greydog

Linda Ross aka greydog is a native Chicagoan who lives and works in Prague. greydog is the founder and editor of 99GetSmart.

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.

Jul 282017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

A woman uses her fan to cool down outside the Bank of Greece headquarters in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A woman uses her fan to cool down outside the Bank of Greece headquarters in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

As Greeks look inward, they see a country that produces nothing of value and is inferior to the rest of the world – despite evidence to the contrary. The country has been mentally colonized, with outside powers convincing the Greeks that they can do no better.

ATHENS (Analysis)– Oscar López Rivera, the Puerto Rican activist, and advocate for independence whose 70-year prison sentence was commuted earlier this year, resulting in his release after serving 35 years, once had this to say about patriotism and colonialism:

To love the homeland costs nothing, what would be costly is if we lose it… As Puerto Ricans we have to accept the fact Puerto Rico is a colony… If we accept this truth then we must be ready and prepared to kickstart a decolonization process.”

For Rivera, this process begins with the decolonization of the mind:

Let’s face the problem of our colonial status. Let’s work to find a solution for it. Let’s decolonize our minds and spirits and become real citizens of Puerto Rico.”

Rivera’s words were, of course, made in reference to Puerto Rico. However, it can be said that they are also applicable to many other nations, including nominally independent states such as Greece, a country which has been ravaged by almost a decade of stifling economic austerity imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); a country which could be described as a modern-day debt colony.

Having been raised in the United States as a “third culture kid,” with one foot in the U.S. and one foot in Greece, allows me to see things in both societies simultaneously as a native and as a relative outsider. This has particularly been true during the past four-plus years, a period in which I have resided almost full-time in Athens as a doctoral student and journalist.

Interviewing hundreds of individuals in my academic and journalistic capacity, from politicians to journalists to academics, while being immersed in the mundane day-to-day realities of life in Greece, has been a truly unique experience. And what I often have observed in Greek society is disheartening, to say the least.

What follows are insights into a country which has been colonized not just economically and politically, but mentally as well. It is a case study on how a crisis can be perpetuated through divide-and-conquer techniques and by making an entire nation and its people feel worthless, guilty, inferior and demoralized. This process of colonization and globalization is followed through several steps: the minimization of a country and its people, the fostering of feelings of inferiority and collective guilt, the diminishing and depreciation of local culture, and the lionization of anything foreign and “civilized.”

Modern-day Greece: Fatalism, defeatism and hopelessness

The extent of the demoralization of the Greek people is plainly evident through everyday conversations and encounters. Ordinary Greeks, upon learning that I came to the country to perform academic research, react in surprise and confusion, wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to come to Greece to stay for an extended period. Years ago, soon after the onset of the crisis, two different taxi drivers, upon realizing that I was from overseas, questioned why I chose to come to Greece. “Why are you here? Don’t you see what is happening?” I was asked. “Leave now, as quickly as you can!”

Farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Another driver interrogated me about job conditions in the United States, clearly because he had emigration on his mind. When I would mention that I was in Greece to perform academic research, but more importantly, because it was my homeland, people looked at me, quite simply, as if I were crazy.

On other occasions, upon learning that I am an autodidact in the Greek language, Greeks openly wondered why I chose to learn such an “insignificant” language as Greek, instead of a language which offered “potential,” such as German.

I could not escape this pessimism, even back in the United States in faraway Texas. At a farewell party for two Greek-American students who were graduating from my university, one of the students expressed interest in teaching English in Greece and living there for six months or a year. A student from Greece who was part of the conversation, however, warned her against such folly. “Don’t do it, you won’t like it,” he exclaimed. “Greece is only good for summer vacations.”

As far back as the “good old days” of the 1990s, when as a child I was privileged enough to travel to Greece with my family during the summer, I often used to hear mutterings about how much better things would be if Germans ruled Greece instead of the Greeks. Today, eight years into the worst economic crisis a developed country has endured in modern history and at a time when Greece is essentially governed by Brussels and Berlin, one still hears such sentiments expressed with alarming frequency.

Interviews, both academic and journalistic, that I have conducted dating back several years have revealed an overriding sentiment of hopelessness, a belief that the economic crisis that had befallen the country would not be overcome for many, many years. And while the crisis has indeed dragged on, one wonders to what extent such sentiments are self-fulfilling, as a result of the inertia and paralysis which result from the belief that nothing can or will change.

Mental colonization

In a 2013 interview which originally aired on Dialogos Radio, John Perkins, author of the bestselling book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” described how “economic hitmen” from institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, as well as from the private sector, combine their economic takeover of an indebted nation, such as Greece, with a process of mental colonization:

…[T]hat’s part of the game: convince people that they’re wrong, that they’re inferior. The corporatocracy is incredibly good at that… It’s a policy of them versus us: We are good. We are right. We do everything right. You’re wrong. And in this case, all of this energy has been directed at the Greek people to say ‘you’re lazy; you didn’t do the right thing; you didn’t follow the right policies.”

An observer will quickly determine that Perkins’ words ring true in the case of Greece. Complaining, which was practically a national pastime in the pre-crisis years, has reached stratospheric proportions. A general sense of collective guilt permeates Greek society, and it is common to hear discussions and statements about how “we elected these leaders, we were corrupt, we weren’t good citizens, therefore we deserve our current predicament and everything that is being done to us.” If you note a fatalistic undertone in these utterances, you’re not alone.

This collective guilt has been strongly encouraged by Greece’s political class, who ironically are responsible to a significant degree for Greece’s present-day crisis. Former longtime government minister Theodoros Pangalos, infamous for his salty mouth and previously described by best-selling author Greg Palast as a “fat bastard,” cynically stated at the onset of the crisis that “we ate it all together,” insinuating that Greek citizens benefited collectively from the corruption, nepotism, and cronyism that previous governments (including his own) habitually engaged in.

Following from this collective guilt is a new trend in Greece in which people insist in engaging in what they believe to be the sort of “self-criticism” practiced in other “civilized” countries. In reality, as will be demonstrated, it is sentiments of self-loathing and inferiority which are expressed instead of frank and constructive criticism of the nation’s ills. In turn, these sentiments foster feelings of apathy, hopelessness and paralysis on a national scale, acting as obstacles to any positive transformation.

Greece: The worst in everything?

Contributing to the general sense of helplessness and hopelessness is a commonly-held view that Greece and Greek society are inferior to the “civilized” – as they are often called – countries of the West. This inferiority complex deeply pervades the Greek psyche and every aspect of present-day Greek society.

Greek Protesters hold European flags during an anti government rally outside the Greek parliament, central Athens, June 20 , 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greek Protesters hold European flags during an anti government rally outside the Greek parliament, central Athens, June 20 , 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Such a mentality has long been present in Greece. Successive waves of immigration out of Greece throughout the 20th century and into the 1970s resulted in a mentality which still lingers, that the “grass is always greener” overseas. With the onset of the economic crisis in 2008-2009, a new wave of emigration out of Greece commenced and approximately 600,000 individuals left Greece during this period. This new wave of emigration has resulted in the re-emergence of these old mentalities.

Old attitudes die hard, and in hearing many Greeks describe their country, one detects an overriding attitude, a prevailing sentiment that views Greece as a “banana republic” and “uncivilized” and that everything is better overseas in the aforementioned “civilized” countries of Northern Europe and the West. There is indeed a Greek word for this mentality: “xenomania,” literally meaning a fascination with anything foreign. Xenomania is rampant in Greece: ranging from the use of “Greeklish” instead of the Greek language, to the all-encompassing preference for seemingly anything foreign, from food to music to fashion.

A common refrain that is heard in Greece whenever anything negative occurs in the country, no matter how minor or inconsequential, is that such things occur “only in Greece.” These assertions often reach epically absurd proportions.

In February, a horrific car accident on one of Greece’s national highways resulted in the death of four people, including a pregnant woman and her three-year-old child who were sitting in an automobile parked at a rest stop. Immediately, a chorus of comments was heard throughout the traditional and social media about how terrible Greece is in all aspects. An ex-race car driver and current driving school owner, known popularly as “Iaveris,” stated on national television in response to the tragedy that “Greeks are the worst people in the world,” a remark which was met with overwhelming agreement in Greece’s public discourse.

This same “logic” is regularly and consistently applied to every real or perceived negative story, event, or facet of life in Greece. Cost overruns on a public works project? Only in Greece! Government corruption? Nowhere is it worse than in Greece! Major bankers and politicians going unpunished for their crimes? Only in Greece! Destructive forest fires? Football fans rioting? Doctors practicing medicine without a license? Workers being obliged to work unpaid overtime hours? Crooked taxi drivers that overcharge passengers? Cruelty towards animals? Small businesses that don’t issue a receipt for a minor purchase? Unfair judicial decisions? Low quality, sensational media outlets? Garbage strikes, or strikes of any variety? You get the point. Apparently, all of these terrible things are the exclusive traits of, exist in, or occur only in Greece.

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A motorcyclist looks on as he drives next to a pile of garbage in Piraeus, near Athens, on Monday, June 26, 2017. Municipality workers have been on strike for almost a week , hindering trash collection across the country. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Compounding this confounding line of thinking, most Greeks seemingly do not want to hear anything contradicting these widely-held beliefs that Greece is a corrupt, worthless, useless nation, the worst in anything and everything. Evidence or arguments to the contrary are not ordinarily received in a positive manner.

Indeed, it is quite likely that one will be attacked, frequently quite nastily, for pointing out that, for instance, German aviation workers were on strike for more days than their Greek counterparts, or that corruption and crime and violence exists in other developed countries and are not the exclusive realm of Greece. When all else fails and they find themselves devoid of a counterargument, a simple “yes, but we’re worse anyway” serves as an all-purpose catch-all to continue insisting what a horrible species Greeks are. It truly has attained the status of a fetish.

Related to this mindset is a longstanding need for positive affirmation from “outside.” The opinions of foreigners and visitors to Greece are held in high regard – certainly much higher than the thoughts of fellow Greeks. Evening television newscasts invariably accompany significant stories about Greek economic or political developments with a rundown of how the foreign press and overseas news agencies are evaluating these stories.

A favorite of the news media are the seemingly never-ending “evaluations” of the extent to which Greece is meeting the fiscal targets set for it by its “saviors” in the troika of Greece’s lenders: the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. Like a teacher lecturing a wayward student, the Greek media breathlessly report on the evaluation of foreign bankers and credit rating agencies, pedantically informing the public whether Greece is a “model student” of sound finance or not.

Ironically, when hatchet jobs have been performed against Greece by the international media – such as during the onset of the crisis, where numerous foreign (particularly German, British and American) media outlets published highly derogatory and racist accounts of the Greek crisis, portraying Greeks as lazy, culturally deficient and reckless, there was nary a word of organized protest out of Greece. The same was true in the 1990s, when Greece was, for example, absurdly blamed by Western media for the TWA Flight 800 disaster and described as a hotbed of terrorism, or deemed too incompetent and incapable of organizing the 2004 Summer Olympic Games prior to the event.

The evaluation of foreigners is valued, so long as they are foreigners from “civilized” countries which, in the eyes of many Greeks, are paragons of virtue and rule of law and can do no wrong. By comparison, Greece is viewed by Greeks themselves as a country that can barely do anything right.

Even positive news is often dismissed. Stories of Greek students who earned an award or distinction are met by comments about how they should “go abroad” to “save themselves.” A significant sporting achievement, such as Greece’s recent gold medal in the European under-20 basketball championships, inevitably leads to comments such as how “basketball is the only thing that functions properly in Greece.”

As with purported self-criticism, so-called self-deprecation is popular in Greece. Dating back well before the economic crisis, the material of stand-up comedians and television satire programs airing on outlets owned by corrupt oligarchs with specific political and social agendas invariably focused on corrupt, thieving or incompetent Greeks, the crooked government and the “dysfunction” of “Greek reality.” As with many stereotypes, there is a degree of truth – but when repeated ad nauseum, even in satirical form, such portrayals attain the de facto status of being the whole, entire truth.

Indeed, the media, just like the politicians, love to foster hopelessness and despair in the populace, whilst pushing a globalized diet of programming down people’s throats. Television newscasts frequently feature stories about Greeks who “made it” abroad, with their success generally attributed to the fact that they left Greece and found their fortunes in a “civilized” country. The “success stories” of those who opened a café in Helsinki or landed a job with NASA in Houston are touted; accounts of the less successful are ignored.

Life in these countries is idealized, and is often accompanied by stories of the Greek “brain drain,” or of innovative Greeks who found their entrepreneurial ideas stifled by “Greek bureaucracy”—without, however, ever performing any deeper investigation into exactly why the bureaucracy and public sector operate in such a manner. Foreign movies and TV series further paint an idealized portrait of the “civilized West.”

Years ago, pre-crisis, I recall being asked, in one conversation, if my family’s home in the United States was similar to that of “the Winslow family” (referencing the TV series “Family Matters”). This mentality is further reinforced by the experiences of many Greeks, whose only time spent abroad may have been a shopping trip to London, a vacation to the tourist attractions of Paris or Rome, or a few years spent in the artificial bubble of the “ivory tower” of academia, studying at a foreign university campus.

Exceptions do exist, and where they do, ridicule oftentimes follows. In a 2011 interview, Greek-American actress and television presenter Maria Menounos, who resides in the United States, stated her desire of eventually making Greece her permanent home. Reporting on this interview, privately-owned national broadcaster Alpha TV—at the time owned by the German RTL Group—heavily ridiculed Menounos for her interest in moving to a country whose residents all wish to leave. Through the tone of its report, Alpha TV portrayed Menounos (and by extension, anyone else who might harbor similar thoughts) as delusional, while reflecting the status quo school of thought that people are better off leaving the country, rather than staying – or, for that matter, moving to Greece from abroad.

In another example from 2012, Greek actress Katerina Moutsatsou, who also resides in the United States, produced a YouTube video titled “I Am Hellene,” a production which was meant to raise the spirits of the Greek people and to express some pride that was (and still is) sorely lacking. The video quickly went viral, soliciting a tremendous response from the media and the public – largely consisting of derision, insults, and vitriol. Some accused Moutsatsos of being a “fascist,” others mocked anyone who would even consider saying anything positive about Greece.

One particularly insidious form of conditioning is performed by Greek sports journalists. Knowing that they are reaching a demographic largely comprised of young men who are often frustrated and jobless, and resentful towards the Greek state for obligating them to spend nine months performing useless and menial tasks as military conscripts, these journalists, somewhat subliminally, use their platform to play with their audience’s frustration while delivering messages meant to further perpetuate the Greek inferiority complex.

For instance, the beautiful football palaces of England or Spain, the “well-behaved” spectators, the amazing and superior athletes, are all touted ad infinitum, which constant references to “corrupt Greek athletics” and “decrepit stadiums” and “incompetence,” messages which are taken to heart by a demographic that likely doesn’t watch television newscasts or regularly visit online news portals. The behavior of, say, British or German or other European football fans outside the stadium and outside the country is conveniently overlooked, while Greek spectators are lectured about their “lack of civility,” criticisms then parroted by legions of sports fans across Greece.

Devaluing the domestic, lionizing the foreign

The cultural and mental colonization of Greece has also resulted in the phenomenon of mimicry. The behaviors and habits of the “civilized West” are increasingly being adopted and naturalized, at the expense of anything Greek. Domestic products and culture are often viewed as passé, old-fashioned, or outdated.

The examples are numerous. For instance, it is fashionable for Greek women to ensure their skin is as white and pale as possible—quite an accomplishment in a Mediterranean climate and with a Mediterranean skin tone—while blonde is the hair color of choice. Young men have fully adopted hipster fashion, including full beards and “retro” mustaches, in another trend that has arrived from abroad.

In the movie “National Lampoon’s European Vacation,” a stereotypical French waiter snidely remarks in French, “two American champagnes” when the Griswold family orders two Coca-Colas. Today, a more apt description might be “Greek champagne.” Attentive guests at restaurants in Greece, in observing the habits of Greek patrons, will notice that Coca-Cola products are consumed at practically every table, while beer, instead of wine or retsina or ouzo, is overwhelmingly the alcoholic beverage of choice.

Greek commuters stand near a McDonald's restaurant in Marathon, Greece. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Greek commuters stand near a McDonald’s restaurant in Marathon, Greece. (AP/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In everyday conversation, more and more English words are making their appearance, not just in order to describe new, foreign concepts or ideas for which there may not necessarily be a Greek translation, but also words for which there is a perfectly ordinary Greek equivalent. For instance, “live” is now used to denote a live broadcast or a live concert, instead of the Greek equivalents of “live.” “Off” is uttered instead of the Greek equivalent, while other words and phrases such as “air conditioning” or “parking” are now far more commonly used than their well-known and easy-to-remember Greek language versions. Looking at Greece’s burgeoning startup scene, the lingua franca is English, even in social media conversations between Greeks, residing in Greece, who are active in this sector. Insisting on speaking only in Greek is a surefire way to be branded “old-fashioned” or “nationalist.”

An examination of storefronts in any city, town, or tourist resort in Greece will show that the majority of business names are non-Greek. Most television and radio stations have adopted foreign or transliterated names: “Skai” (Sky) TV and Radio, Star Channel, Antenna TV, Alpha TV and Epsilon TV (written in English), Real FM, Athens Deejay, Sport FM, Kiss FM, and numerous others. Foreign names are considered “hip” and “marketable,” Greek names old-fashioned and backward.

Indeed, as a radio producer, I’ve found that scanning a city’s radio stations often provides great insights into the local culture and tastes. In Athens, more radio stations play non-Greek music than Greek music. More radio stations in Athens play American and British pop and rock music, than in New York City or London. The aforementioned “xenomania” in all its glory.

The pale-skinned women and the men with bushy hipster beards and Uncle Pennybags mustaches are often seen adorning apparel and accessories, such as t-shirts or handbags, which prominently display the British or American or even German flags. Wearing anything depicting the Greek flag, however, is a swift and certain way to be branded a member of the “far-right,” a “nationalist,” an “ethnocentrist,” a “racist,” and a “xenophobe.”

In Athens and in all cities and towns throughout Greece, many of the major thoroughfares are not named after prominent Greeks of the country’s ancient and modern past (save for politicians, who ensured certain roads were named after themselves), but are named after members of Greece’s foreign-imposed and long-abolished Bavarian royalty, such as Queen Amalia and King Constantine. These street names serve as everyday reminders of Greece’s neo-colonial past. Famous ancient Greek figures such as Socrates and Plato are typically relegated to the names of secondary thoroughfares and back streets.

Divide and conquer in action

Divide and conquer is a technique that historically has been utilized by colonizers to weaken colonized peoples, turning native populations against each other instead of against their conquerors. However, this is a technique which is equally effective in countries which are nominally independent, as in the case of Greece.

Employed to perfection by Greece’s “guardians,” such as the British and the Bavarians, in the early years following independence from the Ottoman Empire, divide and conquer has been employed repeatedly since then, such as in the aftermath of World War II, when the main Greek resistance movement, accused of supporting communism, was pitted against far-right collaborationist forces, resulting in a two-year civil war. The collaborators, with the help of “allies” such as the British, emerged victorious and asserted their control over the country.

Divide and conquer is still used in a number of clever and carefully cultivated ways in Greece today. One of the main dividing lines that has been developed over a series of decades is that between the public and private sectors. Fueling this division has been decades of public sector ineptitude and inefficiency. Public sector employees have been viewed as privileged, coddled, and corrupt; public services and utilities have themselves been considered spendthrift, mismanaged, and havens of corruption and nepotism.

Employees in the private sector are resentful of these public sector privileges and advantages, real or imagined, and the media and politicians have gladly taken advantage of the divide. When, for instance, wages in the private sector are slashed, at the insistence of the troika, private sector employees, instead of questioning why their salaries should be cut, openly question why the public sector is not subjected to similar reductions (even if, in reality, public sector wages have also been repeatedly cut).

What nobody seems to ask or understand is exactly why the Greek public sector operates in the manner in which it does. Instead, it’s assumed that it’s the result of some sort of general deficiency of the Greek populace – the “lazy Greeks” meme that is also often repeated in the foreign press. The true answer, however, may be hinted at in an intriguing document, openly featured by the CIA on its website, titled “Timeless Tips for Simple Sabotage.”

In this manual, strategies to destabilize adversaries from within via their public sector and bureaucracy are outlined. Some of these strategies may seem familiar to anyone who has dealt with Greek bureaucracy: lowering morale by issuing undeserved promotions while discriminating against efficient employees, making simple tasks and processes as complicated as possible, and putting off more pressing priorities for endless meetings of “committees.” While this document supposedly is no longer in use, there is no reason to believe that its strategies were not, and are not, still utilized – or that such methods were only used against “enemy” states.

Still, the damage has been done, and the hatred and disgust which many in the Greek private sector and the populace at large feel towards the public sector and its employees has helped pave the way for the tacit acceptance of privatizations of key public assets, utilities, and services, such as airports, harbors, and telecommunications infrastructure.

A simple example suffices to illustrate just how deeply ingrained this divide is. While 90 percent of OTE, the former state telecommunications monopoly, is now owned by Deutsche Telekom and other private investors, and while the privatization of OTE began in 1996, it is still largely considered state-owned (the state actually owns only 10 percent of OTE) and its employees “public servants.” In a recent visit to an isolated Greek island where OTE was the only broadband provider, Internet access was consistently “down” for at least 16 hours per day. Locals I spoke with blamed “lazy public servants” for the problem – but were unaware that OTE has, for over 20 years, been privatized.

“We don’t produce anything”

Contributing further still to the misery and defeatism in Greece is a commonly-held perception that the country “doesn’t produce anything.” And this ostensibly being the case, it means that Greece is in a helpless position, reliant upon foreigners and particularly the EU. It is not unusual to hear Greeks talk about how “we are the beggars of Europe” and how “we cannot survive” without the EU.

The reality, however, is far more complex. It is certainly true that Greece’s production base has diminished since the early 1980s (Greece entered the EU in 1981). There are several reasons for this. Some of these reasons have to do with the EU and its regulations, such as its common agricultural policies, which dictates to member-states what to grow, what not to grow, what seeds and crop varieties are permitted or prohibited, where to export and at what prices, and where not to export. Greece’s agricultural base has, as a result, been battered since 1981.

During this same period, increased foreign influence and the arrival of “easy money” from “Europe” led more and more people to desire what they perceived to be a more “European” lifestyle and career. Working the land was old-fashioned and backwards; a desk job or studying to become a lawyer or doctor was the thing to do. Never mind that even if there was no economic crisis, Greece could not possibly absorb so many doctors and lawyers – and even more so when very few doctors, if any, are willing to go to smaller islands and rural regions which are truly in need of their services.

A tractor carries crates of grapes at a vineyard in Tirnavos, central Greece. The European Union has given Greece two months to double taxes on tsipouro, arguing it does not have the right to keep a reduced duty that is reserved for some traditionally made products. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A tractor carries crates of grapes at a vineyard in Tirnavos, central Greece. The European Union has given Greece two months to double taxes on tsipouro, arguing it does not have the right to keep a reduced duty that is reserved for some traditionally made products. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

These areas, unfortunately, did not offer the “European lifestyle,” complete with hipster pubs and sushi bars, that the new generation, encouraged by their parents, craved. Even in cases where young adults are in a position where they can take over a successful family-owned business, they often opt to pursue a profession seen to deliver more status and prestige – even if it means leaving Greece in the process.

Since the early 1980s, Greece’s borders were also opened up to imports from other EU member-states, particularly Europe’s export powerhouse, Germany. Greece’s previously successful industry, producing everything from buses and tractors to refrigerators and stoves, was wrecked. Many industries were bought out, shuttered, or operations were outsourced. Under the dictates of Greece’s so-called “bailout” agreements, many remaining industries, including the Hellenic Vehicle Industry (which, for example, produces buses, trolleys, and military vehicles) and the Hellenic arms and defense industries are slated for privatization or closure.

Meanwhile, a visit to any supermarket and careful observation of the purchasing habits of ordinary Greeks reveals a marked preference for foreign products, even when similar (and often higher quality) domestic products are available. Oftentimes, Greek products simply go unnoticed. At other times, they are considered old-fashioned, while many shoppers complain that they are expensive – which, actually, is frequently not the case.

This author, in keeping with a “shop local” philosophy which was also practiced in the United States, purchases almost exclusively domestically-produced products without breaking the bank. According to many, this is simply not possible, for “we don’t produce anything,” and as one purportedly “anti-EU” activist once told me, “we need to buy [European] cheese for our kids’ sandwiches.”

Such “European cheeses” are found at the breakfast buffets of most Greek hotels, very few of which engage in any effort to promote domestic dishes and products to foreign visitors who, perhaps, might be interested in trying something different from what they are used to – or at least having something authentically Greek available as an option. Instead, one will invariably find butter from Denmark, marmalade from Bulgaria, milk from Germany, cheese from Holland and honey from Turkey. Locally-produced fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh-baked breads and pies, local juices and beverages, Greek yogurt and cheeses, and a host of other high-quality and widely-available domestic products, are not so widely available precisely at those locations where they should be exposed to the country’s visitors: hotels.

As one hotel owner in the island of Karpathos is said to have uttered, regarding the lack of local goods offered: “why should I make [local producers] big shots by offering their products?” Divide and conquer in action.

This fear of leaving Europe extends beyond just the material world. Academics at all educational levels are infamous for their love and support towards the EU. Many of them are beneficiaries of various European funding and grant programs or of scholarship and mobility programs such as Erasmus+, and are terrified of losing such privileges. What these educators fail to realize is that Erasmus+ is not limited to EU member-states, and that international and academic cooperation is not something that cannot exist independently of the EU.

In keeping with “European” norms, it should be no surprise, then, that changes to the educational curriculum have consistently reduced the emphasis on the Greek language, Greek history and ancient Greece, while since the 1980s, students are taught that they are “European first, then Greek.”

An abject lack of pride

In crisis-hit Greece, seemingly any positive statement about Greece or any refutal of “woe is me” statements such as “we’re the worst in everything,” is met with an immediate response, ranging from jeers to personal attacks and insults. Any expression of pride in anything pertaining to the country is construed as “ethnocentrism” and “nationalism.” Even insisting on speaking proper Greek, instead of throwing in English for every second word uttered, is clearly a sign of “nationalism” and “far-right” tendencies. Wanting to stay in Greece for anything more than summer vacation is met with astonishment, while any suggestion that other “civilized” countries are not as perfect as thought, is met with anger.

If, like this author, the individual delivering that message happens to be, say, a Greek-American, diminutive remarks about “hazoamerikanakia” (gullible little Greek-Americans) who “don’t know anything about Greece” swiftly follow. Interestingly, a lack of knowledge about life abroad does not prevent the same individuals from relentless insistence about the perfection of “civilized” countries.

A man walks next a graffiti in central Athens on Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

A man walks next a graffiti in central Athens on, June 19, 2012. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

This lack of pride is reflected in more mundane everyday realities as well. Approximately half of Greece’s population has piled into the greater Athens area. Internal migration led to the population of the city skyrocketing in the postwar period. Built (very much intentionally) without any planning, zoning, or suitable infrastructure to handle this influx, the urban area faces a number of problems, from a lack of green space to crowded narrow streets, and for many decades, smog and pollution (though public transportation projects such as the metro system, and now the economic crisis, have minimized this problem).

Athens is a city where practically everybody is from somewhere else. And even after two or three generations of residing in Athens, most inhabitants don’t consider themselves Athenians, but instead, part of whatever region of Greece they trace their roots to. Since Athens is not “their” city, little emphasis is placed on striving to improve quality of life and living conditions in the city – such as cleaning up garbage, removing ugly graffiti, or repairing the city’s often tumultuous sidewalks.

A great deal of emphasis, however, is placed on grumbling about these quality of life issues. And, at the same time, most Athenians insist on remaining in Athens (even if jobless), and bristle at the suggestion of returning to their region of origin, even if they consider themselves members of that community and not Athenians. If they must leave, they’d rather emigrate abroad. It’s a complex mentality that an outsider cannot explain with anything resembling logic.

Of course, many do choose to leave – the country, that is. And if one thing is certain, it’s that many of the 600,000 or so who have departed Greece during the crisis have no intention of ever repatriating. Indeed, many Greeks who have left for “greener pastures” have actively attempted to conceal their Greek identity. This author has encountered numerous Greek students studying overseas – almost none of whom have any desire to return – who deliberately make efforts never to speak Greek or to ever associate with others of Greek origin.

Older generations of the Greek diaspora, in turn, often view Greece not much differently from many scholars of the classics and archaeology – that is, that nothing good has happened in Greece in 2,500 years. Many are highly critical of every aspect of Greek society, crossing the boundary from “tough love” to invective, while wearing permanent “blinders,” extolling the virtues and conveniently ignoring the deficiencies of their new homelands. Other members of the diaspora restrict their connection to Greece to summer vacations, folklore and partying. Interestingly, many are just as fanatical and divided along the lines of the corrupt political party system of Greece as their counterparts in the motherland.

A losing battle

Greece, like other countries of the Mediterranean, is a country whose people have a flair for the (over)dramatic. Sensationalism rules the roost, and in times of crisis, that sensationalism is of a highly negative, toxic nature. A brush fire near a historic site, for instance, is portrayed by yellow journalists and bloggers as the “DESTRUCTION OF A HISTORICAL MONUMENT.” An increase in imports of seafood—likely due to overfishing in the Greek seas—is headlined as “THE DEATH OF GREEK FISHING.” This scaremongering easily permeates the psyche of ordinary Greeks.

Exaggerations in the opposite direction are made about everything happening in the “civilized” countries. There is no crime – police officers patrol every corner. There is no nepotism or corruption – all these countries operate as total and complete meritocracies. Public works projects never go over budget, media outlets aren’t irresponsible, football fans never turn violent, higher education and university campuses are models of perfection, and all these countries are, of course, fiscally responsible and elect only politicians who care, first and foremost, about the best interests of their country and their people.

Constant comparisons are made to the perceived or real shortcomings of anything that is done in Greece with statements such as “oh, in the civilized countries, this is how it’s done.” In none of these countries are there economic difficulties, poverty, or homelessness, while Greece is, as one individual recently kept insisting to me, now a “third-world” basket case for these very reasons. I must have imagined all the homeless people that were an everyday part of life during my years in New York City or, say, my 2013 visit to Brussels!

In such an atmosphere, it’s no surprise that most faces I see on the street in Athens seem to have etched into permanent frowns. It’s not a shock that suicides – once rare in this sunny Mediterranean nation with a pleasant climate – have skyrocketed and are in a sense lionized, viewed as an unavoidable inevitability and a heroic act of “resistance.”

A man sleeps at the entrance of a bank branch in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A man sleeps at the entrance of a bank branch in Athens, July 24, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Meanwhile, real resistance on the streets and the picket lines is conspicuously lacking, as it mostly has been since early 2012, when the second memorandum was rammed into effect. Five years later, Greece has now enacted its fourth memorandum, or “bailout.” Protests are largely confined to spasmodic, isolated grievances – such as over measures permitting retail shops to operate on Sundays – which are ineffective, quickly forgotten, typically have low turnouts, and easily broken up by riot police if needed.

The entirety of the political representation in the Greek parliament is pro-EU and pro-Euro, even if this is couched in slightly different rhetoric from one party to another. Voter abstention has sharply increased in Greece and is likely to increase further. A significant amount of voters have given up – and many are simply waiting for a “savior” to arrive, or be imposed – from above, or from outside the country’s borders.

Here, divide and conquer rears its head again: between “Europhiles” who believe Greece’s place is “in Europe” (where would it go, Antarctica?); those who desire closer alignment with the United States, NATO, and Israel; those who fall into some combination of the first two categories; and those who believe that Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the BRICS countries are Greece’s “saviors” despite there being absolutely no evidence that this is the case.

This divide mirrors, in many ways, the post-war left-right, fascist-communist dichotomy which resulted in the civil war and the deep societal wounds which followed, which was further exacerbated by regimes such as the U.S.-backed “regime of the colonels” between 1967-1974. Notably, none of these positions foresees a Greece that will stand up on its own and assert its sovereignty. It’s assumed and ingrained in the national psyche that Greece must be aligned with some power, operating as a vassal state in exchange for some marginal benefits and “protection.”

Just as with the claims that Greece “doesn’t produce anything,” we see nationwide Stockholm Syndrome in action again: Greece cannot survive without being ruled from outside. In the meantime, collective guilt abounds in Greece; guilt that frequently leads to shame, which often results in hopelessness or depression, as evidenced by the alarming increase in suicides. Throughout Greece, one encounters abandoned automobiles and motorcycles, left on the street, often with personal belongings still inside and license plates still attached. No effort is made to even attempt to sell these vehicles, even for scrap.

Storefronts are abandoned, often for years at a time. Mail piles up inside, garbage piles up outside, and the owners of these properties can’t be bothered to make an effort to clean these properties and make them presentable, if for nothing else than out of respect for neighbors and to prevent the neighborhood’s further decline into blight. Just in my neighborhood in Athens, a bookstore has been closed for a year or more, its books still on display in the window, covers slowly fading from exposure to sunlight. Nearby, increasingly petrified baked goods remain in the window of a suddenly shuttered bakery. Newly-closed businesses invariably post signs in their window announcing “renovations.” This is an attempt to “save face, ”as these signs are quickly replaced by “for rent” signs. Increasingly, Greeks are not just giving up, they’re throwing in the towel.

Jean-Paul Sartre once famously stated that “a lost battle is a battle one thinks one has lost.” The tragic reality in Greece today, most Greeks, beaten down by the crisis and by the effects of what can be described as savage globalization, are plagued by feelings of collective guilt, self-loathing, hopelessness, feelings of inferiority, and apathy. The “inferiority” of Greece and the Greek people, and their “guilt,” are accepted as “facts of life.” It is, therefore, no surprise to see Greece ranked fourth worldwide in Bloomberg’s misery index for 2017.

When one believes they have lost a battle, that means that they also recognize some other entity as the victor. In the case of Greece, that victor could be recognized as the EU and countries considered by average Greeks as “superior” and “civilized.” Writing in 1377, North African historian and historiographer Ibn Khaldun provides us with insights which could help explain Greece’s “xenomania” and nationwide Stockholm Syndrome today:

The vanquished always want to imitate the victor in his distinctive mark, his dress, his occupation, and all his other conditions and customs. The reason for this is that the soul always sees perfection in the person who is superior to it and to whom it is subservient. It considers him perfect, either because the respect it has for him impresses it, or because it erroneously assumes that its own subservience to him is not due to the nature of defeat but to the perfection of the victor. If that erroneous assumption fixes itself in the soul, it becomes a firm belief. The soul, then, adopts all the manners of the victor and assimilates itself to him. This, then, is imitation.

It is, unfortunately, this very imitation that one observes in crisis-stricken Greece today. A society where the majority whines and complains, or simply gets up and leaves, but does not demand. A nation that is demoralized; defeated; consumed by hopelessness; devoid of pride, self-respect, and self-confidence; paralyzed by fear; hampered by ignorance; and gripped by feelings of inferiority, cannot deliver change.

This situation, of course, suits the powers that be magnificently. A society of self-loathers, a nation that is defeated and demoralized, will not pose a threat to those responsible for that oppression, while other “civilized” countries reap the ancillary benefits of the crisis, as the economic beneficiaries of the mass exodus and “brain drain” from Greece. This is savage globalization in action.

In other words, Greece is a prime candidate for, in the words of Oscar López Rivera, the kickstarting of a decolonization process. His words may have been intended for Puerto Rico, but they are similarly applicable to Greece. But will the people of Greece heed Oscar’s words?

Jul 252017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

One of the most important outcomes of the Trump Presidency are the revelations describing the complex competing forces and relations engaged in retaining and expanding US global power (‘the empire’).

The commonplace reference to ‘the empire’ fails to specify the interface and conflict among institutions engaged in projecting different aspects of US political power.

In this essay, we will outline the current divisions of power, interests and direction of the competing configurations of influence.

The Making of Empire: Countervailing Forces

The empire’ is a highly misleading concept insofar as it presumes to discuss a homogeneous, coherent and cohesive set of institutions pursuing similar interests. ‘The empire’ is a simplistic general phrase, which covers a vast field contested by institutions, personalities and centers of power, some allied, others in growing opposition.

While ‘the empire’ may describe the general notion that all pursue a common general goal of dominating and exploiting targeted countries, regions, markets, resources and labor, the dynamics (the timing and focus of action) are determined by countervailing forces.

In the present conjuncture, the countervailing forces have taken a radical turn: One configuration is attempting to usurp power and overthrow another. Up to this point, the usurping power configuration has resorted to judicial, media and procedural-legislative mechanism to modify policies. However, below the surface, the goal is to oust an incumbent enemy and impose a rival power.

Who Rules ‘the Empire’

In recent times, executive officials rule empires. They may be prime ministers, presidents, autocrats, dictators, generals or a combination of them. Imperial rulers largely ‘legislate’ and ‘execute’ strategic and tactical policies. In a crisis executive officials may be subject to review by competing legislators or judges, leading to impeachment (soft coup d’état).

Normally, the executive centralizes and concentrates power, even as they may consult, evade or deceive key legislators and judicial official. At no point in time or place do the voters play any significant role.

The executive power is exercised via specialized departments or secretariats – Treasury, Foreign Affairs (Secretary of State), Interior, and the various security services. In most instances there is greater or lesser inter-agency competition over budgets, policy and access to the chief executive and leading decision makers.

In times of crises, when the ruling executive leadership is called into question, this vertical hierarchy crumbles. The question arises of who will rule and dictate imperial policy?

With the ascent of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, imperial rulership has become openly contested terrain, fought over amid unyielding aspirants seeking to overthrow the democratically elected regime.

While Presidents rule, today the entire state structure is riven by rival power centers.

At the moment, all of the power seekers are at war to impose their rule over the empire.

In the first place, the strategically placed security apparatus is no longer under Presidential control: They operate in coordination with insurgent Congressional power centers, mass media and extra-governmental power configurations among the oligarchs (business, merchants, arms manufacturers, Zionists and special interest lobbies).

Sectors of the state apparatus and bureaucracy investigate the executive, freely leaking damaging reports to the media, distorting fabricating and/or magnifying incidents. They publicly pursue a course with the goal of regime change.

The FBI, Homeland Security, the CIA and other power configurations are acting as crucial allies to the coup-makers seeking to undermine Presidential control over the empire. No doubt, many factions within the regional offices nervously look on, waiting to see if the President will be defeated by these opposing power configurations or will survive and purge their current directors.

The Pentagon contains both elements that are pro as well as anti-Presidential power: Some active generals are aligned with the prime movers pushing for regime change, while others oppose this movement. Both contending forces influence and dictate imperial military policies.

The most visible and aggressive advocates of regime change are found in the militarist wing of the Democratic Party. They are embedded in the Congress and allied with police state militarists in and out of Washington

From their institutional vantage points, the coup-makers have initiated a series of ‘investigations’ to generate propaganda fodder for the mass media and prepare mass public opinion to favor or at least accept extraordinary ‘regime change’.

The Democratic Party congressional – mass media complex draws on the circulation of selective security agency revelations of dubious national security value, including smutty gossip, which is highly relevant for overthrowing the current regime.

Presidential imperial authority has split into fragments of influence, among the legislative, Pentagon and security apparatus.

Presidential power depends on the Cabinet and its apparatus in a ruthless fight over imperial power, polarizing the entire political system.

The President Counter-Attacks

The Trump regime has many strategic enemies and few powerful supporters. His advisers are under attack:  Some have been ousted, others are under investigation and face subpoenas for hysterical McCarthyite hearings and still others may be loyal but are incompetent and outclassed. His Cabinet appointees have attempted to follow the President’s stated agenda, including the repeal of Obama’s disastrous ‘Affordable Care Act’ and the rollback of federal regulatory systems, with little success, despite the fact that this agenda has strong backing from the Wall Street bankers and ‘Big Pharma’.

The President’s Napoleonic pretensions have been systematically undermined by continuous disparagement from the mass media and the absence of plebian support after the election.

The President lacks a mass media base of support and has to resort to the Internet and personal messages to the public, which are immediately savaged by the mass media.

The principal allies supporting the President should be found among the Republican Party, which forms the majority in both the Congress and Senate. These legislators do not act as a uniform bloc – with ultra-militarists joining the Democrats in seeking his ouster.

From a strategic perspective, all the signs point to the weakening of Presidential authority, even as his bulldog tenacity allows him to retain formal control over foreign policy.

But his foreign policy pronouncements are filtered through a uniformly hostile media, which has succeeded in defining allies and adversaries, as well as the failures of some of his ongoing decisions.

The September Showdown

The big test of power will be focused on the raising of the public debt ceiling and the continued funding of the entire federal government. Without agreement there will be a massive governmental shutdown – a kind of ‘general strike’ paralyzing essential domestic and foreign programs – including the funding of Medicare, the payment of Social Security pensions and the salaries of millions of government and Armed Forces employees.

The pro-‘regime-change’ forces (coup makers) have decided to go for broke in order to secure the programatic capitulation of the Trump regime or its ouster.

The Presidential power elite may choose the option of ruling by decree – based on the ensuing economic crisis.  They may capitalize on a hue and cry from a Wall Street collapse and claim an imminent threat to national security on our national borders and overseas bases to declare a military emergency. Without support from the intelligence services, their success is doubtful.

Both sides will blame each other for the mounting breakdown. Temporary Treasury expedients will not save the situation. The mass media will go into a hysterical mode, from political criticism to demanding open regime change. The Presidential regime may assume dictatorial powers in order ‘to save the country’.

Congressional moderates will demand a temporary solution: A week-to-week trickle of federal spending.

However, the coup-makers and the ‘Bonapartists’ will block any ‘rotten compromise’. The military will be mobilized along with the entire security and judicial apparatus to dictate the outcome.

Civil society organization will appeal to the emerging power configurations to defend their special interests. Discharged public and private employees will march as pensioners and schoolteachers go without funding. Lobbyists, ranging from oil and gas interests to defenders of Israel, will each demand their priority treatment.

The power configuration will flex their muscles, while the foundations of Congressional, Judicial and Presidential institutions will shake and shutter.

On the positive side, internal chaos and institutional divisions will relieve the mounting threat of more overseas wars for the moment. The world will breathe a sigh of relief. Not so the world of stock markets: The dollar and the speculators will plunge.

The dispute and indecisions over who rules the empire will allow for regional powers to lay claims on contested regions. The EU, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Israel will face off with Russia, Iran and China. No one will wait for the US to decide which power center will rule.

Jul 182017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Ancient Greece is perhaps best known for its contributions to mankind in the areas of philosophy, architecture, and science. But a modern-day economist suggests that some of the economic practices that were used in ancient times could help to solve Greece’s current debt crisis.

A man waves a Greek flag in front of the Greek Parliament during a rally against new austerity measures in Athens, May 18, 2017. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man waves a Greek flag in front of the Greek Parliament during a rally against new austerity measures in Athens, May 18, 2017. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS (Interview) — Closing in on a full decade in duration, the Greek economic crisis is unprecedented in the modern history of economically-developed nations. During this period, Greece’s GDP has declined by over a quarter, unemployment has skyrocketed to record levels, salaries and pensions have been decimated and a significant percentage of Greece’s population, particularly its young university graduates, have migrated abroad.

Four separate memorandum packages that allegedly “bailed out” Greece have instead squeezed the economy to its limits through the imposition of harsh austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations even of profitable public assets. Meanwhile, most of the “bailout” funds, which are actually monies that have been loaned to Greece, have been routed right back to European banks, with very little of that money actually entering the Greek economy.

MintPress News recently spoke with economist and author Spiros Lavdiotis in an interview that initially aired on Dialogos Radio in two parts in May and June. Lavdiotis is a former analyst for the Bank of Canada and has written several books and articles on the Greek economic situation during the crisis. He has also extensively researched the economics of ancient Greece and the connections of ancient philosophy with modern-day economic challenges.

In this interview, Lavdiotis discusses austerity, the present-day Greek economic situation, the reasons why he believes Greece must exit the eurozone and the manner in which it can do so, while also explaining what ancient Greece can teach us about dealing with debt today.

MintPress News (MPN): Share with us a few words about austerity as an economic doctrine, and how this doctrine developed.

Spiros Lavdiotis (SL): The modern form of austerity developed in the meeting of Toronto of the G20 [in 2010]. There was a split in the opinion, in that high-level meeting. The Americans espoused the principles of Keynesianism in trying to recover from the financial crisis of 2008, when the whole of the financial system collapsed, particularly after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Together with the United States in espousing the principles of Keynes were India, Russia, and China. At the same time, the Europeans split from this idea. They thought that in order to save their own weak financial system, that austerity is the only way to do it.

The crisis that started in the United States with the subprime loans and developed in a snowball fashion, to a great extent it disseminated its waves to the European system, which was weaker than the U.S. system. [The fact is] that the eurozone does not have and is not built on sound principles. It is a legal construction which is incomplete because there is no political union, banking union, or financial union. There is no such thing, it was simply a “reverse creation,” starting from a legal structure of the monetary union, and then trying to instigate a political union. It’s very unusual, it’s never happened in the history of civilization.

As a result, when the crisis came, everything fell apart. They didn’t know what to do. In a bulletin which was issued by the European Central Bank (ECB) in May 2010, they admitted that they were in a state of complete collapse. They didn’t have any mechanism, nothing. So they tried to save themselves—particularly the Germans, who had the biggest exposure to the system, the German and the French banks. They decided not to apply Keynesian principles and to follow austerity.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, welcomes the head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his office in Athens on Dec. 7, 2010. Strauss-Kahn was in Greece to negotiate terms of the repayment of the three-year euro110 billion ($150 billion) bailout loan intended to saved the debt-ridden country from default. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, welcomes the head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn at his office in Athens on Dec. 7, 2010. Strauss-Kahn was in Greece to negotiate terms of the repayment of the three-year euro110 billion ($150 billion) bailout loan intended to saved the debt-ridden country from default. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Austerity is a dangerous policy because it means that a country has financial problems due to the budget and due to deficits in the foreign exchange, in other words in the balance of payments. In order to alleviate itself, it has to impose austerity measures. How does this work? The theory says, through “confidence.” What does “confidence” mean? The theory says that when people and investors see that there is stability and the country can be saved, then “confidence” is going to build. These are unbelievable things. That’s why the measures of austerity were called “friendly to growth” measures. There is no such thing! These things never work.

In Greece, they miscalculated the “multiplier effects” of the policies which they imposed on debt and incomes. As a result, the Greek economy collapsed completely. In the second year of the imposition of the austerity measures, in 2011, GDP collapsed by 7 percent. All these measures were called “reforms,” but were not reforms. They killed the economy, salaries, pensions.

I remind you that in Greece, 50 percent of the national income arises from pensions. It was a total catastrophe. The unemployment rate, from 7.8 percent, shot up to 28 percent, and it is still measured artificially at 23 percent. This is a dismal situation. People have no hope about finding jobs, and they immigrate. The immigration rate has surpassed more than 600,000 people, from which 250,000 are educated people with degrees who are unable to find anything decent [in Greece].

Overall, the GDP from 2008 until now has fallen by 28 percent. This is the longest, in time and magnitude, drop in growth in economic terms of any developed country. This has never happened before. Even in the Great Depression in the United States, unemployment reached 25 percent and it took only three years to start recovering.

MPN: Why is there such a great insistence on economic austerity, such as in the case of Greece, and are there any examples that you can identify where any country was able to emerge from a financial crisis and return to growth as a result of austerity?

SL: Not to my knowledge. Herbert Hoover tried to impose austerity, and in two years the situation was very severe. There is no such example in the history of economics. I do not know how they developed this type of “friendly to growth” austerity. This is unbelievable, this is a myth, there is no such thing. They have tried to save the financial system of Europe, which was collapsing, and at the same time Germany went ahead and accepted this because it wants to keep the European free trade zone intact.

As you know, there are only nine EU countries which do not participate in the eurozone. The main thing was for Germany to maintain the primacy of its export power. In order to do that in this modern era, you have to maintain the financial system following the principles of free trade, the three basic principles of the Maastricht Treaty: freedom of commerce, freedom of services, and freedom of labor, and of course that presupposes the freedom of capital.

The euro is based on irrevocable exchange. In other words, it’s not like the Bretton Woods agreement, [based on] the gold standard. If a country was in a fundamental disequilibrium, they could devalue up to 10 percent and get out more easily from the predicament. Now with the euro, you cannot. As long as you entered with an exchange that was determined then, that’s it, there’s nothing you can do. It’s like an iron chain, and if you cannot fit from the very beginning—as was the case in Greece—but the European Union knew that, that the Greeks were cooking the numbers.

But the Germans wanted to sell frigates and planes to Greece, the same with the French, and therefore they closed their eyes. They wanted to have Greece there, due to the fact that they could expand their own markets to Greece, due to the different economic and industrial development of the country while at the same time not having to be afraid of devaluation. That was the main goal of Germany.

At the beginning, Germany was exporting two-thirds of their products to European countries. Then it shifted and started exporting to Asia, with its biggest market being China. But just remember that even now, exports constitute 46 percent of Germany’s GDP. They had the power to institute this policy, and the Greek politicians decided to protect the banks. This was a mistake. There were always interlocking interests between the politicians and the banking system in Greece, but I think it was also ignorance, they didn’t know the extent of that relationship in passing the losses of the banking system to the Greek taxpayer.

The amounts are tremendous. They involve a sum of 240-plus billion euros. [By comparison], Greece has a GDP of 175 billion euros. You have a small economy producing 175 billion euros [of economic activity] and you transfer 240 billion in banking system losses that have nothing to do with the Greek economy, this is close to 150 percent of GDP. This would be the same as a $25 trillion bank recapitalization in the United States.

The United States can still print money though, but in the eurozone, all the countries have to give up their monetary sovereignty. It was given to the EU, where in effect you had only one institution, the ECB, and therefore you are transferring all the rights of creating money to one institution which then, in order for you to have money, they will [fund] you by charging interest, but not directly to the member-states, only to the banking systems. The state, to finance its expenditures and the coverage of all programs for health and for welfare and whatever expenses were necessary for the state, had to borrow.

And to borrow from whom? Because the ECB does not directly lend to states, it had to borrow from the private sector, and the private sector had to borrow the funds from the ECB, which was charging interest. The commercial banks then had to charge extra interest to lend money to the Greek state. What happened then? The Greek state had to charge taxpayers with higher taxes to cover these expenditures. Greece entered the European Monetary Union in 2002. By 2008 we were already bankrupt, but they simply did not announce it to the public.

Internationally they did not know that the problem of the Greek state was mostly the banking system. They were talking about “corrupt Greeks.” Yes, there were corrupt Greeks, and the politicians are very corrupt in Greece, this is acknowledged, but the politicians never behaved in placing the common good ahead of themselves.

Right now we are faced, according to the latest budget, with more than 563 billion euros—which is the sum of all of the debt that occurred due to all the banking losses which entered the Greek budget—because there is no fiscal union in Europe.

MPN: “Seisachtheia” is a concept that many are not familiar with. It is also the topic of one of your books. Tell us about this ancient Greek concept and what it may teach us about debt today.

SL: There are a lot of similarities with what happened then, in the 6th century BC, in ancient Athens, with what is happening now. Back then, ancient Athens was in a great economic ordeal due to the fact that the wealth of the city was accumulated among the richest people, and the richest people of that period were landowners. They charged interest between 16 and 36 percent for those who did not have money and wanted to borrow money.

If an agrarian wanted to cultivate the fields, which were all owned by the landowners, they either had to pay one-sixth of the gross cultivation to them as a rent, or they had to go and borrow at the aforementioned rates. Eventually, it was impossible. If there was a bad crop one year, how could they give the one-sixth to the landowner? Therefore they had to borrow and they were going bankrupt.

In this Feb. 2, 2016 photo farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare.(AP/Giannis Papanikos)

In this Feb. 2, 2016 photo farmers stand behind a makeshift fire in front of tractors, near Kerdilia, Greece. Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare.(AP/Giannis Papanikos)

At that time in history, it was not instituted to give land or other items as collateral. You were placing as collateral your own body, your wife, and your children. So if you were unable to pay, the debtor was given the right by law—not only in Greece but in all ancient regions, including Asia Minor, Sumeria, and Iraq—to be captured and sold as a slave. A famous site for slave exchanges at that time was the island of Aegina, just outside the port of Piraeus.

Solon was the highest official elected by the Athenians to solve this problem, because they were evacuating, just like right now the Greeks are evacuating Greece because they cannot find jobs. This is a very serious situation here in Greece because there isn’t even unemployment insurance. They say there is, but right now there are more than 1,200,000 people officially unemployed, and they pay unemployment insurance for less than 10 percent. And what kind of unemployment insurance? Its 260 euros per month, and only 10 percent [of the unemployed], or 117,000 people, get unemployment insurance.

This is the European system, which exists because there is no law or regulation or principle within the EU, particularly in the eurozone, which gives a right to work. While in the United States the Federal Reserve law says that all monetary policy will be in accordance to maximum employment, price stability and low long-term interest rates. The constitution, according to the Maastricht treaty, of the ECB says there is only one goal, and that goal is price stability. That’s it. Nothing about employment, they don’t even care about it.

This is why Greeks have to immigrate because at the same time there is no law to determine the minimum wage rate, which is the level at which a human being can survive decently. There is now a law which determines that the minimum wage rate for unskilled labor is 486 euros per month. Just think about all of you who are living in Canada or in the United States or Australia and you visit Greece. Is it possible, with 486 euros per month, for a person to live decently?

No, they cannot. You’re reduced to a pauper. It is undeclared slavery. And even the salaries, even as a civil servant, the monthly salaries are lower than that in many instances. As the minister of labor in Greece has announced, about 125,000 people are employed with a salary of fewer than 100 euros per month.

I say this because the situation in Greece is really very severe, and it’s not an accident that recently a report released by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research has said that Greece is in last place of all EU nations in terms of its poverty level, which has reached 40 percent. That’s not far from what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) acknowledged with the data of 2015, [showing] the poverty level in Greece then as 36 percent.

However, people think this is not important, particularly academics who completely dismiss all these things and say that we must remain in the eurozone, without taking into consideration the severe economic situation and the predicament that many people are in and the suffering that keeps going.

[In ancient Greece], Solon resolved those problems. The Athenians were deserting Athens and the fields were uncultivated. As a result, even the rich people said that a solution had to be found. The city was on the verge of civil war. So they elected Solon because he was famous for his integrity and knowledge and because he was middle class, not rich and not poor. Therefore, the rich trusted him and the poor also trusted him, because when he was young he showed characteristics of patriotism.

Solon enacted the “seisachtheia,” and this word remained for centuries, and even now as a word it is extremely powerful. It means “I remove the weight of debts.” It was the first macroeconomic plan that was instituted in the history of civilization. The first thing that Solon thing was institute laws which abolished lending by placing your body as collateral. That was the first time such a law was established in the history of humanity. That’s why Solon’s name remains today as such a significant light in the development of human civilization.

The next thing that he did was to devalue the Athenian currency at the time, which was the Greek drachma. He devalued the Greek drachma to make the foreign trade of Athens more competitive. At the same time, he created incentives for people to come and work in Athens, from other cities that were highly developed, promising to issue Athenian citizenship.

He tried to augment or develop foreign trade in the context that the exports of the city had to be equalized with imports. Solon was the person who instituted the principle that, in order for a country to have self-sufficiency and to be an independent nation, the revenues achieved from exports have to be equalized with the revenues given to imports. This was something that no Greek state politicians have achieved since Greece became an independent nation.

Solon was the person who instituted the “church of the demos,” meaning direct democracy. Officials were directly elected by the people, and Solon was elected as an archon of Athens for 21 years continuously because back then you were elected for one year. This was enough time for him to take [Athens] out of its economic morass and to develop its place as one of the highest civilized nations of the ancient period.

MPN: How and in what way could Greece denounce its public debt, and what does international law and international legal precedent foresee for the issue of its debt?

SL: It is very difficult to really try to eliminate the debt legally, because there is no international law which establishes the principles between creditors and debtors when nations are involved. International law, and every state have bankruptcy laws that concern companies and individuals, but in terms of international law, there are no specific principles [for nations]. This is why a national delegation, the debtor, has to sit down with creditors and determine bilaterally how they’re going to resolve this issue, because nobody can benefit by squeezing the other, like what is happening right now to Greece.

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ''Ministry of broken promises" and " We drown in debt and bailouts" in central Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Protesting hospital staff sit in front of a wall that they built at the entrance of the Greek Finance Ministry with a banner depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Thipras , Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos wearing ties reading in Greek ”Ministry of broken promises” and ” We drown in debt and bailouts” in central Athens, June 16, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Greeks have nothing to do with the losses of the banks. They’re responsible for about 70 billion [euros] due to corrupt politicians, but 70 billion is manageable because it is less than 50 percent of GDP. Why does the Greek taxpayer have to pay because of irregularities and anomalies in the eurozone, due to the fact that this is a legal institution and is not a political or fiscal union? Why do the Greek people have to pay for all these losses?

There is no international law that can resolve this issue, and this is one of the reasons why we have a big advantage, legally and ethically, to tell them that we’re stopping payments because our country is impoverished, we’re in a humanitarian crisis, why should we pay unilaterally? When you make a deal of lending and borrowing, you have two parties. Why do banks get excluded and the borrower has to carry all the weight? It’s unbelievable.

The banks did all this damage because they invested in toxic bonds in various futures markets, in securitized products which they didn’t even understand, and they carried enormous losses, hundreds of billions, and they’ve placed it on the shoulders of a small country with a GDP of 175 billion euros. What type of justice is this? With the Greek situation and the suffering imposed on all Greeks, who are not all crooks, why should they be destroyed economically?

This is going to take more a generation, to put Greece back where it was. And probably not even that because right now, Greece’s national income and GDP growth are below 2003 levels. Greece has lost about 15 years. But in terms of moral values and general values, they’ve been completely demoralized. Only 3 percent of the public now believes in politicians. This is why this situation is not going to go away either. It’s the biggest economic crime that has ever been committed.

How is it possible for all these losses, which involve not just the Greek banks but also the German banks, the French banks, the Dutch banks, to have been passed only to Greece? The international system is connected, through the euro, which creates an international platform for capital to move freely from one country to another. At any time, any money can be transferred from Athens to Berlin, from Berlin to Frankfurt, from Frankfurt to Paris. All of these losses were in the end sustained by the Greeks because the politicians accepted this. This is why it’s going to be an issue that’s going to last, because the sums are huge.

According to the [Greek] national budget, which was voted and passed in December 2016, it has receipts from credit money—in other words, borrowed money—of 563 billion euros. The total budget of the Greek state, in other words, is 614 billion euros, while the revenues of the Greek state are 50 billion euros, of which 46 billion comes from taxes. This is 320 percent more than the GDP of Greece, and it’s signed by the Greek president and by the minister of finance! How is it possible to claim that Greece is benefiting from this money while at the same time the economy has collapsed by more than 28 percent?

You can understand here, the impasse and the unfairness and what has happened to the Greek state. A lot of people outside [Greece] have realized this. They are talking about the looting of Greece, because now in order to [pay the debt], they are saying to Greece that it has to sell all the public assets. Now we have to sell what our fathers and our ancestors tried to create. They fought for this land, now they have to sell it to pay interest upon interest which has already been paid.

Since we have entered the memorandums, we have paid over 60 billion euros [in interest], and they call this “solidarity.” And according to the new calculations, the payments the Greek state [is responsible for] up to 2030 total 160 billion euros just in interest. This is usury! This is one of the most extreme forms of usury. How is it possible to survive? Everything is going to fall apart.

If in the epoch of Solon they were escaping Athens to save their skins and not to be sold as slaves, here [in Greece] no decent person can remain. This is the situation of the eurozone, the legal laws that were passed creating this union which have nothing to do with humanity. It’s simply an interest scheme, a payment scheme for those countries that are richer. And the countries that are richer are the countries of northern Europe. This is why southern Europe has almost collapsed, and we’ll see this year whether Italy can save their own banking system.

MPN: Would it be correct to say that Greece would be able to undertake unilateral action to declare a stoppage of payments or to denounce or write down the debt once it leaves the eurozone and returns to a national domestic currency?

SL: We should remember that we [Greece] are a member of the eurozone. In other words, we cannot take unilateral action. The de jure bankruptcy of the nation will take place while the country is still a member of the eurozone. In other words, the government can declare a moratorium, a temporary stoppage of payments of six months to foreign lenders. At the same time, the government can immediately start negotiations with the European authorities: the European Commission and the ECB.

The main problem of the Greek debt is that the Greek debt that has been accumulated, [placed] in the budget of 2016, having the signature of the Greek state, amounts to 563 billion euros, which are credit receipts. The lenders forced the Greek government to pass all future debt of the Greek state [into the budget], and the problem, the time schedule of the Greek debt [repayment] is stretched to 2060. The ratio of debt to GDP exceeds 320 percent.

This amount, most of it—about 95 percent—has not accumulated due to the extravagance and excesses of the Greek state. Ninety-five percent of it is debt which has been incurred by the banking system as a whole, not just Greek banks, but also the whole eurozone system, involving mainly German and French banks who have lent to the Greek banks. Therefore, these payments are related to the whole eurozone system and not to the Greek state alone. Yet the taxpayers of the Greek state [are on the hook].

For that reason, we [can] expose all of the official records through a task force appointed by experts from other states—an international task force—that will verify what was published recently, one year ago by the Technical University of Berlin, which determined that the two initial memorandums, involving amounts [totaling] 240 billion euros that were given to the Greek state and named “bailouts,” weren’t given to bail out Greece. They were given to bail out the banking system!

According to this study, less than 5 percent has gone to the Greek economy, and the rest, about 95.5 percent, went for the repayment of the debt and losses of the banking system of Europe as a whole. That’s the problem that was created due to the inflexibility of the euro system. Because the euro has an irrevocable exchange rate, and after the global crisis in 2008, which was actually a financial crisis, it was impossible for the eurozone to cope with this.

For some reason, politicians accepted this, for the losses of the entire euro system to be taken by Greece, to be paid by the Greek taxpayers, while these losses involved the whole system, because the eurozone system is a system which is very incomplete, has many faults. It’s a creation where they put the carriage in front and the horse in the back.

MPN: What happens in the event that Greece does not find that the Europeans are willing to negotiate on the issue of the debt?

SL: In my view that would be almost impossible and it would be irresponsible, because Greece represents a huge bomb of debt. If they do not accept [a write-down], they’re going to expose the whole system to great dangers, due to the systemic risk that is involved in the banking system. The European banks are not only connected with the Greek banks, which are bankrupt, but also with the American banks – which according to certain financial analysts are exposed to a tune of more than 3 trillion euros to the European banks. Therefore, some analysts say that the Greek case is like Lehman Brothers squared.

This is why it’s so dangerous. This actually explains the political stance of previous governments in joining hands with the European authorities, for Greeks to bear this huge burden that doesn’t belong to them. As I said, 95 percent of the loans [given to Greece] are to save the banks and not the Greek state.

MPN: Recently, we have again begun to hear murmurs about the possibility of “Grexit,” as well as statements from various sources, such as the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises, and a joint statement by 14 Greek economists who are based outside of Greece, about the many “dangers” and “perils” of a Greek exit from the eurozone, and the economic “catastrophe” that would follow. How do you respond to these claims, and to this fear that is being repeatedly expressed?

SL: That’s why they don’t want Greece to get out from the eurozone, precisely for their own benefit. Greece holds a huge bomb of debt. Most of it, the Greek public was not responsible for. There were losses due to the imperfections in the architecture of the European system, and these losses have to be divided and shared by the other countries, not only by Greece. Greece and the Greek taxpayer are not responsible to pay taxes, a 24-percent value-added tax (VAT) and enormous prices for gasoline. Now we pay more than 1.50 euros for a liter of gasoline. How is it possible for this country to develop? It cannot.

Everybody is terrified of a Greek exit, but Greece has to exit in order to save itself. But Germany doesn’t want that. Why? Because of the domino effect, because of the systemic risk of the banking system. Germany wants to save their own system, a banking system which is also in terrible shape. [Germany] wants to maintain its status and the benefits that it gets from the eurozone.

The eurozone is a platform where all countries give up their monetary sovereignty and there is no convertibility of the euro. It is an irrevocable exchange, and therefore Germany has a uniform platform to export its own goods, to mobilize its great exporting machine, without having to fear a country devaluing. Since, from the very beginning, it was the net exporter, it was obvious that through time, all the wealth would be accumulated [in] Germany.

Right now, Germany sits on hundreds of billions of euros of net surpluses. Germany is following a neo-mercantalist model and has a tremendous benefit by exporting those goods. The other countries that have deficits, eventually they have to borrow the funds from the German surpluses. But Germany doesn’t do that. It makes direct investments in other countries, like Greece.

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, a man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras' decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

A man walks past street art depicting Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Athens, Greece. Tsipras’ decision to sign off on a bailout led to many in his left-wing Syriza party to quit in protest.

Right now, OTE [the formerly state-owned telecommunications company of Greece] doesn’t belong to Greece. Greece doesn’t have even 1 percent of shares in OTE. The majority of OTE now belongs to Deutsche Telekom, and the rest belongs to other international funds. Greece has no position there. Can you imagine if [there is a national emergency], what happens?

It is a fact that they call this “privatization,” but Deutsche Telekom is not a private company. It belongs to the German Federation. It’s a public institution. Similarly, [Greece] recently sold 14 airports to a German company [Fraport] that belongs to the German state, it’s not a private company. The [Athens international airport] Eleftherios Venizelos was sold initially to Germans, to Hochtief. Forty percent remains with the Greek state, but this [is also up for privatization]. But we already sold 14 airports. Why were they sold? Because we have to pay interest on the loans that have been imposed on us.

This is a situation where, I think, a decent politician with integrity can go ahead and try to tell the creditors “enough is enough, we have to settle this issue,” not to accept all these conditions just because Germany doesn’t want to resolve the issue because it has [upcoming] elections and because [German finance minister] Schäuble says that “debt is debt” and that it must be repaid. No, debt is not debt in this particular case, because [Greece] did not create that debt! You created it and passed it to us!

That’s why the banks are bankrupt, because the central bank decided, in order to fight the Greek people and to humiliate them, [prior to] the referendum of July 2015, to close the Greek banks. There is not even a legal definition to give the ECB the power to close the banks. Similarly, they closed the banks because they tried to affect the vote of the electorate. It was so obvious to close the banks and destroy all of the accounts, and nothing was said internationally!

The stocks of the banking issues in the Athens Stock Exchange had three “limit downs” consecutively, [a loss of] 30 percent. They lost 90 percent of their value, people were destroyed, firms were closed, and nobody said anything, people were waiting in line at ATMs to get money, [feeling] threatened and [worried] that they would be unable to feed themselves. They internationally humiliated the Greeks. Why did this happen? To frighten [the public] in order to [stay in] the eurozone.

The same tactic [is being used] now. Even though we have defaulted before, such as with the phony “PSI” [a “haircut” on Greek bonds enacted in late 2011 and early 2012] that supposedly “saved” Greece. By doing that, [this brought] the second memorandum, a loan of 130 billion euros. This did not save Greece. This money went, again, to recapitalize banks and to pay the debts that the Greek banks had from borrowed funds from the French and the German banks.

The creditor has a responsibility when lending money and therefore must accept losses from the borrower. But unfortunately this is not the story, and this is why “Grexit” is so important.

MPN: One option that we have been hearing about from analysts is the possibility of introducing a dual or parallel currency in Greece. What is the distinction between a dual or parallel currency on the one hand, and a national domestic currency on the other hand? And what would be the consequences of introducing a dual or parallel currency?

SL: First of all, a dual or parallel currency in Greece doesn’t solve the problem. This is simply a gimmick. The ECB has the monopoly power and according to the laws of the ECB, there is no such law or ordinance which allows nations to create a second currency. That would violate the principles of the treaty. That’s why the ECB [designed this system], to have control over the issue of money. For them, they have only one goal: price stability. Therefore, how would it be possible to give Greece the right to create a parallel currency when, at the same time, Italy is almost ready to default?

The debt-for-GDP [in Italy] now exceeds 132 percent, but at the same time, because Italy is a huge economy—it exceeds 2.3 trillion euros in debt—if something happens to Italy, the whole system is finished. It finishes because this is actually what they have developed in the eurozone with this primary purpose of the ECB to have the absolute control of money. It’s like creating another gold standard, and the gold standard died because it created so many anomalies and irregularities in the international system, and wealth inequalities.

Given this experience and given the fact that the eurozone is built on a gold standard—[one] based on fiat currency, which gives the right to the ECB to create unlimited money, like right now with the quantitative easing, it has already purchased one trillion-plus euros in securities. But Greece is not allowed [to participate in the quantitative easing program]. Why? Because they want to subjugate this nation in the form of “reforms.” These are not reforms! Simply, they didn’t purchase the Greek securities, just to make Greece pay the interest [to the ECB], and to subjugate and demoralize Greece, to not be able to provide resistance.

All this talk of dual currencies, all this is just to create a sundry understanding of the situation, providing false expectations that this can save the situation. It cannot save the situation. Nothing can really be saved or be improved by introducing this type of [dual or parallel currency] system, but I don’t think it will be introduced.

The only solution is the national currency, because then you are going to take back the power of creating your own money, and together with this, taking back the freedom of your country and getting out from this system, like England [with Brexit]. England has established the existing monetary system. That system is called the British model, where at the top of this system is the Bank of England. Now they see that system is collapsing and they’re leaving [the EU], because they created that system.

At that time [when this system was created], England prevailed globally because it established the gold standard. Having an advanced industrial [and shipping] sector, they were able to control other nations economically. At the same time, as with India, taking surplus value from India to England, and establishing the gold standard in a position to control deficit nations and [be paid] interest, because they did not have gold, like Greece.

Remember John Maynard Keynes. Interest reproduces so fast. “Tokos” [the Greek word for “interest”] means “to bring something into existence.” Aristotle said that it was hated by the whole society, because it creates [wealth] with no effort. The same thing has been instituted now. The Greek state gave the power to the ECB, and this ECB, through usury mechanisms, lends to the Greek state, but the Greek state pays double interest to the ECB and to the commercial banks because the ECB is not a lender of last resort! This abolishes the basic principle of central banks. That’s a function of a central bank, to be a provider of last resort funds if something goes wrong in the system. The ECB does the opposite!

The Cyprus situation shows exactly what I’m trying to say. This is why it’s crazy to talk about parallel currencies. What happened in Cyprus? One day, because [the ECB] did not properly supervise the banking system—which is one of the duties of the central bank, to have good supervision—and there were certain irregularities with certain banks, like Marfin Bank and the Bank of Cyprus. Instead of helping [Cyprus] alleviate the problem, the [ECB] went and did the so-called “bail-in.” A “bail-in” means “to capture,” to go and take money out of accounts. Whoever had their money in Cyprus banks, above 100,000 euros, lost money.

This is the situation, the banking institution that Greece wants? This is extraction, an extraction mechanism! This is like the old tyrants of Syracuse, which if you did not obey his order—and I mention this because Plato went there to educate him, and he didn’t like what Plato was saying, so he wanted to kill him. His supervisors intervened and he was sold as a slave in Aegina, and since then he was recovered from an old student and he was saved. The same thing [exists] in the eurozone.

I think all of these plans [for a dual or parallel currency] were publicized more to confuse the public.

MPN: Describe the steps that Greece could follow in order to depart from the eurozone in an orderly fashion, to transition to a national domestic currency and to avoid the dangers that many believe Greece would face, such as devaluation, high inflation or difficulty importing goods.

SL: A number of these things are a creation of imagination. Let me provide the basic steps of the exit of Greece from the eurozone and the adaptation of a national currency, based on two fundamental premises. First, that democratic institutions are maintained, and the constitution of the country, and second, that there is political will. Now, [those] are very important, fundamental assumptions, which right now do not exist. This is the system of exit for Greece, under the assumption that a light finally comes to the brains of the Greek politicians. If that happens, these are the steps that should be taken.

The country is declared in a “state of necessity,” and Article 44 of the Greek constitution is implemented, which means that after the suggestion of the council of ministers, which the prime minister presides over, power is transferred to the president of the nation. This declaration of the “state of necessity” is not required to be passed through the current representative assembly.

Then, the president declares a temporary stoppage of payments, an international moratorium. That moratorium is going to take a period of six months. During these six months, there is a plan for the reconstruction of the country—because it will be a reconstruction, it is economic devastation. So, at the same time when you declare a stoppage of payments—and this is going to be only for the foreign lenders, internally everything is going to be okay—this saves about six billion euros that are being paid in interest at this time, but also we stop payments of capital.

Therefore, we’ll have the ability to feed the nation and also to maintain salaries and pensions at the same level, because at this particular stage there is a slight surplus in the national accounts. Then we’ll have the benefit that we save six billion euros in interest payments, which would go directly to the reconstruction of the country and programs of employment.

This is what’s most important, to alleviate poverty and unemployment. That’s the primary thing, and that requires, of course, great coordination, to employ the people and to stop or to minimize the scourge of [outward] immigration. We need our educated people. This country cannot survive with old people, which continuously this is the case. It’s an aging population in Greece.

Then at the same time, we establish various capital controls, because we need the capital to remain here and not be exported abroad. Those are the major steps that should be taken simultaneously with a declaration of the nation in a “state of necessity.” It should not frighten [anybody], it’s a normal procedure which is [a result of] the extraordinary crisis taking place right now in Greece. Also it gives you the power to [declare] illegal all the measures that were taken through the austerity measures, which were based not on law, not on humanity, not anything, they were just horizontal measures [impacting] everybody without taking into consideration the principles of justice.

By placing the country in a “state of necessity,” immediately you can re-institute laws which would completely determine the unacceptability or the illegality of the existing laws of the memorandums, including the first memorandum of May 2010, the second memorandum of 2012, and the third memorandum of 2015, a total of 236 billion euros. Out of this sum, only 5 percent went to the Greek economy and for reducing poverty. Ninety-five percent went to payments. Those are known facts.

The third step after this is that you [create] a commission. We have to institute an agency which will go on to audit the Greek debt and to be confirmed officially, through the help of a task force of international [experts], to be a completely objective commission to determine which is the lawful debt and which is the unethical, unacceptable and odious debt.

In the meantime, the country, through its own people—Greek officials—start negotiations with the European authorities, whether this is the European Commission, the Eurogroup or the ECB. Of course, all those discussions have to take place when, first, the Bank of Greece is completely nationalized. This is important, because the Bank of Greece is a company and 92 percent of the shareholders are not yet known to the Greek public. This is an offense to the democratic spirit of the Greek people.

At the same time, things are not so straight, they are highly complicated because of the collapse of the Greek banks, the ECB has lent about 73 billion to “save” the banks after the fact, meaning that initially it was not accepting Greek state bonds as collateral. As a result, the banks could not really find funds to finance growth or to finance projects for businesses. [The ECB] did that, again, just to indicate that they are the power and they determine all political consequences in Greece. They decided to do so when the international public was misled that SYRIZA was a “radical left” party.

[Soon after SYRIZA] was elected on Jan. 25, 2015, the ECB, on Feb. 4, went and declared unilaterally that Greek bonds, the bonds of the Greek state, are not acceptable, they are junk bonds. That meant that they were not accepted as collateral. So the banks would not be borrowing money from the ECB, and therefore the loan activity in Greece has fallen apart, going into [negative territory]. That further aggravated the situation.

Therefore, this situation should be taken into consideration, and that’s why the banks, initially, should go to a bank holiday. It’s a necessary thing that has to be done. The banking system is going to be closed, because you need to protect whatever savings there are.

This is the situation, and I’m sure that this is inconceivable to all of you living abroad, that this is the European model of a monetary system, but it’s not a monetary system. It’s an extractive system that lives on the blood of small and [minimally-]industrialized countries.

The next step after the banks are placed on a necessary bank holiday is the nationalization of the Bank of Greece, like the Bank of England, [which was] nationalized in 1946 and the Bank of Canada was nationalized in 1938. It’s to the benefit of all the parties to agree on this, [since] this whole situation is explosive. Why is it explosive? Because that huge amount that is owned by Greece, that exists 560 billion euros, it is something that can trigger like a bomb and the whole monetary system can collapse.

It would be another situation like the great global financial crisis of 2008, and the reason is that the U.S. system is interconnected with the European system. According to the latest reports, the U.S. banks have exposures of more than $3 trillion in European banks.

That’s the situation, that’s why it’s very important, that’s why everybody is talking about the Greek exit, because if Greece decides to pull the trigger then there’s going to be a very dangerous situation around the European, the Italian banking system. Italy has exposure of more than 2.3 trillion euros. If something happened there, then the whole European monetary system is going to collapse. We have power, in other words.

If one considers the benefits of this nation and the people that live in Greece, then we can achieve tremendous results. At the same time, in order to avoid this chaotic situation which a lot of people and particularly the academics are [predicting] but which is not going to be chaotic, but a normal situation after so many years in another currency, simply we will establish a three-month freeze of salaries and prices, so as not to have the problem of inflation.

Let me tell you how we’re going to determine the first exchange rate between the drachma and the euro. The initial exchange rate is introduced at parity, one new drachma equals one euro. This is the conversion [rate] for all accounts. All the loans now would be paid in Greek new drachmas, and whatever accounts remain in the banks, in the form of accounting—in other words, electronic money—those remain in euros, but simply whatever money is [withdrawn] is paid in new drachmas.

In other words, what you do is you stamp the existing euros with an indication that this is a new drachma. All the money, therefore, that is circulating outside the banks, [becomes] new drachmas, until the new currency is ready. So there is no problem with changing the existing banking system in Greece or the ATM system. Everything remains the same, we simply stamp the existing euros into a new currency. So a 10-euro bill becomes 10 drachmas. Salaries, again, are frozen, the same for prices, for a three-month period.

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

This is not something new. President Nixon did this in 1971 when he decided to get out of the fixed relationship of the dollar with gold. Then, the relationship was that one ounce of gold equaled 35 dollars. This was the beginning of the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement, as he let the dollar be exchanged in the free markets. This was very successful, because the U.S. had problems at that time because it lost the Vietnam War and they were experiencing deficits, like Greece.

All these myths that a vacuum will follow, this is nonsense, because at this stage, the Greek trade balance account is balanced, because the imports are equal to the exports. We export 25 billion euros’ worth, we import about 40 [billion euros], but the difference is covered by services, and the services are tourism and the shipping fleet that Greece has, one of the greatest shipping fleets in the world. Knowing from Solon that the expenses of imports are covered by exports, this means that we have currency, foreign currency to pay [for our imports].

Again, we should remember [that during] the bankruptcy, we are still in the eurozone. You don’t go to the drachma [immediately]. This is a six-month period [of transition]. At the same time, you have the money to feed your people and to buy medicine, to buy oil, to buy whatever items are needed and are not produced in Greece.

And in the meantime, you save the six billion euros [in interest payments]. We don’t pay them any capital for the repayment of debt, and according to the Bank of Greece’s latest report, we still have foreign exchange funds right now, which are mostly in gold—about 5 billion euros. Therefore, from where does all this fear arise?

It’s going to take two or three months until the first newly-produced drachmas are placed in the market. Don’t think it’s a huge amount of money, cash, that is floating in the market. It’s about 20 billion euros. It’s enough, this money, to be circulating around, because multiplied by the velocity effect of money, it’s enough to start motivating the Greek economy. Here we do not have that either, everything is collapsing, the velocity is collapsing, because they’re taking out [money] by taxes.

Taxes destroy money, they do not create money. Paying the unfair interest to the Europeans that they call “solidarity,” six billion euros is an enormous amount with the multiplier effect. So simply, it requires guts. Freedom requires to be courageous and to be just, and I would add to this, to really work hard to achieve this objective.

Those are the most important measures. Just to add: in order for the new drachma to get validity, immediately you institute a law through which only the Greek drachma is acceptable as a payment to the Greek tax authorities. This is something that was said by Aristotle, [who] said that money is the creation of the law. That’s why it’s called “nomisma,” from “nomos” [the Greek word for “law”]. Itis a product of law and not of nature.

All these are myths that there’s going to be a collapse, that [the new currency] will not be accepted. Why won’t be accepted if the tax office accepts the money at the same rate as one euro? As long as it’s accepted at [a ratio of] one for one, why is the market not going to accept it?

One of the benefits during this period is that we will be able to lower tax rates. This is very important, to bring out the necessary steps for motivating foreign capital, but also the growth and development of businesses, because you are going to print the money to recapitalize.

All this ideological bias, that the euro is the only solution for Greece, is completely disastrous. It’s no solution. It’s the only catastrophic element for the complete elimination of the Greek state eventually. This is an extraction mechanism and a mechanism where all the loans, if you are not able to pay them, you are going to pay them by selling the public assets of the country.

Those are the basic steps. As long as it’s understood that it’s going to take a couple of months before the new national currency is cut, in Greece from Holargos [location of Greece’s mint], and still has the old machines through which the drachma was circulated. It’s going to take some time, but as long as there is patience and a belief that our freedom and future prosperity is based on reacquiring the capacity to create our own money, then the last necessary thing is that we and the European authorities understand that we have to find, together, a solution. Otherwise, it’s going to be a situation where everybody loses.

I conclude with the hope that finally, a light comes to the brains of the Greek politicians.

michael-120x120ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Nevradakis

Michael Nevradakis is a Ph D candidate in media studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a US Fulbright Scholar presently based in Athens, Greece.

Jul 132017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

Over the past quarter century progressive writers, activists and academics have followed a trajectory from left to right – with each presidential campaign seeming to move them further to the right. Beginning in the 1990’s progressives mobilized millions in opposition to wars, voicing demands for the transformation of the US’s corporate for-profit medical system into a national ‘Medicare For All’ public program. They condemned the notorious Wall Street swindlers and denounced police state legislation and violence. But in the end, they always voted for Democratic Party Presidential candidates who pursued the exact opposite agenda.

Over time this political contrast between program and practice led to the transformation of the Progressives. And what we see today are US progressives embracing and promoting the politics of the far right.

To understand this transformation we will begin by identifying who and what the progressives are and describe their historical role. We will then proceed to identify their trajectory over the recent decades.

We will outline the contours of recent Presidential campaigns where Progressives were deeply involved.

We will focus on the dynamics of political regression: From resistance to submission, from retreat to surrender.

We will conclude by discussing the end result: The Progressives’ large-scale, long-term embrace of far-right ideology and practice.

Progressives by Name and Posture

Progressives purport to embrace ‘progress’, the growth of the economy, the enrichment of society and freedom from arbitrary government. Central to the Progressive agenda was the end of elite corruption and good governance, based on democratic procedures.

Progressives prided themselves as appealing to ‘reason, diplomacy and conciliation’, not brute force and wars. They upheld the sovereignty of other nations and eschewed militarism and armed intervention.

Progressives proposed a vision of their fellow citizens pursuing incremental evolution toward the ‘good society’, free from the foreign entanglements, which had entrapped the people in unjust wars.

Progressives in Historical Perspective

In the early part of the 20th century, progressives favored political equality while opposing extra-parliamentary social transformations. They supported gender equality and environmental preservation while failing to give prominence to the struggles of workers and African Americans. They denounced militarism ‘in general’ but supported a series of ‘wars to end all wars’.  Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson embodied the dual policies of promoting peace at home and bloody imperial wars overseas. By the middle of the 20th century, different strands emerged under the progressive umbrella. Progressives split between traditional good government advocates and modernists who backed socio-economic reforms, civil liberties and rights.

Progressives supported legislation to regulate monopolies, encouraged collective bargaining and defended the Bill of Rights.

Progressives opposed wars and militarism in theory … until their government went to war.

Lacking an effective third political party, progressives came to see themselves as the ‘left wing’ of the Democratic Party, allies of labor and civil rights movements and defenders of civil liberties.

Progressives joined civil rights leaders in marches, but mostly relied on legal and electoral means to advance African American rights.

Progressives played a pivotal role in fighting McCarthyism, though ultimately it was the Secretary of the Army and the military high command that brought Senator McCarthy to his knees.

Progressives provided legal defense when the social movements disrupted the House Un-American Activities Committee.

They popularized the legislative arguments that eventually outlawed segregation, but it was courageous Afro-American leaders heading mass movements that won the struggle for integration and civil rights.

In many ways the Progressives complemented the mass struggles, but their limits were defined by the constraints of their membership in the Democratic Party.

The alliance between Progressives and social movements peaked in the late sixties to mid-1970’s when the Progressives followed the lead of dynamic and advancing social movements and community organizers especially in opposition to the wars in Indochina and the military draft.

The Retreat of the Progressives

By the late 1970’s the Progressives had cut their anchor to the social movements, as the anti-war, civil rights and labor movements lost their impetus (and direction).

The numbers of progressives within the left wing of the Democratic Party increased through recruitment from earlier social movements. Paradoxically, while their ‘numbers’ were up, their caliber had declined, as they sought to ‘fit in’ with the pro-business, pro-war agenda of their President’s party.

Without the pressure of the ‘populist street’ the ‘Progressives-turned-Democrats’ adapted to the corporate culture in the Party. The Progressives signed off on a fatal compromise: The corporate elite secured the electoral party while the Progressives were allowed to write enlightened manifestos about the candidates and their programs … which were quickly dismissed once the Democrats took office. Yet the ability to influence the ‘electoral rhetoric’ was seen by the Progressives as a sufficient justification for remaining inside the Democratic Party.

Moreover the Progressives argued that by strengthening their presence in the Democratic Party, (their self-proclaimed ‘boring from within’ strategy), they would capture the party membership, neutralize the pro-corporation, militarist elements that nominated the president and peacefully transform the party into a ‘vehicle for progressive changes’.

Upon their successful ‘deep penetration’ the Progressives, now cut off from the increasingly disorganized mass social movements, coopted and bought out many prominent black, labor and civil liberty activists and leaders, while collaborating with what they dubbed the more malleable ‘centrist’ Democrats. These mythical creatures were really pro-corporate Democrats who condescended to occasionally converse with the Progressives while working for the Wall Street and Pentagon elite.

The Retreat of the Progressives: The Clinton Decade

Progressives adapted the ‘crab strategy’: Moving side-ways and then backwards but never forward.

Progressives mounted candidates in the Presidential primaries, which were predictably defeated by the corporate Party apparatus, and then submitted immediately to the outcome.

The election of President ‘Bill’ Clinton launched a period of unrestrained financial plunder, major wars of aggression in Europe (Yugoslavia) and the Middle East (Iraq), a military intervention in Somalia and secured Israel’s victory over any remnant of a secular Palestinian leadership as well as its destruction of Lebanon!

Like a huge collective ‘Monica Lewinsky’ robot, the Progressives in the Democratic Party bent over and swallowed Clinton’s vicious 1999 savaging of the venerable Glass Steagall Act, thereby opening the floodgates for massive speculation on Wall Street through the previously regulated banking sector. When President Clinton gutted welfare programs, forcing  single mothers to take minimum-wage jobs without provision for safe childcare, millions of poor white and minority women were forced to abandon their children to dangerous makeshift arrangements in order to retain any residual public support and access to minimal health care. Progressives looked the other way.

Progressives followed Clinton’s deep throated thrust toward the far right, as he out-sourced manufacturing jobs to Mexico (NAFTA) and re-appointed Federal Reserve’s free market, Ayn Rand-fanatic, Alan Greenspan.

Progressives repeatedly kneeled before President Clinton marking their submission to the Democrats’ ‘hard right’ policies.

The election of Republican President G. W. Bush (2001-2009) permitted Progressive’s to temporarily trot out and burnish their anti-war, anti-Wall Street credentials. Out in the street, they protested Bush’s savage invasion of Iraq (but not the destruction of Afghanistan). They protested the media reports of torture in Abu Ghraib under Bush, but not the massive bombing and starvation of millions of Iraqis that had occurred under Clinton. Progressives protested the expulsion of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, but were silent over the brutal uprooting of refugees resulting from US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the systematic destruction of their nations’ infrastructure.

Progressives embraced Israel’s bombing, jailing and torture of Palestinians by voting unanimously in favor of increasing the annual $3 billion dollar military handouts to the brutal Jewish State. They supported Israel’s bombing and slaughter in Lebanon.

Progressives were in retreat, but retained a muffled voice and inconsequential vote in favor of peace, justice and civil liberties. They kept a certain distance from the worst of the police state decrees by the RepublicanAdministration.

Progressives and Obama: From Retreat to Surrender

While Progressives maintained their tepid commitment to civil liberties, and their highly ‘leveraged’ hopes for peace in the Middle East, they jumped uncritically into the highly choreographed Democratic Party campaign for Barack Obama, ‘Wall Street’s First Black President’.

Progressives had given up their quest to ‘realign’ the Democratic Party ‘from within’: they turned from serious tourism to permanent residency.  Progressives provided the foot soldiers for the election and re-election of the warmongering ‘Peace Candidate’ Obama. After the election, Progressives rushed to join the lower echelons of his Administration. Black and white politicos joined hands in their heroic struggle to erase the last vestiges of the Progressives’ historical legacy.

Obama increased the number of Bush-era imperial wars to attacking seven weak nations under American’s ‘First Black’ President’s bombardment, while the Progressives ensured that the streets were quiet and empty.

When Obama provided trillions of dollars of public money to rescue Wall Street and the bankers, while sacrificing two million poor and middle class mortgage holders, the Progressives only criticized the bankers who received the bailout, but not Obama’s Presidential decision to protect and reward the mega-swindlers.

Under the Obama regime social inequalities within the United States grew at an unprecedented rate. The Police State Patriot Act was massively extended to give President Obama the power to order the assassination of US citizens abroad without judicial process. The Progressives did not resign when Obama’s ‘kill orders’ extended to the ‘mistaken’ murder of his target’s children and other family member, as well as unidentified bystanders. The icon carriers still paraded their banner of the ‘first black American President’ when tens of thousands of black Libyans and immigrant workers were slaughtered in his regime-change war against President Gadhafi.

Obama surpassed the record of all previous Republican office holders in terms of the massive numbers of immigrant workers arrested and expelled – 2 million. Progressives applauded the Latino protestors while supporting the policies of their ‘first black President’.

Progressive accepted that multiple wars, Wall Street bailouts and the extended police state were now the price they would pay to remain part of the “Democratic coalition’ (sic).

The deeper the Progressives swilled at the Democratic Party trough, the more they embraced the Obama’s free market agenda and the more they ignored the increasing impoverishment, exploitation and medical industry-led opioid addiction of American workers that was shortening their lives. Under Obama, the Progressives totally abandoned the historic American working class, accepting their degradation into what Madam Hillary Clinton curtly dismissed as the ‘deplorables’.

With the Obama Presidency, the Progressive retreat turned into a rout, surrendering with one flaccid caveat: the Democratic Party ‘Socialist’ Bernie Sanders, who had voted 90% of the time with the Corporate Party, had revived a bastardized military-welfare state agenda.

Sander’s Progressive demagogy shouted and rasped on the campaign trail, beguiling the young electorate. The ‘Bernie’ eventually ‘sheep-dogged’ his supporters into the pro-war Democratic Party corral. Sanders revived an illusion of the pre-1990 progressive agenda, promising resistance while demanding voter submission to Wall Street warlord Hillary Clinton. After Sanders’ round up of the motley progressive herd, he staked them tightly to the far-right Wall Street war mongering Hillary Clinton. The Progressives not only embraced Madame Secretary Clinton’s nuclear option and virulent anti-working class agenda, they embellished it by focusing on Republican billionaire Trump’s demagogic, nationalist, working class rhetoric which was designed to agitate ‘the deplorables’. They even turned on the working class voters, dismissing them as ‘irredeemable’ racists and illiterates or ‘white trash’ when they turned to support Trump in massive numbers in the ‘fly-over’ states of the central US.

Progressives, allied with the police state, the mass media and the war machine worked to defeat and impeach Trump. Progressives surrendered completely to the Democratic Party and started to advocate its far right agenda. Hysterical McCarthyism against anyone who questioned the Democrats’ promotion of war with Russia, mass media lies and manipulation of street protest against Republican elected officials became the centerpieces of the Progressive agenda. The working class and farmers had disappeared from their bastardized ‘identity-centered’ ideology.

Guilt by association spread throughout Progressive politics. Progressives embraced J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI tactics: “Have you ever met or talked to any Russian official or relative of any Russian banker, or any Russian or even read Gogol, now or in the past?” For progressives, ‘Russia-gate’ defined the real focus of contemporary political struggle in this huge, complex, nuclear-armed superpower.

Progressives joined the FBI/CIA’s ‘Russian Bear’ conspiracy: “Russia intervened and decided the Presidential election” – no matter that millions of workers and rural Americans had voted against Hillary Clinton, Wall Street’s candidate and no matter that no evidence of direct interference was ever presented. Progressives could not accept that ‘their constituents’, the masses, had rejected Madame Clinton and preferred ‘the Donald’. They attacked a shifty-eyed caricature of the repeatedly elected Russian President Putin as a subterfuge for attacking the disobedient ‘white trash’ electorate of ‘Deploralandia’.

Progressive demagogues embraced the coifed and manicured former ‘Director Comey’ of the FBI, and the Mr. Potato-headed Capo of the CIA and their forty thugs in making accusations without finger or footprints.

The Progressives’ far right- turn earned them hours and space on the mass media as long as they breathlessly savaged and insulted President Trump and his family members. When they managed to provoke him into a blind rage … they added the newly invented charge of ‘psychologically unfit to lead’ – presenting cheap psychobabble as grounds for impeachment. Finally! American Progressives were on their way to achieving their first and only political transformation: a Presidential coup d’état on behalf of the Far Right!

Progressives loudly condemned Trump’s overtures for peace with Russia, denouncing it as appeasement and betrayal!

In return, President Trump began to ‘out-militarize’ the Progressives by escalating US involvement in the Middle East and South China Sea. They swooned with joy when Trump ordered a missile strike against the Syrian government as Damascus engaged in a life and death struggle against mercenary terrorists. They dubbed the petulant release of Patriot missiles ‘Presidential’.

Then Progressives turned increasingly Orwellian: Ignoring Obama’s actual expulsion of over 2 million immigrant workers, they condemned Trump for promising to eventually expel 5 million more!

Progressives, under Obama, supported seven brutal illegal wars and pressed for more, but complained when Trump continued the same wars and proposed adding a few new ones. At the same time, progressives out-militarized Trump by accusing him of being ‘weak’ on Russia, Iran, North Korea and China. They chided him for his lack support for Israel’s suppression of the Palestinians. They lauded Trump’s embrace of the Saudi war against Yemen as a stepping-stone for an assault against Iran, even as millions of destitute Yemenis were exposed to cholera. The Progressives had finally embraced a biological weapon of mass destruction, when US-supplied missiles destroyed the water systems of Yemen!

Conclusion

Progressives turned full circle from supporting welfare to embracing Wall Street; from preaching peaceful co-existence to demanding a dozen wars; from recognizing the humanity and rights of undocumented immigrants to their expulsion under their ‘First Black’ President; from thoughtful mass media critics to servile media megaphones; from defenders of civil liberties to boosters for the police state; from staunch opponents of J. Edgar Hoover and his ‘dirty tricks’ to camp followers for the ‘intelligence community’ in its deep state campaign to overturn a national election.

Progressives moved from fighting and resisting the Right to submitting and retreating; from retreating to surrendering and finally embracing the far right.

Doing all that and more within the Democratic Party, Progressives retain and deepen their ties with the mass media, the security apparatus and the military machine, while occasionally digging up some Bernie Sanders-type demagogue to arouse an army of voters away from effective resistance to mindless collaboration.

Jul 082017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

Throughout the US and European corporate and state media, right and left, we are told that ‘populism’ has become the overarching threat to democracy, freedom and … free markets. The media’s ‘anti-populism’ campaign has been used and abused by ruling elites and their academic and intellectual camp followers as the principal weapon to distract, discredit and destroy the rising tide of mass discontent with ruling class-imposed austerity programs, the accelerating concentration of wealth and the deepening inequalities.

We will begin by examining the conceptual manipulation of ‘populism’ and its multiple usages. Then we will turn to the historic economic origins of populism and anti-populism. Finally, we will critically analyze the contemporary movements and parties dubbed ‘populist’ by the ideologues of ‘anti-populism’.

Conceptual Manipulation

In order to understand the current ideological manipulation accompanying ‘anti-populism’ it is necessary to examine the historical roots of populism as a popular movement.

Populism emerged during the 19th and 20th century as an ideology, movement and government in opposition to autocracy, feudalism, capitalism, imperialism and socialism. In the United States, populist leaders led agrarian struggles backed by millions of small farmers in opposition to bankers, railroad magnates and land speculators. Opposing monopolistic practices of the ‘robber barons’, the populist movement supported broad-based commercial agriculture, access to low interest farm credit and reduced transport costs.

In 19th century Russia, the populists opposed the Tsar, the moneylenders and the burgeoning commercial elites.

In early 20th century India and China, populism took the form of nationalist agrarian movements seeking to overthrow the imperial powers and their comprador collaborators.

In Latin America, from the 1930s onward, especially with the crises of export regimes, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, embraced a variety of populist, anti-imperialist governments. In Brazil, President Getulio Vargas’s term (1951-1954) was notable for the establishment of a national industrial program promoting the interests of urban industrial workers despite banning independent working class trade unions and Marxist parties. In Argentina, President Juan Peron’s first terms (1946-1954) promoted large-scale working class organization, advanced social welfare programs and embraced nationalist capitalist development.

In Bolivia, a worker-peasant revolution brought to power a nationalist party, the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR), which nationalized the tin mines, expropriated the latifundios and promoted national development during its rule from 1952-1964.

In Peru, under President Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975), the government expropriated the coastal sugar plantations and US oil fields and copper mines while promoting worker and agricultural cooperatives.

In all cases, the populist governments in Latin America were based on a coalition of nationalist capitalists, urban workers and the rural poor. In some notable cases, nationalist military officers brought populist governments to power. What they had in common was their opposition to foreign capital and its local supporters and exporters (‘compradores’), bankers and their elite military collaborators. Populists promoted ‘third way’ politics by opposing imperialism on the right, and socialism and communism on the left. The populists supported the redistribution of wealth but not the expropriation of property. They sought to reconcile national capitalists and urban workers. They opposed class struggle but supported state intervention in the economy and import-substitution as a development strategy.

Imperialist powers were the leading anti-populists of that period. They defended property privileges and condemned nationalism as ‘authoritarian’ and undemocratic. They demonized the mass support for populism as ‘a threat to Western Christian civilization’. Not infrequently, the anti-populists ideologues would label the national-populists as ‘fascists’ … even as they won numerous elections at different times and in a variety of countries.

The historical experience of populism, in theory and practice, has nothing to do with what today’s ‘anti-populists’ in the media are calling ‘populism’. In reality, current anti-populism is still a continuation of anti-communism, a political weapon to disarm working class and popular movements. It advances the class interest of the ruling class. Both ‘anti’s’ have been orchestrated by ruling class ideologues seeking to blur the real nature of their ‘pro-capitalist’ privileged agenda and practice. Presenting your program as ‘pro-capitalist’, pro-inequalities, pro-tax evasion and pro-state subsidies for the elite is more difficult to defend at the ballot box than to claim to be ‘anti-populist’.

‘Anti-populism’ is the simple ruling class formula for covering-up their real agenda, which is pro-militarist, pro-imperialist (globalization), pro-‘rebels’ (i.e. mercenary terrorists working for regime change), pro crisis makers and pro-financial swindlers.

The economic origins of ‘anti-populism’ are rooted in the deep and repeated crises of capitalism and the need to deflect and discredit mass discontent and demoralize the popular classes in struggle. By demonizing ‘populism’, the elites seek to undermine the rising tide of anger over the elite-imposed wage cuts, the rise of low-paid temporary jobs and the massive increase in the reserve army of cheap immigrant labor to compete with displaced native workers.

Historic ‘anti-populism’ has its roots in the inability of capitalism to secure popular consent via elections. It reflects their anger and frustration at their failure to grow the economy, to conquer and exploit independent countries and to finance growing fiscal deficits.

The Amalgamation of Historical Populism with the Contemporary Fabricated Populism

What the current anti-populists ideologues label ‘populism’ has little to do with the historical movements.

Unlike all of the past populist governments, which sought to nationalize strategic industries, none of the current movements and parties, denounced as ‘populist’ by the media, are anti-imperialists. In fact, the current ‘populists’ attack the lowest classes and defend the imperialist-allied capitalist elites. The so-called current ‘populists’ support imperialist wars and bank swindlers, unlike the historical populists who were anti-war and anti-bankers.

Ruling class ideologues simplistically conflate a motley collection of right-wing capitalist parties and organizations with the pro-welfare state, pro-worker and pro-farmer parties of the past in order to discredit and undermine the burgeoning popular multi-class movements and regimes.

Demonization of independent popular movements ignores the fundamental programmatic differences and class politics of genuine populist struggles compared with the contemporary right-wing capitalist political scarecrows and clowns.

One has only to compare the currently demonized ‘populist’ Donald Trump with the truly populist US President Franklin Roosevelt, who promoted social welfare, unionization, labor rights, increased taxes on the rich, income redistribution, and genuine health and workplace safety legislation within a multi-class coalition to see how absurd the current media campaign has become.

The anti-populist ideologues label President Trump a ‘populist’ when his policies and proposals are the exact opposite. Trump champions the repeal of all pro-labor and work safety regulation, as well as the slashing of public health insurance programs while reducing corporate taxes for the ultra-elite.

The media’s ‘anti-populists’ ideologues denounce pro-business right-wing racists as ‘populists’. In Italy, Finland, Holland, Austria, Germany and France anti-working class parties are called ‘populist’ for attacking immigrants instead of bankers and militarists.

In other words, the key to understanding contemporary ‘anti-populism’ is to see its role in preempting and undermining the emergence of authentic populist movements while convincing middle class voters to continue to vote for crisis-prone, austerity-imposing neo-liberal regimes. ‘Anti-populism’ has become the opium (or OxyContin) of frightened middle class voters.

The anti-populism of the ruling class serves to confuse the ‘right’ with the ‘left’; to sidelight the latter and promote the former; to amalgamate right-wing ‘rallies’ with working class strikes; and to conflate right-wing demagogues with popular mass leaders.

Unfortunately, too many leftist academics and pundits are loudly chanting in the ‘anti-populist’ chorus. They have failed to see themselves among the shock troops of the right. The left ideologues join the ruling class in condemning the corporate populists in the name of ‘anti-fascism’. Left-wing writers, claiming to ‘combat the far-right enemies of the people’, overlook the fact that they are ‘fellow-travelling’ with an anti-populist ruling class, which has imposed savage cuts in living standards, spread imperial wars of aggression resulting in millions of desperate refugees-not immigrants –and concentrated immense wealth.

The bankruptcy of today’s ‘anti-populist’ left will leave them sitting in their coffee shops, scratching at fleas, as the mass popular movements take to the streets!

James Petras is author of The End of the Republic and the Delusion of Empire, Extractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East. Read other articles by James, or visit James’s website.

Jul 032017
 

By , 99GetSmart

The Justice March (Photo: Edgar Şar)

The Justice March (Photo: Edgar Şar)

Triggered in Ankara by the arrest of the main Turkish opposition deputy Berberoğlu, the march for Adalet (justice) is now heading towards Istanbul and growing each day.

On June 14, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), announced that he and his supporters were to embark on a march from Ankara to Istanbul, a distance of 450 kilometres. What is now known as a “Justice March” has been organized to protest the arrest of a former journalist and CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail on spying charges.

Holding a single banner bearing the word adalet (justice), Kılıçdaroğlu said that Turkey was facing a dictatorial regime that puts parliamentarians, journalists and academics in prison. “We do not want to live in a country where there is no justice,” he added. The march is expected to last 24 days and will end at Maltepe Prison in Istanbul, where Berberoğlu is now being held.

Kılıçdaroğlu has often been criticized for his passivity and inability to exercise an influential opposition against the anti-democratic moves of the Erdogan government, especially after the controversial constitutional referendum of April 16, which turned the Turkish parliamentary democracy into an authoritarian presidential system. The referendum was won by a narrow margin and, due to the scandal of “unstamped ballots”, half of the population in the “No camp” has trouble believing in the veracity of the referendum results.

In fact, Turkey’s recent adventures with justice are not specifically related to the controversial referendum results. On July 20, 2017 it will be the first anniversary of the State of Emergency Rule that was declared following last year’s dramatic coup attempt on July 15. This past year under the State of Emergency Rule has been marked by injustices, human rights abuses and freedom violations on an unprecedented scale. According to official figures, nearly 50.000 people, thereof 15 members of parliament, have been arrested, at least 150.000 civil servants have been dismissed and more than 170 journalists are in prison.

Kılıçdaroğlu has been calling July 20 a “civilian coup” staged by the government with the declaration of the State of Emergency Rule.

Justice March” marks the first instance in the history of the Republic, where the leader of the main opposition party embarks on a protest march of such a long distance. For many Turks, who believe that they were treated unjustly by the State of Emergency and who cannot take any legal action because of it,the adalet march has become an event of unique significance.

The pursuit of justice was able to unite larger segments of the society, which feel excluded and exposed to injustice both in front of the law even in their everyday life. Additionally, the Justice March seems to bring many opposition groups together, including the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), other political parties, labour unions, bar associations along with the half of the Turkish population who voted “No” in the referendum.

CHP announced that it would no longer restrict its democratic struggle to the parliamentary opposition and is determined to have more presence in the streets. In this respect, the march may help consolidate the CHP’s role as the main opposition force against Erdogan’s tightening grip on Turkey.

This aricle is co-authored by Seren Selvin Korkmaz.

147.thumbnailAbout the author

Edgar Şar is a PhD student in Political Science at the European University Institute. He received his BA from Marmara University and his MA from Bogazici University. He is the co-founder and co-director of academic studies of Political and Social Research Institute of Europe. His current research focuses on secularism and democratization in the Middle East.

Jun 282017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

The most striking feature of recent elections is not ‘who won or who lost’, nor is it the personalities, parties and programs. The dominant characteristic of the elections is the widespread repudiation of the electoral system, political campaigns, parties and candidates.

Across the world, majorities and pluralities of citizens of voting age refuse to even register to vote (unless obligated by law), refuse to turn out to vote (voter abstention), or vote against all the candidates (boycott by empty ballot and ballot spoilage).

If we add the many citizen activists who are too young to vote, citizens denied voting rights because of past criminal (often minor) convictions, impoverished citizens and minorities denied voting rights through manipulation and gerrymandering, we find that the actual ‘voting public’ shrivel to a small minority.

As a result, present day elections have been reduced to a theatrical competition among the elite for the votes of a minority. This situation describes an oligarchy – not a healthy democracy.

Oligarchic Competition

Oligarchs compete and alternate with one another over controlling and defining who votes and doesn’t vote. They decide who secures plutocratic financing and mass media propaganda within a tiny corporate sector. ‘Voter choice’ refers to deciding which preselected candidates are acceptable for carrying out an agenda of imperial conquests, deepening class inequalities and securing legal impunity for the oligarchs, their political representatives and state, police and military officials.

Oligarchic politicians depend on the systematic plundering Treasury to facilitate and protect billion dollar/billion euro stock market swindles and the illegal accumulation of trillions of dollars and Euros via tax evasion (capital flight) and money laundering.

The results of elections and the faces of the candidates may change but the fundamental economic and military apparatus remains the same to serve an ever tightening oligarchic rule.

The elite regimes change, but the permanence of state apparatus designed to serve the elite becomes ever more obvious to the citizens.

Why the Oligarchy Celebrates “Democracy”

The politicians who participate in the restrictive and minoritarian electoral system, with its predetermined oligarchic results, celebrate ‘elections’ as a democratic process because a plurality of voters, as subordinate subjects, are incorporated.

Academics, journalists and experts argue that a system in which elite competition defines citizen choice has become the only way to protect ‘democracy’ from the irrational ‘populist’ rhetoric appealing to a mass of citizens vulnerable to authoritarianism (the so-called ‘deplorables’). The low voter turn-out in recent elections reduces the threat posed by such undesirable voters.

A serious objective analysis of present-day electoral politics demonstrates that when the masses do vote for their class interests — the results deepen and extend social democracy. When most voters, non-voters and excluded citizens choose to abstain or boycott elections they have sound reasons for repudiating plutocratic-controlled oligarchic choices.

We will proceed to examine the recent June 2017 voter turnout in the elections in France, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. We will then look at the intrinsic irrationality of citizens voting for elite politicos as opposed to the solid good sense of the popular classes rejection of elite elections and their turn to extra-parliamentary action.

Puerto Rico’s Referendum

The major TV networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) and the prestigious print media (New York Times, Washington Post, and Financial Times) hailed the ‘overwhelming victory’ of the recent pro-annexationist vote in Puerto Rico. They cited the 98% vote in favor of becoming a US state!

The media ignored the fact that a mere 28% of Puerto Ricans participated in the elections to vote for a total US takeover. Over 77% of the eligible voters abstained or boycotted the referendum.

In other words, over three quarters of the Puerto Rican people rejected the sham ‘political elite election’. Instead, the majority voted with their feet in the streets through direct action.

France’s Micro-Bonaparte

In the same way, the mass media celebrated what they dubbed a ‘tidal wave’ of electoral support for French President Emmanuel Macron and his new party, ‘the Republic in March’. Despite the enormous media propaganda push for Macron, a clear majority of the electorate (58%) abstained or spoiled their ballots, therefore rejecting all parties and candidates, and the entire French electoral system. This hardly constitutes a ‘tidal wave’ of citizen support in a democracy.

During the first round of the parliamentary election, President Macron’s candidates received 27% of the vote, barely exceeding the combined vote of the left socialist and nationalist populist parties, which had secured 25% of the vote. In the second round, Macron’s party received less then 20% of the eligible vote.

In other words, the anti-Macron rejectionists represented over three quarters of the French electorate. After these elections a significant proportion of the French people – especially among the working class –will likely choose extra-parliamentary direct action, as the most democratic expression of representative politics.

The United Kingdom: Class Struggle and the Election Results

The June 2017 parliamentary elections in the UK resulted in a minority Conservative regime forced to form an alliance with the fringe Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a far-right para-military Protestant party from Northern Ireland. The Conservatives received 48% of registered voters to 40% who voted for the Labor Party. However, 15 million citizens, or one-third of the total electorate abstained or spoiled their ballots. The Conservative regime’s plurality represented 32% of the electorate.

Despite a virulent anti-Labor campaign in the oligarch-controlled mass media, the combined Labor vote and abstaining citizens clearly formed a majority of the population, which will be excluded from any role the post-election oligarchic regime despite the increase in the turnout (in comparison to previous elections).

Elections: Oligarchs in Office, Workers in the Street

The striking differences in the rate of abstention in France, Puerto Rico, and the UK reflect the levels of class dissatisfaction and rejection of electoral politics.

The UK elections provided the electorate with something resembling a class alternative in the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn. The Labor Party under Corbyn presented a progressive social democratic program promising substantial and necessary increases in social welfare spending (health, education and housing) to be funded by higher progressive taxes on the upper and upper middle class.

Corbyn’s foreign policy promised to end the UK’s involvement in imperialist wars and to withdraw troops from the Middle East. He also re-confirmed his long opposition to Israel’s colonial land-grabbing and oppression of the Palestinian people, as a principled way to reduce terrorist attacks at home.

In other words, Corbyn recognized that introducing real class-based politics would increase voter participation. This was especially true among young voters in the 18-25 year age group, who were among the UK citizens most harmed by the loss of stable factory jobs, the doubling of university fees and the cuts in national health services.

In contrast, the French legislative elections saw the highest rate of voter abstention since the founding of the 5th Republic. These high rates reflect broad popular opposition to ultra-neoliberal President Francois Macron and the absence of real opposition parties engaged in class struggle.

The lowest voter turn-out (72%) occurred in Puerto Rico. This reflects growing mass opposition to the corrupt political elite, the economic depression and the colonial and semi-colonial offerings of the two-major parties. The absence of political movements and parties tied to class struggle led to greater reliance on direct action and voter abstention.

Clearly class politics is the major factor determining voter turnout. The absence of class struggle increases the power of the elite mass media, which promotes the highly divisive identity politics and demonizes left parties. All of these increase both abstention and the vote for right-wing politicians, like Macron.

The mass media grossly inflated the significance of the Right’s election victories of the while ignoring the huge wave of citizens rejecting the entire electoral process. In the case of the UK, the appearance of class politics through Jeremy Corbyn increased voter turnout for the Labor Party. However, Labor has a history of first making left promises and ending up with right turns. Any future Labor betrayal will increase voter abstention.

The established parties and the media work in tandem to confine elections to a choreographed contest among competing elites divorced from direct participation by the working classes. This effectively excludes the citizens who have been most harmed by the ruling class’ austerity programs implemented by successive rightist and Social Democratic parties.

The decision of many citizens not to vote is based on taking a very rational and informed view of the ruling political elites who have slashed their living standards often by forcing workers to compete with immigrants for low paying, unstable jobs. It is deeply rational for citizens to refuse to vote for within a rigged system, which only worsens their living conditions through its attacks on the public sector, social welfare and labor codes while cutting taxes on capital.

Conclusion

The vast majority citizens in the wage and salaried class do not trust the political elites. They see electoral campaigns as empty exercises, financed by and for plutocrats.

Most citizens recognize (and despise) the mass media as elite propaganda megaphones fabricating ‘popular’ images to promote anti-working class politicians, while demonizing political activists engaged in class-based struggles.

Nevertheless, elite elections will not produce an effective consolidation of right-wing rule. Voter abstention will not lead to abstention from direct action when the citizens recognize their class interests are in grave jeopardy.

The Macron regime’s parliamentary majority will turn into an impotent minority as soon as he tries carry out his elite promise to slash the jobs of hundreds of thousands of French public sector workers, smash France’s progressive labor codes and the industry-wide collective bargaining system and pursue new colonial wars.

Puerto Rico’s profound economic depression and social crisis will not be resolved through a referendum with on 27% of the voter participation. Large-scale demonstrations will preclude US annexation and deepen mass demands for class-based alternatives to colonial rule.

Conservative rule in the UK is divided by inter-elite rivalries both at home and abroad. ‘Brexit’, the first step in the break-up of the EU, opens opportunities for deeper class struggle. The social-economic promises made by Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing of the Labor Party energized working class voters, but if it does not fundamentally challenge capital, it will revert to being a marginal force.

The weakness and rivalries within the British ruling class will not be resolved in Parliament or by any new elections.

The demise of the UK, the provocation of a Conservative-DUP alliance and the end of the EU (BREXIT) raises the chance for successful mass extra-parliamentary struggles against the authoritarian neo-liberal attacks on workers’ civil rights and class interests.

Elite elections and their outcomes in Europe and elsewhere are laying the groundwork for a revival and radicalization of the class struggle.

In the final analysis class rule is not decided via elite elections among oligarchs and their mass media propaganda. Once dismissed as a ‘vestige of the past’, the revival of class struggle is clearly on the horizon.