Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Spain Struggles With The Same Right-wing Austerity Agenda The GOP Is Advancing In Congress


As congressional Republicans threaten to tank the economic well being of America unless they get to introduce failed European Austerity here, two very different indicators were released, one in the U.S. and one in Spain. Yesterday the Commerce Department released data showing that U.S. retail sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.5% in December, an indication that consumers were at least partially ignoring conservatives caterwauling about the so-called "fiscal cliff" they had created to terrorize the country. The results were significantly higher than expectations.

The polling in Spain was far more ominous-- especially for Spain's right-wing, pro-Austerity ruling People's Party (PP), their version of the Republicans. Their support among the electorate has dropped precipitously as they've enacted their disastrous agenda, basically the same agenda the GOP is insisting on for the U.S. Only 29.8% said they would vote for them now, the lowest level of support since the November 2011 election when it won an absolute majority and over half of the vote. Worst for the Spanish neo-fascists, 84% said they had little or no confidence in Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy's government is in the midst of privatizing health care, Spain's version of the GOP attack on Medicare and Medicaid. Gigantic demonstrations in Madrid have brought out tens of thousands of protesters. According to the doctors and nurses unions, Rajoy's privatization campaign will cut almost 10,000 jobs and put publicly funded structures into the hands of wealthy supporters of his political party. Sound familiar?

Unemployment is at 26% and Rajoy has nothing to offer but more pain for working families as the Spanish economy (12% of the Eurozone-- and twice as many people as bailed-out Portugal, Ireland and Greece combined) shrinks by another 1.5%.
As Spain enters another year of recession, Europe's politicians offer only one remedy. It must swallow more of the harsh medicine of austerity. But will it survive the cure? And will the spiral of decline really come to a halt towards the end of the year, as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promises?

Already the country's social fabric is tearing. Family networks keep the working class going as unemployment hits 26%. Fewer than half of those aged under 25 find work. Anecdotes of misery abound. Grandmothers with memories of the "hungry" 1950s cook up large pots of lentils to feed unemployed grandchildren. At night, small crowds gather outside supermarkets in poorer neighbourhoods of Madrid, seeking thrown-out produce. In middle-class neighbourhoods ghostly figures wander the streets rummaging through bins by night.

Middle-class friends face new dilemmas. How do you look after a now terminally ill 90-year-old aunt and her son with mental health problems, asks one, when both have lived off her €600-a-month pension? Another has given her spare room to a 57-year-old graphic designer friend who cannot find work and does not qualify for dole payments. How long will he stay? A doctor-- and single mother-- admits that she worked before Christmas with flu because she could not afford to take (unpaid) sick days. "I tried not to breathe over my patients," she says.

Anecdotal evidence of Spaniards' suffering is backed by hard figures. When crisis struck in 2008, families began to save madly. Four years later savings rates are tumbling again-- too many families are having trouble getting to the end of the month. Average household disposable income has already dropped, in real terms, by almost 10% since 2008. In poorer regions such as the Canary Islands, Andalucia and Extremadura, almost a third of the population is below the at-risk-of-poverty line, according to the National Statistics Institute. In a damning report, Oxfam says that previous crises in Latin America and Asia point to serious long-term damage if austerity measures remain in place. "Poverty and social exclusion may increase drastically," it says. "By 2022, some 18 million Spaniards, or 38% of the population, could be in poverty."

Rajoy's year-old conservative government no longer calls the shots, if it ever did. In 2012 it tried to obey Brussels and Berlin, raising taxes and chopping spending on health, education, social services and almost everything else. Pensioners and civil servants became poorer. Yet early figures suggest that, by the time money borrowed to bail-out banks is included, the deficit remained above 8%. In 2013 Rajoy promises to do better. And that means even more cuts.

With a quarter of this year's budget to go on servicing debt, Spain itself now needs a bailout. In 2013 it looks set to test the new "soft" bailouts now on offer from eurozone partners. That will be a make-or-break moment in the euro crisis. If it works and helps set Spain on the road to recovery, the euro is safe. If it does not, there are few solutions left. A soft bailout will be less painful than those inflicted on Greece, Portugal and Ireland-- because it comes with a European Central Bank (ECB) promise to buy Spanish bonds in order to keep borrowing costs down. But it will still come with one chief condition-- more austerity.

Restricted by the euro straitjacket and unable to devalue its currency, Spain is on the slow, painful path of internal devaluation. That means Spaniards must become poorer-- accepting lower wages, lower pensions and worse public services. That way, they are told, their economy can become more competitive, making cheaper goods to consume itself or sell to the rest of the world. "We can only get out of this crisis by working more and, unfortunately, earning less," said former employers' federation leader Gerardo Díaz Ferrán two years ago. He was not, of course, talking about himself. Díaz Ferrán's own companies have since gone bust and the workers sacked. But prosecutors claimed Díaz Ferrán stole money from his companies first-- ensuring himself a high-end lifestyle that included a Rolls-Royce and two luxury apartments overlooking New York's Central Park. In 2013, Spaniards will undoubtedly find out more about the former leader of Spain's most powerful business lobby-- a man who allegedly paid no income tax in 2009 or 2010. But his grim recipe for the future still holds.

Spaniards are more likely to fret about jobs, incomes and the shrinking value of what they own. Last year, some 800,000 people lost their jobs. In 2013, unemployment will rise further as another half a million or more jobs are lost. A new labour law offers workers in companies with falling revenues either wage cuts, sackings or both. And house prices will continue to tumble in a country where 80% own their homes. Prices dropped 15% last year-- the biggest fall since a housing bubble burst in 2008. The stock of houses up for sale is growing thanks to foreclosures. A rash of suicides among those about to lose their homes saw new legislation introduced to protect the most vulnerable at the end of last year.
Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has a plan for America... Mariano Rajoy's plan: more pain for working families to compensate for the excesses and sociopathic greed of Wall Street and the one percent. Monday's speech by Obama-- particularly zingers like the U.S. is "not a deadbeat nation" and “they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy"-- were aimed squarely at Ryan and the right-wing Republicans who are following his toxic Austerity Agenda. Lawrence O'Donnell explains:

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At 6:33 PM, Blogger Dennis Jernberg said...

Spanish neofascists? Actually, the Partido Popular is the oldest surviving Fascist party in Europe (Italy's Fascists are revivalists), the same Phalangist Party behind the "Hungry Fifties" under a different (read: post-Franco) name. The policy's the same, however, and the Republican Party corporatists trying to force the Fascist permanent-austerity policy on America are the same ones (or direct successors of those) who tried to do it in the 1930s (and of course helped Franco enslave the Spanish people while they were at it). This story, it seems, never ends...


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