Apr 202016
 

By Eric Toussaint, 99GetSmart

Belgian and French bank Dexia was bailed out in 2012

Belgian and French bank Dexia was bailed out in 2012

NINE YEARS after the outbreak of the financial crisis that continues to produce damaging social effects through the austerity policies imposed on victim populations, it’s time to take another look at the commitments that were made at that time by bankers, financiers, politicians and regulatory bodies. Those four players have failed fundamentally in the promises they made in the wake of the crisis–to moralize the banking system, separate commercial banks from investment banks, end exorbitant salaries and bonuses, and finally finance the real economy. We didn’t believe those promises at the time, and for good reason. Instead of a moralizing of the banking system, all we’ve had is a long list of misappropriations that have been brought to light by a series of bank failures, beginning with that of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008.

Since 2012 alone, the list of bailouts includes: Dexia in Belgium and in France (2012, the third bailout), Bankia in Spain (2012), Espírito Santo (2014) and Banif (2015) in Portugal, Laiki and Bank of Cyprus in Cyprus (2013), Monte dei PaschiBanca delle MarcheBanca Popolare dell’Etruria e del Lazio and Carife in Italy (2014-2015), NKBM in Slovenia (2012), SNS Reaal in Holland (2013) and Hypo Alpe Adria in Austria (2014-2015), and those are only a few examples. The most intolerable thing is that the public authorities have decided to pay ransom to these banks by having the citizens bear the consequences of the low dealings of their directors and shareholders. A separation or “ring-fencing” between commercial banks and investment banks remains no more than wishful thinking. The so-called banking reform undertaken in France in 2012 by Pierre Moscovici, the French Finance and Economy minister, turned out to be a sham. As for bankers’ remunerations, the ceiling on the variable compensation adopted by the European Parliament on 16 April, 2013, had as its immediate consequence…an increase in the fixed compensation and recourse to an exemption clause provided for in the law.

No measures designed to avoid further crises have been imposed on the private finance system. Governments and the various authorities meant to ensure that the regulations are respected and improved have either shelved or significantly attenuated the paltry measures announced in 2008-2009. The concentration of banks has remained unchanged, as have their high-risk activities. There have been more scandals implicating the 15 to 20 biggest private banks in Europe and the United States–involving toxic loans, fraudulent mortgage credits, manipulation of currency exchange markets, of interest rates (notably, the LIBOR) and of energy markets, massive tax evasion, money-laundering for organized crime, and so on. The scandal of the Panama papers shows how banks are using the tax heavens. The Financial Times reported that the British prime minister, David Cameron, had intervened personally to prevent offshore trusts from being dragged into an EU-wide crackdown on tax avoidance.

The authorities have merely imposed fines, usually negligible when compared to the crimes committed. These crimes have a negative impact not only on public finance but on the living conditions of millions of people all over the world. People in charge of regulatory bodies, such as Martin Wheatley, former director of the Financial Conduct Authority in London, have been sacked for trying to do their job properly and being too critical of the behavior of banks. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, dismissed Martin Wheatley in July 2015, nine months before the end of his five-year contract.

Although obviously to blame, no bank director in the United States or Europe (with the exception of Iceland) has been convicted, while traders, who are mere underlings, are prosecuted and sentenced to between five and 14 years behind bars.

As was the case for the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2015, banks that were nationalized at great public expense to protect the interests of major private shareholders have been sold back to the private sector for a fraction of their value. Salvaging the RBS cost £45 billion of public money, while its reprivatization will probably mean the loss of a further £14 billion.

Lastly, as to whether banks are now financing the real economy, the efforts deployed by the central banks have failed to spark, as yet, even the beginnings of a real recovery of the economy.

Because we feel, in particular in the light of Greece’s experience, that banks are an essential element of any project for social change, we propose that immediate measures be taken to attain the following six goals:

1. Restructure the banking sector

2. Eradicate speculation

3. End banking secrecy

4. Regulate the banking sector

5. Find an alternate means of financing public expenditures

6. Strengthen public banks

In a second part, we will develop our arguments in favor of socializing the banking sector.


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I. IMMEDIATE MEASURES

1. Restructure the banking sector


Radically reduce the size of banks
 in order to eliminate the “too big to fail” risk systemic banks [1] represent.

Separate commercial banks from investment banks
. Commercial banks will be the only financial institutions authorized to take in savers’ deposits and to receive public support (public underwriting of savings deposits and access to cash from the central bank). These commercial banks will be authorized to grant loans only to private individuals and local and national companies and public entities. They will be prohibited from conducting activities on the financial markets. What that means is that they will not be allowed to engage in securitization: loans will not be able to be turned into tradable securities and commercial banks must keep the loans they grant on their books until full repayment is made. The bank that has granted a loan must bear the risk for that loan.

Investment banks must not be entitled to public underwriting; in case of failure of a bank, all losses will be borne by the private sector, beginning with the shareholders (on the totality of their assets; see below).

Prohibit credit relations between commercial banks and investment banks
. Following Frédéric Lordon’s principle of imposing a real “apartheid” between commercial banks and investment banks, under no circumstances will a commercial bank be allowed to be involved in a credit relation with an investment bank. [2]

2. Eradicate speculation


Prohibit speculation
. As Paul Jorion proposes, speculation must be prohibited. “In France speculation was authorized in 1885, and in Belgium in 1867. As a matter of fact speculation was defined very clearly by the law aimed at ’prohibiting wagering on the upward or downward movement of financial securities.’ With such a prohibition, anyone who practices speculation would be guilty of an infraction; whether they’re in Bank X or Bank Y would make no difference.” [3] That could include sanctions on banks that speculate on their own account or on the behalf of their clients.

Acquisition of tangible property (raw materials, commodities, land, buildings, etc.) or securities (shares, bonds or any other security) by a bank or other financial institution with the intention of speculating on its price will be prohibited.

Prohibit derivatives
. This means that banks and other financial institutions who want to cover themselves against various types of risks (associated with exchange rates, interest rates, payment defaults, etc.) will have to go back to using traditional insurance contracts.

Require banks to request authorization before placing financial products on the market
. Investment banks will have to submit any new financial instrument to the oversight authorities (this does not apply to derivatives since they will have been outlawed) for authorization before they are placed on the market.

Separate consulting activities from market activities
. We are also in agreement with the Belgian economist Eric de Keuleneer, who proposes separating consulting activities from market activities: “It is not right for banks to take on risky debt whilst advising their customers about the quality of these debts, or that they are currently able to speculate on gold, whilst ‘selflessly’ advising their customers to purchase gold. ” For that, he proposes re-creating brokerage activities.

Prohibit high-frequency trading and shadow banking. Strictly limit what can be included in off-balance-sheet entries. [4] Prohibit short sales and naked shorting
.

3. End banking secrecy


Prohibit over-the-counter financial markets
. All transactions on financial markets must be recorded, traceable, regulated and controlled. Until now, the main financial markets have been over-the-counter–that is, they are subject to no oversight whatsoever. This is true of the FOREX market ($5,300 billion each day), [5] the derivatives market, the markets for raw materials and agricultural products, [6] etc.

End banking secrecy
. Banks must be required to communicate all information regarding their directors, their various entities, their customers, the activities they conduct and the transactions they carry out for their customers and on their own account. Similarly, banks’ accounting must also be legible and comprehensible. Lifting bank secrecy must become a basic democratic imperative for all countries. Concretely, that means that banks must make available to the tax authorities: a list of names of beneficiaries of interest, dividends, capital gains and other financial revenues; information on the opening, modification and closure of bank accounts in order to establish a national directory of bank accounts; all information on movements of capital into and out of the country, including in particular identification of the order giver.

Prohibit transactions with tax havens
. Banks must be prohibited from engaging in any transaction with a tax haven. Failure to comply with the prohibition must be subject to very heavy sanctions (including the possible revocation of the banking license) and heavy fines.

4. Regulate the banking sector


Require banks to radically increase the volume of their own funds (equity) in relation to their total assets
. [7] Whereas equity is generally less than 5 percent of a bank’s assets, we believe that the legal minimum should be raised to 20 percent.

Prohibit socialization of the losses
 of banks and other private financial institutions. This means prohibiting public authorities from guaranteeing private debt with public funds.

Restore unlimited liability of major shareholders in case of bank failure
. The cost of a failure must be recoverable from the total assets of the major shareholders (be they individuals or corporations).

In case of bank failure, the deposits of clients of the commercial bank must continue to be guaranteed by the State, up to the limit of a reasonable amount of savings for an upper-middle household (estimated today at 150,000 euros–and subject to democratic debate).

Tax banks heavily
. Banks’ profits must be strictly subject to legal provisions regarding taxation of companies. In fact, the rate banks currently pay is very significantly below the legal rate, which itself is far too low. Banking transactions involving currency [8] and financial securities must be taxed. Short-term bank debt must be taxed in order to promote long-term financing.

Systematically prosecute bank directors who are guilty
 of financial crimes and misdemeanors and revoke the banking licenses of institutions that do not comply with the prohibitions and are guilty of misappropriation.

Find another way to save banks
. In addition to the measures mentioned above–unlimited liability for major shareholders (covering all their assets), guarantees on deposits up to 150,000 euros and prohibition of guaranteeing private debt against public funds–a mechanism needs to be created for orderly failure of banks, consisting of two structures: A private bad bank (owned by private shareholders and incurring no cost for the public authorities) and a public bank to which deposits, as well as safe assets, are transferred. Certain recent experiments can serve as inspiration–in particular the measures taken in Iceland since 2008. [9]

5. Find other ways of financing public debt

Require private banks to hold a quota of public-debt securities.

The central banks should again grant loans at zero interest to public authorities. Unlike the current practice of the ECB as a result of the European treaties, the central bank would be able to provide zero-interest financing to the State and all public entities (towns, hospitals, social-housing entities, etc.) in order to conduct socially equitable policies in the context of the environmental transition.

6. Strengthen existing public banks
 and re-create them in countries where they have been privatized (they would of course be subject, like all other banks, to the concrete measures discussed above). In France, in 2012 a collective called “Pour un Pôle Public Financier au service des Droits!” (“Toward a public financial institution to protect our rights!” [10]) that supports the creation of a public banking structure. The serious disadvantage of this project is that it fails to get to the root of the problem in that alongside an insignificant public banking sector, private banks and a cooperative sector, which is cooperative in name only, would continue to exist. In Belgium, where the government privatized the last public banks in the 1990s, in 2011 the State bought back the bank “part” of Dexia, of which it is 100 percent owner. Dexia Bank has become Belfius and still has private status. Belfius needs to become a true public bank and the concrete measures formulated above need to be applied. The State paid 4 billion euros–an amount the European Commission itself considered quite unreasonable. What should have been done is this: Belfius should have been created at no cost to the public finances as a public banking institution funded by the deposits of the Dexia Bank’s customers and all the safe assets. The bank should have been placed under citizen control. The working conditions, jobs and income of the personnel should have been guaranteed while the remuneration paid to the directors should have been sharply reduced. The board members and directors should have been barred from holding a position in a private institution. Charges should have been pressed against the directors of Dexia by the ministry for the criminal wrongdoings they committed. Report No. 58 filed by the French Senate on the Société de financement local (SFIL) evaluates the cost of Dexia’s failure at approximately 20 billion euros (13 billion for France, including 6.6 billion earmarked for recapitalization, and the rest to cover part of the early repayment penalties on toxic loans; 6.9 billion euros for Belgium, corresponding to the nationalization of Dexia Bank Belgium and the recapitalization of Dexia) as of the date of the report. On 1 February, 2013, France created a 100 percent public structure (with the State owning 75 percent, the CDC 20 percent and the Banque Postale 5 percent) in order to acquire 100 percent of the Dexia Municipal Agency (a subsidiary of Dexia Crédit Local), which became the Caisse Française de Financement Local (CAFFIL).

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II. SOCIALIZE THE BANKING SECTOR

Putting the concrete measures we have mentioned above into practice would constitute progress in resolving the crisis in the banking sector, but the private sector would continue to occupy a dominant position.

Perennial long-term measures are also needed
.

If the experience of the last few years demonstrates anything, it’s that banks must not be left in the hands of capitalists. If, through popular mobilization, we can see to it that the measures discussed above
 (which are open to further discussion in order to improve and complement them) are applied, capital will do everything possible to recover part of the ground it will have lost, finding multiple ways of getting around the regulations, using its powerful financial resources to buy the support of lawmakers and government leaders in order to deregulate, once again, and increase profits to the maximum without regard for the interests of the majority of the population.

Socializing the banking sector under citizen control is necessary

Because capitalists have demonstrated just how far they are willing to go, taking risks (risks whose consequences they refuse to be held accountable for) and committing crimes for the sole purpose of increasing their profits, because their activities regularly result in heavy costs borne by society as a whole, because the society we want to build must be guided by the pursuit of the common good, social justice and the reconstitution of balanced relations between human beings and the other components of nature, the banking sector must be socialized. As Frédéric Lordon proposes, a “total deprivatizationof the banking sector” [11] needs to be carried out. Socialization of the banking sector in its entirety is recommended by the labor federation Sud BPCE in France. [12]

Socializing the banking sector means:

expropriation, without compensation (or compensated by one symbolic euro), of large shareholders (small shareholders will be fully compensated);

granting a monopoly of banking activities to the public sector, with one single exception: the existence of a small cooperative banking sector (subject to the same fundamental rules as the public sector).

creating a public service for savings, credit and investment, with a twofold structure: a network of small ‘high street’ branches, on the one hand, and on the other, specialized agencies in charge of funds management and financing of investments not handled by the ministries in charge public health, education, energy, public transport, retirement, the environmental transition, etc. These ministries will be provided with the budgets necessary to assure their investments and efficient functioning. The specialized agencies will intervene in areas and activities that are beyond the competence and spheres of action of the ministries in order to ensure that all needs are covered.

defining, with citizen participation, a charter covering the goals to be attained and the missions to be carried out and which places the public savings, credit and investment entities at the service of the priorities defined by a democratic planning process;

transparency in the financial statements, which must be shown to the public in understandable form.

The word “socialization” is used in preference to “nationalization” or “state ownership” to make clear the essential role of citizen oversight, with decision-making shared between directors, personnel representatives, clients, non-profit associations, local officials and representatives of the national and regional public banking entities. Therefore, how that active citizen oversight will be exercised will need to be defined by democratic means. Similarly, the exercise of oversight over the banks’ activities by workers in the banking sector and their active participation in the organization of the work must be encouraged. Bank directors must issue an annual public report on their stewardship. Preference must be given to local, quality service, breaking with the policies of externalization currently being pursued. The personnel of financial establishments must be encouraged to provide authentic counseling to the clientele and to break with current aggressive sales policies.

Socializing the banking sector and making it a public service will make it possible:

–for citizens and public authorities to escape the influence of the financial markets;

–to finance citizens’ and public authorities’ projects;

–to dedicate the activity of banking to the common good, with among its missions that of facilitating the transition from a capitalist, production intensive economy to a social and environmental economy.

Because savings, credit, security of deposits and the preservation of the integrity of payment systems are matters of general interest, we recommend that a public banking service be created by socializing the totality of the firms in the banking and insurance sectors.

Because banks are today an essential tool of the capitalist system and of a mode of production that is devastating our planet and grabbing its resources, creating wars and impoverishment, eroding, little by little, social rights and attacking democratic institutions and practices, it is essential to take control of them so that they become tools placed at the service of the greater number of people.

Socializing the banking sector cannot be conceived of as a mere slogan or demand, sufficient unto itself and which decision makers would put into practice because they understand why it makes sense. It must be seen as a political goal to be reached through a process driven by a movement of citizens. Not only is it necessary for existing organized social movements (including trade unions) to make it a priority of their agenda and for the different sectors (local governmental bodies, small and medium companies, consumer associations, etc.) to adopt the position, but also–and above all–for bank employees to be brought to an awareness of the role played by their profession and the fact that it would be in their interest for banks to be socialized; and for bank users to be informed at the point of use (for example, through occupations of bank branches everywhere on the same day) so that they can participate directly in defining exactly what a bank should be.

Only large-scale mobilization can guarantee that socialization of the banking sector can actually be achieved in practice, because it is a measure that strikes at the very heart of the capitalist system. If a government of the Left does not take such a measure, its action will not be able to truly bring about the radical change needed to break with the logic of the system and bring about a new process of emancipation.

Socializing the banking and insurance sector must be part of a much broader program of further measures which would trigger the adoption of a transition to a new, post-capitalist and post-productive model. Such a program, which needs to be European-wide but which may first be put into practice in one or several countries, would include abandonment of austerity policies, cancellation of illegitimate debt, implementation of an overall tax reform with heavy taxation of capital, an overall reduction in working hours with compensatory hiring and maintaining of wage levels, socialization of the energy sector, measures for ensuring gender parity, development of public services and social benefits and the implementation of a strongly determined environmental transition policy.

At this point in history, socialization of the entirety of the banking system is an urgent economic, social, political and democratic necessity.

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Authors

Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London
Alan Freemaneconomist with the Greater London Authority from 2000 to 2011, ‎co-director, Geopolitical Economy Research Group, University of Manitoba, Canada
Giorgos Galanis, Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London.
Pete Green, co-convener of the Left Unity Economics Policy Commission.
David Harvey, Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY)
Michael Hudson, Distinguished Research Professor University of Missouri-Kansas City and Professor, Peking University
Michel Husson, Economist, author of Le capitalisme en 10 leçons, La Découverte, Paris, 2012, France
Andy Kilmister, Senior Lecturer in Economics at Oxford Brookes University, and editor Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe.
Stathis Kouvelakis, Reader King’s College University of London, member of Popular Unity (Greece)
Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics, SOAS, University of London
Francisco Louçã, Professor of Economics in Lisbon’s Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestão(“Higher Institute of Economics and Management”)
Philippe Marlière, Professor of Politics, University College London
Thomas Marois, Senior Lecturer, Development Studies, SOAS, University of London
Ozlem Onaran, Professor of Economics, director of Greenwich Political Economy Research Centre, University of Greenwich
Sabri Öncü, Economist, SoS Economics, Istanbul, Turkey
Susan Pashkoff, Economist, Left Unity, Economic Policy Commission, UK
Alfredo Saad Filho, Professor of Political Economy, SOAS, University of London
Patrick Saurin, Spokesperson for the bank employees’ labour federation Sud Solidaires de la Banque Populaire–Caisse d’Epargne (BPCE) -France.
Benjamin Selwyn, Senior Lecturer in International Development, University of Sussex, UK
Pritam Singh, Professor of Economics, Faculty of Business, Oxford Brookes University
Stavros Tombazos, Professor of political economy at the University of Cyprus.
Eric Toussaint, Spokesperson of the CADTM, author of Bancocracy, Resistance Books/IIRE/CADTM, 2015
John Weeks, Professor Emeritus, SOAS, University of London

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Notes

1. Philippe Lamberts, the Green MEP, proposes a maximum of $100 billion in assets. “By way of comparison, the total assets* of BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank, respectively, in 2011 were 2,164 billion euros and 1,965 billion euros.” http://www.philippelamberts.eu/les-7-peches-capitaux-des-banques/ We feel that the maximum size should be significantly smaller, in particular in smaller countries. 100 billion euros is a multiple of Cyprus’s GDP, and it’s more than a quarter of Belgium’s.
2. http://blog.mondediplo.net/2013-02-18-La-regulation-bancaire-au-pistolet-a-bouchon (in French)
3. Paul Jorion in Financité, November 2013 (in French).
4. For example, limit off-balance-sheet items to guarantees and signed commitments. Discussion is needed.
5. See Eric Toussaint, “Comment les grandes banques manipulent le marché des devises” (“How the major banks manipulate the currency market”), published on LeMonde.fr on 13 March 2014 and available in English as Chapter 18 of Bankocracy (available in .pdf form; also available in paper from CADTM)
6. Eric Toussaint, “Banks Speculate on Raw Materials and Food,” 10 February 2014
7. This would mean abandoning the system of weighting assets for risk, which is particularly unreliable since the weighting is left up to the banks themselves. Here’s an explanation of the system of asset weighting based on risk.
8. Eric Toussaint, “Il faut imposer une véritable taxe Tobin au lobby bancaire” (“A real Tobin Tax must be levied on the banking lobby”), an op-ed published by the daily L’Humanité on 25 February 2014 and also at http://cadtm.org/Il-faut-imposer-une-veritable-taxe (in French)
9. Interview with Eva Joly by Renaud Vivien, “Iceland refuses its accused bankers ‘Out of Court’ settlements.”
10. See their site (in French). The public banking entity promoted by the collective would include public financial institutions (the Banque de France, the Caisse des Dépôts and its financial subsidiaries, OSEO, the Société des participations de l’État, the Banque Postale, UbiFrance, the Agence française de développement, the Institut d’émission des départements d’Outre-Mer, CNP Assurance) or ones whose activities constitute a public service (the Crédit foncier, Coface). Any bank or insurance firm in which the State acquires a majority share or which may be assigned public-service missions would be part of it. In Belgium, a site created by the PTB is dedicated to promoting the need for a public bank (in French or Flemish).
11. Frédéric Lordon, “L’effarante passivité de la ‘re-régulation financière’” (“The frightening passivity of ‘financial re-regulation’”), in Changer d’économie, les économistes atterrés, Les liens qui libèrent, 2011, p. 242 (in French).
12. See in particular these links (in French): http://www.sudbpce.com/files/2013/01/2012-projet-bancaire-alternatif-definitif.pdfhttp://cadtm.org/IMG/pdf/PLAQUETTE_BANQUES_SUD_BPCE.pdf;http://cadtm.org/Socialiser-le-systeme-bancaire

Translated by Snake Arbusto and Mike Krolikowski. First published at the web site of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt.

Dec 162015
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

The second round of France’s regional elections is over, and once again a “democratic groundswell” has happened, as it did in the second round of the 2002 presidential election. What this means is that a certain number of voters who had not bothered to vote in the first round, aware of what the Front National really is behind its façade of being just another “legitimate” party, and despite their dissatisfaction with the “legitimate” parties, mobilized against the danger of a Fascist party acceding to real political power. The Front, which according to polls could have won control of six of France’s administrative Regions, won none, and the two major parties now hold power in the 12 mainland Regions, with Les Républicains (LR) holding the presidencies of seven Regions, including the Ile-de-France. The Socialists withdrew their tickets from the election in two Regions where they were in third place to keep the Front from winning.

Front leader Marine Le Pen has reacted by pointing to a “campaign of calumny” organized “in the gilded palaces of the Republic.” This is a reference to the fact that after the Revolution, the Republic took over the most sumptuous palaces in Paris to serve as – for example – the president’s (the Palais de l’Elysée) and Prime Minister’s (the Hôtel de Matignon) official residences, the way a hermit crab takes up residence in the abandoned shell of a dead gastropod and the way Napoléon, according to official legend, declared himself emperor to occupy that function in the name of the people, transforming it rather than destroying it.

elysee_m

Le Pen’s comment has been more or less universally scoffed at and her disdainful reference to the Republic seen as proof that the Front’s true nature is anti-democratic. But it deserves reflection, because it may reveal the true nature of the Republic that has supposedly risen up and defended itself against the Fascist onslaught.

The standard narrative is that the French Republic has brought constant progress, both economically and socially. As such, despite ideological differences, the French people are viscerally attached to it, and Sunday’s groundswell is proof of that. The fact that wealth has continued to concentrate and that the standard of living of the great majority of people has stagnated for some years now, according to that narrative, is the result of “economic conditions” – outside forces, like the natural forces that can result in disastrously poor harvests (which, indeed, set off the Revolution).

But might it not be true that the Republic itself is in fact an instrument of the elite, and that behind its carefully cultivated façade, supported by a culture that has given the world great art and that is indeed deeply ingrained in the people of France and in the very language they speak and write, is a predatory entity which at best will only tolerate relative prosperity for the people it governs? And that is prepared to continue to apply policies that place the burden of austerity on the majority even while wealth continues to concentrate?

In that sense, the Front National truly can lay claim to being no less legitimate than the two parties that have handed power back and forth in France for the past sixty years or so.

Dec 082015
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

After Sunday’s first round of the regional elections, the extreme-Right Front National is being called “France’s leading party.” Its candidates led in six Regions. Its spokespersons are now invited to take part in election-night specials by the different TV networks, private and public. This legitimization of the party seems to be progressing inexorably as the media and the establishment political parties they support look on, powerless to stop the process.  But in fact, the media have played a part in legitimizing the Front all along. And it should not be forgotten that as far back as 1986, Socialist president François Mitterrand had encouraged the FN, using his executive power to allow proportional legislative elections in order to undercut the establishment Right. And that Right has moved closer and closer to the Front’s positions, especially during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. The Front National may be a threat to France, but to some degree at least, it isFrance.

The question now is not whether the FN will win the presidency of one of France’s Regions, but how many presidencies and legislative majorities it will win. And the establishment Left and Right and the media are in panic over what they can do to stop the Front.

marine

The Front’s spokemen tend to be young, smart, and modern-looking. They tell us, during the minute or so they are given at the start of the program to outline their major themes, that they are the only party that represents real change. They refer to the two leading official parties, PS (Socialist) and LR (Les Républicains), as the “LRPS”, implying that there is no real difference between them. The Front’s leader and presumed presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, has now eased comfortably into her party’s growing legitimacy. j-mIt is almost as if the party’s real face – the sneering bulldog face of her father, founder Jean-Marie Le Pen – were no longer visible. If one looks closely at Marine, however, chieftain’s features and mannerisms clearly emerge, despite Marine’s younger, female (if not feminine) repackaging. And the candidate for the Regional presidency in the South, Marine’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, is young and, on the surface, attractive.

But no one who looks below the surface has illusions about what the Front really represents. Just as Jean-Marie’s face is visible in the hatchet-carved contours of Marine’s, the party’s real program – or at least that is what the Front is surely counting on – is legible like a watermark. There is no need – they hope, and their future victory depends on it – to trumpet racist, supremacist rhetoric anymore. They can discuss economic issues and pretend to have truly new solutions, and they can spotlight Front members and even candidates who are of North African or Black African descent, much as the Republican Party in the USA now does. marion_sVoters can vote for a party whose stock in trade has always been racism and xenophobia out of simple, ingrained racism or out of a genuine fear of “immigrant hordes” – to borrow a phrase from another politician who plays on the same fears – just as the party itself denies its real face in presenting these token members and candidates. But in the party’s pronouncements, phrases like “respect for our culture and our identity” send a barely-coded message.

And the Front’s candidate in the Ile-de-France region, the aristocratically-named Wallerand de Saint-Just, is more indicative of the party’s real values and traditions – those of the reactionary, anti-Socialist, anti-labor, and even anti-republican, bourgeois and even aristocratic, traditionally Catholic “Old France.” For, hidden just below the surface of France’s i-Phone-toting society, a discreet segment of the population defends “traditional values,” with some even calling for the restoration of the monarchy. Not so discreet, in fact, as time goes on and the Front National consolidates its influence. In 2010, for example, young “traditionalist” Catholics, male and female, staged an attack on gay demonstrators at a “kiss-in” on the square in front of Notre-Dame cathedral, shouting “habemus papam!” – a reference to the election of conservative Pope Benedict XVI and to their preference for the Tridentine Mass. wallerand_sBehind such “traditions,” one can perceive the outline of the Vichy regime, whose façade of tradition and family values in fact concealed a willingness to surrender to Nazism in exchange for ridding France of a government that genuinely represented the working class. Saint-Just is among the reactionary Catholics, aligned with the Society of St. Pius X, who have illegally occupied the church of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris since 1977. A ceremony in honor of Holocaust-denying historian and declared Fascist Maurice Bardèche was held in the church in 1998. St-Just is now being sued by his environmentalist opponent in the current elections for saying in a tweet that the Left bears responsibility for the Friday the 13th terror attacks.

The official Left and Right are now united in pointing to the Front as a threat to “our values,” to democracy, to the Republic. Their spokespersons attempt to call out the Front on its real values, history, and alignment. But they can’t debate positions that are unspoken. They attempt to discredit the party by pointing to the loans it has received from supposed “Russian Mafiosi aligned with the dictator Putin.” This is a reference to Konstantin Malofeev, founder of the international investment fund Marshall Capital Partners. It would be more accurate to call Malofeev a successful young entrepreneur, whose interests include telecoms, real estate, and agriculture. Somehow these loans are supposed to raise a red flag in the minds of readers/viewers of the official media, which have participated in the campaign to portray Vladimir Putin as a brutal dictator for years now, following the standard NATO party line. The problem is that Putin is now an ally of France and to some extent of the US in the “struggle against terrorism.” And if you think about it for a minute, all the Front is doing is seeking funding from corporate interests – exactly what all the “legitimate” political parties do. The problem is that French corporations are not yet ready to openly support the Front. But it’s a fairly safe bet that they will if the Front’s legitimization and rise to power continues to advance. And after all, is there really a fundamental difference between the “Russian mafia” and large French corporations, other than the fact that the latter publish Sustainable Development reports and sponsor the COP 21 environment conference?

France’s official Right and Left, along with the media, have themselves to blame for this situation. The Socialists are in danger of losing most of the Regions where they now hold power, and worse, of being on the wrong side of a momentum that is likely to carry either the Front or the official Right to power. François Hollande has used the recent tragedy to bolster his status with potential Front voters, calling the terror attacks “attacks on the values of the Republic” and at the same time using them as an excuse to curtail civil liberties and freedom of speech and of the press – those very same values –, increase surveillance of citizens, and increase the powers of the police. He used the emergency powers he put in place just after November 13th, and which the legislature has now voted to extend, to arrest peaceful organizers of protests at the COP 21. Aren’t such measures more or less exactly what the media and the “respectable” politicians are warning us we can expect from the Front if it takes power?

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As for the official Right, or the “Republican Right” as the media call it to distinguish it from the extreme Right, it has never been very far removed from the Front, and current leader and former president Nicolas Sarkozy captured the presidency in 2007 by co-opting the Front’s themes of law and order and fear of an immigrant invasion. Sarkozy has feigned courting the Front National, even saying once that “Marine Le Pen is compatible with the Republic” – no doubt as a way of giving voters a signal that if they vote for him they can count on getting what the Front promises and still maintain respectability by voting for a party they can admit they voted for. Indeed, the Front’s popularity was long underestimated partly because many voters who vote for them will not admit it in a poll or to family and friends. Now, of course, more and more of such voters will come out of the closet. The “Republican Right” has tripped itself up: If Le Pen is “compatible with the Republic,” then who needs the Republican Right, who have been in power many times and never ushered in the “real change” politicians are always promising? The result of all the overtures to the Front’s voters is that the voters no longer see any difference between the two.

The same is true of the Socialists. Their own pandering to the Front national vote is nothing new. It shifted into a higher gear when Manuel Valls became Prime Minister and, taking a page from Sarkozy’s playbook, staged arrests of undocumented working parents who had come to fetch their children at school and hounded the Rom population. Valls physically resembles Sarkozy – short and cocky – and his intention of duplicating Sarkozy’s strategy is transparent. The Socialists have made it clear from the start ¬– indeed, from the time of the Mitterrand government – that they are Socialists in name only and at best are a kind of Social-Democrat party. Hollande had declared during his presidential campaign that “my real adversary is finance.” But since he took office, he and his Prime Minister have announced several times that they “love business.” Their real constituency, in fact, is enterprise and finance, and their mantra is “growth.” They have shown themselves to be facilitators of the Washington Consensus, privatizing publicly-owned companies to the point where one would need a very strong light to see the outlines of the fundamental Socialist values – that housing, health care, education, and transportation should be protected from the forces of finance and the market. The environmentalists, considered a constituent element of the French Left, have now distanced themselves from the Socialists. In fact, there is now a socialist wing of the Socialist party. These factions have now struck compromises and merged their tickets with the Socialists to face the “threat” of the Front National. Such maneuvers can only cause voters to wonder how much substance there actually is behind the political rhetoric. The PS seems to hope that citizens will continue to vote for them out of a belief that they still do embody those values, but no longer talk about them out of a need to attract voters away from the Right. But again, if the Left has become indistinguishable from the Right, and since both have had their chances before, who can blame voters for giving the sanitized Front National a chance?

Dec 022015
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

The other night ARTE, the German-French cultural channel, explained why it’s such a rare thing to see a French flag displayed anywhere but on a government building: In Europe, flag-waving is associated with nationalism, and Europeans now realize that nationalism – promoted by newspapers, schools, authors, even musicians including Claude Debussy – was largely responsible for the butchery and destruction of the Great War. Not so long ago, politician Ségolène Royal’s suggestion that French homes should display the flag to show their pride in their country the way American families do met with ridicule.

But now, walking through the town where I live and others like it, you see flags displayed in windows and on houses – sometimes a bit incompetently. Those who heeded François Hollande’s call to fly the flag realized they didn’t know where to go to buy one. For now, people print their own flag on their home printer and tack it up in a protective plastic sleeve or on an improvised flagstaff.

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Or they put out sets of three candles – one blue, one white, and one red. And on cars you see decals that read Même pas peur (“Ya didn’t even scare me.”) – a reference to the attacks of Friday, November 13th. Europe is at war again, we’ve been told; but this time the enemy is something called “terrorism” or “Islamism”.

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Also, on stop signs and road signs, on walls, you see stickers that read “Stop Islamicization!” We see one on the mailbox in front of a Muslim-owned grocery. For as long as I’ve lived in France – nearly 30 years -, most local convenience stores have been run by Frenchmen of North African descent, who took over long ago from owners who are not willing to stay open at night and on Sundays. The “identity” group behind the sticker is almost certainly linked to the Front National, which hopes, with its recently-applied veneer of respectability and photogenic female leader, to ride the fear generated by the influx of refugees and the recent terror attacks to victory in the regional elections in the coming weeks. The spectre of Daesh/ISIL is concretized in photos of “terrorist armies” waving their black flag.

The weekly Canard enchaîné carried a story about a Mass celebrated in honor of the victims of the terror attacks in the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris attended by the Mayor, a cabinet minister, the presidents of the National Assembly and Senate, a former president, and two former prime ministers during which the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, was played on the Great Organ. The Canard pointed out that in 1918, Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau, a fierce opponent of anti-Semitism and nationalism, refused, in the name of the Republic’s sacred principle of secularity, to allow members of his government to attend a ceremony of thanksgiving at Notre-Dame to celebrate the Armistice. The same principle of secularity – separation of church and state – has been invoked recently to justify the banning of the Islamic veil in schools. No one would dare point out a time like this that such a measure has less to do with protecting the values of the Republic than with undermining the Front National. Meanwhile, Catholics write to the Right-tending daily Figaro to protest the inappropriateness of the anthem’s being played at Mass, pointing out that “the Republic has always been the enemy of religion”.

This mixture of politics, religion, and nationalism does remind one of the Great War: In Europe and in America, when it came to depicting the Other, the Enemy, as inhuman and barbaric, truth was indeed the first casualty of the war. The huge propaganda campaigns waged to convince Europeans that they owed the Republic not only a life of hard work, but their sons and to convince Americans to get involved have never really ended. TV and film and popular songs are still programming us to trust our leaders just as we trust the makers of the breakfast cereals and cleaning products we buy. A week after the Friday the 13th attacks, 12 Socialist legislators tried to resurrect a measure dating from 1955, during the unrest over Algeria, that would allow the government to take censorship measures against the press, radio, cinema, and theatrical performances. Such measures would surely be adopted now if the executive felt they were needed. But in fact the media’s self-censorship makes them unnecessary.

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The real war, of course, is the same one we’ve all been passive participants in all our lives – the war to secure lucrative resources and keep sovereign peoples from using those resources for the good of the greatest number. Declaring war on “terror” or “Islamism”, like declaring war on the “Hun” in 1914, ensures that the great engine of militarism that drives that domination and the economies that serve it will continue to churn out death, turning human lives and precious resources into more gold for a small global elite – an elite to whom nationalism and religion are little more than a joke.

The people of France, of Europe, and of the world should not count on their politicians or their media to lead them out of their blindness to the economic and geopolitical motives behind the immigrant crisis, the proxy war in Syria and their own countries’ complicity therein, and the development of jihadism. Meanwhile, the war goes on.

Nov 202015
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

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French president François Hollande’s speech to the Congress at Versailles rode a wave of political solidarity, most politicians refraining from trying to make political profit off the terror attacks and “standing united against a common enemy”… with the notable exception of Hollande himself. He shamelessly used the situation to undermine the political threat from the Right and advance the implementation of an all-out police state. The satirical _Canard Enchainé_ called him “the General of [the] Division.”

Hollande announced that France’s borders were being closed and that he would ask for an extension of the emergency powers he has put in place, which can be maintained for a maximum 12 days without a legislative vote to extend them. (Today, as I write, all but a handful of deputies voted to grant an extension of three months.) Hollande further said that he would seek an amendment to the law governing the application of emergency powers allowing the executive to keep them in place longer without consulting the legislature. He said that “administrative” (meaning executive) searches and seizures will be able to be made with no court order. He promised to hire 5,000 new police and gendarmes in the next two years. Long-planned budget cuts designed to lower the costs of France’s armed forces have been frozen through 2019. He promised that he would seek an amendment to the constitution extending the conditions under which he can declare a state of siege – equivalent to full martial law. Constitutionalization would put the measure out of the reach of challenges from European human-rights legislation and France’s own Conseil Constitutionnel, which could challenge a law.

All of these legal and constitutional extensions of powers, Hollande suggested, are needed to cope with a “new context” which “the Republic will evolve” to face – presumably meaning a context in which young French men and women are recruited and trained as assassins and suicide bombers… by jihadist militias whom France itself and its allies have armed and trained for use as proxy armies against Assad.

Hollande clearly relishes the opportunity to play the strongman, to talk tough while undercutting his political adversaries. At one point he even made a brief head-wagging gesture that was astonishingly reminiscent of Mussolini. Or possibly Nicolas Sarkozy. Was it calculated, or spontaneous? Is he being coached by a consultant, the way the old George Bush was after his handlers noticed that a few of his gestures were just a touch too graceful? Is he simply aping his likely future adversary Sarkozy, who parlayed his stint as Interior (police) minister into a presidential term by baiting immigrants and ghetto youth, even stooping so low as to arrest suspected undocumented parents in a pre-dawn raid as they prepared their children for the first day of elementary school? Or, inside the chubby little bookkeeper, is there a swaggering Duce bent on taking the stage? And is a full-scale police state part of a long-standing plan to further tighten the grip of the neoliberal matrix?

In any case, Hollande is now “hunting on Sarkozy’s lands” as the French say. Beyond his militaristic posturing, he deliberately drew a connection between terrorism and the young people in France’s pressure-cooker suburban housing projects: “They move from delinquency to terrorism”. He promised that he would see to it that young offenders, born in France and sometimes third-generation immigrants, have their French nationality stripped from them. Playing on the fears of working-class citizens by singling out ghetto youths as being part of a foreign population the Republic is harboring in its bosom is one of the techniques Sarkozy had used to co-opt the extreme-Right Front National on his way to the presidency. Now Hollande – whose party is a direct inheritor of the Second International – is using the horror of November 13th as cover for doing exactly the same.

And the media are falling in line, while praising Hollande’s stern posturing and hypocritical calls for unity. The term “Islamofascism” is again being bandied about. A female journalist on the France-24 news network, commenting on the reports that a woman terrorist had blown herself up during the police attack in St-Denis Wednesday morning, said that “a page has been turned” and that “no woman wearing the Islamic veil can ever be trusted again”. Are women who wear blouson-style jackets and coats now suspect too? Or only if they are of Middle-Eastern complexion? Are all pregnant women now potential suicide bombers? Or only those who don’t have blond hair and/or smoke cigarettes?

The relatively short-term gains Hollande will take to the bank may or may not keep their value on the volatile market of politics. But the harm he is doing to the liberty that is supposedly one of France’s pillar values won’t easily be undone. And he chooses to do it rather than face the hypocrisy and the contradictions of France’s – and its allies’ – policies in the world in general and the Middle East in particular.

Nov 152015
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

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Here in France the official take on the Friday the Thirteenth attacks, from the politicians and the media, is that “our values”, “the values of the Republic”, have been attacked again. The narrative is the same one we heard after the Charlie Hebdo masssacre: We are a beacon of civilization and They are barbarians. Fundamentally, in this country where turning an elegant phrase and finding le mot juste is so highly valued, it’s no more sophisticated than Junior Bush’s “They hate us because we’re so free.”

No one can deny that this was a terrorist attack. But nobody mentions the fact that terrorism is simply a weapon of war used by peoples/states who face an overwhelmingly strong enemy. The nascent Israel used terrorism against the British and no one would dare criticize it today. But no – “terror” is an entity, like… “Islam” or, well, “freedom”. These are not people using terror as a weapon (never mind the fact that our “Western” states sytematically use terror against domestic and foreign populations), they’re just “terrorists” by nature, by birth, just as we are “free and democratic” by birth. And yet we’re told that this was an act of war, that France is at war, and that a state of emergency has been declared. A state of emergency is essentially martial law, though the term is studiously avoided. The executive can declare it for a period of twelve days, after which the legislature can prolong it by vote… a vote the “elected representatives of the people” would unhesitatingly take, just as the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to adopt the USAPATRIOT Act.

Indeed, France’s citizens, even though they may well be familiar with Franklin’s words, are probably willing to surrender a measure of freedom in order to have security. The discourse about “our values”, “the values of the Republic”, may be hard to swallow; but not only do we swallow it, we get on the bandwagon and organize huge demonstrations to show that we are free and unafraid. When it’s a question of us against Them, who will deny that we are we, and that he or she is not one of Them? We buy into the meme and help put flesh on its bones. And it becomes part of our culture, and as such that much easier to swallow the next time around… until we end up thinking that it really is in our nature to be free and fair and enlightened, and that They really are slaves to their beliefs, submissive, and benighted. And the result is that no one ever asks a simple question like:

“Since the ‘Socialist’ President of France learned to admire the role of Commander in Chief and realized that since the Charlie attacks he has a line of credit for extending the military, since France decided to make its modest contribution to the West’s civilizing program and help oust Assad and keep the money flowing to its own arms makers, and perhaps get back part of its former empire, how many people have been killed in Syria and Iraq due to France’s bombing? How many civilians?

In any event I haven’t heard it asked yet in the French media. Everyone is blinded by the light of our beloved Republic, that beacon of democracy and solidarity with the oppressed peoples. And, as a matter of fact, will the media really entertain the question of who it is we’re really at war with? Of who the killers actually were? Of who We really are?

Mar 082014
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

Source: CADTM Europe

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The CADTM affirms its full and complete solidarity with the people of Cyprus and their organisations struggling against privatizations in the energy, telecoms, and shipping sectors – privatizations required by the Memorandum imposed by the Troika in March 2013. Cyprus is the fourth country to be placed under the budgetary supervision of the European Union, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

In the face of the demonstrations of 27 February (a 3-day renewable strike by Electricity Authority of Cyprus workers and a strike by longshoremen at the ports of Limassol and Larnaca), the Parliament was unable to reach a majority to adopt the initial bill (25 votes for, 25 against, 5 abstentions; a majority of 29 is required for adoption). The following day the government handed in its resignation. The media, in total complicity with the Troika, have observed total silence over this situation – an extraordinary one, to say the least.

Despite the refusal expressed by the population in the streets, the Cypriot legislators have just adopted (4 March), by a vote of 30 to 26, a bill that is only a slightly modified version of the one they had themselves rejected the preceding week and which would result in the privatisation of the major public services: EAC (electricity), CYTA (telecoms), and CPA (the port authority). This new version of the law claims to guarantee the jobs of the employees of these companies, but no one actually believes that.

Adoption of the law was a condition for the granting of a new 236-million € tranche of the 10-Bn € loan granted by the Troika in March 2013.

The causes of the crisis in Cyprus have been clearly identified: 

1) A hypertrophied banking system
 that was completely out of control. The banks, who have considerable liquid assets provided by the “financial markets,” have recklessly made risky investments.

In 2012, Cyprus’s banks speculated on the restructuring of the Greek debt – 40% of their external commitments, which cost them 4.5 Bn €, or the equivalent of a quarter of Cyprus’s GDP, and brought on the collapse of this overinflated sector (whose assets represent seven times the country’s GDP).

These private losses were then promptly transformed into public debt. These debts are totally illegitimate and must be abolished, along with those stemming from the assistance plan!

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In 2009 and 2010, Cyprus’s public debt was only 52.4% and 60.8% of GDP, whereas in the Euro zone as a whole it was 80% of GDP in 2010.

In Germany, the percentage was 74.5% in 2009 and 82.5% in 2010.

2) A tax situation that is highly advantageous for companies: Corporate tax, which until the Memorandum was at an official rate of 10%, has only been raised to 12.5% (not enough to resolve the budget deficit).

To obtain the 10-Bn € assistance plan from the Troika (9 Bn € from the ECB and 1 Bn € from the IMF), Cyprus’s government also agreed to the restructuring of its banking system, a 10% reduction in public expenditures, and the privatization of the island’s main public sectors.

The IMF, represented in Cyprus by a former executive of Lehman Brothers, itself recognizes the economic ineffectualness of such measures. The IMF’s goal is not to provide support for the population of Cyprus, but to protect and guarantee the interests of the creditors! That is why the agents of the IMF must be run out of Cyprus, along with the representatives of the European Commission and the ECB!

Aside from the obvious risk of growth in unemployment (forecast to reach 19.4% in 2014), Cypriots fear skyrocketing prices, with wages and pensions already reduced by 20% in one year. The people’s mobilisation, practically uninterrupted for months, goes well beyond the industry sectors that are directly concerned.

Rubbish bins brought by the population are piled up in front of bank branches. There are regular interruptions of electrical power and the people are besieging the Parliament and official buildings. All sectors, both private and public, are present around the Parliament, demonstrating their opposition to the Troika’s structural adjustment plan.

The CADTM considers:

  • that the entire debt of Cyprus to the Troika is illegitimate and odious, and must be abolished in its entirety;
  • that the austerity plan imposed by the Troika must be revoked.

The population does not want to pay for the speculators and the wealthiest 1%. International solidarity must organise as soon as possible in support of this exemplary struggle. The CADTM will do all it can.

Translation by Snake Arbusto

Photo : CC – Eu Council Eurozone
Discussion before the meeting begins : Christine LAGARDE, IMF ; Thomas WIESER, President of the EFC (Economic and Financial Committee) and Michael SARRIS, Finances Minister of Cyprus (on the right).

Mar 042014
 

By SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

Obama As God

I’ve been thinking back on my youth recently, to the 60s, and to how convinced we were back then that there was such a thing as progress, to how sure we were that by the time we were old, the world would have changed. I was an American, and I had been raised on perpetual progress in all areas – technology, human rights, quality of life – and was sure that the world would be a more peaceful and prosperous place by now.

But now as I watch the news on television I see that sabers are again rattling, that the Russians are being warned by the US State department that the consequences will be severe if they attempt to keep Crimea in their sphere of influence. The TV news doesn’t mention the fact that the crisis in Crimea – that is, in Ukraine – was directly caused by the US and its NATO allies through their fomenting of the overthrow of the Yanukovich government.

Why? The supposed reason is that Yanukovich in Ukraine and Putin in Russia are despotic leaders and that the real majority of the people – not the “elites” whom these near-dictators serve – aspire to true democracy. The kind of democracy that exists in the US and France and the UK, for example. The real reason is that Washington and NATO have a master plan for continually extending their influence throughout the globe and that that master plan involves breaking up what was once the USSR into a number of smaller states that can be brought into the NATO fold and their resources channeled into the coffers of the elites in the NATO countries. This is of course in direct contradiction with the promises made at the time of the breakup of the former USSR and the de facto dissolution of the Warsaw pact – that NATO would not expand into the territory formerly covered by the Pact.

Back in the 60s, and for decades before then, the US and its allies were engaged in the same kind of interference in the affairs of other parts of the world – always on the pretext of “protecting democracy” or “midwifing freedom,” or some similar formulation. Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954 are examples that immediately come to mind. Never was it admitted that the machinations, and when the machinations failed, the direct military interventions, were in fact intended to protect the vital interests – meaning the financial interests – of the USA – meaning the elite that was in power, and is still in power. And, of course, there is another reason for the machinations and the ever-present threat of military action that is always in the background: justifying the existence of the US/NATO military machine and the $1.67 trillion* spent on it annually. Spent… or should we say extracted from the populations of the US and the NATO countries?

As I grow old and face the world of today, where the progress of technology seems to have been accompanied by regression in human rights and quality of life, I can only wonder, watching the news, how my attempts to make sense of my own life and make peace with my own past, natural as old age approaches, can make any sense in such a context. It’s as if the leaders of the world were eternally young and eternally stupid – like the gods of the mythology our culture is founded on. It’s as if we – when I say “we,” I mean we as Americans, as French, as German, or as British, as represented by the leaders we have duly elected through our admittedly imperfect but at least functioning democratic processes – were trying to play at being Immortals by interfering in the lives of ordinary people to satisfy our own infantile need to have our way, our childish greed, never being satisfied with the wealth we have, or our pusillanimous desire to know everything everyone everywhere is thinking and saying. Is our democratic system really such a model for the rest of the world when those we put in power behave in this way? How much longer can we remain human if we continue to allow our leaders to play at being gods?
___________________
*source: SIPRI

Jun 132013
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

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Since June 11, Greece has become a scandalous “cultural exception” in Europe: The country no longer has public radio and television.

The Greeks, already brought to their knees by the financial crisis, are stunned by the brutal suddenness of the measure, which reminds them of the period when they lived under a dictatorship, and are mobilizing in large numbers.

This decision is in direct contradiction with the European treaties, which hold that the existence of a public broadcasting service is a determining criterion of the health of democracy in a country. The shutdown is one more step in the process of dismantling of a country under the austerity plans imposed by the EU and the Troika.

In solidarity with the Greek people, Mediapart is organizing an event on Tuesday, June 18 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Artists, journalist, and Greek and French intellectuals will be there to speak and to defend the necessity for a public broadcasting service that is independent of political or other powers.

On this occasion, Edwy Plenel, in the name of Mediapart, will issue a citizens’ appeal in the name of the Europe that stands for culture and freedom of information.

The complete, detailed program will be sent out on by Monday, June 17. The event is free and open to the public.

Translated by SnakeArbusto

Jun 132013
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

Greek unions organised a 24 hour strike in support of ERT - Photo by Giorgos Panagakis

Greek unions organized a 24 hour strike in support of ERT – Photo by Giorgos Panagakis

“No Signal.” That was the last message to be broadcast on June 11 at 11:00 PM (local time) by the Greek public broadcasting network ERT. Broadcasting has ended. The radical – and unprecedented – measure was taken without forewarning just as the leaders of Greece’s “Troika” creditors (EU-ECB-IMF) are in Athens.

Public broadcasting belongs to the many government entities that were to be restructured or merged under the Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and its lenders. According to the unions, in closing ERT, the government is meeting the objective imposed on it by Greece’s creditors – eliminating 2,000 public-sector jobs by the end of June – with one stroke of the pen. It is justifying its decision by citing low ratings for the public radio stations and television channels, and also their lack of financial resources, in particular from advertising.

The government did say that the public entity would re-open someday in another form, with a drastically reduced workforce. Government spokesman Simos Kédikoglou revealed the details of a proposed law on the creation of a “new Greek radio, Internet, and television” to be called Nerit S.A. and which would begin operation by the end of August, with 1,200 employees. In the meantime, the current workforce of 2,656 will receive compensation and will be allowed to apply for jobs with the new company.

“They’re saying they’ll re-open in September. But in Greece, nothing’s more permanent than ‘temporary’,” ERT radio General Manager Dimitris Papadimitriou observed.

An explosive economic measure 

The unions have called on Greeks to take to the streets to protest the shutdown. The protest is supported by certain personalities in Greek public life who are dependent on Greece’s public broadcasting – starting with Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, Primate of the Greek Church, who immediately joined the movement along with the majority of the priests. “It has to be understood that only public television and radio broadcast the Mass on Sunday morning, every day of Holy Week, the week before Easter, at Christmas and on August 15 (the feast of the Dormition or Assumption). It provided hope and comfort for those among the faithful who are unable to go to church, as well as to Greeks living abroad. Remember that there are as many Greeks abroad as in Greece itself, and the Mass broadcast was a little piece of Greece for them,” the Archbishop said.

Orthodox Catholicism is the state religion in Greece, and 90% of the country’s population, according to official figures, is Orthodox. Religious broadcasts are carried on all four public channels, including the international one.

Greeks in Venezuela, the USA, and Japan called with messages of support for the personnel. One of them said on the air, just before programming was shut down, that the national public network was the only way for him not to forget the language of his native country and be able to observe religious celebrations in his home.

Several hundred persons were still assembled late Wednesday afternoon in front of ERT’s headquarters in Athens’s northeastern suburbs. A solidarity concert was planned for Wednesday evening.

Sophie Rosenzweig / ARTE Journal

Translated by SnakeArbusto

Status of Greek public broadcasting:

ERT in figuresIts history goes back to the 1950s. With 35 broadcasting locations, ERT reaches the most remote corners of the Greek Aegean islands and employs nearly 2,700 persons, including some 680 journalists and 200 musicians and singers.ERT, via its international Greek-language radio frequency and the ERT World channel, provides a vital link to a country whose language is spoken by more than seven million diaspora Greeks scattered around the world from Egypt to Australia and including the United States.

 

Edition spéciale : ARTE Journal diffusé en grec:

ERT: On the Edge:

Thousands of Greek showing solidarity outside the ERT building in Athens:

Published: Wed. Jun 12 12:00:00 CEST 2013

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