[Marxism] The Austerity of Hope

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 21 10:04:48 MST 2012


Counterpunch February 21, 2012

Paternity Over Fraternity!
The Austerity of Hope
by VIJAY PRASHAD

Poor Mitt Romney. He is worth “somewhere between $190 and $250 million”. 
Even he is not sure of his net worth. He cannot account for the gap of 
$60 million. CNN asked the multiple-millionaire about his economic 
policy. He said, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m 
not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it 
needs repair, I’ll fix it.” He has been pilloried for his callousness 
not only by the Democratic Party but also by his own Republican primary 
rivals.

Rick Santorum, who has been a steady challenge to Romney, said that 
Romney’s comments about the poor “sent a chill down my spine”. Romney, 
who not only comes from the world of finance capital but also is its 
preferred candidate, has been unable to grasp the deep crisis of 
everyday life for millions of Americans.

The “safety net” that Romney mentioned has been frayed beyond 
recognition since the 1980s. One of the most grotesque problems is 
hunger. Last year, the United States Department of Agriculture reported 
that in 2010 about 17.2 million households in the U.S. did not have the 
resources to buy food (that is about 14.5 per cent of all households).

Additionally, about 6.4 million households reduced or disrupted their 
eating habits because of a lack of access to food. To seek food, the 
U.S. Department of Agriculture showed, people had sought refuge in 
emergency food pantries. During the recession’s early years, 2007 to 
2009, use of these pantries increased by 44 per cent. The Agriculture 
Department’s September 2011 report on “Household Food Insecurity in the 
United States” showed that one in six Americans do not have the money to 
feed themselves. The problem is acute.

Charity fills in the gap left by an inadequate governmental response. 
But here the challenge is enormous. With anxiety about the economy, 
charitable giving has dropped significantly (by 11 per cent to the big 
charities). Donations to organisations that help the very poor have 
dropped even further. According to the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, 
the charities with less than $3 million to spend saw their donations 
fall the most. These charities, such as homeless shelters and food 
pantries, are the ones that serve the very poor. They are in dire straits.

The children’s TV show “Sesame Street” has introduced a new puppet, 
Lily, whose task is to speak on the problem of food insecurity once a 
week to the children who tune in. She does not get enough to eat. She 
will share her story with children who are in her predicament. At least 
the puppet is concerned for the very poor.

Paternity

Building on his surge in the Republican primaries, Santorum went to give 
a big speech in Colorado Springs, the heartland of the new American 
conservatism. Santorum, who went on to win the primaries in Colorado, 
Missouri and Minnesota, told the thousand people in the Biggs Centre 
that he wanted to distinguish between the French Revolution and the 
American Revolution. The French had a three-part slogan, two of which 
Santorum was happy with: Liberty and Equality. The third, Fraternity, 
was not appropriate because it suggested that people in community would 
be able to
create codes to live by. Santorum preferred Paternity to Fraternity, 
with the Father being God. God’s law should precede human law. No one 
amongst the Republicans challenged this anti-democratic tendency towards 
theocracy.

Rather than deal with the serious problems of hunger and homelessness, 
the right wing has tried to shift the debate toward what are known as 
“social issues”. These include abortion rights, marriage rights for gays 
and lesbians, discussions about birth control and sexuality in schools, 
as well as the teaching of diversity in schools. The Right remains 
fixated on the body and on sexuality, with a morality that is out of 
touch with the everyday lives of people. No wonder that one of the 
problems for the Right has been the constant eruption of scandals among 
its leadership, with this or that spokesperson for an anachronistic 
morality found with sex workers or with pornography. Hypocrisy is the 
touchstone of an obsolete morality.

As part of his health care overhaul, President Barack Obama announced a 
rule that all health care providers (including religious hospitals) 
needed to provide free contraception for their employees. They did not 
have to provide contraception to their customers, but their employees 
had to be covered by federal mandates. A 2010 study in Vital and Health 
Statistics showed that 99 per cent of women aged 15 to 44 in the U.S. 
had used at least one contraceptive method. In other words, 
contraception use is universal among women in the U.S. It seemed as if 
the Obama policy was, therefore, quite straightforward and of great use 
to the 62 million women of childbearing age in the U.S.

Nevertheless, the Right went ballistic, calling the Obama policy an 
infringement on religious freedom. This is fairly typical of the Right, 
which masquerades its social suffocation as freedom. Santorum’s linkages 
between liberty and equality with the sanctity of God’s Law is an 
example of this unhappy marriage.

With Obama having been painted as anti-religion, it was impossible for 
the White House to stand firm on its principle. Harder for Obama to 
navigate this issue with one in five Americans of the erroneous view 
that Obama is a Muslim. Instead, Obama had to compromise with the Right 
and allow religious health care providers to sidestep this provision. 
Despite Obama’s surrender to the Right, Romney tried to fan the fire of 
this issue, “I will reverse every single Obama regulation that attacks 
our religious liberty and threatens innocent life in this country.”

The Right has gone ballistic on contraception but is virtually silent on 
the home foreclosure crisis and on the criminal activity by banks. 
Millions of Americans have been turned out of their homes as a result of 
the collapse in the home mortgage market.

As part of the neoliberal transformation of the U.S., low-rent, 
government-provided homes disappeared from the 1980s, with the private 
sector coming in as the main provider of homes. But with wage incomes 
stagnant since the 1970s, and with little wealth in the hands of 
ordinary people, the only way for them to get the keys to a home was 
through no-money-down, balloon payment mortgages. Banks devised these 
schemes to ensnare desperate people into homes, and then moved their 
mortgages into the secondary and tertiary financial markets as 
securities to be traded. These securities were given good bond ratings 
from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, whose culpability has not been fully 
addressed.

When it became clear that these securities were built on unsustainable 
dreams, the housing market collapsed. Banks received bailouts (along the 
grain of the neoliberal view that the government must make sure to 
remove Bad Money from the financial system and replace it with Good 
Money). There was no bailout for the millions of Americans. They were 
evicted from their homes.

Popular outrage at the criminal behaviour of the banks forced an 
investigation of financial activity. Banks were afraid that they would 
face a series of lawsuits from public interest litigants and from those 
among the foreclosed that might be gathered together into class action 
lawsuits. This was the spur for the banks to begin negotiations with the 
government for a deal.

The Obama administration and several Attorneys General of the different 
States sealed a bargain with the banks in early February, where the 
banks promised to pay $5 billion into a fund, which would include $21 
billion taxpayers’ money. This fund would be used to pay out between 
$1,500 and $2,000 per borrower foreclosed upon, between September 2008 
and December 2011. It is a ridiculously small amount of money both from 
the banks and to the victims of the foreclosure epidemic. That means the 
government believes that the fine to banks for forging and fabricating 
documents is no more than $2,000. The government decided to settle with 
the banks (including the worst offender, Bank of America) without any 
serious investigation of their offences.

Foreclosures slowed down in 2011 in anticipation of this bank deal. 
“Foreclosures were in full delay mode in 2011,” notes Brandon Moore of 
RealtyTrac, which follows the housing market very closely.

“The lack of clarity regarding many of the documentation and legal 
issues plaguing the foreclosure industry means that we are continuing to 
see a highly dysfunctional foreclosure process that is inefficiently 
dealing with delinquent mortgages – particularly in States with a 
judicial foreclosure process. There were strong signs in the second half 
of 2011 that lenders are finally beginning to push through some of the 
delayed foreclosures in select local markets. We expect that trend to 
continue this year, boosting foreclosure activity for 2012 higher than 
it was in 2011, though still below the peak of 2010.”

This is a very chilling thought, that the bank deal will not stem the 
foreclosure crisis but intensify it.

Occupy movement

Police action against the Occupy movement has cleared out most of the 
encampments. The Occupy movement has now shifted its focus towards much 
more focussed, local political endeavours (including fights against 
eviction).

One year ago, in Wisconsin, a massive social upsurge promised to open up 
a new dynamic in America. With the labour movement as its backbone, the 
Wisconsin demonstrations that began in March 2011 showed what was 
possible when the people refused to back down before the politics of 
cruel austerity (the story is captured in a new book edited by Mari Jo 
and Paul Buhle, It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines 
of the New Labor Protest, Verso, 2012). One hundred and fifty thousand 
people, mainly those affiliated with trade unions, stood in the cold and 
occupied the State House against their Governor Scott Walker.

Seven months later, in New York, the Occupy movement took off and spread 
across the country. It was grounded in the many facets of social 
distress in the U.S.

The initial position of both the Wisconsin protests and the Occupy 
movement was to change the conversation from the defence of the banks 
and the question of “social issues” to the broad questions of freedom 
and justice in the country. When the state decided to respond to these 
protests with police pressure, the immediate issue before the protesters 
was to deal with the forces of repression. The conversation around 
social suffocation and economic distress had to be set aside.

The battle lines were drawn between the police and the protesters, when 
the real contradiction is between the people (the 99 per cent) and the 
powerful (the 1 per cent). As cruel austerity cuts into the social lives 
of Americans, it is likely that the full range of issues that debilitate 
the well-being of Americans will return to the table. The tragedy is 
that neither of the two mainstream parties is capable of holding a real 
debate over these issues. They have other obligations, other priorities.

VIJAY PRASHAD is Professor and Director of International Studies at 
Trinity College, Hartford, CT. This Spring he will publish two books, 
Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (AK Press) and Uncle Swami: Being South Asian 
in America (New Press). He is the author of Darker Nations: A People’s 
History of the Third World (New Press), which won the 2009 Muzaffar 
Ahmed Book Prize.






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