Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Don't Cry for Me Portugal

Just because I returned Friday night from a 2 -week visit to Portugal, don't blame me for this NY Times story on Monday: Austerity Protests Are Rude Awakening in Portugal with reports of a possible general strike on November 14.
Portugal has long been regarded a role model in the grinding euro zone crisis. In return for an international bailout, its government cut services and raised taxes while its citizens patiently endured with little of the popular outcry seen elsewhere in southern Europe.
That is, until now. 
That is, until my wife and I spent the last two weeks visiting Porto, Portugal's 2nd largest city, cruising the Douro River valley, and finishing up with a few days in Lisbon, my new favorite European city. What did we do wrong? Or right? I did my best to leave the spirit of teacher union activism along the streets of Lisbon, like dropping bread crumbs, by wearing my red MORE tee-shirt. And Viola, it worked:
Suddenly, the Portuguese, too, have joined the swelling ranks of Europe’s discontented, following Greece and Spain, after the government tried to take another step up the austerity path last month. For many here, it was one step too far, driving tens of thousands into the streets in the largest protest of Portugal’s crisis. Taking a page from the playbook of their Spanish neighbors, Portuguese protesters are planning to encircle the Parliament building here in the capital for the budget announcement. For their part, Portugal’s powerful trade unions are preparing a general strike for Nov. 14. Arménio Carlos, the leader of the CGTP union, compared Mr. Passos Coelho to Pinocchio, accusing him of constantly changing his austerity message. 
Now, I did have some warning from tweets from Lisbon-based who was kind enough to fill me in with some of the background as I traveled. I was interested in left politics in Portugal. Paulo sent me an email with some background when I asked him why protests seemed so different  than Greece and Spain. He responded Oct. 7:
In Portugal protest and struggles are much more organic: we have one great Union ( CGTP-IN) with strong roots in workers; a Communist Party (PCP) that have great influence in that Union and in society, and BE (left-Block) another party that result from a coalition of left organization some 12 yr ago and organize much of the left-wing people that do not what to commit either to PCP and to Socialist Party. The Socialist Party (PS) have been [around] for long years, with the party now in the coalition in government PSD and CDS (two right wing parties), responsible for right wing policies.

CGTP convened a General Strike for November 14. In October 13 the March Again't Unemployment that begun... October 3 will end with the encounter of the column that come from North and that one from South in Lisbon. Later this week the Government will present the Parliament the new budget. It is expected that its presentation leads to some new wave of what I could call 'inorganic' protests and reinforce the wave to the General Strike.
I contacted Paulo because I wanted to get a left view. Helena, our wonderful tour guide, not a leftist, had touched on these issues. She told us that the Trotsky parties had 12 seats but lost half of them in the last election. I was interested because of the connections I have here with people who are members of Trotsky parties.

Helena seemed to take the position that Portugal had overspent and had to take its punishment from the IMF. I argued for the Paul Krugman position (I'm reading his new book, "End this Depression Now,"that the austerity plans pushed down the throats of Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal would shrink the economies so much a depression would follow. The answer Krugman says is MORE government spending, not less. Strictly Keynesian and I am a fan.

Germany, which one Lisbon Apple store employee told me while I was charging my laptop (long story) was using slightly different tactics than Hitler used to gain the same dominance of Europe, lent the money in the first place and all the results of the austerity will go to the pockets of the banks. All Portugal and the other nations have to do is threaten to blow up the Euro (though I still have a 100 left over and better spend it fast) unless the interest rates are reduced.

One of the scary ideas Helena, who is not only a tour guide but a teacher and a literary and historical scholar, presented was that she is hearing a growing number of Portuguese people saying, "Maybe democracy is not such a good idea," looking to a strongman or the military as a "solution." Exactly what they were saying in Germany c. 1932.

Helena, in one of her lectures on the history of Portugal, reminded us that the nation was the last in Western Europe to emerge from dictatorship as recently as 1975 when the 50-year Salazar regime came to an end in a military coup. One generation and hit by severe economic times, people are ready to head back to the 30's.

Helena, who while not identifying her politics seemed centrist-slightly right. She is a free-lancer with that mentality. But one interesting thing she said was that in Portugal (and probably most of Europe) there is absolutely no difference between left and right when it comes to a single-payer health care system, a major difference from here.

Let's not underestimate where we may be headed and Krugman makes it clear ---- we may still not have hit the big one that might even top the Great Depression. Imagine the European economy totally deteriorating, Mitt Romney and the tea party in control of all branches of the government squeezing the economy into oblivion which will accelerate a worldwide crash that will bring an end to even the tiny vestiges of democracy that exist.

Some on the left see a Romney win as a long-term good thing in that there will rise a counter movement with a much expanded Occupy movement, an idea I have toyed with -- like at least we might get a Roosevelt following on a Herbert Hoover scenario. I no longer think so. Look how easily the Occupy encampments were destroyed. Mitt or Obama will bring the troops home to suppress the revolts that might take place here and we will drift even more to the right than the left.

You know how Nixon now looks more liberal than Obama? And Regan looks left compared to the gang running the Republican Party? Will we one day look at Romney the same way? Maybe not.

Romney Appeals to White Tribalism in Ohio

The Progressive, Monday, 15 October 2012

Here are some excerpts:

Author Thomas Frank calls this brand of politics "Pity
the Billionaire ... a revival crusade preaching the
old-time religion of the free market." Frank argues the
post-Obama resurgence of the right is not about racism
or culture wars, but a populist politics of resentment.
The right, he explains, has effectively defined the
economic crisis as "a conspiracy of the big guys
against the little," and their solution is "to work
even more energetically for the laissez-faire utopia."

It's not either-or as Frank contends, however. The
right is invoking "producerism," telling Americans
bruised by the downturn that your pain is due to social
factors, which are presented as coded racial

Political Research Associates, a group of scholars who
study right-wing movements, defines producerism as a
call to "rally the virtuous 'producing classes' against
evil 'parasites' at both the top and bottom of
society." The concept stretches back to the Andrew
Jackson era, and weaves "together intra-elite
factionalism and lower-class whites' double-edged
resentments." Today, the parasites at the top are
liberals, bureaucrats, bankers, and union "bosses"; the
ones below are "welfare queens," teachers, Muslims, and
"illegal aliens." They are all taking money from the
hard-working Americans in the middle.

By historical standards Romney should be a Walter
Mondale, a candidate who has lost even before the race
begins. But he is effectively utilizing the politics of
white resentment because of Obama's dismal economic
record. Tens of millions of low-wage workers feel their
world is coming apart and they don't know whom to
blame. To them, change may mean lower wages, fewer
hours, no health care, or a lost home. Romney plays on
fear by linking it to Obama. In Sidney he said, "The
president seems to be changing America in ways we don't
recognize," which elicited chants of "USA! USA! USA!"

It's not that the United States is inherently right
wing, as many commentators claim. In Ohio, autoworkers
say there is almost universal support among their
co-workers for Obama because the auto bailout saved
their jobs. But the bailout affected less than 1
percent of all U.S. jobs. In a recent poll the
president has the support of only 35 percent of white
working-class voters compared to Romney's 48 percent.

The Romney rally was stunningly white. Among the
estimated 9,000 people, it was hard to find more than a
handful who looked to be Black, Latino or Asian.
Attendees complained about welfare and high taxes
destroying the country. Romney fed the resentment by
claiming Obama was going to "raise the tax on savings,"
"put in place a more expensive death tax," and raise
taxes on "a million" small businesses.

Democrats dismiss Romney as a snake-oil salesman. Joe
Biden pointed out in the debate against Paul Ryan that
the GOP counts billion-dollar hedge funds as small
businesses. That's true, but it doesn't account for the
popularity of their ideas. You see, the Republicans
have turned small business into a catch-all group the
way "working class" once served that function for the

The Democrats
mimic the right even when they control all of
Washington. Obama says he will make business more
competitive, cut taxes, sign trade deals, bomb the
world into democracy and drill, frack and mine for
energy. The Democrats' dilemma is they are in the
pocket of Wall Street, but need votes from groups that
want the economic pie to be sliced more evenly. The
result is liberals worship the same free-market god as
conservatives, but have no conviction about it.

Absent an alternative, many voters veer right because
they are reaching for the only lifeline they see.
"Energy independence" and "a military second to none"
are not just catch phrases. They provide millions of
decent-paying jobs for the white working class.
I have more to say about the really great trip with Road Scholar (formerly Elder Hostel). Their tours are not just touristy but educational. Helena gave us a number of lectures and we came home with a deeper knowledge of Portugal and a yearning to go back, especially to Lisbon. Here are a few pics. I have hundreds and am encouraging my wife to take on the job of filtering through them and creating a slide show. But first she has to get to the New Zealand pics from last year.

Helena tells us about the Alfama neighborhood in Lisbon

Oh, what views of Lisbon.

1 comment:

  1. Norm - thanks for this! And all that you post. I went to Portugal in 1975 just as they had overthrown their Fascist government. It was the most exciting place I had been since my Berkeley days. I had lived in Tanzania and meet the liberation fighters from Angola and Mozambique so I was doubly excited about how that "revolution" came about. And thanks for the reminder about Elder Hostel (Road Scholar). They are a good group. I agree with you and Paul Krugman -- spend more money -- not more austerity.


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