences over our mental well-being has been completely shut out of the picture. Mental illness is certainly a fact. But exclusion, marginalization, and the social context in which both Martin Rouleau and Michael Zehaf Bibeau lived certainly had an impact on them, and thus on their actions. Once again mental health is used here an exit strategy. “He had mental health issues,” and that’s all there is to it!

Unfortunately this does not cut it, because both individuals seemed to “blend-in” perfectly with society—Michael Zehaf Bibeau was a exemplar student during his high school year. So, what brought about this tragic turn of events?

In Zehaf Bibeau’s case, his obvious marginalization, economical hardship and difficulties of living a homeless life probably had a major influence on the young man and most certainly were factors that contributed largely to the deterioration of his mental health. Unfortunately, no importance whatsoever is given to those aspects that might have been the cause of his subsequent radicalization. The only thing the media has taken from the Zehaf Bibeau’s story is that he was a Muslim.

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How many homeless Canadians are wandering the streets, today? How many Canadian families are terrorized by the fact that they won’t make ends meet?

More than 800,000 Canadians rely on Food Banks to have some sort of “proper” nourishment. A staggering amount of Canadians live very difficult precarious economic situations. While the plight of Canada’s most diminished has been soaring within the past decade, austerity measures have been applied across the board. Profound cuts to food banks and community services have been applied by various levels of government to “balance the budget.” Provincial and federal governments have ripped apart the Canadian mental health system, and thousands of Canadians are in desperate need of affordable housing, and social housing. Some have said during the past weeks, that Canada got a taste of its own medicine: “Canada declared war and must now deal with the consequences.”

But once again that is a form of criticism, which fits with the dominant political discourse that wants us not to question the austerity agenda. What if Zehaf Bibeau was radicalized not by ISIS or some video, with “cool” special effects on the Internet, but by the economical repression he lived on a daily basis?

Terror breeds terror, and so does austerity, in more ways than one.

A luta continua.

The month of March 1871 French society was rocked by two astonishing events; first the crushing of the French army at the hands of the Prussians, which resulted in the fall of the regime of Napoleon II and consequently the armed uprising of the laborious classes of Paris against a French political elite that had failed them, and a German invading elite that would oppress them.

Fast forward to February 2014 Ukraine, more specifically Kiev was the epicentre of what appeared to be a repeat of the Orange pro-western, pro-Europe, pro-NATO revolution. Things didn’t go according to plan after this, and within a matter of weeks the “revolution” was hijacked by neo-Nazi, fascistic elements which had been it’s brute force and backbone since its onset. In response to this, several towns (notoriously Donetsk) declared themselves autonomous communes or people’s republics, not to be ruled by the pro-Russian oligarchy that had failed them or by the hollow promises of the pro-Western elites with their fascist tendencies.

Unfortunately media coverage for the most part is oblivious or willingly hides this aspect and paints the Ukrainian conflict in an antiquated mini Cold-War proxy war scenario between the evil Russians and the Free World, A.K.A. the West.

But these popular revolutions are the most interesting development within the Ukrainian conflict and they are the true un-manipulated essence of the Maidan revolt. Very quickly a popular revolt against austerity measures, the over-concentration of wealth and power, economic inequality and social injustice was turned into a pro-Western revolt, to serve the interests of a European Union that were searching for a diversion from the quagmire of austerity.

The main reason why the western media outlets have made no mention of these uprising is obvious: it’s because of the labouring masses of Donetsk. Throughout eastern Ukraine, people are fighting the same fight as are millions of unemployed, battered and toiled western workers. They wouldn’t want to give them ideas, now would they…

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Within the first weeks of the “pro-Russian” uprisings, as the main media outlets like to label them, the citizens of the newly founded Communes took immediate action to bring under their management the main industries that were now within their jurisdiction. On the other hand the newly elected government in Kiev with the sanction of the Ukrainian oligarchs of which the tycoon Rinat Akhmetov — a billionaire that made his fortune through the exploitation of the miners of the Donbass — called on the “occupying” miners to put an end to their illegal “strike” and self-determination or suffer the consequences.

During that time, neo-Nazi elements of the Ukrainian nationalistic extreme right started their campaign of intimidation and consolidation of power, targeting organized labor and ‘communists,’ taking control of several important portfolios within the newly established Kiev government. The culminating point of this vast campaign of terror was the infamous burning of the trade union house of Odessa that resulted in the death of 23 people. The Ukrainian fascist community was in ebullition, celebrating the deaths of the “Russian terrorists.” The international community – the West – was silent.

For the past few months, the Ukrainian government has been on the offensive against its own people, declaring an all out war on the people’s republics that have sprung-up throughout the east of Ukraine. With diplomatic and tactical support from the West, the region has been carpet-bombed resulting in the death of hundreds of innocent civilians.

In another context, lets say the Balkans in the 1990s, this would have pushed the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union to condemn and take action either on the ground or through economical sanctions against the Kiev regime for their violation of human rights and their blatant disrespect of the people of eastern Ukraine’s right to self-determination. Then again, self-determination is only acceptable when it serves the purposes of neo-liberalism and the will of the free-markets.

Through this context though the idea of self-determination has been put to test and is being shaped little by little, self-determination becomes more than just a right tied to a people through an ethnic or cultural link. It mutates and becomes an undeniable right for every human being to be able to control the means of production of their well-being, thus making the industry revolve around the will of the people instead of the bestial urge of profit.

Many parallels have been drawn since the dawn of the Ukrainian conflict with the horrors of WWII and some with the one-hundredth anniversary of the WWI. In reality the conflict that is in motion before us isn’t between great powers, it is a conflict that stems from uncontrolled, unbridled capitalism that generates poverty, conflict and chaos. It is a struggle to tame the flow of capital, to domesticate and subdue, rendering it a fertilizer for the whole of humanity.

And this is exactly the point Piketty misses within his most recent work Capital in the 21st century. Unfortunately we have gotten to a point of no return, where inequality is too great to be tamed with a globalized tax on financial transactions, as long as neo-liberalism prevails many more Ukraines are on the horizon.

PS: This article is dedicated to all of the Ukrainians that have lost their lives in the fight against fascism and that have fought to have a dignified life.

A luta continua.

As the results trickled in last Thursday night throughout Ontario one thing was obvious, Kathleen Wynne had succeeded where many had failed before – she rendered a swift and decisive blow to the austerity agenda in Ontario.

But the true question that lingers after this 41st Ontarian electoral cycle is how much of this victory can be attributed to the Liberal campaign and Kathleen Wynne, and how much is due to an impressive anti-Hudak campaign? Thursday’s vote must be seen first and foremost as a refutal of the cuts to social services, to the public service sector, to the continuation of the dismantlement of the Ontario welfare state, and the “tea-partyesque” agenda of Tim Hudak & Co. This is bad news for the Conservative movement on the federal level as well. It seems that there will be no Common Sense Revolution “take two”, and it appears that the Ontario neo-liberal laboratory is vacant. The majority of Ontarians aren’t ready to go down the Harris road anytime soon.

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The Ontario election was insightful, in purely electoral terms for the Canadian left. Kathleen Wynne proved that taking austerity head-on during a campaign, wrestling economic issues away from the right, and redefining these issues in social terms – not purely abstract statistical ones – is a winning equation.  But this doesn’t mean that the spectre of austerity is defeated once and for all, but rather much to the contrary. As we know too well, unfortunately a campaign on the left doesn’t automatically translate into a government on the left.

But one thing that cruelly lacked on the left during this campaign was a strong link with the social movements that have been shaking up Ontario since the onset of the big crunch in 2008. Striking students against outrageous tuition fees, working families fighting for a living wage, public sector employees struggling against cuts across the board, Indigenous communities that spearheaded the idle no more movement, were nowhere to be seen.  The incapacity of the Ontarian left to foster such strong alliances with grassroots campaigns and to build a movement that not only defeats austerity, but creates the place for an alternative agenda to grow, is the main reason why austerity might have been defeated at the ballot box, but it surely hasn’t been defeated in Queen’s Park.

Many have said throughout these past few years which have seen Tim Hudak as leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario that he has “snatched (time after time) defeated from the jaws of victory”. This is certainly true, but if this Ontario election is an indication of anything, its surely that Ontario is in the mind space for a strong progressive government. And yet the Ontario electoral left has missed that rendez-vous… at least for now. The Ontario left might have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but still be defeated, the Conservative agenda might,within the next four years, prove to be the real victor of this exercise in democracy.

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We must view the Liberal Party of Ontario’s victory Thursday, as a mandate for a progressive government that will finally break with the Harris legacy. The Liberals won because they were successful in convincing the Ontario electorate that they were the only ones that could defeat the Hudak tea-party crusade, but that’s a detail. The Liberals aren’t so much the big victors of Thursday night as much as the Ontario Tea Party is the big loser.

The Reform revolution started circa 1987 in the Canadian west, which for the past 30 odd years has spread like wildfire through all levels of government, is the loser of the electoral night. It has been a movement that has profoundly transformed Canada and dominated the political discourse in this country. That’s the true lesson for the left at the wrap-up of this Ontario election: the space for a strong left-wing movement that builds campaigns such as the 14$ minimum wage in Ontario, the campaign for non-commodified education, the campaign for a Robin Hood tax, for affordable housing for all. These are just to name a few. The political space for a strong left-wing, social-democratic, socialist – call it what you want – revival on the Canadian political stage is within our grasp.

The lesson to take from this election is that we have to have the audacity on the left to fightback. If we define ourselves within the rhetorical space that is given to us by the neo-liberal consensus, without trying to jailbreak and offer an alternative, then we’ve lost before we’ve even gotten started. This will only be achieved if we succeed at unifying social movements on the ground with a political caucus in Queens Park, and only if such a caucus becomes the voice of the aspirations and vision of the various social justice campaigns.  Canadians from all walks of life are asking for an alternative.

It’s about time we have a true left campaign that forms a true left government, that implements true left policies.

A luta continua.

Over the past year all three major provinces have casted their ballots in provincial elections. Now, with the Ontario provincial campaign in full swing, the messages and surely the rhetoric used in these three campaigns is a clear indicator of what to expect of the next federal campaign.  One frantic urge was at the core of the political discourse that vibrated throughout these distant and divergent political settings, setting the tone for the general political discourse to come: the urge to reduce the deficit and balance the budget.

The discourse of the main proponents —Liberals in BC and QC, the Conservatives in Ontario— hardly changed in any substantial manner. A mash-up of Couillards, Clarks and Hudaks economical bullet points would be a very suave playlist for the austerity ravers out there. Going from one to another, you can hardly tell who’s who.

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On the other hand, the Canadian public under the auspices of the mainstream media, has apparently been engulfed in an era of wasteful usage of “taxpayers” money. Whether it be the Senate Scandal and its various repercussions on the federal level, the mismanagement of the Ontario Liberals and the Commission Charbonneau in Quebec, waste is portrayed as a sordid affair of political corruption, an accident that occurs when dishonest people attain the high statures of public office. The discourse of the proponents of balanced budgets and zero deficits is quite simple because of such past waste on behalf of a few greedy individuals. We’ll all just have to tighten our belts and bear with the horrendous cuts to public services while we put things back on the right track.

The problem with such a fable is that corruption is seen through a lens that overemphasizes the individuality, while completely occulting the systemic aspect of corruption. With this in perspective, to truly grasp the meaning of the balanced budgets and deficits rhetoric, one must first build from the assumption that Canadian public governance has a severe addiction to debt and it must go through detox.

When accepting the premises of austerity measures, the first question that arises is how and for whom? For the champions of austerity such as Hudak & Co, welfare fraud, welfare “handouts”, a bloated public bureaucracy, and unnecessary public programs aren’t just strains to growth and prosperity, but are also the main vector of debt, and austerity is the act of cutting those chains. Unfortunately for them, statistics beg to differ.

In many ways the liberalization of the Canadian financial markets  are the main sponsors of the Canadian debt clock, which among other things has allowed Canadian banks to stash billions of dollars in their savings accounts, as well as subsidizing multinational oil, gas, and mining companies, and the reduced pressure on tax evasion that has had the direct consequence the fruition of the highest amount of Canadian dollars in tax havens in history.

Compared to this welfare fraud, the expenses that public healthcare or education and social programs might incur are meaningless. The premises of austerity – the cuts to public services, the privatization of public goods – is irrelevant because it identifies a problem and offers an inadequate solution.

austerity-children

Would this be out of malice or out of ignorance? The austerity fable is a means towards an end; the end of privatizing the last socialized remains of the Canadian state or the (insert name of province here) state. Balanced budgets and zero deficits are myths; they belong to the realm of tall-tales and thus, they have become god like creatures of which we mere mortals can barely comprehend unless having an MBA or a Master in Economics from the Chicago School.

The only way to create vital space for any alternative discourse to the current oppressive austerity fable is to demystify the storyline. This would allow everyone to see balanced budgets and deficits for what they truly are: a set of choices – not fatality – to put profits over people.

Unfortunately many left-wing parties mistakenly have thought that they could fight fire with fire – that they could somehow change the game by using the same rules. The fable of austerity is nothing more than a creation myth that abstracts the human element from economics. It’s the justification for a system of corruption that transforms socialized goods into private capital, and economical and social rights into privileges for those that can afford it.  The only way to build a just society is to strip balanced budgets and deficits of their god-like attire and make them human again.

A luta continua.

 

It was 00:20 April the 25th of 1974, when a bunch of rebellious young captains, armed with a bunch of antiquated weapons, driving some outfitted, broken-down armored vehicles and unorganized novice recruits, announced through the beautiful hymn of Portuguese resistance Grandola Villa Morena the end of the longest dictatorship on European soil.

This past Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, and yet, in many ways, while 40 years might have past, the events of April 1974 and the revolutionary agitation that continued until November of 1975 are more relevant today than any time since. The memory of these past events longs for new revolutionaries to continue planting the carnations of the past in the bleak austere Portugal of today.

And if this article of mine today has any objective, it is to debunk the myths revolving around this revolution of April that grow like bad weeds threatening the very livelihood of the carnations that we have so carefully gardened since. In many ways the carnations of that red April, the ideals and principals of April 74, are on a lifeline in Portugal. Some would say that everything is on a lifeline in Portugal and they would be right, but some things more than others.

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Student protest in Portugal April 2, 2014 (image: newstimes.com)

The outburst of popular joy, the scenes of immense happiness, relief that better days were to come, relief that no young Portuguese would have to fight in the wars of colonial aggression were implanted in the Portuguese common psyche in 74-75. It is very significant that this year those images were mirrored in a very different way during the commemorations of the 40th anniversary. In many ways, scenes of happiness and joy became promises of renewed resistance, a heartfelt commitment to bring the ideals of 1974, the movement of thousands of unionists, of anti-fascist militants, communists and socialists, back to the forefront of the political struggle in a political arena that has be dormant for too long.

Every revolution breeds a counter-revolution, thus the tumultuous period that followed created the conditions for the reaction of the 25th of November that put an end once and for all to the revolutionary process that was put in motion on the 25th of April. And this is the first myth that must be dismantled: the 25th of April was not the culminating point of the Carnation Revolution, much to the contrary it was the opening of the flood gates, not the be-all end-all.

But this is a very potent myth indeed. Center-right and right-wing Portuguese political formations have used it to paint the Portuguese uprising of April 74 as yet another liberal, pro-democracy, pro-western revolution. Thus the Carnation Revolution became tied up in the various “velvet revolutions” and the underlying radical ideals and movements that were its true motors were buried, in practice and in memory.

The Portuguese revolution was far from being one of those liberal revolutions that were the by-products of capitalism and whose primary purpose was the liberation of the markets and not the liberation of the people. The Portuguese revolution was in many ways very radical and as its centerpiece was economic justice and economic liberation of the people above all things.

The recurrent myth that the Iberian revolutions against fascism of the 1970s were velvet revolutions is a hoax. The notion of velvet revolutions is a hoax itself, a pretty lie to murder any memory of the struggles of land reform, the occupation of factories, or the setting-up of workers cooperatives and usher in a new story of April 74 that fits within the neoliberal rhetoric of freedom = austerity.

Another myth, menace, a threat that might if enabled to grow freely forever ruin the gardens of April 74, is the notion that the Carnation revolution was exclusively a Portuguese matter. In many ways the Carnation revolution was propelled and invigorated by the revolutions of national liberation that were ablaze in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.

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Carnations held at the 40th anniversary commemoration of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution (image: newstimes.com)

The right wing, fascistic elements in Portugal love to remind us subtly, in not so many words, that not so long ago Portuguese and Angolans were mortal enemies and base their nationalistic populism on a combination of historical hatred and contemporary xenophobia against immigrants. Something that became self-evident to many Portuguese soldiers in the wars of national liberation was that their struggle, the struggle of the Portuguese working class (which obviously made-up the majority of the ranks of Portuguese soldiers in Africa) and that of the Angolans and Mozambicans was the same. The liberation of Portugal went hand in hand with the liberation of all peoples of the Portuguese empire and beyond.

Last but not least is the myth that somehow Portuguese democracy was saved from the most radical fringes of the Carnation Revolution, from the communists and the more left-wing “true” socialists. The mistake made here is a simple one, a misunderstanding of the terms revolution and counter-revolution.

The Carnation revolution is in many ways an unfinished one, because in appearance, on the surface, many things might have seemed to change in Portuguese society in the past 40 years, but in reality the fundamental structure of oppression, of the concentration of wealth and land within the hands of a few continues unchanged. The same that benefited from the structure of the dictatorship are benefiting now from the dictatorship of the Troika.

If Portugal has been in and out of “economic crises” during these past 40 years it’s because of one simple dynamic: the struggle between those that through austerity and neo-liberalism try to re-create the same paradigm that existed under Salazar and the old regime with a democratic façade and those that fight to continue the revolution of April 74. It’s the struggle between the Carnations and the bad-weeds that are trying to strangle the last radicalism of April 74 to death.

From the scenes I noticed yesterday, the faces of people that marched passed-on one significant message to the economic elites, the carnations of April 74 still grow in us! As Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said this experience of “Socialism à la Portugaise” lives on! The antidote to austerity is to keep gardening the Carnations of April 74.

Abril de novo, Abril para sempre!

In space of a few months the old continent has been rocked by a series of reactionary revolts that have spread like wildfire. Parallel to the rise of neo-fascist elements is an inverse movement: the retreat of the center-left and their embracing of neo-liberal, traditionally center-right policy.

The examples of the debacle of the socialist or social-democratic movement are self-evident, be it the humiliating defeat of the French Socialist Party at the municipal level, the incapacity of the left to govern in Italy, the defeat of the German social-democrats for the fourth time in a row or the Labor Party in Britain which is still dealing with the specter of Labor’s past. The once bright red flame of European socialism is but a pale shadow of its former self, a fading pink.

blair brown

For every defeat the left has succumbed to in the past months, it appears that the extreme-right has made leeway. There is much emphasis put on the “rise of neo-fascism” in Eastern Europe or on the Front Nationale, but this movement is a general one. We are seeing the comeback of neo-fascism in countries that in a not very distant past fought tooth and nail to establish a political system that would banish the gloom of fascism forever…  or at least they thought.

In Portugal, Spain and Greece, the countries that not so long ago emancipated themselves from some of the longest and most brutal dictatorships in Europe, the fascist movements, which were their graves before the economic meltdown of 2008 and the austerity measures of these past years, are now reinvigorated. The success of some of these movements translates into political parties with an unprecedented number of seats in their respective political arena, such as Greece’s Golden Dawn.

But something much more unsettling is happening in Europe. The neo-fascist message is getting generalized and some of the extreme-right’s fundamental ideals and principals now flow freely through the main arteries of the European political system.

In the 2012 French presidential election, Nicolas Sarkozy lost the first round mainly because the Front Nationale had succeeded in capitalizing on the disenchantment of certain sections of the right-wing which had previously voted for him. Before the second round, Sarkozy made a final campaign pitch to those further to his right to rally to him in this final duel between himself and François Hollande.

Sarkozy and LePen posters side-by-side during the 2012 French Presidential Election (image lessentiel-magazine.fr)
Sarkozy and LePen posters side-by-side during the 2012 French Presidential Election (image lessentiel-magazine.fr)

It wasn’t so much the fact that he tried to lure the votes of the Front Nationale, it was the way in which he did it that, in many ways, changed the face of French politics forever. During the final stretch of the campaign, Sarkozy made one simple pitch to the nationalistic, xenophobic, neo-fascist electorate of Marine Lepen at every rally and in every speech he made: “Don’t be ashamed of being a fascist, your values are my values and beyond that the values of the French Republic.”

Now let’s put this in the context of France which still toils to make peace with the demons of WWII. In the context of post-WWII France, the Gaullist movement (of which Union for a Popular Movement UMP is an heir) was one of the firewalls against fascism on the right. Traditionally, the center-right movement was furiously opposed to any form of recognition of the values of neo-fascist movements within French society. That was the most important heritage of the French resistance against fascism which was shattered by Nicolas Sarkozy’s brand of la droite décomplexer.

Unfortunately this is not a trend that is cornered or quarantined in France. It’s a dynamic that fits perfectly within pro-austerity and neo-liberal agendas.

The rise of fascist movements is inherently linked to the development of austerity measures in Europe. Thus to focus solely on the fascist movements which are mainstream and not on the fascist rhetoric and policies that are advanced by parties that “supposedly” are in complete opposition to the fascist ideology is to miss the real “breakthrough” of the extreme-right.

The potency of a political ideology is not how many seats political parties that claim such an ideology gain or lose, but how the rhetoric and the ideals of such a movement influence the political discourse in general. And one thing is clear in Europe and to a certain extent in most of the world: the infatuation of neo-liberalism and austerity with fascism is shifting the center of gravity of the political spectrum towards the right on a daily basis.

For those that would shun this thesis, its factuality is manifest on the European political scene. It’s manifest in the coalitions between neo-liberal forces and neo-fascist forces throughout Europe, it’s tangible in the recuperation of ideals of the far-right by the neo-liberal movement, the most important being the corporatist element of neo-liberalism, which favors a complete laissez-faire attitude towards multinationals and the unrestricted flow of capital.

Corporatism is the centerpiece of many center-right political platforms nowadays. It goes without saying that corporatism is the economic policy at the foundation of fascism. Fascism in politics is completed only by corporatism in economics and this is the point of junction between the neo-liberal and neo-fascist movements.

austerity_world_tour_greece

Unfortunately it seems that the socialist movement is fading into a political landscape that has become color blind. The revolutionary force of austerity is pushed further and further by neo-fascist movements which, in a very paradoxical way, find their source of attraction in the rebuttal of austerity measures, but couldn’t survive outside of the framework of austerity. The socialist movement, which was once a force that wanted to revolutionize the very structure of global capitalism, has become a reactionary force which only acts in reaction to the palpitations of the neo-liberal right.

The only hope that still resides within the European political spectrum is the establishment of a viable left wing alternative in the form of a coalition of the parties of the European Left that have rejected austerity and the rhetoric of neo-liberal populism. With the European elections around the corner, it seems like more than ever the traditional political divide between center-right and center-left is irrelevant and that the European parliament after the upcoming elections will be a true reflection of European society in the wake of austerity: polarized to the extreme.

To those that ask how are we to stop the rise of the neo-fascist movements? The answer is clear: the fight against austerity is a fight against fascism.

A luta continua.

It’s trickling down. Snow falling from the condensed steam of downtown high rises. It begins to fall gently and you barely even notice it. But when that perfect storm hits, those snowflakes will blind you. Winter is coming.

Regular Canadians, us, our friends and families, who watch tv, listen to the radio and live normal lives are being manipulated by career tricksters and their corporate puppeteers. In English Canada, it’s Brian Lilley and Michael Coren, in Quebec it is Michel Hebert and PQ minister Benard Drainville, all so called journalistsBrian, Michael and Michel work directly for one of richest people in Quebec and Canada, Pierre Peladeau.

Pierre knows whats up. He’s watching his billionaire buddies in Europe. They’re ripping their countries apart, privatizing everything, destroying pensions and throwing people on the street. He’s got his eyes on Hydro Quebec, as the CLSCs are closed down, perhaps private health care too. They’re softening the blows with distractions. Cue the Charters. Attacking minorities becomes a pastime in Europe and slowly, in Canada.

Those few allowed to speak against it publicly don’t make sense. Liberals talk about loving the “others.” They spend their precious words whining about political correctness. The words fly over our head. Racism sells easier than political correctness. Reasonable accommodation, the ultimate liberal mental masturbation, hides a deep austerity. Are we so impoverished that we cannot provide for those whose spirituality calls for the covering of hair or not touching others who are not their spouse? We all work in the same places, play in the same parks, love the same and laugh the same. We don’t need to embrace the language of difference. Why can’t we accommodate everyone? Why are we so impoverished? Who stole our money?

On the banks of the Ottawa River, in the dirt of industrial Montreal, on the piers of Newfoundland, in the mountains of British Columbia, we were played against each other. Quebecers fresh from the farm and Irishmen fresh from the famine fought to the bottom for pennies in factories and forests. Immigrants from Eastern Asia met violence from angry Englishmen in Vancouver over starvation wages.

Historical memory is short. There was a time when Catholics, in many countries, were not allowed to have jobs in the government and were oppressed mercilessly. Now their descendants want to share their forgotten experiences with Muslims, Sikhs and Jews.

If there has been one thing consistent across time and space, it is that good, regular people, unfiltered by the poetic trickery of the elite and the pain of poverty, have always shared a bond. Humans have a natural solidarity and, I believe, want to love one another. It is the rich and powerful that benefit from dividing us.

Top hat wearing English blokes, not so far removed from Brian Lilley, used to write poems and stories about how much they hated those poor people working in factories and living in slums. Even today, think about how big television stations now portray trailer parks and ghettos in popular culture. They call us fat. They call us stupid. They want us to hate ourselves. And then, as if stealing from the poor of their own country wasn’t enough, these top hat wearing, cigar smoking monopoly men wanted the world. They sold lies about Native Americans, Indians, Chinese people and African people so they could send poor white folks to murder them, steal from them, and die.

The bodies of the poor are the weapons of the rich. And not much has changed. They still use us. Their ranks have swelled. They look and sound more like us. They’ve removed their hats, but they hold their reigns tightly and they’re riding us into each other with the force of a nation.

In 1941 at the height of the Second World War on an island in many ways similar to Lampedusa, the island of Ventotene, two leaders of the resistance movement against fascism and members of the Italian Communist Party Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, were held captive. Their captivity in many ways resembled what thousands of North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans and Middle Easterners live on a daily basis in one of the hundreds of identification and detention centers that populate the European coastline.

Spinelli and Rossi would write one of the most influential documents  in favor of Pan-Europanism, The Ventotene Manifesto. The manifesto would be illegally smuggled on to the continent and distributed throughout the Italian resistance. The ideal of a socialist federal union of European peoples became a central idea to many resistance movements throughout the European continent, the hope and the aspirations of a war-torn generation of Europeans would be embodied within the manifesto.

While captive on the island of Ventotene, Spinelli and Rossi vowed to rid the peoples of Europe of the chains of poverty and misery, to liberate Europe from the grips of fascism, but also build a society in which “never again” would the European social and economic situation allow for the flourishing of Nazism or Fascism. Fast forward 72 years later. The remote Mediterranean island of Lampedusa is a pearl, home to what Trip Advisor acclaimed as the world most beautiful beach in 2013, it’s a corner of paradise within a sea of hell.

Since 1988, within the waters and washed-up northern shores of the Mediterranean, almost 20 000 migrants have lost their lives. Lampedusa has become infamous throughout the world as the ‘Guantanamo of Europe.’ In the past two months Lampedusa has become, even more so than it already was, the center-stage of a continual tragedy that is the European Union’s blatant disregard for human rights, their disregard for the situation of thousands of migrants that brave horrible conditions in the hope to find a better life in Europe.

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Lampedusa shipwreck victims (Image: Noborder network via Flickr, Creative Commons licence)

On the 3rd of October of 2013, 359 bodies were recovered from the worst recorded migrant shipwreck in recent history, several other bodies were never found. A mere two months later, Lampedusa was rocked by another tragic event, this time concerning the treatment of the detainees at the identification and detention center for illegal migrants on the island.

Hidden video footage surfaced throughout the internet showing several detainees having to strip and be ‘hosed down’ by security guards. This is not the first time that Lampedusa and the European immigration boarder security under the hospice of Frontex have been openly criticized for their treatment of migrants.

Frontex was founded in 2005 as a semi-private organization with the mandate to help the several different member-state boarder security coordinate their operations, on paper. In reality, Frontex is a paramilitary organization that functions in parallel to all other European security organizations and is accountable to no one, under only nominal surveillance from European elected officials and after several scandals has shown no will in upholding any basic standard of human rights.

The creation of Frontex, the privatization and militarization of Europe’s boarders, is a clear indication of the rise of neo-liberalism within Europe. And in reaction to neo-liberalism, an almost equal rise of xenophobia and extreme right-wing groups.

The first is the neoliberal, fostered by right-wing movements within the European Union, that have pushed for the deregulation of the labour market, of the banking system and the downsizing of the social state. On the other hand this same neo-liberal movement has pushed for the destruction of all barriers to ‘free-trade.’

solidarite-avec-les-immigrants

Frontex is the perfect metaphor of the rampant neo-liberalism that has infected Europe.  Under the mantel of ‘austerity’ the European right-wing has tried to recraft the European ideal from its original purpose, embodied in the Ventotene manifesto, that of building a common European society based on protecting the dignity and the social and economical well-being of all.

The reaction provoked by the  rise of neo-liberalism in Europe is the undeniable rise in extreme right-wing rhetoric unknown on such a scale since the pre-WWII period.  The economical fluctuations that have left so many Europeans in misery was produced by the same neo-liberal ideal that made the “Mediterranean a cemetery” in the words of the Maltese prime minister.

In a recent meeting in Brussels, the leaders of the European Community joined forces to continue persecuting migrants at sea instead of addressing the issues of lamentable conditions within the detention centers or actually create a more ‘humane’ policy for migrants upon their arrival in the Shengen zone. As per usual, with every conference in Brussels the outcome is more austerity, austerity on the land, austerity on sea.The fight against austerity must then be one conducted on land and by sea.

Lampedusa is our Ventotene, Lampedusa is the embodiment of everything that has went wrong on the path of European construction. The EU is currently a prison, a financial one, one in which the will of the markets trumps the will of the people. Xenophobic, racist and nationalist discourses are on the rise, neo-fascist paramilitary groups are once again flourishing.

These fascist for many offer an alternative to the establishment, to neo-liberalism. Unfortunately they are the armed-wing of neo-liberalism, the armed-wing of corporatism.

The European left must stand with the migrants of Lampedusa and others scattered throughout the Mediterranean, we must re-appropriate the European ideal and build in this day and age a society that fulfills the principals of the Ventotene manifesto. Lampedusa is a major crack within the walls of Fortress ‘neo-liberal’ Europe, time to tear down the walls.

*This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author.

It has been nearly two years in the making. What started out as part of the budget control act of 2011, later morphed into the fiscal cliff just two months ago and has now turned into the “Sequestration Order for Fiscal Year 2013.”

President Barack Obama signed the sequester order late on Friday effectively cutting $85 billion from the federal budget this year. The effects won’t be felt overnight, but in the coming weeks and months we can expect up to 700 000 government jobs to be lost. Half the cuts will come from an already over-funded military, but the other half will be spread evenly through every government agency and will affect education, job training, health care, etc.

These automatic spending cuts were intended to be so damaging that Republicans and Democrats would be forced to replace it with a well-thought out deficit reduction plan. Well, two years of negotiations later and no deal has been struck and naturally both sides blame the other.

Democrats have argued for years for a balanced approach of spending cuts with more tax revenue, Republicans meanwhile have demanded deep spending cuts to social programs with no new taxes. The GOP seems to think taxes were raised enough in the fiscal cliff deal that saw the Bush tax cuts expire. However, Obama has not asked for further tax increases per se, he has simply asked to close tax loopholes for corporations and the wealthy.

Keep in mind, since the budget control act in 2011, the budget deficit has already been reduced by $1.5 trillion over ten years. Only 25% of the budget cuts over that time have come from revenue increases. Any Republican claim that spending is out of control is simply false. Under Obama, government expenditures have grown at its slowest pace since Eisenhower and the debt is close to being stabilized as a percentage of GDP.

Since Obama was first elected, Republicans and in particular Tea Party conservatives, have claimed that reduced spending would spur greater economic development. They have been unwilling to settle for one penny of increased revenue and have refused to compromise with Democrats at every turn. It’s safe to say if Republicans had their way, austerity would be an American way of life.

Budget-Cuts

It’s been truthfully understood that conservatives don’t pay mind to facts, science, or history. Evidently that includes present history. How House Republicans could cheer their leader for standing his ground and allowing sequestration to take place is beyond my reason of understanding. They’ve obviously never picked up a newspaper or watched a real news program (no, Fox doesn’t count as real news).

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past four or five years, you have seen the damage austerity can do in Europe. Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and the United Kingdom have all suffered greatly under austerity measures.

Since implementing self-imposed austerity, the United Kingdom has fallen into a double-dip recession and has seen slower growth than during the great depression. Greece and Spain have seen great depression-like unemployment numbers which are even worse among their youth.

Cuts in social programs in many of these countries have left countless people without access to healthcare, welfare and affordable education. In Greece’s case, forced austerity has led to the rise of radical political parties not unlike the Nazis of the 1930s.

Austerity hasn’t been exclusive to Europe of course. In Canada, after a year or two of increased spending, the first Conservative budget of their Majority government called for the layoffs of nearly 20 000 government workers. It also included cuts to environmental protections, food inspections and the CBC, they even rose the retirement age to 67.

The austerity measures in Canada were very modest compared to those in Europe, but that just means they have had a modest negative impact. If it weren’t for Canada’s oil revenue, our economy would have gone from sluggish to a standstill. Despite promising to balance the budget years ago, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have not come close (I’m sure those corporate tax cuts didn’t help). In fact, no country practicing austerity under economic duress has managed to lower their debt.

If the United States lived in a bubble, my concern over their budget cuts would be replaced with apathetic laughter. Unfortunately we all know that’s not the case, what affects the US always trickles up over the border. When these cuts start to slow down their economy further, you can be sure it will throw a wrench in ours.

The one lesson lost on Republicans through all this is no country has ever cut their way to prosperity. Why do they believe they can be the first?