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austerity

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In a political era of corporate dominance it was inevitable that doublespeak would become the official language of Washington, DC. Now “cuts” to social programs are referred to as “savings,” while the destruction of these programs is “reform.” This is the essence of President Obama’s doublespeakish “Race to the Top” public education “reform,” as well as his yet-to-be-announced deficit plan based on Medicare “savings.”

The Medicare cuts are part of a larger “reform” of health care in the United States, which ultimately serves to shift the cost of health care off the backs of corporations, placing the burden firmly on the shoulders of working people.
 
The main reason that health care reform became a national priority for Obama is because it was a priority for big business: corporations have long complained that their employee health care costs were too high. And they’ve always hated paying payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Obama has responded gallantly to these grievances, as he did to the banks when they demanded to be bailed out with taxpayer money (thus creating a trillion dollars more in national debt).
 

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The Great Recession has quietly devastated public services on a state-by-state basis, with Republican and Democratic governors taking turns leading the charge. Public education has been decimated, as well as health care, welfare, and the wages and benefits of public sector workers. The public sector itself is being smashed. Since the recession began, states have made combined austerity cuts of at least $337 billion, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.

The 2012-2013 budget deficits for 34 states resulted in $55 billion in cuts, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. The coming budgets for 2013-2014 that begins on July 1st is becoming clear as well, and the deficits are rolling in by the billions: Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington, and many others have large deficits projected.
 

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Whether we are left with the Fiscal Cliff or a Grand Bargain, workers in the U.S. face massive cuts to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment insurance, Food Stamp assistance and other needed social safety nets. This is an example of “austerity” which has largely been pursued in the U.S. until now, on a statewide and local level.

 The policies of austerity are not unique to the U.S. They are being enacted internationally. In Europe they have been aggressively put into play for four years. While austerity has been pursued on all continents, this article will focus on Europe and the U.S.
 

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I respond to a letter in the Inky concerning priorities and agendas.

The writer sets out a number of propositions, that:

  • the $15 trillion debt,
  • the $1.5 trillion annual deficit,
  • the high unemployment rate,
  • a failed strategy in the Middle East,
  • and 50 percent of the population paying no federal income tax in an ever-expanding entitlement society.

 

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Are the austerity policies that Pennsylvania is pursuing truly needed or helpful? Is Governor Corbett just helping out his cronies or is he concerned about the citizens of PA? Are there better ways to deal with PAs budget shortfall than by hacking away at programs that our citizens need?

Stand at the May Day 2012 celebration. All photos are from that event.

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Can we Occupy the budget debate? The Congressional Progressive Caucus actually has a good proposal on the table, but the chattering class and the press corps are fixated on Representative Ryan's plan, which doesn't meet any criteria of reasonableness or rationality. But it does meet the criteria of "austerity," the idea that addressing the "debt crisis" takes precedence over all other possible priorities. What is to be done? Fortunately, grassroots organizers have some ideas and are gearing up to act.

According to the Congressional Progressive Caucus,they've come up with a budget that, within ten years, would eliminate the deficit and produce a $31 billion surplus to boot. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) did an analysis (PDF) of their handiwork. The EPI states that:

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As they appear to have forgotten the whole point of Occupy Wall Street, that it's not the deficit, but inequality and unemployment that are America's primary problems, the austerity bug has been infecting some Democrats with its stinking, horribly awful, degenerative disease.

Paul Krugman reviews the baneful effects of austerity on the current economic recovery. His essential case is that:

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austerity, not stimulus coming

Destructive Neoliberal Austerity - by Stephen Lendman

Instead of vitally needed stimulus, Washington and European governments dictate austerity. The pretext of deficit reduction is being used to transfer more wealth to those already with too much, plus the usual canard over the urgency to save national banking systems.

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