I Met a Marxist in Ireland

A Shop Window in Rome
A Shop Window in Rome

I met a Marxist — not the craft-beer-and-Prius kind but the real meal deal.  He was one of Lenin’s Lads and proud of it.  We eyed each other, like wary animals, across an ad hoc Irish pub party, casually exchanging a few beer-whet barbs through the crowd.  He was younger, better informed and quicker on the wit than I was, but I haven’t been afraid of Marxists (not the real ones, anyway) since Brezhnev dropped the collective ball in the early 70s.  Besides, I had the advantage: I’d been there before, many times.  Eventually, sensing a game of “let’s you and him fight,” the party metaphorically parted so the two of us could get at it.  I seldom walk away from an intellectual punch-up, so I figured what the hell.  My new friend, however, had a few things on his mind.  After a couple of pleasantries, he looked at me and said, “The fascists are coming.”  It took me a few seconds to realize he didn’t mean me, and from that revelation on, we spent the rest of the evening agreeing to agree.

The far right movement in Europe is not only alive — it’s on a roll.  Statistically, it’s the fastest growing political movement west of the Urals.  In fact, many Euro-centrist politicians are moving right to accommodate this new political reality.  FYI, I’m not talking about black jacket, Neo-Nazi skinheads — although they are the far right’s willing allies — I’m talking about Mom and Pop fascists.  These are ordinary people (of an increasingly younger demographic, BTW) whose traditional social and political views see the 21st century European landscape as a comedy of errors which the current politicos either can’t (or won’t) put right.  They have lost their faith in Europe’s left and right wing revolving door governments, each one more inept than the last, and want, above all else, stability.

This movement has its roots firmly planted in two separate but equal gardens of discontent.

First, the ever-expanding European economic crisis: a financial disaster which has now taken on a destructive life of its own.  For

These Products Weren't Commonplace
These Products Weren’t Commonplace

the last half century, the uncrowned heads of Europe have been spending money as if they were Midas’ mistress; when they ran out of ready cash, they just borrowed more.  Now the piggy banks are empty, the credit cards are maxed and the banks are demanding their pound of flesh.  Take one guess who’s being asked to pay the bills!  Those same folks who are getting financially pistol-whipped by their governments’ fiscal irresponsibility — which, in some places, verges on criminal negligence.  Across Europe, people have watched their savings, insurance, homes, pensions and jobs vanish.  Officially, unemployment sits somewhere north of 10%.  Unofficially, it’s much higher, and among young people it’s close to 50% (in parts of Portugal and Spain.)  These numbers are biblical in their devastation.  Elections come and go, governments rise and fall, but there’s no relief in sight.

Secondly, many Europeans believe their culture is under attack — not only by radical Islam from without, but by their own politicians from within.  For the past two (maybe three) decades, they’ve been subjected to ever increasing volumes of feel-good rhetoric, yet the Moslem ghettos get bigger, more radical and immigration (legal and otherwise) increases.  They see a seemingly infinite conflict stretching out before them like some endless Orwellian misery.  More and more, politicians are being physically attacked and even killed.  Political commentary and satire are being intimidated, and artists, the very soul of any society, are being murdered or go into hiding.  These are not the hallmarks of a vibrant, dynamic culture.  Nor do images like that of Drummer Rigby, hacked to death in broad daylight, instill confidence in an already sceptical population.  And the brazen taunts of the unrepentant murderers add powerful punctuation to the message: “Your leaders are impotent.”

But They Weren't Hard to Find
But They Weren’t Hard to Find

There are no short answers to either of these questions, but the longer the powers that be dither around looking for one, the closer the fascists get to finding it.  Golden Dawn in Greece, Democracia Nacional in Spain, Casapound in Italy, BNP in Britain: the list is long and it’s growing.  Even the powerful National Front in France, once the darling of conservative politics, is now seen by many as too mainstream, too willing to compromise right-wing ideals for a slice of the political pie.  There are other forces at work in France these days, and they showed up in huge numbers (over 200,000 in Paris alone) to protest Francois Hollande’s gay marriage law.

My newfound Marxist friend didn’t want to fight with me over petty politics; he wanted to warn me that conditions in Europe are changing, and that even though the factions are small and scattered fascism is on the move.

Oddly enough, since I’ve been back in North America, Vladimir Putin and his Russian Duma have passed a law outlawing “gay propaganda” (whatever that means) by an astounding margin of 436 – 0.  A little closer to home, in my country, a provincial sports federation has banned turbans from the soccer pitch.  They say it’s for safety reasons, but a shocking 87% of the people in the province support the ban.

How to Ruin a Debt Crisis: Part II

The problem is this just might stick to Obama.  The president may have finally run out of Teflon.  Unless Barack can figure out a way to pull some leadership out of that teleprompter, he’s going to be wearing this like last month’s pastrami when he has to face the people in 2012.  It’s going to hurt him.  I know this is a bold statement about the most adroit politician to come out of Chicago since Dick Daley, but think about this.  I haven’t even told you what I’m talking about yet.  You already know what it is, though.  It’s the American debt crisis and Standard and Poor’s downgrading of the US credit rating – and yes, it is a crisis.  The White House has gone to DEFCON 2 on damage control, but it ain’t going to help ‘cause, as Harry S Truman’s eloquent little sign pointed out, “The Buck stops here.”

For the last 48 hours, Obama apologists have been setting break fires wherever they can find a Blackberry or a microphone.  The first line of excuse is Standard and Poor’s made a mathematical mistake – a couple of trillion dollars, apparently.  This one is way too highschool lame to even deal with.  From there, they take a run at the Republicans, who just weren’t being reasonable about Obama’s plan for a “balanced approach” to the debt crisis.  Good point, except for one minor problem: there never was an Obama plan (at least not one that was written down anywhere.)  There was a lot of in-general talk about compromise, but the Commander-in-Chief never stood up and said “This is the problem, and this is what I’m going to do about it.  Okay, Broehner.  What’s your plan?  That’s stupid.  Now let’s hammer out a deal.”  The fact is most of Obama’s thoughts on the debt crisis (including “balanced approach”) were just more media platitudes that don’t actually mean anything but invoke some vague idea of reasonable behaviour.  Even the most ardent supporter can’t point to Obama’s chapter-and-verse solution to keep America out of debtors’ prison.

Finally, the Obamanista have been dragging all-purpose bogeyman George W. Bush out of retirement and kicking him around again.  After all, that worked in 2008.  “Bush was the one who spent all the money.  (Stage direction: point fingers accusingly)  He did it.”  Please!  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  We all know that Dubya is responsible for everything from 9/11 to Lebron losing Game 6 to the Mavericks, but there’s got to be a statute of limitations somewhere on the guy.  Even if he did spend all the money, it’s Obama’s job to fix it, and he’s had three years to do it – which he hasn’t.  Besides, everybody knows the bottom line is no matter what, where, who, when or why the debt got out of control, Barack Obama was the guy sitting in the Oval Office when the cash cows ran dry.  That’s what history and the electorate will remember, and if either one ever forgets, the Republicans are going to remind them.  And that’s the problem.

Americans are a mercantile people.  They’re willing to trade a lot if they think they’re getting something for their money.  In this case, they were willing to go with a next-to-useless president because he was interplanetary cool.  In 2008, the whole world loved the guy.  (He started his presidential campaign in Germany, for God’s sake.)  So, during the election, nobody bothered to notice that Barack Obama was a (less than one term) junior senator, with fewer credentials to be president than Millard Fillmore.  He expounded change and then cut a traditional backroom deal with Hillary to make her Secretary of State — but nobody cared.  The guy was Kennedy-sweet — with no downside.  He got the Nobel Peace Prize just for showing up.  All he had to do was hang out at the White House, pull an Eisenhower and don’t touch anything.  Most Americans would have been more than happy with that after eight years of George Bush.

However, Americans are also a proud people.  They don’t like it when they think they’re not getting their money’s worth.  And they get downright unreasonable if they think they’re being conned.  Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George Bush the Elder are just a few one-term presidents who tried to pull a fast one on the American people.  This is where the Tea Party comes from.  It doesn’t take Howard Beale to figure out there’s a boatload of folks across America who are “mad as hell and not going to take this anymore.”  Despite what The New York Times will tell you, these folks are not an isolated pack of snarling, white-haired, right-wing, Sarah Palin nut bars.  They’re ordinary folks who think they’re watching their prestige going over the falls along with their economic future.  This is just insult to injury to an electorate who trusted Barack Obama to change America’s position on this planet.

Right now there is an economic crisis in America.  So what?  That’s nothing serious!  Take a look around you.  There are more farmers raising livestock on Facebook than there are on real farms in Europe, and Facebook is less than a decade old.   More people are touching Google on their iPads every day than there are people in Malaysia.  Google is a teenager and iPads didn’t even exist when Obama was elected.  Last year Walmart customers made 7.2 billion purchases (the population of the world is approximately 6.5 billion) and most of them were made with a Visa or Mastercard.  Americans win more money on Jeapordy than most humans earn in a year.  Use your head, folks: American economic power is awesome (in the true sense of the word) I don’t care what Standard and Poor’s says.  However, if this thing really does stick to Obama and these economic problems turn into a political crisis, all bets are off.  The world is going to change radically and not in that cool, glamourous way Barack was singing about three years ago.  It’s going to get ugly, and it’s going to be mean.

Wednesday:  What happens to economics when American voters get angry?