UK Austerity to cut 10 billion pounds in Social Benefits

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | OCTOBER 9, 2012

The British Minister of Economy, George Osborne, said Monday that he intends to cut another 10,000 million pounds in spending by cutting the expenses on social benefits by 2016-17. Osborne said the goal is to reduce the deficit.

While speaking to a crowd of Tories, Osborne said that he wants to eliminate aid to large families and housing subsidies for people who are under 25 years of age.

These cuts would be in addition to the reduction of 18,000 million pounds taken from government obligations through the approval of a bill announced in 2010, which affected pensions and subsidies and has involved hundreds of thousands of layoffs in the public sector.

In his speech to the militants “Tories” who met during the annual Conservative Party gathering, the Minister of Economy insisted on saying that while the wealthiest people should bear the  brunt of the crisis, it is also “fair” that the cuts are distributed throughout the whole population, including citizens who are dependent on state-sponsored programs. Osborne refused in multiple occasions to impose higher taxes on the richest people in the UK.

He promised however, to limit the income of citizens receiving social benefits, as well as aid given to the unemployed, the young, single mothers, disabled and low-income families; so that these people do not receive anymore help than those who go out looking for work.

Osborne announcement of the reduction of social benefits was immediately received with criticism dependent groups, while the minister said he will rule out raising taxes on high incomes. How is it that the wealthiest will bear their brunt of the crisis then?

He also dismissed the idea of ​​a new tax on mansions of more than two million pounds (2.47 billion euros), an idea first introduced by the Liberal Democrats, partners in the coalition government.

The minister warned the people that he would combat tax evasion in order to increase revenues. He said that he would fight “mercilessly” tax evasion and penalize those who attempt to evade payment by way of accounting maneuvers.

“We will finish what we started,” Osborne said to his fellow party allies, as he reminded the crowd about the government’s plan to reduce the deficit and debt which he associated with cutting help to the neediest people, while the size of government remains the same.

The Real Agenda encourages the sharing of its original content ONLY through the use of the tools provided at the bottom of every article. Please DON’T copy articles from The Real Agenda and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Venezuela chooses more of the same pain

By FRANK BAJAK and IAN JAMES | AP | OCTOBER 8, 2012

President Hugo Chavez put to rest any doubts about his masterful political touch in winning a third consecutive six-year term after a bitterly fought race against a youthful rival who has galvanized Venezuela’s opposition.

The state governor who lost Sunday’s presidential vote, Henrique Capriles, had accused the flamboyant incumbent of unfairly using Venezuela’s oil wealth to finance his campaign as well as flaunting his near-total control of state institutions.

Still, he accepted defeat as Chavez swept to a 10-point victory margin, the smallest yet for him a presidential race. This time, the former army paratroop commander won 55 percent of the vote against 45 percent for Capriles with more than 90 percent of the vote counted.

Chavez will now have a freer hand to push for an even bigger state role in the economy, as he pledged during the campaign, and to continue populist programs. He’s also likely to further limit dissent and deepen friendships with U.S. rivals.

Chavez spent heavily in the months before the vote, building public housing and bankrolling expanded social programs.

“I think he just cranked up the patronage machine and unleashed a spending orgy,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

But Shifter also noted the affinity and gratefulness Venezuela’s poor feel for Chavez. “Despite his illness, I still think he retains a strong emotional connection with a lot of Venezuelans that I think were not prepared to vote against him.”

“They still think that he’s trying hard even if he’s not delivering what he promised, that he still has their best interests at heart,” Shifter said. “That’s the political skill that he has. He hasn’t lost that touch.”

Chavez spoke little during the campaign about his fight with cancer, which since June 2011 has included surgery to remove tumors from his pelvic region as well as chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has said his most recent tests showed no sign of illness.

Tensions were high Sunday night as announcement of the results were delayed.

Finally, fireworks exploded over downtown Caracas amid a cacophony of horn-honking by elated Chavez supporters waving flags and jumping for joy outside the presidential palace.

“I can’t describe the relief and happiness I feel right now,” said Edgar Gonzalez, a 38-year-old construction worker.

He ran through crowds of Chavez supporters packing the streets around the presidential palace wearing a Venezuelan flag as a cape and yelling: “Oh, no! Chavez won’t go!”

“It’s time now to sweep away the squalid ones,” said another elated supporter, Ignacio Gonzalez, using a description of the opposition Chavez employed during campaigning.

“It’s time to get them out of governor’s and mayor’s offices. The next battle is in December,” when state and municipal elections will be held, added the 25-year-old student, who wore a red shirt that wedded the images of Chavez, Jesus Christ and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Capriles posed the strongest challenge yet to Chavez, who won by a 27-point margin in 2006 and by 16 points when he was first elected in 1998.

“I will continue working to build one country,” said the wiry, 40-year-old grandson of Holocaust survivors who unified and energized the opposition while barnstorming across the country.

He said in his concession speech that he rejects the idea of two Venezuelas divided by ideology and class.

Capriles had vowed to address violent crime that has spun out of control, streamline a patronage-bloated bureaucracy and end rampant corruption, but his promises proved inadequate against Chavez’s charisma, well-oiled political machine and legacy of putting Venezuela’s poor first with generous social welfare programs.

Yet with a turnout of 81 percent, Chavez only got 551,902 more votes this time around than he did six years ago, while the opposition boosted its tally by 2.09 million. Chavez appeared to acknowledge the opposition’s growing clout.

“I extend from here my recognition of all who voted against us, recognition of their democratic weight,” he told thousands of cheering supporters from the balcony of the Miraflores presidential palace.

US media demands Greek-style austerity for American workers

WSNM

In recent days, the US media—led by the standard bearer of American liberalism, the New York Times—has insisted that workers inseek truth the US, like their brethren in Greece, have been living the good life for far too long and must accept a drastic and permanent reduction in their living standards.

In a May 9 piece, Times columnist Thomas Friedman denounces workers in the US and Western Europe for believing in the “tooth fairy” and expecting government services without paying for them. In America, Friedman says, the baby-boom generation, which supposedly had inherited the prosperity of the post-war years, had “eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.”

“After 65 years in which politics in the West was, mostly, about giving things away to voters, it’s now going to be, mostly, about taking things away. Goodbye Tooth Fairy politics, hello Root Canal politics.”

Describing what he has in mind, two days later Friedman wrote about his meeting with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in a rooftop restaurant in Athens. Praising Papandreou for defying mass protests, theTimes columnist hails the government for carrying out a “revolution,” including raising the retirement age and slashing wages and pensions for public sector workers, imposing regressive consumption taxes and wiping out two-thirds of the country’s publicly owned companies.

Another May 11 article, appearing on the front page of the Times, is entitled, “In Greek Debt Crisis, Some See Parallels to U.S.” Its author, David Leonhardt, led the newspaper’s campaign to promote Obama’s health care overhaul, explicitly supporting limits on medical treatments ordinary people could receive. (“In truth, rationing is an inescapable part of economic life”).

“It’s easy to look at the protesters and the politicians in Greece—and at the other European countries with huge debts—and wonder why they don’t get it,” Leonhardt writes. “They have been enjoying more generous government benefits than they can afford…

“Yet in the back of your mind comes a nagging question: how different, really, is the United States?… Both countries have a bigger government than they’re paying for. And politicians, spendthrift as some may be, are not the main source of the problem.

We, the people, are.”

It is rich to hear demands for sacrifices and lectures about “the people” living beyond their means, particularly from the likes of Leonhardt and Friedman. The latter, who is paid $50,000 per speaking engagement, is married to the heir of a multi-billion dollar real estate fortune. According to theWashingtonian magazine, the couple owns “a palatial 11,400-square-foot house” in suburban Washington, DC, valued in 2006 at $9.3 million.

In these circles it is taken for granted that massive cuts must be imposed on the living standards of the working class, but not a word is said about the hundreds of billions that are funneled into the personal fortunes of the financial aristocracy and the subordination of the entire economy to increasing their piles of wealth.

The events of the last several years have revealed to the world that the greatest burden on society is not ordinary working people but the anti-social activities of an unproductive and parasitic financial elite. The grotesque consumption and appropriation of social wealth by this oligarchy is not a minor factor in the crisis of the global capitalist system itself.

The bankrupting of whole countries—chiefly through the transferring of the bad debts of the financial speculators onto the books of various governments—is being used to demand austerity from workers and ever-greater riches for the elite.

The four biggest US financial firms—Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase—made money from trading every single day during the first quarter of the year, according to their financial filings. The banks, which all benefited from the Wall Street bailout, reaped hundreds of millions in profits from betting on the movement of currency, commodity and sovereign debt markets, including in relation to Greece.

At the same time, the value of corporate shares has risen, chiefly through a campaign of job cutting, wage and benefit concessions and a staggering 3.8 percent increase in worker productivity in 2009. As a result, corporate CEOs, who took stock options in lieu of pay increases when profits were down, are now cashing in, according to an Associated Press report, entitled, “America’s top CEOs are set for a once-in-a-lifetime pay bonanza.” Yahoo’s Carol Bartz, for example, received a $47.2 million package during her first year on the job, 90 percent of which came from stock awards and options.

While these vast personal fortunes have been made, there has been no recovery in the wages and benefits workers have lost during the recession. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that real wages fell last year by 2.7 percent in Japan and Ireland, 1.1 per cent in Germany and 0.8 percent in the US.

The unbridled greed of America’s ruling elite—and the complete subservience of the political establishment, from Obama on down, to its needs—can only be compared to the ancien régime in France. The parasitism and extravagance of the aristocracy became a major factor in the country’s breakdown, and ultimately the eruption of the French Revolution in 1789.

Workers must reject the demand for austerity. The working class did not create this crisis and must not pay for it. Instead, the ill-gotten gains of the ruling elite must be confiscated and used to meet the interests of society as a whole, instead of gutting social programs and destroying jobs.

This must include a multi-trillion dollar program of public works to put the unemployed to work—at decent wages and full medical care—to rebuild the cities and suburbs, repair the nation’s infrastructure and provide high quality housing, medical care and education for all.

In the midst of the Great Depression, the founder of the Fourth International, Leon Trotsky, argued in the Transitional Program that it is “impossible to take a single serious step in the struggle against monopolistic despotism and capitalistic anarchy—which supplement one another in their work of destruction—if the commanding posts of the banks are left in the hands of predatory capitalists. In order to create a unified system of investment and credits, along a rational plan corresponding to the interests of the entire people, it is necessary to merge all the banks into a single national institution. Only the expropriation of the private banks and the concentration of the entire credit system in the hands of the state will provide the latter with the necessary actual, i.e., material, resources—and not merely paper and bureaucratic resources—for economic planning.”

The nationalization of the banks, however, will produce positive results, Trotsky explained, “only if the state power itself passes completely from the hands of the exploiters into the hands of the toilers.”

For this to be realized the working class must build its own mass political party, independent of and irreconcilably opposed to the two parties of big business, and dedicated to the fight for a workers’ government to replace capitalism with socialism.