Aug 192017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

A resident tries to extinguish a forest fire at Kalamos village, north of Athens, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017.  A total of 53 wildfires broke out in Greece Saturday and more have done so Sunday, including on the beach resort of Kalamos near Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

A resident tries to extinguish a forest fire at Kalamos village, north of Athens, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. A total of 53 wildfires broke out in Greece Saturday and more have done so Sunday, including on the beach resort of Kalamos near Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Selling a struggling nation to the highest corporate, oligarchic, and state bidders may be just the way things work in the world, but please stop trumpeting it as a great “success story.” Greece’s forests are burning, its economy sold out, its citizens struggling more than before they were “saved.”

ATHENS, GREECE — (Analysis) Exactly two years ago, on August 14, 2015, the “leftist” SYRIZA-led Greek coalition government — just over a month removed from a referendum that saw 62 percent of voters rejecting a new austerity plan proposed by the “troika” of Greece’s lenders, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund — put the final nail in the coffin of the referendum result, passing the third, and most onerous to date, memorandum proposal, foreseeing ever-harsher austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations.

Today, the sweet smell of “success” is in the air.

If by success, of course, you meant the smell of charred forest, then you would be correct.

Greece is burning, and not just due to the high summer temperatures. Dozens upon dozens of forest fires throughout the country, which broke out in the space of less than a week, have covered Athens and much of Greece with a choking, smoky haze. Outside of Athens, huge forest fires have raged over a span of over 25 kilometers and, as of this writing, a period of three days, inundating the city with a smoky haze.

It could be said that this is the perfect complement to the winter atmosphere in the city, when Athens is blanketed by a noxious smog, the result of the burning of makeshift fireplaces and furnaces keeping many of the city’s residents warm; residents who can no longer afford absurdly-taxed heating oil or to run electric inverters.

In a 24-hour period between August 13 and 14, 91 fires broke out in Greece. On the island of Zakynthos alone, 22 fires occurred during this period, just a few weeks after earlier fires burned parts of the island, which is a popular tourist destination. Across the strait, the mainland region of Ileia—which was heavily impacted by destructive and large-scale fires a decade ago, in the summer of 2007—once again fell prey to fires that ignited in multiple locations.

Both a blessing—due to their capacity to moderate scorching summer temperatures—and a curse, Greece’s famed August winds, known as the “meltemi,” helped fuel many of these fires and aided in spreading them across large areas, igniting multiple fronts. But the outbreak of all of these fires and the scale of their intensity cannot be attributed to heat and wind alone.

The large fires in Zakynthos and outside of Athens, for instance, began along multiple fronts within minutes, hinting at coordinated arson attacks.

Indeed, evidence of arson, including gas canisters and large convex lenses, have already been discovered in Kalamos, the location near Athens where one of the blazes originated.

Two convex lenses placed next to a large canister of natural gas found near Kalamos, a suburb of

Two convex lenses placed next to a large canister of natural gas found near Kalamos, a suburb of Athens.

On August 15, a 62-year-old man, said to be an employee of the Labor Ministry, who was in possession of numerous tools with which a blaze could be lit, was caught and arrested near Mount Parnitha, which itself had been previously reduced to ashes following destructive fires in August 2007. According to Gianna Tsoupra, adviser to the SYRIZA-affiliated regional governor of the Athens region Rena Dourou, such fires are an unfortunate “natural phenomenon.”

Greece burns: who benefits?

Volunteers try to extinguish the fire outside a military base at the village of Varnava , north of Athens, Aug. 14, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Volunteers try to extinguish the fire outside a military base at the village of Varnava , north of Athens, Aug. 14, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

These fires could be described as a microcosm of much of what is wrong with Greece — as well as with the institution the country supposedly cannot survive without, the European Union. Greece today is the only European country without a national cadastre (forest registry). While areas classified as forestland are constitutionally protected, this classification is largely based onaerial photography dating back to 1945 or earlier. The results are often comical.

For instance, a portion of the site of Athens’ former international airport—slated for privatization and development by the same SYRIZA government which prior to its election promised to abolish these very actions—has beenclassified as “forestland,” due to the vegetation which existed on the site in the 1937-39 time period. Indeed, the lack of an actual complete registry has led to a number of unintentional — or perhaps intentional — consequences.

Burned land can, for instance, be sold to developers and then reclassifiedafter the fact. A 2011 study by the Athens Polytechnic Institute found that approximately one million structures in Greece were constructed illegally (including on land previously covered by forest). Flexible legislation, such as Greek Law 4014/2011, allows such illegal properties to be “legalized” upon the payment of a fine—a practice viewed favorably for its lucrative income-generating potential by both the Greek government and its “partners” in the troika.

In turn, this practice fuels—pun intended—more and more fires. According to GlobalForestWatch, over 150,000 hectares of Greek forest have been destroyed since 2000, one percent of the total land area of the country.

At the onset of the Greek economic crisis, former government minister Theodoros Pangalos—whose governments oversaw and tolerated many of the aforementioned practices—stated, in an attempt to ascribe collective guilt and blame to the entire populace for the causes of the crisis, that the Greek people “ate it all together,” implying that the citizenry collectively took advantage of corruption and graft for its own benefit.

As with many attempts at stereotyping, there is a grain of truth in this statement. On the island of Crete for instance, the “Residents Outside Town Planning” club represents approximately 45,000 illegal homeowners.

However, the beneficiaries of such practices extend beyond just a certain segment of the Greek populace. “Ex-pats” who have relocated to Greece from countries considered by many self-loathing Greeks as “civilized” and “law-abiding” have taken advantage of such laws to purchase properties constructed illegally. Indeed, “ex-pats” looking to purchase property in Greece are even advised as to how an illegal property can be legalized. These very same “ex-pats” — reflecting arrogant, time-honored colonial habits that die hard — are known for lecturing the clearly lazy, wayward, and corrupt Greeks for engaging in such terrible practices as “tax evasion” through the withholding of receipts for small purchases.

Meanwhile, Greece continues to reap the benefits of its membership in the “European family”—where, we are told, in a position supported by the entirety of the political representation in the national parliament, the country must remain “at all costs.” With Greece in flames, the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism obliged Greece’s fire service, already stretched thin due to fires at home and EU-supported economic austerity, to send two firefighting planes to Albania to battle forest fires in that country.

A woman with a bucket walks among burnt forest land during a wildfire near the suburb of Kaisariani in eastern Athens, on, Aug. 10, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A woman with a bucket walks among burnt forest land during a wildfire near the suburb of Kaisariani in eastern Athens, on, Aug. 10, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Conversely, no corresponding mobilization seems to have occurred at the EU level to fight fires in Greece. France, for instance, felt no need to display “solidarity” towards its “European partner,” refusing a request to send aerial firefighting aircraft to Greece, citing its own difficulties with fires. It is unclear why Greece could not respond in the same manner to the EU’s demands to send planes to Albania.

In a tacit admission of who truly controls the purse strings in Greece, Giorgos Patoulis, the mayor of the northern Athens suburb of Maroussi and president of the Hellenic Union of Municipalities (KEDE), admitted in a radio interviewthat Greece’s limited resources to fight fires via aerial means are a direct consequence of the actions of those who control the country’s public spending. Since 2016, when the Greek Parliament essentially voted itself voteless, Greece’s annual budget has been determined by the EU itself.

Greece: Business as usual?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Under heavy security Netanyahu is in northern Greece to discuss plans to become a key supplier of European energy through an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Under heavy security Netanyahu is in northern Greece to discuss plans to become a key supplier of European energy through an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, with a country in mourning, then-president George W. Bush famously uttered that America was “open for business.” The current government in Greece is apparently following the same playbook.

The SYRIZA-led government, many of whose members once participated in protest movements against apartheid Israel’s actions in Palestine, recently agreed to expedite efforts on the development of the EastMed pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Israeli gas fields to Greece, Italy, and Cyprus, in a project co-financed by the European Union and previously supported by the Obama administration.

Oddly enough, the proposed pipeline route includes a 600-kilometer overland route in mainland Greece, passing right through the Mani region of the Peloponnese that burned to the ground in early July.

Legislation currently being considered would officially declassify urban green spaces, such as parkland, that are currently considered “forestland” and protected by existing constitutional provisions. Loosening these protections would open the door to the economic “development” of the little remaining green space in Greece’s overcrowded, densely-populated, and haphazardly-planned cities. Meanwhile, in December the Greek Parliament passed Law 4442, Article 33 of which relaxes prior regulations on economic activity and the economic development of Greece’s archaeological sites. This law was passed at the behest of Greece’s so-called “saviors” in the troika.

According to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras though — as well as to the global neoliberal press that fawns over him and his commitment to the “bitter medicine” of austerity — all is well in Greece and the sweet smell of success, rather than that of smoldering ashes, is indeed in the air. In an absurd and comical interview published by the bible of “leftists” worldwide, The Guardian, on July 24, Tsipras described a reality in which apparently only he, his fellow government ministers and members of parliament, and his supporters in the press and the troika apparently reside.

In this interview, Tsipras claimed that “the worst is clearly behind us,” that Greece’s economy is “on the up,” and that his government “will extract the country from the crisis.” He excused his rejection of the referendum result of July 2015 as a “compromise” that prevented Greece from turning “into Afghanistan.” This statement reflects the same blatant fearmongering about the impact of a Greek departure from the EU and Eurozone that is practiced by the Greek and international mass media — which purportedly have fought the “leftist” government of Tsipras — and by the main Greek opposition, the neoliberal-right New Democracy party.

The “objective” Guardian could not conceal its support for Tsipras’ brand of neoliberal “leftism,” peppering the article with language excusing away the actions of Tsipras and his government. SYRIZA’s first-place finish with 36 percent of the vote in the September 2015 elections amidst record voter abstention is described as a “mandate,” while the austerity measures imposed by the troika are described as a “rescue programme” that may be accompanied by “much-needed debt relief.”

Tsipras himself defended his government’s position — to never consider an exit from the Eurozone and the EU — on the grounds that Europe would lose an important part of its history and heritage, an ironic statement when one considers that it is Greece that is losing its history, heritage, culture, language, and especially its sovereignty as a result of its membership in these institutions. This statement did, however, echo Tsipras’ January 25, 2015 victory speech that accompanied his initial ascent to power, a speech that contained constant references to “saving Europe” but no references to saving Greece, the country he was elected to govern.

One day after this puff piece was published by The Guardian, the SYRIZA-led government and the international media (including, you guessed it, The Guardian) triumphantly proclaimed Greece’s “return to the markets” — as Greece “successfully” held its first bond sale in three years, selling 3 billion euros’ worth of five-year bonds at a yield (interest rate) of 4.625 percent.

Compare this to the yields of other EU member-states as of August 15, including Belgium (-0.191 percent), France (-0.146 percent), Germany (-0.284 percent); crisis-hit countries such as Italy (0.7 percent), Portugal (1.089 percent), and Spain (0.217 percent); or even Romania (2.6 percent). It is evident that the idea of a common market and a common currency falls flat on its face. Greece’s 4.625 percent yield can also be compared to those in such economic powerhouses as Malaysia (3.622 percent), Botswana (4.2 percent), the Philippines (4.659 percent), and Vietnam (4.681 percent).

The government of EU and Eurozone member-state Greece is — in honor, it would seem, of Pyrrhus and his “victory” — celebrating its ability to once again borrow on the international markets, at rates comparable to those of Vietnam and the Philippines and worse than Botswana, in order to repay the “bailouts” (in reality, loans) received from its creditors in the troika — which were used to repay the debt that is blamed for thrusting Greece into its current economic predicament in the first place!

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, welcomes European Commissioner for Economy Pierre Moscovici at Maximos Mansion in Athens, July 25, 2017. Greece is poised to tap international bond markets for the first time in three years in a move the government claims will signal the country is ready to emerge from its bailout era. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, welcomes European Commissioner for Economy Pierre Moscovici at Maximos Mansion in Athens, July 25, 2017. Greece is poised to tap international bond markets for the first time in three years in a move the government claims will signal the country is ready to emerge from its bailout era. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Reality, however, must not be allowed to interfere with the sweet scent of success. Hence another one of the Greek government’s and troika’s recent success stories, the purported “loosening” of Greece’s capital controls, imposed under the watch of the supposedly “heroic” former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, which have restricted withdrawals from Greek bank accounts since June 28, 2015. Earlier in August, the Greek government announced a new limit on withdrawals from Greek bank accounts of 1,800 euros per month, replacing the previous limit of 840 euros every two weeks.

Simple math, however, demonstrates that the Greek government and its backers in the troika must consider the Greek people extremely stupid: an 840 euro withdrawal limit each two weeks amounts to a maximum of 21,840 euros per year, while a 1,800 euro monthly withdrawal limit equates to 21,600 euros annually — a reduction, in other words. The Guardian, however, joined the Greek government and most of the press corps in describing this as a “relaxation,” and further evidence of Greece’s “success story.”

Notably, this is not the first time that “fuzzy math” has been used to “loosen” Greece’s capital controls. When initially imposed, a limit of withdrawals of 60 euros per day was established. This 60 euro daily limit was “relaxed” in September of 2015 to a weekly limit of 420 euros, which again equates to 60 euros per day.

In July 2016, this limit was again “loosened”—by permitting withdrawals of 840 euros every two weeks, which again equated to 60 euros per day and 420 euros per week. The current annual limit of 21,600 euros comes out to a daily mean of 59.18 euros per day, less than when the capital controls were initially imposed in 2015!

Greece’s “success story” is indeed so great that Greek justice minister Stavros Kontonis, in interviews with Greek state television ERT and state news agency ANA-MPA, stated his belief that the recent spate of fires in the country is the result of an “organized plan to destabilize the country” hatched by unnamed elements who do not wish to see Greece’s economic “recovery” continue.

EU and media hypocrisy at its finest

On August 1, the former head of Greece’s Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), one-time IMF staffer Andreas Georgiou, was issued a two-year suspended prison sentence by a court of appeals in Athens on charges of breach of duty. Georgiou had been accused by whistleblowers such as Zoe Georganta, a former member of ELSTAT’s board of directors, of manipulating Greece’s deficit and debt figures to cause them to appear worse than they were in reality, thereby providing the political impetus necessary to drag Greece under the troika’s austerity and privatization regime. While the charges of breach of duty related to the lesser crime of having sent data regarding Greece’s 2009 budget deficit to Eurostat without consulting with ELSTAT’s board, this nevertheless represented a victory for those in Greece who have stood opposed to the austerity policies of the past eight years.

Opponents of “Brexit” and proponents of the European Union often hysterically claim that without the EU, human rights would somehow fly out the window. They must not have seen the reaction to the Georgiou case and the eventual verdict, on the part of the Nobel Prize-winning EU. European Commission coordinating spokesperson for Economic and Financial Affairs, Annika Breidthardt, expressed “concern” over the Georgiou ruling, claiming that ELSTAT’s independence was breached and that its members were not being “protected in line with the law,” further adding that the case would be examined by the Euro Working Group this autumn and that an appeal would be a possibility.

Prior to the verdict, Margaritis Schinas, the Greek-born chief spokesperson of the European Commission and former member of the European Parliament with the New Democracy party in Greece, again relayed the Commission’s disappointment and waning trust in Greece over the charges Georgiou was facing. Most damningly though, it was revealed that one of the requirements that the Greek government was obliged to enforce, in order to receive an 8.5 billion euro tranche of loan funds (which had already been earmarked for Greece due to the prior implementation of other troika demands), was to fully cover the cost of Georgiou’s legal defense. Coincidentally, of course, soon after these concerns were raised, a clause inserted into legislation pending before the Greek parliament provided for the full payment of Georgiou’s legal defense costs by the Greek state, via ELSTAT.

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)

Following the European Union’s lead, the press corps could not conceal their disappointment, seething over Georgiou’s guilty verdict. In an August 4 editorial, Bloomberg described the prosecution of Georgiou as “scandalous” and as “punishment” for “cleaning up” Greece’s finances. That same day, The Washington Post — owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon and CIA fame, and quick to label independent news sites such as Mint Press News as “fake news” — stated in an editorial that Georgiou was “scapegoated” and was “only doing his job.” The Financial Timescharacterized the Georgiou trial as a “farce,” warning that the decision would “drive a wedge between Athens and euro area creditors.”

In turn, a ludicrous Politico hit piece claimed that Greece “condemned itself” by “convicting an honest statistician” in a decision that “raises questions about the integrity of the country’s institutions.” The author of this particular article, Megan Greene, seems to have taken on the side job of being Georgiou’s public advocate on Twitter, where she also has publicly demonstrated comfortable relationships with editors from Greece’s neoliberal newspaper of record, Kathimerini, and with Greek politicians.

Interestingly, the “integrity” of Greece’s “institutions” was not called into question when, for instance, the Areios Pagos, Greece’s supreme court, ruled in early July that legislation rolling back Greek worker rights — which was implemented as part of Greece’s second memorandum agreement with the troika, and passed by the government of the non-elected technocrat prime minister and former central banker Lucas Papademos — was constitutional. According to the decision issued by the court, the laws in question had the purpose of increasing the “competitiveness” of Greek businesses and it followed that the resulting decrease in labor costs (wages) was therefore in the public interest.

Not a word of protest was uttered by the European Commission, the Financial Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Politico, Megan Greene, or Kathimerini over this decision. Nor was the integrity of Greece’s judicial institutions questioned when, later in July, an appeals court in Athens ruled that wage reductions of up to 45 percent were “legal and constitutional.” Again there was silence from the European Commission and its supporters in the press corps.

Indeed, instead of protest, the president of the Areios Pagos was rewarded: just days after the decision that found that the troika-imposed cutback in worker rights was constitutional, the president of the court, Vassiliki Thanou-Christophilou, was hired as the supervisor of the legal office of prime minister Tsipras, purportedly on a non-salaried basis. Notably, Thanou-Christophilou had also served as Greece’s caretaker prime minister for approximately one month, prior to the September 2015 parliamentary elections.

A “success story” – on paper only

Clearly congratulating himself on a job well done, Tsipras is now reportedly taking a vacation, while much of the country is up in flames, literally and figuratively. And why not? Tourism is said to be breaking records; unemployment is claimed to be on the decline; a primary budget surplus has been achieved; the current austerity program is claimed by Tsipras to be set to finish in 2018; the government is again claiming it will launch a television and radio licensing process to “go after” Greece’s oligarchs, and Greece is even reported to be launching talks to join the BRICS’ development bank. Sounds great, right? Let’s deconstruct these claims.

The August full moon has become an annual commemoration in Greece. Occurring during the peak of Greece’s tourist season, the night of the August full moon is a time when museums and historical sites throughout the country open their doors to the public, hosting free tours and live concerts.

This year, the August 7 full moon was accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. And, this year’s crowds at museums and historical sites were larger than in previous years. This could be attributed, in part, to tourism. Greece is expecting to achieve record tourist arrivals, which this year are projected to surpass 30 million visitors.

The August full moon rises above the 5th Century BC Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio, south of Athens, on Aug. 7, 2017. More than a hundred of Greece's ancient sites _ but not the Acropolis in Athens _ and museums were kept open until late Monday and concerts organized to allow visitors to enjoy the full moon, which is accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The August full moon rises above the 5th Century BC Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio, south of Athens, on Aug. 7, 2017. More than a hundred of Greece’s ancient sites _ but not the Acropolis in Athens _ and museums were kept open until late Monday and concerts organized to allow visitors to enjoy the full moon, which is accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

There is another factor, however: while foreign tourists are arriving in Greece in droves, Greek residents are increasingly stuck at home — unable to afford even a brief vacation inside their own country and deprived of the opportunity to enjoy Greece’s beautiful beaches, islands, and countryside even for a few days. A 2016 study found that domestic tourism has decreased by 45 percent during the crisis.

Athens neighborhoods that used to resemble ghost towns during August, were this year only moderately less vibrant than during the rest of the year. Unable to afford a vacation, many Greeks stayed home—and likely attended those free full-moon events in record numbers.

Of course, privatizations were supposed to “save” Greece, including Greek tourism, justifying the sell-off of 14 profitable Greek regional airports and the port of Piraeus, the largest port in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. The 14 airports were purchased by a consortium of investors led by Fraport, owned by the German state.

Proponents of privatization in Greece, conditioned over many decades to demonize anything and everything that is publicly owned or operated, argued that this investment was necessary to “improve” these airports and their “efficiency.” Those “improvements” are already evident, as complaints have been rolling in from travelers and employees alike: extremely long queues and a lack of air conditioning have been reported to be commonplace to a far greater extent than in the past, indeed the new normal, while parking privileges for employees at the Fraport-owned airports have all but been curtailed.

Quite fittingly, the final agreement that was reached between the Greek government and Fraport for the privatization of the 14 airports was based on a royal decree enacted by Greece’s “pro-western” post-war government in 1953 and signed by King Paul, of German lineage through the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.

Such privatizations have been touted as “investments” that provide far-reaching benefits and jobs to the Greek economy, and as signs of investor confidence in Greece. The benefits they have actually provided Greece, however, are dubious, as seen in the case of Fraport. This is also evident in the case of the Chinese-owned Cosco, which purchased a controlling share in the entire port of Piraeus from the Greek state in 2016, and which had previously purchased the container port of Piraeus in an agreement with the then-government of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in 2011. What Cosco seems to have actually delivered to Piraeus are Chinese-style labor conditions, under which workers are, for instance, encouraged to urinate into the sea instead of taking toilet breaks.

From a tourism standpoint, however, these privatizations are part of a larger negative trend that goes largely unreported: the profits from these airports and seaports, which previously entered public coffers, now go straight to Germany and China. In the meantime, the “all-inclusive” and cruise-ship models of tourism are those that have been most vigorously developed in recent years.

This means that foreign visitors often arrive in Greece via foreign-owned charter airlines or cruise ships, on vacations that are usually booked with foreign travel agents and tour operators. They then spend most of their time on the cruise ship or inside an all-inclusive resort, contributing very little spending to the real economy. This is evidenced by statistics showing that despite Greece’s record arrivals, spending per tourist is on a decline, at a mere 430 euros per visitor, 15 percent less than Greece’s nearest competitor in the region.

China, of course, is also a member of BRICS, and it has been reported in recent weeks that Greece has entered talks to formally apply for membership in the BRICS’ New Development Bank. Many opponents of neoliberalism around the world have touted BRICS as an alternative to the existing economic order. But is it really? China’s labor record, for instance, suggests otherwise — as does the Temer regime currently at the helm in Brazil, a favorite of Washington, which is currently enforcing troika-style austerity and is embroiled in corruption scandals. The same could be said of India, which is on board with much of the Western world’s efforts to eliminate cash and physical currency.

But what about Russia? Many in Greece believe that Russia and Vladimir Putin can “save” Greece—if only Greece would turn its back on the Eurozone, EU, and NATO. Throughout the crisis, it has been rumored that there were secret plans for Greece to turn to Russia if it could not achieve “bailout” deals with the troika, but there seems to be no real evidence that Russia ever had such an aid package prepared for Greece, or that it was ever willing to provide such assistance. What is clear, however, is that Russia,  like China and like Germany, sees fertile ground in Greece for its own investments.

In Febrary 2016, a series of economic deals were signed between Greece and Russia. At the time, the Russian government expressed its interest in a number of potential privatization deals in Greece. Flashing forward to April of this year, a majority share (67 percent) of the port of Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, which is viewed as a strategic gateway to the Balkans, was privatized. The buyer? The Deutsche Invest Equity Partners-CMA consortium, in which a major investor is a business figure by the name of Ivan Savvidis.

Who is Savvidis? Born in Georgia when it was part of the former Soviet Union, Savvidis was employed in a state-owned tobacco factory during the Soviet years, becoming its general director soon after the collapse of the USSR and subsequent privatization of the factory. Savvidis was previously a deputy with Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, in the country’s parliament. He is also chairman of the SKA Rostov-on-Don football club in Russia.

Prior to the 2010s, he was unknown in Greece, and there is some question as to whether he had even visited the country. In recent years, however, he has made his presence felt in Greece—especially since SYRIZA ascended to power. It could be said that he’s followed the path to power and influence that is preferred by the Greek oligarchic class.

His first big splash was through the purchase of the PAOK football club in Thessaloniki, joining the ranks of other oligarchs who own football teams in Greece. His group of companies has made various investments in Greece, such as in the field of tourism, where he has bought out various hotels and established an aviation company.

More recently, Savvidis began his foray into Greece’s utterly corrupt media sector, first via his participation in last year’s licensing bid for nationwide television licenses — a process ultimately struck down by Greece’s highest administrative court due to constitutional irregularities. Unabated, he has purchased the major daily tabloid Ethnos and financial newspaper Imerisia, as well as a share in the financially struggling national television station Mega Channel. These purchases were followed by his buyout of another national television station, Epsilon TV, earlier this month.

These purchases have solidified Savvidis’ place in the Greek media landscape, just in time for the relaunch of the licensing bid for nationwide television stations by the SYRIZA-led government. Following the rejection of last year’s bidding process by Greece’s administrative high court, the government has set up a new bidding process, this time in conjunction with the purportedly independent national broadcasting regulator, but which repeats many of the same lies that were heard prior to last year’s bid.  These lies pertain particularly to the number of stations that the television spectrum can “fit” — a number that has now increased to seven national stations from four last year, but that is still far fewer than in other countries (such as Italy), and that all but ensures the continuation of an oligopoly controlled by a few powerful actors, namely Greece’s traditional oligarchs and more recent entrants like Savvidis.

For the SYRIZA-led government, however, this forthcoming television licensing bid—which is said to be likely to extend to radio as well, with onerous requirements that smaller and rural stations will likely be unable to fulfill—represents another part of its “success story,” via the “fulfillment” of one of its many campaign promises, namely to “restore law and order” to the broadcast landscape. In reality, though, whereas the main opposition party SYRIZA promised to “crush” the oligarchs once in power, it is now preparing to turn the media landscape over to them officially. It should be noted at this point that the entirety of Greece’s major media owners have maintained, throughout the crisis, a staunch and unflinching pro-EU, pro-Eurozone, pro-austerity line.

The puff piece published by The Guardian touted the drop in Greece’s official unemployment rate to 21.7 percent, from a peak of 27.9 percent in 2013, as yet another aspect of SYRIZA’s “success story.” Much is left unsaid, however: the long-term unemployed, who are not counted in the statistics; the 500,000-plus person “brain drain” out of Greece during the crisis years; the poor working conditions and paltry wages of many of those who are still employed; part-time jobs that are counted as “full” employment; the aforementioned rollback of worker rights; the job insecurity that workers face, including going months at a time without pay or enduring unpaid overtime, and their fear of leaving due to the uncertainty of being able to find any other job; and so forth.

Just the 500,000-plus person brain drain alone would be enough for Greece’s unemployment rate to skyrocket, had these individuals not emigrated.

Ah, but Greece has attained—and maintained—a primary budget surplus, which reached 3.05 billion euros in the first seven months of 2017. That’s good news, right? Not if one considers what a primary budget surplus actually is. Briefly, it means that the Greek state is spending less than it is taking in as revenue. While this may sound prudent, what decades and centuries of experiments in economic austerity have demonstrated is that for countries experiencing a severe economic depression, as in the case of Greece, maintenance of a primary budget surplus merely exacerbates the problem: money is sucked out of the real economy and not returned to it.

As spending continues to decrease in a cash-starved economy where taxes are increasing and wages are declining, more and more cuts have to be made to government spending in order to meet surplus targets, perpetuating a never-ending death spiral.

In the case of Greece, the SYRIZA-led government, in an agreement with the troika earlier this year, pledged to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of its GDP each year through 2023, and 2 percent annual surpluses thereafter until 2060. Tsipras’ claims, therefore,  that Greece’s austerity program will come to a close sometime in 2018 are laughable: the maintenance of primary budget surpluses is, by definition, the continuation of austerity—which Greece has pledged to continue for (at least) the next 43 years!

But nevertheless, the smell of success is in the air. Prime Minister Tsipras and The Guardian say so, after all. The problem is, that scent hasn’t been detected by ordinary Greeks or by small business owners. Just in the first half of 2017, more than 15,000 businesses shuttered in Greece. But while the SYRIZA-led government is preparing to “crush” Greece’s oligarchs — who, like oligarchs the world over, evade their fair share of taxes by shifting profits offshore — the state has gotten to the bottom of Greece’s supposed problem with tax evasion via other apparently more effective means.

In July, a man who has been unemployed since 2010 and whose income consisted of 24 cents in interest from his bank account, was issued a 4,470 euro tax bill, as the Greek tax system presumes that citizens have a certain income level if they have a bank account, home, or automobile in their possession—even if they are unemployed, even if the property was inherited, even if the citizen is in fact currently impoverished.

In another case, a 49-year-old man in the town of Almiros was arrested and fined for the offense of selling 20 watermelons and 12 cantaloupes without a valid license. Greece’s television and radio stations, however, have operated without official licenses for decades, without anyone so much as batting an eyelash.

In yet another example, if you are a property owner in Greece, rental leases must now be submitted electronically to the tax authorities, with the owner immediately taxed on a percentage of the foreseen rental income for the entire year—before that income has been earned for the year! If, as in the case of a neighbor of this author in Athens, a renter skips town without having paid rent, the owner is nevertheless taxed on this “income.” The deadbeat tenant’s inability to pay–and your consequent taxation on “income” never received–is apparently your problem, not that of the tax office or finance minister!

An uncertain future, not a “success story”

A house damaged by the forest fire stands among pine trees north of Athens, at Kalamos, on, Aug. 16, 2017.  (AP/Ioanna Spanou)

A house damaged by the forest fire stands among pine trees north of Athens, at Kalamos, on, Aug. 16, 2017. (AP/Ioanna Spanou)

As this piece is being written, the smoky smell of the fires raging outside of Athens still hangs ominously in the air, on a day that is supposed to be a national holiday in Greece. For the prime minister and the members of the SYRIZA-led coalition government — as well as for the unabashedly pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity press corps — it is the sweet smell of success that is hanging in the air. Success that exists, if at all, on paper only, as far removed from reality as the government that is nominally in control of the country, and the European and international institutions that are actually at the helm — in Brussels, Berlin, and elsewhere.

A decade ago, in the summer of 2007 and in the aftermath of the aforementioned destructive fires on Mount Parnitha and the Ileia region, an anonymous call went “viral” via SMS text messaging and bloggers, calling upon citizens to wear black and to descend upon Athens’ Syntagma Square, and other central points throughout Greece, for a “non-partisan” protestagainst the then-New Democracy government for its response to the blazes. This was perhaps the first such protest in the country’s modern-day history. Strangely, following the destructive fires of this summer and despite almost ubiquitous smartphone and social media usage, no such similar calls have been extended.

 

Were the 2007 protests an aberration? Possibly. In Greece, the “Indignants” movement disappeared, never to reappear again, after the summer of 2011 and a last hurrah in February 2012 consisting of protests against the second memorandum. In the weeks leading up to the 2015 referendum, a “Solidarity with Greece” movement emerged in major cities in Europe and North America, where academic leftists and ivory-tower activists who somehow were able to procure large quantities of SYRIZA flags, organized rallies against the “blackmail” and “coup” SYRIZA and the Greek people were facing at the hands of the European institutions — which were apparently not evil enough, however, to warrant advocating in favor of “Grexit.”

Following SYRIZA’s wholesale rejection of the referendum result though, an interesting thing happened: this “solidarity” movement largely disappeared — as did its rallies, though perhaps not the SYRIZA flags. Today, a key participant in these rallies, Irish author and “eurocommunist” activist Helena Sheehan, is shilling her recently-published book, Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left. Sheehan has taken advantage of the public catfight between Tsipras and Varoufakis to generate some extra publicity for her book, which she admits she was not the best qualified to write.

Nevertheless, Sheehan gently chides SYRIZA for its capitulation and its supporters’ broken dreams, but does not question the European path followed by SYRIZA and by its predecessors before it. The “European dream” and open borders are a good thing, whereas restoration of national sovereignty is “fascist.” Sadly, there was no word from Sheehan as to when the “solidarity” rallies would take to the streets once more.

Returning to political reality, opinion surveys in Greece, to the extent that they can be trusted, consistently show the former governing party, New Democracy, with a steady and sometimes overwhelming lead. Popular sentiment on the street is that whenever new elections are held again, New Democracy will emerge victorious—though it is likely that they too will fall far short of a parliamentary majority, even with the 50-seat parliamentary bonus undemocratically awarded to the winner.

Just in case anybody believes New Democracy will represent a change in direction for Greece though, they would be wrong. It was two years ago when, following the referendum that overwhelmingly rejected the troika’s new austerity proposal for Greece, the SYRIZA-led government turned its back on the result and rammed through memorandum agreement number three for Greece, upon which much of today’s continued cuts, privatizations, and austerity are based.

However, the third memorandum could not have been successfully passed in parliament without the votes of the members of former ruling New Democracy and “socialist” PASOK parties, as well as upstart pro-establishment party To Potami. New Democracy, like SYRIZA today, brought Greece back to the international financial markets via a bond tender in late 2013 with a similarly high yield — and, like SYRIZA, declared Greece a “success story” and claimed the end of the crisis was nearing.

For Greece’s “saviors,” there’s a scent of success in the air. But for the rest of the Greek populace, what’s in the air, literally and figuratively, is the scent of destruction. In a country where, over the past decade and more, Greece’s agriculture, industry, economy, the dreams of its people, and the country’s future have been methodically burned, why not the nation’s forests as well?

Aug 122017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

After 6 months of blaming Russia for the Democratic Party’s Presidential election debacle, the Party stalwarts have finally realized that the American electorate is not listening.

Democratic Party investigators in Washington still hold hearings and the mass media are still scandal mongering, but the public is not rallying to their cause.

Trump’s demagogy may have lost its appeal, while the Republican Administration purges and internecine squabbles have been met with a huge collective yawn by the public. The Democratic Party proves itself to be a weird sideshow for the vast majority of American voters … and for good reason.

Their perpetual (corrupt and senile) leaders are unwavering supporters of every indignity and economic hardship that the majority of worker families have suffered for the last three decades.

Democratic Party Senator Chuck ‘the Schmuck’ Schumer and Congresswomen Nancy ‘The Loser’ Pelosi have spent a collective sixty-five years in Congress. Their joint tenure marks a period of long decline in working class living standards and even worker life expectancy, while they have made possible the greatest concentration of wealth in the hands of the 1% plutocrats.

The Democratic Party’s ‘Better Deal’ – But for Whom?

In July 2017, nearly a dozen of the top Democratic Party honchos and Congress people met to spin out a new electoral manifesto for American workers which they are marketing as ‘A Better Deal’.

They issued prophetic press releases claiming to have received (presumably from the Holy Mountain) ‘a new vision of the party’. They claimed ‘the vision’ was also the result of their humble ‘listening to the American people’. They confessed that ‘the American people deserve better’. But their sweetly harmonized collective ‘Mea Culpa’ omitted any mention of the four previous Democratic Party Presidential terms, under Bill ‘The Shill’ Clinton and Barak ‘The Con” Obama, which ushered in this deplorable state of affairs for the American working class.

The Democratic Party’s ‘new vision’ wallows in the muddy demagogic footsteps of ‘The Donald’ Trump: Their new ‘product’ is just ‘demagogy lite’.

Tossing electoral fodder to the multitude, they have trotted out three ‘new promises’: 1. cheaper drug prices, 2. the regulation of ‘monopolies’ and 3. more funds to retrain workers. Their new marketing campaign does not include even a tiny whisper about a single payer national health system (favored by the majority of the public and by tens of thousands of doctors and nurses). Their cheap shots on ‘drug prices’ does not mention how Obama and Clinton facilitated the Big Pharma’s pillage of the public for decades. They mention ‘monopolies’ but made no attack on Wall Street billionaires. Their ‘job re-training’ promises have no provision for any national public employment program. The ‘Better Dealers’ with their ‘New Vision’ have banished all mention of ‘trade unions’.

The minimalist program of these old hack Democrats, re-packaged as the ‘Better Deal’, will not attract American workers for several clear reasons:

Reason #1: The Democrats Have a Rotten Record

For the majority of the American electorate there is no reason to believe or trust the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate. The leading Senate Democrat is New York’s ‘Chuck, the Schmuck’ Schumer, best known for his three decade residence in the pockets of Wall Street, his open loyalty to the dictates of Tel Aviv and his cozy relationship with the Brighton Beach mafia.

Schumer promoted the ‘trillion-dollar tax-payer bailout’ of Wall Street while foreclosing on 2 million household mortgages. He consistently defended AIPAC officials caught spying for Israel and has led the Zionist attack against the UN whenever questions of Israel’s war crimes and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people arise. He led the Senatorial Pack of wolves into destroying Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. He has now turned his tribal ire against his ‘fellow’ American citizens, leading the Senate campaign to make criticism of Israel by boycotting Israeli products punishable by a fine of $1 million dollars and 20 years in Federal Prison. Huge numbers of law-abiding Americans who support the BDS movement for justice and international law will now be targeted with felony convictions and loss of their civil rights by the Israel Anti-Boycott Law (S720). That Senator Schumer would condemn thousands of his own compatriots to virtual life imprisonment for the ‘crime’ of exercising their First Amendment Right of Free Speech speaks volumes about his respect for the Constitution. This thug has brow-beaten scores of his fellow representatives in Washington to support this tyrannical legislation by threatening them with the career-ending accusation of ‘anti-Semitism’ if they waver in their fealty to the war criminals in Israel.

Throughout his political career, Senator Schumer consistently supported Federal Reserve free marketer Alan Greenspan, whose wholesale deregulation of the banks and finance sector led directly to the financial crash of 2008.

Geographically closer to Senator Chuck than Tel Aviv are the factory towns, green hills and valleys of Upstate New York where his forgotten constituents have suffered from decades of de-industrialization, 30% de-population and a raging socio-economic crisis of which the opioid epidemic is only part. Meanwhile, the warmonger Schumer prefers to rant for war against North Korea demanding Trump impose trade sanctions on China. If Beijing finally decides to tell Netanyahu how ‘the Shumck’s’ sanction bombast would harm Israel’s lucrative trade with China, a gentle whisper from Tel Aviv would silence Schumer’s bluster.

Peering over his bifocals, ‘Commandante Schumer’ now claims to lead the “The People’s Resistance against Trump”. While his party activists vent against the ‘Trump and the deplorables’ over the internet, Chuck will be attending the Bar Mitzvahs of Brighten Beach mobsters at the Waldorf Astoria and soirees with his Wall Street billionaire backers, consulting over strategy with his real constituents. Under Schumer, New York City has become the most socially and economically polarized and unequal city in the US.

Most voters know that Schumer’s ‘reincarnation’ as a ‘resistance politico’ is laughable and that the Senator’s re-election rests comfortably with the multi-million dollar contributions from his brothers on Wall Street.

Across the nation, most working class voters have dismissed the antics of the Democratic Party’s ‘Maestro of Demagogy’, Bernie Sanders – who spoke pious piffle to the workers while running errands for the ‘Queen of Chaos’, Hilary Clinton, would-be President and life-long Wall Street warmonger.

The citizens rightly reject the Presidential and Senatorial demagogues, Trump and ‘The Schmuck’. According to a recent Bloomberg Poll, 58% of Americans disapprove of the Democrats, a few points lower than the Republicans level of disapproval. An ABC /Washington Post poll revealed that only 37% of Americans believe that the Democratic Party stands for something!

Nine months after the Clinton debacle, the Democrats remain at or below their dismal voter-approval. Trump his skillfully managed to sink a few points below the Democrats.

In other words, nearly 60% of the voters disapprove of leaders from both parties.

The ‘anti-Trump circus and road show’ increasingly takes place to an empty audience. Their “fight” for ‘transgender rights’ attracts the 1% while studiously ignoring the basic life supporting interests of the seventy million Americans (including both transgendered and straight) who work at lousy part-time contingent and minimum wage jobs and desperately need full-time employment at living wages.

In multiple national polls, one hundred and fifty million Americans have registered their support for a national, single payer health system to insure fairness and access to competent medical care. Instead the ‘newly visioned’ Democrats are merely offering cheaper opioids for their social pain. The people want billions of dollars in public investment for deteriorating schools and infrastructures, not bi-partisan (sic) expansion in military spending for seven ongoing wars and new wars in the making.

Warmongers are not Vote-getters

The high level of voter disapproval against the Democrats results from ultra- militarism, as well as their demands for provocative economic sanctions against Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Palestine and China – exceeding Trump and his warmongers.

The voters know that the Democrats ‘new vision’ is a thinly veiled recipe for costly new wars and economic sanctions that will spill their children’s blood, cripple their families futures and reduce job opportunities everywhere for everyone.

New Candidates, Grass-roots Movements and the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party’s fiasco and their election losses, as well as the growing realization that the socio-economic demands of the American people are never going to be addressed by the ‘old-new visionaries’, have led to a new ‘crop’ of candidates for the 2018 elections.

Over 200 Democratic Party candidates have registered to run in 2018 elections, hoping that ‘new faces’ and a new style of demagogy will bring back the disenchanted voters. These much-ballyhooed ‘upstarts’ toss out empty promises to the victims of the dying economy, industrial towns in ruins, villages with social and health crises, big cities with skyrocketing rents and stagnant wages. They offer nothing that can bring workers back to a Democratic Party still tightly controlled by the Tel Aviv-Wall Street shilling, war-mongering Pelosis and Schumers.

The Democratic Party ‘insurgents’ try to imitate the ‘Bernie’ Sanders double- speak, attacking the billionaires while shilling for the oligarchs’ stable of loyal Democratic Party hacks. The ‘new vision’ Democrats have moats in both eyes and a long road to regaining the votes of the disillusioned ‘deplorables’!

Media-sponsored trips to Rust Belt States to bad-mouth ‘The Donald’ and his anti-health agenda provides no alternative to the decades of Democratic Party betrayal on health care, especially during the last Democrat Presidents whose policies facilitated the rise Big Pharma’s prescription opioid epidemic which has killed over 500,000 overworked and underpaid workers since 1999. Their continued refusal to hold these policies and their authors to account does not reflect any vision of a viable solution to the crisis.

Conclusion

In place of the discredited bipartisan electoral system, numerous grass roots groups are emerging: Some are operating parallel to the flurry of new Demo- demagogues while many are working against it.

Many community-based groups have taken radical positions, which demand vast new job programs and public finance for a national, accountable, high quality health care system.

They demand prosecution and long prison sentences for Wall Street swindlers, money launderers, tax evaders and corporate drug pushers.

They demand a 90% tax rate ‘adjustment’ on the trillion dollar corporations- Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Google etc.

The grass roots movements are more than just an ‘anti-Trump’ bandwagon (secretly driven by the old pols of the Democratic Party): They are against both parties and all demagogues. They are especially opposed to any phony ‘Better Deals’ coming out of the backsides of the billionaire-backed ‘shilling and dealing’ Democrats!

Aug 032017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Washington and Brussels’ response to foreign affairs challenges, as they face their own political and economic disasters and decline, has been to impose economic sanctions, boycotts and issue increasingly reckless military threats against rival nations. The ruling and main opposition parties in the US and EU have taken over the major media, turning ‘news programs’ into propaganda campaigns promoting violent power grabs (‘regime change’) and self-defeating trade wars.

Washington’s belligerency amounts to merely pounding on empty oil drums on behalf of the US oil giants. Overt hostility prepares for trade wars, military confrontations and possible regional conflagrations … where the US and EU will likely face even greater defeats.

Economic warfare is designed to impoverish nations and create a pretext for sowing internal discord and sabotage, especially through buying political candidates, organizing street mobs and recruiting military vassals.

Washington, hampered by its current internal divisions, is stumbling backwards and forwards towards major catastrophes. The oligarchs in Brussels face complex internal splits and even open rebellion, especially from the EU’s new members.

The referendum around ‘Brexit’ revealed a popular rebellion against decades of deepening class inequalities and the blatant financial power grab by the speculator-banker elite.

Central and Eastern European authoritarians are challenging the Brussels oligarchy. Powerful national bosses in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have embraced Israel’s thuggish Prime Minister Netanyahu in a common move to weaken Brussels.

The break-up of internal cohesion in Washington and Brussels has led to more frantic efforts to externalize their problems, through warfare, in order to retain state power – a kind of ‘building capitalism for a few countries’.

In summary, the on-going break-up of the US-EU bloc has led to increasing reliance on economic warfare, with sanctions, boycotts and tariff walls to confront international trade competitors and regional rivals.

Washington and Brussels have targeted four major countries: Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela. The build-up for waging economic warfare includes daily hysterical demonization of these nations in the mass media, accompanied by the recruitment of regional clients, in order to buttress economic sanctions. The campaign of economic and ideological warfare is designed to provoke internal political divisions in the targeted country in the lead-up to a violent seizure of political power.

Russia: Economic Sanctions and Peripheral Wars

Washington and the European Union have pursued a two-pronged strategy against Russia: On the one hand, they have encircled Russia with NATO and US bases, ships, missile installation, cyberwar centers and communications/spy outposts and troop exercises from the Baltics to Ukraine, Georgia and beyond. On the other hand, they slapped draconian trade sanctions on Russian import and export of military and civilian technology, energy and mining companies, machine goods, agriculture and other commodities, as well as sanctioning individuals, their family members and confiscating Russian property. The openly stated strategic goal is to create such chaos and deprivation that the Russian people will violently overthrow the Putin presidency and restore Russia to vassal status. With a new pliable set of puppet oligarchs in the Kremlin, the West would resume pillaging the country’s resources and wealth, as it did so brazenly during the 1990’s.

The sanctions and military threats have so far boomeranged back onto the West, with the possible exception of the US-EU organized coup in the Ukraine. Economic sanctions have convinced the Russian government and people to redirect their resources to reindustrialize and diversify the economy, substituting local production and increasing agricultural self-sufficiency: In other words, expanding and stabilizing the internal market.

Furthermore, Russia increased its trade and strategic linkages to China and Iran, while retaliating against the EU by cutting off agricultural imports from Poland and Georgia, thereby punishing those farm export sectors. The US-NATO effort to encircle Russia boomeranged: Moscow incorporated the ethnic Russian-majority Crimea (with its strategic Black Sea naval bases) back into Russia via a well organized popular referendum and expanded its military bases and strategic cooperation with the government of Syria, leading to Damascus victory over the terrorist Wahhabi mercenaries. The EU’s own energy companies, especially in Germany and Italy, where millions are dependent on cheap Russian oil and gas imports, have repeatedly violated the US-imposed sanctions.

The brutal power grab in Ukraine brought a weak, decadent oligarch-regime to power, surviving on Western handouts. The putsch-regime in Kiev oversees an increasingly fractured nation – the new face of ‘Western Democracy’.

The resort to weird propaganda ploys, accusing Vladimir Putin of ‘rigging’ the US Presidential elections, has paralyzed US domestic policy, turning Washington into an insane asylum of continental dimensions. Major domestic crises, like the opioid addiction epidemic, which has killed over 500,000 Americans since 1999, go unaddressed, as the politicians and media froth at the mouth in a display of synchronized Russophobia.

US and EU Sanctions and China: Biting the Hand that Feeds

Washington and the EU have repeatedly threatened to impose sanctions on China’s manufacturing exports and retaliate harshly for Beijing’s state policy of financial controls.

Under Obama and Trump, Washington installed anti-missile radar systems in South Korea, clearly aimed at China. The Pentagon sent a naval armada to harass Chinese vessels in the South China Sea. They sold a billion dollars worth of offensive military hardware to the government in Taiwan, while backing separatists in Hong Kong and Tibet, as well as the violent jihadis in western China. US planes have flown over Chinese military airbases and port installations on the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea. Currently, Washington is threatening to invade North Korea, one of China’s trading partners.

Economic sanctions and saber rattling notwithstanding, China continues to advance with giant steps: expanding its economic links through its global investment agreements with sixty countries. It has successfully launched the multi-hundred-billion dollar ‘Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road’ project of railways, roads, ports and other vital infrastructure linking China with its markets in Southeast and Central Asia through to the Middle East, Russia, Europe and beyond. This massive project is currently transforming entire regions and creating millions of jobs and thousands of markets.

Despite Obama and Trumps’ threats, hundreds of US and EU multi-nationals, especially auto manufacturers, are anxious to increase their investments in China and sign lucrative new joint ventures.

Chinese multi-nationals continue to invest and buy firms in the US, EU, South America and Oceania. Chinese imports of the most advanced technology have strengthened its links with Silicon Valley and Germany.

In contrast, the US trade deficits with China are more a result of the parasitic financialization of the US economy, than any lack of Chinese reciprocity.

Faced with US military encirclement, China has doubled its military spending in recent years, building its first-ever overseas base in Africa, while strengthening its military co-operation with Russia – including massive joint exercises.

In a word, the blowback of this sanction mania has mainly damaged US and EU import-export companies and investors while marginalizing UE-EU capitalists from participating in China’s enormous global infrastructure projects and the emerging regional markets.

While the newly elected government in South Korea has made tentative moves toward de-escalating tensions with the North, attempting to freeze the US THAAD-missile program aimed at China and installed unilaterally while South Korea was undergoing a major constitutional crisis, and mend economic fences with China, the US (with the California coast over 5800 miles to the east) is fomenting war on the peninsula.

With China’s estimated annual growth of 6.7% for 2017 (compared to 2% in the US), it is clear that policy of sanctions and military encirclement is failing.

US-EU Sanctions and Iran

The US is openly violating its nuclear agreement with Iran by imposing new economic sanctions despite the absence of any evidence that Iran has been un-cooperative.T he US threatened US, EU and Chinese oil and banking interests, and pushed policies promoted by the militaristic Israel Firsters who dictate Washington’s Middle East policy. The US has joined with Israel and Saudi Arabia in labeling Iran and its allies in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine as ‘terrorists’.

The sanctions policy has not worked: Iran continues to sign oil exploration and export agreements with the Chinese, EU and Russian oil companies. It is increasing trade with China and plays a major role in OPEC.

Aggressive Israeli and US-Zionist threats have pushed Iran to expand its long and middle range (non-nuclear) missile program while strengthening its military alliance with Russia and Syria.

Iran’s humanitarian aid for Yemen, working to assist millions of Yemenis faced with mass starvation and a horrific cholera epidemic deliberately caused by Saudi Arabia with US and Israeli complicity, has won worldwide admiration and exposed the barbaric nature of the Saudi monarchy throughout the Muslim world.

US violations of its agreements have strengthened Iranian nationalists and weakened pro-Western, neo-liberal currents. No ‘color revolution’ to install a Persian puppet is possible under the daily threat of attack from the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In sum, Iran has more than overcome US sanctions by forging new alliances while reducing US influence regionally and domestically. Iran’s support for Syria has undercut Saudi-US-Israeli backed Wahhabi-terrorists-mercenaries and strengthened the cause of secular, non-sectarian Arab nationalism. Washington’s hardline anti-Iranian policies have backfired. Iran has diversified its economic ties and strengthened its military defenses. Meanwhile the US remains isolated and subject to the dictates of the Jewish state and its hysterical incompetent agents in Washington.

US and Sanctions on Syria

While US and EU sanctions and proxy-military interventions have devastated Syria with the murder of hundreds of thousands Syrians and the displacement of millions of refugees, it clearly failed to achieve its stated strategic goal – ‘regime change’ and the imposition of a client government in Damascus.

Indeed, millions of uprooted, desperate Syrians have fled to the EU, creating a massive refugee and security problem.

Terrorists, including thousands of EU and US citizens, were recruited and trained by the security forces of the EU-US to overthrow the Syrian government. They have been driven from Syria and are increasingly turning their deadly skills against targets in Western Europe.

Syrian defense ties with Russia have consolidated the long-term Russian presence in the Middle East and strengthened strategic ties with Iran and the powerful Hezbollah Party (Lebanon’s ruling coalition partner).

The miserable defeat and retreat of the US bankrolled Wahhabi terrorists convinced President Trump to cut-off military, financial and training support for such a ‘lost cause’ and seek a viable joint US-Russian sponsored cease-fire agreement in southern Syria. US sanctions inflicted a murderous burden on the Syrian people and society but left the government in Damascus intact. After spending scores of billions of dollars equipping and training ISIS and Al Queda mercenaries, the proxy military intervention has not resulted in its stated goal of regime change – it has extended and expanded Syria’s alliances with Russia, Iran and Lebanon, and exposed the brutal incompetence of US-EU-Saudi-Israeli Middle East policy.

EU and US intervention ruined Syria but failed to rule the targeted nation. Paradoxically, it inflamed tensions with the Turkish government and military by choosing to back the Kurdish secessionist militias on its borders. It intensified domestic anti-immigrant and rightist movements in the EU and US, threatening their own ‘clubby’ governing coalitions.

In the end, military intervention and economic sanctions provoked global nuclear tensions without securing any of the stated strategic goals in the Middle East.

Sanctions and Intervention:  Venezuela

For the past 15 years, the US, with support from the EU, has waged covert and overt political and military campaigns to overthrow the Chavista government. Prior to the collapse of the global oil price, this was met with little success. Now, the fall of regional allies, the rise of rightist regimes and the economic vulnerabilities of the Venezuelan mono-economy are threatening the government in Caracas.

In 2002, Washington and the EU backed a failed military-business coup. This was followed by a failed bosses oil lockout in 2003. Washington then supported a failed electoral boycott in 2005 and backed a series of unsuccessful presidential candidates and opposition congressional parties – until 2015.

Meanwhile, US has backed cross-border attacks by Colombian gangster-paramilitary groups against Venezuelan towns and land reform settlements. Its ‘Democracy’ NGO’s have promoted the terrorist sabotage of oil fields, power plants and public transport systems, as well as clinics and police stations.

Repeatedly, the Chavista forces successfully defeated US-backed terrorist sabotage and referendums. However, the oil price crash over the last three years has changed the socio-economic correlation of forces. Declining income from its oil exports have cut Venezuela’s imports of vital food, medicine and manufactured goods.

The US escalated its special operations, providing financing and training via self-styled ‘non-governmental organizations’ (NGOs) to opposition parties and violent ‘pro-democracy’ gangs.

The private retail, banking and transport sectors have paralyzed production and consumption through artificial shortages (hoarding), black market activity, speculation and massive overseas transfers of foreign currency.

Unlike other successful governments targeted by the US and EU with sanctions and sabotage, Venezuela has remained incapable of substituting production and diversifying its economy. It did not clamp down on hostile NGO groups, nor did it effectively confront violent street protests and capture the terrorists who attacked and assassinated police and military officials, government workers and civilian supporters of the Chavista government.

As the crisis deepened, the US and EU mass media repeatedly called for a military coup or ‘regime change’ backed by ‘strong international (sic) efforts’, thinly coded language for a US-led invasion in collaboration with the far right regimes of Colombia, Brazil and Argentina.

US-funded street thugs have intimidated bus company owners, small business people, and professionals – and especially targeted public employees who lived in neighborhood with a strong opposition presence, forcing them to close businesses or flee.

Economic sanctions have escalated with open US government threats to seize Venezuelan refineries located in the US (CITGO) and freeze its overseas assets.

CIA and Pentagon operatives have attempted to penetrate the military to ‘turn them’ against the constitutionally legitimate government through bribes and threats against their families.

The prospects of civil war is reaching a crescendo in late July 2017, as the government fought back convoking and winning free elections for a constituent assembly to elect representatives, based on class and community interests, to counter the US-business-controlled Congress, which has been at war with the Presidency. The US and its local and overseas collaborators threaten a total blockade with the seizure of overseas assets leading to a possible civil war and invasion.

Any US-backed war in Venezuela will bring the most retrograde racist oligarchs to power and will result in mass slaughter of the poor and lower middle classes who had benefited from the Chavista social programs, the assassination of their leaders, teachers, intellectuals, artists and activists, the destruction of the economy and wide-spread hunger and disease, in other words, a nightmarish ‘Libyan solution on the Caribbean’. The US may turn back social democracy, but Venezuelan revolutionaries will fight on for their very lives.

Conclusion

The US and the EU have launched major economic and military attacks against Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela. With the exception of Venezuela, imperialist aggression has been defeated and overcome, and the three have registered substantial strategic gains.

Sanctions have boomeranged on their imperialist authors and led to new partnerships and alliances, the diversification of these dynamic economies and stronger defense systems.

The US has taxed and spent well beyond the capacity of its own future generations and yet has lost on the key battlegrounds in Asia and the Middle East. China’s monumental Eurasian infrastructure program stands in stark contrast to the spectacle of lonely US battleships circling rock piles in the South China Sea and US fighter jet parked on isolated airfields of northern Australia. We can pity poor schizophrenic Australia, whose chief trade partner is China, kowtowing to the militarists in Washington while hoping Beijing will look the other way.

The US Congress imposed additional economic sanctions against Russia to drive a wedge between the US and the EU (Germany) as Putin’s economic recovery takes off and the vast Russian market attracts Berlin’s industrialists.

The Zionist-dictated Congressional sanctions against Iran may satisfy Israel’s appetites for another US-Middle East war (to be fought with more American blood and treasure), but the US military command and the vast majority of US citizens are staunchly against another quagmire.

It should be crystal clear to any rational observer: Sanctions do not work against powerful global powers with diversified economies, strong leaders, world markets, resources and skilled workers. Military threats of aggression are turned away by developing defensive strength, including nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. However the US policy-making elite, especially in the Democratic Party, is anything but rational.

Iran has formidable regional allies and its battle-hardened armed forces possess medium range missiles capable of striking US regional allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia and US bases in the Gulf.

None of these three regional or global powers are susceptible to internal subversions via ‘color revolutions’, NGO sabotage, mass media propaganda or thug-led street violence.

Only Venezuela is vulnerable because the Chavista government did not take the opportunity to diversify its oil dependent economy when oil prices were at a historic high. Furthermore, it tolerated the activities of US funded NGO, which worked with violent coup-fomenting ‘political’ parties and gangs. It kept its reserves and assets within the US and failed to take control of the commanding heights of its national banking system. Despite its mass popular support, the Chavista government allowed the entry of corrupt opportunists into the government and saw the rise of a new class of capitalist speculators diverting oil profits to overseas private accounts.

In summary, US sanctions and military threats can be defeated and converted into victories. Vulnerability, when recognized, can be converted into strength, provided the political leadership has the vision, capacity, resources and strategy to do so.