Dec 122017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

shutterstock_237229381-600x455

Introduction

The American welfare state was created in 1935 and continued to develop through 1973. Since then, over a prolonged period, the capitalist class has been steadily dismantling the entire welfare state.

Between the mid 1970’s to the present (2017) labor laws, welfare rights and benefits and the construction of and subsidies for affordable housing have been gutted. ‘Workfare’ (under President ‘Bill’ Clinton) ended welfare for the poor and displaced workers. Meanwhile the shift to regressive taxation and the steadily declining real wages have increased corporate profits to an astronomical degree.

What started as incremental reversals during the 1990’s under Clinton has snowballed over the last two decades decimating welfare legislation and institutions.

The earlier welfare ‘reforms’ and the current anti-welfare legislation and austerity practices have been accompanied by a series of endless imperial wars, especially in the Middle East.

In the 1940’s through the 1960’s, world and regional wars (Korea and Indo-China) were combined with significant welfare program – a form of ‘social imperialism’, which ‘buy off’ the working class while expanding the empire. However, recent decades are characterized by multiple regional wars and the reduction or elimination of welfare programs – and a massive growth in poverty, domestic insecurity and poor health.

New Deals and Big Wars

The 1930’s witnessed the advent of social legislation and action, which laid the foundations of what is called the ‘modern welfare state’.

Labor unions were organized as working class strikes and progressive legislation facilitated trade union organization, elections, collective bargaining rights and a steady increase in union membership. Improved work conditions, rising wages, pension plans and benefits, employer or union-provided health care and protective legislation improved the standard of living for the working class and provided for 2 generations of upward mobility.

Social Security legislation was approved along with workers’ compensation and the forty-hour workweek. Jobs were created through federal programs (WPA, CCC, etc.). Protectionist legislation facilitated the growth of domestic markets for US manufacturers. Workplace shop steward councils organized ‘on the spot’ job action to protect safe working conditions.

World War II led to full employment and increases in union membership, as well as legislation restricting workers’ collective bargaining rights and enforcing wage freezes. Hundreds of thousands of Americans found jobs in the war economy but a huge number were also killed or wounded in the war.

The post-war period witnessed a contradictory process: wages and salaries increased while legislation curtailed union rights via the Taft Hartley Act and the McCarthyist purge of leftwing trade union activists. So-called ‘right to work’ laws effectively outlawed unionization mostly in southern states, which drove industries to relocate to the anti-union states.

Welfare reforms, in the form of the GI bill, provided educational opportunities for working class and rural veterans, while federal-subsidized low interest mortgages encourage home-ownership, especially for veterans.

The New Deal created concrete improvements but did not consolidate labor influence at any level. Capitalists and management still retained control over capital, the workplace and plant location of production.

Trade union officials signed pacts with capital: higher pay for the workers and greater control of the workplace for the bosses. Trade union officials joined management in repressing rank and file movements seeking to control technological changes by reducing hours (“thirty hours work for forty hours pay”). Dissident local unions were seized and gutted by the trade union bosses – sometimes through violence.

Trade union activists, community organizers for rent control and other grassroots movements lost both the capacity and the will to advance toward large-scale structural changes of US capitalism. Living standards improved for a few decades but the capitalist class consolidated strategic control over labor relations. While unionized workers’ incomes, increased, inequalities, especially in the non-union sectors began to grow. With the end of the GI bill, veterans’ access to high-quality subsidized education declined.

While a new wave of social welfare legislation and programs began in the 1960’s and early 1970’s it was no longer a result of a mass trade union or workers’ “class struggle”. Moreover, trade union collaboration with the capitalist regional war policies led to the killing and maiming of hundreds of thousands of workers in two wars – the Korean and Vietnamese wars.

Much of social legislation resulted from the civil and welfare rights movements. While specific programs were helpful, none of them addressed structural racism and poverty.

The Last Wave of Social Welfarism

The 1960’a witnessed the greatest racial war in modern US history: Mass movements in the South and North rocked state and federal governments, while advancing the cause of civil, social and political rights. Millions of black citizens, joined by white activists and, in many cases, led by African American Viet Nam War veterans, confronted the state. At the same time, millions of students and young workers, threatened by military conscription, challenged the military and social order.

Energized by mass movements, a new wave of social welfare legislation was launched by the federal government to pacify mass opposition among blacks, students, community organizers and middle class Americans. Despite this mass popular movement, the union bosses at the AFL-CIO openly supported the war, police repression and the military, or at best, were passive impotent spectators of the drama unfolding in the nation’s streets. Dissident union members and activists were the exception, as many had multiple identities to represent: African American, Hispanic, draft resisters, etc.

Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, Medicare, Medicaid, OSHA, the EPA and multiple poverty programs were implemented. A national health program, expanding Medicare for all Americans, was introduced by President Nixon and sabotaged by the Kennedy Democrats and the AFL-CIO. Overall, social and economic inequalities diminished during this period.

The Vietnam War ended in defeat for the American militarist empire. This coincided with the beginning of the end of social welfare as we knew it – as the bill for militarism placed even greater demands on the public treasury.

With the election of President Carter, social welfare in the US began its long decline. The next series of regional wars were accompanied by even greater attacks on welfare via the “Volker Plan” – freezing workers’ wages as a means to combat inflation.

Guns without butter’ became the legislative policy of the Carter and Reagan Administrations. The welfare programs were based on politically fragile foundations.

The Debacle of Welfarism

Private sector trade union membership declined from a post-world war peak of 30% falling to 12% in the 1990’s. Today it has sunk to 7%. Capitalists embarked on a massive program of closing thousands of factories in the unionized North which were then relocated to the non-unionized low wage southern states and then overseas to Mexico and Asia. Millions of stable jobs disappeared.

Following the election of ‘Jimmy Carter’, neither Democratic nor Republican Presidents felt any need to support labor organizations. On the contrary, they facilitated contracts dictated by management, which reduced wages, job security, benefits and social welfare.

The anti-labor offensive from the ‘Oval Office’ intensified under President Reagan with his direct intervention firing tens of thousands of striking air controllers and arresting union leaders. Under Presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and William Clinton cost of living adjustments failed to keep up with prices of vital goods and services. Health care inflation was astronomical. Financial deregulation led to the subordination of American industry to finance and the Wall Street banks. De-industrialization, capital flight and massive tax evasion reduced labor’s share of national income.

The capitalist class followed a trajectory of decline, recovery and ascendance. Moreover, during the earlier world depression, at the height of labor mobilization and organization, the capitalist class never faced any significant political threat over its control of the commanding heights of the economy.

The ‘New Deal’ was, at best, a de facto ‘historical compromise’ between the capitalist class and the labor unions, mediated by the Democratic Party elite. It was a temporary pact in which the unions secured legal recognition while the capitalists retained their executive prerogatives.

The Second World War secured the economic recovery for capital and subordinated labor through a federally mandated no strike production agreement. There were a few notable exceptions: The coal miners’ union organized strikes in strategic sectors and some leftist leaders and organizers encouraged slow-downs, work to rule and other in-plant actions when employers ran roughshod with special brutality over the workers. The recovery of capital was the prelude to a post-war offensive against independent labor-based political organizations. The quality of labor organization declined even as the quantity of trade union membership increased.

Labor union officials consolidated internal control in collaboration with the capitalist elite. Capitalist class-labor official collaboration was extended overseas with strategic consequences.

The post-war corporate alliance between the state and capital led to a global offensive – the replacement of European-Japanese colonial control and exploitation by US business and bankers. Imperialism was later ‘re-branded’ as ‘globalization’. It pried open markets, secured cheap docile labor and pillaged resources for US manufacturers and importers.

US labor unions played a major role by sabotaging militant unions abroad in cooperation with the US security apparatus: They worked to coopt and bribe nationalist and leftist labor leaders and supported police-state regime repression and assassination of recalcitrant militants.

Hand in bloody glove’ with the US Empire, the American trade unions planted the seeds of their own destruction at home. The local capitalists in newly emerging independent nations established industries and supply chains in cooperation with US manufacturers. Attracted to these sources of low-wage, violently repressed workers, US capitalists subsequently relocated their factories overseas and turned their backs on labor at home.

Labor union officials had laid the groundwork for the demise of stable jobs and social benefits for American workers. Their collaboration increased the rate of capitalist profit and overall power in the political system. Their complicity in the brutal purges of militants, activists and leftist union members and leaders at home and abroad put an end to labor’s capacity to sustain and expand the welfare state.

Trade unions in the US did not use their collaboration with empire in its bloody regional wars to win social benefits for the rank and file workers. The time of social-imperialism, where workers within the empire benefited from imperialism’s pillage, was over. Gains in social welfare henceforth could result only from mass struggles led by the urban poor, especially Afro-Americans, community-based working poor and militant youth organizers.

The last significant social welfare reforms were implemented in the early 1970’s – coinciding with the end of the Vietnam War (and victory for the Vietnamese people) and ended with the absorption of the urban and anti-war movements into the Democratic Party.

Henceforward the US corporate state advanced through the overseas expansion of the multi-national corporations and via large-scale, non-unionized production at home.

The technological changes of this period did not benefit labor. The belief, common in the 1950’s, that science and technology would increase leisure, decrease work and improve living standards for the working class, was shattered. Instead technological changes displaced well-paid industrial labor while increasing the number of mind-numbing, poorly paid, and politically impotent jobs in the so-called ‘service sector’ – a rapidly growing section of unorganized and vulnerable workers – especially including women and minorities.

Labor union membership declined precipitously. The demise of the USSR and China’s turn to capitalism had a dual effect: It eliminated collectivist (socialist) pressure for social welfare and opened their labor markets with cheap, disciplined workers for foreign manufacturers. Labor as a political force disappeared on every count. The US Federal Reserve and President ‘Bill’ Clinton deregulated financial capital leading to a frenzy of speculation. Congress wrote laws, which permitted overseas tax evasion – especially in Caribbean tax havens. Regional free-trade agreements, like NAFTA, spurred the relocation of jobs abroad. De-industrialization accompanied the decline of wages, living standards and social benefits for millions of American workers.

The New Abolitionists: Trillionaires

The New Deal, the Great Society, trade unions, and the anti-war and urban movements were in retreat and primed for abolition.

Wars without welfare (or guns without butter) replaced earlier ‘social imperialism’ with a huge growth of poverty and homelessness. Domestic labor was now exploited to finance overseas wars not vice versa. The fruits of imperial plunder were not shared.

As the working and middle classes drifted downward, they were used up, abandoned and deceived on all sides – especially by the Democratic Party. They elected militarists and demagogues as their new presidents.

President ‘Bill’ Clinton ravaged Russia, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Somalia and liberated Wall Street. His regime gave birth to the prototype billionaire swindlers: Michael Milken and Bernard ‘Bernie’ Madoff.

Clinton converted welfare into cheap labor ‘workfare’, exploiting the poorest and most vulnerable and condemning the next generations to grinding poverty. Under Clinton the prison population of mostly African Americans expanded and the breakup of families ravaged the urban communities.

Provoked by an act of terrorism (9/11) President G.W. Bush Jr. launched the ‘endless’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and deepened the police state (Patriot Act). Wages for American workers and profits for American capitalist moved in opposite directions.

The Great Financial Crash of 2008-2011 shook the paper economy to its roots and led to the greatest shakedown of any national treasury in history directed by the First Black American President. Trillions of public wealth were funneled into the criminal banks on Wall Street – which were ‘just too big to fail.’ Millions of American workers and homeowners, however, were ‘just too small to matter’.

The Age of Demagogues

President Obama transferred 2 trillion dollars to the ten biggest bankers and swindlers on Wall Street, and another trillion to the Pentagon to pursue the Democrats version of foreign policy: from Bush’s two overseas wars to Obama’s seven.

Obama’s electoral ‘donor-owners’ stashed away two trillion dollars in overseas tax havens and looked forward to global free trade pacts – pushed by the eloquent African American President.

Obama was elected to two terms. His liberal Democratic Party supporters swooned over his peace and justice rhetoric while swallowing his militarist escalation into seven overseas wars as well as the foreclosure of two million American householders. Obama completely failed to honor his campaign promise to reduce wage inequality between black and white wage earners while he continued to moralize to black families about ‘values’.

Obama’s war against Libya led to the killing and displacement of millions of black Libyans and workers from Sub-Saharan Africa. The smiling Nobel Peace Prize President created more desperate refugees than any previous US head of state – including millions of Africans flooding Europe.

Obamacare’, his imitation of an earlier Republican governor’s health plan, was formulated by the private corporate health industry (private insurance, Big Pharma and the for-profit hospitals), to mandate enrollment and ensure triple digit profits with double digit increases in premiums. By the 2016 Presidential elections, ‘Obama-care’ was opposed by a 45%-43% margin of the American people. Obama’s propagandists could not show any improvement of life expectancy or decrease in infant and maternal mortality as a result of his ‘health care reform’. Indeed the opposite occurred among the marginalized working class in the old ‘rust belt’ and in the rural areas. This failure to show any significant health improvement for the masses of Americans is in stark contrast to LBJ’s Medicare program of the 1960’s, which continues to receive massive popular support.

Forty-years of anti welfare legislation and pro-business regimes paved the golden road for the election of Donald Trump

Trump and the Republicans are focusing on the tattered remnants of the social welfare system: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. The remains of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society – are on the chopping block.

The moribund (but well-paid) labor leadership has been notable by its absence in the ensuing collapse of the social welfare state. The liberal left Democrats embraced the platitudinous Obama/Clinton team as the ‘Great Society’s’ gravediggers, while wailing at Trump’s allies for shoving the corpse of welfare state into its grave.

Conclusion

Over the past forty years the working class and the rump of what was once referred to as the ‘labor movement’ has contributed to the dismantling of the social welfare state, voting for ‘strike-breaker’ Reagan, ‘workfare’ Clinton, ‘Wall Street crash’ Bush, ‘Wall Street savior’ Obama and ‘Trickle-down’ Trump.

Gone are the days when social welfare and profitable wars raised US living standards and transformed American trade unions into an appendage of the Democratic Party and a handmaiden of Empire. The Democratic Party rescued capitalism from its collapse in the Great Depression, incorporated labor into the war economy and the post- colonial global empire, and resurrected Wall Street from the ‘Great Financial Meltdown’ of the 21st century.

The war economy no longer fuels social welfare. The military-industrial complex has found new partners on Wall Street and among the globalized multi-national corporations. Profits rise while wages fall. Low paying compulsive labor (workfare) lopped off state transfers to the poor. Technology – IT, robotics, artificial intelligence and electronic gadgets – has created the most class polarized social system in history. The first trillionaire and multi-billionaire tax evaders rose on the backs of a miserable standing army of tens of millions of low-wage workers, stripped of rights and representation. State subsidies eliminate virtually all risk to capital. The end of social welfare coerced labor (including young mother with children) to seek insecure low-income employment while slashing education and health – cementing the feet of generations into poverty. Regional wars abroad have depleted the Treasury and robbed the country of productive investment. Economic imperialism exports profits, reversing the historic relation of the past.

Labor is left without compass or direction; it flails in all directions and falls deeper in the web of deception and demagogy. To escape from Reagan and the strike breakers, labor embraced the cheap-labor predator Clinton; black and white workers united to elect Obama who expelled millions of immigrant workers, pursued 7 wars, abandoned black workers and enriched the already filthy rich. Deception and demagogy of the labor-liberals bred the ugly and unlikely plutocrat-populist demagogue: labor voted for Trump.

The demise of welfare and the rise of the opioid epidemic killing close to one million (mostly working class) Americans occurred mostly under Democratic regimes. The collaboration of liberals and unions in promoting endless wars opened the door to Trump’s mirage of a stateless, tax-less, ruling class.

Who will the Democrats choose as their next demagogue champion to challenge the ‘Donald’ – one who will speak to the ‘deplorables’ and work for the trillionaires?

Dec 072017
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

Cold War Number One: 70 years of daily national stupidity

Cold War Number Two: Still in its youth, but just as stupid

378

“He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” – President Trump re Vladimir Putin after their meeting in Vietnam.

Putin later added that he knew “absolutely nothing” about Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials. “They can do what they want, looking for some sensation. But there are no sensations.” 1

Numerous US intelligence agencies have said otherwise. Former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, responded to Trump’s remarks by declaring: “The president was given clear and indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the election.”

As we’ll see below, there isn’t too much of the “clear and indisputable” stuff. And this of course is the same James Clapper who made an admittedly false statement to Congress in March 2013, when he responded, “No, sir” and “not wittingly” to a question about whether the National Security Agency was collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans. Lies don’t usually come in any size larger than that.

Virtually every member of Congress who has publicly stated a position on the issue has criticized Russia for interfering in the 2016 American presidential election. And it would be very difficult to find a member of the mainstream media which has questioned this thesis.

What is the poor consumer of news to make of these gross contradictions? Here are some things to keep in mind:

How do we know that the tweets and advertisements “sent by Russians” -– those presented as attempts to sway the vote -– were actually sent by Russians? The Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), composed of National Security Agency and CIA veterans, recently declared that the CIA knows how to disguise the origin of emails and tweets. The Washington Post has as well reported that Twitter “makes it easy for users to hide their true identities.” 2 Even if these communications were actually sent from Russia, how do we know that they came from the Russian government, and not from any of the other 144.3 million residents of Russia?

Even if they were sent by the Russian government, we have to ask: Why would they do that? Do the Russians think the United States is a Third World, under-developed, backward Banana Republic easily influenced and moved by a bunch of simple condemnations of the plight of blacks in America and the Clinton “dynasty”? Or clichéd statements about other controversial issues, such as gun rights and immigration? If so, many Democratic and Republican officials would love to know the secret of the Russians’ method. Consider also that Facebook has stated that 90 percent of the alleged-Russian-bought content that ran on its network did not even mention Trump or Clinton. 3

On top of all this is the complete absence of even the charge, much less with any supporting evidence, of Russian interference in the actual voting or counting of votes.

After his remark suggesting he believed Putin’s assertion that there had been no Russian meddling in the election, Trump – of course, as usual – attempted to backtrack and distant himself from his words after drawing criticism at home; while James Clapper declared: “The fact the president of the United States would take Putin at his word over that of the intelligence community is quite simply unconscionable.” 4

Given Clapper’s large-size lie referred to above, can Trump be faulted for being skeptical of the intelligence community’s Holy Writ? Purposeful lies of the intelligence community during the first Cold War were legendary, many hailed as brilliant tactics when later revealed. The CIA, for example, had phoney articles and editorials planted in foreign newspapers (real Fake News), made sex films of target subjects caught in flagrante delicto who had been lured to Agency safe houses by female agents, had Communist embassy personnel expelled because of phoney CIA documents, and much more.

The Post recently published an article entitled “How did Russian trolls get into your Facebook feed? Silicon Valley made it easy.” In the midst of this “exposé,” The Post stated: “There’s no way to tell if you personally saw a Russian post or tweet.” 5 So … Do the Cold Warriors have a case to make or do they not? Or do they just want us to remember that the Russkis are bad? So it goes.

An organization in the Czech Republic with the self-appointed name of European Values has produced a lengthy report entitled “The Kremlin’s Platform for ‘Useful Idiots’ in the West: An Overview of RT’s Editorial Strategy and Evidence of Impact”. It includes a long list of people who have appeared on the Russian-owned TV station RT (formerly Russia Today), which can be seen in the US, the UK and other countries. Those who’ve been guests on RT are the “idiots” useful to Moscow. (The list is not complete. I’ve been on RT about five times, but I’m not listed. Where is my Idiot Badge?)

RT’s YouTube channel has more than two million followers and claims to be the “most-watched news network” on the video site. Its Facebook page has more than 4 million likes and followers. Can this explain why the powers-that-be forget about a thing called freedom-of-speech and treat the station like an enemy? The US government recently forced RT America to register as a foreign agent and has cut off the station’s Congressional press credentials.

The Cold War strategist, George Kennan, wrote prophetically: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.” 6

Writer John Wight has described the new Cold War as being “in response to Russia’s recovery from the demise of the Soviet Union and the failed attempt to turn the country into a wholly owned subsidiary of Washington via the imposition of free market economic shock treatment thereafter.”

So let’s see what other brilliance the New Cold War brings us. … Ah yes, another headline in the Post (November 18, 2017): “British alarm rising over possible Russian meddling in Brexit”. Of course, why else would the British people have voted to leave the European Union? But wait a moment, again, one of the British researchers behind the report “said that the accounts they analyzed – which claimed Russian as their language when they were set up but tweeted in English – posted a mixture of pro-‘leave’ and pro-‘remain’ messages regarding Brexit. Commentators have said that the goal may simply have been to sow discord and division in society.”

Was there ever a time when the Post would have been embarrassed to be so openly, amateurishly biased about Russia? Perhaps during the few years between the two Cold Wars.

In case you don’t remember how stupid Cold War Number One was …

  • 1948: The Pittsburgh Press published the names, addresses, and places of employment of about 1,000 citizens who had signed presidential-nominating petitions for former Vice President Henry Wallace, running under the Progressive Party. This, and a number of other lists of “communists”, published in the mainstream media, resulted in people losing their jobs, being expelled from unions, having their children abused, being denied state welfare benefits, and suffering various other punishments.
  • Around 1950: The House Committee on Un-American Activities published a pamphlet, “100 Things You Should Know About Communism in the U.S.A.” This included information about what a communist takeover of the United States would mean:

Q: What would happen to my insurance?

A: It would go to the Communists.

Q: Would communism give me something better than I have now?

A: Not unless you are in a penitentiary serving a life sentence at hard labor.

  • 1950s: Mrs. Ada White, member of the Indiana State Textbook Commission, believed that Robin Hood was a Communist and urged that books that told the Robin Hood story be banned from Indiana schools.
  • As evidence that anti-communist mania was not limited to the lunatic fringe or conservative newspaper publishers, here is Clark Kerr, president of the University of California at Berkeley in a 1959 speech: “Perhaps 2 or even 20 million people have been killed in China by the new [communist] regime.” One person wrote to Kerr: “I am wondering how you would judge a person who estimates the age of a passerby on the street as being ‘perhaps 2 or even 20 years old.’ Or what would you think of a physician who tells you to take ‘perhaps 2 or even twenty teaspoonsful of a remedy’?”
  • Throughout the cold war, traffic in phoney Lenin quotes was brisk, each one passed around from one publication or speaker to another for years. Here’s U.S. News and World Report in 1958 demonstrating communist duplicity by quoting Lenin: “Promises are like pie crusts, made to be broken.” Secretary of State John Foster Dulles used it in a speech shortly afterward, one of many to do so during the cold war. Lenin actually did use a very similar line, but he explicitly stated that he was quoting an English proverb (it comes from Jonathan Swift) and his purpose was to show the unreliability of the bourgeoisie, not of communists.
  • “First we will take Eastern Europe, then the masses of Asia, then we will encircle the United States, which will be the last bastion of capitalism. We will not have to attack. It will fall like an overripe fruit into our hands.” This Lenin “quotation” had the usual wide circulation, even winding up in the Congressional Record in 1962. This was not simply a careless attribution; this was an out-and-out fabrication; an extensive search, including by the Library of Congress and the United States Information Agency failed to find its origin.
  • A favorite theme of the anti-communists was that a principal force behind drug trafficking was a communist plot to demoralize the United States. Here’s a small sample:

Don Keller, District Attorney for San Diego County, California in 1953: “We know that more heroin is being produced south of the border than ever before and we are beginning to hear stories of financial backing by big shot Communists operating out of Mexico City.”

Henry Giordano, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1964, interviewed in the American Legion Magazine: Interviewer: “I’ve been told that the communists are trying to flood our country with narcotics to weaken our moral and physical stamina. Is that true?”

Giordano: “As far as the drugs are concerned, it’s true. There’s a terrific flow of drugs coming out of Yunnan Province of China. … There’s no question that in that particular area this is the aim of the Red Chinese. It should be apparent that if you could addict a population you would degrade a nation’s moral fiber.”

Fulton Lewis, Jr., prominent conservative radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist, 1965: “Narcotics of Cuban origin – marijuana, cocaine, opium, and heroin – are now peddled in big cities and tiny hamlets throughout this country. Several Cubans arrested by the Los Angeles police have boasted they are communists.”.

We were also told that along with drugs another tool of the commies to undermine America’s spirit was fluoridation of the water.

  • Mickey Spillane was one of the most successful writers of the 1950s, selling millions of his anti-communist thriller mysteries. Here is his hero, Mike Hammer, in “One Lonely Night”, boasting of his delight in the grisly murders he commits, all in the name of destroying a communist plot to steal atomic secrets. After a night of carnage, the triumphant Hammer gloats, “I shot them in cold blood and enjoyed every minute of it. I pumped slugs into the nastiest bunch of bastards you ever saw. … They were Commies. … Pretty soon what’s left of Russia and the slime that breeds there won’t be worth mentioning and I’m glad because I had a part in the killing. God, but it was fun!”
  • 1952: A campaign against the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because it was tainted with “atheism and communism”, and was “subversive” because it preached internationalism. Any attempt to introduce an international point of view in the schools was seen as undermining patriotism and loyalty to the United States. A bill in the US Senate, clearly aimed at UNESCO, called for a ban on the funding of “any international agency that directly or indirectly promoted one-world government or world citizenship.” There was also opposition to UNESCO’s association with the UN Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that it was trying to replace the American Bill of Rights with a less liberty-giving covenant of human rights.
  • 1955: A US Army 6-page pamphlet, “How to Spot a Communist”, informed us that a communist could be spotted by his predisposition to discuss civil rights, racial and religious discrimination, the immigration laws, anti-subversive legislation, curbs on unions, and peace. Good Americans were advised to keep their ears stretched for such give-away terms as “chauvinism”, “book-burning”, “colonialism”, “demagogy”, “witch hunt”, “reactionary”, “progressive”, and “exploitation”. Another “distinguishing mark” of “Communist language” was a “preference for long sentences.” After some ridicule, the Army rescinded the pamphlet.
  • 1958: The noted sportscaster Bill Stern (one of the heroes of my innocent youth) observed on the radio that the lack of interest in “big time” football at New York University, City College of New York, Chicago, and Harvard “is due to the widespread acceptance of Communism at the universities.”
  • 1960: US General Thomas Power speaking about nuclear war or a first strike by the US: “The whole idea is to kill the bastards! At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!” The response from one of those present was: “Well, you’d better make sure that they’re a man and a woman.”
  • 1966: The Boys Club of America is of course wholesome and patriotic. Imagine their horror when they were confused with the Dubois Clubs. (W.E.B. Du Bois had been a very prominent civil rights activist.) When the Justice Department required the DuBois Clubs to register as a Communist front group, good loyal Americans knew what to do. They called up the Boys Club to announce that they would no longer contribute any money, or to threaten violence against them; and sure enough an explosion damaged the national headquarters of the youth group in San Francisco. Then former Vice President Richard Nixon, who was national board chairman of the Boys Club, declared: “This is an almost classic example of Communist deception and duplicity. The ‘DuBois Clubs’ are not unaware of the confusion they are causing among our supporters and among many other good citizens.”
  • 1966: “Rhythm, Riots and Revolution: An Analysis of the Communist Use of Music, The Communist Master Music Plan”, by David A. Noebel, published by Christian Crusade Publications, (expanded version of 1965 pamphlet: “Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles”). Some chapters: Communist Use of Mind Warfare … Nature of Red Record Companies … Destructive Nature of Beatle Music … Communist Subversion of Folk Music … Folk Music and the Negro Revolution … Folk Music and the College Revolution
  • 1968: William Calley, US Army Lieutenant, charged with overseeing the massacre of more than 100 Vietnamese civilians in My Lai in 1968, said some years later: “In all my years in the Army I was never taught that communists were human beings. We were there to kill ideology carried by – I don’t know – pawns, blobs, pieces of flesh. I was there to destroy communism. We never conceived of old people, men, women, children, babies.”
  • 1977: Scientists theorized that the earth’s protective ozone layer was being damaged by synthetic chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons. The manufacturers and users of CFCs were not happy. They made life difficult for the lead scientist. The president of one aerosol manufacturing firm suggested that criticism of CFCs was “orchestrated by the Ministry of Disinformation of the KGB.”
  • 1978: Life inside a California youth camp of the ultra anti-communist John Birch Society: Five hours each day of lectures on communism, Americanism and “The Conspiracy”; campers learned that the Soviet government had created a famine and spread a virus to kill a large number of citizens and make the rest of them more manageable; the famine led starving adults to eat their children; communist guerrillas in Southeast Asia jammed chopsticks into children’s ears, piercing their eardrums; American movies are all under the control of the Communists; the theme is always that capitalism is no better than communism; you can’t find a dictionary now that isn’t under communist influence; the communists are also taking over the Bibles.
  • The Reagan administration declared that the Russians were spraying toxic chemicals over Laos, Cambodia and Afghanistan – the so-called “yellow rain” – and had caused more than ten thousand deaths by 1982 alone, (including, in Afghanistan, 3,042 deaths attributed to 47 separate incidents between the summer of 1979 and the summer of 1981, so precise was the information). Secretary of State Alexander Haig was a prime dispenser of such stories, and President Reagan himself denounced the Soviet Union thusly more than 15 times in documents and speeches. The “yellow rain”, it turned out, was pollen-laden feces dropped by huge swarms of honeybees flying far overhead.
  • 1982: In commenting about sexual harassment in the Army, General John Crosby stated that the Army doesn’t care about soldiers’ social lives – “The basic purpose of the United States Army is to kill Russians,” he said.
  • 1983: The US invasion of Grenada, the home of the Cuban ambassador is damaged and looted by American soldiers; on one wall is written “AA”, symbol of the 82nd Airborne Division; beside it the message: “Eat shit, commie faggot.” … “I want to fuck communism out of this little island,” says a marine, “and fuck it right back to Moscow.”
  • 1984: During a sound check just before his weekly broadcast, President Reagan spoke these words into the microphone: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I have signed legislation to outlaw Russia, forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” His words were picked up by at least two radio networks.
  • 1985: October 29 BBC interview with Ronald Reagan: asked about the differences he saw between the US and Russia, the president replied: “I’m no linguist, but I’ve been told that in the Russian language there isn’t even a word for freedom.” (The word is “svoboda”.)
  • 1986: Soviet artists and cultural officials criticized Rambo-like American films as an expression of “anti-Russian phobia even more pathological than in the days of McCarthyism”. Russian film-maker Stanislav Rostofsky claimed that on one visit to an American school “a young girl trembled with fury when she heard I was from the Soviet Union, and said she hated Russians.”
  • 1986: Roy Cohn, who achieved considerable fame and notoriety in the 1950s as an assistant to the communist-witch-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy, died, reportedly of AIDS. Cohn, though homosexual, had denied that he was and had denounced such rumors as communist smears.
  • 1986: After American journalist Nicholas Daniloff was arrested in Moscow for “spying” and held in custody for two weeks, New York Mayor Edward Koch sent a group of 10 visiting Soviet students storming out of City Hall in fury. “The Soviet government is the pits,” said Koch, visibly shocking the students, ranging in age from 10 to 18 years. One 14-year-old student was so outraged he declared: “I don’t want to stay in this house. I want to go to the bus and go far away from this place. The mayor is very rude. We never had a worse welcome anywhere.” As matters turned out, it appeared that Daniloff had not been completely pure when it came to his news gathering.
  • 1989: After the infamous Chinese crackdown on dissenters in Tiananmen Square in June, the US news media was replete with reports that the governments of Nicaragua, Vietnam and Cuba had expressed their support of the Chinese leadership. Said the Wall Street Journal: “Nicaragua, with Cuba and Vietnam, constituted the only countries in the world to approve the Chinese Communists’ slaughter of the students in Tiananmen Square.” But it was all someone’s fabrication; no such support had been expressed by any of the three governments. At that time, as now, there were few, if any, organizations other than the CIA which could manipulate major Western media in such a manner. 7

NOTE: It should be remembered that the worst consequences of anti-communism were not those discussed above. The worst consequences, the ultra-criminal consequences, were the abominable death, destruction, and violation of human rights that we know under various names: Vietnam, Chile, Korea, Guatemala, Cambodia, Indonesia, Brazil, Greece, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and many others.

Al Franken

Poor Al, who made us laugh for years on Saturday Night Live, is now disgraced as a woman molester – not one of the worst of the current pathetic crop, but he still looks bad. However, everything is relative, and it must be pointed out that the Senator is guilty of a worse moral transgression.

The erstwhile comedian would like you to believe that he was against the war in Iraq since it began. But he went to that sad country at least four times to entertain American troops. Does that make sense? Why does the Defense Department bring entertainers to military bases? To lift the soldiers’ spirits of course. And why does the military want to lift the soldiers’ spirits? Because a happier soldier does his job better. And what is the soldier’s job? For example, all the charming war crimes and human-rights violations in Iraq that have been documented in great detail for many years. Didn’t Franken know what American soldiers do for a living?

Country singer Darryl Worley, who leans “a lot to the right,” as he puts it, said he was far from pleased that Franken was coming along on the tour to Iraq. “You know, I just don’t understand – why would somebody be on this tour if they’re not supportive of the war? If he decides to play politics, I’m not gonna put up with it.” 8

A year after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Franken criticized the Bush administration because they “failed to send enough troops to do the job right.” 9 What “job” did the man think the troops were sent to do that had not been performed to his standards because of lack of manpower? Did he want them to be more efficient at killing Iraqis who resisted the occupation? The volunteer American troops in Iraq did not even have the defense of having been drafted against their wishes.

Franken has been lifting soldiers’ spirits for a long time. In 2009 he was honored by the United Service Organization (USO) for his ten years of entertaining troops abroad. That includes Kosovo in 1999, as imperialist an occupation as you’ll ever want to see. He called his USO experience “one of the best things I’ve ever done.” 10 Franken has also spoken at West Point (2005), encouraging the next generation of imperialist warriors. Is this a man to challenge the militarization of America at home and abroad?

Tom Hayden wrote this about Franken in 2005 when Franken had a regular program on the Air America radio network: “Is anyone else disappointed with Al Franken’s daily defense of the continued war in Iraq? Not Bush’s version of the war, because that would undermine Air America’s laudable purpose of rallying an anti-Bush audience. But, well, Kerry’s version of the war, one that can be better managed and won, somehow with better body armor and fewer torture cells.” 11

While in Iraq to entertain the troops, Franken declared that the Bush administration “blew the diplomacy so we didn’t have a real coalition,” then failed to send enough troops to do the job right. “Out of sheer hubris, they have put the lives of these guys in jeopardy.” 12

Franken was implying that if the United States had been more successful in bribing and threatening other countries to lend their name to the coalition fighting the war in Iraq the United States would have had a better chance of WINNING the war.

Is this the sentiment of someone opposed to the war? Or in support of it? It is actually the mind of an American liberal in all its depressing mushiness.

To be put on the tombstone of Western civilization

On November 15, 2017, at Christie’s auction house in New York City, a painting was sold for $450,312,500.

 

Notes

  1. Washington Post, November 12, 2017
  2. Washington Post, October 10, 2017
  3. Washington Post, November 15, 2017
  4. Reuters, November 12, 2017
  5. Washington Post, November 2, 2017
  6. Wikipedia entry for George Kennan
  7. Sources for almost all of this section can be found in William Blum, “Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire” (2005), chapter 12; or the author can be queried at bblum6@aol.com
  8. Washington Post, February 16, 2004
  9. Ibid.
  10. Star Tribune, Minneapolis, March 26, 2009
  11. Huffington Post, June 2005
  12. Washington Post, February 16, 2004
Dec 052017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Andreas Georgiou...Greece's new statistics agency chief Andreas Georgiou, who took up his position on Thursday, July 22, 2010, talks outside the entrance of the Statictics agency,in Piraeus, near Athens. After years of false reporting by Greece, the countries new Greek statistic agency chief promised clean financial data.The agency now has been placed under parliamentary oversight and not under direct government control.Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou…Greece’s new statistics agency chief Andreas Georgiou, who took up his position on Thursday, July 22, 2010, talks outside the entrance of the Statictics agency,in Piraeus, near Athens. After years of false reporting by Greece, the countries new Greek statistic agency chief promised clean financial data.The agency now has been placed under parliamentary oversight and not under direct government control.Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

This furious effort of all Georgiou’s supporters to prevent his case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving their involvement in the great national betrayal of Greece.

ATHENS, GREECE — The mainstream narrative regarding the cause of the severe economic crisis Greece has experienced is that the Greek people and Greek state were irresponsible with their finances, lived “beyond their means” at the expense of EU taxpayers, and provided overly generous social benefits and pensions to an underproductive, uncompetitive, and lazy populace.

These characterizations have then been used to justify the successive memorandum agreements, or “bailouts,” and the austerity measures that have been imposed in Greece since 2010, as the country’s “just deserts” —  the “bitter medicine” that must be prescribed to correct Greece’s previous ills.

A different view exists, however — one that is based on allegations that Greece was driven into the memorandum and austerity regime not by economic incompetence and cultural deficiencies, but by a fraud that was perpetrated against the Greek people and the country of Greece.

In this interview, which aired in November on Dialogos Radio, Nicholas Logothetis, a former member of the board of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), describes allegations that have been made against Andreas Georgiou, ELSTAT’s former president, and against EU statistical authority Eurostat, regarding how Greece’s deficit and debt figures were illegitimately inflated in 2010, providing the rationale to drag Greece under a regime of austerity and extreme economic oversight.

Logothetis details how debt swaps and other questionable financial dealings were added to Greece’s debt and deficit, as well as the consequences of these actions, the criminal and civil convictions against Georgiou, and the court cases that are still pending.

MPN: Let’s begin with a discussion about Andreas Georgiou, the embattled former president of ELSTAT, who oversaw the augmentation of the Greek deficit and debt. Describe for us Georgiou’s background prior to taking on the role of president of ELSTAT. Was Georgiou even a statistician?

NL: No, he wasn’t. The operation of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), as a continuation of the initial National Statistical Authority, as we called it, officially began in late June of 2010. This was the time that the members of ELSTAT’s management board were selected and approved by the conference of parliamentary presidents, with the required supermajority of four-fifths.

Georgiou has been working at the International Monetary Fund since the late 1980s. For a few years before he came to Greece, he was deputy head of a division of the IMF’s statistics department, the financial institutions division. However, the Greek Ministry of Finance announced the appointment of ELSTAT’s board of directors through a press release to all Greek newspapers. In that press release, it presented Georgiou as deputy head of the entire IMF statistics department, a very big department in the IMF and a very important one, hiding his actual organizational position in the IMF, a position of an economic nature rather than a statistical nature, in a subordinate division of the statistics department.

Obviously, the objective of the Greek Minister of Finance was to present Georgiou as an experienced statistician with a significant management position at the IMF, who supposedly left America and came here to “save” Greece by putting in order all of its statistics. In fact, this gentleman was not only unable to run an important institution such as ELSTAT, with over 1,000 employees, but he wasn’t even a statistician, with no academic publications and no knowledge of statistics.

Moreover, for at least six months after assuming the ELSTAT presidency, Georgiou still held his organizational position at the IMF, something that was explicitly forbidden by ELSTAT’s founding law.

MPN: What were the actions undertaken by Georgiou as president of ELSTAT? In other words, how were the Greek deficit and debt figures manipulated and in what other ways were Greece’s official economic figures altered?

NL: First of all, Georgiou’s first moves were to remove from the other members of the board any ability and initiative to propose discussion topics or to be involved in the calculation of the deficit or the debt. They were forbidden even to communicate with the remaining staff of ELSTAT! This behavior of Georgiou was not only due to his inability to act as a manager but also due to the fact that he understood from the very beginning, even from the second meeting of the board in September 2010, our refusal to adopt the deficit and debt calculation procedures he wanted to follow. He knew that eventually, the majority of the board members would not approve his deficit figures to be officially published before the end of October 2010.

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Shortly after the last meeting of the board in early October 2010, the final silencing of the whole board followed and we were never convened again, thus leaving the way free for Georgiou, always under the auspices of senior Eurostat executives, on the one hand, to change the founding law—as he always wanted, to turn ELSTAT into one-person authority—and on the other hand, to inflate the 2009 figures. Exactly how he did this became clear later, but we had suspected soon enough what he was going to do.

My first disagreement with him was when I realized he would add to the deficit figures and to the national debt of Greece the Simitis swaps — that is, the swaps that former Greek prime minister Costas Simitis had made use of in 2001 in order for Greece to get accepted to the Eurozone. Allow me to briefly explain what these swaps are, as they indicate clearly an activity typical of the statistical mishandlings that had always been used and are still taking place in our country, every time the government’s leaders want to achieve something with communication or financial benefits for themselves or for third parties. Swaps are a type of a bond, a banking derivative or simply a stock exchange bet, a currency exchange bet. Many countries do it, even now they are doing it, converting their existing debt into currencies of other countries, say in Swiss francs or Japanese yen, betting that the value of that currency will rise and at the maturity of this debt, the owner will gain from the difference in the value of currencies.

In a way, what happened in 2001 is that much of Greece’s debt was converted into yen, but at the value that the yen had in 1995, which was higher than that of 2001! Remember, the swaps were made in 2001, but the price of the yen in 1995 was the one used for this swap. We can put a big question mark here because I don’t know how legitimate this was, to consider as valid the exchange value of the yen of six years ago. But anyway, this was what happened.

From this action, Greece was theoretically gaining an amount of 2.8 billion euros, which theoretically reduced our debt by this amount, and also reduced the annual deficit below 3 percent, thus meeting the requirement of the Maastricht Treaty for Greece’s entry into the Eurozone. But let us not forget, however, that this was a bet. It’s not unlike, say, a bond that matures and is redeemable after 30 years: at the time of the swap, there was no applicable European regulation allowing the “bond” to be cashed in prior to maturity, and therefore the swaps were of indeterminate value.

However, Walter Radermacher — at the time the general director of Eurostat, the EU’s statistical authority — decided only for Greece and only for that time and while the value of the yen had collapsed, that this swap value had to be included in our total debt, thus raising our national debt by 21 billion euros because of the losses of the yen. So we found ourselves with an additional fiscal debt of 21 billion euros.

Radermacher’s additional act was to instruct Georgiou to divide this amount by four and to include what came out of it in the deficits for the years 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006. So eventually, for 2009 and all the three previous years, we found ourselves with an additional deficit of about 5.5 billion euros. But I’m pointing out again that swaps should not be used in any way before their maturity, in order to manipulate negatively or positively the fiscal debt, let alone the yearly deficit.

Another illegal augmentation of our deficit made by Georgiou included the addition of 3.6 billion euros in hospital costs that were not even approved by the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors is one of the three institutions of Greek justice, along with the Supreme Court and the Council of State. With regards to this cost, as it turned out later, no one committed to it and no one was paying for it. And finally, the major swelling of the budget deficit was accomplished by the overnight inclusion of the deficits of 17 public utilities, violating many Eurostat criteria and rules. That alone added 18.2 billion euros, equivalent to 20 billion dollars, to the fiscal debt of Greece.

As a result of all the above, Greece ended up with a huge deficit for the year 2009 — 36 billion euros, or equivalently, 15.4 percent of gross domestic product. This legitimated the first memorandum, paved the way for the second and worst memorandum, and justified the imposition of these cumbersome austerity measures, such as the pension cuts, social insurance and healthcare, and the tax increases — huge tax increases — measures that we are still suffering today.

MPN: Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself, the former president of the International Monetary Fund, has gone on the record as saying that he met with George Papandreou to discuss an IMF “bailout” of Greece in April 2009. This was several months before Papandreou was elected as prime minister and at a time when Papandreou was saying, while campaigning, that plenty of money existed to fund the social programs he was promising to Greek voters. Do you believe that the economic “crisis” in Greece was pre-ordained or pre-planned?

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, shakes hand with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, during a joint news conference in Athens, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

NL: Yes, I do. In my opinion, joining these medieval memorandums, which have brought about this economic crisis that Greece is still experiencing, was beyond any doubt pre-planned and predetermined. This arises not only from Strauss-Kahn’s own admission that the IMF had been preparing every detail of this with Papandreou, it also arises for other reasons that subsequently became known — that Greece was chosen by the designers of the European Union to become the guinea pig for the implementation of harsh austerity and other forms of economic punishment, set up for all as an example to be avoided, in the context of a new EU economic policy for handling the member countries with fiscal problems.

Indeed, the policy of the memorandums gave the opportunity not only to the IMF to put a foot in Europe — until then its activities always were, with devastating consequences, limited to developing countries in Africa and Latin America — but also gave the opportunity to the French and German banks to get rid of their so-called toxic bonds, that were loaded onto the Greek people by turning a private debt into a state debt.

In order to achieve all of this, of course, they had to plant the appropriate person in ELSTAT at a time when certain statistical adjustments were required, in order to support their treacherous plan. Where did this lead eventually? To the bankruptcy of the Greek state.

MPN: Andreas Georgiou is no longer in Greece, despite the fact that various legal cases and judicial decisions are outstanding against him. Where does Georgiou find himself today and what is he presently involved with?

NL: He’s away, because he knows what he’s faced with, with trials and legal cases. Georgiou is currently in hiscomfortable villa in Maryland. He left Greece in the summer of 2015, one month before the end of his five-year term as ELSTAT chairman. Coincidentally, this was shortly after the call from the House of Parliament to testify before the examination committee that had been formed at that time to investigate the reasons for our accession to the first memorandum. He never came to the examination room, pretending to be in the hospital with “pneumonia.” Who on earth has ever heard of a pneumonia case in the middle of the Greek summer?

Anyway, immediately after his “discharge” from the hospital, he left for America. I repeat, one month before the end of his term and without requesting a renewal of the chairmanship position for another five years. He could have done that, but he didn’t, apparently having realized that he could not have avoided the imminent court hearing on the prosecutions for breach of duty and for the felony of inflating the deficit figures — which in the legal language is expressed as “felony of false certification at the expense of the state” together with the “aggravating order for public abusers,” a very impressive legal phrase. This is a legal category that leads to life imprisonment.

I presume that he’s engaged at this time in preparing his defense, through statements via his lawyers in Greece, while he remains absent, missing from every trial that has taken place regarding him.

MPN: A few months ago Georgiou was found guilty by the Greek justice system. What were the charges for which Georgiou was convicted and sentenced?

NL: There are two convictions Georgiou had this year. In March, in a criminal court, he was convicted for libel and for written defamation, and he was given one-year imprisonment with a three-year suspension. He appealed through his lawyers, but the Penal Court of Appeals condemned Georgiou again, giving him the same sentence.

Georgiou’s crime was that, in an official ELSTAT news release, he accused former ELSTAT board member Dr. Nicholas Stroblos of being a statistical swindler, obviously trying to divert guilt from himself for statistical fraud. I’m pointing out here that Dr. Stroblos is the former director of the national accounts department of ELSTAT, whom Georgiou illegally replaced with one of his now co-defendants. Consequently, Stroblos sued him in both criminal and civil courts and, apart from the one-year imprisonment imposed by the criminal court, the civil court fined Georgiou 10,000 euros for damages resulting from libel.

Georgiou’s most recent conviction is concerned with one of the three accusations included in the prosecution for breach of duty. The first accusation was related to the fact that he was in parallel for several months, from July to November 2010, as head of the statistical authority in Greece but also as an employee of the IMF, a duplication of employment explicitly prohibited by ELSTAT’s founding law 3832 of 2010. That law required him to work exclusively and with full employment in the ELSTAT board. Georgiou deluded the Greek parliament about his ongoing post with the IMF — and note that the IMF is one of the lenders of Greece — while at the same time he had accepted the post as president of ELSTAT’s board. He would not have been selected as ELSTAT president, not even as a simple member of the board, had the parliament known about his double post.

The second accusation concerned the fact that Georgiou did not convene the ELSTAT board for a whole year, violating the law that required meetings at least once a month.

The third accusation, and the most important of all three, concerned the fact that the decision to endorse the revised figures for 2009’s deficit was taken only by Georgiou, without the agreement of the other members of the board — which had been selected, I remind you, and approved exactly for this purpose by the conference of the parliamentary presidents with a majority of four-fifths. For this accusation, he was convicted in the context of breach of duty, and this had to do with the publication of deficit figures without our approval, as required by law. Georgiou appealed this conviction to the Supreme Court, and we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court will decide.

Georgiou was acquitted on the charge that he did not timely convene the ELSTAT board, although this is intimately interconnected with the non-convening of the board for the approval of the data, for which he was convicted. So we ended up with a paradoxical situation here. He was also acquitted of the charge that while he was a member of the IMF — that is to say, a servant of the lender — he was also chairman of ELSTAT — that is, a servant of the borrower — something that is inconceivable worldwide and yet happened in today’s occupied and economically enslaved Greece.

Naturally, the people who were present in the courtroom were annoyed and protested these acquittals, but when they heard the announcement of his conviction on the third charge they were relieved, of course, and for this charge he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with a three year suspension — without being granted, of course, any mitigation.

I, together with fellow whistleblower and former ELSTAT board member Zoe Georganta, filed an objection against the court judgment for the two accusations for which he was acquitted, and we expect a Supreme Court decision as to whether or not Georgiou will go to a new trial for these new accusations. At the moment, the two acquittals cannot be considered irrevocable. But it is true that the most important accusation, for which Georgiou desperately wanted to be acquitted, was the one for which he got convicted.

Indeed, the fact that Georgiou published the inflated elements of the deficit without approval by the ELSTAT board not only proves his guilt of the second accusation, of not convening the board as he should have, but it also implies a deception, because he knew that his swollen deficit figures would never be accepted by a majority of the board members. He further recognized that such a disagreement would sooner or later become public and reveal the irregularities he used with the help of Eurostat itself. Such a revelation would result in the failure of the plan to legitimize the first memorandum and thence to impose onerous austerity measures on Greece. That was not acceptable by the initiators of this plan, who I believe had to use Georgiou and instructed him to silence the rest of the ELSTAT board.

MPN: Following the guilty verdicts against Georgiou this past spring, a barrage of positive coverage and PR in favor of Georgiou appeared in the Greek and international media — including Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Politico. We also heard numerous statements of support from major political figures in Greece, the European Union, and elsewhere. These statements criticized the supposed lack of independence of the Greek justice system in the verdicts against Georgiou. How would you describe or characterize Georgiou’s network of support within and outside of Greece, and these arguments made in his favor?

NL: Yes, indeed, various statements have been heard and continue to be heard in support of Georgiou, trying to sanctify him, to elevate him as a serious personality and as an honest scientist. All this in order to justify everything he did illegally as ELSTAT president. All that has been said rests on myths that have been circulated by the domestic and foreign supporters of Georgiou, who are desperate that the case not be brought to the court of justice — the major case of the inflation of the deficit figures.

But this also proves their own guilt in the matter. If they really believe that Georgiou is innocent and that we are the slanderers and the liars, why don’t they let Greek justice do its job and prove his presumed innocence in a court hearing? I would even expect Georgiou himself to be the first to grab this opportunity to be redeemed. This furious effort of all his supporters to prevent the case from being brought to trial reveals their panic as well as their guilt, because they know very well that in the forthcoming court hearing all the evidence will be revealed proving that Greece has suffered the greatest national betrayal since the time of the Thermopylae treason, 2500 years ago, when Efialtes betrayed the Greek army which was fighting the Persian invasion.

The participation of all those major political figures in Greece and the European Union in the betrayal perpetrated by Georgiou will also be revealed. Indeed, the core of this support network includes first and foremost Eurostat, whose senior staff advised Georgiou on how to inflate the 2009 deficit and also how to change ELSTAT’s founding laws in order to neutralize the rest of the board.

Imagine therefore what impact Georgiou’s conviction would have on Eurostat’s image! Eurostat’s political chief is the European Commission, Brussels — that is, one-third of the troika — with all that implies, of course, for many high-ranking political figures in the European Union and beyond. So one can clearly understand why high-level managers from Eurostat and major political figures from the EU itself are continuing to build a wall of protection and support for Georgiou — in the hope that the government and the Supreme Court of Greece will believe all these myths they are promoting.

Greece's Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. Serious errors in Greek deficit data, revealed last year, helped trigger the European government debt crisis rattled world markets and confidence in the euro. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greece’s Statistics agency employees walk past the logo of the agency in Piraeus, near Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The first myth is that in recent years Georgiou was acquitted many times but the persecution against him continues. That’s what they say. The supporters of Georgiou claim again and again that Georgiou was acquitted, but it’s not true. The acquittal may occur only after the irrevocable final judgment in a court trial, or after an exonerating court order is accepted by the Supreme Court. As appeals against all rulings in Georgiou’s case have been filed with the Supreme Court, he has not been acquitted irrevocably for any charges brought against him.

On the contrary, he has had an irrevocable conviction for defamation, as I said before, and a conviction for one of the three accusations for breach of duty — regarding which the Supreme Court decision is awaited, whether or not it will become irrevocable. But the other two accusations for breach of duty for which he has been acquitted, as I have already said, for these we have filed a complaint and they cannot, therefore, be considered irrevocable or a final acquittal. So it’s in keeping with due process that the prosecutions against him still continue.

The second myth goes as follows: Georgiou took over the presidency of ELSTAT after the first memorandum. He cannot, therefore, be regarded responsible for the memorandum and the economic crisis that followed. Well indeed, when Georgiou took action in ELSTAT, we were already under the first memorandum. If you remember, our entry into the first memorandum was announced by George Papandreou in his speech made on the Greek island of Kasterllorizo in April 2010, and the reason for this was allegedly the high level of the 2009 deficit, which was put by Papandreou at 13.6 percent of GDP. That’s equivalent to about 30 billion euros.

However, it was not the actual deficit, but the prediction by Papandreou of what it would be after all relevant calculations took place. Papandreou did not have the right to take such an important decision, one that would affect Greek society so much, based only on a prediction that had not even been approved by the Court of Auditors. We would be the ones, as ELSTAT’s management board, to supervise the calculations of the actual deficit, to approve it and publish it in October 2010, six months later.

Actually, if we had been given the opportunity to do that and found these deficit figures to be less than 10 percent, we would have been able to denounce the first memorandum and cancel it! And of course, the rest of the memorandums that followed. But obviously, this would not be something that the designers of the first memorandum wished to happen, and so the appropriate person must be found who, with specific statistical adjustments, could make the deficit of 2009 “confirm” the “validity” of Papandreou’s deficit “forecast” in April 2010, and fully justify our entry into the first memorandum. This is what they wanted.

Furthermore, in order to avoid any controversies with the rest of the board that could endanger their plan, it was decided to neutralize not only the dissidents on the board but the whole of ELSTAT’s board. As a result of all these unlawful actions, the first memorandum was legitimized — and the door opened for the second and worst memorandum and obviously the rest of the memorandums that have followed, and for the austerity measures that have been imposed since then. Therefore, it’s perhaps wrong to say that the first memorandums was due to Georgiou. It’s more appropriate to say that all memorandums and their related medieval austerity measures that we still have on our backs are actually due to Georgiou!

The third myth: since Eurostat has approved Georgiou’s practices and figures, they must be right, they must be correct. But would it have been possible for Eurostat not to approve these statistics, provided by Georgiou, and the methods of administration that he was using? It was Eurostat’s director himself, Walter Radermacher, who gave orders to Georgiou as to what data to add to the deficit. Correspondence has been revealed, from Radermacher to Georgiou, that shows how to add this amount of debt that was incurred by the Simitis swaps, how to add it into four years’ deficits until 2009 — prior to the expiry date, as we previously explained, and although no European regulation existed at the time that would allow this.

Also, it was the permanent representative of Eurostat at ELSTAT, Hallgrimur Snorrason, who — with the assistance of Eurostat’s legal adviser, Per Samuelson — advised Georgiou on how to change ELSTAT’s founding law in order to transform ELSTAT into one-man authority. It’s hardly surprising therefore that Eurostat approved the practices and the deficit figures of Georgiou. Of course, that does not mean that they were correct.

The final myth that I want to mention is that his proponents are saying Georgiou applied all proper European regulations. On the contrary, most European regulations and Eurostat’s own criteria for the deficit and debt calculations were violated by Georgiou and his advisers from Eurostat, in order to justify the unjustifiable integration of deficits of many public utilities into the 2009 deficit — a decision that would require a thorough study of several months for each public utility. You can’t just decide to include the deficit of a utility in the public debt; you need a thorough study, for several months, six months. So what kind of European regulations did Georgiou actually apply, I wonder? No one knows.

MPN: What is plainly evident is that there is a very extensive and very powerful network of support for the likes of Andreas Georgiou, a network that includes powerful media voices, major politicians and political figures, major centers of power and influence and decision-making. How can such a powerful and seemingly unified network of political and media forces even be countered by the Greek people?

NL: Indeed, Georgiou’s support network, composed of high-ranking political figures — domestic and foreign — is powerful. But no matter how much influence this network can have on political affairs in Greece, I think that it is not in a position to influence the Greek justice system, which I consider impartial. The fact that the case has reached up to the level of the Supreme Court, which so far has justified many of our objections and appeals against Georgiou, gives us hope that ultimately the systemic power network that exists supporting Georgiou can be successfully dealt with.

At the end of the day, our justice system, perhaps the only irreproachable institution in our country, seems to have borne the burden of this matter. I believe that the truth will soon be revealed, no matter how many powerful political and media forces try to force an acquittal of Georgiou.

MPN: What are the judicial cases still outstanding regarding the ELSTAT case and Andreas Georgiou? What are the charges which Georgiou is still facing? And what is your expectation regarding the outcome of these cases?

NL: Most importantly, the cases of the false inflation of data and of the breach of duty by Georgiou, involve crimes of public document forgery and violation of ELSTAT’s founding law. As I have already said, Georgiou was convicted of one of the more important accusations related to the breach of duty — that of the publication of the 2009 deficit figures without the approval of the ELSTAT board. He has been acquitted on the other two charges — the duplication of his appointment in the IMF and ELSTAT and the non-convening of the board — but we have appealed these two verdicts, and we hope that the Supreme Court will decide to repeat the trial for these two related charges.

If this affair is remanded back to the trial courts, we certainly expect Georgiou to be convicted, because the evidence we have against him is rock solid and undeniable. This is what Georgiou’s supporters know. That’s why they push as hard as they can to prevent the case from reaching the high court of justice.

MPN: In what way do you believe the verdicts that will be reached by the Greek justice system concerning the ELSTAT and Georgiou cases impact the future of Greece, particularly with regard to the austerity policies and memorandums that are being imposed and the non-serviceable public debt of Greece?

NL: I agree with you that Greek debt is non-serviceable. Even if we get away from the memorandums, we don’t get away from the related loan agreements, and we will continue to be under supervision by the EU until we pay 75 percent of our debt, something impossible for the next 60 years!

If, however, as we hope, there is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou for the act of inflating the deficit figures, this will prove that all these medieval memorandums were imposed on the basis of false figures — which gives Greece the right to claim compensation from the European Union for the damage we suffered in the last seven years of the financial crisis.

Article 340 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives us the right to claim this compensation, and we have even estimated the financial loss since Georgiou set foot in Greece, a cost that may well exceed 210 billion euros. A compensation of this magnitude would certainly overturn the disgraceful economic situation we are experiencing today. However, I emphasize again that a necessary condition is an irrevocable conviction of Georgiou regarding the felony of inflating the deficit figures.

And what about these instigators who used Georgiou to carry out their treacherous plans? Even Grigoris Peponis — the impeccable investigator who proposed the criminal prosecution of Georgiou in the first place — has suggested that the possible existence of certain instigators within the Greek and European political systems, who directed Georgiou on what to do, has to be taken into consideration. These are the ones who do not want the case to reach an open court hearing — the ones who are so desperate for the acquittal of Georgiou as early as possible, in order to cover their own involvement in the above crime, because they’re well aware that we have evidence of their unlawful intervention in inflating the deficit and also in transforming ELSTAT from an independent authority into one-man authority.

If the Supreme Court sends Georgiou to trial in the high court of justice, all his supporters know that this will mean a likely conviction for him. The support network will then collapse, and they will find themselves accused for their betrayal of their homeland and crimes against its citizens. Our country will then pass from an underprivileged position of a beggar, to the strong position of a challenger, on the basis of specific articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union itself.

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

As far as we are concerned, we do not really care about the strict or non-strict punishment of Georgiou, who is now a pensioner of the IMF. What interests us is to prove his guilt and thereby to remove the injustice that has been committed against Greece through the false inflation of the public debt and deficit of 2009, and also prove the criminal involvement of the European Commission and Eurostat. This will only be done when the case is referred to an open court hearing, in which Eurostat and Georgiou will have to be present, in order to testify under oath whether or not they have falsely inflated the statistical figures of Greece, and the reasons for doing so.

I do not know when and if this will happen, and how many battles we have to give from now on in order to achieve this. Some tell us that there’s no point in continuing to fight, as it seems that with such a front of support for Georgiou by strong decision-making centers, the battle has already been won against us. We reply by saying that if we stop fighting, there will simply be no other battle — something we don’t want, because let’s not forget what Bertolt Brecht said once: “He who fights, can lose. He who doesn’t fight, has already lost.”

MPN: Looking at the situation in Greece today and the economic claims that are being made by the Greek government — that the country has returned to economic growth, that Greece has turned a corner — do you believe that the Greek statistical figures today are credible, or are they perhaps still being manipulated?

NL: Unfortunately, the statistical figures have already been exploited by any government in power so far in Greece. We have seen this happen with the alchemies of swaps in order to get into the Eurozone. By the way, I wish that we had never gotten into the Eurozone in the first place! Our economy was not in a position to handle such a strong and competitive currency. We saw another exploitation of the statistical figures, of the deficit, this time. They became the reason for an economic crisis of the past seven years.

I cannot say what is happening these days with the statistical figures, as I am not in ELSTAT. But we will find out sooner or later what is happening. The truth always comes out for any case of mishandling of statistical figures. We’ve seen this happen. But unfortunately, as long as there is no reliable team to correctly manage the handling of the statistical data in the Greek Statistical Authority, I’m afraid we should again expect irregularities and alchemies of the data.

Dec 042017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

22-trump-orb.w710.h473

Introduction

Major changes are roiling the states, societies and ruling classes of the biggest industrial economies, oil regimes and military complexes.

China is re-allocating its economic wealth toward building the most extensive modern infrastructure system in history, linking four continents.

Saudi Arabia is transferring a trillion dollars of pillage from princes to princes, from old business parasites to up-to-date versions, from austere desert mirages to fantasies of new mega-cities.

The United States is emptying the swamp of the Capital’s corruption and immediately replenishing it with the scandal of the day.

One Cabinet Secretary is fired; another Secretary is hired; one enemy is embraced; an ally denounced; the stock market flourishes and trade agreements are abandoned. One tax is sliced and pleases the powerful; another is spliced and chokes the consumers.

Turmoil, some would say; chaos, others would claim. And the stouthearted argue, that’s the way the world turns round.

But for all the world’s current ‘shaking’, there is substance and direction: There are models for the shaking-up and paradigms for the shaking down.

Shaking up’ occurs where visions of wealth and prosperity accompany science and discovery.

Shaking down’ is where the science of palace coups and the art of bloody intrigues fleece the poor while enriching and amusing the powerful.

The Art and Artist of the Shake Down

The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), pursues a new policy of scientific, systematic, large-scale and long-term shakedown (SD). Science is evident in these procedures, in their rigorous identification of targets and their efficient methodology of securing subjects and achieving success.

MBS and his associates launched their policy of SD in several well-planned stages.

First, they cloaked the entire SD operation as part of the vast transformation of the Kingdom, accompanied by a string of Western buzzwords: modernization of a traditional society; cleansing the suites of corruption; diversifying the oil dependent economy; privatizing ARAMCO; and replacing camels and tents with a state-of-the-art mega city in the desert.

MBS thus moved to seize state power as the final act in an operation starting with a wave of shakedowns.

The Princes-in-waiting experienced the initial shakedown.

In orderly fashion, MBS wielded his royal sword on behalf of righteousness (according to his adoring fans in the Western press, like Thomas Friedman): Scores of corrupt princes and hundreds of the business and military elite were arrested (or abducted for ransom . . . and safe keeping).

The ‘shakedown’ was underway, but the captives were held in circumstances worthy of their status. The abduction, imprisonment and plea-bargaining for ransom and release took place in the 5-star Riyadh Ritz-Hilton.

The MBS meritocratic modernizers (MM) held the highest degrees in finance and accounting and were adept at calculating appropriate ransoms from each and every captive. The MM demanded hundreds of millions from the billionaires while the generals settled for an early retirement, stripped of pensions and commands. Upon payment and release, the newly fleeced Saudi Princelings fled to the brothels of Beirut to receive un-brotherly comfort. They were freed on one condition: They would return some of the Kingdom’s pillage to fund a ‘New Class’ in a ‘New Arabia’ under the Crown Prince MBS.

However, Western investors, who quietly kept their snouts in the ‘traditional trough’ of Saudi wealth, were not sure where they stood with MBS and his meritocratic modernizers. They needed to know, for the sake of their stockholders: Were they victims or beneficiaries of the big shakedown? Were they condemned to suffer among the corrupt billionaires or granted entry into the new realm of the virtuous Prince?

MBS may have carried out the largest shakedown in recent times, in the name of justice, but there are still no signs of a diversified, modern and prosperous society arising on the Arabian Peninsula. In some places, there rose a more diverse variety of shakedown artists and plotters: Many, who applaud the Crown Prince, await their share the loot. In other parts of the peninsula, MBS continues to deliver famine, cholera and desperation and rain down bombs on the people of Yemen. If Israel could turn the remnant of Palestine into an open-air prison for periodic slaughter, MBS could find his own ‘Palestinians’ in Yemen for target practice.

China: The Shake Up

China is in the throes of one, two, many upheavals: Over one million high and low ranking officials and millionaires, who levied their own ‘private tax’ on the public treasury, will celebrate another Chinese New Year – in jail.

Meanwhile, over 25 billion dollars has been spent on innovative high tech projects, reshaping the economy, reducing pollution and expanding the welfare state.

Over one trillion dollars is being spent on huge global infrastructure projects linking China to four continents in an integrated network of trade – The One Road-One Belt Network.

China is the polar-opposite of Saudi Arabia: In place of state-sponsored ransom and blackmail (the ‘shakedown’) China is experiencing a monumental ‘shake-up’ – spending money in multiple directions. There are overseas projects to promote trade relations; upward projects linking business to high technology and greater profits; downward projects to train and expand the skilled labor force, reduce pollution, increase social welfare, save lives and increase productivity.

Unlike the US, China has nourished its manufacturing sector, and not starved it of investment. The average factory in the US is twice as old as those in China. To even dream of catching up with Chinese production, the US would have to invest over $115 billion a year in manufacturing for the next three decades.

Limited access to investment capital will condemn the tens of thousands of small and medium size manufacturing enterprises in the US to low productivity and reduced exports.

In contrast, the Chinese government directs investment capital widely to manufacturers of all sizes and shapes. Moreover, local Chinese manufacturers connect readily to the supply chain with big exporters. China provides explicit incentives to exporters to work with local suppliers to ensure that profits are re-invested in the home market.

In the US, the multinational suppliers are located out of the country and their earnings are hoarded overseas. Whenever profits return to the US, these are directed into buybacks of shares and dividends for the stockholders — not into new production.

Beijing manages debt, raising and limiting it to promote dynamic development with a level of efficiency unmatched in the US.

China keeps a close eye on excessive debt, speculation and investment, in contrast to the unrestrained chaos of the so-called ‘free market’ of the US and its parasitical allies, the Saudi coupon–clipping shakedown artists.

The US: The Political Economy of Scandalous Conspiracies and ‘Flight Capitalism’

The chaotic free-for-all in the US political economy is manipulated by scandalmongers, conspirators and flight capitalists. Instead of preparing an economic plan to ‘make America great again’, they have embraced the political blackmailers and intriguers of Saudi Arabia in a sui-generis global political alliance. Both countries feature purges, resignations and pugnacious politicos who have never been weaned from the destructive bosom of war.

As a point of history, the United States didn’t start out as a bloated, speculative state of crony capitalists and parasitical allies: The US was once a powerful industrial country, harnessing finance and overseas investments to securing raw materials for domestic industries and directing profits back into industry for higher productivity.

Fake, or semi-fake, political rivalries and electoral competition counted little as incumbents retained their positions most of the time, and bi-partisan agreements ensured stability through sharing the spoils of office.

Things have changed. Overseas neo-colonies started to offer more than just raw materials: They introduced low-tax manufacturing sites promising free access to cheap, healthy and educated workers. US manufacturers abandoned Old Glory, invested overseas, hoarded profits in tax havens and happily evaded paying taxes to fund a new economy for displaced US workers. Simultaneously, finance reversed its relation to industry: Industrial capital was now harnessed to finance, speculation, real estate, insurance sectors and electronic gadgets/play-by-yourself ‘i-phones’promoting isolated ‘selfies’ and idle chatter.

Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood replaced Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago. Stockbrokers proliferated, while master tool-and-die makers disappeared and workers’ children overdosed on ‘Oxy’.

In the transition, politicians, who had no connection to domestic industry, found a powerful niche promoting overseas wars for allies, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, and disseminating domestic spats, intrigues and conspiracies to the voters. Vietnam and Watergate, Afghanistan and Volker, Iran-Contra and Reaganomics, Yugoslavia and Iraq, daily drone strikes and bombings and Bill Clinton’s White House sex scandals giving salacious birth to Special Prosecutors . . .

In this historic transformation, American political culture put on a new face: perpetual wars, Wall Street swindles and Washington scandals. It culminated in the farcical Hillary Clinton – Donald Trump presidential election campaign: the war goddess-cuckquean of chaos versus the crotch-grabbing real-estate conman.

The public heard Secretary of State Clinton’s maniacal laugh upon her viewing the ‘snuff-film’ torture and slaughter of the wounded Libya’s President Gadhafi: She crowed: ‘We came, we saw …a nd he died’ with a sword up his backside. This defined the Clinton doctrine in foreign affairs, while slaughter of the welfare state and the bloated prison industry would define her domestic agenda.

Trump’s presidential election campaign went about the country pleasuring the business and finance elite (promises of tax cuts, deregulations, re-contamination and jacking up the earth’s temperature with a handful of jobs), and successfully pushed aside the outrage over his crude rump grabbing boasts.

Wars, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood all gathered to set the parameters of the United States’ political economy: The chase was on!

The Clinton sleuths uncovered an army of Russian conspirators running Trump’s electoral campaign, writing his speeches, typing his ‘Tweets’, designing his tactics and successfully directing the votes of millions of duped ‘deplorables’ – the rural and rust-belt poor.

The entire media world auto-pleasured their friends and allies with the Trump Administration’s political strip tease, shedding appointees, dumping nominees and misdirecting policies with a string of revelations. According to dubious anecdotes, the Special Prosecutor uncovered Russian conspiracies to enlist Salvation Army bell ringers and Washington lobbyists. The ‘deplorables’ meanwhile tuned out in disgust.

Trump retaliated with midnight Tweets and appointed a clutch of retired Generals, who had been battle-seasoned in Obama’s seven losing wars and even found a loudmouth South Carolina belle to evoke visions of mushroom clouds in the United Nations. Naturally, there was the coterie of Zionist advisers from the ‘think tanks’ and from his own family working double time to set US-Middle East policy on the road to new wars.

Trump’s Generals and Zionists on the one hand and the Democrats, liberals, anti-fascists and leftists formed the ‘resistance’ and fought fiercely for freedom: Freedom to direct the state to censor alternative news or informed discussion debunking the canard about Russian meddling, exposing Ukraine’s land grabs, proving Iran’s compliance to the nuclear deal and Tel Aviv’s baseless warnings about Tehran. Bolstered by the President’s Chief Advisor Son-in-Law, Jared Kushner, the Saudi Crown Prince was praised for kidnapping the Lebanese Prime Minister and forcing his resignation. Everyday there was a new scandal, conspiracy upon conspiracy and, of course, fake news blaring out from all sides of corporate media and NPR.

The threat of war spreads across the Middle East: How many families would the unholy trinity of Saudi Arabia-US-Israel slaughter, starve or incarcerate in Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan? Drowned out by domestic scandals and conspiracies – this carnage did not happen – in the news. While scores of thousands in Yemen suffered from cholera amidst a brutal Saudi blockade, The Washington Post – NY Times CBS-NBC-ABC published the same front-page photo of Trump’s clumsy handshake at the APEC Conference. At least, the trillion-dollar corporate-oligarch tax cut merited a jolly Tweet from the Donald.

The Big Shakedown is all about the swindles and the sex designed to keep Wall Street safe, the Pentagon at war and the public distracted.

Conclusion

Three countries are shaking the world in different directions:

In Saudi Arabia, MBS is engaged in a region-shattering shakedown, picking the pockets of Princes for a trillion dollars of unearned and pilfered oil rents to finance more cholera, starvation and mass murder in Yemen and beyond.

Through China, there is a Eurasian ‘shakeup’ as Beijing expands modern Silk-Roads everywhere and with everyone to connect markets, develop supply chains and increase prosperity at home and among its trade partners.

And the US just shakes . . . and trembles as its leaders rush to further enrich the ultra-rich, conspire to uncover conspiracies upon plot, scandalize the scandalmongers and tell us that freedom really means the freedom to expose and gnaw over the sordid acts of petty perverts while hiding much greater truths and reality. Official truth has become a stinking mound of offal.

One can only hope for a great ‘shaking off’.

Dec 032017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis answers questions as he leaves his office in Athens, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. About 1,000 bank branches around the country were ordered by the government to reopen Wednesday to help desperate pensioners without ATM cards cash up to 120 euros ($134) from their retirement checks. Eurozone finance ministers were set to weigh Greece's latest proposal for aid Wednesday. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis answers questions as he leaves his office in Athens, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. About 1,000 bank branches around the country were ordered by the government to reopen Wednesday to help desperate pensioners without ATM cards cash up to 120 euros ($134) from their retirement checks. Eurozone finance ministers were set to weigh Greece’s latest proposal for aid Wednesday. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

There were specific economic decisions that created the Greek crisis. It needn’t have happened if it weren’t deemed useful by the powers-that-be in Europe. The crisis was real, but it was largely manufactured by people who were creating distractions from Europe’s real problems.

ATHENS, GREECE — Greek-born economist Yanis Varoufakis, who served as finance minister of the SYRIZA-led Greek government from its election in January 2015 until July 2015, has regularly been afforded rockstar status by the international mainstream media and by such personalities as Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange.

In the aftermath of Greece’s July 2015 referendum, in which voters resoundingly rejected an EU-supported proposal for further austerity, Varoufakis resigned from his ministerial post (but retained his parliamentary seat) when it became evident that the SYRIZA-led government was preparing to betray the will of the voters.

But had the Greek people already been betrayed by SYRIZA and by Varoufakis himself? Journalist Dimitris Yannopoulos, who served as Varoufakis’ press adviser during the latter’s term as Greece’s finance minister, argues that this is the case.

For Yannopoulos, the true betrayal of the Greek people came not in July 2015 when the referendum result was ignored, but in the first weeks of the SYRIZA-led government in February 2015, when Varoufakis, as finance minister, agreed to the continuation of all previous austerity agreements with Greece’s creditors, while attempting to spin this agreement as a “victory.”

In this interview, which aired on Dialogos Radio over a series of broadcasts in September and October 2017, Yannopoulos describes the fateful proceedings leading up to the February 2015 agreement between Greece and its creditors, and how these agreements set the stage for the harsh austerity that continues to be enforced in Greece today.

MPN: Describe your experience as the press adviser to Yanis Varoufakis during his tenure as finance minister of Greece.

DY: Broadly speaking, my experience was exciting at first and hopeful, but it gradually became hectic, grueling, and ultimately disappointing and anxiety-ridden. In the end, it became depressing.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis attends a news conference about the launch of a new left-wing pan-Europe political movement called 'Democracy in Europe Movement 2025' in Berlin, Germany, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

Yanis Varoufakis attends a news conference about the launch ‘Democracy in Europe Movement 2025’ in Berlin. Feb. 9, 2016. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

That’s because the first two weeks following SYRIZA’s election in January 2015, some 80 percent of the Greek population supported the Greek government in its effort to make a cause of rescuing the Greek people from their predicament.

It was a fair one, it was a just one — and even right-wing people, conservative people, were acknowledging publicly that the government was, for the first time, making the hopes and the grievances and the complaints of Greeks known abroad, after some five or six years of an oppressive “memorandum” regime.

“Memorandum of understanding” is really the code name for a regime of economic discipline and supervision, and surveillance — and after those two weeks of hope and excitement came some grueling weeks of hectic efforts to follow Varoufakis’ communicative strategies. It was really a publicity campaign, one in which Varoufakis believed that he could overturn the negative agreements that he had himself made, both in public and privately with the troika, consisting of the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund.

That was really the problem of those four or five months, that the agreement of February 20, 2015, between Greece and the troika was an agreement that paved the way for a kind of chicken game, a theatrical kind of negotiation in which both sides were speaking through each other and waiting for the end of the extension that was given to Greece, in order to crash. That’s what happened in the end and it was disastrous for Greece, as I expected at least two months before the fateful end in June-early July.

MPN: In a recent article of yours, you referred to the first major development that took place under the watch of Yanis Varoufakis as Greek finance minister, namely the Eurogroup agreement in February 2015. This was presented at the time as a major victory for Varoufakis and the SYRIZA-led government. You, however, have described it as the first major defeat of Varoufakis and that government. What exactly took place leading up to that agreement?

DY: The irony is that the word “defeat” was first used by Varoufakis himself in an interview with Paul Mason, back in September 2015 after he resigned when he said that of course the February 20 was a big success for the government, but four days later we were defeated. That was the first time I started suspecting that something happened four days later that proved the February 20 to be a defeat from the start.

It’s somewhat complicated — let me say what the February 20 agreement basically involved. It concerned an extension of the so-called debt loan agreement that was valid at the time — the loan agreement that was first signed in March 2012 by Antonis Samaras, the conservative former prime minister. The incoming SYRIZA government inherited from Samaras a two-month extension that was expiring at the end of February. So on February 20, 2015, the government was seeking an extension of that extension, and the February 20 agreement gave it four months.

But what the February 20 agreement said was that the Greek government was going to present a few reforms, which would be in accordance with the current arrangements. Here, “current arrangements” refers to the memorandum agreements, signifying that those memorandum agreements were still valid.

So if the troika — renamed the “institutions” by Varoufakis — agreed to the proposals for reforms listed by the Greek government, then the negotiations would start in order to complete the current assessment. Of what? Well, of the government’s performance in complying with the current arrangements, which is, of course, the memorandum. But what I mean is that the agreement was phrased in such a way as to allow a very tenuous interpretation that really there was no memorandum anymore, that the government will propose reforms and all the troika would do is to accept or reject or amend these reforms.

Well, it wasn’t like that, Varoufakis’ positive interpretation notwithstanding. The troika used a ruse, a very clever trap in order to force Varoufakis to concede that all that they would be negotiating was the same memorandum of understanding that Samaras had left unfinished.

On February 24, 2015, during a teleconference in which the troika was supposed to accept the list of reforms that Varoufakis had presented, the troika said this list was okay, but would not be a replacement for the memorandum of understanding. At that point Varoufakis, according to his own later memoirs — and I’m referring specifically not only to his book but also interviews made after he resigned in July 2015 — protested that position of the troika, saying that this was counter to the logic of the February 20 agreement.

But because the expiry date was only four days away — because there would be a rupture, as he called it, if the government did not abide by or allow the February 20 agreement to be validated by the troika, the institutions and the Eurogroup — he retreated. And he retreated in a way that allowed him to say, “Well I didn’t actually retreat in writing, I retreated just in words and that was my mistake, of course, because the government was then going to split.” In essence, Varoufakis said yes to the troika terms of reviving the memorandum of understanding without admitting that it was a binding agreement.

How did it become binding? Well, three days later, Varoufakis was forced to sign two very specific formal documents. The first was the extension of the master financial assistance agreement, which was really the loan agreement of March 2012, and the second was the memorandum terms. It was the same document that the troika later presented to the government, to Alexis Tsipras through Jean-Claude Juncker, on June 25, 2015. Nothing had changed. For the troika, these were the terms that remained to be complied with after Samaras had failed to complete his obligations.

Basically, the whole four months of later so-called “negotiations” amounted to a very dramatic and almost manic attempt by Varoufakis to overturn this situation by a kind of media blitz, a publicity campaign. He believed that by turning public opinion to his favor — global public opinion, that is — he would be able to force either German Chancellor Angela Merkel or President Obama to interfere, to intervene with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and the Eurogroup and to say give him some crumbs, some concessions, so that we can go ahead and not have another Greek crisis in our midst. That was basically it.

The troika, having secured Varoufakis’ signatures and his silence regarding this particular secret agreement, had no reason to negotiate. All it had to do was wait for the Greek economy to crumble — as it did with a continuous capital flight, flight of deposits as well as flight of businesses abroad — and, in a situation of financial credit asphyxiation, the Greek government was losing support both in Greece and abroad. That was the situation, and all this dramatic effort by Varoufakis only served his own image abroad, rather than Greece’s.

In fact, there were instances where he was losing public support not only in Greece but also abroad — instances like the Paris Match interview, where he was shown to be a bon viveur living in expensive houses and having expensive food, or the other interview with a German TV network, where they showed him giving the finger to Germany in 2013, I think. But anyway, the point is that throughout these four months that followed what I call the defeat of February 24, the government was unable to overturn the situation in its favor.

MPN: In your opinion, what should the SYRIZA-led government have done during this crucial period in February 2015, when this supposedly major negotiation and political battle was taking place?

DY: From the start, it should have refused to negotiate anything with the Eurogroup and the troika at gunpoint, under threat of either a forced “Grexit” or credit asphyxiation and closure of the banks.

It is not a negotiation when an economy is in dire straits; is constantly strangulated through the lack of funds because it has no control over monetary policy and cannot finance banks to finance the market; cannot borrow short-term in order to pay dues; and has to draw funds from the public purse and effectively freeze payments to the private sector. The state stopped paying its arrears to the private sector. That was all the result of being unable to counter the main framework of the situation that the new government had faced, which is a situation of economic blackmail.

The first instance of economic blackmail was when the president of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, arrived in Athens to meet Varoufakis on January 30, 2015, where Dijsselbloem said you either sign up to an extension of the memorandum or we’re going to shut down your banks. Now, at that moment of course, a government that was just elected had enormous political capital in its hand to reject that and to reject that in public — to say to him that, if you want to insist on this, you have to say it to the media people who are waiting next door, and I’m going to tell you that this government under no circumstances will take this blackmail anymore.

I am sure that if Varoufakis’ position had been spelled out on these terms behind closed doors, Dijsselbloem would have retreated and a new framework, a less extortionate framework, would have been developed and built between Greece and its lenders.

Then came February 4, 2015, when Varoufakis was meeting Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, in Frankfurt, and Draghi told him that he was withdrawing the waiver to Greek bonds that night. There was no reason for withdrawing the waiver after the Greek banks had passed stress tests in December and had a clean bill of health. There was no real justification for the European Central Bank to withdraw the waiver from Greek bonds being accepted as collateral for loans by the Greek banking system. Instead of storming out and protesting this decision, Varoufakis almost justified it by saying well, you know, Greek banks are bankrupt anyway and we’re going to arrive to some kind of an agreement later this week or the next week, and the waiver will be reinstated.

European Central Bank Governor Mario Dragh arrives for a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Feb. 25, 2015. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

European Central Bank Governor Mario Dragh arrives for a plenary session at the European Parliament in Brussels, Feb. 25, 2015. (AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Of course, nothing like that happened. Instead, the withdrawal of the waiver was finalized and the government was prevented from making new issues of treasury bills — short-term debt that is — borrowing in the short-term markets, as it had been doing up to that time.

So the Greek economy lost two sources of liquidity. On the one hand, the cost of money to the Greek banking system was raised because Greece had to rely on the ELA, the Emergency Liquidity Assistance fund that works through the Bank of Greece. And, on the other hand, the Greek public-sector could not finance its short-term liabilities with short-term loans, by issuing treasury bills that ordinarily the Greek banks would buy — on very good terms I must say, around 3 to 4 percent for six months, almost 10 times the going interest rate for short-term borrowing in Europe at that time.

Basically, right from the outset, the beginning of February 2015, the government was in a stranglehold. The way I saw things then and see them now is that if, at that time, the government risked something like a resignation, a threat to resign, or the launch of a campaign throughout Europe to protest the treatment of Greece like a protectorate — at that moment, when the political capital it had gained after its election was huge — the chance of the Eurogroup and the Eurozone people, Wolfgang Schäuble, making some concessions was far greater than it would be in June and July 2015. By that time the economy had effectively collapsed and the banks had to close and there was little, really, that one could do other than to call it a day with the euro and go back to the drachma — and of course, the Greek government being totally unprepared for that eventuality, the consequences would be dire for the Greek people and for the government itself.

So, I believe that by not sticking to its original position and by not refusing to be blackmailed in the beginning, the SYRIZA government ended up being blackmailed and facing an ultimatum in the end of the process, after the economy had suffered very severe blows in terms of capital flight, business flight, people withdrawing their deposits, youth leaving the country in hundreds of thousands, et cetera.

MPN: Regarding Varoufakis’ actions as Greece’s finance minister, and especially his actions prior to the finalized Eurogroup agreement of February 2015, you have remarked that Varoufakis is the next Andreas Georgiou, referring of course to the embattled former head of Greece’s Statistical Authority, ELSTAT. Do you believe that Varoufakis must face prosecution for his actions as finance minister of Greece?

DY: No, I never actually said that. I don’t believe that the truth is a blame game. This is, unfortunately, a stance that the Greek establishment has enforced in the Greek people’s minds, that any perceived wrongdoing requires a judicial witch hunt.

I never believed that Varoufakis needed to be taken before a court, because his actions were not the same as Andreas Georgiou’s. Georgiou colluded with the troika and Eurostat in order to falsify the deficit of 2009, which effectively pushed us into this disaster, whereas Varoufakis’ mistakes are really the government’s political errors that need to be understood as such in order to be rectified, rather than in order to send the culprits to jail. If they end up in jail that’s another matter. I don’t believe they should end up in jail because there are other priorities at hand — how to change the regime in Greece. You might want to give an amnesty to the people responsible, to help stop the catastrophe that they are implementing.

The point is that Varoufakis himself has encouraged this idea of being tried in court to use the courthouse as yet another public forum for his positions. Some critics of Varoufakis have implied that Varoufakis was somehow bent on pushing Greece out of the euro and preparing for the drachma, but this is absolutely not what he was doing. Varoufakis is a staunch European, he’s now become even more of a transnationalist and a federalist, and under no circumstances would he fathom taking Greece out of the euro.

MPN: Yanis Varoufakis has established a new pan-European movement, the Democracy in Europe 2025 movement or DiEM25, with the stated mission of democratizing the European Union — and indeed he has not ruled out the possibility that his movement will participate in national elections in Europe, including in Greece. How do you view this new movement, and do you believe that the EU in its current form can even be reformed or democratized?

DY: I think the fact that the same media networks that were lambasting and criticizing and vilifying Varoufakis during his tenure have suddenly become his main supporters — passing him off as something like the new Thucydides or the new Winston Churchill over his so-called memoirs, the book that he’s published now called “Adults in the Room” — shows that his new movement has got a lot of support from certain quarters that are unconcerned with democracy.

Without going further into this topic, I would say that if you are saying that there’s no democracy in any European institution and all of them need to be democratized, what you’re saying in fact is that the government, the EU and the Eurozone, in particular, are a sort of dictatorship, an authoritarian regime, an imperial force under the leadership of Germany.

But Varoufakis is not saying that. In fact, he is saying that the only reason why the EU needs to be democratized is in order to avert what he calls the rebirth of “monsters of the past” — meaning the fringe, far-right groups that have emerged out of the current crisis in Europe — which is complete nonsense of course. The real danger in Europe is a clear and present danger, the danger of an imperial regime that has different tiers or layers of oppression — with Greece being its most suppressed member, so to speak, but also the other countries facing one form or another of arbitrary rule by Brussels.

So, the movement is really not a movement — it is something of a hybrid, in my opinion. DiEM25 is a hybrid of a non-governmental organization and a Varoufakis fan club, and I don’t think he realizes or has any idea what the politics of democracy and democratization involve. You need to be active at every level of the apparatus you want to democratize. And if you believe that it can’t be democratized at that level, you have to fight it — you have to resist, you have to set up alternative mechanisms and institutions, not “revitalize” the current ones. I mean, how can you democratize the European Central Bank, which is really the enforcer of austerity policy and all the neoliberal policies that Europe under German guidance is currently following?

MPN: The SYRIZA-led government is now claiming that the worst is over for Greece, that the country is emerging out of the economic crisis, that unemployment is on the decline, that economic growth has been achieved. We have seen SYRIZA’s triumphant PR concerning the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Greece. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, in his recent annual speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, said that talk of Grexit has been replaced by talk of “Grinvest” and foreign investment coming to Greece. How do you view the economic realities in Greece today?

DY: There are two sides to this. To say that the worst is over in general statistical terms may be right. Why? Because the Greek economy has crashed and lost 25 percent of its GDP, some 30 to 40 percent of its productive capacity in the space of four years between 2009 and 2013 — and since 2013 actually it has stopped crashing, it has stopped collapsing, it has stopped losing GDP by minus five, minus six, minus four, minus three. It has stabilized, but at a very low level that in the past four years it hasn’t managed to grow out of at all.

That’s because the Greek economy, in terms of structure rather than statistics, is an amputated economy, an economy that has seen strategic sectors like the banking sector, the social security sector, the housing sector, the construction sector being decimated, literally decimated. These are the sectors that make up most of an economy’s growth potential in bad or good times, and this is the case for the United States or Germany as well as small countries like Greece. These are the sectors that are moving an economy forward.

The rate of investment in Greece has been very very low. Foreign direct investment in particular — that’s the only investment at the moment that can push the economy to a modicum of recovery — is still extremely low. Of course through privatizations, there is capital coming in, so at least in accounting terms the current account balances are improving and showing investment rising —  but in reality, it’s just money coming in to replace previous state ownership. In the long term, this is going to be detrimental to Greek interests because the profits out of these so-called “investments” are going to go back to the countries where they came from — mainly Germany, France, Italy, et cetera.

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets attendants at the inauguration ceremony of Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, in Thessaloniki, Sept. 9, 2017. As the Prime Minister was delivering his speech, protesters held anti-austerity rallies outside the of the fair. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras greets attendants at the inauguration ceremony of Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, in Thessaloniki, Sept. 9, 2017. As the Prime Minister was delivering his speech, protesters held anti-austerity rallies outside the of the fair. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Really, the [economic] recovery that [Greek prime minister Alexis] Tsipras is talking about is a recovery to ground level or below ground level. The Greek economy is flatlined at the moment. It cannot be revived. Why? Because the major statistical fact most people have underestimated or ignored is the fact that Greek households are showing a negative savings rate of between 15 and 20 percent. This means that they’re consuming or paying out 20 percent more than they earn, which in turn means that there is really no domestic capital available for investment.

In fact, the major impediment to growth and recovery is not a lack of investment, but the fact that every single sector of the Greek economy — the state, the banks, and private household — is over-indebted. Households are over-indebted to the state; the state is over-indebted to its suppliers; the banks are indebted to the ECB. They’re stuck with non-performing loans to the rate of 60 percent of their assets — which is an enormous amount when considering that, before the crisis, non-performing loans in Greece were among the lowest in Europe, around 7 to 8 percent. Now they’re at 60 percent, and people are still saying “Oh, we spent so much in previous years and we should pay for this and be punished for this,” but nothing of that is true!

In fact, the Greek banking sector and household savings, and consumption as well as investment have plummeted, and this has had an effect of long-term stagnation that we are facing now — since 2013, a stagnation against which a growth rate of 0.5 or 1 percent is nothing. It’s a growth rate that will not even pay for the replacement of existing or remaining equipment in the Greek economy.

Quite frankly, I believe that unless there is a radical solution to the Greek debt problem — the Greek over-indebtedness problem which starts, of course, from the foreign debt, which is mostly in the hands of the ECB, the EU and the IMF at the moment — unless there is a very drastic cut or write-off of a very big portion of this debt — and this write-off would have to trickle down to the remaining sectors of the economy, so that there is some breathing space for genuine recovery — nothing is going to improve.

In fact, most Greek people don’t see improvement. Why? Because they are under a constant persecution from the tax authorities. Recently, the deputy minister of finance, Katerina Papanatsiou, said that they are going to “hunt down” 25,000 to 30,000 companies that have fled into the other Balkan countries. She said they fled for tax evasion reasons and their books have to be looked at, et cetera. Basically, the Greek state has become a predator of the Greek people.

The Greek state used to be an oppressive state, a largely undemocratic, corrupt and clientelist state. Now it’s become a predatory state, one that does not allow any kind of economic respite to Greek households. I’m not talking only about households that are now living in poverty; I’m talking about middle-class households that don’t know how to make ends meet from one day to the other, exactly because they don’t know what kind of taxes they will have to pay next month.

The latest news for Greek households is that the “ENFIA” — that barbaric tax against private property in Greece — is going to be due next year in March, rather than in July as it was this year. This means that once you stop paying installments for this year’s tax, you’re going to have to start paying next year’s tax. There’s no end to this, precisely because whatever the government does, there’s always a reduction of its tax revenues, as is happening now. Right now, I think even though there is a surplus of which the government is bragging, tax revenue is still below the target set by the troika in the second evaluation.

MPN: You have said that the economic crisis that has stricken several European countries — including Greece of course, and countries like Portugal and Ireland — is a crisis that has been constructed. How do you support this view, and how would you characterize the role of Germany and the major central banking institutions in creating this artificial, as you call it, crisis?

DY: I would say that, once the Greek and Irish situations were taken into account by the major European economic and political centers of power, it appeared useful to shift attention from the crisis of the banking sector that had erupted in 2008 to a so-called “European public-debt crisis.” The reason I mention Ireland is that Ireland was forced by the ECB, blackmailed by the ECB, to take over and recapitalize its bankrupt banks. That had the result of pushing the deficit of the Irish state up to 15.5 percent in 2009 and 31 percent in 2010. Now how, from that year on, the deficit has disappeared is another matter. It has disappeared somewhere under the table of the ECB, the Bank of England, and the Irish central bank.

The point is that in order to not draw attention to the problem of Ireland —  because Ireland had already suffered a couple of years of very drastic austerity and there was no point in making it an example — they shifted the attention to Greece, and that was the main reason why the Greek public deficit of 2009 had to be blown up to something like 30 or 40 percent above its real level. That was done initially by the first finance minister under George Papandreou, George Papakonstantinou, who initially demanded that the Greek statistical office report back to him a deficit of 15 percent, when the statistical service said that was impossible, it’s nowhere near 15 percent. He said okay, then do it 12 percent. That’s when the game of pushing up, inflating the Greek deficit started. That was really the situation.

Of course, behind that there was political wheeling and dealing — George Papandreou with ex-IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the IMF and requests for help from the EU — and the funny thing was that in late 2009, the EU had already decided to reinstate a regime of supervision that it had done before with Greece. But what happened in early 2010 was that the European Central Bank again — Jean-Claude Trichet was president of the ECB at the time — made a statement saying that Greece should not be confident that the ECB will accept Greek bonds forever as collateral, because its evaluation by the agencies was not going well.

Now, from that statement onward, of course, that’s when the real debt crisis in Greece started. Why? Because, of course, there was negative speculation, the CDS (credit default swaps) started rising, the Greek bonds’ cost skyrocketed, and of course, the country came near bankruptcy.

What I’m saying is that there were specific economic decisions that created the Greek crisis. It needn’t have happened if it weren’t deemed useful by the powers-that-be in Europe. I’m not saying it’s artificial, because from the moment the markets turned against Greece, of course, Greek debt servicing capacity would collapse. The crisis was real, but it was largely prodded and manufactured by people who were interested in shifting the blame or the attention of public opinion against Greece — and away from Ireland and the banking sector in Europe, which remains over-indebted, of course, but nobody talks about it in the past eight years.

For the past eight years, the major banks — Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Credit Lyonnais, Credit Agricole, etc. — the major banking concerns are steeped in debt and liabilities, they’re over-leveraged by 30 to 40 times their capital. But because the ECB can fund them, finance them indefinitely, and by keeping their records or their accounts nominally in balance, nobody is talking about the real problem.

That problem is over-indebtedness in the European banking system, which is creating all this backlog of debt, especially in the weaker countries: Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and even France at this time. Of course, the rest of Europe may be going through some kind of a recovery, a very tenuous and low-level recovery, but that doesn’t mean that the problems have gone away. They’re constantly reappearing in different forms, as we see in Catalonia, in Eastern Europe, and with the problem of migration.

Really the situation is not very positive, and there are forces that have manufactured the crisis and transformed it from what it was originally — an international banking crisis — into a political, social, and even an environmental crisis.

MPN: There is a major wave of Euroscepticism throughout much of Europe, as exemplified by the referendum result in favor of Brexit in the United Kingdom. We have not seen a similar trend in Greece though, despite the economic crisis. Why do you believe this is the case?

DY: Personally I believe that Euroscepticism in Greece is going through the roof at the moment, but it is passive. It’s not expressing itself as a political imperative, the reason being that the Greek people have suffered a lot by hoping that they could overcome their predicament by changing their relationship, their unequal and oppressive relationship with the Eurozone and the euro, one way or the other. The disappointment of this hope is what creates a passive Euroscepticism.

That passive Euroscepticism, the last time that it was expressed was at the referendum of July 5, 2015. That referendum was to a tune of 62 percent against the troika. It was, in fact, a referendum against the European Union institutions, the way they had treated Greece. It was a vote and a referendum of defiance.

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

But of course, that’s where the great responsibility of SYRIZA lay at that time. It was completely unprepared to handle a clash or a rupture, as they called it, with the EU institutions. I’m not saying that they had to push for an exit from the euro, but they would have to push for the return of national sovereignty of one kind or another, some kind of equality that all the other countries of the EU enjoy. But the Tsipras government was not prepared for that. So it succumbed to the blackmail, it succumbed to the pressures, it succumbed to the strangulation of the Greek economy that the European Union had pushed in the preceding five months.

That’s really the tragedy, because from then on the Greek people lost all hope. They couldn’t see any workable alternative — all they saw was a few slogans here and there but no real pathway, no tactics and no strategy of getting out of the crisis. They didn’t see the sort of demands that could mobilize popular resistance to the situation now. Basically, what they’re doing is fleeing the country. Seventy percent of the people say that if they had the chance or the means they would migrate to anywhere else but Greece: Europe, America, etc. And only the young can do that of course — and a portion of the young, not all of them.

This is the situation at the moment, a very difficult situation but not one that is devoid of Euroscepticism. Quite the contrary, I think the Euroscepticism that’s prevalent in Greece at the moment is much stronger and deeper than anywhere else in Europe, including Britain and Eastern Europe, where it’s rising at the moment.

MPN: Do you believe that the current SYRIZA-led government in Greece will complete its four-year term and hold elections in September 2019, or do you believe that we will see electoral developments in Greece sooner, perhaps sometime next year?

DY: That will largely depend on whether the EU is ready to risk setting SYRIZA aside or even pushing it to the parliamentary opposition. That is a very risky decision for the EU to make, because no other government would have applied and implemented the sort of measures that SYRIZA has implemented.

SYRIZA has virtually wiped out the Greek social security system. It is passing one taxation law after another with no parliamentary opposition. It is making all sorts of politically correct decisions on matters of immigration, naturalization of illegal immigrants, recognizing the legal choice of sexual identity, things that no other government would have passed.

It is a situation where the Greek parliament is totally subordinate to the troika, and this is a situation that defines Greece as a protectorate — even in de jure terms, not just de facto — because the third memorandum of understanding specifically demands that every legal bill has to pass through the troika, has to get approval from the troika before it reaches parliament. This means that Greece has completely lost its national sovereignty.

Nov 292017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

studylinksin

Introduction

The US political and economic elites have always bragged that capitalism is far superior to socialism in terms of providing people’s personal welfare. They claim that citizens live longer, healthier and happier lives under capitalism.

The debate between the supporters of the US Affordable Care Act or ‘Obamacare’ and its most vehement opponents under President Trump is not part of any larger system debate since both ‘sides’ base their vision and plans for medical care on private, for-profit corporate insurance schemes. This source of funding would ‘harness market forces’ to deliver quality medical care … in a marketplace of ‘free competition’, in which every American, even the most fragile, cancer-ridden patient, would be an engaged stakeholder, weighing a huge menu of free choices …

The real comparison of how these economic systems provide basic health care should be based on showing which provides the best population outcomes, personal satisfaction and community security across national boundaries. National health systems top the chaotic private system in these parameters.

On the other hand, the US tops all European countries in terms of the percentage of workers and family members who avoid necessary trips to the doctor because they fear financial ruin from the inflated costs of their private health care. In other words, majorities of people, dependent on private for-profit insurance schemes to provide health care, cannot afford to visit a medical facility, doctor or clinic even to treat a significant illness. The type of economic system funding health services determines the likelihood of a patient actually going to seek and receive important medical care that will preserve life, one’s ability to work and enjoy some level of satisfaction.

This essay will include a brief discussion of the social and political conditions, which gave rise to the socialized, and clearly more effective, health care system. And we will touch on the consequences the two health systems in terms of people’s life expectancy and quality of life.

Comparing Costs of Medical Visitation by Economic System

The US is the only developed country relying on a private, for-profit insurance system to fund and deliver medical care for its working age population. In contrast, all countries in the European Union have some form of publicly funded and delivered health plans for its workers.

One of the key quality measures of a health care system is a patient’s access to timely competent medical care.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OCECD) recently conducted a systematic comparison of seven countries, with different levels of GDP, and the percentage of people in each country who are able to afford medical consultations for necessary medical care.

The European countries all have established national public health programs with clear goals and measures in terms of outcomes. The US is the only nation to rely on privately administered and funded health care systems for its working age population.

The Results

Over one-fifth (22%) of the US working age population believe they cannot afford to consult a doctor or medical clinic – in the event of an illness or accident. In contrast, less than eight percent of European workers view themselves as unable to afford necessary medical care. For the largest EU nations, less than 5% of the working population avoids care because of a perceived inability to pay for essential services. US workers are five times more likely to voluntarily forego health care, often with disastrous long-term consequences.

If we compare the US with its ‘free market’ private insurance run system with any EU nation, we find consistent results: Access to competent, essential medical services in the US is far worse!

In Germany and France, the EU’s most developed nations, working age citizens and their family members have three to ten times better access to health care than the US. 8% of workers in France and 2% in Germany postpone necessary visits to the doctor because of a perceived inability to pay. Among middle developed EU nations, 4% in the UK and 4.5% in Italy cite financial reasons for skipping essential medical care – compared to 22% of working age Americans.

Even in the least developed EU nations, Spain and Portugal, with the highest unemployment rates and lowest per capita income, workers have greater access to health care. Only 2.5% of workers in Spain and 7.5% in Portugal view costs as a reason to avoid visiting their doctor.

High Tech Billionaires Speak of ‘Values’ while Maximizing Profits

Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits’, the multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg opined this month, after his company, Facebook posted its first ever $10 billion quarterly earnings result. (FT 11/16/17 P 8)

Zuckerberg and entourage had apparently ventured into Middle America discovering to their shock that American communities were in the midst of a narcotic addiction crisis, which had caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and disrupted the lives of millions of addicts’ family members. The natives of Middle America were more concerned about access to effective addiction treatment than their access to Facebook! Zuckerberg, with his legions of highly educated foreign workers on the West Coast, conveniently missed the chance to identify the source of the American addiction crisis: The over-prescription of opioid pain medications by tens of thousands of private US medical practitioners, pushed by the giant US pharmaceutical industry in a 2 decades-long medical genocide that the nations of Europe had so ‘miraculously’ avoided because of their centralized, regulated, socialized health systems.

While the US may have the least available and least affordable health care for working people, it can certainly boast about producing the highest number of super-rich in the world. Five of the world’s largest companies are US-owned with a combined market capitalization of $3.3 trillion for the top US tech giants. Europe’s largest tech company, SAP, is sixty notches below.

The US giant mega-billion dollar tech companies and CEO’s are also mega-billion dollar tax-evaders who stash their fortunes overseas and avoid the inconvenience of having to contribute to any national health programs for workers – whether in the US or elsewhere. The monopoly tech corporations’ wealth and power are one important reason why over a fifth of working age Americans cannot afford necessary medical care. As one acute observer noted, ‘The new high tech elite tend to cloak their self interest by talking about values which has the collateral benefit of avoiding talk about wealth.’(FT 11/17/17 P9)

The scarcity of European multi-billion dollar tech CEOs, like the American Zuckerberg and Gates, is linked to the domestic tax systems that provide public financing and management of effective medical service serving hundreds of millions of European workers.

In other words, the US, with its far more extreme concentration of wealth and social inequality, continues to have the greatest level of health care inequality among industrialized nations.

Europe is not without inequalities, monopolies and underfunded health programs but it delivers far better and more accessible care to its citizens than the private capitalist health system promoted in the US.

Historical Roots of the Superior European Health Care System

The power of monopoly capital is one of the key factors resulting in the deteriorating quality of health care for the US working population. Another factor is the lack of consistent working class struggle in the US compared to Europe. After the Second World War, there were huge waves of working class strikes across France, Italy and the UK. Various communist parties in continental Europe played a leading role within the trade unions demanding for publicly funded, national health care. In the UK, Socialists and the Labor Governments were pushed by their trade union members to craft a national health system to meet the needs of workers and their families. While Germany had a basic national health system dating from the time of Bismarck in the late 19th century, the socialist economy and public services developing in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) after the Second World War provided an alternative for West German workers who then successfully pushed for the implementation of an advanced welfare state, including a socialized medical care system, within the thoroughly capitalist German Federation.

In the 1970’s Spain and Portugal shed their fascist past and post-war dictatorships. The militant trade unions and leftist parties ascended to power on promises to implement social-welfare programs, which, even with their economic limitations, included highly effective national health programs. Life expectancies rose dramatically.

The US has neither welfare nor national medical programs for its working population. Despite a brief interlude of American workers’ strikes shortly after WWII, leftist militants, communists and socialists were purged and corrupt business-linked trade union leaders took over. Rather than struggle for an effective national system of publicly funded medical care, the trade unions, linked to the Democratic Party, pushed their membership to struggle for ‘nickel and dime’ wage increases – accepting a system of the most expensive, and unaccountable private health care in the world.

The capitalist US has been the only country to deprive its working age citizens and their family members of an effective national health system. After over 60 years, the results are damning. Providing essential medical care for American workers, through the various forms of private, for-profit insurance schemes, has resulted in an uncontrolled health care cost inflation making manufacturing in the US far more expensive than its European, Japanese or Canadian competitors.

From 2001 up to 2018, under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the US taxpayers have spent $5.6 trillion dollars on privately delivered, for-profit medical care with unimpressive results in terms of population health and life expectancy. On a per-capita basis, this is twice the amount spent on citizens of the EU who have consistently enjoyed rising life expectancy and improving health parameters. Despite this enormous investment of money in a chaotic, ineffective private system, the US Treasury has steadfastly maintained it could not finance a National Health Program for the population.

Present and Future Consequence of a Capitalist ‘Health System’

Today millions of US wage earners can expect to suffer shorter and less healthy lives than their counterparts in other industrialized countries in Europe and Japan. The opioid addiction epidemic among US workers, caused entirely by uncontrolled prescription of highly addictive narcotics by private practitioners and pushed by the profit-hungry US pharmaceutical industry, has led to over 600,000 deaths by overdose and millions of lives shortened by the brutal realities of addiction and degradation. This legally prescribed epidemic is unique to the United States where an estimated 15% of construction workers need treatment for addiction, millions have dropped out of the labor market due to addiction and the medical plans of numerous US building trade unions are facing bankruptcy because of the cost of addition-treatment for its members. The anti-addiction drug, Suboxone, is the most expensive and heavily prescribed medication for some union health plans. The reasons for this atrocity are clear: Injured American workers were being prescribed long courses of cheap, but highly addictive opioids to address their pain during cursory visits to ‘medical clinics’, rather than providing them with the more expensive but appropriate post-trauma care involving physical therapy and rest. The bosses and supervisors, who just wanted ‘warm bodies’ back on the job, were oblivious to the impending disaster.

Mega billion dollar private drug companies manufactured and promoted highly addictive prescription narcotics and paid ‘lobbyists’ to persuade US politicians and regulators to ‘look the other way’ as the addiction epidemic unfolded. Corporate hospitals and for-profit physicians, nurses, dentists and others participated in a historic catastrophe of medical irresponsibility that ended up addicting millions of American workers and their family members and killing hundreds of thousands. A huge proportion of prescription narcotic addicts are white workers in poorly protected manual jobs (construction, factories, farms, mines etc.). They lack access to effective, responsible medical care. In new millennium America, their jobs would not provide for ‘time off’ or physical therapy following injury and they unwittingly resorted to the ‘miracle’ of prescription opioids to get back to work. In many cases, their private medical insurance plans blatantly refused to pay for more expensive non-addictive alternatives and would insist the workers receive the cheap opioids instead. The rare worker, who demanded to take time off to seek effective medical and physical therapy for an injury, would be fired. US capitalists could easily ignore the growing shortage of healthy American construction and other workers by importing cheap, skilled labor from abroad and sanctimoniously blame American workers for their disabilities.

Conclusion

Workers in even the poorest European Union countries have greater access to better, more effective medical care then their US counterparts. They continue to enjoy rising life expectancies and longer lives without disability. Their injuries are treated appropriately with rest and physical therapy. Injured European or Japanese workers are never prescribed ridiculously long courses of highly addictive narcotics given to Americans. Certainly any increase in overdose deaths from prescribed opioids in the European Union or Japan would have generated rapid public health investigations and corrective action – a marked contrast to the two decades of callous indifference within the US medical community that bordered on Social Darwinism considering the working class identity of most victims. In Europe and Japan, long-term narcotic therapy is reserved for terminal cancer patients suffering from intractable pain. It would never have been offered to rural or working class teenagers for sports injuries – a common practice in the US!

The European public medical care systems are the product of class struggle and socially conscious mass movements and political parties that produced welfare states where improving population health was a central goal of its social compact. In contrast, the private-for-profit health system in the US is the shining example of the triumph of capitalism – the consolidation and further enrichment of capitalist control and the subordination of labor in each of its phase – from low to high tech business. In this ultimate triumph of capitalism, the old class struggle slogans were revised – becoming – Long live the bosses! Early death to the workers!

Private health care and the drive for higher profits provided enormous benefits for the pharmaceutical industry, making billionaires out of the owners and CEOs. This spawned the ‘ultra-philanthropic’ billionaire Sackler family whose Purdue Pharmaceuticals peddled the deadly Oxycontin to tens of millions of Americans. For profit-hospitals, private medical practices and rapacious insurance companies all reaped the bounty of mismanaging a bloated, unaccountable system that has provided the American worker with an early death by overdose or a shortened life of despair and disability.

Private capitalist employers and insurance companies continue to benefit from the epidemic of pre-mature deaths of their former employees: Pension costs and health care liabilities are slashed because of the decreasing life expectancy – Wall Street is jubilant. There will be fewer communities to educate and protect and this will lower taxes. Cheap imported replacement workers (educated or trained on their own societies’ dime) can conventiently be deported or replaced.

It is undeniable: increasing life expectancy and a decent life free of disability has disappeared for the American worker. With poor health and inadequate care, maternal and infant mortality are on the rise especially in rural and de-industrialized areas.

By every health and living standard indicator, the history of successful class struggle led to the implementation of effective national welfare and health programs. Their societies have reaped benefits for their citizens that were clearly superior to corrupt boss-worker class collaboration under private capitalism in the US.

Nov 252017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

American-hegemony_1

Introduction

For almost two decades, the US pursued a list of ‘enemy countries’ to confront, attack, weaken and overthrow. This imperial quest to overthrow ‘enemy countries’ operated at various levels of intensity, depending on two considerations: the level of priority and the degree of vulnerability for a ‘regime change’ operation.

The criteria for determining an ‘enemy country’ and its place on the list of priority targets in the US quest for greater global dominance, as well as its vulnerability to a ‘successfully’ regime change will be the focus of this essay. We will conclude by discussing the realistic perspectives of future imperial options.

Prioritizing US Adversaries

Imperial strategists consider military, economic and political criteria in identifying high priority adversaries.

The following are high on the US ‘enemy list’:

1) Russia, because of its military power, is a nuclear counterweight to US global domination. It has a huge, well-equipped armed force with a European, Asian and Middle East presence. Its global oil and gas resources shield it from US economic blackmail and its growing geo-political alliances limit US expansion.

2) China, because of its global economic power and the growing scope of its trade, investment and technological networks. China’s growing defensive military capability, particularly with regard to protecting its interests in the South China Sea serve to counter US domination in Asia.

3) North Korea, because of its nuclear and ballistic missile capability, its fierce independent foreign policies and its strategic geo-political location, is seen as a threat to the US military bases in Asia and Washington’s regional allies and proxies.

4) Venezuela, because of its oil resources and socio-political policies, challenge the US centered neo-liberal model in Latin America.

5) Iran, because of its oil resources, political independence and geo-political alliances in the Middle East, challenge US, Israeli and Saudi Arabia domination of the region and present an independent alternative.

6) Syria, because of its strategic position in the Middle East, its secular nationalist ruling party and its alliances with Iran, Palestine, Iraq and Russia, is a counterweight to US-Israeli plans to balkanize the Middle East into warring ethno-tribal states.

US Middle-level Adversaries

1) Cuba, because of its independent foreign policies and its alternative socio-economic system stands in contrast to the US-centered neo-liberal regimes in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

2) Lebanon, because of its strategic location on the Mediterranean and the coalition government’s power sharing arrangement with the political party, Hezbollah, which is increasingly influential in Lebanese civil society in part because of its militia’s proven capacity to protect Lebanese national sovereignty by expelling the invading Israeli army and helping to defeat the ISIS/al Queda mercenaries in neighboring Syria.

3) Yemen, because of its independent, nationalist Houthi-led movement opposed to the Saudi-imposed puppet government as well as its relations with Iran.

Low Level Adversaries

1) Bolivia, because of its independent foreign policy, support for the Chavista government in Venezuela and advocacy of a mixed economy; mining wealth and defense of indigenous people’s territorial claims.

2) Nicaragua, because of its independent foreign policy and criticism of US aggression toward Cuba and Venezuela.

US hostility to high priority adversaries is expressed through economic sanctions military encirclement, provocations and intense propaganda wars toward North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Syria. Because of China’s powerful global market linkages, the US has applied few sanctions. Instead, the US relies on military encirclement, separatist provocations and intense hostile propaganda when dealing with China.

Priority Adversaries, Low Vulnerability and Unreal Expectations

With the exception of Venezuela, Washington’s ‘high priority targets’ have limited strategic vulnerabilities. Venezuela is the most vulnerable because of its high dependence on oil revenues with its major refineries located in the US, and its high levels of indebtedness, verging on default. In addition, there are the domestic opposition groups, all acting as US clients and Caracas’ growing isolation within Latin America due to orchestrated hostility by important US clients, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Iran is far less vulnerable: It is a strong strategic regional military power linked to neighboring countries and similar religious-nationalist movements. Despite its dependence on oil exports, Iran has developed alternative markets, like China, free from US blackmail and is relatively safe from US or EU initiated creditor attacks.

North Korea, despite the crippling economic sanctions imposed on its regime and civilian population, has ‘the bomb’ as a deterrent to a US military attack and has shown no reluctance to defend itself. Unlike Venezuela, neither Iran nor North Korea face significant internal attacks from US-funded or armed domestic opposition.

Russia has full military capacity – nuclear weapons, ICBM and a huge, well-trained armed force – to deter any direct US military threat. Moscow is politically vulnerable to US-backed propaganda, opposition political parties and Western-funded NGOs. Russian oligarch-billionaires, linked to London and Wall Street, exercise some pressure against independent economic initiatives.

To a limited degree, US sanctions exploited Russia’s earlier dependence on Western markets, but since the imposition of draconian sanctions by the Obama regime, Moscow has effectively countered Washington’s offensive by diversifying its markets to Asia and strengthening domestic self-reliance in its agriculture, industry and high technology.

China has a world-class economy and is on course to become the world’s economic leader. Feeble threats to ‘sanction’ China have merely exposed Washington’s weakness rather intimidating Beijing. China has countered US military provocations and threats by expanding its economic market power, increasing its strategic military capacity and shedding dependence on the dollar.

Washington’s high priority targets are not vulnerable to frontal attack: They retain or are increasing their domestic cohesion and economic networks, while upgrading their military capacity to impose completely unacceptable costs on the US for any direct assault.

As a result, the US leaders are forced to rely on incremental, peripheral and proxy attacks with limited results against its high priority adversaries.

Washington will tighten sanctions on North Korea and Venezuela, with dubious prospects of success in the former and a possible Pyrrhic victory in the case of Caracas. Iran and Russia can easily overcome proxy interventions. US allies, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, can badger, propagandize and rail the Persians, but their fears that an out-and-out war against Iran, could quickly destroy Riyadh and Tel Aviv forces them to work in tandem to induce the corrupt US political establishment to push for war over the objections of a war-weary US military and population. Saudi and Israelis can bomb and starve the populations of Yemen and Gaza, which lack any capacity to reply in kind, but Tehran is another matter.

The politicians and propagandists in Washington can blather about Russia’s interference in the US’s corrupt electoral theater and scuttle moves to improve diplomatic ties, but they cannot counter Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East and its expanding trade with Asia, especially China.

In summary, at the global level, the US ‘priority’ targets are unattainable and invulnerable. In the midst of the on-going inter-elite dogfight within the US, it may be too much to hope for the emergence of any rational policymakers in Washington who could rethink strategic priorities and calibrate policies of mutual accommodation to fit in with global realities.

Medium and Low Priorities, Vulnerabilities and Expectations

Washington can intervene and perhaps inflict severe damage on middle and low priority countries. However, there are several drawbacks to a full-scale attack.

Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Bolivia and Syria are not nations capable of shaping global political and economic alignments. The most the US can secure in these vulnerable countries are destructive regime changes with massive loss of life, infrastructure and millions of desperate refugees … but at great political cost, with prolonged instability and with severe economic losses.

Yemen

The US can push for a total Saudi Royal victory over the starving, cholera-stricken people of Yemen. But who benefits? Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a palace upheaval and has no ability to exercise hegemony, despite hundreds of billions of dollars of US/NATO arms, trainers and bases. Colonial occupations are costly and yield few, if any, economic benefits, especially from a poor, geographically isolated devastated nation like Yemen.

Cuba

Cuba has a powerful highly professional military backed by a million-member militia. They are capable of prolonged resistance and can count on international support. A US invasion of Cuba would require a prolonged occupation and heavy losses. Decades of economic sanctions haven’t worked and their re-imposition by Trump have not affected the key tourist growth sectors.

President Trump’s ‘symbolic hostility’ does not cut any ice with the major US agro-business groups, which saw Cuba as a market. Over half of the so-called ‘overseas Cubans’ now oppose direct US intervention.

US-funded NGOs can provide some marginal propaganda points but they cannot reverse popular support for Cuba’s mixed ‘socialized’ economy, its excellent public education and health care and its independent foreign policy.

Lebanon

A joint US-Saudi economic blockade and Israeli bombs can destabilize Lebanon. However, a full-scale prolonged Israeli invasion will cost Jewish lives and foment domestic unrest. Hezbollah has missiles to counter Israeli bombs. The Saudi economic blockade will radicalize Lebanese nationalists, especially among the Shia and the Christian populations. The Washington’s ‘invasion’ of Libya, which did not lose a single US soldier, demonstrates that destructive invasions result in long-term, continent-wide chaos.

A US-Israeli-Saudi war would totally destroy Lebanon but it will destabilize the region and exacerbate conflicts in neighboring countries – Syria, Iran and possibly Iraq. And Europe will be flooded with millions more desperate refugees.

Syria

The US-Saudi proxy war in Syria suffered serious defeats and the loss of political assets. Russia gained influence, bases and allies. Syria retained its sovereignty and forged a battle-hardened national armed force. Washington can sanction Syria, grab some bases in a few phony ‘Kurdish enclaves’ but it will not advance beyond a stalemate and will be widely viewed as an occupying invader.

Syria is vulnerable and continues to be a middle-range target on the US enemy list but it offers few prospects of advancing US imperial power, beyond some limited ties with an unstable Kurd enclave, susceptible to internecine warfare, and risking major Turkish retaliation.

Bolivia and Nicaragua

Bolivia and Nicaragua are minor irritants on the US enemy list. US regional policymakers recognize that neither country exercises global or even regional power. Moreover, both regimes rejected radical politics in practice and co-exist with powerful and influential local oligarchs and international MNC’s linked to the US.

Their foreign policy critiques, which are mostly for domestic consumption, are neutralized by the near total US influence in the OAS and the major neo-liberal regimes in Latin America. It appears that the US will accommodate these marginalized rhetorical adversaries rather than risk provoking any revival of radical nationalist or socialist mass movements erupting in La Paz or Managua.

Conclusion

A brief examination of Washington’s ‘list of enemies’ reveals that the limited chances of success even among vulnerable targets. Clearly, in this evolving world power configuration, US money and markets will not alter the power equation.

US allies, like Saudi Arabia, spend enormous amounts of money attacking a devastated nation, but they destroy markets while losing wars. Powerful adversaries, like China, Russia and Iran, are not vulnerable and offer the Pentagon few prospects of military conquest in the foreseeable future.

Sanctions, or economic wars have failed to subdue adversaries in North Korea, Russia, Cuba and Iran. The ‘enemy list’ has cost the US prestige, money and markets – a very peculiar imperialist balance sheet. Russia now exceeds the US in wheat production and exports. Gone are the days when US agro-exports dominated world trade including trade with Moscow.

Enemy lists are easy to compose, but effective policies are difficult to implement against rivals with dynamic economies and powerful military preparedness.

The US would regain some of its credibility if it operated within the contexts of global realities and pursued a win-win agenda instead of remaining a consistent loser in a zero-sum game.

Rational leaders could negotiate reciprocal trade agreements with China, which would develop high tech, finance and agro-commercial ties with manufacturers and services. Rational leaders could develop joint Middle East economic and peace agreements, recognizing the reality of a Russian-Iranian-Lebanese Hezbollah and Syrian alliance.

As it stands, Washington’s ‘enemy list’ continues to be composed and imposed by its own irrational leaders, pro-Israel maniacs and Russophobes in the Democratic Party – with no acknowledgement of current realities.

For Americans, the list of domestic enemies is long and well known, what we lack is a civilian political leadership to replace these serial mis-leaders.

Nov 172017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

saudi-purge-400x225

Introduction

Saudi Arabia has built a powerful network of regional and local political, military and economic relationships incorporating a shared extremist-religious affiliation. As a result, despite its reputation as a backward despotic clerico-monarchy with an extreme dependency on oil sales, it has become a deadly political force in the Middle East and beyond.

To understand the dynamics and projections of Saudi power it is important to identify and analyze how it uses its use military, religious and economic weapons.

Saudi Arabia: Senility and Mercenary Protection

Saudi Arabia has bankrolled and supplied violent mercenary armies in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, Malaysia and several other Asian and African countries.

The Saudi’s intolerant Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam and its commercial mercenaries act to overthrow and shatter Arab regimes and societies that have independent modern, nationalist and secular leadership or practice multi-ethnic or multi-religious tolerance. They also target republics with Shia-majority governments opposed to Saudi-Wahhabi domination in the Middle East.

Saudi’s goal has been to shred modern, multi-ethnic societies and impose brutal ‘follower’ regimes, which will shield the senile Arab monarchs from overthrow by internal and external popular, nationalist and democratic forces.

Saudi Arabia’s Purchase of Global and Regional “Allies”

The Saudis monarchy finances and props up unpopular, anti-democratic regimes in order to secure military allies and sources of mercenaries: Saudi oil wealth has paid for military officers and troops from Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan to impose its hegemonic ambitions.

Saudi Arabia has longstanding economic and military ties with the US, UK, France and other NATO countries. US military bases and arms, as well as British and French arms sales, serve as payments for praetorian guards of the narrowly based despotism.

Saudi oil wealth has financed thousands of overseas religious schools and cultural centers to teach the most intolerant form of Wahhabi Islam. They award scholarships to talented young Muslims willing to spread Wahhabi propaganda and recruit mercenaries and political activists to advance the Saudi Monarch’s projections of global power.

Saudi Arabia has long established de facto linkages with Israel, despite their superficial religious differences, based on their intense racist tribalism and common opposition to independent Iran and secular, nationalist Arab states, like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and popular liberation movements in the Middle East.

In large part, the Saudi Monarchy survives on ‘borrowed power’ – trading oil wealth for military and financial advisers. The fundamental Saudi weakness and political pathology become clear when they choose to attack and blockade the militarily weakest and most vulnerable countries in the Middle East: Yemen and Qatar.

Despite billions of dollars spent in dropping thousands of tons of bombs on Yemen and arming thousands of mercenaries, the Saudi-proxies have at most conquered a third of that devastated country and less than a quarter of its starving population. The Saudi ‘princes’ have committed the most vicious war crimes in the course of their war on Yemen: destroying most of the vital infrastructure, killing thousands, spreading cholera by bombing the water treatment system and starving millions of civilians in its attempt to force submission. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has suffered numerous cross border attacks and even a recent Yemeni rebel missile strike against its main airport.

Qatar aroused Saudi wrath for its independent regional oil diplomacy – including seeking friendly relations with its huge neighbor, Iran. The furious Saudis financed three regional dictatorships, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE, to join a boycott against tiny Qatar. These actions have boomeranged on the Saudis, leading to increased Qatari trade deals with Iran and Iraq, effectively by-passing the mighty Saudi king’s sanctions. It is increasing obvious that the decrepit Saudi monarchy cannot effectively flex its flabby muscles against its own backwater neighbors.

Saudi projections of power beyond its immediate neighborhood have equally failed to enhance the monarchy’s image as a global power. Saudi-funded ISIS mercenaries have been decisively defeated, destroyed by Iraq-Shia forces and by the Syrian government-Russian-Iranian-Hezbollah alliance in Syria. As a result the volunteer mercenaries have grabbed their salaries and fled back to their home countries to create mischief.

Saudi-backed mercenary terrorists in Afghanistan are being marginalized by the Taliban, who may still enjoy some residual Saudi largesse but pursue their own nationalist agenda.

The Saudis signs off on covert operations with Israel, a case of mutual manipulation based on their common enmity to Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Yemen. This has resulted in a strange marriage of Saudi Wahhabis, Wall Street Zionists and fanatical Israeli militarists.

Donald Trump’s ‘Saudi’ Moment: Waltzing with Mohamed bin Salman

In early November 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), arrested 30 ministers and generals, an ‘Arab Warren Buffet’ billionaire and 11 bloated princes, seizing nearly a trillion dollar in assets. This was the biggest purge in Saudi history. A few more disposable princes met early deaths in the process.

MBS cloaked his power grab as part of an ‘anti-corruption’ campaign to cleanse the state bureaucracy and replace them with appointments directly loyal to MBS. The Crown Prince has packaged his coup as a ‘historic transformation’ – purging the old guard to bring about the monarchy’s modernization. Most observers dismiss MBS’s ‘good government’ rhetoric as ‘BS’ and a thin cloak for his consolidation of a personal dictatorship.

The Crown Prince’s idea of ‘modernization’ has been accompanied by regional military provocations, threats, and domestic factional wars. MBS’s blueprint for the ‘transformation’ of Saudi Arabia may not attract the kind of foreign investment he needs. MBS’ move to blockade tiny Qatar, where a strategic US airbase and thousands of American troops are stationed, provoked Pentagon disapproval.

MBS ordered the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al Hariri, a puppet of the Saudi monarchy and a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen, to fly to Riyadh and announce his resignation on Saudi TV. He read a script denouncing Iran and Hezbollah (member of the current Lebanese governing coalition) as plotting Hariri’s assassination. So that no one would fail to catch the connection with MBS, Hariri has gone into hiding in Saudi Arabia and refuses or is unable to fly home.

MBS’s plan to seize power was first cleared with the US following a mid-year meeting with President Trump. The impending purge was signed off with a two billion dollar oil deal between Washington and Riyadh.

The despotic, but ‘visionary’, Crown Prince offered Wall Street the Saudi ‘crown jewels’, promising to privatize ARAMCO the trillion dollar state oil company. He offered multi-billion deals to US and EU investors to build modern megacities for Saudi citizens to replace the lethargic corrupt oil-based Princes, bureaucrats and holy men.

Saudi regional war maneuvers and the ongoing domestic coup provoke fear of greater regional instability among investors. MBS’s anti-Iranian rhetoric and wild threats to attack Teheran may have excited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new White House poodle, US President Donald Trump, but this has not impressed the Generals in Trump’s Cabinet or the Wall Street bankers.

MBS’s unstable regime, his war mongering and the sell off of oil does not add-up to the kind of political and economic foundations necessary for a modern, sophisticated diversified economy. Most observers conclude that the sale of ARAMCO is a one-off deal with few spin-offs in terms of skilled jobs, local enterprises and economic diversification.

At present, MBS has ‘won over’ the deposed and highly unpopular former ruler of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. His powers of persuasion have worked their magic on the elusive or ‘self-exiled’ former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the geographically befuddled American President Trump. MBS hires the most senior ex-pat executives from the US and UK to run the oil sell off. He intends to market himself as a ‘modernizing despot’ – at least until the next princely intrigue boots him from power. Meanwhile he settles back as a ‘modern’ Middle East potentate, protected by tribal clans, despised by his people, privately ridiculed by his overseas flatterers and expertly ‘serviced’ by expats-on-the-make. No doubt he would be humored by any clown occupying the US White House.

For now, the Saudis can still attract mercenaries, beat up and starve millions of Yemenis, sell oil and continue to finance terrorist bombings in Beirut, Baghdad, Paris and . . . New York!

Conclusion

Saudi Arabia and Israel play the key roles in anchoring the ‘arc of reaction and terror’ in the Middle East. Both foment wars, finance terrorism and spread ethno-religious fragmentation leading to millions of refugees.

Saudi Arabia’s ‘Crown Prince MBS’ competes with Israel’s Netanyahu in concocting the most outrageous warmongering slander against Iran, preparing the world for global conflagration.

MBS is actively serving the Israelis by fomenting sectarian divisions in Lebanon to provide Israel with an excuse to attack Hezbollah and millions of Lebanese civilians. MBS claims that a single missile from Yemen that hit the Riyadh airport was a full declaration of war by Teheran . . . as if the Saudis’ starvation blockade and daily bombing of Yemeni cities would not warrant any counter-attack.

The war fever in Riyadh is a cover for MBS’s political impotence and a ‘clever ploy’ to distract from the infantile game of rotating princes and clan intrigues.

MBS, for all his modernizing clichés and carefully groomed public relations persona, circulated by the corrupt Western media, is still the aspiring head of a tribal army, dependent on a fragile alliance with unreliable allies: The Egyptian high command and troops despise the bloated Saudis; Bahrain’s ruler is propped up by Saudi mercenary forces; the Saudi masses are held in check by tribal warlords and their torturers; and the imported workforce and armies of foreign domestic servants are brutalized, raped and cheated. Hardly an inspiring leader of Saudi Arabia’s emergence from the Middle Ages.

The Crown Prince is sitting on a powder keg threatening to shatter the political alignments in the Middle East and the global financial and oil markets. Saudi Arabia is a fragile regime with a long and scrawny reach. The current rulers imagine their borrowed power and palace intrigues can flourish on such rotten foundations and with a despised oligarchy.

The first missile that MBS dares to direct at Teheran will mark the downfall of the House of Sand. The entire Middle East and global markets will plunge into a profound crisis. Oil prices will soar, stock markets will crash and Israel will go to war against Hezbollah. Donald Trump will send US forces to confront with the well-armed and highly patriotic Iranians on their soil. Iraq and Syria will confront the US regional puppets, the Kurds. China, Russia and India wait to sign on huge oil deals. The US fracking industry will celebrate as oil prices set new highs.

Saudi Princes will flee to Europe, leaving hundreds of thousands of servants in the lurch. Perhaps they will have to prepare their own coffee! Trump will issue a ‘Tweet to Action to All Americans’ – Marines to the oil wells! Makes America Great Again on the tired backs of  our GIs! AIPAC will secure a unanimous vote in the American Congress declaring that Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are really part of the Greater Israel.

With historic high oil prices, Venezuela will recover, pay its debts, finance its social agenda, re-open its schools and clinics and re-elect a socialist president.

A consortium of western investors will take over, after the Saudis have folded their tents and fled to Central London, and flood the oil markets. But that is a long-term scenario . . . or is it?

Nov 152017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

USA-China-caricature-400x295

The US selection of leaders has virtually nothing to do with democratic processes and outcomes. It is useful to contrast this with the process in China. In most instances, China’s selection of leaders is far more meritocratic, successful and performance-based. In both the US and China, the process lacks transparency.

US Economic, Political and Cultural Leadership

The selection of US economic, political and cultural leaders is based on several undemocratic procedures.

  1. Inheritance via family ties
  2. Personal access to credit and financing
  3. Political patronage
  4. Lobby and elite sale and purchase of office and favors
  5. Media links
  6. Political repression and manipulation of electoral procedures
  7. Incumbency and use of state resources
  8. Ethno-religious nepotism
  9. Internal party hierarchy
  10. Closed party decisions (opacity)
  11. Ability to keep secrets

Leaders, whether appointed, self-appointed and selected through money, media, elite networks, turn the electoral process into virtual afterthoughts in the US system. US economic leaders have increased the flow from productive profits and investments upward to the financial sector and/or outwardly overseas to tax havens.

US political leaders have increased military expenditures and wars, diverting public funds from domestic social services and welfare, diminishing domestic economic growth and markets for investment and trade.

US cultural leaders have been rewarded for defending, promoting and embellishing imperial conquests and denigrating independent nations and leaders. They have also been rewarded for promoting the most degrading and frivolous consumerism, undermining social and community cohesion.

The lack of transparency in the US selection process of leaders in major investment banks, political parties, legislative and executive offices and academia is growing at an alarming rate and with significant negative consequences: US leaders do not have to pass rigorous exams nor do they face interviews with peers with competence in their fields of work.

US business leaders are not judged by their economic and political performance. Responsibility for disastrous wars, corrupt bank bailouts, financial crises and skyrocketing health care costs do not disqualify a candidate for leadership positions.

Documented performance criteria are not the basis for selecting Congressional and Presidential leaders. The decisive factors influencing political selection are the capacity to promote elite interests, pursue imperial wars to gratify the ambitions and greed of civilian militarists and mask widespread corruption to grease the wheels of speculation.

China: Consultation, Meritocracy and Performance

Chinese leaders are selected on the basis of multi-level consultation, meritocracy and performance in office.

China’s recent Party Congress highlighted three areas of vital concern: reducing inequalities, addressing environmental degradation and health care.

In contrast, last year’s US Congressional elections focused on its pledge to reduce corporate taxes for the super-rich despite the increasing social and economic inequality, removal of state and federal regulation protecting the population and environment from corporate polluters, and reducing public funding for access to competent health care, undermining citizen well-being and exacerbating the rise in premature deaths and decreased life expectancy for the poor and working class.

The American political elite is full of ‘climate change’ deniers and promoters of the worst kinds of pollution.

The US Congress spent an enormous amount of time and energy pursuing partisan conspiracies while refusing to address the raging epidemic of prescription narcotic addiction, which has killed over 600,000 Americans in 15 years.

President Xi Jinping demanded that Chinese leaders direct their efforts to correct the ‘unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever growing needs for a better life’. President Xi emphasized the goal of ‘greening the economy’, mentioning it 15 times in his address to the Party Congress- compared to only once in the previous Party meeting (FT 11/1/17, p 11).

Chinese public and private investors have responded to health and environmental priorities set by President Xi – stock indexes spiraled in those sectors (FT 11/11/17, p. 11).

At the top level, leadership engages in consultations and debates among competing elites, discussing past and present outcomes in developing current and future policies.

At the middle levels, ultra-competitive public service examinations are determinant in the selection and appointment of Chinese officials.

At the top and middle levels of leadership job performance is one of the leading factors determining selection. The four decades of spectacular economic growth that has lifted 500 million Chinese people out of poverty is a reflection of the effective system for selection and promotion of leaders.

Maintaining peace and friendship with other countries for over forty years — except for a brief border conflict with Vietnam in 1979 — has been a major factor influencing leadership selection. In contrast, despite multiple disastrous and brutal wars, Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama were re-elected to office in a two-party ‘duopoly’ system universally regarded as ‘rigged’. The effect of these wars on the deterioration of US domestic economy is not reflected in the candidate selection or in the outcome of the presidential or congressional elections.

China has selected leaders who have demonstrated ability and seriousness in investigating and punishing over one million corrupt public officials and plutocrats. Anti-corruption crime-fighters have been promoted as ‘clean and hardworking’ leaders.

In contrast, the US Administration has repeatedly appointed Wall Street criminals to senior positions in Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the IMF with disastrous results for the citizenry, with no capacity for analyses or correction.

One of the most selective and prestigious Party mechanisms is found in the Organization Department (OD) of the Chinese Communist Party (FT10/30/17, p. 9). The OD meets privately and reviews selections for leadership on the basis of a ‘complex combination of nominations, written and oral exams and investigations, and a majority vote among ministers. Leaders, thus selected, assume collective responsibility – and they do not position themselves by ‘leaking decisions’ (FT ibid).

Conclusion

In both the US and China the selection of leaders are not based on elections or consultations with the citizens. However, there are vast differences in the process and procedures of leader selection resulting in vast differences in the outcomes.

China is largely a meritocracy, with vestiges of family nepotism, especially with reference to some business-state appointments.

Performance counts a lot, and most citizens credit the leadership of the Chinese Party for China’s long-term, large-scale socio-economic success. In contrast, the vast majority of US citizens are cynical and dissatisfied with top economic appointments because of their documented past and present socio-economic failures. The citizens direct their greatest dismay at the top financial leaders (whom they view as corrupt oligarchs) for plunging our country into repeated crises, perpetual wars, growing inequalities and deep, widespread poverty. The loss of stable, well-paying jobs and the deterioration of community and family cohesion has outraged the citizens because these are in stark contrast with pervasive, deep-seated corruption in high places and almost total judicial impunity for high officials, politicians and oligarchs alike.

China’s on-going prosecution of corrupt leaders has no counterpart in the US.

Business-politician bribes are legalized in the US when they are termed ‘campaign financing’ or ‘consultant fees’. One has only to consider the half-million dollar lecture fees paid to the Clintons by grateful Wall Street financiers for their 30 minute recitations of platitudes and influence peddling.

In the field of foreign policy, China’s leaders defend their national interest. US leaders shamelessly kowtow to Israeli lobbyists, promoting Tel Aviv’s interests.

Chinese leaders marginalize critics in the name of harmony, stability, peace and growth.

US leaders marginalize, imprison and brutalize Afro-Americans, immigrants, environmentalists and anti-war activists, as well as Wall Street and government whistle blowers, in the name of free markets and nebulous liberal democratic ‘values’.

China, with all of its drawbacks in terms of democratic procedures and rights, is moving toward a less corrupt, less bellicose and more accountable dynamic society with carefully vetted and developed leadership.

The US is moving toward a more corrupt, crime ridden and despotic (‘police state’) society with unaccountable leaders, warmongers and criminal at the helm.

The gap between promise and performance is widening in the US, while it narrows in China.

China’s rigorous, meritocratic selection process has demonstrated greater capacity to respond to new challenges and majority needs than the dysfunctional and corrupt US electoral charade, which cannot even address the addiction crisis brought on by unregulated over-prescription of opiates, let alone respond to the environmental crises of climate change and mega-storms ravaging US communities.

Nov 142017
 

By James Graham, 99GetSmart

G-Unit in the poster for the Complete Unknowns Show at Galérie Stash, Paris, 2016

G-Unit in the poster for the Complete Unknowns Show at Galérie Stash, Paris, 2016

Hangdog and half-awake, I gaze at the face of the man about to search my belongings. On line for fifteen wobbly minutes, I’m closing in on the head of the queue.

I scrutinize the guard standing beside the metal detector, trying to find the live being in this solid citizen with his droopy cheeks and sober stare. He’ll leaf through my things with hands that reveal the manual labor of his youth while he radiates the world weariness of a poet or a postman thumbing a stack of junkmail. What’s he really looking for? I don’t trust him. Just routine. He’ll rifle wallet and keys, my half-eaten croissant, feed them into the x-ray while I step through the body scanner. Then it’s on to the next suspect.

And then it hits me: no passport. I left it at home. I can feign some unspoken excuse and duck out. That will arouse suspicion, won’t it ? Who is this man who bolts from the queue and takes off down the street ? What kind of mission is he on ? The Conciergerie is the Vatican for the Paris police. There are officers everywhere, most of them standing around with nothing to do, crushing plastic cups and killing time. Out on the street plainclothes cops loiter, giving passersby the once-over.

Well, let’s find out who’s awake at this Tuesday morning. I give myself a shake and sail through the detectors. Everyone is on automatic, they’re barely alive, they’ve performed the ritual a thousand times. That it’s for show is taken for granted: people with murder and mayhem on the agenda don’t stand on queues. But we submit. It’s our Auto da Fe, proof of our innocence.

Weapons check cleared. The passport office is a free-standing structure a dozen steps away. There’s a guard in between to make sure litigants, witnesses and supporters go directly, point A to B.

I’m not going in. Still, it all depends on what sort of officer you get. When you have papers, some cops flip the pages idly and others are sticklers. Depends on the hour, the mood. No point to that today.

I swing wide of Security Dick like I own the place, give him the quickest of glances and head for the courts on the ground level.

Do I resemble someone important, someone he’s seen before? No time to find out. Better to disappear in the warren of passageways behind Sainte- Chapelle. I head to the street-level courtroom on the north side where G had his first hearing.

The officers have nothing better to do so we go down the list of the day’s cases together. G isn’t on it. His appeal is being heard elsewhere but no one has a clue where that might be.

G-Unit lost the first round in typical fashion : overwhelmed public defender, expired visa, failure of nerve when it came time to present his case in French. Back to the hoosegow on the other side of Bois de Vincennes went G. Today’s appeal is simply to state the obvious : there being no charges against him, he be released with time served.

Ah yes, this G, aka G-Unit, Big G, Gun. You want to know about him.

Honduran, some 30 years of age, G was picked up on the streets of Paris on September 3rd while riding a velo- or bike-taxi near Notre Dame. Asked to produce papers, he could not; he’d lost them in a bar fight two years before. He made efforts to renew but there being no Honduran embassy in Paris, he let it slide. He worked in construction and on the velo-taxis and the overwhelmed Paris police, with graver threats to pursue, missed him in previous encounters. But this time G-Unit got a mean cop. The velo-taxi was impounded and he was sent to the Redoute de Gravelle (“Immigration Integration”) outside Joinville-le- Pont, where detainees can be held for as many as 45 days when, if there ae no charges pending, they must be released.

Mechanic, driver and level head in the free-spirited community of Paris velo-taxi drivers, G was, as far as law is concerned, guilty of no crimes, serious or petty. Just another soldier of this earth tramping one place to another, the immortal race of chancers looking for a fair share of the world’s riches. In that sense, the differences between G-Unit and hundreds of African souvenir hustlers or Bangladeshi water sellers on the streets of Paris can only be measured by the sheer desperation of their flight.

But where is he?

Big G still has a phone, his only possession in captivity. Frantic textos ensue. Where the hell are you hiding ? I’m somewhere else, he replies. Prophetic phrase. Yes, I know but where? Escalier T35bis, he writes after asking the guard. Good luck finding that! Do you have your head screwed on this time, bro? No copping out! Insist you’re not leaving France. To which he replies, Don’t worry, boss. Bolas bien puestas.

I spend the next 45 minutes covering the Conciergerie from bottom to top and back again trying to locate this fantastically secret stairway.

I find it – behind a door that flush with the wall is well-nigh invisible. I clamber up the stairs straight into a swarm of guards who inform me that the public isn’t allowed into appeal hearings. Why? Five of us were there for the first go-round. Well, you can’t. No explanation. Something suspicious in that. Can’t I see him for a minute beforehand?

Consternation all around. There seems to be no definitive answer. He’s right on the other side of the wall, just past the latest metal detector, cooling his heels while the court deals with other cases. The cops mill about, sit down, promise to think about it. I can wait in the hall, they tell me.

Watching the cops without looking at them directly, I read their lips. I don’t have a chance of seeing Big G. I’ll wait anyway.

Lunch hour arrives. No cop on the beat, no private security force, no able- bodied anti-terrorist is going to miss a meal. You can’t run after a jihadi or even write a ticket on an empty stomach. So my new friends troop past me down the stairs and away to the canteen. They leave a clean-faced rookie in charge, an officer who looks all of nineteen and hasn’t yet had the gentleness wiped off his mug.

I approach, put in my request, G-Unit full name yes there it is on the list, case hasn’t been heard yet, only a minute or two, yes, right here is fine, and I go back to the hallway, where I promptly nod out on a wooden bench.

Barrelling laughter invades my dreams.
“Hey Gringo!”

I open my eyes and there he is, framed by the metal detector, glowing, happy to see somebody he knows. He’s Honduras in Paris, born on a coffee plantation that once stretched for miles in the highlands near the Salvadoran border, a big overgrown macho with German-Indian blood, an Olmec face and an identical twin who never left their small town. His German grandfather made hay and babies with the local ladies and the generation that came after fought like scorpions for their share of the land. G has 35 cousins and it was his parents’ generation that tore the finca to shreds, leaving G and his siblings to grow up in a plantation house à l’andalouse with vitrines full of WWII regalia and little else.

A French lady arrived in town one day. It didn’t take long for G to make his decision: he’d follow wherever she went. And she went home. How was he going to get there? Hard to imagine a place further from Europe than Marcala, Honduras. With no way to make real money on the finca, the only way to France was by indirection. By heading North.

He made two journeys to the U.S., the first packed in a truck with 150 hopefuls from all over Central America. Departing from Mexico they travelled for days jammed together like sacks of coal. He crossed the Texas scrub desert on foot and got caught near Austin, set out again from Honduras and made it, worked on a chicken farm in North Carolina and saved the dollars. Two years later he landed in Europe but never found the woman, kicked around the cities and ended up in Paris on a velo-taxi, waiting, watching, wondering if she’d appear.

G and his race will ramble on to the next open city, wherever there are chances to be had and thrills along the way, with or without those precious papers that any semi-pro terrorist can get in under an hour. Shown the door in one city or a hundred, banned here and jailed there, the searchers will never be eradicated. They can’t be. They’re part of the human tribe, the crazy ones who write poems with their feet.

For five minutes we jabber in an easy going, allegorical Spanish-English meant to mystify the guard. We’re a bit too friendly, shaking hands too often, things are slipping out of control. The cadet doesn’t want to blow it on his watch so he looms in close and declares the metal detector a no-fly zone.

Five minutes and the interview is over and G returns to the antechamber. He’ll lose this round as well.

That’s the last I saw of G-Unit, all 6’3″ of him. Why ? Because the police decided to deport him and they bent the law to do it.

On Thursday, little more than a week after his appeal, the forty-fifth day of his incarceration, they would have had to let him go. His friends, legal and otherwise, were waiting to welcome him back.

He hadn’t been charged or convicted of any crime and he wasn’t a vagrant. And then at midnight Wednesday he called – from Madrid. He was waiting for the flight back to Honduras, and he was saying goodbye. Two immigration dicks stood guard while he called his friends.

As le Canard Enchainé pointed out (18 October), the European Court of Justice has condemned France numerous times over the last decade for its illegal expulsions, principally but not limited to gypsies from Eastern Europe. According to Canard, in January the Macron administration will propose legislation that reëstablishes the so-called double peine : foreign aid only to those countries that accept anyone France expels.

G’s experience takes place against the backdrop of a France where the special powers of the Etat d’Urgence have been written into the constitution and the police have near unlimited sway to enforce as they see fit. (Regional newspapers are the place to go for that story.)

And Paris? The city is having a panic attack. The Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, caviar gauche to her heart of hearts, campaigned for the Olympics and won and yet the din of police sirens and screech of motorcycles suggest not so much a festive city but one under siege. Meanwhile the grubby, grumbling resistance of everyday Parisians – les velo-taxistes y compris – shambles on. They’ll still be here when the police have other mice to catch.