greydog

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

Sep 082017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

A pro-remain supporter of Britain staying in the EU, wears an EU flag mask whilst taking part in a protest to coincide with politicians returning to work after the summer recess, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP/Matt Dunham)

A pro-remain supporter of Britain staying in the EU, wears an EU flag mask whilst taking part in a protest to coincide with politicians returning to work after the summer recess, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Sept. 5, 2017. (AP/Matt Dunham)

The unflinching support for the EU and its institutions is not about preventing European countries from becoming “Afghanistan.” Not about preventing collapse. Not about the inconvenience of long lines at passport control. It is about promoting an ideology, a specific worldview, a vision for the way the world should work.

ATHENS, Greece & LIMASSOL, Cyprus (Analysis) It was way back in the ancient 1990s, when protesting crippling economic austerity measures, the economic imperialism of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and free trade deals such as NAFTA and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), was a mainstay of the progressive or left-wing political agenda and worldview.

Today, that same worldview apparently makes one a “nationalist” or a “fascist,” in the eyes of self-described leftists and progressives. Oh, the irony!

Opposition to free trade agreements or open borders is now a surefire way to be branded with the modern-day scarlet letter, that of being a “nationalist.” Opposing unchecked migration—and the war and conflict that spur mass waves of migration in the first place—apparently makes one a “xenophobe.” Standing up to the crippling austerity prescribed by the open-borders project known as the European Union towards some of its own member-states makes one a “fascist.” Independence and sovereignty are bad, open borders and unrestricted free trade benefiting certain industrial powerhouses and large multinational corporations are good.

In another irony, the anti-colonial independence movements of the 1950s and 1960s were by and large nationalist movements, and were supported by many progressive forces around the world. But at the time, the “n-word” (nationalism, of course) was not the dirty word that it is today.

Back in the distant 1990s, the United States was described by western commentators as the leader of the free world, the beacon of liberty and democracy. This worldview continued unabated up through the end of the term of President Barack Obama. The election of President Donald Trump in November on a populist platform — on the heels of the British referendum result in favor of Brexit, which also drew heavy support from populist political elements — put an end to this worldview.

In yet another irony of ironies, it is now the “iron lady” of one such industrial powerhouse, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is widely viewed as the global beacon of liberal democracy and freedom. According to Politico, it is Merkel who is now the “leader of the free world,” anointed as “global savior.” Online feminist publication Jezebel has dubbed Merkel the “last pillar of liberal democracy in Europe.” And Kati Marton, wife of the late U.S. Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, described Merkel as “the last real democratic leader standing” and “the most powerful woman in the world,” in a highly laudatory profile piece written for fashion and lifestyle magazine Vogue.

The aforementioned sources are quite varied in style and substance, but they all adhere to the same worldview: neoliberalism, or if you prefer, globalism. And it is “free” trade, “open borders,” and the dominance of supranational institutions such as the EU that are some of globalism’s basic tenets. In the eyes of Politico, Jezebel, Vogue and their ilk, leaders like Merkel — among the staunchest supporters of open borders, and of economic austerity for suffering EU member-states such as Greece, towards which the EU supposedly displays “solidarity” — epitomize the ideal global leader, in the mold of other globalist favorites such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

This tacit, blinding acceptance of institutions such as the EU, the World Bank, and the IMF and their policies and practices is a slap in the face to all those—whether they are in Greece, Mexico, Argentina, Tanzania, Indonesia, or elsewhere—that have suffered as a result of the economic doctrines that these institutions have imposed upon their countries. And no criticism or opposition shall be brooked by the purportedly tolerant supporters and backers of such institutions!

Case in point: Naomi Klein. The out-of-nowhere celebrity author and “activist” with a hazy biography first became widely known in the late 1990s for her anti-corporate globalization treatise No Logo, though the pinnacle of her anti-economic globalization work is her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine. Following the election of the supposedly “radical leftist” SYRIZA in Greece on January 25, 2015, Klein could barely contain herself, gushing like a teenage schoolgirl over its victory in social media postings that now seem to have been scrubbed—although some evidence of Klein’s enthusiasm still remains. As SYRIZA and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have sold Greece and its people down the river, overturning the July 5, 2015 referendum result and enacting a third (and since then, a fourth) memorandum agreement, Klein has remained conspicuously silent.

To be clear, this is not an argument in favor of political figures such as Trump (more on this later). Instead, using the EU as a case study, neoliberal doctrine and the prevailing orthodoxy observed in the overwhelming majority of the world’s mainstream media outlets—and in such sectors as business and academia—will be deconstructed. By examining what a supranational institution such as the EU actually is, how it was created and how it operates today — as well as by analyzing why so many entities have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and how they attempt to discredit any opposition to it — readers will (I hope) come away with a clearer understanding of the purpose such institutions serve in the global order today, and why they are not quite what they seem.

A Case Study In Neoliberalism: What The EU Actually Is

The signing, March 25, 1957, of the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community, forerunner of today's European Union. (AP Photo)

The signing, March 25, 1957, of the Treaty of Rome, creating the European Economic Community, forerunner of today’s European Union. (AP Photo)

The EU’s not so humble beginnings:

The EU’s innumerable backers in government, the press and mass media, academia, the intelligentsia, and the general public describe the supranational institution as a force for peace, indeed as the sole and exclusive reason why there supposedly has been no war or conflict—itself a false claim—in Europe since the end of World War II. The EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 based on this argument, that “for over six decades [it had] contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.”

For its proponents, the EU signifies the beginnings of a “brave new world” without war and indeed without borders, a force for peace where capital—including “human capital”—can travel freely. An entity where millennials hop aboard their favorite budget airline and travel from Berlin to Milan to enjoy some prosecco without having to lose precious minutes standing on line at passport control or to exchange currency.

The EU’s beginnings, however, are hardly as benign as the official propaganda. Indeed, there exists significant evidence indicating that, at the very least, the foundations of the European Economic Community (EEC), as it was first known, may have been inspired by Third Reich plans for European “integration” and German hegemony.

At a public meeting at the British House of Commons on February 26, 2008, author, political economist, former British Ministerial Adviser and then-lecturer at Germany’s University of Mainz Rodney Atkinson described the backgrounds of Nazis and fascists who became key founding members of the EEC. In this speech, Atkinson highlighted the backgrounds of such prominent figures as Walter Hallstein and Walther Funk.

Who were Hallstein and Funk? Hallstein was one of the twelve signatories of the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the EEC, and was the first president of the non-elected European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, between 1958 and 1967. EU proponents describe Hallstein as a “visionary,” while mainstream biographies of Hallstein note that while he was a member of some “nominally” Nazi organizations, he was not a Nazi Party member or part of the SA.

Let’s look at these “nominally” Nazi organizations. Hallstein was a member of the Association of National Socialist German Legal Professionals, which later morphed into the National Socialist Association of Legal Professionals (or “Law Protectors”), membership in which was restricted to only those who displayed the most unwavering and active support for Nazi ideology. Indeed, in 1933 Hitler purged Jews and socialists from the organization. Hallstein, in a memo to Nazi administrators, confirmed in 1935 that he was a member of both of these organizations.

Following Hitler’s official state visit to Italy and meeting with Mussolini in May 1938 in the lead-up to World War II, a bi-national commission was established to create the framework for the European dictatorship that was to be achieved. Soon thereafter, the first meeting of this commission’s legal team was held, with Hallstein representing Nazi Germany.

The following year, just before the outbreak of the war, Hallstein gave an infamous speech—the handwritten manuscript of which is available online. In this speech Hallstein referred, among other things, to “the creation of the Greater German Reich” and “legal Germanization of the new territories,” via the “link up” of Austria and much of Czechoslovakia with Germany and creation of a “unified legal system” for this new territory — citing the failure to create such as system as one of the “unfinished tasks” of the Second Reich. Most egregiously, in this same speech Hallstein also advocated in favor of a “law for the protection of the German blood and the German honor,” or what were to become the Nuremberg Race Laws.

On to Walther Funk. Funk served in the Nazi Propaganda Ministry under Goebbels, and later as Nazi Germany’s minister of economics, president of the Reichsbank, and president of the Bank of International Settlements, he was responsible for dispossessing Jews of their assets, for which he was later convicted at the Nuremberg trials. Released from prison in 1957—the year the Treaty of Rome was signed—he served in Lower Saxony’s ministry of education between 1957 and 1960. To state it differently, just over a decade after the war, one of the founding member-states of the EEC offered a significant position in public administration to a convicted Nazi criminal.

Funk’s direct relevance to the EEC, however, is evident through a report produced in 1942 under his watch as economics minister and president of the Reichsbank, titled “Europaische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft,” or “European Economic Community.” Indeed, this term was apparently first introduced by the Nazi regime. This report presented a plan for how Germany would administer the economies of conquered post-war Europe, and encompassed sections on currency, trade and economic agreements, agriculture, industry, and more. More specifically, the report called for the “harmonization” of Europe’s currencies. A uniform planning and management system that would erode the economic sovereignty of individual European states—shades of the EU and such things as the “Common Agricultural Policy” today—was foreseen. And, foreshadowing today’s “identity politics” and “freedom of mobility,” national sovereignty was to be displaced by the so-called “sovereignty of the people.”

When Gerard Batten, a member of the European parliament with the UK Independence Party (UKIP), referred to Funk’s past in a posting on his blog, Labour Party MP Chuka Umunna described these claims as “crackpot conspiracy theories.” But are they? “Europaische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft,” with Funk as one of the co-authors, is readily locatable today. Daniel J. Beddowes and Flavio Cipollini, who together authored a book titled The EU: The Truth About the Fourth Reich – How Hitler Won the Second World War, argue that Funk put the finishing touches on the plans for what is today the EU.

According to Beddowes and Cipollini, “[i]t was Funk who predicted the coming of European economic unity. Funk was also Adolf Hitler’s economics minister and his key economics advisor.” The authors indicate that Hitler’s post-war plans foresaw a federalized, economically integrated European Union free of “the clutter of small nations,” and that these plans were themselves based on a belief held by Lenin, that “federation is a transitional form towards complete union of all nations.” Therefore, argue the authors, it is not by chance that the EU closely resembles Hitler’s blueprint for a unified Europe, and that most EU member-states are getting poorer while Germany is continuously getting richer.

An alleged U.S. military intelligence report, EW-Pa 128 — also known as the “Red House Report” and said to have been written in November 1944 — describes the proceedings of a secret meeting that took place earlier that year where Nazi officials, recognizing that defeat and the end of the war were near, ordered German industrialists to plan for the post-war future and to lay the groundwork for a new “strong German empire.” The secret report was said to have been copied to British officials and to have made its way to the U.S. Secretary of State. The industrialists, including representatives of such companies as Volkswagen, were joined by representatives of the German Navy and the Nazi ministry of armaments.

This report, if indeed legitimate, describes a post-war Europe that would eventually come to be dominated by Germany, but with this domination being economic rather than military. The economic reserves of German front companies located abroad would be exploited, and this money would later be funneled to German industrialists via other front companies in “neutral” Switzerland. These overseas front companies would maintain a direct line of communication with the top political echelons of Germany, with the goal of eventually reasserting their dominance over Germany—and over Europe.

This report dredges up memories of the infamous Merten affair, involving Dr. Max Merten, who had been installed as a Nazi administrator in the city of Thessaloniki. Infamous for having looted Thessaloniki’s substantial Jewish community of their wealth and jewels in exchange for protection—before betraying their trust—Merten maintained close ties with prominent Greek politicians, particularly the inner circle of Konstantinos Karamanlis, who in the 1950s became Greece’s Western-supported prime minister.

Merten, wishing to recover his hidden booty, returned to Greece in 1957 under the assumption that no warrant existed for his arrest. Merten was arrested, however, and served some months in prison before being amnestied by Karamanlis. Merten had been threatening the Karamanlis government with evidence that Merten was said to have in his possession, proving that Karamanlis and key ministers of his government had collaborated with the Nazis during the war.

One of Karamanlis’ closest allies, Konstantinos Gertsos, appears in the declassified intelligence files on the Merten affair. Gertsos headed a German front corporation, landing a lucrative mining concession on behalf of German businessmen. He later became Greece’s ambassador to Switzerland, where he participated in investment schemes with Karamanlis, and later was named honorary ambassador of Greece. Serving again as Greece’s first post-junta prime minister, Karamanlis himself oversaw the negotiations for Greece’s accession to the European Community in the late 1970s. His nephew, also named Konstantinos Karamanlis, served as prime minister between 2004-2009, the years that led up to Greece’s catastrophic economic crisis.

On the topic of industry, there is the example of Hermann Abs, founder of the pro-integration European League for Economic Cooperation (still in existence), a board member of Deutsche Bank, and also a board member of I.G. Farben, a union of German industrial titans such as BASF and Bayer. This consortium sought to obtain control of the global marketplace in such sectors as pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals. In 1933, it also became the largest financier of the Nazis’ rise to power, and continued to collaborate with the Nazis thereafter, to the tune of over 80 million Reichsmark during the war. In exchange, I.G. Farben took over key industries in each Nazi-occupied country.

What was I.G. Farben’s endgame? A letter presented at the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal, which had been written by I.G. Farben director August von Knieriem and addressed to the Nazi government, foresaw a common European currency, legal system, and judicial system—not unlike today’s EU and Eurozone.

The Nazi foreign ministry itself crafted a draft blueprint for a “united Europe,” which—in shades of today’s hysterical anti-Russian sentiment in the West—called for a European mobilization against the USSR through the implementation of a “European image of German foreign policy” and the formation of a confederation of 14 European states that would be led by Germany and ultimately promote German interests.

None other than celebrity economist and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis himself has pointed outseveral quotations that could fairly describe today’s EU, including: “There must be a readiness to subordinate one’s own interests in certain cases to that of the European Community;” and “The solution to economic problems … with the eventual object of a European customs union and a free European market, a European clearing system and stable exchange rates in Europe, looking towards a European currency union.” Oddly enough, or perhaps not so oddly, these striking similarities with Nazi rhetoric do not lead to any hesitation on Varoufakis’ part to wholly and enthusiastically support EU institutions.

“There is no alternative”

A protester take part in a rally against the proposed privatization of the state-run water utility, in the Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Greece’s highest administrative court has ruled against the sale, arguing that the sale could affect water quality. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

A protester take part in a rally against the proposed privatization of the state-run water utility, in the Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Greece’s highest administrative court has ruled against the sale, arguing that the sale could affect water quality. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

Just as with opposition to international “free” trade and the policies of institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, there was a time where the left and progressive forces were opposed to the politics of TINA—“there is no alternative,” exemplified by the original iron lady, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Today though, we are told by a wide range of voices, including purported leftists such as Varoufakis, that for countries such as Greece there is no alternative to EU and Eurozone membership, categorically ruling out any thoughts of departure.

But Greece lied by presenting false economic data to enter the Eurozone, did it not? And therefore it must accept “bitter medicine,” should it not? That’s what many “well-meaning” leftists and progressives retort when the topic of the EU and IMF’s cruelty towards Greece is brought up. But this also exposes what could, depending on one’s perspective, be described as either the EU’s incompetence or its insidious nature. If Greece lied and the EU did not perform due diligence and was fooled, then it is incompetent. If it knew what was going on and went along, then it is complicit in what has followed.

Furthermore, Greece wasn’t alone in its “creative accounting:” countries like Italy and Spain also brokered deals with the likes of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan to massage the numbers in order to meet the Maastricht criteria to qualify for Eurozone membership. Even Varoufakis, in a 2012 Dialogos Radio interview, has suggested that many other Eurozone members fudged the numbers.

Membership in the EU and the Eurozone provided an ephemeral economic boom and a period of false prosperity for Greece. The negative impacts, however, are more long-lasting, if indeed not permanent, in nature. Privatizations, which began in earnest in the early 1990s and did nothing to prevent the crisis, resulted in the wholesale sell-off of strategic state assets, resources, and public utilities that were often profitable. Introduction of a “hard” currency, overvalued for the Greek economy, made Greek exports and tourism uncompetitive compared to lower-priced alternatives in the region. Greece’s previously modest industrial base was decimated while agricultural production has dropped sharply since 1981, the year Greece joined the EU, due in large part to the EU’s common agricultural policy.

Greece, as did several other countries, may have presented questionable data in order to enter the Eurozone. In yet another biting irony though, similarly “fudged” numbers may have been presented, very much on purpose, in order to drag Greece into the IMF-EU austerity mechanism. Whistleblowers such as Zoe Georganta have made allegations and presented evidence indicating that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were purposely worsened in order to drag Greece under the austerity mechanism.

Fueling these allegations is the revelation that former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn had met with then-opposition leader George Papandreou in April 2009, months before Papandreou was elected as Greece’s prime minister. The allegedly augmented deficit and debt figures were revealed soon after Papandreou’s election, signifying the start of the economic crisis.

We might ask, why sabotage a national economy? The corrected question, though, should be, why not? The austerity regime enabled the EU and successive subservient regimes in Greece to impose unpopular and socially harmful measures that would never have had a chance of being enacted under ordinary conditions — including harsh cuts to social services, wages, and pensions, plus fast-tracking the privatization of key national assets.

Notably, the Greek economy was subject to EU audits and oversight during the 2004-2007 time period. For some unexplained reason, this oversight did nothing to prevent the crisis that followed. And while the international press has habitually focused on Greece’s falsifying of its economic data to join the Eurozone (without focusing on other countries which also engaged in this practice), any discussion of the allegations made by whistleblowers about the alleged augmentation of Greece’s deficit and debt figures is denounced as conspiracy theory. Indeed, the chief statistician who oversaw this possible falsification of the data is lauded in the press.

The EU’s democratic deficit, hypocrisy, and the human cost

A man looks on a pile of trash as he walks behind a flower pot in Kaminia neighborhood of Piraeus, near Athens, June 27, 2017. Striking garbage collectors who fear job losses from EU-imposed regulations governing short-term contract workers in the public sector, were on the 11th-day of protest that left huge piles of trash around Athens. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)The austerity regime in Greece has been far from victimless. Repeated reports from the United Nations and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) have found that the austerity measures imposed in Greece are in violation of international law and the basic human rights of the Greek people, who have increasingly been impoverished during the crisis as a result of the successive pension and wage cuts and reductions to social services that have been imposed.

For a while, the “European family” demonstrated “solidarity” with Greece and its people. Such “solidarity” movements cropped up in early 2015 in particular—movements that were fully supportive of the SYRIZA-led coalition government, notwithstanding the signs that were evident from the very beginning that SYRIZA was not the leftist, anti-austerity force it was portrayed as being. Instead, their “solidarity” protests in European and North American cities, replete with SYRIZA flags, and their accompanying social media hashtag #ThisIsACoup, gently chastised the “bad Europeans” for “blackmailing” the well-intentioned “leftist” government of Greece.

Peculiarly, these mild protestations against the “bad Europeans” were never, ever accompanied by suggestions that Greece consider a departure from the EU or the Eurozone, even as a negotiating tactic. Instead, the Greek people have, by the very same people who displayed “solidarity,” often been lectured about Greece’s responsibility towards the rest of the “European family” and chastised for such matters as the petty corruption of not issuing a receipt for small purchases.

Indeed, it has often been Greece that has been called upon to display “solidarity” without reciprocation. With Greece beset by many dozens of destructive forest fires in recent weeks, the EU obliged Greece to send two firefighting airplanes to Albania—itself not a EU member-state—but France refused a request to send planes to help Greece’s overextended fire brigades extinguish the Greek blazes.

This mentality has made its way into the Greek political psyche. Prime Minister Tsipras’ victory speech on January 25, 2015 was full of pro-EU zeal, featuring many references to saving Europe, but none to saving Greece. The main opposition party, New Democracy, has helped organize several “remain in Europe” rallies since 2015 and has repeatedly positioned itself as a “responsible” and “outward-looking” alternative to the “leftist” SYRIZA.

Nary a word is mentioned, however, about the EU’s apparent disdain for democracy. As mentioned earlier, its executive branch, the European Commission, is wholly non-elected. Nor, for that matter, are the EU commissioners themselves. One such commissioner, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström of Sweden, has said quite accurately that she “does not receive her mandate from the European people.”

The non-elected president of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, himself embattled by the LuxLeaks scandals in the recent past, has stated that “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties.” Sadly though, he hasn’t addressed the hypocrisy of lecturing Greece about “reform” whilst being embroiled in scandals of his own.

In turn, Germany’s apparent finance minister-for-life, Wolfgang Schäuble, who apparently also acts as finance minister of Greece and Spain and Italy and Portugal, has said “[e]lections change nothing. There are rules.” The sovereign judicial institutions of an EU member-state have also been openly questioned when decisions don’t go the EU’s way, as was the case recently in Greece. Solidaridad!

This author received an in-your-face taste of the EU’s brand of democracy in a 2013 visit to EU institutions in Brussels and Luxembourg. During this visit, a succession of technocrats shed all pretense and demonstrated their disdain for democracy and the very concept of the nation-state. Their talks were peppered with such quotes as “The labor force should be ‘flexible’ and should ‘diversify;’” “Mussolini dealt with the situation;” “There are regions of Italy which we wish Brussels could govern directly;” and “We believe in a single European consciousness.” Compare these with the Nazi quotations presented earlier in this piece.

During this series of talks, the technocrats and their partners in academia arrogantly attributed the EU’s economic perils to three simple factors: “Bad design. Bad luck. Bad decisions: Greece.” Revealing the EU’s possible endgame, we were further told that “the nation-state is a 19th-century construct, and nothing lasts forever.”

Further demonstrating the utter lack of democracy and accountability in the Nobel Prize-winning EU, it should be noted that the European Central Bank (ECB), which holds the economic fate of the EU’s member-states in its hands, has only one mandate in its governing documents: maintaining price stability — reflecting a longstanding German aversion to inflation of any sort. Nothing in the ECB’s constitution requires it to enact policy with social mandates, such as full employment, in mind. Indeed, the ECB itself does not lend directly to member-states but exclusively to private banks, from which states are then obliged to borrow at higher interest rates.

Perhaps best demonstrating the contempt with which the EU elite and its supporters view democracy and popular will, numerous parliamentary votes and referendum results that have not gone the EU’s way have systematically been subject to re-dos and overturned. For instance, Ireland rejected the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by referendum in 2008. A “relatively small member state” daring to “hold up” attempts at further EU integration was considered intolerable by the powers that be, and a new vote was called. Amidst tremendous pressure, voters wilted and accepted the treaty in the new referendum.

Similarly, Irish voters rejected the EU’s Treaty of Nice in 2001. This surprise result was also deemed unacceptable. A new referendum was scheduled in 2002, the usual pressure on voters piled on, and the Treaty approved by Irish voters the second time around.

In 2013, Cyprus’ newly-elected government of President Nikos Anastasiadis rejected an EU-proposed “bailout” that would have resulted in a “haircut” of bank deposits ranging from 6.6 percent to 9.9 percent. Indeed, not one vote in favor was cast in parliament. De facto EU boss Germany was not impressed. Under stifling pressure and amidst threats of “imminent” bankruptcy, the parliament caved and passed a modified, but still onerous, “bailout” bill and haircut in a second vote.

In Greece, of course, the “leftist” SYRIZA government felt no obligation to even pretend to show resistance, despite the absurd “#ThisIsACoup” rhetoric that it tacitly supported behind the scenes. The July 2015 popular referendum overwhelmingly rejecting the EU’s austerity proposals was swiftly overturned and replaced by an even more severe austerity package, all in the name of keeping Greece “in Europe” (as if it would float away to Antarctica otherwise).

Following the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, elitist, pro-EU scholars from such “safe space” institutions as the London School of Economics recoiled in disgust at the “tyranny of the majority.” Clearly, voters were not as well-informed as pro-EU ivory tower intellectuals. This sentiment is not a recent phenomenon, however: similar views were expressed over a decade ago following the rejection of the proposed EU “constitution” by French and Dutch voters in 2005.

Therefore, it is no surprise that in the EU today, non-elected authorities are the ones who, for instance, tell countries what to grow and what not to grow (EU common agricultural policy), or whether or not a state-owned national air carrier can be allowed to continue to operate. A private and high-cost quasi-monopoly (Aegean Airlines) along with a smattering of low-cost airlines with a limited range of destinations has replaced Greece’s Olympic Airlines, which undoubtedly had been mismanaged but nevertheless connected Greece to North America and Australia.  In neighboring Turkey, Turkish Airlines—unimpeded by EU “competition” regulations and half-owned by the Turkish state—flies to the most countries and fourth most destinations in the world.

Why the fear of losing the EU?

A man looks up at a model of a pigeon on top of a banner as anti Brexit campaigners gather at Hyde Park Corner in London, March 25, 2017, before they march towards Britain's parliament. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

A man looks up at a model of a pigeon on top of a banner as anti Brexit campaigners gather at Hyde Park Corner in London, March 25, 2017, before they march towards Britain’s parliament. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

For some of those who favor the EU, their support often approaches levels of blind dogmatism. The main issue to contend with here though is why do such large segments of the political, business, and media elite so strongly support the EU, the Eurozone, and all of its associated institutions and policies?

In a word, the reason is neoliberalism. Based in part on “third way” politics, which burst to the political forefront in the 1990s with the likes of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it is the idea that capital, including “human capital,” should be able to flow freely across borders—or better yet, that borders should be abolished altogether. It is an idea that pays lip service to democracy and social justice but that preserves the primacy of international financial capital and so-called “free trade” über alles.

Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, defending his government’s policy of maintaining Greek membership in the Eurozone, argued in a recent interview that Greece would turn “into Afghanistan” if it left the common currency bloc. However, as evidenced by Tsipras’ aforementioned victory speech, the end goal is preserving the idea of “Europe”—as conceptualized by today’s European Union—at all costs, even if it means breaking campaign promises (or outright lying, if you prefer) and implementing policies that are toxic for the country and its people.

Some of the more laughable defenses that have been heard in favor of EU membership—as exemplified by the heated pre- and post-Brexit referendum rhetoric, concern such awful inconveniences as having to wait on line at customs control or at currency exchange. Somewhat more serious arguments concern the loss of the right to seek employment in other European countries. Doom-and-gloom scenarios, such as the one put forth by Tsipras and also much of the press and mass media, predict economic failure and catastrophe for those who dare depart from the Eurozone or the EU.

This unflinching support for the EU and its institutions, though, is not in reality about preventing European countries from being transformed into “Afghanistan.” It is not about preventing collapse. It is not about the laughable inconvenience of waiting on long lines at passport control. It is about promoting an ideology, a specific worldview, a vision for the way the world should work.

How exactly does this new, visionary world work in reality? What is the end goal? Let’s take the “free movement of labor” as an example. The positive spin that is often placed on this issue points out the advantages of being able to seek work in 28 EU member-states, increasing options for those seeking jobs and the pool of potential workers for employers.

In actuality though, such policies promote a “brain drain” from poorer EU member-states towards those that are wealthier. This perpetuates a spiral of impoverishment in countries such as Greece, from which an estimated 600,000 people have emigrated just during the years of the economic crisis, draining the country of a significant percentage of its educated professionals, the know-how and innovation they could provide, and the contributions their employment would make to the national tax base and pension system–further perpetuating the vicious economic cycle.

Indeed, it can be surmised that a portion of the still significant levels of support for EU membership in Greece stems from individuals who do not view EU membership in terms of the country’s best interest but in terms of self-interest — such as the opportunity to escape the “hellhole” that is Greece and to move to other, wealthier countries that are deemed more “civilized.” Motivated self-interest can also be seen in certain professional categories, such as academics for instance, who fear losing such benefits as EU-provided or EU-supported financial grants.

On their end, employers do not wish to lose what amounts to a pool of surplus labor. This has nothing to do with meritocracy, competition, or finding the best candidate to fill available positions. It has much more to do with increasing labor supply and lowering wages accordingly, essentially pitting labor against itself. As an ancillary benefit, the impoverishment of EU member-states such as Greece creates an internal bloc of countries with educated working populations, proximity to the rest of Europe, free trade and the same currency, and labor conditions and wages rapidly approaching third-world levels. This leads to “investments” (including the aforementioned privatizations) in these nouveau-poor nations, while “free” trade allows cheaply-made imports from economic powerhouses such as Germany to be dumped on local markets.

The same holds true for economic migrants and refugees, for whom we are often told there must be “no borders.” But what this influx of peoples actually represents from an economic point of view is further surplus labor, including labor willing to perform undesirable jobs at pitifully low wages. It represents a new labor pool which is, in essence, pitted against the domestic labor of European countries, suppressing wages across the board. As an additional bonus for employers, those migrants and refugees who are undocumented are far more likely to be amenable to long workdays, extremely low wages, and employment without insurance, benefits, or union membership — essentially held hostage by fear of deportation or starvation.

In other words, these migrants and refugees are exploited, and this exploitation occurs under the guise of “open borders” and “solidarity.” As this exploitation takes place, the true causes of the mass waves of migration and outflows of refugees from these countries are ignored. These, in turn, are closely related to the geopolitical ambitions and activities of Western actors, including the EU and Brussels-based NATO.

While many of those who are opposed to unchecked migration are indeed racist and xenophobic, there also exist those who oppose such migration on the aforementioned grounds, while further recognizing that states already battered by domestic unemployment are in no position to absorb a new labor pool. There are obviously non-racist and non-xenophobic grounds for  opposition to the destruction, impoverishment and exploitation of these countries in the first place There are then equally sound and benignant grounds for further opposition to the exploitation of the migrant workers and the suppression of wages and elimination of jobs for the domestic workforce, especially at a time when double-digit unemployment already officially exists in much of Europe and the Eurozone.

The way this induced “free” movement operates, a significant percentage of the labor force within “united” Europe is exploited or driven out of work and forced into internal migration within the “common market,” while migrants from outside Europe add to the pool of surplus labor and drive down wages even further. Both categories of workers are exploited by the “big fish,” namely economic and industrial giants such as Germany, and by international financial capital, which together benefit quite handsomely from this situation. This is as far from a xenophobic argument as one can get.

If this all sounds far-fetched, consider the following remarks made by British Labour Party MP John Reid on the BBC’s “Sunday Politics” television program on April 14, 2013: “The Treasury insisted in having a free flow of labor because they thought it would have brought down the cost of labor.” Reid further noted that he was attacked by members of his own party for suggesting that it was not racist to discuss the issue of immigration.

This is the prevalent ideology: “open borders” under a veil of “humanism” but with the goal of the economic exploitation of workers and entire countries alike. War and conflict is fomented in some countries, economic oppression in others. The migrants fleeing these countries in search of survival and employment are then exploited by the wealthier countries, which benefit and profit off of their work and very presence in these countries, such as through the broadening of the tax base. Conversely, the countries that raised these individuals and invested in their education are left largely empty-handed, at best awaiting remittances from abroad. And all of this is couched in pseudo-humanitarian terms: open borders, free movement, and “free” trade.

Discrediting the EU’s opponents

Guest speaker British politician George Galloway makes a speech at a rally held by the Grassroots Out (GO), anti-EU campaign group at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London, held to coincide with the EU summit in Brussels, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP/Matt Dunham)

Guest speaker British politician George Galloway makes a speech at a rally held by the Grassroots Out (GO), anti-EU campaign group at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London, held to coincide with the EU summit in Brussels, Feb. 19, 2016. (AP/Matt Dunham)

As I conclude this piece, I find myself at a fascinating conference on journalism and digital media taking place on the divided island of Cyprus. Notably, Cyprus, just like the United Kingdom, is not yet part of the Schengen Zone, which allows for passport- and visa-free travel. This means long lines at passport control—the horror! Interestingly enough, despite the U.K.’s having been exempted from participation in the Schengen Zone, “freedom to travel” was one of the arguments put forth to oppose “Brexit.”

But back to the conference: I’ve attended fascinating panel discussions and talks by brilliant academic colleagues from all across the world. But there is one problem: the prevailing viewpoint seems openly in favor of all of the institutions and beliefs that are shared by those who could be described as proponents of neoliberalism: pro-EU, anti-Brexit, vilification of the type of so-called “fake news” (i.e., news that does not fit a globalist agenda) allegedly practiced by outlets such as MintPress News, as well as heaps of shock and horror at the election of Donald Trump in the United States. All of this reflects prevailing viewpoints in the media, in the business world, and in academia.

So, Trump and Brexit. These electoral results have been blamed, sometimes in their entirety, on racism and xenophobia and “nationalism” and the ever-evil “populism.” But academia, and particularly the liberal arts and humanities, for all of their lofty talk of “interrogating hegemony,” do not question why populism is successful, and whether there are factors other than poorly-informed and racist voters taking advantage of democratic processes to, believe it or not, vote for their preferred candidate!

Earlier, the example of voters in Missouri counties that had previously voted solidly in favor of Barack Obama but who supported Trump in last year’s election, was used to question the idea that all voters who perhaps supported “populism” or who wished to “make America great again” were racists and xenophobes. Similarly, while the mass media has heaped attention on the racist and xenophobic element of the Brexit referendum result, left-wing campaigns for Brexit, such as “Lexit” and “Left Leave” and prominent left-wing and decidedly non-racist, non-xenophobic figures such as Tariq Ali, are habitually ignored—by journalists, by the media, by academia. In turn, any political development that contradicts the long march towards further neoliberalism and globalism is conflated with the likes of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage, and Marine Le Pen among others.

What seems increasingly apparent is that these aforementioned populist political figures are being used—though not entirely incorrectly—as weapons to discredit any policies that are not favorable to the neoliberal status quo. What isn’t clear is whether this was the plan all along — for the likes of Trump to be anointed for this purpose as a real-life “manchurian candidate” and for the Brexit referendum to take place smack in the midst of Europe’s refugee and migrant crisis — or if it simply represents a strategic response by the establishment to an inconvenient situation. But the disgust that has accompanied some of the few actual positive developments of the Trump presidency — such as the elimination of TPP and TTIP (also opposed by Bernie Sanders amidst censorship), the types of “free trade” agreements once vigorously opposed by progressive forces — perhaps elucidates the true nature of opposition to “populism.”

One of the end results of such a divisive and often extreme political climate is the occurrence of horrible, unfortunate, and tragic events that directly reflect this emerging polarization. The recent occurrence in Charlottesville is a case in point. Once they have taken place, such incidents — driven by extremists and pent-up anger on either side — are further used as weapons to discredit any argument against the prevailing political and economic order.

International cooperation and repairing what’s broken

A man stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally by workers in the health sector outside the Labour ministry in Athens, March 2, 2017. Monitors from Greece's European Union creditors and the International Monetary Fund re-launched talks in Athens on Tuesday on the country's stumbling bailout program. The banner reads : "Medical Association of Athens, We demand the immediate withdraw of the pension bill". (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A man stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally by workers in the health sector outside the Labour ministry in Athens, March 2, 2017. Monitors from Greece’s European Union creditors and the International Monetary Fund re-launched talks in Athens on Tuesday on the country’s stumbling bailout program. The banner reads : “Medical Association of Athens, We demand the immediate withdraw of the pension bill”. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

A lack of willingness to question the aforementioned political and economic order may help explain why even those individuals who expressed “solidarity” with Greece—at least up until Greece and its crisis were largely forgotten following the July 2015 referendum—nevertheless refused to question the very core issues of the EU, its policies in Greece and other crisis-stricken countries, and continued membership in the EU and the Eurozone. Even during the “#ThisIsACoup” phase of “solidarity” towards Greece, the “bad” Europeans who were said to be blackmailing the Greek government were apparently never considered quite bad enough to necessitate “Grexit”—or to later support Brexit. At worst, the Greek situation could be said to be viewed by these elements as merely a momentary hiccup on the path towards a borderless European—or global—utopia.

It seems to be the case that questioning the project in purported European “unity” that is the EU is enough for ordinary individuals to be branded “racists” and “xenophobes,” “isolationists” and “reactionaries.” I suppose then that Tariq Ali, who also questioned SYRIZA when it was not yet fashionable to do so, is a racist and a regressive force—as are Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange, and George Galloway, who also adopted positions in favor of Brexit.

So why not simply fix the EU if it is broken? That’s what the likes of Yanis Varoufakis have repeatedly argued. But if Grexit is unreasonable and unrealistic, is it more reasonable and more realistic to presume that entrenched institutional structures — such as a non-elected European Commission, an unaccountable European justice system, and thousands upon thousands of regulations and directives dictating many aspects of life and economic activity in Europe, right down to the shape of bananas sold for human consumption (regulations which do in fact exist despite insistence to the contrary by the EU’s supporters) — can simply be changed or eliminated? Or that the issue of surplus labor and downward pressures on wages can be solved within such an institutional and regulatory context? I have not heard a satisfactory answer to these questions, not even from Varoufakis himself. Can an institution that is rotten and undemocratic to the core be salvaged?

Having mentioned Varoufakis, it bears noting that he has, on several occasions, openly praised Mrs. TINA herself, Margaret Thatcher (see also here, here, here, and here). This should come as no surprise, as it is Varoufakis who told us that There Is No Alternative to the euro for Greece, refused to even bring the Grexit option to the negotiating table as Greece’s finance minister, and accepted all of the EU’s austerity demands in the name of keeping Greece in the Eurozone at all costs.

It’s quite ironic that “anti-establishment” leftists and anarchists find themselves precisely on the same side as much of the establishment itself when it comes to the existence of institutions such as the EU, in the name of “open borders”—or no borders whatsoever. The very same establishment that praises one of the harshest prescribers of austerity, Angela Merkel, as a bastion of liberal democracy and as the newly anointed leader of the “free” world.

Those who do not conform to this orthodoxy often do not go unpunished. In various ways, three other purportedly “leftist” or “progressive” publications made it clear that this author’s contributions were no longer welcome. Ditto a radio station and Voice of America affiliate in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, which once carried my radio program. So much for tolerance.

Yet, in the name of journalistic integrity — and in the face of injustice, hypocrisy and intolerance — there are things that must be said, if we are to engage in the type of healthy, robust and open democratic dialogue that we’d like to believe we stand for. For this, and as I prepare to begin a professional career in my chosen field, shall I expect to be confronted with a dressing-down akin to that seen in the classic 1976 film Network, where journalist Howard Beale was kindly informed that he had meddled with the primal forces of nature and that he will atone? Perhaps!

The lecture to which Beale was subjected in Network, whether intentionally or not, was accurate: by and large there is no left or right. There are no Democrats or Republicans. There is a prevailing globalist, neoliberal worldview, and there is a smattering of various elements from a wide range of sharply different and often incongruent belief systems that, each for its own reasons, oppose this prevailing trend. And because of the actions of fringe groups that truly are racist and violent, anyone who even so much as simply questions the orthodox worldview is lumped together with such genuinely reactionary elements.

There is true beauty in diversity and cultural difference. But what is diversity and what is cultural difference? I don’t wish to see the same Starbucks in Los Angeles, Lisbon, Lima, and Lesotho. I don’t desire to see one global “lingua franca” prevail while “unimportant” languages (like Greek) die out. I would not like to see the same corporations and the same lifestyle imposed worldwide via the process of globalization. When I am privileged enough to travel, I’d like to enjoy the local food and music and culture, to hear the local language and learn a few words (or more), to appreciate a way of life and a worldview different from my own. That’s diversity, and it is endangered by the homogenizing process of globalization, which is itself brought further along by the elimination of national sovereignty.

If I am a Greek voter, I want my elected prime minister, whether it is Alexis Tsipras or anyone else, to talk about the country that they were elected to govern and to represent me, my children and my family, not to discuss some abstract entity known as “Europe” which he or she was not elected to represent. Democracy works at a local level, while imperialism and empire are what prevail at the global, supranational level. And if the price of that democracy is waiting in a queue to exchange currency (which preferably would be in physical form) then so be it.

The idea of unity is often treated as a zero-sum game with the idea of the nation, that only one or the other is possible. But is this truly the case? International cooperation and understanding can and does exist across nations and peoples in an astounding myriad of ways. These could include trade agreements that are not parasitic or based on exploitation, visa-free travel regimes across countries, and academic exchange programs that help foster cultural mixing and collaboration. Those academics who are also EU backers and are worried about losing, say, the Erasmus+ exchange program, may wish to consider that it is open to non-EU citizens, just as the United States’ Fulbright exchange program is open to participants from all around the world. Those are concrete examples of international cooperation and cultural bridging in action which can exist, should exist, and often times do exist without the necessity of a bloated supranational behemoth micromanaging every aspect of life and serving the interests of a select few.

Nation-states and borders do not necessarily mean isolationism. They don’t necessarily mean hatred, nor do they mean a lack of cooperation. Indeed these elements can and do exist even absent of borders, such as within societies or within supranational entities. We are told that the EU has served as a force for peace and that the nation-state as an institution promotes war. But the EU and EU member-states allied with NATO have participated in countless conflicts, both on the European continent and elsewhere, and have no problem allying themselves with oppressive, violent, authoritarian and genocidal regimes for reasons of economic or geopolitical expediency. War itself has existed since prehistoric times, long before the advent of the nation-state. It has also indeed contributed to the breakup of larger supranational entities. And as demonstrated earlier, whether due to conspiracy or coincidence, the idea of European economic and political unity is not necessarily incompatible with fascist and extremist ideology.

So what of the EU and Eurozone? A commonly heard retort is that no one has suggested any practical alternatives or a course of action that would allow a country such as, say, Greece, to depart from these institutions without a catastrophic meltdown taking place. This therefore raises the question: should a country like Greece depart and, if so, how can it accomplish this? What are the alternatives, and are they viable? Will Greece be transformed into Afghanistan, as Tsipras suggests? The next installment of this series will address these questions—and more—in detail. Stay tuned.

Sep 072017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

In the last few months, several competing political, economic and military sectors – linked to distinct ideological and ethnic groups – have clearly emerged at the centers of power.

We can identify some of the key competing and interlocking directorates of the power elite:

  1. Free marketers, with the ubiquitous presence of the ‘Israel First’ crowd.
  2. National capitalists, linked to rightwing ideologues.
  3. Generals, linked to the national security and the Pentagon apparatus, as well as defense industry.
  4. Business elites, linked to global capital.

This essay attempts to define the power wielders and evaluate their range of power and its impact.

The Economic Power Elite: Israel-Firsters and Wall Street CEO’s

Israel Firsters’ dominate the top economic and political positions within the Trump regime and, interestingly, are among the Administration’s most vociferous opponents. These include: the Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, as well as her Vice-Chair, Stanley Fischer, an Israeli citizen and former (sic) Governor of the Bank of Israel.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an Orthodox Jew, acts as his top adviser on Middle East Affairs. Kushner, a New Jersey real estate mogul, set himself up as the archenemy of the economic nationalists in the Trump inner circle. He supports every Israeli power and land grab in the Middle East and works closely with David Friedman, US Ambassador to Israel (and fanatical supporter of the illegal Jewish settlements) and Jason Greenblatt, Special Representative for International negotiations. With three Israel-Firsters determining Middle East policy, there is not even a fig leaf of balance.

The Treasury Secretary is Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, who leads the neo-liberal free market wing of the Wall Street sector within the Trump regime. Gary Cohn, a longtime Wall Street influential, heads the National Economic Council. They form the core business advisers and lead the neo-liberal anti-nationalist Trump coalition committed to undermining economic nationalist policies.

An influential voice in the Attorney General’s office is Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller the chief investigator, which led to the removal of nationalists from the Trump Administration.

The fairy godfather of the anti-nationalist Mnuchin-Cohn team is Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sach’s Chairman. The ‘Three Israel First bankerteers’ are spearheading the fight to deregulate the banking sector, which had ravaged the economy, leading to the 2008 collapse and foreclosure of millions of American homeowners and businesses.

The ‘Israel-First’ free market elite is spread across the entire ruling political spectrum, including ranking Democrats in Congress, led by Senate Minority leader Charles Schumer and the Democratic Head of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff. The Democratic Party Israel Firsters have allied with their free market brethren in pushing for investigations and mass media campaigns against Trump’s economic nationalist supporters and their eventual purge from the administration.

The Military Power Elite: The Generals

The military power elite has successfully taken over from the elected president in major decision-making. Where once the war powers rested with the President and the Congress, today a collection of fanatical militarists make and execute military policy, decide war zones and push for greater militarization of domestic policing. Trump has turned crucial decisions over to those he fondly calls ‘my Generals’ as he continues to dodge accusations of corruption and racism.

Trump appointed Four-Star General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis (retired USMC) – a general who led the war in Afghanistan and Iraq – as Secretary of Defense. Mattis (whose military ‘glories’ included bombing a large wedding party in Iraq) is leading the campaign to escalate US military intervention in Afghanistan – a war and occupation that Trump had openly condemned during his campaign. As Defense Secretary, General ‘Mad Dog’ pushed the under-enthusiastic Trump to announce an increase in US ground troops and air attacks throughout Afghanistan. True to his much-publicized nom-de-guerre, the general is a rabid advocate for a nuclear attack against North Korea.

Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster (an active duty Three Star General and long time proponent of expanding the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan) became National Security Adviser after the purge of Trump’s ally Lt. General Michael Flynn, who opposed the campaign of confrontation and sanctions against Russia and China. McMaster has been instrumental in removing ‘nationalists’ from Trumps administration and joins General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis in pushing for a greater build-up of US troops in Afghanistan.

Lt. General John Kelly (Retired USMC), another Iraq war veteran and Middle East regime change enthusiast, was appointed White House Chief of Staff after the ouster of Reince Priebus.

The Administration’s Troika of three generals share with the neoliberal Israel First Senior Advisors to Trump, Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner, a deep hostility toward Iran and fully endorse Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that the 2015 Nuclear Accord with Tehran be scrapped.

Trump’s military directorate guarantees that spending for overseas wars will not be affected by budget cuts, recessions or even national disasters.

The ‘Generals’, the Israel First free marketers and the Democratic Party elite lead the fight against the economic nationalists and have succeeded in ensuring that Obama Era military and economic empire building would remain in place and even expand.

The Economic Nationalist Elite

The leading strategist and ideologue of Trump’s economic nationalist allies in the White House was Steve Bannon. He had been chief political architect and Trump adviser during the electoral campaign. Bannon devised an election campaign favoring domestic manufacturers and American workers against the Wall Street and multinational corporate free marketers. He developed Trump’s attack on the global trade agreements, which had led to the export of capital and the devastation of US manufacturing labor.

Equally significant, Bannon crafted Trumps early public opposition to the generals’ 15-year trillion-dollar intervention in Afghanistan and the even more costly series of wars in the Middle East favored by the Israel-Firsters, including the ongoing proxy-mercenary war to overthrow the secular nationalist government of Syria.

Within 8 month of Trump’s administration, the combined forces of the free market economic and military elite, the Democratic Party leaders, overt militarists in the Republican Party and their allies in the mass media succeeded in purging Bannon – and marginalized the mass support base for his ‘America First’ economic nationalist and anti-‘regime change’ agenda.

The anti-Trump ‘alliance’ will now target the remaining few economic nationalists in the administration. These include: the CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who favors protectionism by weakening the Asian and NAFTA trade agreements and Peter Navarro, Chairman of the White House Trade Council. Pompeo and Navarro face strong opposition from the ascendant neoliberal Zionist troika now dominating the Trump regime.

In addition, there is Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, a billionaire and former director of Rothschild Inc., who allied with Bannon in threatening import quotas to address the massive US trade deficit with China and the European Union.

Another Bannon ally is US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer a former military and intelligence analyst with ties to the newsletter Breitbart. He is a strong opponent of the neoliberal, globalizers in and out of the Trump regime.

Senior Adviser’ and Trump speechwriter, Stephen Miller actively promotes the travel ban on Muslims and stricter restrictions on immigration. Miller represents the Bannon wing of Trump’s zealously pro-Israel cohort.

Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s Deputy Assistant in military and intelligence affairs, was more an ideologue than analyst, who wrote for Breitbart and rode to office on Bannon’s coat tails. Right after removing Bannon, the ‘Generals’ purged Gorka in early August on accusations of ‘anti-Semitism’.

Whoever remains among Trump’s economic nationalists are significantly handicapped by the loss of Steve Bannon who had provided leadership and direction. However, most have social and economic backgrounds, which also link them to the military power elite on some issues and with the pro-Israel free marketers on others. However, their core beliefs had been shaped and defined by Bannon.

The Business Power Elite

Exon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Secretary of State and former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Energy Secretary lead the business elite. Meanwhile, the business elite associated with US manufacturing and industry have little direct influence on domestic or foreign policy. While they follow the Wall Street free marketers on domestic policy, they are subordinated to the military elite on foreign policy and are not allied with Steve Bannon’s ideological core.

Trump’s business elite, which has no link to the economic nationalists in the Trump regime, provides a friendlier face to overseas economic allies and adversaries.

Analysis and Conclusion

The power elite cuts across party affiliations, branches of government and economic strategies. It is not restricted to either political party, Republican or Democratic. It includes free marketers, some economic nationalists, Wall Street power brokers and militarists. All compete and fight for power, wealth and dominance within this administration. The correlation of forces is volatile, changing rapidly in short periods of time – reflecting the lack of cohesion and coherence in the Trump regime.

Never has the US power elite been subject to such monumental changes in composition and direction during the first year of a new regime.

During the Obama Presidency, Wall Street and the Pentagon comfortably shared power with Silicon Valley billionaires and the mass media elite. They were united in pursuing an imperial ‘globalist’ strategy, emphasizing multiple theaters of war and multi-lateral free trade treaties, which was in the process of reducing millions of American workers to permanent helotry.

With the inauguration of President Trump, this power elite faced challenges and the emergence of a new strategic configuration, which sought drastic changes in US political economic and military policy.

The architect of the Trump’s campaign and strategy, Steve Bannon, sought to displace the global economic and military elite with his alliance of economic nationalists, manufacturing workers and protectionist business elites. Bannon pushed for a major break from Obama’s policy of multiple permanent wars to expanding the domestic market. He proposed troop withdrawal and the end of US military operations in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, while increasing a combination of economic, political and military pressure on China. He sought to end sanctions and confrontation against Moscow and fashion economic ties between the giant energy producers in the US and Russia.

While Bannon was initially the chief strategist in the White House, he quickly found himself faced with powerful rivals inside the regime, and ardent opponents among Democratic and Republican globalists and especially from the Zionist – neoliberals who systematically maneuvered to win strategic economic and policy positions within the regime. Instead of being a coherent platform from which to formulate a new radical economic strategy, the Trump Administration was turned into a chaotic and vicious ‘terrain for struggle’. The Bannon’s economic strategy barely got off the ground.

The mass media and operatives within the state apparatus, linked to Obama’s permanent war strategy, first attacked Trump’s proposed economic reconciliation with Russia. To undermine any ‘de-escalation’, they fabricated the Russian spy and election manipulation conspiracy. Their first successful shots were fired at Lt. General Michael Flynn, Bannon’s ally and key proponent for reversing the Obama/Clinton policy of military confrontation with Russia. Flynn was quickly destroyed and openly threatened with prosecution as a ‘Russian agent’ in whipped-up hysteria that resembled the heydays of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Key economic posts in the Trump regime were split between the Israel-Firster neoliberals and the economic nationalists. The ‘Deal Maker’ President Trump attempted to harness Wall Street-affiliated neoliberal Zionists to the economic nationalists, linked to Trump’s working class electoral base, in formulating new trade relations with the EU and China, which would favor US manufacturers. Given the irreconcilable differences between these forces, Trump’s naïve ‘deal’ weakened Bannon, undermined his leadership and wrecked his nationalist economic strategy.

While Bannon had secured several important economic appointees, the Zionist neoliberals undercut their authority. The Fischer-Mnuchin-Cohn cohort successfully set a competing agenda.

The entire Congressional elite from both parties united to paralyze the Trump-Bannon agenda. The giant corporate mass media served as a hysterical and rumor-laden megaphone for zealous Congressional and FBI investigators magnifying every nuance of Trump’s US Russia relations in search of conspiracy. The combined state-Congressional and Media apparatus overwhelmed the unorganized and unprepared mass base of  Bannon electoral coalition which had elected Trump.

Thoroughly defeated, the toothless President Trump retreated in desperate search for a new power configuration, turning his day-to-day operations over to ‘his generals’. The elected civilian President of the United States embraced his generals’pursuit of a new military-globalist alliance and escalation of military threats foremost against North Korea, but including Russia and China. Afghanistan was immediately targeted for an expanded intervention.

Trump effectively replaced Bannon’s economic nationalist strategy with a revival Obama’s multi-war military approach.

The Trump regime re-launched the US attacks on Afghanistan and Syria – exceeding Obama’s use of drone attacks on suspected Muslim militants. He intensified sanctions against Russia and Iran, embraced Saudi Arabia’s war against the people of Yemen and turned the entire Middle East policy over to his ultra-Zionist Political Advisor (Real Estate mogul and son-in-law) Jared Kushner and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

Trump’s retreat turned into a grotesque rout. The Generals embraced the neoliberal Zionists in Treasury and the Congressional global militarists. Communication Directory Anthony Scaramucci was fired. Trump’s Chief of Staff General Joe Kelly purged Steve Bannon. Sebastian Gorka was kicked out.

The eight months of internal struggle between the economic nationalists and the neoliberals has ended: The Zionist-globalist alliance with Trump’s Generals now dominate the Power Elite.

Trump is desperate to adapt to the new configuration, allied to his own Congressional adversaries and the rabidly anti-Trump mass media.

Having all but decimated Trump’s economic nationalists and their program, the Power Elite then mounted a series of media-magnified events centering around a local punch-out in Charlottesville, Virginia between ‘white supremacists’ and ‘anti-fascists’. After the confrontation led to death and injury, the media used Trump’s inept attempt to blame both ‘baseball bat’-wielding sides, as proof of the President’s links to neo-Nazis and the KKK. Neoliberal and Zionists, within the Trump administration and his business councils, all joined in the attack on the President, denouncing his failure to immediately and unilaterally blame rightwing extremists for the mayhem.

Trump is turning to sectors of the business and Congressional elite in a desperate attempt to hold onto waning support via promises to enact massive tax cuts and deregulate the entire private sector.

The decisive issue was no longer over one policy or another or even strategy. Trump had already lost on all accounts. The ‘final solution’ to the problem of the election of Donald Trump is moving foreword step-by-step – his impeachment and possible arrest by any and all means.

What the rise and destruction of economic nationalism in the ‘person’ of Donald Trump tells us is that the American political system cannot tolerate any capitalist reforms that might threaten the imperial globalist power elite.

Writers and activists used to think that only democratically elected socialist regimes would be the target of systematic coup d’état. Today the political boundaries are far more restrictive. To call for ‘economic nationalism’, completely within the capitalist system, and seek reciprocal trade agreements is to invite savage political attacks, trumped up conspiracies and internal military take-overs ending in ‘regime change’.

The global-militarist elite purge of economic nationalists and anti-militarists was supported by the entire US left with a few notable exceptions. For the first time in history the left became an organizational weapon of the pro-war, pro-Wall Street, pro-Zionist Right in the campaign to oust President Trump. Local movements and leaders, notwithstanding, trade union functionaries, civil rights and immigration politicians, liberals and social democrats have joined in the fight for restoring the worst of all worlds: the Clinton-Bush-Obama/Clinton policy of permanent multiple wars, escalating confrontations with Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela and Trump’s deregulation of the US economy and massive tax-cuts for big business.

We have gone a long-way backwards: from elections to purges and from peace agreements to police state investigations. Today’s economic nationalists are labeled ‘fascists’; and displaced workers are ‘the deplorables’!

Americans have a lot to learn and unlearn. Our strategic advantage may reside in the fact that political life in the United States cannot get worse – we really have touched bottom and (barring a nuclear war) we can only look up.

Sep 042017
 

By Eric Toussaint, CADTM, 99GetSmart

Yanis Varoufakis, April 2015. via Flickr.

Yanis Varoufakis, April 2015. via Flickr.

In his book Adults in the Room, Yanis Varoufakis gives us his version of the events that led to the Tsipras government’s shameful capitulation in July 2015. In part two of a series of articles analyzing the book, Eric Toussaint examines Varoufakis’s questionable account of the origins of the crisis and his coziness with the Greek political class. 

In his latest book Adults in the Room, Yanis Varoufakis gives us his version of the reasons behind the Tsipras government’s shameful capitulation in July 2015. It essentially analyses the period 2009-2015, though it makes incursions into earlier periods.

In my first article on the subject of this book, I analysed critically the proposals made by Yanis Varoufakis before he became a member of the Tsipras government in January 2015, demonstrating that those proposals were doomed to fail. This second article covers the ties Yanis Varoufakis maintained with Greece’s ruling political class (both the PASOK, historically linked to social-democracy, and the conservative New Democracy) for several years.

On several occasions, Yanis Varoufakis mentions the broad range of his relations with members of the Greek political milieu. He stresses his past friendship with Yanis Stournaras (the current Governor of the Bank of Greece, an ally of Mario Draghi and of the private Greek and foreign bankers), his good relations in 2009 with George Papandreou (who implemented the policies leading in May 2010 to the first Memorandum of Understanding) and his relationship with Antonis Samaras (who led the Greek government after the second Memorandum of Understanding), and he devotes a large part of the first four chapters of the book to relating how a close collaboration, and at times a complicity, was formed with three Syriza leaders. Those leaders were Alexis Tsipras (who led the Greek people into the third Memorandum of Understanding) and Nikos Pappas (Tsipras’s alter ego, who became a Minister of state in the first Tsipras government), added to whom, along the way, was Yanis Dragasakis (before he became vice-Prime Minister of the first and second Tsipras governments). In this second part, I will deal with Varoufakis’s account of the start of the crisis in Greece and his relations with Greece’s traditional political class.

Varoufakis’s account of the events leading to the imposition of the first Memorandum of Understanding in May 2010 is highly questionable. While defending his position, at the same time he reinforces the official narrative according to which the cause of the crisis lies in the inability of the Greek state to deal with its public debt. While he condemns the sorry state Greece’s private banks had put themselves in, he puts the accent on the Greek state’s inability to deal with that situation and declares that Greece should have resorted to bankruptcy. He rules out the possibility that was “offered” to the state to refuse to take responsibility for the banks’ losses. His reasoning regarding the failure of the Greek state is based on the fact, according to him, that the liabilities (that is, the debts) of the private banks were the state’s responsibility, and that nothing could be done about that. The private banks’ liabilities were so extensive that the Greek state was incapable of assuming them. And yet, at certain points in history, States have refused to assume the losses of private banks. Iceland did it beginning in 2008 when its private banking sector collapsed, and with very positive results. Iceland victoriously stood up to the threats of Britain and Holland. 2

Saying that Greece is not Iceland and/or that Greece is part of the Eurozone is not enough to put an end to the debate. Varoufakis’s attitude, in reality, is economically and socially conservative. He condemns the Greek bankers, but the solution he proposed to Alexis Tsipras beginning in June 2012 consisted in transferring ownership of Greece’s banks to the European Union. 3

It is also clear that there was every reason to challenge the repayment of Greece’s public debt, which had increased greatly mainly in the 1990s due to the pursuit of illegitimate goals (excessive military expenditure, financing fiscal gifts to major corporations and wealthy citizens, financing reductions in corporate contributions to social security using debt, etc.) or to financing the debt under illegitimate conditions (abusive interest rates paid to banks), and using methods characterised by corruption and other illegalities (see Chapter 1 of the “Preliminary Report of the Truth Committee on Greece’s Public Debt”).

Varoufakis and the government of George Papandreou (PASOK) 2009-2011

In the autumn of 2009 a new Greek government was elected on the promise of higher spending as a means of helping the nation’s income mountain recover, but the new prime minister and his finance minister, from the PASOK social democratic party, did not get it. The state was irretrievably bankrupt even before they were sworn in. 4

It is false to say that the state was bankrupt. That statement reinforces the deceitful narrative that is put forward by the Troika and the dominant media.

What Varoufakis does not say is that Papandreou dramatised the public debt and the public deficit instead of making those who were responsible, both in Greece and abroad (that is, the private shareholders, the board members of the banks, and the foreign banks and other financial entities who contributed to generating the speculative bubble), bear the cost of the banking crisis. The Papandreou government falsified the statistics on Greece’s debt — not in the period before the crisis, in order to reduce it (as the prevailing narrative claims), but in fact in 2009, to increase it. That is demonstrated very clearly by the Truth Committee on Greece’s Public Debt in its June 2015 report (see chapter II, p. 17). Instead of blowing the whistle on the falsification, Varoufakis takes the statements made by Papandreou and his Finance Minister on the dramatic state of public finances at face value.

After the parliamentary elections of 4 October 2009, the newly elected government of George Papandreou illegally revised and increased both the public deficit and public debt figures for the period before the Memorandum of 2010. The public deficit estimation of 2009 was revised upward several times, from 11.9% of GDP in the first estimate to 15.8% in the final one. Andreas Georgiou, who was Executive Director of the Greek statistics bureau ELSTAT in 2009-2010 (despite the fact that he was still on the staff of the IMF), was sentenced by a court in August 2017. Here is what the French daily Le Monde wrote in its 1 August 2017 issue:

Andreas Georgiou, former head of the Greek statistics office, Elstat, a key figure in the saga of the false public-deficit figures at the start of the debt crisis, was sentenced Tuesday 1 August to a suspended prison sentence of two years. The Athens criminal court found him guilty of “breach of duty,” according to judicial sources. The former International Monetary Fund staff member was prosecuted for collusion with Eurostat (the EU’s statistics office, which is a Directorate of the European Commission) to inflate figures regarding Greece’s deficit and public debt for the year 2009. The presumed goal was to facilitate surrendering control of the country’s finances with the implementation of the first international financial assistance plan in 2010 – the third has been in force since August 2015. 5

Further, contrary to what Varoufakis claims, the private banks did not cut off credit to the Greek state in 2009; it was credit to the private sector that was interrupted during that year. In the fall of 2009, the Greek state was having no difficulty in raising funds. The financial markets cut off credit to the Greek state in 2010, after Papandreou dramatised the situation and at a time when the first Memorandum of Understanding was being launched.

Varoufakis explains at several points in Chapter 2 that despite obvious divergences, he maintained good relations with Papandreou: “In January 2010 in a radio interview I warned the prime minister, whom I knew personally and with whom I was on rather friendly terms, ‘Whatever you do, do not seek state loans from our European partners in a futile bid to avert our bankruptcy.’” 7

On this last point, Varoufakis is right — credit should not have been sought from the Troika. On the other hand, Varoufakis is wrong when he says that the Greek state should have declared itself bankrupt. An alternative, one that was contrary to the policy espoused by Papandreou and different from the one advanced by Varoufakis (bankruptcy of the state), was possible, and necessary.

Following their win in the 2009 elections thanks to a campaign during which they denounced the neoliberal policies of New Democracy, the Papandreou government, had it wanted to make good on its campaign promises, would have had to socialize the banking sector by organizing an orderly failure of the banks and protecting depositors. Several historical examples demonstrate that organizing such a failure and then starting up financial services again to operate in the interests of the population would have been quite possible. They should have taken the example of what had been done in Iceland since 2008 8 and in Sweden and Norway in the 1990s. 9 Instead, Papandreou chose to follow the scandalous and catastrophic example of the Irish government, which bailed out the bankers in 2008 and in September 2010 agreed to a European aid plan that had dramatic consequences for Ireland’s people. When in fact what was needed was to go even farther than Iceland and Sweden and completely and permanently socialize the financial sector. The foreign banks and big private Greek shareholders should have been made to bear the losses stemming from resolving the banking crisis and those responsible for the banking disaster should have been prosecuted. That would have allowed Greece to avoid the successive Memoranda that have subjected the Greek people to a dramatic humanitarian crisis and to humiliation, without any of it resulting in truly cleaning up the Greek banking system.

Varoufakis and Antonis Samaras

Several times, Varoufakis refers to the contact he maintained with personalities in the first rank of Greece’s political class, both members of PASOK and of the leading Conservative party, New Democracy.

One evening (in 2011; ed. note), on returning to our flat after yet another session at ERT, the Greek state radio and TV network, the landline rang. I picked the phone up to hear a familiar voice. It belonged to Antonis Samaras, then leader of the conservative New Democracy party, at the time Greece’s official opposition […] “We have never met, Mr Varoufakis,” he said, “but having just watched you on ERT I felt an urge to call. For I cannot remember the last time I was so touched by something so profound I heard someone say on television. Thank you for your stance.”

He was not the only member of the Greek establishment to approach me. Indeed, my campaign had led to many secret discussions with socialist ministers, opposition conservative members of parliament, trade union bosses and the like who felt I was on to something. Once I outlined my basic analysis, not one of them contested it. […] The conservatives, at least up until November 2011, were a happier lot: with their leader Antonis Samaras adopting an anti-austerity, anti-bailout position, they felt freer to endorse my musings. 10

After receiving a telephone call like this one from Samaras, some people would have asked themselves, “Isn’t it disquieting to receive compliments from one of the key leaders of the Conservative party?” But not Varoufakis.

The friendship between Stournaras and Varoufakis

Varoufakis devotes no less than four pages to describing his friendly relationship with Yanis Stournaras. 11 Between the late 1990s and the period of the Memoranda, Yanis Stournaras moved from PASOK to New Democracy. Varoufakis explains:

[It was he who] convince[d] Berlin and Brussels to let Greece into the euro. Once Greece was securely inside the euro, in 2000 the PASOK prime minister rewarded Stournaras with the Commercial Bank of Greece …. It was during this last phase of his career that we first met. Despite his busy schedule, Stournaras was always on hand to do his share of teaching, and to do it happily and devotedly. While our economic perspectives differed considerably, as did our politics, his commitment to the university and the good chemistry between us provided the foundation for a developing friendship. 12

Varoufakis tells how they spent the evening of the election of 4 October 2009, in which PASOK was victorious, together in Stournaras’s apartment. At that time, Stournaras was a high-ranking advisor of the “socialists” and beginning of 2010 had adopted Papandreou’s pro-Memorandum orientation. Varoufakis continues:

During that momentous year for Greece, 2010, Stournaras made a career move that raised eyebrows, becoming director of an economics think tank originally set up by Greece’s National Confederation of Industries, the largest and most established bosses’ guild in the land, traditionally affiliated to the conservatives of New Democracy.

This did not affect their friendship. A month before the May 2012 elections, Varoufakis was in Athens and called Stournaras:

We met the next day at a café in the lobby of a hotel at the foot of the Acropolis; we hugged …. Turning to business, I briefed him on the discussions I had just had in Berlin with officials from the European Central Bank and the German government, with financial journalists and the like. I also mentioned a conversation I had had with financier George Soros. I told Stournaras that Soros agreed with my assessment of the Greek situation as well as with the gist of my economic policy proposals for Europe as a whole.

Varoufakis explains that Stournaras and he did not reach an agreement on the viability of the Memorandum of Understanding but that they parted with promises to keep their friendship intact. Things went sour a few months later, when Stournaras accused Varoufakis of speculating with Soros on Greek debt securities. That is when their relationship was broken off. Meanwhile, Stournaras had become Minister of Development (May-June 2012). Following the elections in June 2012, he became Finance Minister of the Antonis Samaras government. Then, starting in June 2014, Samaras appointed him Governor of the Bank of Greece, a position he still holds.

I have made a point of summing up this passage in Varoufakis’s book because it is revelatory of the ease with which he moved about in the environment of the Greek political class. Even if he held no official position at the time, he maintained relations with key leaders, and some of his ideas were not rejected, to say the least, by the conservative leaders. Clearly this is not embarrassing to him, since he discusses it at length in the book.

Footnotes

|1| I gave my own analysis of the crisis of the Greek banks in “Banks are responsible for the crisis in Greece http://www.cadtm.org/Banks-are-resp…. See also Patrick Saurin, “La ‘Crise grecque’ une crise provoquée par les banques”, (in French).

|2| CADTM – “Iceland refuses its accused bankers ‘Out of Court’ settlements,” published 2 March 2016, http://www.cadtm.org/Iceland-refuse…

|3| Y. Varoufakis, Adults in the Room, Bodley Head, London, 2017, chap. 3, p. 65. I will return to this point in the next article.

|4| Y. Varoufakis, Adults in the Room, Bodley Head, London, 2017, Chapter 2, p. 31.

|5| Read the article (in French) at http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/articl… Note that this type of article is very rare in the daily Le Monde. Greece’s conservative press (in particular the daily Kathimerini) stresses the displeasure of the European Commission. The Commission’s spokesperson, Annika Breidthardt, announced on 1 August 2017 that the court’s decision was not in line with judicial precedent and reiterated that “[The Commission has] full confidence in the reliability and accuracy of ELSTAT data during 2010-2015 and beyond.”

|6| I will be publishing a further article on this matter before the end of 2017. I will show that several graphs published by official entities, including the IMF, are false.

|7| Y. Varoufakis, Adults in the Room, Bodley Head, London, 2017, Chap. 2, p. 31. On the following page, Varoufakis writes: “Convinced that our bankruptcy was assured whatever calming noises we emitted, I ploughed on. The fact that I had once written speeches for Prime Minister Papandreou caught the eye of the BBC and other foreign news outlets.”

|8| Renaud Vivien, Eva Joly, “Iceland refuses its accused bankers ‘Out of Court’ settlements”, published 2 March 2016, http://www.cadtm.org/Iceland-refuse…

|9| Mayes, D. (2009). Banking crisis resolution policy – different country experiences. Central Bank of Norway. http://www.norges-bank.no/Upload/77…

|10| Y. Varoufakis, Adults in the Room, Bodley Head, London, 2017, Chap. 2, p. 38-39.

|11| Y. Varoufakis, Adults in the Room, Bodley Head, London, 2017, Chap. 2, p. 68-72.

|12| The bank later changed its name to Emporiki and was bought out by the French bank Crédit Agricole.

Translated by Snake Arbusto in collaboration with Vicki Briault.

Author

auton5-c93f5Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the author of Bankocracy(2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc. See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. Since the 4th April 2015 he is the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt.
Sep 032017
 

By Eric Toussaint, CADTM, 99GetSmart

Yanis Varoufakis (CC - Flickr - Marc Lozano)

Yanis Varoufakis (CC – Flickr – Marc Lozano)

Adults-in-the-room-c71f6In his latest book, Adults in the Room(https://www.theguardian.com/books/2…), Yanis Varoufakis gives us his version of the events that led to the Tsipras government’s shameful capitulation in July 2015. It essentially analyses the period 2009-2015, though it makes incursions into earlier periods.

With this voluminous work (550 pages), Yanis Varoufakis shows that he is a gifted narrator. At times he succeeds in moving the reader. His direct and vivid style makes it easy to follow events.

This initial article will cover the first four chapters of a book that comprises 17 in all. It deals with the proposals Varoufakis made before he became a member of the government in January 2015.

From the author’s demonstration, we can clearly see that his behaviour and the politico-economic orientation he defended contributed to the disaster. Yanis Varoufakis clearly claims to have played a major role in working out the strategy adopted by a handful of Syriza leaders — Alexis Tsipras, Yanis Dragasakis, and Nikkos Pappas, essentially — before their victory in the January 2015 election.

Varoufakis does not plead guilty. He is convinced that had Tsipras actually taken the orientation he proposed and which Tsipras had agreed to late in 2014, the result would not have been defeat for the Greek people.

But, contrary to the conviction Varoufakis expresses, an attentive reading of his book leads to the conclusion that he contributed to that defeat.

Varoufakis explains how he gradually convinced Tsipras, Pappas, and Dragasakis not to follow the orientation adopted by Syriza in 2012, then in 2014. He explains that along with them, he worked out a new orientation that was not discussed within Syriza and was different from the one Syriza ran on during the January 2015 campaign. And that orientation was to lead, at best, to failure, and at worst to capitulation.


The measures defended by Varoufakis

Varoufakis sums up the content of the agreement he made with Alexis Tsipras, Dragasakis and Pappas in November 2014 during a meeting in Tsipras’s apartment. The meeting had been organized by the Tsipras-Pappas-Dragasakis trio to convince Varoufakis to agree to become Finance Minister in the government that would shortly be formed by Syriza. “Alexis then delivered his offer, unassumingly and under Dragasakis’s watchful eye. ‘If we win, and there is no doubt we shall, we want you to become finance minister.’” |1|

Varoufakis sums up six priority measures he proposed to Tsipras, Dragasakis, and Pappas and to which they agreed. What these measures implied was that Greece would remain in the Eurozone.

Varoufakis writes: “I felt the need to recapitulate one more time what we had agreed our aims to be:”

  • Debt restructuring comes first.
  • Second, a primary surplus of no more than 1.5 per cent of national income and no new austerity measures.
  • Third, wide-ranging reductions in sales and business tax rates.
  • Fourth, strategic privatizations under conditions that preserve labour rights and boost investment.
  • Fifth, the creation of a development bank that would use remaining public assets as collateral to generate a domestic investment drive, and whose dividends would be channelled into public pension funds.
  • Sixth, a policy of transferring bank shares and management to the European Union…
  • Again they agreed, this time with greater conviction.  |2|

Varoufakis states clearly that these measures were to substitute for the measures in the Thessaloniki Programme Tsipras had presented in September 2014. Here is what he writes about that Programme:

  • Back in Austin, I heard on the news that Alexis had delivered a major speech in Thessaloniki outlining Syriza’s economic platform. Gobsmacked, I got hold of the text and read it. A wave of nausea and indignation permeated my gut. Straight away I went to work. The article that emerged less than half an hour later was used soon after its publication by Prime Minister Samaras to lambast Syriza in parliament: ‘Even Varoufakis, your economic guru, says that your promises are fake.’ And so they were.
  • The ’Thessaloniki Programme’ … promised wage rises, subsidies, benefits and investment paid for with sources of funding which were either imaginary or illegal. There were also promises we should not have wanted to fulfil. Above all, it was at odds with any reasonable negotiating strategy that kept Greece within the eurozone, despite advocating that it should remain there. It was in fact such a ramshackle programme that I did not even bother to criticize it point by point. Instead I wrote:
  • ‘How I would have loved a different speech from Alexis Tsipras, one beginning with the question ’Why vote for us?’ Before proceeding to answer it with ’Because we are promising you only three things: blood, sweat and tears!’
  • Blood, sweat and tears, which Winston Churchill promised the British people in 1940 as he was assuming the helm of government, in return for their support and help to win the war.  |3|

Taking Winston Churchill as a positive reference in a public criticism of the Thessaloniki Programme took some doing. It was Churchill who organized the bloody repression of the demonstrations and strikes that shook Greece in late 1944 when, under the Yalta agreements, Britain took control of the country by repressing the very forces that had freed the country from the Nazi occupation.

Let us examine the measures as Varoufakis outlines them:


1. Debt restructuring

Varoufakis proposes restructuring the debt without reducing the debt stock. This first, very moderate measure depended on the good will of the Troika. In fact it was mere wishful thinking. Without recourse to a suspension of payment, combined with other unilateral acts including conducting an audit of the debt (with citizen participation), it was impossible to force the creditors to accept a real radical reduction of the debt. Varoufakis’s main proposal regarding restructuring the debt, as he says himself, is in line with his “Modest Proposal for Resolving the Euro Crisis.” Putting that proposal, which consisted in mutualising the public debts of the Eurozone, into practice would have required a joint decision by the governments of the Zone to ease public finances and abandon austerity policies. This is technically possible, and is politically desirable from the point of view of boosting the economy and creating a new neo-Keynesian social contract. But despite the moderate nature of the proposal, it is totally incompatible with the policies of the majority of the governments concerned. One would have to be extremely naive to think that the government leaders in place in most European capitals could be favourable to a Keynesian stimulus. Basing a solution on such a hypothesis shows a total lack of awareness of the power balance and the motivations of European policymakers.

Varoufakis’s entire proposal regarding debt was and is unacceptable from a left-wing point of view because it presupposes evacuating any debate as to the legality and legitimacy of the debts whose repayment is being demanded of Greece

With regard to debt, Varoufakis’s most recent version of the proposal, issued in 2014-2015, does not call for questioning or reducing the debt owed to the IMF and to the private creditors, but rather for making an arrangement with the European partners on the following points:

  • 1. Our government would issue new perpetual bonds, with the same face value as the bonds the ECB owned, bearing a small interest rate but with no expiry or redemption date ;
  • 2. Existing debt obligations to Europe’s bailout fund would be swapped with new Greek government thirty-year bonds, again of the same value as the existing debt (so no formal haircut) but with two provisions: first, annual payments were to be suspended until the country’s income recovered to beyond a certain threshold; second, the rate of interest would be linked to the rate of growth of the Greek economy. |4|

Comment: These two proposals were just as unfeasible politically as was the idea of mutualising debt.

Moreover, Varoufakis’s entire proposal regarding debt was and is unacceptable from a left-wing point of view because it presupposes evacuating any debate as to the legality and legitimacy of the debts whose repayment is being demanded of Greece. Varoufakis’s proposal is in direct opposition to the position adopted by Syriza in 2012, which was to unilaterally suspend repayment and conduct an audit of the debt (I will return to this point later). Further — and this is important — in his proposal Varoufakis does not explicitly include the abandonment of the conditions imposed by the creditors.

Varoufakis himself recognises that his proposal is extremely moderate:

  • [These measures] were moderate and politically palatable to the creditors, as they included no outright haircut. They signalled to the public and to potential investors that the EU was accepting a new role: no longer the harsh creditor of an insolvent state, it would become a partner in Greece’s growth, as its own returns would be proportional to Greek nominal income growth.
  • …Not once did any official of the EU or the IMF articulate a criticism of the logic behind these proposals. How could they?
  • As the CEO of one of America’s largest investment banks remarked after hearing them, ‘You are offering them a deal that a Wall Street bankruptcy lawyer could have come up with.’

Comment: It is evident that this approach was also explicitly in opposition to a legitimate refusal to continue repayment of an odious debt.


2. “A primary surplus of no more than 1.5 per cent of national income and no new austerity measures.”

Comment: Committing to a primary surplus of 1.5% is totally incompatible with a true policy of stimulation of the economy, public and private employment, and purchasing power for the mass of the population. In Greece, a left-wing government which wishes to actually implement a stimulus policy and respond to a humanitarian crisis must apply a policy of deficit spending over a period of several years and refuse to secure a primary surplus.


3. Wide-ranging reductions in sales and business tax rates

Concerning this measure — which Varoufakis sums up as follows: “This would require sharp reductions in VAT and the corporate tax rate in order to re-energize the private sector” — he cites a question from Tsipras:

The belief that reducing corporate taxes will increase corporations’ contribution to revenues has never been demonstrated, and is more liberal incantation than reasoned argument

  • ’Why should business pay less?’ Alexis protested.
  • I explained that I thought the private sector should pay more in total tax revenue, but the only way to achieve an overall increase in their contribution at a time of next to no sales and with bankrupt banks unable to provide credit even to profitable firms was to reduce the corporate tax rate. Dragasakis stepped in to say he agreed, apparently allaying Alexis and Pappas’s initial consternation.

Comment: Promising an undifferentiated reduction in corporate taxes is simply incompatible with a politics of the Left. Tax rates must be increased for large corporations, and the increase enforced. But there is no reason why the tax rates on small companies can’t be lowered at the same time. In any case, the belief that reducing corporate taxes will increase corporations’ contribution to revenues has never been demonstrated, and is more liberal incantation than reasoned argument.
4. Strategic privatizations under conditions that preserve labour rights and boost investment

Varoufakis says:

  • When it came to privatizations, I continued, we would have to make compromises if we wanted an agreement with the EU and the IMF. Syriza’s blanket rejection of privatization would have to be replaced with a policy of considering them case by case. Fire sales of public holdings had to end, but there would be some assets, such as ports and railways, that we should make available conditional on a minimum level of investment, on the buyer’s commitment to granting workers proper contracts and the right to union representation, and on the state retaining a large, even if minority, shareholding, the dividends from which would be used to assist pension funds.

Varoufakis was favourable to the continuation of certain privatisations. This attitude condemned the government to submission to the major corporations, and in particular to foreign capital

Comment: Whereas Syriza was fighting to put an end to privatisations and to renationalise a group of companies that had been privatised, Varoufakis — as indeed would be his practice once he became Minister — was favourable to the continuation of certain privatisations. This attitude condemned the government to submission to the major corporations, and in particular to foreign capital. The effect was to reduce the public authorities to impotence.


5. Creation of a development bank

“Fifth, the creation of a development bank that would use remaining public assets as collateral to generate a domestic investment drive, and whose dividends would be channelled into public pension funds.” Varoufakis proposes the creation of a rump development bank as a consolation prize in exchange for the privatisations and the transfer of the Greek banks into the hands of the foreign creditors (see Proposal 6).

Varoufakis writes:

  • Meanwhile, those assets that were to remain under public ownership should be handed over to a new public development bank, which would use them as collateral in the raising of funds to be invested in these same public assets so as to boost their value, create jobs and enhance future revenues. They agreed on this too.

Comment: Varoufakis presents the creation of a public development bank in order to wash down the bitter pill of Proposals 4 and 6, which are in total contradiction with a left-wing strategy. Measure 4 consists in continuing the privatisations and Measure 6 in relinquishing the power the Greek public authorities still had over the Greek banks. Measure 5 served as a lure to make it appear as though the public authorities were going to set up a true public development instrument.


6. “Transferring bank shares and management to the European Union.” (sic!)

Varoufakis describes the idea as being “that these bankrupt banks be placed under the management and ownership of the EU. …this was an extraordinarily challenging proposal for a left-wing party that tended if anything towards nationalizing the banking sector.”

Comment: The Greek state was the principal shareholder of all the Greek banks and Syriza’s position was that the public authorities should actually exercise their power over the banks. In proposing to Tsipras, Pappas, and Dragasakis that the shares owned by the Greek public authorities should be transferred to the EU, Varoufakis was making an additional — and potentially tragic — step towards the complete abandonment of sovereignty.

In proposing to Tsipras, Pappas, and Dragasakis that the shares owned by the Greek public authorities should be transferred to the EU, Varoufakis was making an additional — and potentially tragic — step towards the complete abandonment of sovereignty

After summing up these six proposals that he claims were accepted by Tsipras-Pappas-Dragasakis, Varoufakis comes to the strategy a Syriza government should bring to bear in negotiating with the EU. He explains that if the EU decided to directly sabotage the government, the ECB would do the dirty work. It would cut off the cash flow to the Greek banks and require them to shut their doors, as was done in March 2013 in Cyprus, according to Varoufakis.

Varoufakis says that Tsipras-Pappas-Dragasakis agreed to respond in the following manner:

  • Their agreement had to extend also to my proposed negotiating strategy, complete with its key deterrent, the threat to haircut our SMP bonds, and the parallel payments system with which to buy time in the event of an impasse that would bring on bank closures.

I will return to this issue of negotiating strategy in a forthcoming article in which I will discuss the period that followed the elections in January 2015.

Varoufakis tells us that following the meeting with the Tsipras-Pappas-Dragasakis trio, he accepted the position of Finance Minister. Dragasakis, for his part, would occupy the post of Deputy Prime Minister and would directly supervise three key ministries, including Finance.

Part Two will be devoted mainly to the history of relations between Varoufakis and the Tsipras-Pappas-Dragasakis trio between 2011 and 2014.

Translated by Snake Arbusto in collaboration with Vicki Briault

Greek version @ http://contra-xreos.gr/arthra/1225-2017-08-16-18-09-00.html

Footnotes

|1| Yanis Varoufakis, Adults in the Room, Bodley Head, London, 2017, p. 98.

|2| Ibid., p. 102.

|3| Ibid., p. 88-89.

|4| This citation and all the following ones are from Chapter 4.

Author

auton5-c93f5Eric Toussaint is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France. He is the author of Bankocracy(2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012 (see here), etc. See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. Since the 4th April 2015 he is the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt.
Aug 272017
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

quote-the-trickle-down-theory-the-principle-that-the-poor-who-must-subsist-on-table-scraps-william-blum-80-94-56

It has recently been reported that Senator John McCain has an aggressive brain tumor. Not long ago I would have thought: “Good. It’ll be great to be rid of that neanderthal reactionary bastard!”

Not now. My kidneys are gone and I’m on (rather unpleasant) dialysis for the rest of my life. My separated-from German wife is in Germany and can’t fly because of the danger of blood clots forming and lodging in her lungs or heart. I’m an avid reader of medical news and almost every day I get choked-up and depressed by the never-ending heart-breaking stories of incurable pain and suffering of the old and the young.

So I wish the senator a good recovery, if that’s possible. Probably no more possible than his politics recovering. He just condemned all the neo-Nazi actions in Charlottesville, this man who went out of his way to pose for friendly photos with neo-Nazis in Ukraine and jihadists in Syria.

So far the dialysis does not seem to have helped, at least not with my two main symptoms: deep-seated sleepiness at home, resulting in repeated naps, making my writing difficult; and getting out-of-breath and having to stop and rest after a very short and slow walk outdoors. I’m curious about whether any of my readers knows of anyone with a medical problem that was clearly relieved by dialysis. It may be my advanced age of 84 that blocks any improvement. But, supposedly, the dialysis keeps me alive in the absence of functioning kidneys. Incidentally, nine of my readers and friends have offered me a kidney for transplant, but I can’t find a hospital willing to perform it; again it’s my age, though I’m very willing.

At least I still have my eyesight and my hearing. My mind is okay. I have all my limbs and am not paralyzed. And I’m not in pain. Much to be thankful for.

It’s also very nice to have gone past the hangups my condition thrust upon me and to be back writing my report for the first time in five months. During the recent American presidential campaign I wrote that if I were forced to vote and also forced to choose between Clinton and Trump I’d vote for the Donald. (As it turned out I voted for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.) I stated two reasons why I’d choose Trump over Clinton: presumably, a lesser chance of nuclear war with Russia and a lesser chance of the American government closing down the Russian TV station, Russia Today (RT), broadcasting in the US. There was at the time, and now again, growing Congressional pressure to do just that and I’m very reliant on the station. Because of such matters I was willing to overlook Trump’s many and obvious character defects, which I summed up with the endearing word of my people back in Brooklyn –- “shmuck”. But by now the man’s shmuckiness has been writ so large that little hope for him can be maintained.

What is keeping Donald Trump from drowning in the very cesspool of his own shmuckiness is a gentleman named Kim Jong-un. Who would have believed that a single historical period could produce two such giant shmucks, men who tower over their pathetic contemporaries? There’s only one explanation for this remarkable phenomenon. Of course. It’s Russia. Moscow is using the two men to make America look foolish. And Russia, it may soon be revealed, gave North Korea its nuclear weapons. Did you think that such an impoverished, downtrodden society could produce such scientific marvels on its own?

Is there any act too dastardly for Vladimir Putin?

We don’t know yet whether Trump’s son, daughter or son-in-law made any deals with Kim Jong-un. Stay tuned to Fox News and CNN.

Those stations, amongst others, put out a lot of fake news, but when it comes to news of North Korea nothing compares to the fake news of 1950. Did you know there’s no convincing evidence that North Korea did what they’re most famous for –- the June 25, 1950 invasion of South Korea, which led to the everlasting division of the Korean peninsula into two countries? And there were no United Nations forces that observed this invasion, as we’ve been taught. In any event, the two sides had been clashing across the dividing line for several years. What happened on that fateful day in June could thus be regarded as no more than the escalation of an ongoing civil war. Read my chapter on Korea in Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II for the full details of these and other myths.

The response to terrorism

I still get emails criticizing me for the stand I took against Islamic terrorists earlier this year. Almost every one feels obliged to remind me that the terrorists are acting in revenge for decades of US/Western bombing of Muslim populations and assorted other atrocities. And I then have to inform each one of them that they’ve chosen the wrong person for such a lecture. I, it happens, wrote the fucking book on the subject!

In the first edition of my book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, published in 2001, before September 11, the first chapter was “Why do terrorists keep picking on The United States?” It includes a long list of hostile US military and political actions against the Islamic world during the previous 20 years.

So I can well see why radical Muslims would harbor a deep-seated desire for revenge against The United States and its allies who often contributed to the hostile actions. My problem is that the Islamic terrorist actions are seldom aimed at those responsible for this awful history –- the executive and military branches of the Western nations, but are more and more targeted against innocent civilians, which at times includes other Muslims, probably even, on occasion, some who sympathize with the radical Islamic cause. These random terrorist acts are thus not defendable or understandable from any revenge point of view. What did the poor people of Barcelona have to do with Western imperialism?

Civilians are of course much easier to target, but that’s clearly no excuse. As I’ve pointed out in the past, we should consider this: From the 1950s to the 1980s the United States carried out all kinds of very harmful policies against Latin America, including numerous bombings, without the natives ever resorting to the uncivilized, barbaric kind of retaliation as employed by ISIS. Latin American leftists generally took their revenge out upon concrete representatives of the American empire: diplomatic, military and corporate targets – not markets, theatres, nightclubs, hospitals, schools, restaurants or churches.

The terrorists’ choice of targets is bad enough, but their methods are even worse. Who could have imagined 20 years ago that an organization would exist in this world that would widely publicize detailed instructions on how to choose a truck to drive down a busy thoroughfare and directly into crowds of people? What species of human being is this?

What is needed is a worldwide media campaign to make fun of the very idea that such men, along with suicide bombers, will be rewarded by Allah in an afterlife; even the idea of an afterlife can of course be derided; yes, even the idea of Allah, by that or any other name, can be derided; at least the idea of such a cruel God. Appealing to jihadists on simply moral grounds would be even more useless than appealing to Pentagon officials or Donald Trump on moral grounds. The jihadists have to be deeply ridiculed; the small amount of human empathy and decency still remaining in their heart of hearts has to be reached through embarrassing them before their friends and family. Femmes fatales can be used against young Islamic men, most of whom, I’d venture to say, have sizable sexual hangups. Bombing them only increases their numbers.

Some thoughts on the question that will not go away: Capitalism vs. socialism

“The whole art of Conservative politics in the 20th century is being deployed to enable wealth to persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power.” –– Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960), Labour Party (UK) minister

The fact that Donald J. Trump is a champion –- indeed, a model, or as he might say, a huge model –- of capitalism should be enough to make people turn away from the system, but the debate between capitalism and socialism continues without pause in the Trump era as it has since the 19th century. The wealth gap, affordable housing, free education, public transportation, a sustainable environment, and health care are some of the perennial points of argument we’re all familiar with.

So many empty houses … so many homeless people –- Is this the way a market economy is supposed to work?

Twice in recent times the federal government in Washington has undertaken major studies of many thousands of federal jobs to determine whether they could be done more efficiently by private contractors. On one occasion the federal employees won more than 80% of the time; on the other occasion 91%. Both studies took place under the George W. Bush administration, which was hoping for different results.1 The American people have to be reminded of what they once knew but seem to have forgotten: that they don’t want BIG government, or SMALL government; they don’t want MORE government, or LESS government; they want government ON THEIR SIDE.

As to corporations, we have to ask: Do the members of a family relate to each other on the basis of self-interest and greed?

Speaking in very broad terms … slavery gave way to feudalism … feudalism gave way to capitalism … capitalism is not a timelessly valid institution but was created to satisfy certain needs of the time … capitalism has outlived its usefulness and must now give way to socialism … the ultimate incompatibility between capitalist profit motive and human environmental survival demands nothing less.

The system corrupts every important aspect of our lives, including the one which takes up the most of our time -– our work, even for corporation executives, who demand huge salaries and benefits to justify their working at jobs that otherwise are not particularly satisfying. Several years ago, the Financial Times of London reported on Wall Street’s opposition to salary limits:

Senior bankers were quick to warn the plans would cause a brain drain from the profession as top executives seek more rewarding jobs out of the public eye. Unlike other careers where job satisfaction and other considerations play a part, finance tends to attract people whose main motivation is money. … ‘The cap is a lousy idea,’ complained one top Wall Street executive. ‘If there is no monetary upside, who would want to do these jobs?’2

As for those below the executive class … When they work, it’s too often just any job they can find, rather than one designed to realize innermost spiritual or artistic needs. Their innermost needs are rent, food, clothes, and electricity.

For those concerned about the extent of freedom under socialism the jury is still out because the United States and other capitalist powers have subverted, destabilized, invaded, and/or overthrown every halfway serious attempt at socialism in the world. Not one socialist-oriented government, from Cuba and Vietnam in the 1960s, to Nicaragua and Chile in the 1970s, to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to Haiti and Venezuela in the 2000s has been allowed to rise or fall based on its own merits or lack of same, or allowed to relax its guard against the ever-threatening imperialists.

The demise of the Soviet Union (even with all its shortcomings) has turned out to be the greatest setback to the fight against the capitalist behemoth, and we have not yet recovered.

How could the current distribution of property and wealth reasonably be expected to emerge from any sort of truly democratic process? And if this is the way regulated capitalism works, what would life under unregulated capitalism be like? We’ve long known the answer to that question. Theodore Roosevelt (president of the United States 1901-09) said in a speech in 1912: “The limitation of governmental powers, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations who can only be held in check through the extension of governmental power.”

And what do the corporate elite want? In a word: “everything” … from our schools to our social security, from our health care to outer space, from our media to our sports.

“We are all ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause.” – William James (1842-1910)

A few years ago, when George W. Bush came out as a painter, he said that he had told his art teacher that “there’s a Rembrandt trapped inside this body”.

3Ah, so Georgie is more than just a painter. He’s an artiste.
And we all know that artistes are very special people.
They’re never to be confused with mass murderers, war criminals, merciless torturers or inveterate liars.
Neither are they ever to be accused of dullness of wit or incoherence of thought or speech.

Artistes are not the only special people.
Devout people are also special: Josef Stalin studied for the priesthood.
Osama bin Laden prayed five times a day.

And animal lovers: Herman Goering, while his Luftwaffe rained death upon Europe, kept a sign in his office that read: “He who tortures animals wounds the feelings of the German people.”
Adolf Hitler was also an animal lover and had long periods of being a vegetarian and anti-smoking.
Charles Manson was a staunch anti-vivisectionist.

And cultured people: This fact Elie Wiesel called the greatest discovery of the war: that Adolf Eichmann was cultured, read deeply, played the violin.
Mussolini also played the violin.
Some Nazi concentration camp commanders listened to Mozart to drown out the cries of the inmates.
Former Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadzic, convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, was a psychiatrist, specializing in depression; a practitioner of alternative medicine; published a book of poetry and books for children.

Members of ISIS and Al Qaeda and other suicide bombers are genuinely and sincerely convinced that they are doing the right thing, for which they will be honored and rewarded in an afterlife. That doesn’t make them less evil; in fact it makes them more terrifying, since they force us to face the scary reality of a world in which sincerity and morality do not necessarily have anything to do with each other.

Dick Gregory, 1932-2017

“Mayor Daley and other government officials during the riots of the ’60s showed their preference for property over humanity by ordering the police to shoot all looters to kill. They never said shoot murderers to kill or shoot dope pushers to kill.”

“When the white Christian missionaries went to Africa, the white folks had the bibles and the natives had the land. When the missionaries pulled out, they had the land and the natives had the bibles.”

“The way Americans seem to think today, about the only way to end hunger in America would be for Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to go on national TV and say we are falling behind the Russians in feeding folks.”

“What we’re doing in Vietnam is using the black man to kill the yellow man so the white man can keep the land he took from the red man.”

Notes

  1. Washington Post, June 8, 2005 and March 23, 2006
  2. Financial Times (London) February 5, 2009
  3. Washington Post, November 21, 2013
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.