A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to Spain, where I attended a scientific meeting in Barcelona and afterwards, we went to Madrid. We took a bullet train to Madrid and noticed that Spain’s high-speed rail system was celebrating its 20th anniversary since the inauguration of the first. Spain has the largest fleet of bullet trains in Europe. The train reached 240 km/hr as we passed automobiles driving along the freeway, leaving them in the dust so to speak. You can ask why Spain is so far ahead of America in high speed rail service and the answer is always the same: neoliberal control of our economy, dominated by the oil and gas industry lobby to restrict Americans seeking transportation options to those modes that use fossil fuels: end of story. During our time in Spain, we witnessed a lot of civil unrest in the form of demonstrations and marches in both Barcelona and Madrid. From this experience, I came away wondering if the United States is living up to the same ideals that I witnessed in Spain, specifically our constitutional right to assemble and petition the government with our grievances. We are all aware that Spain, Europe’s fourth largest economy, is suffering from an overdose of austerity, with overall unemployment estimated at nearly 25 percent of the population, while more than 50 percent of those under age 25 are similarly disengaged from participating in the Spanish economy. This is intolerable and it doesn’t have to be that way. People in Spain, indeed Europe are mad about it, but we don’t hear that side of the Euro story in our newspapers because such events are filtered out: only the bond sales seem to get press play in America. Given Spain’s past history of veering towards fascism when confronted with economic stress (Spanish Civil War, 1936-39), you might think that some concern would be evident to promote a more balanced approach to Spain’s economic plight. But the neoliberals in Europe are still in control, especially in the banking and financial system of the Eurozone. German neoliberals largely control the monetary system of the Euro and they want to conform to the neoliberal manifesto—make a profit out of someone’s misery! That of course includes the IMF. In this iteration of our deepest international recession, we know that Spain did not cause the economic crash and though Spanish banks participated in the sub-prime housing scandal, the citizens of Spain are blameless, but they are being asked to foot the bill in ways that make no economic sense. The citizens of Spain are not all living a life of dignity and in that sense, the economic and financial system they live under has completely failed them. Indeed neoliberalism has failed all but a very few living at the top of the economic food chain. If we gain nothing more from this recession I hope we at last see the destructive forces of neoliberal financial policies—they are pursuing selfishly motivated strategies that are only good for the few and have absolutely no regard for the people most affected by this financial disaster. For Germany, the austerity strategy they have helped to impose defies logic, because their export economy will prosper more effectively if the Eurozone quickly recovers its economic vitality. Now is not too soon. So, you might guess that smart Germans would do everything in their power to have the European economies recover as quickly as possible and with little debt of the onerous variety—that is debt without high interest rates. After all, Europeans like to buy German stuff, but only when they can afford it. The trouble is there are no smart Germans in control of the Euro. Like all neoliberals, their capacity to think beyond ultra-short-term planing vanished through the plasticity changes and synaptic reorganization of their brains, which left them with unparalleled skills for short-term thinking, but an empty frontal cortex when long-term thinking and planning is required, such as that mode of thought necessary to begin thinking about saving the planet. As a result of their policies, much of Europe is either in or headed for a double dip recession. So far, America avoided this trap through Obama’s stimulus package, but it wasn’t big enough and the plan was filled with too many tax breaks to have a more powerful, long lasting effect. We are thus continuously in danger of sliding back into a second recession: we are always on the margin. An additional component to this dilemma is that Obama jumped onto the austerity bandwagon, without checking with the American public and his austerity strategy was rescued by his own prior stimulus plan. Otherwise, we very likely would be in a second recession and may get there yet. So far, this “recovery” is too anemic and falls way short of what we really need to make our economy healthy and robust.
In my opinion, the Euro is not worth saving and if Spain went back to its own currency, they might already be experiencing a recovery. With the austerity strategy and the “keep the Euro” mentality that dominates European neoliberal thinking at the moment, it will take many years for Europe to recover its economic vitality and, consequently, many years before the German economy is robust as well [there is now some hint that the bond rate for Spain's borrowing is going down---if this turns out to be a new trend, it is a welcome one indeed, but it is much to late to bring sensible policy to such a grave economic condition and already too much economic hemorrhaging has taken place]. Besides, what Spain is asking for is a loan, not a bailout and when borrowing costs are practically free for the lender, why do you need to make 7 percent interest on loans to Spain or from any other European country? Except for the neoliberals, most people understand this. Risk? No, it’s a far greater risk not helping Spain recover more quickly, by creating jobs, especially for the disenfranchised young people of Spain. As an aside, economist Paul Krugman is something of a celebrity in Spain with his recently released book “End This Depression Now.“ Last I checked the book was in it’s fourth printing in Spain. Clearly, the wrong people are in charge of international financial affairs. While we should be saying good-bye to the disastrous neoliberal economic policies, in fact, they remain firmly in control for who knows how long? It is way past time for them to go, but it hasn’t happened yet.
In Barcelona and later in Madrid, we saw many demonstrations, street marches, meetings in front of banks and labor leaders talking about the irresponsibility of the banking system that caused the problem in the first place. Television crews were among the crowds, interviewing labor leaders and citizens. One march in Barcelona stands out for the sheer scale of the event. The march began in the North of the city, as we were following it quite by accident riding in a cab behind the early formation of the march. As the march grew in size, we noticed that police cars and motorcycles began to form a barricade, not to block the marchers, but to facilitate their objectives. All the side streets were blocked, as the march converged on the large street where our hotel was located. Our cab driver let us out blocks away from our hotel and we were told that he could get us no closer, so we had to walk back to our hotel and of course, came along the center of the march, where thousands of people were flowing down the four lane street in front of our hotel. No traffic was allowed to flow and all the side streets were blocked. It looked to me as though the police felt kinship with the marchers and were not there to arrest people but make sure the demonstration was carried out in safety. Barcelona and Madrid were cities filled with police, yet these were not the “I’m going to crack your head” types, but rather they seemed more professional than police in American cities. As soon as the marchers gained a critical mass, the police obligingly cordoned off the side streets and followed from the rear to help protect the demonstrators. I was not prepared for this kind of police action, as we had just gone through the experience in America with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York and other cities in which demonstrators were arrested by the hundreds on the Brooklyn bridge, pepper sprayed in Oakland, while Zucotti park was ripped apart, heads bashed and things such as their library books were confiscated. The American Constitution prohibits any laws interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. But in America we see violations of our first amendment rights all the time; police in America tend to view public demonstrations as a threat to the neoliberal security and these events must never be allowed to get out of hand.We have seen police precipitate violence and then proceed with arrests and club bashing, claiming that the demonstration was not peaceful. Corruption is another label that can be applied to the American police force and the police have taken sides in the battle of red and blue America.
As we were watching the marchers in Barcelona (this peaceful demonstration lasted for hours), a group marched by where I was standing; one person was handing out literature. His group was marching under a sign that said, more or less “without science a country has no future.” He told me that the budget cuts to science had been so severe at his university that they couldn’t buy surgical gloves to do animal surgery. We are fortunate in America that we don’t have the depths of the economic convulsion that Spain is going through, though having said that, we are in the process of destroying our scientific research base in ways that can never be recovered. God forbid that the sequestration budget adjustment take place on January 3, 2013, but if it does, we can all say goodbye to American science as we have known it. As just one example, the research into particle physics, which may be entering a new era now that the Higgs Boson has been discovered, has its epicenter in Europe at the new CERN Hadron Collider. Americans are not directly playing in this game as congress cancelled our supercollider project in the 1990s. In America, we destroy the good things we establish that help to make us a pillar of strength and prosperity, such as science and our manufacturing base, but these things get systemically destroyed through political machinations that rarely reach the pages of our newspapers. It is a silent process that even scientists don’t want to talk about. We also greatly under-report the seriousness of our own unemployment situation because massive numbers are not reported or people are working underemployed with wages that cannot sustain a decent lifestyle. We only get the modified unemployment figures and hear nothing about the kinds of jobs that are being created. When are we going to realize that those who caused this deep recession are the ones that should pay for it? So far we are still operating under the policy of socializing financial risk, while privatizing profits through the financialization of the American economy. With the new securitized state given to us by GW Bush, combined with the hostility and confrontational nature of the right wing police, public demonstrations are viewed as a security risk and the Patriot Act provides the basis for treating demonstrators in America like criminals or terrorists. It was as least gratifying to see one country where public demonstrations are supported by the government with appropriate aid coming from the police. When was the last time you heard about something like that in America?
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