Jul 062015
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart
Reporting from Athens

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It was November 2011 when I had the opportunity to meet Yanis Varoufakis in person, for the first and so far only time. Upon the invitation of his close friend and promoter James Galbraith, Varoufakis was visiting the University of Texas, where I was studying, to give a talk about the future of the Eurozone and to present his new book. As the host of what was then a locally-produced Greek radio program (Austin Hellenic Radio), I attended Varoufakis’ talk in order to try to get an interview with him on site. And indeed, I did. “Be quick though, eight other media outlets are waiting to speak with me,” Varoufakis told me.

This quote made an impression on me, but is quite indicative of Varoufakis’ personality. His “rock star” status in the world of “anti-austerity” economics was already beginning to be solidified. That same period, Varoufakis made appearances on CBS’ 60 Minutes, on NPR, and on a number of other media outlets across the world. One year later, Varoufakis would be back at the University of Texas, apparently on Galbraith’s invitation, as a visiting scholar. His annual salary of $100,000 (which can be seen through publicly-available records, as the University of Texas is a state university), was more than what many tenured professors earn at the same university. But despite his burgeoning celebrity status, little did I imagine that just a few years later, he would become the finance minister of a Greece which was even deeper in crisis.

Flash forward to Sunday night: the resounding “no” vote in Greece’s dubious referendum on whether or not to accept the already-rescinded proposals of the institutions formerly known as the troika was now official. For many in Greece and also in the global left, which continues to amaze with just how unaware of reality it really is, this “no” vote was the beginning of a new chapter for Greece, a victory for anti-austerity forces led by the darlings of the global left, SYRIZA, with prime minister Alexis Tsipras and finance minister Varoufakis at the helm. Yet, it did not take long for that bubble to burst—for those who were paying attention. Soon after the “no” result became official, Varoufakis tweeted that Greece’s place is firmly within the Eurozone, adding that he would not permit the alternative, a “parallel currency,” to be instituted. No word, of course, about the true alternative which has always been on the table: a return to a national currency. Varoufakis then described the “no” vote as a “majestic, big YES to a democratic, rational Europe,” Tsipras then followed this up with a similar tweet of his own, stating that the voters of Greece responded to the true question at hand in the referendum by stating that they want a Europe “of solidarity and democracy.” Surely that was the exact thing grandma, grandpa, and the unemployed were thinking while filling out their ballot.

The “no” vote led to celebrations in Syntagma Square and throughout Greece despite the deep divisions which exist within Greek society and which remained apparent in the lead-up to the referendum and in the results. Just one day later though, Varoufakis did what he does best: grabbed the headlines, announcing (via Twitter) that he was resigning as finance minister. The timing, while seemingly peculiar to some, couldn’t be better: Varoufakis is exiting the government as a hero, a “leftist” and “anti-austerity” darling who surely has a bright future to look forward to on the lecture circuit, as an author and analyst, and perhaps even with a corner office waiting for him somewhere in Washington or Brussels.

Varoufakis is escaping at just the right time, as a few hours later on Monday, Tsipras was given the “green light” by the leaders of all of the political parties represented in the Greek parliament, sans the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), to come to an agreement with the “institutions.” Tsipras and other SYRIZA officials have, again, stated their repeated intention to keep Greece within the Eurozone. Tsipras and others, including Varoufakis, have never acknowledged the findings of their own government’s “debt truth commission,” which found that most of Greece’s public debt is illegal and odious and the repayment of which would be a violation of the Greek people’s human rights. Tsipras, instead, has stated his intention to follow the recommendations of the “good cop” (the IMF) in merely requesting a “debt haircut” of 30% and a 20-year “grace period.” Following Varoufakis’ resignation, Tsipras was said to be considering a broader cabinet shake-up which would include more “centrist” elements that would then continue negotiations with the creditors.

In case it is still unclear, the writing on the wall is as follows: Tsipras and his government are going hard for a new agreement that will not be popular, and which will not be much different from the proposals which Greek voters said “no” to. A new agreement perhaps not markedly different from the 47-page proposal submitted by SYRIZA prior to the referendum being called, which included the implementation of a primary budget surplus of almost 1% beginning this year (even though Greece is currently in deficit and would therefore need to cut its way back to a surplus), dozens of privatizations in a program that would continue well past 2020, making permanent many previously “temporary” taxes which SYRIZA had declared unconstitutional prior to the elections, and pledges to honor Greece’s debt commitments. And this time around, whatever the proposal is, either on the part of the government or the “institutions,” the Greek people won’t be given the option to say “yay” or “nay.” Notably, with the “vote of support” Tsipras received today, he has the backing of the same pro-austerity political forces—New Democracy, PASOK, To Potami, and the far-right Golden Dawn—which, until yesterday, were urging the Greek public to vote “yes.”

Varoufakis, in other words, is escaping the oncoming train wreck, and with good reason. But does that make him a hero? Anything but. Varoufakis is a master of rhetoric and doublespeak, a man who knows exactly how to tailor his message for the audience he is addressing, saying one thing to his “partners” in the IMF and in Brussels, and something different to the Greek people shaking his hand and patting him on the back on the street in Athens. Despite his carefully-crafted public image, however, there is much evidence which belies Varoufakis’ true intentions:

  • Soon after assuming the post of finance minister, Varoufakis proposed towards his partners in the Eurogroup the continuation of 70 percent of the previously-existing (and illegal) austerity measures, enacted by the unelected government of technocrat Loukas Papademos in February 2012 amidst tremendous popular protest and police violence.

  • When even the continuation of almost three-fourths of the austerity measures proved to be insufficient for the troika, Varoufakis capitulated, agreeing to continue all of the existing agreements “temporarily” (for an additional four months). He then returned to Greece and told the Greek people that this agreement consisted of “creative ambiguity.”

  • In an interview with the Associated Press in early March, Varoufakis flatly stated that he would “squeeze blood from a stone” to repay the IMF, which holds views that he “personally agrees with.”

  • Varoufakis ended up being true to his word: in late April, the Greek government issued a presidential decree (a practice which it had pledged prior to the elections that it would not continue) to essentially confiscate all remaining funds in the Greek Treasury, including pension, health, and education funds. These funds were then used to make the IMF May loan repayment.

  • In May, Varoufakis, along with economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis and then-lead negotiator Euclid Tsakalotos (who is now Varoufakis’ replacement as Finance Minister) hand-picked former World Bank employee Elena Panaritis as Greece’s new representative to the IMF. Panaritis’ impressive CV boasts of her accomplishments in pushing forth hundreds of privatizations in Peru and other Latin American countries, while she is perhaps best known for her role in promoting policies which became known as “Fujishock,” named after the now-jailed (on charges of murder and human rights violations) ex-president of Peru Alberto Fujimori. Panaritis is a former MP with PASOK, who has stated that she is “American, not Greek, and who voted in favor of the memorandum (austerity) agreements. Due to popular outcry, including from voices within SYRIZA, Panaritis eventually withdrew from her new post as IMF representative.

  • Prior to the July 5 referendum, Varoufakis kept stating his intention to “restructure” Greece’s debt, even though his government’s own “debt truth commission” found that the debt is illegal and odious. Varoufakis has not acknowledged this finding, talking only of a “restructuring.”

  • Varoufakis flat-out lied, in a radio interview on ABC Australia, claiming that Greece could not print drachmas even if it wanted to, that they were destroyed in the year 2000, the year before Greece joined the Eurozone. In actually, Greece joined in 2002, and to this day maintains an ultra-modern banknote printing facility in the Athens suburb of Holargos, one of six such facilities in the Eurozone, which is used to print 10 euro notes, and occasionally other denominations. Even if Greece did not have such a facility though, it could follow the example of dozens of other countries and simply outsource its banknote printing to outside firms, based in Switzerland and elsewhere.

  • Varoufakis, prior to the January elections, had his new book presented at the Athens Music Hall by television talking head Mbambis Papadimitriou of Sky TV. Papadimitriou is perhaps best known for stating his views that the previous New Democracy government should not discount a future governing coalition with a “serious” Golden Dawn, while Sky TV, in a sea of pro-austerity media outlets, waved the “yes” flag higher than most, providing exactly zero minutes and zero seconds of televised coverage of the demonstrations in favor of voting “no.”

  • Varoufakis, early in his tenure as Finance Minister, spoke of the need for the Greek people to lead an “austere existence.” He and his wife Danae Stratou then posed for a remarkably obnoxious photo shoot at their Athens penthouse, with a view of the Acropolis, for gossip magazine Paris Match.

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly repeated mythology about the crisis and the Greek people which is untrue: that “hard-working” European taxpayers are supporting Greece (when in fact, their money is being loaned, profitably, to Greece), while referencing the myth that Greece has the highest percentage of Porsche Cayenne ownership in the world, a claim which has been debunked but which remains remarkably persistent to this day.

  • Varoufakis has stated that his homeland is Europe, not Greece, and that he would like to see the formation of a “United States of Europe.”

  • Varoufakis has repeatedly claimed, falsely, that no country has ever not repaid the IMF. He has also stated that he prefers a “European solution” to Greece’s crisis, instead of following the example of countries such as Argentina.

As pointed out by analyst Wayne Madsen, Varoufakis has also been employed as an “economist-in-residence” for the Valve Corporation, closely linked to Microsoft and Bill Gates. He served for six years as an economic adviser to former Greek prime minister George Papandreou, who later dragged Greece under troika supervision after first ensuring that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were falsified (worsened) in order to provide the economic and political impetus for Greece to be dragged under troika oversight. The foreword to one of Varoufakis’ books, “A Modest Proposal,” was written by former French prime minister Michae Rocard, who has called for current European Parliament president Martin Schulz to be apppinted as European “strongman” and who has repeatedly warned SYRIZA to abide by the current austerity agreements.

It is clear that Varoufakis is not a hero or a man of integrity. If anyone is heroic, it is the majority of Greek voters, who in the face of an unprecedented media and political terror campaign, voted “no” to the European creditors’ proposals, even if the referendum itself is dubious in nature. Despite this though, Varoufakis and SYRIZA are receiving heroic treatment, proving once again how easily people are swayed and how easily they are satisfied by words, instead of by concrete actions. Greek voters may have courageously voted “no” to the proposals of the troika, but the ball remains in their court: will they keep up their resistance, or will they accept a SYRIZA capitulation and continue giving a hero’s welcome to a government which has sold them out?

Jul 052015
 

By Michael Nevradakis99GetSmart
Reporting from Athens

Photo by Marios Lolos

Photo by Marios Lolos

With early returns from the referendum coming in, it is clear that a vote of “no” to the austerity measures proposed by the institutions formerly known as the troika will prevail, with a clear majority that will likely surpass 60%. As I write this, the sky is falling on Greece, the sea is drying up, day has become night, trees and flowers and kittens are dying, bullets and missiles are flying, and Greece is feeling the angry wrath of the gods for defying the will of the creditors, the mass media, and the troika.

At least, that’s what the mass media would have had us believe, with their dire warnings as to what a “no” vote would bring for Greece and with their utterly disgraceful coverage of events in Greece over the past two weeks. In reality, as I am writing this, I am sitting on a park bench in an ordinary neighborhood of Athens. It is a beautiful Greek summer evening, there is a light breeze, young people, families, and the elderly are walking about, and there is no sign of anything but life continuing on as normal. A couple of miles away, in Syntagma Square, more Greeks are congregating to celebrate the “no” victory in today’s referendum.

In my previous piece, I strongly questioned the timing of this referendum and the question being posed to the Greek voters, as well as the SYRIZA-led government’s actions throughout its five-plus months in office and in the days leading up to today’s poll. Those criticisms and questions remain. Nevertheless, amidst a climate of pure media and political terrorism, blackmail, and manipulation, Greek voters resoundingly said no to the proposals put forth by the institutions. This, in itself, is a major milestone for Greece and for the Greek people.

Today’s result is not a victory for the government, whose actions continue to betray its pre-election promises and electoral platform, and whose referendum was held under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered, with capital controls enforced, with an out-of-control media freely terrorizing the public, and in the middle of the country’s tourist season. The result is, however, a victory against the scaremongering of the media, of the European institutions, and of Greece’s completely discredited political class, namely the previously establishment political parties (New Democracy and PASOK) and their media-supported allies (To Potami).

The media coverage seen in the previous days, both from Greek and international outlets, is nothing short of disgraceful; a hatchet job against Greece and its people. The Guardian, which remains for some absurd reason a well-regarded publication in Greece despite years of inaccurate and sensationalistic articles about Greece, warned its readers that shelves in Greek supermarkets are barren, that the tourist resorts of Mykonos and Santorini are facing “food shortages,” that gas stations are out of fuel, and that every single ATM in Athens had throngs of people queuing up to withdraw their funds. One visit to travel forums on the Internet, such as TripAdvisor, shows hundreds upon hundreds of postings from prospective visitors to Greece, who have been influenced by this absurd media coverage and who are second-guessing their upcoming holidays in Greece.

The clear bias in favor of “yes” was apparent in the writings and also in the tweets of numerous correspondents based in Greece, whose coverage all throughout the crisis has been nothing short of disgraceful. Some such correspondents, such as Yannis Koutsomitis, could not hide the fact that they voted “yes” in today’s referendum, just as they have been unable to conceal their staunchly pro-austerity views, despite all evidence as to how destructive these policies have been and continue to be. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and the BBC warned their audiences about the impending chaos that would be arriving in Greece in the event of a “no” vote, while making sure to warn the audience about the perils that a “grexit” would bring to Greece, connecting the referendum with the issue of whether or not Greece will remain in the Eurozone. Such biased “reporting” is irresponsible and, indeed, criminal and it is a tremendous shame that these “journalists” have such a large audience, including tens of thousands of Twitter followers, to spread their misinformation.

Today’s vote is a response not just to this media terrorism, but to all those around the world who have fallen victim to such media coverage: the clearly ignorant and uniformed and the racist, who continue to fall back on completely untrue and discredited stereotypes that Greeks don’t work hard, don’t pay taxes, retire at age 50, and have been living off of free money provided by “hard-working European taxpayers” (similar to statements, incidentally, also made by celebrity finance minister Varoufakis in the early days of the SYRIZA-led government). Successive Greek governments, including the current coalition, have done nothing to attempt to reverse Greece’s image abroad or to correct the numerous racist and ignorant stereotypes which exist about the Greek people and which continue to be perpetuated by numerous media outlets.

Today’s vote is also a victory against the domestic media system, the oligarch-owned television and radio stations, newspapers and Internet portals, which provided almost wall-to-wall coverage in favor of voting “yes,” in favor of more austerity and further capitulation to the EU. The same media outlets which, despite SYRIZA’s empty rhetoric (something which it is great at), are still allowed free rein to do and say as they please, facts and objectivity be damned. Greek voters overcame this non-stop propaganda campaign not due to the “radical” government that is in office, but because many Greeks finally have had enough and have shut these media outlets out of their lives.

Despite this, 40 percent of voters—four in ten, in other words—said “yes” to Europe, “yes” to more austerity, more cuts, lowered pensions, more privatizations, a continued “brain drain” out of the country. This is hardly a surprise, unfortunately. It is reflective of the deep divisions which exist in Greek society, and a longstanding inferiority complex held by many Greeks that Greece is worthless without being a part of the “civilized West,” which they define as the Eurozone, NATO, and the European Union. It is reflective of the divide-and-conquer efforts of much of Greece’s political class and by the media, where public servants have been pitted against employees of privately-owned corporations and businesses, the latter of whom were among the strongest proponents of “staying in Europe” and voting “yes” while blaming the public sector for each and every one of the country’s ills.

The commonly-heard argument is that without Europe, Greece has no future, Greek children have no future, that the country will be “internationally isolated.” The irony of the “yes” supporters is that they are the ones who, quite typically, are critical of the patronage state and the perceived corruption in Greece, but who then vote for the same parties which perpetuated this system and this corruption for four decades. One also has to wonder what sort of future the children of Norway, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and Iceland have and how these countries are managing to cope with the apparent “isolation” they must be experiencing, as they are neither members of the Eurozone nor the European Union.

In the days leading up to the referendum, the media and political machine did its very best to convince the world that “yes” would prevail, that the Greek people “wanted to remain in Europe” (where would Greece go? Africa? Antarctica? Mars?). A media manipulation playbook, prepared on behalf of New Democracy, was leaked to the public, explaining just how the message in favor of “yes” would be propagandized to the masses, while stating that any polls showing even a small “no” lead (of up to five percentage points) would be spun into showing a narrow margin in favor of “yes.” This was followed up by the exit polls which were announced moments after the polls closed at 7 pm in Greece, showing, at best, a narrow margin of victory for “no” and leaving open the possibility of a narrow “yes” majority.

The true results, however, show a clear majority in favor of “no,” once again discrediting the polling firms, whose pre-election opinion surveys and exit polls were laughably off the mark in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, and again prior to the elections of this past January. These polling firms (who receive funding from the state apparatus and whose polls are not independently conducted, but instead conducted on behalf of the same pro-austerity and/or pro-government media outlets) and their results (including their repeated “findings” that 70-80% of Greeks want to stay in the Eurozone at all costs) should never be trusted again, or referenced by anyone who cares about facts or reality.

Despite the celebrations though, the true test as to how much the people of Greece have actually “stood up” to the austerity regime will take place in the coming days, and not with the “no” victory today. Because if the “radical” SYRIZA government dares to come back with its own proposals for further austerity, primary surpluses and privatizations (47 page proposal, measures totaling 8 billion euros, etc.) and those who voted “no” today accept this and treat SYRIZA as heroes, then it will be evident that there is no true resistance and that nothing has changed.

The real referendum,, in other words, will follow in the coming days.

Jul 042015
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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It was just four months ago, though it already seems like a lifetime away, when Greece’s celebrity finance minister Yanis Varoufakis publicly stated that “creative ambiguity” won the country a “loan lifeline” from the institutions formerly known as the troika: the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. Despite the never-ending soap opera that is Greek crisis politics though, few would have imagined that the SYRIZA-led coalition government would succeed in outdoing itself in terms of its “creative ambiguity,” by calling a referendum which, just days before the polls open, remains remarkably unclear as to its actual meaning and potential consequences.

Setting The Stage for the Referendum

What has been actually happening in Greece though, over the past week? Lots has been heard in the Greek and international media, much of it tainted by either a pro-austerity or pro-SYRIZA bias and a generous dose of sensationalism. Cutting through all of this media-created noise, the realities are as follows: in a peculiarly-timed nationally-televised address which aired live a minute after midnight on June 27, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras announced to the nation that a referendum would be held on whether or not to approve the set of proposals put forth by the “institutions.” The last referendum held in Greece was in 1974, just after Greece’s Western-backed military regime fell, when Greeks overwhelmingly voted “no” for the restoration of the monarchy. This announcement was initially hailed by a majority of the public, as it was seen as a bold step towards giving the Greek people a direct say in the country’s affairs for the first time during the five-plus years of financial crisis.

It quickly became clear, however, that the referendum was not as straightforward as it initially seemed. Just what were the Greek people being called upon to approve or disapprove? Though a lot has been heard in the Greek media about the demands of the “institutions,” these media reports have overwhelmingly been cast through a vehemently pro-austerity filter. The government posted the full, translated text of the proposals on the Internet as well as Sunday’s ballot, but even today, almost half of Greek households do not have Internet access, particularly older generations which happen to have the highest percentage of voter participation (and which are also the heaviest television viewers). Only days before the referendum, the consequences of a “no” vote also remain equally muddled on the part of the government: how will a SYRIZA-led government interpret it and what will its actions be should this be the outcome of the referendum?

So far, the only thing that has been heard from the SYRIZA-led government is that a “no” vote would “strengthen” the government’s “negotiating position.” On Friday, Varoufakis stated that if “no” prevails in the referendum, the government has received “some very decent proposals” from “official Europe,” adding that “a deal is more or less done,” without going into any additional detail about what this supposed deal entails. Varoufakis added that if “yes” ultimately prevails on July 5th, that the government will sign off on the proposals presented by the “institutions”—just days after he and Tsipras strongly indicated that they would resign in the event of a “yes” vote. Notably, the Greek people will not be asked to vote upon any of the other proposals that are apparently on the table, either from “official Europe” or on the part of SYRIZA. In an interview on Australia’s ABC, Varoufakis outright lied, claiming that Greece does not have the capacity to print drachmas. In fact, Greece possesses a state-of-the-art printing facility for banknotes, one of six such facilities in the Eurozone.

In the meantime, two days after calling a referendum, and after allowing sufficient panic to set in, the Greek government decided to impose capital controls, declaring a week-long bank holiday and imposing a daily withdrawal limit of €60 per account, per day, for all Greek bank accounts). Public officials who were to be paid on the 27th and 28th of the month were obliged to queue up at specific bank branches, opened exclusively for them, to withdraw a maximum of €120 from their paychecks. Following this, the ECB embargoed Greece, while the SYRIZA-led government did not enact any measures whatsoever to calm down a jittery populace, including pensioners, who were suddenly left with limited access to cash. Instead, the government offered additional guarantees of €4.92 billion to the National Bank of Greece and €1.91 billion to Eurobank, two banks which have already been heavily recapitalized with taxpayer funds during the crisis. Essentially, the government acted to protect bankrupted banks that have remained afloat with public support, but took absolutely no measures to assuage the nerves of the populace or to protect salaries or pensions.

The SYRIZA-led government, in other words, far from undertaking a “heroic” and “brave” decision in giving Greek voters a say, have instead hastily organized a rather unclear referendum under the worst possible circumstances: with banks shuttered and capital controls imposed. This has given fuel to Greece’s oligarch-owned, pro-austerity media, who have successfully transformed the public debate into a dilemma between voting “yes” to “stay in Europe” and maintain Greece’s “European prospect,” and voting “no” and bringing “catastrophe” and “chaos” to Greece in the form of a “grexit.” In essence, the referendum has been transformed into a yes-or-no vote on staying within the Eurozone or departing, even though SYRIZA continues to maintain, at every opportunity, that it refuses to consider a grexit and that will keep Greece within the Eurozone and the European Union.

Adding to the confusion and contributing to the uneasiness in Greece, various members of the SYRIZA-led government, including Giannis Dragasakis, the government’s vice-president, suggested earlier in the week that the referendum might be withdrawn, before rescinding his statement. It was then reported by the media that Tsipras submitted a new proposal to the “institutions,” a proposal which aimed to settle Greece’s funding from the supra-national European Stability Mechanism in order for Greece’s debt to become “sustainable” while giving emphasis to the “growth perspective.” This proposal would essentially mean that Greek taxpayers would repay the IMF loans with ESM money that would be loaned to Greece at double the interest rate.

This latest proposal, in essence, conceeded on almost all points to the “institutions.” It included the acceptance of a new retirement age of 67, the implementation of which would merely be delayed until October (as if that would make any real difference). It includes significant reductions in Greek military spending, on the order of €200 million in 2016 and €400 million in 2017, at a time when the military is already suffering from shortages of fuel and supplies in an increasingly unstable Eastern Mediterranean. The new proposal also makes mention of a “new framework” for labor markets that would be legislated in the autumn, and accepts recommendations from the OECD’s “toolkit 1″ on “liberalizing” the marketplace. On Friday, this proposal was followed up by a new request by Tsipras, asking for a debt reduction of 30% and a 20 year grace period, as per the IMF’s recommendations.

SYRIZA’s Proposals and the “Debt Truth” Commission

SYRIZA’s “creative ambiguity” is unfortunately not limited just to the referendum which has been declared. In Greece, “kolotoumba” is the word colloquially used to refer to political “flip-flops” or promises that have been reneged upon, and in its five-plus months in power, SYRIZA has gone away from practically all of its key pre-election promises and the proposals of its Thessaloniki policy programme, presented in September 2014. During the first round of Greek negotiations with the “institutions” in February, Varoufakis’ initial offer was for the continuation of 70% of the previously-existing austerity measures from the second memorandum, agreed upon by an unelected, technocrat-led government in February 2012. Even the mere possibility of “grexit” was never placed on a table, nor was a debt reduction, write-off, or stoppage of payments.

That same month, SYRIZA proposed and then proceeded to elect a corrupt conservative former government minister, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, hailing from the New Democracy party, as President of the Hellenic Republic. Pavlopoulos, from 2012 on, had voted in favor of all austerity legislation and has repeatedly stated his pro-euro views, claiming that he will not sign off on a “grexit” as president. The February Eurogroup agreement, which resulted from the aforementioned “creative ambiguity” and extended the so-called “bailout” towards Greece for another four months, was then followed by a series of other broken promises on the part of the government: the restoration of the minimum wage to pre-crisis levels was postponed indefinitely, the levying of the unified property tax (ENFIA), which prior to the elections had been declared “unconstitutional” and “illegal” by SYRIZA, was not only continued, but taxpayers were told that it was their “patriotic duty” to continue paying this previously “temporary” tax. Funds for education, health, housing, and other social services were not restored, despite promises to the contrary, while another series of pre-election pledges, concerning the privatization program, was also violated: not only were the privatizations that had been enforced by previous governments not reversed, but new privatizations were proposed by SYRIZA, including that of the port of Piraeus (Europe’s largest port), the port of Thessaloniki (Greece’s second-largest port), and 14 regional airports of strategic and tourist significance. Indeed, a government delegation traveled to China to discuss the sale of the port of Piraeus and other strategic assets, including railroad lines, to Chinese-owned Cosco, which already owns the Piraeus container port under a previous privatization deal.

The “kolotoumbes” do not stop here, however. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos of the supposedly anti-austerity Independent Greeks political party, which is SYRIZA’s minority partner in the governmental coalition, announced his proposal for a NATO base to be developed on the southern Aegean island of Karpathos. Additionally, the government refused to file charges against a long list of former government ministers and public officials, including the current president of the Bank of Greece and former finance minister Yannis Stournaras, for their actions in imposing the austerity regime upon Greece. More egregiously still, the SYRIZA-led government, after promising prior to the elections to discontinue the practice of legislating by presidential decree (a favored method of the previous New Democracy-PASOK coalition), issued such a decree on April 24 to confiscate the funds available in the Greek Treasury, including the funds of public institutions including public hospitals and the national health service, as well as pension and insurance funds. These confiscated funds were then used to repay the country’s May installment towards the IMF.

Throughout SYRIZA’s five-plus months in office, Varoufakis, Tsipras, and numerous other government ministers and officials have repeatedly stated their intention to repay the country’s debt, including obligations towards the IMF and ECB, in full and to the last penny. In March, Varoufakis, in an interview with the Associated Press, flatly stated that he would “squeeze blood from a stone” in order to repay the IMF, which holds views with which he personally agrees with, while falsely claiming that no country has ever reneged on its payments to the IMF. Once again, government ministers stated that this action was in the “patriotic interest” of the country.

The aforementioned actions set the stage for the latest round of “negotiations” between the Greek government and the “institutions,” negotiations which led to a 47-page proposal submitted by SYRIZA, encompassing austerity measures totaling €8 billion euros. These proposals include the continuation of dozens of privatizations, scheduled all the way past 2020, the maintenance of a primary budget surplus of 1% this year and increasing primary surpluses in the coming years, in order to appease creditors, the maintenance of previously “temporary” taxes including the ENFIA, and agreeing to fulfill the country’s debt obligations, with no mention of a write-down, stoppage of payments, or reduction in the debt level. In light of the fact that Greece finds itself running a small deficit this year, the maintenance of a primary surplus within 2015 would inevitably result in more cuts in order to meet SYRIZA’s own proposed “targets,” while the maintenance of a primary surplus or an economy which has shrunk by 25% over five years equates with making permanent an austerity regime which has strangled the marketplace and Greek households.

Even these proposals, however, were not enough for the “institutions”—and for good reason. While these “institutions” have not budged in their positions since SYRIZA came to power in January, they have seen the “radical leftist” government of Greece enter the initial February negotiations proposing continuation of almost three-fourths of the existing austerity measures, and have seen SYRIZA inch ever closer to full capitulation since then, as demonstrated by the 47-page proposal submitted most recently by SYRIZA. Under such circumstances, why would the “institutions” and the German government agree to anything less than their full demands, seeing that SYRIZA is coming ever close to a full surrender?

Notably, as this latest round of “negotiations” has taken place, the Greek parliament convened a “debt truth” commission to audit the entirety of Greece’s public debt. The final report issued by the commission on June 17 found that Greece is not only unable to pay the debt, but it is not obligated to, as the bulk of the debt is illegal, illegitimate, odious, while the repayment of said debt would contravene the basic human rights of the people of Greece. Despite these findings, however, the government has not demanded the cancellation of the majority of the public debt as part of its “negotiations,” nor has it called a referendum on this issue, in which the Greek people would be asked if they wish to repay this debt. Instead, as mentioned previously, Tsipras has publicly repeated the IMF’s proposals for a 30% reduction of the debt and a 20 year “grace period,” essentially attempting to sweep the problem under the rug for the next generation, and some other future political regime.

This “truth” commission also heard testimony from former members of Greece’s Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), who since 2011 have been publicly making allegations, backed up by a significant amount of evidence, that Greece’s debt and deficit figures were falsified in late 2009 and in 2010 in order to appear worse than they actually were, thus providing the political and economic impetus to drag Greece under the supervision of the troika. It has also been shown that former prime minister George Papandreou had met with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the IMF, prior to the 2009 Greek elections which brought Papandrou to power, amidst promises that “we have money.” These allegations led to criminal charges being filed against the president of ELSTAT, former IMF official Andreas Georgiou, in early 2013, charges which are still pending as of today. SYRIZA, instead of taking action against Georgiou, has allowed him to remain in his position as president of the statistical authority.

Wall-to-Wall Pro-Austerity Propaganda

The “creative ambiguity” of the referendum and the government’s evident weaknesses have fueled the pro-austerity, pro-”yes” fire, both on the part of Greece’s establishment opposition parties, as well as the overwhelming majority of the Greek and international media. Every single politician from the previous regimes which governed Greece, including former prime ministers Antonis Samaras, Kostas Simitis, and Kostas Karamanlis (who spoke publicly for the first time since November 2009) have expressed a strong position in favor of voting “yes” in the upcoming referendum. Former television personality Stavros Theodorakis of the upstart To Potami political party has also not been shy in expressing a pro-yes, pro-austerity, and vehemently pro-German viewpoint, while the party is the beneficiary of copious amounts of free airtime on the same television stations which Theodorakis once worked for, while other new political parties are completely shut out of the media. Even the supposedly “patriotic” far-right Golden Dawn party, through its leader Nikos Mihaloliakos, has stated a clear position in favor of the euro, claiming (falsely) that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” and “cannot afford” to leave the Eurozone and the EU.

Even the governing coalition has not been free of voices which have spoken outright in favor of voting “yes” or who have asked for the referendum to be withdrawn, with four members of the minority coalition partner Independent Greeks expressing such views in recent days, leading to the removal of one of these members from his parliamentary position. In essence, this means that the already-flimsy governing coalition has been further weakened.

On top of this, one of Greece’s largest labor unions, the GSEE, publicly called for the referendum to be withdrawn, while the Greek Chamber of Commerce (SEB) called for a vote of “yes.” The aforementioned two organizations, as well as many other purportedly pro-worker labor unions, are viewed by many Greeks as being closely connected to the country’s party structure, essentially forming part of the so-called “deep state.” Numerous actors, celebrities, university professors (that are typically beneficiaries of EU-sponsored funding and grants) and prominent personalities have also chimed in as part of the “yes” chorus. Additionally, many employers and managers in the private and public sector have warned their employees that they will not be paid their salaries unless they vote “yes” or participate in demonstrations in favor of a “yes” vote.

However, the real damage is being done on the part of Greece’s corrupt and oligarch-owned media outlets, as well as by international news organizations through their reporters and correspondents on the ground in Greece. Prior to the January elections, SYRIZA and several of its prominent officials promised to crack down on the country’s oligarchy once in office. Its actions though, upon coming to office, suggest otherwise. On June 11, the two-year anniversary of its shutdown by the previous government, SYRIZA reopened national public broadcaster ERT, amidst great fanfare. However, what was not said was that ERT was reopened based on the law which had initially established its replacement, NERIT. Not all former employees were rehired, while the popular protest programming which had aired during the two prior years that ERT had been operated as a “pirate” station by its workers, was wiped from the schedule. Since its relaunch, ERT has essentially operated as a press wing of the SYRIZA government (which already owns a growing nationwide network of party-owned radio stations and its own nationally-circulating newspaper, Avgi). Tsipras is given unlimited airtime on ERT and is faced only with softball questions by its reporters, while ERT’s social media accounts reflect a clear pro-government slant. Furthermore, after ERT’s relaunch, the government announced its intention to sign a new contract with a private consortium known as DIGEA (jointly owned by the same oligarchs which own Greece’s six largest private television stations) for the digital transmission of ERT’s television signals throughout Greece, albeit “temporarily.”

In the meantime, the government’s rhetoric against the media oligarchs has been limited to a PR stunt in demanding that the stations pay for the usage of public frequencies (they have still not done so), and suggestions that a new licensing bid for these stations (which are still unlicensed) will be declared, a proposal which however calls for a smaller number of TV stations to operate and the auctioning off of this reduced number of frequencies (indeed this was included in SYRIZA’s 47-page proposal). The combination of auctioning the frequencies and making fewer of them available will inevitably drive up their price and mean that only the oligarchs and their ilk can afford them. And as all this has taken place, the SYRIZA government was reportedly prepared to renew the long-expired terms of the National Radio-Television Council (NCRTV)), the country’s “independent” broadcast regulator, despite the fact that this practice of continued renewals has repeatedly been deemed unconstitutional by the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court. The three members of the NCRTV finally resigned on their own accord, and in response, SYRIZA has allowed the NCRTV to operate, unconstitutionally, with four members instead of seven. The new, “temporary” president of the NCRTV is Lina Alexiou, the mother of SYRIZA MP and speaker of the parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou.

This muddled media situation has perfectly set the stage for the unprecedented media terrorism campaign that has followed over the past week. The newscasts and talk programs of all major private television stations in Greece and their associated media outlets (radio stations, newspapers, etc.) have provided far more coverage of the “yes” position compared to the “no” position, while this coverage has been accompanied by headlines and on-air proclamations which are clearly designed to terrorize the public into voting for more austerity. In a recent analysis of the main evening television newscasts and their coverage of successive “pro-no” and “pro-yes” demonstrations in Athens, it was found that the “pro-no” coverage across these stations totaled just eight minutes, while the corresponding “pro-yes” coverage received over 46 minutes of airtime. One station, Mega Channel, featured statements and sound bites from 36 different individuals in favor of “yes” and zero in favor of “no” in one of its newscasts. One other station, the self-proclaimed “reputable” and “non-sensational” Sky TV, offered zero minutes of “pro-no” coverage and over eight minutes of “pro-yes” coverage on its newscasts over a two-day period. This coverage has included absurd on-air headlines which have compared, for instance, “pro-no” voting booths that have sprung up, to the political situation of North Korea, while warning of (non-existent) “shortages” at supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations and dire warnings of impending catastrophe. One Mega Channel newscast used images from South Africa in 2012 of an elderly woman protecting another elderly woman using an ATM, as if it had taken place in Greece today, while the newspaper Star Press used an image of an elderly individual from Turkey holding loaves of bread in his hands following a catastrophic earthquake in 2011, as if the individual in question was in Greece and was hoarding bread in response to the referendum. Newspaper headlines have spread fear of a “haircut” on bank deposits, of shortages of basic goods, and of pensions which are “in danger,” as well as dire warnings of the “catastrophe” that a grexit would bring, with grexit being equated with a “no” vote.

None of this should come as a surprise in light of the fact that almost the entirety of Greece’s national media outlets are owned by a small cabal of oligarchs, with extensive interests all across the economic spectrum, from shipping and oil refineries to insurance companies and publishing houses. Indeed, Greece’s former representative to the IMF, Panagiotis Roumeliotis, admitted in recent testimony before the “debt truth” commission that numerous Greek journalists had attended IMF-sponsored “seminars,” where they were coached on how to provide reporting with a pro-euro, pro-austerity tilt.

The international media, through its coverage and its reporters and correspondents on location in Greece, has been equally terrible. The usage of the word “bailout” to describe the austerity program and loans which successive Greek governments have implemented has become systematic, lending a positive aura to such policies. Most reports, and most reporters (particularly through their Twitter accounts) have not hidden their pro-austerity and/or pro-SYRIZA biases. Channel 4′s Paul Mason, whose coverage has been strongly pro-SYRIZA, has written the foreword for Varoufakis’ recent book. Another correspondent, Simon Nixon, brazenly tweeted that Varoufakis has made “leftist history” by turning the “fastest growing Eurozone country” into a “basket case” that has “defaulted” to the IMF. One New York Times headline stated “If Greece defaults, imagine Argentina, but much worse.” CNN featured a “default countdown” in its live coverage from Greece, while most international media outlets have painted a completely untrue picture of Greece as a country that has been thrust into turmoil, chaos, and violence, with endless lines at dried-up ATMs, an infrastructure that is not operating, stranded tourists, and violence and protests in the streets, none of which is true.

The reality is that the situation has remained largely calm in Greece, queues at ATMs are usually small or non-existent, most ATMs are still being regularly topped up with more cash, while “capital controls” do not apply to tourists and anyone using non-Greek ATM cards in Greece. Debit and credit cards continue to be accepted as usual, airplanes and ferry boats and trains and buses are operating as scheduled, and there has been no reported violence of any kind. But, as the saying goes, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. This highly sensationalistic and false coverage of Greece has done significant damage to Greece in the midst of its money-making tourist season.

One of the favorite punching bags of the international press corps in Greece have been Greece’s purportedly “generous” pensions and retirement system, with a number of highly-followed correspondents and journalists essentially cheerleading in favor of cuts to pensions. What they have not said is that over the years of the crisis, the Greek retirement age has been successively increased to age 65 for men and 60 for women, that SYRIZA itself has proposed a new increase to the age of 67, and that the troika has cut Greek pensions eight times in the past four years. Indeed, most pensions have been slashed in half since 2012, 45% of Greek pensioners receive less than €665 per month (below the poverty line), while one-third of pensioners receive approximately €360 euros per month. The pension fund itself was depleted following SYRIZA’s presidential decree, which emptied public coffers to make the May IMF payment.

Both Greek and international media outlets also repeatedly reference the results of public opinion polls conducted by major Greek polling firms. These surveys show an apparently overwhelming majority in favor of both the government (SYRIZA is said to be 20 points ahead in the polls) as well as, counterintuively, in favor (70-80%) of remaining in the euro…at all costs. What is never mentioned by either the Greek or international media outlets, however, is that public opinion surveys conducted by Greek polling firms are neither independent nor objective. The polls themselves are conducted on behalf of media outlets which are pro-austerity and/or pro-SYRIZA (including the SYRIZA-owned Avgi newspaper), while the polling firms themselves are the recipients of generous government funding, and therefore have an incentive to portray favorably the government of the day.

The media has systematically ignored and buried coverage of polls conducted within Greece by reputable non-Greek firms such as Gallup International, whose pan-European end-of-year survey in December found that 52% of respondents in Greece favor a return to a domestic currency, or Bridging Europe, whose March 2015 poll in Greece similarly found a 53% majority in favor of leaving the euro, and whose most recent poll found that 63% of Greeks are not afraid of grexit. Instead, the international media and even left-wing media outlets and scholars ranging from Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali, have repeated the myth that a large majority of Greeks want to remain in the Eurozone. Similarly, these media outlets have largely ignored the findings of the “debt truth” commission and have completely ignored the aforementioned ELSTAT allegations.

Similarly, media mythology that the “spendthrift” Greeks lived beyond their means or that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” has not been dispelled by Greece’s media, nor by the journalists and correspondents covering Greece for international outlets, despite the existence of clear facts to the contrary: Greece had, and continues to have, among the very lowest levels of private indebtedness in the entire European Union, lower still than the “fiscally responsible” Northern European countries. Furthermore, annual reports by the Pan-Hellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Co-operatives (PASEGES) show that Greece produces enough of most staple agricultural products to be self-sufficient, while Greek industries still do exist in realms as varied as defense manufacturing, aluminum, steel, cement production, clothing and textiles, and more, accompanied by a burgeoning “start-up” landscape. Indeed, any reductions in Greek industrial and agricultural capability over the past two to three decades can be attributed to EU policies, such as the “Common Agricultural Policies” which have disincentivized the production of many previous staple crops.

IMF “Mistakes,” the Eternal Greek Inferiority Complex, and a Visit to the Heart of the EU and NATO Machine

One of the more ludicrous aspects of the ongoing crisis and “negotiations” have been the IMF’s repeated “admissions” of “mistakes” that it made in Greece’s “bailout” program, with the latest such admission coming in a tweet made by Dominique Strauss-Kahn on June 27. One has to wonder just how “mistaken” the IMF really was in the case of Greece though, when considering that the IMF’s modus operandi in all of the countries it has “saved” has been the same: stifling austerity, reduced salaries and pensions, slashed social spending, and privatizations of key industries, resources, and public assets. The fact that the very same Strauss-Kahn has previously admitted meeting with Papandreou prior to the latter’s election in 2009 shows that the IMF’s actions in Greece, far from being mistaken, were premeditated and par for the course, following the fund’s standard operating procedures.

For this reason, the latest show of “support” towards Greece, a crowdfunding campaign launched on IndieGoGo, proves to be yet another demonstration of “faux solidarity” towards the country and its suffering populace. This crowdfunding campaign, launched apparently by a 29-year old shoe shop employee in Britain, is raising money to cover Greece’s recent unpaid loan installment to the IMF. Far from collecting funds to help support the homeless, the hungry, or those without income in Greece, this “show of support” is instead raising funds to pay one of the prime culprits in Greece’s economic crisis of the past five years, a fund which has, according to the Debt Jubilee Campaign, made a €2.5 billion profit as a result of its “bailout” of Greece, while 92% of the “bailout” funds have gone back to Greece’s lenders and never entered the Greek economy.

This crowdfunding campaign has been a media sensation and a convenient distraction from other, more serious issues at play. Similarly, demonstrations in “solidarity” with the Greek people which have sprung up across the world in recent weeks often come across as demonstrations in favor of SYRIZA (belying, at the very least, a sort of blissful ignorance about the realities of SYRIZA’s actions while in power), while one has to wonder just where this solidarity was during the five previous years and just how extensive it really is, considering that politicians such as German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble are enjoying record approval ratings (if the polls are to be believed), likely in part due to their stance towards Greece.

Within Greece’s borders, once sees a similar phenomenon prevailing within a significant sector of the populace: a longstanding inferiority complex vis-à-vis the more “civilized” countries of the West. It is this nationwide Stockholm Syndrome, this learned helplessness and dependency on being a part of something “bigger and better,” whether it is the Eurozone, the EU, or NATO, which has long been a highlight of the Greek psyche, at least for a significant portion of the population, and helps explain why so many people are still in support of the very institutions which have imposed on Greece the conditions that have resulted in the worst economic depression during peacetime of any developed country during the post-war period. It explains the turnout at pro-”yes” demonstrations. It explains the reluctance with parting with the euro (even if independent polls show a majority in favor of grexit). It also explains the absolute euro-fetish of almost the entirety of Greece’s political class.

A little over two years ago, I personally had the opportunity to travel to the heart of the beast: a weeklong visit to EU institutions and to NATO, as part of an academic program I was invited to participate in. This week was full of misery for me but was nevertheless beneficial in that it was remarkably eye-opening. Hearing statements made by EU and NATO officials about Greece and hearing their viewpoints about such quaint notions about democracy were truly telling and spoke volumes about the regard with which these principles are upheld within these institutions. Throughout meetings with EU and NATO technocrats, a number of very revealing statements were made which I took note of, including:

- “The sovereign state is a 19th century construct, and nothing lasts forever.”
- [Unelected prime minister] “Monti best thing that ever happened to Italy”
- “There are regions of Italy which we wish Brussels could govern directly”
- “The labor force should be ‘flexible’ and should ‘diversify’”
- “Mussolini ‘dealt with the situation’”
- “We believe in a Single European Consciousness”
- Three reasons for European economic crisis: “Bad design. Bad luck. Bad decisions: Greece.”

If anyone has any uncertainties as to the democratic “leanings” of the Nobel Prize winning European Union and of counterpart institutions such as NATO, the aforementioned quotes should dispel any such doubts.

Of course, the EU increasingly does a fine job of demonstrating just how authoritarian and undemocratic it is even in its public statements. This was seen, for instance, on June 29th, when the secretive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated behind closed doors and under total confidentiality by the European Union and the United States, was brought to the European Parliament for a plenary vote. In response to previous criticisms about the non-transparent TTIP proceedings, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for trade, stated that she “does not receive her mandate from the European people.” The unelected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stated that “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties,” while Schäuble has publicly stated that “[e]lections change nothing. There are rules.” Furthermore, Article 352 of the EU treaties afford the EU the “necessary powers” to implement coercive measures against member-states without any existing legal basis.

What Are the Alternatives?

It does not take much to demonstrate the EU’s true, undemocratic colors. Yet the common retort heard in response to arguments against the policies of the EU and the institutions is “what are the alternatives?,” or, reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, “there are no alternatives.” And yet, the alternatives are many, varied, and have been expressed by a number of economists and political figures, both within and outside of Greece.

Iceland serves as a shining example for all who believe that there is another road to be followed instead of assuming that even an illegal or odious debt must be repaid or that banks are “too big to fail” and bankers and politicians “too important to jail.” Iceland refused to pay an odious and illegal debt which, similar to that of Greece, was covered under foreign legal jurisdiction (under the law of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands). Icelanders have been given the opportunity to “crowdsource” a new constitution and to vote in a non-binding referendum, though the new constitution has not yet been implemented. Bankers and former politicians have, in several cases, been imprisoned. And Iceland’s GDP is growing faster than any country in the Eurozone while unemployment is plummeting. Even the IMF was forced to admit, in a May 2015 report, that Iceland is quickly approaching pre-crisis economic levels with the policies that it has undertaken. Yet, the example of Iceland has been completely ignored by the Greek media and in practically all outside media coverage of Greece, just as similar examples from Latin American countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, have similarly and systematically been ignored.

Instead of blackmailing the voters of Greece to make a difficult and vague choice between a complex set of proposals and a “no” whose consequences have not been clarified on the part of the SYRIZA-led government, a referendum could have been held, with the banks open and daily life operating normally, on whether the Greek people wish to remain in the Eurozone at all costs or whether they wish to return to a national currency. Such a suggestion was, indeed, recently made by renowned analyst and author Tariq Ali, in an interview with aired on Dialogos Radio. The SYRIZA-led coalition government could break free of its Euro-fetish and open a serious dialogue with the voters of Greece, presenting a plan to break free of the EU and austerity stranglehold, explaining that it will be a challenging transition at first, but asking for the popular support and resolve to take this courageous next step. The people of Greece could be presented with an objective explanations of the pros and cons of each choice. The Greek people could also be invited, just as the people of Iceland were, to form popular committees to review the Greek constitution, the immunity laws protecting current and former politicians and government ministers, and a host of other issues pertaining to the structure and function of Greek democracy. Indeed, this referendum (or set of referendums) could have been held on or around February 20th, the date of the “creatively ambiguous” Eurogroup agreement.

The truth of the matter is that alternative voices exist in Greece, and they are plentiful. Despite the commonly-heard rhetoric, SYRIZA is not governing with a popular mandate. It received 36% of the vote—out of those who voted. While approximately 2.2 million voters chose SYRIZA on the 25th of January, over 3.5 million registered voters did not vote for anyone at all, in a country where voter turnout was traditionally very high, pre-crisis. This demonstrates that the largest percentage of Greek voters were not swayed by any of the parties participating in the January elections. Notably though, with the elections called on such short notice, almost two dozen smaller political parties were unable to raise enough funds to qualify for participation and inclusion on the ballot. These parties participated in the 2014 European parliamentary elections and in the two consecutive Greek parliamentary elections of 2012, and several of these parties have expressed clear positions against austerity and the memorandums, and in favor of leaving the euro, declaring a stoppage of payments and write-off of the majority of the debt, and investigating previous governments and politicians for their actions in leading Greece into its impasse. These parties include the United People’s Front (EPAM) and the “I Don’t Pay” Movement, and are joined by other parties which either managed to participate in the January elections (Antarsya) or which have adopted a vaguer approach to the question of grexit (the Pirate Party of Greece) but have adopted a clear “no” position in the upcoming referendum and which have questioned many of the austerity policies of the past five years and have called for more transparency and the implementation of many of the measures seen in countries such as Iceland

Indeed, a number of economists within and outside Greece have presented proposals for just how Greece could manage a grexit, without necessarily devaluing its currency at first (by not floating the currency on the open markets, similar to China), by nationalizing Greece’s central bank, and by writing off, at the very least, a significant portion of the debt. British economist Roger Bootle recently was awarded the Wolfson Prize in Economics for his proposal on how a Eurozone exit could be safely managed by any member-state. Economists Dimitris Kazakis of EPAM, Leonidas Vatikiotis of Antarsya, and many others have repeatedly, steadily, and clearly articulated how a grexit could be implemented and what the next day would bring. However, all of these smaller political parties and movements have been systematically shut out of the pro-austerity media, both in Greece and internationally.

The bottom line is this: SYRIZA, far from giving the Greek people a historic democratic choice, has instead called a referendum whose message is unclear and muddled and which does not tackle the main issue at hand: to grexit or not to grexit. The referendum is being held under the worst possible circumstances, with banks closed, ATMs disbursing limited funds, and with the Greek Treasury and public coffers having been previously ransacked via presidential decree to pay the May tranche to the IMF, while Greece’s high tourist season is being hit hard by the swirling uncertainty and accompanying sensationalized media coverage. This situation has given plenty of fuel to light the pro-austerity fire, spurred on by the Greek and international media and practically all of Greece’s main opposition parties. And while all of this has been happening, SYRIZA is apparently still discussing other proposals, which it is not revealing to the Greek public and which it will not bring to the voters as part of a referendum, though if SYRIZA’s statements over the past week and its pre-referendum proposals are any indication, its proposals are not much different from the final solution put forth by Greece’s so-called European “partners.” This is faux-democracy and faux-radicalism at its finest, and it is par for SYRIZA’s course, based on its actions throughout its five-plus months in office

Jun 282015
 
By Andre Vltchek, 99GetSmart
I-am-with-the-revolution

Do not take the Latin American revolutions for granted.

They inspired the entire Planet. They brought hope to every corner of our scarred Earth. But now they are themselves in need of our support.

If left alone, they would thrive for decades and centuries. But the Empire is once again on the offensive. It is shaking with fury. It is ready to invade, to smash, burn to ashes all the hopes, all that which had been achieved.

Don’t believe in the “common wisdom” which proclaims that the rulers of the world simply “closed their eyes” more than a decade ago; that George W. Bush was “too busy” ravishing the Middle East, therefore “allowing” most of the Latin American countries to “sneak away” from the iron grip of the Empire.

Such “analyses” are as patronizing as they are false. The Empire never sleeps! What Latin America now has was built on its daring, its sweat, its genius and its blood – it fought against the Empire, courageously, for decades, losing its best sons and daughters. It fought for freedom, for justice and socialism.

The Empire was not “looking the other way”. It was looking straight south, in fury, but for some time it was too confused, too astounded, too shocked at what it was witnessing. Its “slaves” had risen and taken power back into their own hands. They showed to the entire world what freedom really is.

For some time, the Empire was paralyzed by rage and unable to act.

The Empire’s undeniable property, Latin America, inhabited by “un-people” born only in order to supply cheap labor and raw materials to the rich part of the world, was suddenly, proudly and publicly, breaking its shackles, declaring itself free, demanding respect. Its natural resources were now used to feed its own people, to build social housing, create public transportation systems, construct hospitals, schools and public parks.

But after the first wave of panic, the Empire began to do what it does the best – it began the killings.

It attempted to overthrow Venezuelan government in 2002, but it failed. The Venezuelan people rose, and so did the Venezuelan military, defending then President Hugo Chavez. The Empire tried again and again, and it is trying until now. Trying and failing!

“We are at war”, I was told by one of the editors of Caracas-based television network, TeleSUR, for which I made several documentary films. “We are literally working under the barrel of cannon”.

***

Ms. Tamara Pearson, an Australian revolutionary journalist and activist, who recently moved from Venezuela to Ecuador, explained the difficult situation in Venezuela, a country that is under constant attack from both the US, and the local comprador elites:

“People are suffering a lot. Basic food prices are high, much medicine is unavailable, and various services aren’t working. On one level, people are used to this – the business owners would cause shortages and blame the government before each of the many elections. But usually it’s less intense and lasts just a few months. But this has been going on and getting worse, since Chavez died – over two years now. There is no doubt that the US, and more so, Venezuelan and Colombian elites and business owners are a huge or even the main factor…”

All of revolutionary Latin America is “screaming”.

As I described in two of my recent books, “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”, the Empire is using similar destabilization strategy against all countries that are resisting its deadly embrace.

Its propaganda is mighty and omnipresent. CNN and FOX TV are beamed into almost all major hotels and airports of Latin America, even in some revolutionary countries like Ecuador. Almost all major newspapers of the continent, including those in Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina, are controlled by the right wing business elites. Almost all of the foreign news coverage comes from European and North American sources, making the Latin American public totally confused about Islam, China, Russia, South Africa, Iran, even about their own neighbors.

The local elites continue to serve foreign interests, their loyalties firmly with North America and Europe.

Every left wing Latin American government has been facing bizarre protests and subversion actions conducted by the elites. Destabilization tactics have been clearly designed in far away capitals. They were mass-produced and therefore almost identical to those the West has been using against China, Russia, South Africa, and other “rebellious” nations.

Propaganda, disinformation and spreading of confusion have been some of the mightiest tools of the fascist right wing.

“Economic uncertainty” is an extremely powerful weapon. It was used first in Chile, in the 1973 coup against socialist President Salvador Allende. Pro-Western Chilean elites and businessmen created food shortages, and then blamed it on the socialist government, using El Mercurio and other daily newspapers as their propaganda tools.

Peter Koenig, former World Bank economist and now prominent dissident and critic of the world neoliberal regime, wrote for this essay:

“Today Madame Bachelet, the socialist President of Chile has a hard time fighting against the Mercurio inspired Chilean oligarchs. They will not let go. Recently they invited the World Bank to assess the school reform package proposed by Bachelet, basically to return universities to the public sector. Of course, the ‘upper class’ of Chileans knew that the World Bank would come up with nothing less than predicting an economic disaster if the reform is approved. As a result, Bachelet made concessions – which on the other hand are not accepted by professors and teachers. It’s the first step towards chaos – and chaos is what the empire attempts to implant in every country where they strive for ‘regime change’.”

But one of the “dirtiest” of their weapons is the accusation of corruption. Corrupt pro-Western politicians and individuals who misused tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars of the peoples money and destroyed the economies of their countries by taking unserviceable loans that kept disappearing into their deep pockets, are now pointing their soiled fingers at relatively clean governments, in countries like Chile and Argentina. Everything in “Southern Cone” and in Brazil is now under scrutiny.

Peter Koenig (who co-authored a book “The World Order and Revolution!: Essays from the Resistance” with leading Canadian international lawyer Christopher Black and me) shows how important is, for the Empire, destabilization of Brazil, one of the key members of BRICS:

“Brazil being a member of the BRICS is particularly in the crosshairs of the empire – as the BRICS have to be destabilized, divided – they are becoming an economic threat to Washington. Brazil is key for the non-Asian part of the BRICS. A fall of Brazil would be a major blow to the cohesion of the BRICS.”

There are totally different standards for pro-Western fascist politicians and for those from the Left. The Left can get away with nothing, while the Right has been getting away literally with mass murder and with the disappearance of tens of billions of dollars.

It is, of course, the common strategy in all the client states of the West. For instance, one of the most corrupt countries on earth, Indonesia, tolerates absolute sleaze and graft from former generals, but when progressive socialist Muslim leader, Abdurrahman Wahid, became the President, he was smeared and removed in a short time, on “corruption” charges.

After centuries of the Monroe Doctrine, after mass murder committed in “Latin” America first by Europeans and then by North Americans and their rich local butlers, it will take long decades to fully eradicate the corruption, because corruption comes with the moral collapse of the colonial powers and the local elites. Financial greed is only its byproduct.

The great pre-colonial cultures of what are now Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia did not have corruption. Corruption was injected by Western colonialism.

And now, corruption under left wing, revolutionary governments still exists, since it is difficult to root out all the rats at once, but it is incomparably smaller than under the previous fascist right wing cliques!

***

The rich in Latin America are heartless, servile (to the Empire) and greedy in the extreme. Latin America has still the most unequal distribution of wealth on earth. True, it is much richer (and even its poor are richer, with some exceptions of Central America, Peru or Paraguay) than Africa or even in Southeast Asia, but this cannot be used as an excuse.

Even the most progressive socialist governments now in power would ever dare to touch, to slap the private enterprises too hard. From this angle, China with its central planning and controlled economy is much more socialist than Ecuador or Bolivia.

A few days ago, as I was flying from Ecuador to Peru, I read that the number of multimillionaires in Latin America was actually increasing, and so is the social gap between the rich and the rest of the societies. The article was using some anecdotal evidence, saying that, for instance, in Chile alone, now, more Porsche sports cars are sold than in entirety of Latin America few years ago. As if confirming it, I noticed a Porsche auto dealership next to my hotel in Asuncion, the capital of the second poorest country in South America. I asked for numbers, but Porsche manager refused to supply them, still proudly claiming that his company was “doing very well”.

So what do they – the elites” – really want? They have money, plenty of money. They have luxury cars, estates in their own countries, and condominiums abroad. What more?

As in Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia or Kenya, and all over the West, they want power. They want to feel unique. They want to be admired.

The Socialist governments allow them to stay rich. But they force them to share their wealth and above all, they shame them. They are also trying to minimize the gap – through education, free medical care and countless social projects.

That is, of course, unacceptable to the elites. They want it all, as they always had it. And to have it all, they are ready to murder, to side with the darkest foreign interests, even to commit treason.

***

Increasingly, the interests of the local elites are very closely linked to foreign interests – those of the Empire and those of the private sector.

As I was told in Ecuador, by Ms. Paola Pabón, Assembly Member representing Pichincha area:

“Behind the involvement of the US, are some ex-bankers such as Isaiah brothers, who lost power here, escaped courts and went to live in the United States, but there are also huge economic powers such as Chevron. It means that there are not only political interests of the US, but also private, economic ones.”

Predominantly, the local elites are using their countries as milking cows, with very little or zero interest in the well being of their people.

That is why their protests against Latin American revolutions are thoroughly hypocritical. They are not fighting for improvements in their countries, but for their own, selfish personal interests. Those shouts and the pathetic hunger strikes of the “opposition” in Venezuela may appear patriotic, but only thanks to propaganda abilities to the Western mass media.

The elites would do anything to make all revolutions, all over Latin America, fail and collapse. They are even spending their own money to make it happen.

They know that if they manage to remove progressive forces from power, they could rule once again, totally unopposed, as their counterparts do in all other client states of the West – in the Middle East, Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Oceania.

The temptation is tremendous. Most of the elites in Latin America still remember well, how it feels, how it tastes – to control their countries unopposed, and with full support from the West.

***

Eduardo Galeano, the great Uruguayan writer and revolutionary thinker, once told me: “I keep repeating to all those new leaders of Latin America: “Comrades, do not play with poor people’s hopes! Hope is all they have.”

It appears that hope has finally been takes seriously, in Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

It was also taken seriously in Honduras, but hope was crushed by the US-orchestrated coup. In Paraguay, under a semi-progressive priest who preached liberation theology, hope was taken semi-seriously, but even that was too much in the country that had been ruled, for decades, by fascist cliques. In 2002, a constitutional coup followed by an appalling massacre of predominantly indigenous people, and fascism returned.

After these two setbacks, Latin America shook, but kept moving forward. Hugo Chavez died, or was murdered by the North, depending which theory you subscribe to. His demise was a tremendous blow to the entire continent, but still, the continent kept moving. “Here, nobody surrenders!” Chavez shouted, dying, but proud.

“President Correa of Ecuador is one of very few leaders of the “original project””, said Paola Pabón. “Lula in Brazil will not be able to stand for reelection, anymore, mainly due to corruption scandals. Mujica is not in power, anymore, and Cristina Fernandez will be retiring. Evo Morales does not have regional influence, and even Maduro does not have… For this reason, Ecuador is so important, strategically. If ‘they’ hit us, if there is a successful coup, it would be tremendous victory for them, to destroy a President with regional importance; who speaks for the region… and also, because Ecuador is one country where the government actually functions well.”

Walter Bustos, who used to work for this government, is alarmed by developments in Ecuador and the entirety of Latin America. Both he and Paula Pabón realize how fragile the Latin American revolutions are. While driving with me to an indigenous area of Riobamba, Walter lamented:

“In case there is a military coup in Ecuador, the difference between here and Venezuela would be enormous: while in Venezuela, Chavez incorporated the military into his revolution, in case of citizens revolution in Ecuador, we have no security; we cannot count on support of the military in case there is some armed, political or economic attack against us.”

Hugo Chavez was not only a great revolutionary, but also a tremendous strategist. He knew that any great revolution has to be fought, won, and then defended. Winning the battle is never enough. One has to consolidate forces, and uphold the victory. Chavez was first thinker, and then soldier.

Correa, Morales, Fernandez go forward, brave, proud but unprotected. Under their governments, the lives of ordinary people improve tremendously. That is what matters to them. They are decent and honest beings, unwilling to dirty themselves with intrigues, speculations and conspiracy theories.

But their great success will not gain them any recognition from the Empire, or from their own elites. The success of socialism is the worst nightmare for rulers of the world and their local butlers.

This is how President Salvador Allende died in 1973. He dismissed all rumors, and then all warnings that the coup was coming. “I am not going to arrest people just because of some suspicion that they may do something”, he used to say. After the coup took place, he died proudly, a true hero, committing suicide by marching towards the helicopter gunships and fighter jets that were bombarding the Presidential Palace of La Moneda. But he was not the only victim. As a result of the coup, thousands of Chilean people died, and tens of thousands were savagely tortured and raped. Chile did not die, but went to horrific coma, from which it only recently manages to recover.

Henry Kissinger summarized the moral corruption/collapse of his country’s regime when he uttered his memorable phrase:

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.”

Despite his great intentions, President Salvador Allende failed his people. He underestimated the bestiality of the Empire, and the result were millions of broken lives.

Since then, the Empire’s selfishness and brutality only evolved. The more successful leaders like Correa become, the more real is the danger of a coup – of a devastating, deadly attack from the North, and subversion from within.

The fragility of Latin American revolutions is obvious. The elites cannot be trusted. They showed on many occasions how far they are willing to go, committing treason, collaborating with the West against their own nations: in Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, Venezuela, Paraguay and Bolivia, to name just a few cases.

Appeasing both the elites and the Empire, while fighting for social justice and true independence, is impossible. The elites want to have full control of their countries, while the Empire demands full submission. No compromise could be reached. The history speaks clearly about that. And the Empire demonstrated on countless occasions that Latin American democracy would be respected only if the people vote the way that suits Washington.

Latin America has to learn how to defend itself, for the sake of its people.

Its closer and closer cooperation with China and Russia is essential. Coherent regional defense agreement should follow.

The next few years will be crucial. The revolutions have to be institutionalized; they cannot depend only on charisma of its leaders.

Constant sabotages and coup attempts, like those in Venezuela, should not be tolerated. They lead to chaos and to uncertainty. They break countries economically and socially.

It is clear what the Empire and its serves are doing: they are trying to push Latin American revolutionary countries against the wall, as they pushed, in the past, North Korea. They are trying to make them “react”, so they could say: “You see, this is true socialism, this defensive, hermitic and paranoid system.”

The path will not be easy. It will be dangerous and long.

Latin America can only survive through international cooperation and solidarity. It would also have to fight legally, at home and abroad. Those who are committing treason and those who are interrupting development of the country should face justice.

The left wing governments that are ruling South American countries won democratic elections: much more democratic than those in Europe and the United States. If the individuals and groups act against the expressed will of their own people, they should be taken to courts.

If a powerful country tortures other countries and shows total spite for their people, it should face an international legal system. The United States demonstrated, countless times, that it considers itself well above the law. It even forced several government in Latin America and elsewhere, to give its military personnel immunity. One of these countries is Paraguay, historically flooded with CIA, DEA and FBI agents.

In order to legally restrain the Empire, huge international pressure would have to be built. Like in the case of Managua, which legally sued the US for many acts of terror committed against Nicaragua. The Empire will most likely refuse to accept any guilty verdict. But the pressure has to be on!

All this would be meaningless without dedicated, constant coverage of the events by independent or opposition media, be they huge new state-funded networks like RT, TeleSur, CCTV or Press TV, of progressive independent media like Counterpunch, VNN, or ICH. It is essential that Latin Americans demand information from these sources, instead of consuming the toxic lies spread through CNN en Español, FOX, EFE and other right wing Western sources.

The battle for the Latin American people and for their freedom is on. Do not get fooled, it has been on for quite some time, and it is very tough fight.

Latin America is one of the fronts of the integrated fight for the survival of our Planet.

People who admire this part of the world, all those who have been inspired by Latin American revolutions, should participate in the struggle.

The best sons and daughters of this continent are now fighting in their own, quixotic way, as they always did: frontally, with exposed heart, totally unprotected. But their fight is just, and they are in this battle in order to defend the people.

Their opponents are rich, deceitful and brutal. But they are also selfish and they fight only for their own interests. They are not loved by their nations. If they lose, Latin America will win!

Those countries defending themselves against the Empire should unite, before it’s too late. Now as Latin America is rising from its knees, it becomes clear who are its foes and who are real friends, real brothers and sisters!

This scarred but stunning continent of courageous poets, of dreamers and revolutionaries should not be allowed to fall. In Caracas, Quito and La Paz, they are fighting for entire humanity.

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book:Exposing Lies of the Empire, “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter, or at andre-wcn@usa.net  

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Jun 252015
 

By Truth Committee on the Greek Public Debt, CADTM, 99GetSmart

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In June 2015 Greece stands at a crossroad of choosing between furthering the failed macroeconomic adjustment programmes imposed by the creditors or making a real change to break the chains of debt. Five years since the economic adjustment programmes began, the country remains deeply cemented in an economic, social, democratic and ecological crisis. The black box of debt has remained closed, and until now no authority, Greek or international, has sought to bring to light the truth about how and why Greece was subjected to the Troika regime. The debt, in whose name nothing has been spared, remains the rule through which neoliberal adjustment is imposed, and the deepest and longest recession experienced in Europe during peacetime.

There is an immediate need and social responsibility to address a range of legal, social and economic issues that demand proper consideration. In response, the Hellenic Parliament established the Truth Committee on Public Debt in April 2015, mandating the investigation into the creation and growth of public debt, the way and reasons for which debt was contracted, and the impact that the conditionalities attached to the loans have had on the economy and the population. The Truth Committee has a mandate to raise awareness of issues pertaining to the Greek debt, both domestically and internationally, and to formulate arguments and options concerning the cancellation of the debt.

The research of the Committee presented in this preliminary report sheds light on the fact that the entire adjustment programme, to which Greece has been subjugated, was and remains a politically orientated programme. The technical exercise surrounding macroeconomic variables and debt projections, figures directly relating to people’s lives and livelihoods, has enabled discussions around the debt to remain at a technical level mainly revolving around the argument that the policies imposed on Greece will improve its capacity to pay the debt back. The facts presented in this report challenge this argument.

All the evidence we present in this report shows that Greece not only does not have the ability to pay this debt, but also should not pay this debt first and foremost because the debt emerging from the Troika’s arrangements is a direct infringement on the fundamental human rights of the residents of Greece. Hence, we came to the conclusion that Greece should not pay this debt because it is illegal, illegitimate, and odious.

It has also come to the understanding of the Committee that the unsustainability of the Greek public debt was evident from the outset to the international creditors, the Greek authorities, and the corporate media. Yet, the Greek authorities, together with some other governments in the EU, conspired against the restructuring of public debt in 2010 in order to protect financial institutions. The corporate media hid the truth from the public by depicting a situation in which the bailout was argued to benefit Greece, whilst spinning a narrative intended to portray the population as deservers of their own wrongdoings.

Bailout funds provided in both programmes of 2010 and 2012 have been externally managed through complicated schemes, preventing any fiscal autonomy. The use of the bailout money is strictly dictated by the creditors, and so, it is revealing that less than 10% of these funds have been destined to the government’s current expenditure.

This preliminary report presents a primary mapping out of the key problems and issues associated with the public debt, and notes key legal violations associated with the contracting of the debt; it also traces out the legal foundations, on which unilateral suspension of the debt payments can be based. The findings are presented in nine chapters structured as follows:

Chapter 1, Debt before the Troika, analyses the growth of the Greek public debt since the 1980s. It concludes that the increase in debt was not due to excessive public spending, which in fact remained lower than the public spending of other Eurozone countries, but rather due to the payment of extremely high rates of interest to creditors, excessive and unjustified military spending, loss of tax revenues due to illicit capital outflows, state recapitalization of private banks, and the international imbalances created via the flaws in the design of the Monetary Union itself.

Adopting the euro led to a drastic increase of private debt in Greece to which major European private banks as well as the Greek banks were exposed. A growing banking crisis contributed to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. George Papandreou’s government helped to present the elements of a banking crisis as a sovereign debt crisis in 2009 by emphasizing and boosting the public deficit and debt.

Chapter 2, Evolution of Greek public debt during 2010-2015
, concludes that the first loan agreement of 2010, aimed primarily to rescue the Greek and other European private banks, and to allow the banks to reduce their exposure to Greek government bonds.

Chapter 3, Greek public debt by creditor in 2015, presents the contentious nature of Greece’s current debt, delineating the loans’ key characteristics, which are further analysed in Chapter 8.

Chapter 4, Debt System Mechanism in Greece reveals the mechanisms devised by the agreements that were implemented since May 2010. They created a substantial amount of new debt to bilateral creditors and the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), whilst generating abusive costs thus deepening the crisis further. The mechanisms disclose how the majority of borrowed funds were transferred directly to financial institutions. Rather than benefitting Greece, they have accelerated the privatization process, through the use of financial instruments.

Chapter 5, Conditionalities against sustainability, presents how the creditors imposed intrusive conditionalities attached to the loan agreements, which led directly to the economic unviability and unsustainability of debt. These conditionalities, on which the creditors still insist, have not only contributed to lower GDP as well as higher public borrowing, hence a higher public debt/GDP making Greece’s debt more unsustainable, but also engineered dramatic changes in the society, and caused a humanitarian crisis. The Greek public debt can be considered as totally unsustainable at present.

Chapter 6, Impact of the “bailout programmes” on human rights, concludes that the measures implemented under the “bailout programmes” have directly affected living conditions of the people and violated human rights, which Greece and its partners are obliged to respect, protect and promote under domestic, regional and international law. The drastic adjustments, imposed on the Greek economy and society as a whole, have brought about a rapid deterioration of living standards, and remain incompatible with social justice, social cohesion, democracy and human rights.

Chapter 7, Legal issues surrounding the MOU and Loan Agreements, argues there has been a breach of human rights obligations on the part of Greece itself and the lenders, that is the Euro Area (Lender) Member States, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, who imposed these measures on Greece. All these actors failed to assess the human rights violations as an outcome of the policies they obliged Greece to pursue, and also directly violated the Greek constitution by effectively stripping Greece of most of its sovereign rights. The agreements contain abusive clauses, effectively coercing Greece to surrender significant aspects of its sovereignty. This is imprinted in the choice of the English law as governing law for those agreements, which facilitated the circumvention of the Greek Constitution and international human rights obligations. Conflicts with human rights and customary obligations, several indications of contracting parties acting in bad faith, which together with the unconscionable character of the agreements, render these agreements invalid.

Chapter 8, Assessment of the Debts as regards illegtimacy, odiousness, illegality, and unsustainability, provides an assessment of the Greek public debt according to the definitions regarding illegitimate, odious, illegal, and unsustainable debt adopted by the Committee.

Chapter 8 concludes that the Greek public debt as of June 2015 is unsustainable, since Greece is currently unable to service its debt without seriously impairing its capacity to fulfill its basic human rights obligations. Furthermore, for each creditor, the report provides evidence of indicative cases of illegal, illegitimate and odious debts.

Debt to the IMF should be considered illegal since its concession breached the IMF’s own statutes, and its conditions breached the Greek Constitution, international customary law, and treaties to which Greece is a party. It is also illegitimate, since conditions included policy prescriptions that infringed human rights obligations. Finally, it is odious since the IMF knew that the imposed measures were undemocratic, ineffective, and would lead to serious violations of socio-economic rights.

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Debts to the ECB should be considered illegal since the ECB over-stepped its mandate by imposing the application of macroeconomic adjustment programs (e.g. labour market deregulation) via its participation in the Troïka. Debts to the ECB are also illegitimate and odious, since the principal raison d’etre of the Securities Market Programme (SMP) was to serve the interests of the financial institutions, allowing the major European and Greek private banks to dispose of their Greek bonds.

The EFSF engages in cash-less loans which should be considered illegal because Article 122(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) was violated, and further they breach several socio-economic rights and civil liberties. Moreover, the EFSF Framework Agreement 2010 and the Master Financial Assistance Agreement of 2012 contain several abusive clauses revealing clear misconduct on the part of the lender. The EFSF also acts against democratic principles, rendering these particular debts illegitimate and odious.

The bilateral loans should be considered illegal since they violate the procedure provided by the Greek constitution. The loans involved clear misconduct by the lenders, and had conditions that contravened law or public policy. Both EU law and international law were breached in order to sideline human rights in the design of the macroeconomic programmes. The bilateral loans are furthermore illegitimate, since they were not used for the benefit of the population, but merely enabled the private creditors of Greece to be bailed out. Finally, the bilateral loans are odious since the lender states and the European Commission knew of potential violations, but in 2010 and 2012 avoided to assess the human rights impacts of the macroeconomic adjustment and fiscal consolidation that were the conditions for the loans.

The debt to private creditors should be considered illegal because private banks conducted themselves irresponsibly before the Troika came into being, failing to observe due diligence, while some private creditors such as hedge funds also acted in bad faith. Parts of the debts to private banks and hedge funds are illegitimate for the same reasons that they are illegal; furthermore, Greek banks were illegitimately recapitalized by tax-payers. Debts to private banks and hedge funds are odious, since major private creditors were aware that these debts were not incurred in the best interests of the population but rather for their own benefit.

The report comes to a close with some practical considerations.

Chapter 9, Legal foundations for repudiation and suspension of the Greek sovereign debt, presents the options concerning the cancellation of debt, and especially the conditions under which a sovereign state can exercise the right to unilateral act of repudiation or suspension of the payment of debt under international law.

Several legal arguments permit a State to unilaterally repudiate its illegal, odious, and illegitimate debt. In the Greek case, such a unilateral act may be based on the following arguments: the bad faith of the creditors that pushed Greece to violate national law and international obligations related to human rights; preeminence of human rights over agreements such as those signed by previous governments with creditors or the Troika; coercion; unfair terms flagrantly violating Greek sovereignty and violating the Constitution; and finally, the right recognized in international law for a State to take countermeasures against illegal acts by its creditors , which purposefully damage its fiscal sovereignty, oblige it to assume odious, illegal and illegitimate debt, violate economic self-determination and fundamental human rights. As far as unsustainable debt is concerned, every state is legally entitled to invoke necessity in exceptional situations in order to safeguard those essential interests threatened by a grave and imminent peril. In such a situation, the State may be dispensed from the fulfilment of those international obligations that augment the peril, as is the case with outstanding loan contracts. Finally, states have the right to declare themselves unilaterally insolvent where the servicing of their debt is unsustainable, in which case they commit no wrongful act and hence bear no liability.

People’s dignity is worth more than illegal, illegitimate, odious and unsustainable debt

Having concluded a preliminary investigation, the Committee considers that Greece has been and still is the victim of an attack premeditated and organized by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. This violent, illegal, and immoral mission aimed exclusively at shifting private debt onto the public sector.

Making this preliminary report available to the Greek authorities and the Greek people, the Committee considers to have fulfilled the first part of its mission as defined in the decision of the President of Parliament of 4 April 2015. The Committee hopes that the report will be a useful tool for those who want to exit the destructive logic of austerity and stand up for what is endangered today: human rights, democracy, peoples’ dignity, and the future of generations to come.

In response to those who impose unjust measures, the Greek people might invoke what Thucydides mentioned about the constitution of the Athenian people: “As for the name, it is called a democracy, for the administration is run with a view to the interests of the many, not of the few” (Pericles’ Funeral Oration, in the speech from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War).

Here the German translation: http://www.attac.de/uploads/media/W…

Jun 232015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Activists Protest in Chicago

Introduction

Throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, rightwing governments have increasingly adopted extremist socio-economic policies, slashing social expenditures, labor and welfare legislation, while increasing corporate subsidies and reducing taxes for the elite.

The rightwing has launched increasingly reckless military interventions via-invasions, proxy wars and massive weapon build-ups on the frontiers of Russia, China and Iran, while engaging in military provocations.

In this essay we will outline the scope and depth of rightwing extremism on a global scale, analyze its consequences and then evaluate the successes or failures of the ‘hard right’. In discussing the rise of hard-right socio-economic regimes and policies, we include traditional social democratic parties, which have pursued extremist agendas.

Washington as the Center of the Hard Right Policies and Militarization

US empire building has been at the forefront promoting military confrontations, invasions, occupations and proxy wars. Washington’s direct involvement has been magnified through its alliances with regional powers and client regimes, which provide soldiers and weapons.

The US military empire-building has led to the growth and consolidation of similar policies among follower regimes throughout the world. Likewise US longstanding reactionary socio-economic policies have served as templates and ‘standards’ for its followers in Europe and Asia as they shred the social ‘safety nets’ and civil contract with their citizens.

In other words, US empire building sends ripple effects throughout the world; its military and pro big business postures have been incorporated, to a large degree, into Baltic, Scandinavian, Eastern and Western European, Middle Eastern and Asian regimes, whether run by traditional, rightwing or social democratic parties. Their policy decisions are largely a result of internal processes: Dominant classes, international bankers and multi-national corporations set the socio-economic agenda while local military elites, with long-standing ties to NATO, have assimilated US military goals.

Among US allies and clients, hard-right militarist and confrontational politics are driven by the notion that they will have their share of imperial booty and that they will benefit from a redrawn geo-political map. The hard-right policies and the assimilation of US militarist doctrines by European, Middle Eastern and Asian regimes are an ‘insurance policy’ for their own survival as well as a weapon to deflect domestic class discontent. In sum, the military build-up is a weapon of regional expansionism and a tool to secure domestic cohesion and maintain power.

Rightwing Extremism in Europe: Baltic, Scandinavia, East and West Europe

Sweden, Norway and Denmark, whether under rightwing or social democratic regimes have slavishly followed the US lead in demonizing Russia and fabricating military threats – even evoking phantom Russian submarines within sight of Stockholm without providing a shred of evidence! The Scandinavian regimes are hardline advocates of US sanctions against Russia and Iran, supporting the kleptocratic-neo-Nazi coalition regime in Kiev, as well as the US bombing of Iraq and Libya and the EU-backed jihadi-terrorists against the secular Syrian government.

The ‘liberal-militarist’ Social Democrats in Sweden, Denmark and Norway back the massive US military build-up in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The latter have engaged in full-scale air, sea and land military maneuvers within view of the Russian border.

Brushing aside their critical leftwing allies,, Swedish and the Danish Social Democrats have slashed social expenditures, increased their military budgets and lowered corporate taxes in the name of “competitiveness” – another euphemism for raising capitalist profits! In other words, the Scandinavian ‘center left’  has ‘stolen’ the domestic and foreign policy agenda of the hard line neo-liberal Right. Moreover, what currently passes for the Red-Green ‘alternative’ has ended up in post-election alliances, providing parliamentary support. The entire spectrum of Baltic and Scandinavian regimes provide military bases, store NATO ‘heavy weapons’ and engage in military exercises designed by the Pentagon and NATO command and directed at Russia. Rightwing radicalism is rampant in Latvia and Lithuania and Finland despite being stuck in a deep recession for almost a decade, resulting from their servile implementation of the IMF’s regressive “austerity programs”.

Poland, always a hothouse for US-style Cold War Russophobia, has been in the vanguard of rightwing extremism. Warsaw provides arms and training to Ukrainian neo-Nazi extremists, and urges the US to station nuclear missiles on Polish territory. Warsaw’s anti-Russian fanaticism is clearly evident in its refusal to import Russian oil and gas, relying instead on highly toxic ‘brown coal’, which has caused about 41,000 premature deaths a year, according to Polish scientists. The Polish public policy toward Russia puts a new twist on the ancient slogan, “Homeland or Death” – it now reads ‘Homeland and Death!’

Western Europe, the principle ally of Washington’s anti-Russian strategy, has witnessed a similar embrace of the hard right US military and economic agenda. Germany’s center-right regime has sacrificed hundreds of billions in trade and investments by enforcing US sanctions. Germany’s rulers have backed US sponsored terrorists invading Syria, just as they now support the US-Saudi-Israeli invasion of Yemen. The German regime has frozen its own citizens’ salaries and wages for the past decade while increasing productivity and profits. Germany, it should be remembered, is governed by a coalition of Christian and Social Democrats!

In England the hard-right Conservatives coalition with the Liberal Democrats backed every US war throughout the world! They slashed social benefits, tripled university fees, closed scores of public hospitals and schoolrooms, evicted thousands from council houses (with the collaboration of local Labor Party municipal officials), and privatized large sectors of the National Health System while beefing up their war machine. The Conservative hard-right policies are an extension of the Labor Party policies pursued by Tony ‘The Phony’ Blair and Gordon ‘Blowhard’ Brown.

In the Balkans, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania-Kosova thuggish politicians combine servility to NATO with massive corruption  and unbelievable stupidity. Bankrupt Bulgaria has sacrificed a billion-dollar-oil pipeline deal with Russia, in slavish response to US-EU pressure. Albania-Kosovo, run by drug and human trafficking gangsters with criminal networks throughout Europe, are full of US troops and military bases. Camp Bondsteel, the largest US military base outside of the US, is located in Kosovo – a country with 60% unemployment and with over half of its population ‘abroad’ having fled its brutal thugs. This is what NATO ‘liberated’ as a result of its horrendous bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

The arc of rightwing radicalization and militarization stretching from the Baltic and Scandinavia regimes in the North, through Eastern and Central Europe, and to the Balkans is a product of the US-German effort to encircle, weaken and dominate Russia and move on to isolate China.

The massive US military buildup of heavy armament on Russia’s border is anchored by the hard-right Polish regime, which in its hysterical hatred of Russia seems oblivious to the fact that its military provocations could trigger its own nuclear obliteration!

The radical right’s economic policies and militarization of Southern Europe have plunged the region into the worst economic and social depression in almost a century. Italy has been in negative growth or stagnation since 2007 with nearly half its labor force underemployed or jobless. Italy is flooded with immigrants from Africa, refugees from the NATO war against Libya, which Italy backed. The destruction of Gaddafi’s regime led to the loss of two million jobs in Libya and undermined multi-billion dollar oil deals between Rome and Tripoli. The Renzi regime’s support of sanctions against Russia is so prejudicial to top Italian firms, that many, especially in the oil and gas sector, have defied the sanctions and gone through third parties to pursue lucrative trade and investment contracts with Moscow.

Greece and Spain, ruled by the “Hard Right” up until 2015, have experienced a “lost decade” as the EU oligarchy imposed onerous debt payments and draconian social conditions. Spain, under the ultra-rightist regime of Rajoy, and with support from the ‘opposition’ PSOE in parliament, has provided the US with new military bases from which to launch more wars against North Africa and the Middle East. Despite the bitter depression in Greece, the ‘hard right’ and ‘marshmallow left’ have maintained a military budget taking the highest percentage of the GNP of any NATO member. The Spanish hard-right regime presided over more household evictions, the highest unemployment rate and the most authoritarian laws against public assemblies since the end of the Franco dictatorship. Portugal has pursued the same militarist, austerity and repressive policies as Greece and Spain.

Supposedly the Mediterranean flank of the ‘hard right’ US-EU Empire is under challenge from insurgent electoral parties. The Social Democratic parties in Greece (PASOK), Spain (PSOE), Italy (Democrats), France (Socialist Party) and Portugal (Socialist Party) have deeply discredited themselves in the eyes of the workers and employees. The Socialists have been in the forefront enforcing deep cuts in social programs and are aggressive advocates and material supporters of NATO military policies everywhere. As a result, they are in retreat and face major challenges from the left and nationalist right (in France).

The Boomerang Effect: Evaluating the Hard Right Performance

There is no question that the US strategy of encircling Russia is succeeding: new political alignments have emerged, including countries in the Nordic region which previously were outside of the US orbit but are now part of the imperial arc of aggression. However, these regimes have paid an enormous price in terms of their national security, as Russia has responded by increasing its missile defense, aimed precisely at strategic targets in the bordering countries. Moreover, the military costs preclude any prospects of recovery from economic stagnation.

US sanctions policy toward Russia, which was initially backed by most European regimes, has been a major failure with major leaks springing up from all sides. According to the Financial Times (6/15/15, p. 3) “European oil groups extend deals in Russia despite EU sanctions.” BP (UK), Shell (Holland), ENI (Italy), and Statoil (Norway) are signing multi-billion dollar contracts with their Russian counterparts. The biggest loser is the US oil giant, EXXON Mobil, which is blocked from multi-billion dollar joint ventures.

Most US and EU businesses have exploited “loopholes in sanctions to insure business as usual” (FT 6/15/15, p. 3).  US military and economic aggression to Russia has led to divisions between the imperial corporate and military elite. In the meantime, Russia’s domestic industrial and agricultural sectors have prospered due to the decline of Western imports. Western threats have also boosted Putin’s public support from the mid-sixties to the high eighties, while the US backed-opposition in Russia has been reduced to a marginal force, or as one western funded Russian NGO operative complained, “Our conferences can barely fill a telephone booth”.

The austerity policies, imposed by the EU, have aroused mass opposition in Greece and Spain, leading to the defeat of incumbent hard-right Conservatives and Social Democrats, although the new regimes have yet to develop alternatives.

The US and EU wars in against Syria, Iraq, Libya, Chad and Yemen have created millions of desperate refugees who are flooding Europe and overwhelming public facilities. Washington’s wars (both direct and proxy) have aroused large-scale, long-term national-Islamic resistance movements. Militarism and its ‘war on terror’ ideology have served to temporarily distract the masses from their socio-economic class interests. In France, Southern Europe and even among sectors of US public opinion, militarism and austerity are wearing thin. As the US and EU escalate their involvement, the resistance grows, while the cuts to domestic programs erode incumbent hard right regimes.

Since most of the Social Democratic and Democratic Parties are deeply implicated in highly militarized policies and austerity programs, they have nothing to offer the disenchanted electorate. The so-called ‘radical-left’ movements, insofar as they continue to tail-end the discredited Social Democrats, have failed to build an alternative. Their pyrotechnical politics, whereby they burst on the political stage full of energy and radical promises and quickly deflate into impotence before the warlords and bankers, effectively erode their mass support. Nevertheless, the underlying economic crisis continues to gnaw at the loyalty of the great mass of the population toward the existing hard-right policies.

US militarism and its exponents abroad are forced to rely on mass media propaganda campaigns, demagogic promises of future rewards and increasingly severe internal police state repression, surveillance technology, radical threats and mindless and meaningless electoral charades.

Rightwing radicalization and militarization in Europe is reaching a breaking point! To go forward is to commit nuclear suicide. Already there are elite defections, electoral retreats and huge social costs. Lost wars, perpetual stagnation and class-based austerity have created a world of great economic and personal insecurity and uncertaintyRightwing radicalism has peaked and is in decline. What will replace it is difficult to ascertain. The euphoria, arrogance and smirks, which accompanied the rise of rightwing radicalism, are dissipating into foul sulfurous odors only waiting for a fresh wind to blow them away.

Demonstration against G8 Summit in Le Havre

Jun 222015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

Over the past decade fundamental changes have taken place in Southern Europe, which have broken with previous political alignments, resulting in the virtual disappearance of traditional leftist ’parties, the decline of trade unions and the emergence of ‘middle class radicalism’.

New political movements, purportedly on the left, no longer are based on class conscious workers nor are they embedded in the class struggle. Likewise on the right, greater attention is paid to escalating the repressive capacity of the state instead of state intervention in pursuit of economic markets.

Radicalization of the right, including massive cutbacks in social spending, has demolished welfare programs. The dispossession of households has uprooted cohesive neighborhood-based social organizations.

In place of the class based traditional left, ‘non-leftist left’ movements have emerged. Their leaders embrace ‘participatory democracy’ but engage in vertical political practice.

On the right, politics no longer revolve around conserving national economic privileges. Rightwing leaders willingly subordinate their economies and society to imperial led crusades, which empty national sovereignty of any meaning while pillaging the national treasury.

This essay will proceed to discuss these complex changes and their meaning.

The ‘Non-Leftist Left’ in Southern Europe

The economic crisis, in particular the imposition of severe cuts in wages, pensions and other social welfare programs by rightwing and social democratic governments have led to widespread discontent, which the traditional workplace based leftist parties have been unable to address and mobilize the people. Prolonged and deepening unemployment and the growth of temporary employment have affected over 50% of the labor force.

Union representation has declined precipitously, further weakening the presence of traditional leftist parties in factories.

Large-scale evictions, foreclosure of mortgages and accompanying job losses have led to neighborhood-based anti-eviction movements and struggles. Millions of young workers now depend on their grandparents’ pensions and remain with two older generations in their parents’ home. For the young workers, the degradation of everyday life, the loss of personal autonomy and the inability to live independently have led to revolts for ‘dignity’.

The traditional left parties and trade unions have failed (or not attempted) to organize the unemployed. They have failed to attract the young and the downwardly mobile temporary workers in anything resembling class-based, class struggle-oriented movements.

Paradoxically despite the deepening crisis among most workers, the traditional left has declined. Its workplace orientation and its language of class struggle do not resonate with those without jobs or prospects. For the radicalized middle class the traditional left is too radical in seeking to overturn capitalism and too distant from power to realize changes.

The radicalized middle class includes public employees, professionals and self-employed private contractors who aspire to, and until recently, experienced upward mobility but have now found their path blocked by the austerity programs imposed by rightwing, as well as, social democratic parties.

Frustrated by the social democrats’ betrayal and facing downward mobility, the radicalized middle class are disoriented and fragmented. Many have joined amorphous street protests; some have even embraced, temporarily in most cases, the alternative traditional rightwing parties only to encounter even more brutal job cuts, insecurity and downward mobility.

The middle classes deeply resent being denied the opportunity for  upward mobility for themselves and their children. They resent their formerly ‘moderately progressive’ Social Democratic leaders’ betrayal of their interests. Their radicalism is directed toward restoring their past access to social advancement. Their deep-seated hostility to the authorities is rooted in the loss of their previous status as a result of the crisis.

Middle class radicalism is tempered by nostalgia for the past. This radicalism is rooted in the struggle to restore the European Union’s social subsidies and growth policies. They remember a recent past of rising living standards and “social inclusion”, now denied their own children. This vision guides the rhetoric that the progressive middle class had earned and enjoyed their rising incomes as a result of their own ‘merit’.

Today the radicalized middle class looks for practical, specifically defined and government-sponsored policies that can restore their past prosperity. They do not aim to ‘level the playing field’ for everyone but to prevent their proletariazation. They reject the politics of the traditional left parties because class struggle and worker-centered ideologies do not promote their own social aspirations.

For most radicalized middle class activists the culprits are ‘austerity’, the mega-bank swindlers and the political kleptocrats. They seek parties that can reform or moralize capitalism and restore ‘individual dignity’. They want to kick out corrupt officials. They demand ‘participatory democracy’ rather than the traditional left’s goal of public ownership under worker control.

Under the specific conditions generated by the current social crisis, a non-leftist left (NLL) has emerged throughout Europe. Spontaneous, amorphous, ‘anarchic’, extra-institutional and ‘street-centered’, the NLL has adopted an irreverent style. The NLL, in its origins, rejected political parties, well-defined programs and disciplined cadres in favor of spontaneity and irreverence toward institutions.

As the appeal of the NLL grew, the unemployed, the temporary workers, the insecure and unprotected non-unionized workers and the radicalized middle class joined demonstrations and found safety in the crowds. They were attracted by the appeals from ‘the street’ to oust the incumbent kleptocrats.

Emerging from this movement aimed at the downwardly mobile middle class’ anger, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and Five Stars in Italy have appealed to all the people disconnected from power, by promising a restoration of ‘dignity and respect.’  They made amorphous appeals to ‘end austerity’ with only a vague promise that they would create jobs.

The NLL leadership, however, is most clearly influenced by the non-radical resentments of the downwardly mobile middle class.

They never engaged in class struggles and have rejected class ideology. For the NLL leaders, social polarization is mostly a vehicle for building an electoral base. Their participation in small-scale local struggles was presented as ‘proof’ that the NLL leaders spoke to authentic popular aspirations.

The Non-Leftist Left’s Transition: From Street to Public Office

From the street, the NLL moved swiftly to elections and from elections they proceeded to form coalitions with traditional parties. Strategic decisions were taken by a small coterie of personalistic leaders: They redefined ‘participatory democracy’ to refer only to local neighborhood activism and issues – not national issues, which were the realm of ‘experts’.

Syriza, the first NLL to reach power, reflected the immense gap between the radical posturing of its leaders in opposition and their cringing conformity before Established Power (the Troika:  IMF, European Commission, Central Bank) once elected to government.

Syriza embodied middle class resentment toward the Euro-technocratic elite in Brussels whom they blamed for their loss of past prosperity and job security and for the ongoing degradation of everyday life. Syriza denounced the Troika while it remained under its tutelage. It excoriated the EU elite in the highest moral tones for doing what its elite class interests dictated, that is, defend the EU bankers, extract debt payments and threaten their underlings. In practice, Syriza never applied any class analysis to the Troika’s policy as it continued to refer to their ‘EU partners’ … even as they imposed brutal demands.

Once in power the Syriza leaders never mobilized a single mass protest and never even threatened a general strike in the face of EU colonial dictates.

Syriza’s personalist leader, Alexis Tsipras’s appointed right wingers from former regimes to key posts. He negotiated with the Troika and caved on all strategic issues dealing with debt payments, austerity and privatizations. Syriza never considered ‘going to the people’.  Syriza’s ‘moral crusade’ against capitalism ended by their embracing capitalism and the colonial Eurozone system.

Syriza’s lack of class analysis, class struggle and class mobilization and its total commitment to working within a moralized capitalism and the Eurozone to restore middle class status and security has resulted in the most abject conformity and surrender – punctuated by shameless buffoonery on the part of some leaders.

In the end, Syriza surrendered to the dictates of higher powers of the Troika and their Eurozone acolytes, but not until it had emptied the Greek Treasury. The leaders have combined the worst of all worlds: a bankrupt national economy, a ‘protesting’ but fundamentally colonial regime and a disenchanted electorate.

Where Syriza wildly succeeded was in marginalizing the traditional left (the Greek Communist Party). It reaffirmed the historic pattern: free floating movements of the moment end up being run by personalistic leaders who presume to speak for “the people” while bending over to their overseas overlords.

NLL in Spain and Italy: Podemos and Five Stars

Podemos in Spain and Five Stars in Italy are ready to follow Syriza’s path of colonial subservience. They rejected and successfully marginalized the traditional left. They have gained mass support, organized mass protests and loudly rejected austerity and the dictates of the Troika.

While Podemos leaders talk of ‘participatory democracy’, a handful of leaders make all policy pronouncements, decide which candidates to support in the elections and determine what kind of post-election coalition governments they will join.

What gives Podemos and Five Stars their radical appearance is their opposition to the governing parties, their rejection of ‘austerity’, their criticism of neoliberalism – and their support for ‘micro-politics’ of local grassroots direct-action.

At no time or place have they counterpoised an alternative to capitalism. Nor have they repudiated illicit debts or supported the expropriation of the banks responsible for the pillage their economies.

Podemos and Five Stars deliberately obscure their politics: They are whatever any of their affiliates’ claim to be …

The leaders raise populist demands and speak about ‘dignity’, employment and punishment of corrupt officials. They call for an end to authoritarian measures, but avoid any real commitments to institutional change, especially of the repressive courts, police or armed forces.

Podemos and Five Stars criticize the EU’s austerity programs while staying in the EU as subordinate members of an organization dominated by German bankers. They promote popular mobilizations which they have turned into vote-gathering machines for electing their members to office.

The NLLs contradictory politics of populist gestures and institutional commitments reflect the politics of a frustrated and blocked middle class demanding a restoration of its past status and security. Podemos and Five Stars leaders put on the grand show of thumbing their noses at the establishment to promote limited middle class demands. On a much broader front, the leaders of the NLL have not organized any mass protests – let alone formed a mass movement which would seriously challenge the imperialist powers, NATO, the Middle East wars and US-EU sanctions against Russia.

Since most of their supporters are anti NATO, in favor of Palestinian independence and critical of the Kiev regime the popular base of the NLL will act on their own but will have no real impact on the current national leadership.

The reason for the disparity between leaders and followers is clear: The NLL leaders intend to form post-electoral coalitions with the corrupt and reactionary ‘center left’ parties so despised and rejected by their own electorate.

Following the nationwide Spanish municipal and regional elections, Podemos allied with corrupt Socialist Party (PSOE). In the municipality of Madrid, Podemos supported the left-center coalition Ahora Madrid (Madrid Now), which in turn has allied with the center-right Socialists to elect the ‘progressive’ mayoral candidate, Manuela Carmena.

While the entire ‘progressive camp’ celebrates the defeat of the hard-right Popular Party candidate –little has been said about consequential changes in the municipal and regional budgets, structures of economic power and class relations.

Five Stars’,( Movimento Cinque Stelle or M5S), Italy’s non-leftist left is dominated by a single ‘anti-leader’, Beppe Grillo, he defines the party’s programs and affiliations. He is known for making clownish, provocative gestures against the authorities, calling for a “Fuck the Parliament Day”.

It is Beppe who selects the candidates to run for Parliament. While in opposition, M5S loudly opposed all NATO wars in the Middle East, US military interventions in Latin America and free trade agreements. But now ensconced in the European Parliament, Beppe has aligned with the Libertarian Right.

Five Stars (M5S) central demands revolve around ‘direct democracy’ and ‘sustainable development’. It has captured the electoral support of the majority of the lower middle class gaining 26% of the vote (9 million voters) in the 2013 general elections.

While Beppe and his colleagues engage in fist fights within the Parliament, make radical gestures and spout belligerent rhetoric, ‘M5S’  has not supported a workers general strike. It participates in each and every election, but has stayed away from factory struggles.

Radicalism, as grand ‘gesture politics’, is an entertaining, non-threatening response to capitalism since there is no concerted effort to form class alliances with workers engaged in workplace struggles.

M5S’, like Podemos and Syriza, expresses the disorganized radicalism of the young, frustrated lower middle class raging against their downward mobility, while refusing to break with the EU. They rail against the concentration of power in the hands of the banks, but refuse to pursue their nationalization. M5S mobilized 800,000 people in Rome recently but led them nowhere. ‘Five Stars’ convokes crowds to meet and cheer its leaders and to ridicule the power brokers. Afterwards they all go home.

Conclusion

While the ‘NLL’ movements capture the support of the ‘indignant’, the mass of unemployed workers and the evicted householders, their leaders do not articulate a serious plan of action capable of challenging the economic power structures: they raise popular expectations via demands for ‘change’. However, these vague and deceptive slogans allow the NLL leaders to join in a medley of opportunist electoral coalitions and governmental alliances, with decidedly establishment personalities and parties.

In Greece, Italy and Spain the traditional left has either disappeared, or shrunk to a marginal force. With little or no base outside of the workplace and trade unions, they barely secure five percent of the votes.

The NLL has deepened the isolation of the traditional left and has even attracted a part of its social base. NLL’s rejection of the traditional left’s tight organization and top down leadership and its pluralistic rhetoric appeals to the young. Moreover, as the left trade unions have sought compromises with the bosses to save the jobs of employed workers and ignored the unemployed, the latter has looked to the ‘open and spontaneous’ NLL to express their opposition. In Spain’s municipal elections, the United Left, a Communist-led electoral formation, joined with Podemos to elect Manuela Carmena, the ‘insurgent mayor’ of Madrid.

While the Euro-US academic left has rightly celebrated the emergence of mass opposition to the rightist regimes in Southern Europe, they have failed to understand the internal dynamics within the NLL movements: the limitations of middle class radicalism and their conformists’ goals.

The example of Syriza in Greece is a warning of the fatal consequences of middle class leaders trying to realize radical changes, within the neo-liberal framework imposed by the EU.

Epilogue

Currently, the best example of the opportunism and bankruptcy of the NLL is found in the successful Mayor-elect of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, whose victory was hailed by Podemos as the ‘great victory for the people’ at recent celebration.

For her part, Mayor-elect Carmena has wasted no time repudiating all ‘five basic emergency reforms’ promised during the elections. In a press conference, the so-called ‘progressive Mayor of Madrid’ announced (with a cynical grin) that ‘promise number one’ - a public bank – was no longer needed because she was satisfied to work with the private banking oligarchy. She refused to pursue ‘promise number two’ -  to provide subsidies for electricity, water and gas for poor families cut off from those services, claiming such support was too early and could wait until winter

Regarding Podemos ‘promise number three’ - a debt moratorium, Carmena insisted that “we will keep paying, for now”. On ‘promise number four’ favoring public over private contractors for municipal contracts, Carmena reversed the position: “We can’t change right away”.

Carmena even repudiated ‘promise number five’ - to immediately implement a summer meals program for poor children, insisting that she would rely on the inadequate programs of far right predecessor.

Moreover, Mayor-elect Carmena went even further, staffing her administration with far-right holdovers from the previous government to strategic policy-making positions. For example, she appointed Carmen Roman, a former Director General of the far right Prime Minister Aznar, as Senior Executive of Madrid. She defended these reactionary decisions claiming that she was looking for “technocrats who are the best professional administrations”. Indeed, Carmen Roman had implemented mass firing of public workers and the dismantling of social programs in the ‘best professional’ manner possible!

Carmena further betrayed her Podemos electorate by insisting she looked forward to working with the hard right Prime Minister Rajoy and flatly rejected the idea of promoting a progressive alternative!

In less than one week, the euphoria over the victory of Podemos backed candidates has been dissipated by these acts of cynical opportunism: the non-leftist left has betrayed its electorate, from the very start!

Jun 152015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

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Introduction

Greece has been in the headlines of the world’s financial press for the past five months, as a newly elected leftist party, ‘Syriza’, which ostensibly opposes so-called ‘austerity measures’, faces off against the “Troika” (International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and European Central Bank).

Early on, the Syriza leadership, headed by Alexis Tsipras, adopted several strategic positions with fatal consequences - in terms of implementing their electoral promises to raise living standards, end vassalage to the ‘Troika’ and pursue an independent foreign policy.

We will proceed by outlining the initial systemic failures of Syriza and the subsequent concessions further eroding Greek living standards and deepening Greece’s role as an active collaborator of US and Israeli imperialism.

Winning Elections and Surrendering Power

The North American and European Left celebrated Syriza’s election victory as a break with neo-liberal austerity programs and the launch of a radical alternative, which would implement popular initiatives for basic social changes, including measures generating employment, restoring pensions, reversing privatizations, reordering government priorities and favoring payments to employees over foreign banks. The “evidence” for the radical reform agenda was contained in the ‘Thessaloniki Manifesto’ which Syriza promised to be the program guiding their newly elected officials.

However, prior to, and immediately after being elected, Syriza leaders adopted three basic decisions precluding any basic changes: Indeed, these decisions set it on reactionary course.

First and foremost, Syriza accepted as legitimate the foreign debt of over $350 billion dollars, although most had been signed by previous government Kleptocrats, corrupt banks, business, real estate and financial interests. Virtually none of this debt was used to finance productive activity or vital services which would strengthen the economy and Greece’s future ability to payback the loans.

Hundreds of billions of Euros were stashed away in foreign bank accounts and foreign real estate or invested in overseas stocks and bonds. After affirming the ‘legitimacy’ of the illicit debt, Syriza followed up by declaring its ‘willingness’ to pay the debt. The ‘Troika’ immediately understood that the new Syriza government would be a willing hostage to further coercion, blackmail and debt payments.

Secondly, and related to the above, Syriza declared its determination to remain in the European Union and Eurozone and thus accepted the surrender of its sovereignty and ability to fashion an independent policy. It declared its willingness to submit to the dictates of the Troika. Once under the thumb of the Troika, Syriza’s only policy would be to ‘negotiate’, ‘renegotiate’ and make further concessions to the EU overseas banks in a totally one-sided process. Syriza’s rapid submission to the Troika was their second strategic, but not their last, betrayal of its electoral program.

Once Syriza demonstrated to the Troika, its willingness to betray its popular program, the Troika escalated its demands and hardened its intransigence. Brussels discounted Syriza’s leftist rhetoric and radical theatrical gestures as blowing smoke in the eyes of the Greek electorate. The EU bankers knew that when it came time to negotiate new loan agreements, the Syriza leadership would capitulate. Meanwhile, the Euro-American Left swallowed Syriza’s entire radical rhetoric without looking at its actual practice.

Thirdly, on taking office, Syriza negotiated a coalition with the far-right, pro-NATO, xenophobic, anti-immigrant Independent Greeks Party, guaranteeing that Greece would continue to support NATO’s military policies in the Middle East, the Ukraine and Israel’s brutal campaign against Palestine.

Fourthly, the bulk of Prime Minister Tsipras cabinet appointees had no experience of class struggle. Worse still, most were academics and former PASOK advisers without any capacity or willingness to break with the dictates of the Troika. Their academic ‘practice’ consisted largely of theoretical ‘combat’, ill-suited for real-world confrontation with aggressive imperial powers.

From a Scratch to Gangrene

By capitulating to the EU from the outset, including accepting to pay the illegitimate debt, hooking up with the Far Right and submitting to the dictates of the Troika, the stage was set for SYRIZA to betray all its promises and to worsen the economic burden for its supporters. The worst betrayals include: (1) not restoring pension payments; (2) not restoring the minimum wage; (3) not reversing privatizations; (4) not ending austerity programs; and (5) not increasing funds for education, health, housing and local development.

The Troika and its publicists in the financial press are demanding that Syriza cut the Greek pension system even further, impoverishing over 1.5 million retired workers. Contrary to the media’s planted ‘examples’ of fat pensions enjoyed by less then 5% of pensioners, the Greeks have suffered the deepest pension reductions in Europe over the past century. In just the last past 4 years the Troika cut Greek pensions eight times. The vast majority of pensions have been slashed by nearly 50% since 2010. The average pension is 700 Euros a month but 45%of Greek pensioners receive less than 665 Euros a month – below the poverty line. Yet the Troika demands even greater reductions. These include an end of budget subsidies for pensioners living in extreme poverty, an increase in the retirement age to 67, an abolition of pension provisions tied to hazardous occupations and for working mothers. The earlier regressive measures, imposed by the Troika and implemented by the previous right-wing coalition regime, severely depleted the Greek pension fund. In 2012, the Troika’s ‘debt restructuring’ program led to the loss of 25 billion Euros of reserves held by the Greek government in government bonds. Troika austerity policies ensured that the pension reserves would not be replenished. Contributions plummeted as unemployment soared to nearly 30% (Financial Times 6/5/15 p4). Despite the Troika’s frontal assault on the Greek pension system, Syriza’s “economic team” expressed its willingness to raise the retirement age, cut pensions by 5% and negotiate further betrayals of pensioners facing destitution. Syriza has not only failed to fulfill its campaign promise to reverse the previous regressive policies, but is engaged in its own ‘pragmatic’ sellouts with the Troika.

Worse still, Syriza has deepened and extended the policies of its reactionary predecessors. (1) Syriza promised to freeze privatizations: Now it vows to extend them by 3.2 billion Euros and privatize new public sectors. (2) Syriza has agreed to shift scarce public resources to the military, including an investment of $500 million Euros to upgrade the Greek Air Force. (3) Syriza plundered the national pension fund and municipal treasuries of over a billion Euros to meet debt payments to the Troika. (4) Syriza is cutting public investments in job creating infrastructure projects to meet Troika deadlines. ( 5) Syriza has agreed to a budget surplus of 0.6% at a time when Greece is running a 0.7% deficit this year – meaning more cuts later this year. (6) Syriza  promised to reduce the VAT on essentials like food; now it accepts a 23% rate.

Syriza’s foreign policy mimics its predecessors. Syriza’s far right Defense Minister, Panos Kammenos, has been a vocal supporter of the US and EU sanctions against Russia – despite the usual flurry of Syriza’s faked “dissent” to NATO policies, followed by total capitulation – to remain in good standing with NATO. The Syriza regime has allowed each and every well-known kleptocrat and tax evader to retain their illicit wealth and to add to their overseas holdings with massive transfers of their current ‘savings’ out of the country. By the end of May 2015, Prime Minister Tsipras and Finance Minister Varofakis have emptied the Treasury to meet debt payments, increasing the prospects that pensioners and public sector workers will not receive their benefits. Having emptied the Greek Treasury, Syriza will now impose the “Troika solution” on the backs of the impoverished Greek masses: either sign-off on a new “austerity” plan, lowering pensions, increasing retirement age, eliminating labor laws protecting workers’ job security and negotiating rights or face an empty treasury, no pensions, rising unemployment and deepening economic depression. Syriza has deliberately emptied the Treasury, plundered pension funds and local municipal holdings in order to blackmail the population to accept as a ‘fait accompli’ the regressive policies of hardline EU bankers – the so-called “austerity programs”.

From the very beginning, Syriza gave into the Troika’s dictates, even as they play-acted their ‘principled resistance’. First they lied to the Greek public, calling the Troika ‘international partners’. Then they lied again calling the Troika memorandum for greater austerity a ‘negotiating document’. Syriza’s deceptions were meant to hide their continuation of the highly unpopular ‘framework’ imposed by the previous discredited hard rightwing regime.

As Syriza plundered the country of resources to pay the bankers, it escalated its international groveling. Its Defense Minister offered new military bases for NATO, including an air-maritime base on the Greek island of Karpathos. Syriza escalated Greece’s political and military support for  EU and US military intervention and support of “moderate” terrorists in the Middle East, ludicrously in the name of “protecting Christians”. Syriza, currying favor with European and US Zionists, strengthened its ties with Israel, evoking a ‘strategic alliance’ with the terrorist-apartheid state. From his first days in office, the hard right Defense Minister Kammenos proposed the creation of a “common defense space” including Cyprus and Israel – thus supporting Israel’s air and sea  blockade of Gaza.

Conclusion

Syriza’s political decision to ‘embed’ in the EU and the Eurozone, at all costs, signals that Greece will continue to be vassal state, betraying its program and adopting deeply reactionary policies, even while trumpeting its phony leftist rhetoric, and feigning ‘resistance’ to the Troika. Despite the fact that Syriza plundered domestic pensions and local treasuries, many deluded Leftists in Europe and the US continue to accept and rationalize what they choose to dub its “realistic and pragmatic compromises”.

Syriza could have confiscated and used the $32 billion of real estate properties owned by the Greek Armed Forces to implement an alternative investment and development plan – leasing these properties for commercial maritime ports, airports and tourist facilities.

Syriza buried Greece even deeper into the hierarchy dominated by German finance, by surrendering its sovereign power to impose a debt moratorium, leave the Eurozone, husband its financial resources,  reinstate a national currency, impose capital controls, confiscate billions of Euros in illicit overseas accounts, mobilize local funds to finance economic recovery and reactivate the public and private sector. The fake “Left sector” within Syriza repeatedly mouthed impotent “objections”, while the Tsipras -Varofakis sell-out charade proceeded to the ultimate capitulation.

In the end, Syriza has deepened poverty and unemployment, increased foreign control over the economy, further eroded the public sector, facilitated the firing of workers and slashed severance pay- while increasing the role of the Greek military by deepening its ties to NATO and Israel.

Equally important, Syriza has totally emptied leftist phraseology of any cognitive meaning: for them – national sovereignty is translated into international vassalage and anti-austerity becomes pragmatic capitulations to new austerity. When the Tsipras – Troika agreement is finally signed and the terrible toll of austerity for the next decades finally sinks into the consciousness of the Greek public, the betrayals will hopefully evoke mass revulsion. Perhaps  Syriza will split, and the “left” will finally abandon their cushy Cabinet posts and join the disaffected millions in forming an alternative Party.

Jun 112015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

poverty_by_go1985a

Introduction

About 75% of US employees work 40 hours or longer, the second longest among all OECD countries, exceeded only by Poland and tied with South Korea. In contrast, only 10% of Danish workers, 15% of Norwegian, 30% of French, 43% of UK and 50% of German workers work 40 or more hours. With the longest work day, US workers score lower on the ‘living well’ scale than most western European workers. Moreover, despite those long workdays US employees receive the shortest paid holidays or vacation time (one to two weeks compared to the average of five weeks in Western Europe). US employees pay for the costliest health plans and their children face the highest university fees among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In class terms, US employees face the greatest jump in income inequalities over the past decade, the longest period of wage and salary decline or stagnation (1970 to 2014) and the greatest collapse of private sector union membership, from 30% in 1950 down to 8% in 2014.

On the other hand, profits, as a percentage of national income, have increased significantly. The share of income and profits going to the financial sector, especially the banks and investment houses, has increased at a faster rate than any other sector of the US economy.

There are two polar opposite trends: Employees working longer hours, with costlier services and declining living standards  while finance capitalists enjoy rapidly rising profits and incomes.

Paradoxically, these trends are not directly based on greater ‘workplace exploitation’ in the US.

The historic employee-finance capitalist polarization is the direct result of the grand success of the trillion dollar financial swindles, the tax payer-funded trillion dollar Federal bailouts of the crooked bankers, and the illegal bank manipulation of interest rates. These uncorrected and unpunished crimes have driven up the costs of living and producing for employees and their employers.

Financial ‘rents’ (the bankers and brokers are ‘rentiers’ in this economy) drive up the costs of production for non-financial capital (manufacturing). Non-financial capitalists resort to reducing wages, cutting benefits and extending working hours for their employees, in order to maintain their own profits.

In other words, pervasive, enduring and systematic large-scale financial criminality is a major reason why US employees are working longer and receiving less – the ‘trickle down’ effect of mega-swindles committed by finance capital.

Mega-Swindles, Leading Banks and Complicit State Regulators

Mega-swindles, involving trillions of dollars, are routine practices involving the top fifty banks, trading houses, currency speculators, management fund firms and foreign exchange traders.

These ‘white collar’ crimes have hurt hundreds of millions of investors and credit-card holders, millions of mortgage debtors, thousands of pension funds and most industrial and service firms that depend on bank credit to meet payrolls, to finance capital expansion and technological upgrades and raw materials.

Big banks, which have been ‘convicted and fined’ for mega-swindles, include Citi Bank, Bank of America, HSBC, UBS, JP Morgan, Barclay, Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsch Bank and forty other ‘leading’ financial institutions.

The mega-swindlers have repeatedly engaged in a great variety of misdeeds, including accounting fraud, insider trading, fraudulent issue of mortgage based securities and the laundering of hundreds of billions of illegal dollars for Colombian, Mexican, African and Asian drug and human traffickers.

They have rigged the London Interbank Official Rate (LIBOR), which serves as the global interest benchmark to which hundreds of trillions of dollars of financial contracts are tied. By raising LIBOR, the financial swindlers have defrauded hundreds of millions of mortgage and credit-card holders, student loan recipients and pensions.

Bloomberg News (5/20/2015) reported on an ongoing swindle involving the manipulation of the multi-trillion-dollar International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) fix, a global interest rate benchmark used by banks, corporate treasurers and money managers to determine borrowing costs and to value much of the $381 trillion of outstanding interest rate swaps.

The Financial Times (5/23/15, p. 10) reported how the top seven banks engaged in manipulating fraudulent information to their clients, practiced illegal insider trading to profit in the foreign exchange market (forex), whose daily average turnover volume for 2013 exceeded $5 trillion dollars.

These seven convicted banks ended up paying less than $10 billion in fines, which is less than 0.05% of their daily turnover. No banker or high executive ever went to jail, despite undermining the security of millions of retail investors, pensioners and thousands of companies.

The Direct Impact of Financial Swindles on Declining Living Standards

Each and every major financial swindle has had a perverse ripple effect throughout the entire economy. This is especially the case where the negative consequences have spread downward through local banks, local manufacturing and service industries to employees, students and the self-employed.

The most obvious example of the downward ripple effect was the so-called ‘sub-prime mortgage’ swindle. Big banks deliberately sold worthless, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligation (CDO) to smaller banks, pension funds and local investors, which eventually foreclosed on overpriced houses causing low income mortgage holders to lose their down payments (amounting to most of their savings).

While the effects of the swindle spread outward and downward, the US Treasury propped up the mega-swindlers with a trillion-dollar bailout in working people’s tax money. They anointed their mega-give-away as the bail out for ‘banks that are just too big to fail”! They transferred funds from the public treasury for social services to the swindlers.

In effect, the banks profited from their widely exposed crimes while US employees lost their jobs, homes, savings and social services. As the US Treasury pumped trillions of dollars into the coffers of the criminal banks (especially on Wall Street), the builders, major construction companies and manufacturers faced an unprecedented credit squeeze and laid off millions of workers, and reduced wages and increased the hours of un-paid work.

Service employees in consumer industries were hit hard as wages and salaries declined or remained frozen. The costs of the FOREX, LIBOR and ISDA fix swindles’ fell heavily on big  business, which passed the pain onto labor: cutting pension and health coverage, hiring millions of ‘contingent or temp’ workers at minimum wages with no benefits.

The bank bailouts forced the Treasury to shift funds from ‘job-creating’ social programs and national infrastructure investment to the FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector with its highly concentrated income structure.

As a result of the increasing concentration of wealth among the financial swindlers, inequalities in income grew; wages and salaries were frozen or reduced and manufacturers outsourced production, resulting in declines in production.

Employees, suffering from the loss of income brought on by the mega-swindles, found that they were working longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits. Productivity suffered. With the total breakdown of the ‘capitalist rules of the game’, investors lost confidence and trust in the system. Mega-swindles eroded ‘confidence’ between investors and traders, and made a mockery of any link between performance at work and rewards. This severed the nexus between highly motivated workers, engaged in ‘hard work, long hours’ and rising living standards, and between investment and productivity.

As a result, profits in the finance sector grew while the domestic economy floundered and living standards stagnated.

Financial Impunity: Regulatees Controlling the Regulators

Despite the proliferation of mega-swindles and their pervasive ripple effects throughout the economy and society, none of the dozens of federal or state regulatory agencies intervened to stop the swindle before it undermined the domestic economy. No CEO or banker was ever arrested for their part in the swindle of trillions. The regulators only reacted after trillions had ‘disappeared’ and swindles were ‘a done deal’. The impunity of the swindlers in planning and executing the pillage of hundreds of millions of employees, taxpayers and mortgage holders was because the federal and state regulatory agencies are populated by ‘regulatory administrators’ who came from or aspired to join the financial sector they were tasked with ‘regulating’.

Most of the high officials appointed to lead the regulatory agencies had been selected by the ‘Lords of Wall Street, Frankfurt, the City of London or Zurich.’ Appointees are chosen on the basis of their willingness to enable financial swindles. It therefore came as no surprise on May 28, 2015, when US President Obama approved the appointment of Andrew Donahue, Managing Director and Associate General Council for the repeatedly felonious, mega-swindling banking house of Goldman Sachs to be the ‘Chief of Staff’ of the Security and Exchange Commission. His career has been typical of the Washington-Wall Street ‘Revolving Door’.

Only after fraud and swindles evoked the nationwide public fury of mortgage holders, investors and finance companies did the regulators ‘investigate’  the crimes and even then not a single major banker was jailed, not a single major bank was closed down

There were a few low-level bond traders and bank employees who were fired or jailed as scapegoats. The banks paid puny (for them) fines, which they passed on to their customers. Despite pledges to ‘mend their ways’ the bankers concocted new schemes with their windfalls of billions of Federal ‘bailout’ money while the regulators looked on or polished their CV’s for the next pass through the ‘revolving door’.

Every top official in Treasury, Commerce and Trade, and every regulator in the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) who ‘retired to the private sector’ has ended up working for the same mega-criminal banks and finance houses they had investigated, regulated and ‘slapped on the wrist’.

As one banker, who insists on anonymity, told me: ‘The most successful swindlers are those who investigated financial transgressions’.

Conclusion

Mega-swindles define the nature of contemporary capitalism. The profits and power of financial capital is not the outcome of ‘market forces’. They are the result of a system of criminal behavior that pillages the Treasury, exploits the producers and consumers, evicts homeowners and robs taxpayers.

The mega swindlers represent much less than 1% of the class structure. Yet they hold over 40% of personal wealth in this country and control over 80% of capital liquidity.

They grow inexorably rich and richer, even as the rest of the economy wallows in crisis and stagnation.  Their swindles send powerful ripples across the national economy, which ultimately freeze or reduce the income of the skilled (middle class) employees and undermine the living conditions for poor working-class whites, and especially under and unemployed Afro-American and Latino American young workers.

Efforts to ‘moralize’ capital have failed repeatedly since the regulators are controlled by those they claim to ‘regulate’.

The rare arrest and prosecution of any among the current tribe of mega-swindlers would only results in their being replaced by new swindlers. The problem is systemic and requires deep structural changes.

The only answer is to build a political movement independent of the two party system, willing to nationalize the banks and to pass legislation outlawing derivatives, forex trading and other unnatural parasitic speculative activities.

Jun 062015
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Colombian government negotiators in Havana

Colombian government negotiators in Havana

IN REMEMBRANCE OF JAIRO MARTINEZ AND ROMAN RUIZ

FIGHTERS AND VICTIMS OF ‘WAR THROUGH PEACE NEGOTIATIONS’

Introduction

On May 21, 2015, the Colombian Air Force (FAC) bombed the base camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) killing 26 guerrillas. Three days later the FAC bombed other FARC bases killing 14 more guerrillas. This was part of an official offensive, launched by President Juan Manuel Santos, the US’s most loyal client in Latin America. Among the victims were FARC Commanders Jairo Martinez, a participant in the ongoing peace negotiations in Havana and Roman Ruiz.

Colombia works closely with the US, through Bernard Aronson, a very intrusive neo-conservative ‘overseer’, who is Washington’s coordinator in the Colombian counter-insurgency war. The US maintains seven military bases and has stationed over one thousand US ‘advisers’ in the field and within the Colombian Defense Ministry. The military offensive was launched by the Santos regime precisely when it was officially engaged in two and a half year-long ‘peace negotiations’, during which three of five items on the ‘peace agenda’ had been agreed to and the FARC had ordered a unilateral cease fire. Two months earlier, President Santos treacherously set-up the FARC to lower their defenses by appearing to ‘reciprocate’ when he ordered “the suspension of air force bombing of FARC field camps”. In other words, the Santos government and US adviser Aronson used the ‘cover of peace negotiations’ and the FARC’s unilateral ‘cease fire’ to launch a major military offensive. The FARC ended its cease fire and resumed combat in ten regional ‘departments’, as the regime intensified its offensive by bombing villages in FARC-controlled regions. While Santos and Aronson escalated their military offensive in Colombia, the FARC negotiators in Havana continued their “peace” negotiations…

President Santos and Aronson have used the cover of “peace negotiations” as a propaganda ploy to launch a full scale military offensive. Concessions and agreements served to lower the FARC’s guard, identify its officials and secure intelligence on FARC base camps. US adviser Aronson’s role is to ensure that the Colombian government destroys the popular armed resistance, and forces the FARC to accept a ‘peace accord’ that does not change the status of US bases, lucrative contracts with international mining companies and promotes ‘free trade’. The Santos regime announced that the ‘peace negotiations’ would continue in Havana . . . even as it intensifies the war in Colombia, killing FARC members and supporters. Aronson and Santos pursue a ‘peace of the cemetery’.

The Colombia and Washington regimes are conducting a two-pronged ‘peace negotiations and brutal war policy’ against the FARC as part of a general world-wide politico-military campaign against mass popular movements that oppose neo-liberal economic policies, US-initiated wars and military bases and onerous ‘free trade’ agreements.

In each region the US has developed a very ‘special relation’ with key governments that serve as ‘strategic allies’. These include Israel in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf and southwest Asia, Japan in the Far East and Colombia in Latin America.

For the past two decades Colombia has served as the key US operational base for US naval and air surveillance in the Caribbean, Central America and the Andean countries and the launching pad for destabilization campaigns and intervention against the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Honduras. Washington’s use of ‘peace negotiations’ as a prelude to a military offensive in Colombia is the prototype of US strategic policy in several other contentious regions of the world.

In the essay, we will  identify the countries where the US is engaged in ‘peace negotiations’ as a prelude to military aggression and political subversion and we will describe in detail the strategy and implementation of this policy in the most ‘advanced case’ of Colombia. We will focus on how erstwhile leftist governments, eager to improve relations with the US, contribute to furthering Washington’s strategic goals of subversion and ‘regime change’.

Finally, we will evaluate the possible outcomes of this strategy both in terms of advancing US imperial interests and in developing effective anti-imperialist politics.

Peace Negotiations: the New Face of Empire-building

Throughout the world, Washington is engaged in some sort of direct or indirect ‘peace negotiations’ even as it expands and intensifies its military operations.

US and Iran:  Unilateral Disarmament and Military Encirclement

The mass media and official Washington spokespersons would have us believe that the US and Iran are within reach of a ‘peace accord’, contingent on Teheran surrendering its nuclear capability (repeatedly proven to be non-military in nature) and the US lifting its ‘economic sanctions’. The media’s ‘narrow focus approach’ to the Persian Gulf conveniently ignores contradictory regional developments.

First, the US has embarked on devastating wars against key Iranian regional allies: The US funds and supplies arms to terrorists who have invaded and bombed Syria and Yemen. Washington is expanding military bases surrounding Iran while increasing its naval presence in the Persian Gulf. President Obama has expanded military agreements with the Gulf monarchies. Congress is increasing the flow of offensive arms to Israel as it openly threatens to attack Iran. In reality, while engaged in ‘peace negotiations’ with Teheran, Washington is waging war with Iran’s allies and threatens its security.

Equally important, the US has vetoed numerous attempts to finally rid the Middle East of nuclear arms. This veto safeguards the far-right, militarist Israeli regime’s enormous offensive nuclear stockpile, while outlawing any possibility of an Iranian deterrent.

The so-called ‘peace negotiations’ allows the US to engage in pervasive and frequent espionage of Iranian military installations (so-called ‘inspections’ by the US controlled International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) with no reciprocal inspection of US or Israeli military bases or that of any of its Gulf client states. Furthermore, and crucial to a sudden military assault, Washington assumes in its ongoing ‘peace negotiations’, the unilateral ‘right’ to suspend the talks at a moment’s notice under any pretext and launch a military attack.

In sum, the US ‘negotiates peace’ with Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland, while it supplies Saudi Arabia with bombs and intelligence in its war against Yemen and finances armed Jihadi terrorists seizing half of Syria and large contiguous parts of Iraq.

The Iranian officials, ensconced in Switzerland while negotiating with the US, have played down the military threat to their country resulting from the massive re-entry of US armed forces in Iraq and the installation of the new puppet Haider Abidi regime.

How will the US conclude a ‘peace settlement’ with Iran while it engages in wars  against Iran’s neighbors and allies and when Iranian negotiations are framed in military terms?

Are the ‘peace negotiations’ merely a ploy designed to destroy Iran’s regional allies, isolate and weaken its military defenses and set it up for attack ‘down the road’? How does this fit into Obama’s global strategy?

US-China Diplomatic Negotiations: Military Encirclement and Encroachment

Over the past decade, President Obama and top State and Treasury Department officials have met with Chinese leaders, promising greater economic co-operation and exchanging diplomatic niceties.

Parallel to these conciliatory gestures, Washington has escalated its military encirclement of China by enlarging its military presence in Australia, Japan, and the Philippines and increasing its aggressive patrols of adjoining airspace and vital maritime routes.

The State Department has been inciting border-states, including Vietnam, Philippines, Japan and Indonesia, to contest Chinese maritime borders and its transformation of off-shore atolls into military bases.

The White House has proposed the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement, which specifically excludes China. It has signed off on nuclear weapons agreements with India, hoping to secure an Indo-American military pact on China’s southwestern flank.

Obama’s so-called ‘pivot to Asia’ is best understood as a rapid escalation of military threats and exclusionary trade pacts designed to provoke, isolate, weaken and degrade China and push back its rise to economic supremacy in Asia.

So far the US strategy has failed. Washington’s diplomatic gestures have lacked the necessary economic substance and incentives to its ‘allies’; its much-ballyhooed trade agreements have floundered in the face of far superior and inclusive Chinese initiatives, including its new $100 billion-dollar  Infrastructure Investment Bank and its more than $40 billion dollar economic agreements with the government of India.

In the face of its economic failures the Pentagon has opted for flagrant military encroachments on Chinese airspace.  Specifically, US warplanes are directed to overfly China’s ongoing construction of military installations on atolls in the South China Sea. The Chinese Foreign Office and Defense Ministry have vigorously protested these violations of its sovereignty. The Obama regime has brashly rejected China’s diplomatic protests and affirmed Washington’s ‘right’ to encroach on Chinese territorial waters.

After a quarter of a century of failing to dominate China via economic penetration by US multi-nationals and through the liberalization of its financial system, Washington has discarded its ‘softer’ diplomatic approach and adopted a ‘proto-war’ stand. This policy uses economic boycotts, military encirclement and encroachment on Chinese maritime, aerial and land sovereignty in the hope of provoking a military response and then evoking a second ‘Pearl Harbor’ as a pretext for a full scale war engulfing its Asian allies (and Australia) in a major war in the Asia-Pacific region.

China’s market successes have replaced the US as the dominant economic power in Asia, Latin America and Africa. In the face of this ‘usurpation’ the US has dropped the velvet glove of diplomacy in favor of the iron fist of military provocation and escalation. The US military budget is five times greater than China’s, whereas China’s investments and financing of economic projects throughout Asia, Latin America and the BRIC countries are ten times greater than those of the US.

China’s ‘economic pivot’ will clearly enhance Beijing’s global position over the medium and long-run, if the US’s reckless and short-term military superiority and territorial aggression does not lead to a devastating world war!

In the meantime, China is developing its military capacity to confront the ‘US pivot to war’. China’s leaders have devised a new defensive strategy, boosting its naval capacity and shifting from strictly territorial defense to both defense and offense on land, air and sea. Off shore defense is combined with open sea protection to enhance China’s capability for a strategic deterrent and counter-attack. China’s annual military spending had increased on average ten percent per annum in anticipation of the Pentagon shifting 60% of its fleet to the Pacific over the next five years.

US-Cuba Diplomatic Negotiations: The ‘Trojan Horse’ Approach

For over fifty years the US has mounted a concerted terrorist-sabotage campaign, economic embargo and diplomatic war against its Caribbean neighbor, Cuba. In the face of near total diplomatic isolation in the United Nations (185 to 3 against the US-imposed blockade), universal opposition to belligerent US policy toward Cuba at the Summit of the Americas and in the Organization of American States and surprisingly favorable public opinion toward Cuba among the domestic US citizenry, Washington decided to open negotiations to establish diplomatic and commercial relations with Havana.

On the surface, the apparent shift from military confrontation and economic sanctions to diplomatic negotiations would register as a move toward peaceful co-existence between opposing social systems. However, a closer reading of Washington’s tactical concessions and strategic goals argues for a mere ‘change of methods’ for reversing advances of the socialist revolution rather than a diplomatic accommodation.

Under the cover of a diplomatic agreement, the US will directly or indirectly channel millions of dollars into Cuba’s private sector, strengthening its weight in the economy, and forming partnerships with Cuban public and private sector counter-parts. The US Embassy’s economic policy will be directed toward expanding the business sectors open to US capital. In other words, Washington will pursue a strategy of incremental privatization to create economic and political allies.

Secondly, the US embassy will greatly expand its role as financial backer, recruiter and protector of counter-revolutionary, self-styled Cuban ‘dissidents’ in its ‘civil society.

Thirdly, the vast influx of US-controlled telecommunications, cultural programs and exchanges, and commercial sales will have the effect of de-radicalizing the Cuban public (from socialism and egalitarianism to gross consumerism) and reducing Cuba’s fraternal ties to Latin America. Anti-imperialist solidarity with popular Latin American movements and governments will diminish as the Cubans adopt the ‘Miami mentality’.

Fourthly, Cuba’s economic and political ties with Venezuela will remain but the US efforts to subvert or ‘moderate’ the Bolivian government may face less opposition from Havana.

Fifth, Washington will foster cheap mass tourism in order to promote a one-sided dependent economy, which over time will replace socialist consciousness with a ‘comprador consciousness’ – a decadent mentality, which encourages the emergence of a class of intermediaries or ‘brokers’ engaged in  economic exchanges between the ‘sender’(the US) and ‘receiver’(Cuba) country. Cuban ‘intermediaries’ between the imperial US and dependent Cuba could become strategic political actors in Havana.

In other words, the concessions Washington have secured via diplomatic politics will form the ‘Trojan Horse’ to facilitate a ‘subversion from within approach’ designed to subvert the social economy and to secure Cuban co-operation in de-radicalizing Latin America.

Fidel Castro has rightly expressed his distrust of the new US approach. Castro’s pointed criticisms of Washington’s highly militarized interventions in the Middle East, the Ukraine and the South China Sea is designed to influence Cuban policymakers, who are overzealous in conceding political concessions to the US.

Libya, Ukraine, Syria and Yemen:  Negotiations as Prelude to Wars

Negotiations between Libyan President Gadhafi and Washington led to a dismantling of the country’s advanced military defense programs. Once essentially defenseless from NATO attack, the US and its European and Gulf allies embarked on a full-scale bombing campaign for ‘regime change’ in support of tribal and sectarian warlords destroying the country’s infrastructure, ending the life of its leader and tens of thousands of Libyans and driving hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers from sub-Sahara Africa into exile as refugees.

Negotiations between the democratically-elected leader of the Ukraine and the US-NATO based opposition led to political concessions that were quickly exploited by US funded foreign NGOs and domestic neo-Nazis. Street mobs took over  government buildings in Kiev leading to a putsch and ‘regime change’, as well as detonating a brutal ethnic war against eastern Russian speaking Ukrainians, opposed to NATO and favoring continued traditional ties with Russia. Despite ‘negotiations’ between the NATO-backed regime and Donbass federalists leading to a European-brokered cease fire, the government in Kiev continues to bomb the self-governing regions.

The US, EU, Saudi Arabia and Turkey (the “Quartet”) back armed Islamist mercenaries and jihadist terrorists seeking to overthrow the Bashar Assad government in Damascus and rebel Houthi government coalition in Yemen. Under the guise of seeking a ‘negotiated political solution’, the ‘Quartet’ has consistently pursued a military solution.

Negotiations and diplomacy have become chosen tactical ploys in Washington’s repertory for pursing war.

Wars are preceded by or accompany diplomacy and negotiations which act to weaken the target adversary, as was the case in Libya, the Ukraine and Colombia.

Diplomatic overtures to China are accompanied by a ‘military pivot’, aggressive military encirclement, and provocative acts such as the recent arrest of visiting Chinese scholars and repeated violations of Chinese airspace.

The diplomatic overtures to Cuba are accompanied by demands for greater “access” to proselytize and subvert Cuban officials,and  its people.

US negotiators demand the unilateral demilitarization and pervasive oversight of Iran’s strategic military defenses even as the US expands its proxy wars against Teheran’s allies in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile Washington rejects the comprehensive ending of economic sanctions against the Iranians.

Negotiations, under the Obama regime, are simply tactics to intensify and expand the strategy of war. The “peace negotiations” between the US-backed Santos regime and the FARC follows the global script outlined above.

Through phony ‘partial agreements’, which are never seriously intended to be implemented, the US-backed Colombian military and their paramilitary allies continue to ravage the countryside. Displaced peasants and farmers attempting to return and reclaim farmland continue to be assassinated. Human rights lawyers and workers are still murdered.

The Santos regime escalates its military offensive against the FARC, taking full advantage of the “unilateral ceasefire” declared by FARC leaders in Havana.

The true intentions of the Santos regime toward the FARC were revealed in the aftermath of the assassination of 40 guerrilla combatants: The regime demonized the FARC, justifying the offensive by criminalizing the insurgents, linking them to drug and human traffickers.

The gap between what the regime negotiators say in Havana and what the military commanders do in the Colombian countryside has never been  greater. The disconnect between the peace talks in Havana and the military offensive in Colombia is the best indicator of what can be expected if an agreement is signed.

Santos and the US adviser Aronson envision a highly militarized state advised by thousands of US agents and mercenaries. The disarmament of the FARC will be followed by the persecution of former guerrilla combatants and the expansion of mining contracts in former guerrilla controlled territory. The military command will increase its sponsorship of cross border paramilitary attacks on Venezuela. The Santos regime will find a pretext to continue the incarceration of the majority of political prisoners. There will be no agrarian reform or repossession of illegally seized land. There will be no reversal of the US-Colombian free trade agreement. The hundreds of thousands of displaced peasants will remain without land or justice.

Very little of what is agreed in Havana will be implemented.  FARC leaders will be confined to playing the electoral game, providing that they are not assassinated by ‘sicarios on motorcycles’. Guerrilla militants without land, employment or security may join the drug traffickers – in a re-play of the so-called “Peace Accords” in El Salvador.

Under these circumstances why does the FARC’s current leadership proceed toward a suicidal agreement and its own extinction? In past conversations with leading Cuban foreign policy officials, including former Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, I was told that the Cuban government was deeply hostile to FARC and was eager to end hostilities in order to improve Cuban relations with the US. Likewise members of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry told me that they co-operated with the Colombian government in arresting and deporting FARC officials and sympathizers in order “to secure their borders from Colombian military and paramilitary incursions”.

In other words, there are valid grounds for viewing the FARC negotiators as operating under intense pressure from its supposed allies to continue ‘talks’ and reach a ‘peace agreement’, even if the results will be neither peace or justice!

Conclusion

The US strategy of “war through peace negotiations” is an ongoing process. So far the US military build-up against China has failed to intimidate China. Beijing has responded by launching its own strategic military response and by financing a huge number of Asian economic projects which, in the long-run, will isolate the US and undermine its offensive capacity.

The ‘war through negotiation’ strategy succeeded in destroying a nationalist adversary in Libya, while also devastating a profitable oil and gas producer, creating a ‘failed state’ on the Mediterranean and unleashing jihadist groups throughout North Africa. The NATO-Obama campaign for ‘regime change’ in Libya led to the mass exodus of millions of sub-Saharan workers formerly employed in Libya with untold thousands drowning in the Mediterranean in their desperate flight.

The US ‘war and negotiations policy’ toward Iran remains inconclusive: Washington has encircled Iran with proxy wars against Yemen and Syria but Iran continues to gain influence in Iraq.  The US has spent $40 billion on arms and training on an Iraqi army whose soldiers refuse to fight and die for US interests, allowing the neo-Baathist- ‘ISIS’ coalition of Sunni insurgents to seize one-third of the country. The more serious and motivated militia defending Baghdad is composed of the Shia volunteers, influenced by Teheran. The horrific break-up of what was once sovereign secular republic continues.

Washington’s dual strategy of negotiating with the Rohani regime while encircling the country is intended to degrade Teheran’s defense capability while minimizing any relief from the economic sanctions. Whether this one-sided process will lead to a ‘final agreement’ remains to be seen. In the final analysis, the US relations with Iran are subject to the power and influence of the Zionist power configuration in the US, acting on behalf of Israel, over and against the European Union’s interest to develop trade with the 80 million strong Iranian market.

The US “subversion via negotiations” approach to Cuba has moved forward slowly. The Cuban security apparatus, military, and, especially, important contingents of Fidelista officials, militants and intellectuals serve as an important counter-weight to the zealous liberal “modernizers” who envision “market solutions”. Washington does not expect a rapid transition to capitalism. It is banking on a ‘war of positions’, securing joint ventures with state officials; a massive infusion of consumerist propaganda to counter socialist values; funding private capitalists as potential strategic political allies; encouraging  Cuban foreign policy officials to cut off support for leftist movements and governments. Cuba’s leaders, at all costs, must not return to an economically dependent relation with the US – which is the strategic goal of the US. Washington is seeking through diplomacy to secure what 50 years of warfare failed to achieve: a regime change and a reversal of the gains of the Cuban Revolution.

The US strategy of war through negotiations has mixed results. Where it confronts a burgeoning world power, such as China, it has failed. With a weak, disarmed state like Libya, it succeeded beyond its wildest dreams (or nightmares). With “middle level powers” like Cuba and Iran, it has secured political concessions but has not yet eroded the security and defense capabilities of the governments. In the case of Colombia, Washington is deeply embedded in the regime and has openly embraced a naked military solution.

The FARC’s ‘inner leadership’ cannot continue with the unilateral  ‘cease fire’ unless it wishes for suicide; the ‘outside leadership’ appears committed to negotiations even as the war escalates. The results are uncertain, but what is obvious is that the Aronson – Santos regime have no tolerance for a ‘peace with social justice’. Their goal for the long struggling Colombian people is the ‘peace of the cemetery’, as the historic FARC leader Manual Marulanda declared in the aftermath of the broken peace negotiations of 1999-2002.