Where Will the Anger Lead?
By Reginald Johnson
March 6, 2006
You get the feeling these days something is going to pop.
Everywhere you look, whether it’s here or overseas, there seems to be so much stress on the part of regular people, so much anger building, that you just wonder when people have had enough. When they’ve hit that breaking point, things are going to blow.
I started thinking this way when I opened my computer one day this week, went on the Internet and began glancing at the day’s lead stories.
The first one I saw had the following headline: “Greece announces new $6.5 billion austerity plan.” The story said the Greek government was set to impose sweeping spending cuts, under pressure from the European Union. Greece has run up a huge deficit, due to the recession and some dubious financial advice from the American investment firm, Goldman Sachs.
The EU has told Greece, impose deep spending cuts to slash the deficit, or we won’t help you out with financial aid.
So the government has decided workers and regular people are going to take the hit. Pay and benefits will be cut. Pensions will be frozen and taxes raised.
Last month, when the government first indicated these measures were being considered, some 2 million people took to the streets to protest. That’s about 20 percent of the total population of Greece!
An official from the EU came to Greece recently and said there would be a lot of pain for Greeks for 20 years before things got better. That’s nice.
The government, pushed by the business-friendly European Union, is basically forcing these cuts on the people. Take it, or else. You wonder if the people will. Could the government fall if millions take to the streets again and say, no, they won’t take it?
Greece is not alone in this crisis. Italy, Portugal and Spain, among others, are also in dire financial straits. What does this portend for the governments of those countries and the European Union? For the globalized economy of the world?
When I finished the story on Greece, I spotted another article --- seemingly smaller in scope, but actually tied to a much larger and similar issue in the U.S. The headline read: “South Carolina to cut benefits for 30,000 disabled residents.”
The story said that “Children with autism, people with spine and brain injuries and the long-term disabled in job programs are among 30,000 people who would lose help under a $5.1 billion state spending plan” approved by a legislative committee.
So this is what it has come down to in South Carolina --- cutting aid for the disabled in order to make up a budget deficit. How cruel and insensitive can these legislators be?
The action in South Carolina is shocking, but sad to say, the state is not alone in its drive to reduce costs. From New York to California, services are being slashed so states can find the savings to make up for revenue shortfalls due to the recession/depression. Most states have balanced budget rules, so it’s either raise taxes or cut spending, or both, to square the budgets.
Health benefits, pensions, education funding and an array of social services are being slashed in many states. Aid to municipalities is also being cut, so many towns and cities are reducing services or laying off.
Medicaid, the health care program for the low-income, is being chopped in a number of states. New York alone is considering a $400 million cut in Medicaid reimbursements to providers, including doctors, nursing homes, hospitals and clinics. Those type of cuts will mean poor and disabled people will have a more difficult time finding health care services.
As all these cuts kick in, there is mounting resistance. The funding reductions in education are causing an uproar. Just as this piece was being written, hundreds of thousands of people around the country protested education cuts in a “National Day of Action.”
It’s clear that people are getting fed up with the picture they see in our society, just as folks are in Europe. The big banks, which in good part have been responsible for the global economic crisis with their reckless investment schemes, have gotten trillions of dollars in bailouts from the federal government. Reports now come in that huge bonuses are being handed out again on Wall Street. Yet ordinary people are being told their kids’ education is being cut back, their doctor won’t take Medicaid anymore, or their job with the city or state government is being eliminated.
This is a recipe for a political explosion.
Yet in the halls of the state legislatures and in Washington, D.C., there seems to be a disconnect. Except for a minority of progressive elected officials, not that many people in the political realm are speaking out about the contradiction that’s going on.
The disconnect goes right to the top with Barack Obama. Last month, the president, stressing the need to tackle the federal deficit, proposed a budget which would freeze spending on all social programs, including health care, education and job training. By executive order, he set up a commission which will study and then mandate spending reductions, particularly on entitlements like Social Security, in order to balance the budget. ( A hard-line conservative and Social Security opponent was appointed to head the panel.)
But at the very same time Obama proposed raising the military budget up to the record level of $750 billion dollars.
Obama has shown little leadership to try to get through serious financial reforms to curb the excesses of the banks. He made no effort to stop the Federal Reserve from shoveling over trillions to the banks last year to save them from their own self-created mess with “toxic assets.” These huge bailout packages, together with the massive sums lavished on the military – for weaponry that in many cases we don’t need and two disastrous wars --- has led to the sky-high government debt that Obama now says ordinary people are going to have to pay for.
The left needs to wake up and tap into the frustration among people about what the government is doing --- and not doing. Some of the “Tea Party” protests have been instigated by outsiders and manipulators, but some of this anger is borne from a genuine sense of disenfranchisement and alienation. I don’t agree with the tactics or things being said at these gatherings, but the left needs to seize on this situation, present positive solutions and try to channel the alienation into a real and productive movement to change national priorities.
People on the left also need to recognize at this stage Obama is not the answer. He’s little more than a Democratic conservative who’s not committed to progressive values. He lied about what he was and fooled a lot of people. Far from being the solution, he’s part of the problem.
As it always has been, it will take a real, broad-based social movement in this country to change things. It better get underway soon, or else the anger and frustration in our society could spin out of control and take a very negative turn.