Oct 102017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

savvidis_0-1600x900To become a modern Greek oligarch, you don’t need a vast shipping empire a la Onassis. You just need some seed money, a sports team or two, some media properties, a curated public image, and some quid pro quo with the SYRIZA government that once promised to crush you.

ATHENS, GREECE — Greece is a country that is famously known for its strong tradition in the maritime sector, and for its many wealthy shipowners. Names such as Onassis and Latsis have become globally known and are synonymous with great wealth and with a playboy lifestyle of mingling with the rich and famous.

Greece is also a country whose language boasts a particularly rich and diverse vocabulary. There is seemingly a Greek word for anything and everything, and one such word is “diaploki.” A uniquely Greek word, diaploki neatly sums up the specific relationship and interplay that has developed in Greece among successive governments, politicians, and big-business and media magnates.

Prior to the initial election of the purportedly “radical leftist” SYRIZA party in Greece’s parliamentary elections of January 2015, one of the party’s main campaign promises was that it would “crush” Greece’s oligarchs, who hold preeminent positions in the country’s media landscape and in such key sectors as energy, infrastructure, insurance, and of course shipping.

After SYRIZA’s election, though, an about-face quickly followed across multiple fronts, including its stance towards Greece’s oligarchs. Today, instead of “crushing” them, it is actively favoring them. Following last year’s botched television licensing attempt, in which SYRIZA was apparently going to “crush” the oligarchs by auctioning off an artificially limited number of television licenses to the very deepest pockets — in other words, those of the oligarchs — SYRIZA is trying again. It is now planning to auction off television as well as radio licenses to the highest bidders — with no provision for any non-profit, non-commercial or community broadcasters of any kind.

A new breed of corruption and “diaploki”

CEO of media conglomerate 24 Media, Dimitris Maris (left) and Soviet-born businessman and former United Russia MP, Ivan Savvidis. (Right)CEO of media conglomerate 24 Media, Dimitris Maris (left) and Soviet-born businessman and former United Russia MP, Ivan Savvidis. (Right)

Amongst those who are flourishing under the reign of the SYRIZA-led coalition government, however, are not just the “old guard” of shipowner-oligarchs, such as Giannis Alafouzos (owner of Skai TV and Radio and Greece’s neoliberal newspaper of record, Kathimerini), the Kyriakou family (owners of the Antenna Media Group, including national broadcaster ANT1 Television), or the Vardinogiannis family (owners of national broadcaster Star Channel and extensive media and publishing interests). Now there is a new breed of businessmen-oligarchs who have risen to prominence under the SYRIZA regime, oligarchs who have quickly amassed holdings in the mass media and other industries, and who have access to and the ear of the current government and its personnel.

Two of Greece’s most notorious nouveau-oligarchs are Dimitris Maris and Ivan Savvidis. Maris is the CEO of one of Greece’s fastest-growing media conglomerates, 24 Media, which boasts a portfolio of numerous print, radio, and online properties. Savvidis is a Soviet-born businessman and former member of parliament with the United Russia party, who has turned his sights on his purported country of origin, Greece — amassing there, in recent years, significant business holdings across several sectors.

Using these two nouveau-oligarchs as examples, the following steps will describe exactly how one can become a Greek oligarch — and obtain the privileges and power that this position of status affords.

Step one: Build a business profile

In order to gain a foothold in the country’s political and economic system, the first decisive step for any budding oligarch-to-be is to construct a profile as a seemingly legitimate — or successful, at any rate — businessman.

In the case of Dimitris Maris, this successful — even if its legitimacy is arguable — business is none other than online gambling, as he is a shareholder in stoiximan.gr, one of Greece’s and Europe’s largest online gambling and sports betting operations. Founded in 2007 and based in Malta under the corporate umbrella of “Gambling Malta Ltd.,” stoiximan.gr is said to be operating in Greece with a “temporary” license (not unlike the country’s television and radio broadcast stations).

At the same time that the SYRIZA-led government is going as far as to confiscate pocket change from the already decimated bank accounts of newly impoverished Greek citizens, seizing monies owed in “back taxes,” stoiximan.gr and a few dozen other online gambling services operate in Greece with “temporary” licenses issued to offshore corporations, generating over 1 billion euros in revenue that is entirely tax-free. Indeed, in late 2016, allegations emerged that stoiximan.gr was being probed by prosecutors in Greece for tax evasion totaling over 35 million euros.

Nevertheless, stoiximan.gr continues to operate — and, as will be seen, Maris’ business empire has expanded beyond online gambling to the online- and mass-media landscape.

Ivan Savvidis took a somewhat different route to the top: he first became a Russian oligarch, before spreading his business and financial empire to Greece. Born in the former Soviet Union in what is now Georgia, Savvidis was employed in the Don State Tobacco Company in various positions. Following the collapse of the USSR, the company was privatized and Savvidis somehow emerged as its general manager. By 2012, he had entered the Forbes list of the wealthiest Russians in the world.

It was around this time that Savvidis expanded his business activity to crisis-hit Greece – a peculiar choice at face value, in light of the country’s economic instability and uncertain future, and also because there is some doubt as to whether Savvidis had ever visited or spent much time in Greece prior to this decade. As will be detailed below, his current business holdings in Greece – all acquired within the past few years – include media outlets, major infrastructural assets, tourist properties, tobacco, and soft drinks.

Step two: Purchase a sports team

Sports is politics and, in Greece, owning a sports club is a surefire way to snag power, influence, and a legion of fanatic supporters. All of Greece’s major football and basketball teams are owned by wealthy oligarchs, competing with each other both on and off the playing field.

Much more so than in North America, one’s affiliation with a sports team in Greece is treated with an almost religious fervor. This degree of support typically extends to the team’s management, ownership, and president, particularly when the team is playing well. In Greece, each major team is also affiliated with one or more sports newspapers (which have lost less of their circulation than the political press) and websites. These outlets provide not only “partisan” reporting of the team’s doings, but also full coverage of all of the owner’s other business activities. In this way, through ownership of these teams, the oligarchs in control inherit a ready-made “fan” base that will identify with and support all of the owner’s activities – support that is blindly reinforced in the athletic press.

Maris is the founder of 24 Media, which is the umbrella corporation of his various media endeavors and whose corporate website is only in English. One of Maris’ first media properties was the online portal sport24.gr, a site that — despite having been established later than other such websites in Greece, and lacking the “name brand” of the existing sports media outlets — has nevertheless managed in a short time to become perhaps the preeminent sports news website in the country.

Maris’ sports media holdings are buffered by contra.gr, a sports and lifestyle website that was bought out by 24 Media, and by radio station Sport 24 Radio, broadcasting in Athens and networked with stations throughout Greece. This, of course, is in addition to his aforementioned activity in the sports betting sector.

Savvidis followed the more traditional route, beginning in Russia, where between 2002 and 2005 he was the chairman of the FC Rostov football club, and since 2005 has been chairman of FC SKA Rostov-on-Don. In 2012 his presence in the sports world expanded to Greece, following the purchase of one of Greece’s major football clubs, PAOK FC. Having paid off the previously struggling club’s debts and enjoying the support of the pro-PAOK sports media of Thessaloniki, the city where the team is based, Savvidis inherited an immediate and automatically loyal fan base through his takeover of PAOK.

More recently, Savvidis has forayed into the world of Greece’s sports media, purchasing sports portal SDNA, while it is rumored that he is in the market to purchase another, more prominent sports website.

An additional bonus that comes from having control of or influence over the sports media is this: in Greece, such media outlets are well aware that their target audience, primarily younger adult males, are often unemployed or underemployed and wholly miserable and dissatisfied with their lives amidst the economic crisis. Largely apolitical, and wholly awestruck by the glitzy stadiums and high priced superstars of the foreign football leagues that they invariably follow, they do not miss an opportunity to put down Greece for all of its real or perceived shortcomings.

In turn, the sports media caters to this sentiment. For instance, one of 24 Media’s properties is the website oneman.gr, which exclusively targets young men with glamorous stories about life in “civilized” countries and heaps of sensationalist “only in Greece” stories — which are invariably negative. These stories are then heavily cross-promoted across 24 Media’s sports portals.

Step three: Establish or purchase media outlets

Once you’ve become a nationally known and perhaps notorious figure through your activity in the sports world, the next step is to enter the day-to-day lives of all Greeks through the purchase of or establishment of one or more mass media outlets. Having already inherited a base of popular support via the ownership of a sports club, the next step – ownership of mainstream, general-interest media and news outlets – affords oligarchs even more power and influence.

“Diaploki,” as mentioned earlier, refers to the corrupt interplay of politicians and the owners of major industries and the media. In Greece, a country that boasts a plethora of media outlets, most newspapers and broadcast stations are not profitable. Indeed, they are not necessarily intended to be profitable. The real value that they provide to their oligarch owners stems from the influence that these channels afford them. This encompasses influence over public opinion, cross-promotion of their own business and sporting activities and holdings, and, perhaps most significantly of all, influence over and pressure on politicians and the government of the day.

An old adage of those seeking or exerting influence in Greece was (and largely remains) “give me a [public works] contract or I’ll open a newspaper” – insinuating that the “dirty laundry” of the government or specific political figures would then “leak.” With most oligarchs entrenched in the construction sector, their co-owned media outlets have traditionally been employed for the purposes of pressuring governments for lucrative public contracts of all sorts. This tactic has been successful and continues to the present day, even with the supposedly left-wing SYRIZA-led government that at one time was pledging to keep the oligarchs in check.

In a sense, Maris breaks with this tradition. He did not develop, and as of yet has not turned to, holdings in sectors such as construction, banking, insurance, or heavy industry. His media properties began to grow largely in parallel with his activity in the sports gambling sector. Starting small, with a small number of online outlets such as sport24.gr and news247.gr, the 24 Media empire has dramatically grown during the years of SYRIZA’s governance of Greece.

In part, 24 Media’s strategy has been to import brand names from the United States, including launching the Greek versions of the Huffington Post, Dailymotion, and NBA.com. Following these intermediate footsteps, though, 24 Media has recently taken the big leap into radio — first through its launch of Sport 24 Radio and then, earlier this year, through the launch of news radio station “Radiofono 24/7” in the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra and Volos, with a network of affiliated stations in other parts of Greece.

Maris also expanded into the world of print in a rather peculiar fashion, through his ownership and management of the “populist-right” newspaper Dimokratia. Though, as will be shown below, Maris’ media outlets are staunchly pro-SYRIZA, Dimokratia maintains a populist-right facade while “protecting” SYRIZA and attacking its main parliamentary opposition.

In turn, SYRIZA, which at one time campaigned for social justice, looks the other way while 24 Media has earned a reputation among journalists for not insuring employees and for forcing unpaid overtime.

Aside from his influence over pro-PAOK sports media outlets, Savvidis’ first somewhat clumsy foray into the media landscape came through his participation in last year’s unconstitutional television licensing bid, touted by SYRIZA as a centerpiece in its “fight” against the oligarchs, but in which an artificially low (four) number of nationwide television licenses was auctioned off to the very highest bidders — oligarchs, in other words.

This licensing bid was struck down in late 2016 by Greece’s Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, while Greece’s existing television stations are on the air under a regime of temporary legality.

In this bidding process, Savvidis did not initially emerge as one of the four highest bidders, but after one of the winning bidders was disqualified, Savvidis inherited that license with the fifth-highest bid. Savvidis, however, did not actually own or operate a television station, television studios, or any other similar media property. This detail temporarily became moot when the bidding process for these licenses was overturned.

Savvidis re-emerged into the media forefront in Greece this year, initially through his purchase of 19 percent of the shares of the heavily indebted and struggling Mega Channel, formerly a powerhouse in Greece’s television landscape. Along with this purchase, Savvidis also obtained the Ethnos tabloid newspaper and the Imerisia financial newspaper. This buying spree concluded – for now at least – with the purchase of 100 percent of national television broadcaster Epsilon TV in August.

In turn, management of Savvidis’ new press holdings, Ethnos and Imerisia, was quickly handed over to — who else? — Maris’ 24 Media, a coming full circle of sorts for these two budding oligarchs.

Step four: Use these media outlets as partisan propaganda organs

Savvidis and Maris have more in common than just their management deal regarding the Ethnos and Imerisia newspapers. Both of these oligarchs are unabashedly and fanatically pro-SYRIZA, as evidenced by the political stance maintained by their respective media properties.

This was apparent, for instance, upon the return of Ethnos to newsstands on September 16, following an absence of many months and under the new management of Savvidis and 24 Media.

Ethnos front page on the day of its relaunch - September 16, 2017.

The Ethnos front page on the day of its relaunch, September 16, 2017.

The main front page headline of the relaunched Ethnos boasted, in large letters, of Greece’s “RETURN” to normality and its emergence out of the economic crisis under the stewardship of SYRIZA. This return to normalcy, crowed Ethnos, will be accompanied by foreign investments and by social benefits.

This banner headline was further accompanied by a front page editorial touting Greece’s turn “from fear to hope.” These headlines are, of course, laughable in light of the continued crisis Greece finds itself in and the austerity commitments the SYRIZA-led government has signed up for all the way through to 2060.

Indeed, all the outlets operated by 24 Media are notorious in Greece for their largely pro-SYRIZA tilt. On September 14 — with the SYRIZA-led government basking in the aftermath of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ triumphant State of the Union speech in Thessaloniki and French President Emmanuel Macron’s official visit to Greece — news of a “relatively small” oil spill in the Saronic Gulf, off the Athenian coastline, finally made its way into the news — even though the spill had occurred on September 10 — as the oil from the spill finally began to wash up on Athens’ shores.

For news247.gr, though, this environmental disaster played second-fiddle to an exultant story about the SYRIZA government’s fruitful efforts to bolster relations with Italy and form a “southern European front.” On the front page of the relaunched Ethnos, the oil spill story was buried in the bottom right corner, accompanied by a headline that was a play on a famous Greek proverb insinuating that the uproar over the spill was an overreaction.

The News247.gr front page on the afternoon of September 14, 2017. The story of the oil spill in the Saronic Gulf is downplayed, the headline concerns the SYRIZA-led government’s efforts to bolster relations with Italy and create a “Southern European front.”The News247.gr front page on the afternoon of September 14, 2017. The story of the oil spill in the Saronic Gulf is downplayed, the headline concerns the SYRIZA-led government’s efforts to bolster relations with Italy and create a “Southern European front.”

Such is the traditional modus operandi of media outlets in Greece: aside from exerting pressure upon governments and politicians for economic favors, these outlets are also used to shamelessly promote specific parties and particular political figures. Media outlets that “play ball” with the government of the day accordingly are afforded favors that go beyond lucrative contracts for their owners. For instance, state advertising expenditures traditionally were generously doled out not on the basis of circulation figures and audience size, but based on partisan favoritism. This practice continues today, even if outlays have dropped as a result of the crisis.

Therefore, it should come as no shock that Dimitris Maris is the founder and newly re-elected president of the Union of Online Publishers of Greece. Why is this significant? One of the highly touted initiatives of the current SYRIZA-led government is the formation of a “registry of online media outlets.” Maris, via the aforementioned Union, lobbied hard for the establishment of this registry, the primary purpose of which seems to be none other than establishing a formal structure for the allocation of state advertising monies to the online media. Those online outlets most favorable to the current government (such as 24 Media) stand to benefit the most, at least in the short term. Once again, diaploki comes full circle in Greece.

Step five: Leverage your influence to further expand your business empire

So you’ve gotten past your “entrepreneurial” stage. You’ve entered the sports world and made your presence felt in the media industry. And thanks to all of this, you have the government and key politicians in your pocket. What now? It’s time to put all that sweat and hard work to good use by leveraging your existing holdings and, even more so, your influence over the political system and over public opinion, to fatten up your business empire.

Maris has, for now at least, largely focused on feeding his online gambling operation, stoiximan.gr, which has begun sponsoring sports teams and entire leagues. For instance, stoiximan.gr is this season’s sponsor for Greece’s professional basketball league, one of the top leagues in Europe and home to perennial European powerhouses Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. And once again coming full circle, Maris’ stoiximan.gr is this season’s sponsor for Savvidis’ PAOK football club.

Savvidis, however, is quite the seasoned business figure. He got his start in the tobacco industry of the former Soviet Union – “taking over” a state-owned company that was privatized following the USSR’s collapse. This company then bought out Greek tobacco firm SEKAP, based in the northern Greek city of Xanthi, in 2013. That same year, Savvidis also took over management of the historic Macedonia Palace Hotel, with a prime location on the Thessaloniki waterfront. Earlier this year, Savvidis also took a controlling ownership share in Greek mineral water bottler Souroti. In another confluence of business and sports, Souroti is this season’s sponsor for the Greek soccer league, in which PAOK participates. And as reported by Maris’ sport24.gr, Savvidis launched a private aviation firm, Northern Wings, earlier in 2017.

Perhaps the centerpiece of Savvidis’ recent “investments” in Greece, however, derived from the privatization of the port of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest port. Thessaloniki serves as a strategic gateway to the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, via the port’s road and rail connections to the north and the coast-to-coast Egnatia motorway linking Italy (via a ferry terminal) with Turkey.

The sell-off of Thessaloniki’s port is part of a package of privatizations imposed by Greece’s lenders in the “troika”—consisting of the European Commission, European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—as part of their so-called “bailout” packages for Greece. These privatizations are faithfully being implemented by the SYRIZA-led government, which prior to its election had campaigned against the selling off of publicly-owned assets, infrastructure, services, and utilities.

And who purchased the port of Thessaloniki? You can probably see where this is going. The port’s new owner is aconsortium consisting of the German private-equity firm Deutsche Invest Equity Partners, Terminal Link of France, and Belterra Investments, owned by none other than … Ivan Savvidis. In other words, Savvidis, openly a SYRIZA supporter, is one of the main buyers of a critical piece of national infrastructure being privatized by the SYRIZA-led government at the behest of its European and international lenders – despite pre-election promises to abolish such privatizations!

Put differently, it pays to cozy up to the government in charge — which will ensure that leveraging the assets you’ve worked so hard as an oligarch to attain pays dividends, in more ways than one. “Radical leftist” rhetoric is merely for the consumption of the gullible voting public. Privatizations (now euphemistically referred to as “investments”) and business deals are for the big boys in suits (with or without ties).

Step six: Cultivate a public image

Now that you, as a full-fledged Greek oligarch, have established firm footing in the business world, it’s time to cultivate that public image. Ownership of a sports team and control over major media outlets is no longer enough. Positive public relations and a sterling public image are absolute necessities at this point to keep the whole operation running smoothly.

In building his profile, Savvidis has sought to tug at the hearts and emotions of the community of Pontic Greeks, whose roots hail from the Black Sea region. Among his other positions, Savvidis is president of the Federation of Greek Communities of Russia, president of the Association of Greeks of Russia, coordinator of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad of the Former Soviet Union, deeply involved with the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, and a regular visitorto the autonomous Orthodox monastic community of Agion Oros.

For his apparent contributions to the cause of the Pontic Greeks, a community that faced genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks between 1914 and 1922, Savvidis was named grand marshal of New York City’s Greek Independence Day Parade in March 2017. More significantly, while Savvidis is no longer a member of the Russian parliament, since 2012 he has been a member of Presidential Council on International Relations of the Russian Federation. A promotion, one could say, for his exemplary work. It doesn’t hurt that Vladimir Putin had long been eyeing investments for Russian firms in Greece.

Maris, like Savvidis, has also looked outward. For instance, Maris and 24 Media have sought to foster “synergies” with the Hellenic Initiative, a Greek-American organization based in New York City, one of many non-profits that developed, around the time the economic crisis began in Greece, to “assist” in Greece’s “recovery.”

Former president Bill Clinton spoke at the Hellenic Initiative’s October 2013 banquet, while Maris and other executives and journalists from 24 Media and its outlets spoke at the 2017 Delphi Economic Forum, a mind-numbing conclave with a speaker list reading like a globalist Who’s Who. Included were the Hellenic Initiative’s executive director, Mark Arey, as well as countless politicians, journalists, academics, business figures and representatives of establishment “think tanks,” every last one of which could accurately be described as pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity — in a word: neoliberal.

To be more specific, what kind of crowd can you mingle with once you’ve made your way up the stepladder and established yourself as a bona fide Greek oligarch? A review of the Delphi speaker list reveals the many possibilities. These include:

  • High-ranking members of the current SYRIZA-led government that once claimed to be “anti-establishment.”
  • Politicians from former Greek governments who were largely responsible for laying the foundations for the present-day economic crisis (and some of whom have gone on to lofty posts in the EU or international NGOs).
  • Politicians from almost every “opposition” party represented in the Greek Parliament — all of whom though, notwithstanding their “opposition,” maintain the same pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity stance.
  • Academics and representatives of various think tanks, whose body of work also belies a definite pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity stance.
  • Representatives from such institutions as NATO, the World Bank, the European Central Bank, the Trilateral Commission, and Stratfor.
  • Executives from state-owned utilities, which are purportedly fiercely resisting privatization but mingling with those who wish to privatize.
  • Scandal-ridden current and former members of Greece’s regulatory body for broadcasters, as well as the government ministers overseeing this “independent” body.
  • EU favorites such as the former non-elected prime minister of Greece, Lucas Papademos, and the former non-elected prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti; central bankers from various countries; and representatives from various well-connected NGOs.

And, last but not least, establishment journalists at media outlets that (surprise!) are also pro-austerity, pro-euro and pro-EU in their entirety. This impounds a full slate of journalists and executives from 24 Media, including a former government minister with the “center-left” Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), Petros Efthimiou, who is now acting as executive adviser for 24 Media.

Many of these same speakers were also present at the 2017 Thessaloniki Forum. Also present? Ivan Savvidis. Who else? Representatives of, you guessed it, 24 Media! In turn, Maris attended the Northern Lights Summit in Finland (covered hereby the Greek edition of the Huffington Post) earlier this year, a conclave with a stated agenda of “saving open societies and free markets” and featuring a full slate of current and past politicians, central bankers, prominent journalists, and corporate CEOs.

As is painfully (or pleasantly, depending on your point of view) evident, membership in the club of Greek oligarchs has many perks and benefits!

Step seven: Hold down the fort

You’ve made it. You’re mingling with politicians, foreign ambassadors, representatives of the EU and World Bank and NATO, and prominent journalists who gladly will do your bidding. What’s next for a Greek oligarch?

Toe the line. Hold down the fort. Don’t make waves. And make sure to strike the perfect balance between keeping the government of the day in check, and being favorable and even deferential towards it when necessary.

One way to accomplish this is to bring them on board with you, as with the previously noted example of Petros Efthimiou, formerly of PASOK (as is much of SYRIZA’s cabinet). Laudatory headlines, as seen in the aforementioned examples of Ethnos and news247.gr, are sure to score some brownie points as well.

Another way to accomplish this is through fluff interviews and profile pieces where no difficult or remotely controversial questions are posed, as seen in this recent example where Greece’s general secretary of press and communication, Lefteris Kretsos, batted softball questions, about the government’s renewed efforts to move ahead with the auctioning of television and radio licenses, out of the park. The interview, broadcast on the Maris-owned radio station Radiofono 24/7 — itself operating in violation of Greek law (unjust as it is) prohibiting news programming on a registered non-news station — was hosted by Kostas Arvanitis, formerly general manager of the SYRIZA-owned radio station Sto Kokkino.

As seen before with the issue of 24 Media’s uninsured workers and questionable labor practices, obeying the law is optional once you’ve reached this stage. It should further be noted that Radiofono 24/7’s sister station in Thessaloniki, also classified as a non-news station, went on the air on an FM frequency previously owned by SYRIZA.

On the flip side, as a self-respecting oligarch with a media empire at your disposal, you won’t waste all your airtime, column inches, or pixels only on promoting favorable governments and politicians. You now have in your hands a virtually unlimited opportunity for unchecked self-promotion without any worries about criticism or formalities such as objectivity.

Looking for a media outlet to write up a profile of yourself describing you as a “game changer” in the media sector? Look no further than your very own media outlets. Need to promote your football team’s superstar? Simply prominently emblazon the interview on the front page of your own newspaper, Ethnos. True, this is an unusual move for an Athens-based paper, as PAOK’s fan base is largely in Thessaloniki and northern Greece — and in constant rivalry with the “Athens-centric” establishment — but who cares? You’re the boss!

Need to promote your newly-purchased newspaper, as in the case of Ethnos? Look no further than a friend and partner, as seen in this sport24.gr write-up for the aforementioned Ethnos interview. After all, what are friends and business partners for?

There you have it, easy as pie. Just follow these seven simple steps and you, too, can become a Greek oligarch!

Oct 072017
 

By greydogg, 99GetSmart

barcelona1

What follows is my response to a friend, who asked for my take on the situation in Barcelona:

As I have been living here for 5 years, the subject of independence has come up several times, especially this year. The first question I ask is, for or against? The second question is, in the EU or out of the EU? Lastly, I ask why they are for or against independence. Every person I have asked who wants independence also wants to remain in the EU, which makes no sense to me. It seems the only solid reason they want independence from Spain is financial. Personally, I don’t consider ‘dignity’ a solid reason. It’s just a slogan. On the other hand, most of the people we’ve spoken to are against independence.

The big problems I have with the alleged 90% in favor of independence as per the referendum on Sunday is that the government initially said it would take 3 days to hand count the ballots, yet they came out with the 90% figure on the same day of the referendum. How were they able to count over 2 million votes on the same day? It’s a bit suspicious. Also, only 40% of Catalans voted, which doesn’t constitute a 90% mandate to declare anything. I read that a great majority of ‘no’ voters abstained because they didn’t want to participate in a referendum they viewed as illegal and didn’t want to give it legitimacy by voting. Therefore, the results did not express the will of all of the people. Normally, I would say that, by not voting, you give up your voice, but in this case, it was a difficult choice because of the legal issues.

That said, I was very angry at Madrid for sending 16,000 rioting police to BCN to “stop a rebellion”. Rajoy was very disingenuous by that remark. I can’t think of a better way to start a rebellion than by putting 16,000 boots on the ground. -_-

The police were brutal on Sunday and it was disgusting to see the way they treated peaceful people. I saw the elderly, women and children with huge gashes on their heads and blood all over their faces from getting cracked with batons. In this case, Madrid lost the war of public opinion. It was a stupid and thuggish move. They had the EU and the law on their side and should have just let the Catalans vote and pursued legal means to stop them from actually going through with the process of seceding from Spain.

Even though I don’t have a dog in this fight, I am against independence for several reasons. First of all, I suspect this is a top down movement instead of a bottom up movement. I say this because I have yet to hear a good reason why Catalans want independence. They already have autonomy, so what would change? In my opinion, ordinary people have nothing to gain from independence and everything to lose. Going through with the referendum may cost them autonomy. The only people who will benefit are the corrupt government officials, who would gain more power and be able to steal freely from the public trough without having to share with Madrid. The Catalan government had the obligation and responsibility to present, to the people, what independence would entail, rather than to incite people with empty slogans like, “independence = dignity”. The Catalan government did not do this and Catalans didn’t ask, which is unfortunately common – that the public does not engage in critical thinking.

Being an independent nation means that Catalonia would have to apply to be in the EU – it would not be automatic and the EU has sided with Madrid regarding the legality of the referendum. Also, as an independent nation, Catalonia would need to open and staff embassies in every country – costing them billions. And, as much as I am anti-war, they would need a military – another couple of billion PLUS, there would have to be compulsory military service. That trashes the financial argument since those costs would not be even be close to the money they would save by not having to pay Madrid. To me, independence means financial crisis and soon, an IMF loan = disaster. As we have seen multiple times, IMF loans and austerity don’t affect politicians who somehow magically manage become millionaires on a 100k annual salary. It will only devastate the public.

I am increasing angry at the Catalan government, who irresponsibly put their own people at risk on Sunday (and in the future), for something that only benefits the politicians. And I’m a bit angry at Catalans for trusting their government, without question. How can anyone today have trust in government? If you are paying attention, it’s clear that every single government is corrupt and does not represent the People.

As it stands now, the military is stationed outside of Barcelona. I expect they will ‘occupy’ Barcelona next week, to prevent the parliament from meeting and declaring independence. I think that they will arrest the politicians responsible for the referendum and they will be prosecuted for sedition – a 20 year prison sentence. What will ensue, who knows? I’m thinking the Catalans will lose their autonomy and there won’t be much they can do about it except for general strikes and protests (which doesn’t work anymore). This will hurt our economy. Already, tourism is down and companies are fleeing. Many people are going to lose their jobs.

I don’t know how long the military will occupy Barcelona. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I think it will. Madrid holds all of the cards. There are a lot of punitive actions they can take and judging from their actions on Sunday, Madrid will not be kind to Catalonia.

What do you think?

Oct 052017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

where-billionaires-come-from-cartoon

America has the greatest inequalities, highest mortality rate, most regressive taxes, and largest public subsidies for bankers and billionaires of any developed capitalist country.

In this essay we will discuss the socio-economic roots of inequalities and the relation between the concentration of wealth and the downward mobility of the working and salaried classes.

How the Billionaires become Billionaires

One of the most likely sources of billionaire wealth is through tax evasion in all of its guises and forms.

Contrary to the propaganda pushed by the business press, between 67% and 72% percent of corporations had zero tax liabilities after credits and exemptions … while their workers and employees paid between 25 – 30% in taxes. The rate for the minority of corporations, which paid any tax, was 14%.

According to the US Internal Revenue Service, billionaire tax evasion amounts to $458 billion dollars in lost public revenues every year – almost a trillion dollars every two years by this conservative estimate.

The largest US corporations sheltered over $2.5 trillion dollars in overseas tax havens where they paid no taxes or single digit tax rates.

Meanwhile US corporations in crisis received over $14.4 trillion dollars (Bloomberg claimed 12.8 trillion) in public bailout money, split between the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve, mostly from US tax payers, who are overwhelmingly workers, employees and pensioners.

The recipient bankers invested their interest-free or low interest US bailout funds and earned billions in profits, most resulting from mortgage foreclosures of working class households.

Through favorable legal rulings and illegal foreclosures, the bankers evicted 9.3 million families. Over 20 million individuals lost their properties, often due to illegal or fraudulent debts.

A small number of the financial swindlers, including executives from Wall Street’s leading banks (Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan etc), paid fines – but no one went to prison for the gargantuan fraud that drove millions of Americans into misery.

There are other swindler bankers, like the current Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin, who enriched themselves by illegally foreclosing on thousands of homeowners in California. Some were tried; all were exonerated, thanks to the influence of Democratic political leaders during the Obama years.

Silicon Valley and its innovative billionaires have found novel way to avoid taxes using overseas tax havens and domestic tax write-offs. They increase their wealth and corporate profits by paying their local manual and service workers poverty level wages. Silicon Valley executives ‘earn’ a thousand times more than their production workers..

Class inequalities are further reinforced by ethnic divisions. White, Chinese and Indian multi-millionaires exploit Afro-American, Latin American, Vietnamese and Filipino workers.

Billionaires in the commercial conglomerates, like Walmart, exploit workers by paying poverty wages and providing few, if any, benefits. Walmart earns $16 billion dollar a year in profits by paying its workers between $10 and $13 an hour and relying on state and federal assistance to provide services to the families of its impoverished workers through Medicaid and food stamps. Amazon plutocrat Jeff Bezos exploits workers by paying $12.50 an hour while he has accumulated over $80 billion dollars in profits. UPS CEO David Albany takes $11 million a year by exploiting workers at $11 an hour. Federal Express CEO, Fred Smith gets $16 million and pays workers $11 an hour.

Inequality is not a result of ‘technology’ and ‘education’-  contemporary euphemisms for the ruling class cult of superiority – as liberals and conservative economists and journalists like to claim. Inequalities are a result of low wages, based on big profits, financial swindles, multi-trillion dollar public handouts and multi-billion-dollar tax evasion. The ruling class has mastered the ‘technology’ of exploiting the state, through its pillage of the treasury, and the working class. Capitalist exploitation of low paid production workers provides additional billions for the ‘philanthropic’ billionaire family foundations to polish their public image – using another tax avoidance gimmick – self-glorifying ‘donations’.

Workers pay disproportional taxes for education, health, social and public services and subsidies for billionaires.

Billionaires in the arms industry and security/mercenary conglomerates receive over $700 billion dollars from the federal budget, while over 100 million US workers lack adequate health care and their children are warehoused in deteriorating schools.

Workers and Bosses: Mortality Rates

Billionaires and multi-millionaires and their families enjoy longer and healthier lives than their workers. They have no need for health insurance policies or public hospitals. CEO’s live on average ten years longer than a worker and enjoy twenty years more of healthy and pain-free lives.

Private, exclusive clinics and top medical care include the most advanced treatment and safe and proven medication which allow billionaires and their family members to live longer and healthier lives. The quality of their medical care and the qualifications of their medical providers present a stark contrast to the health care apartheid that characterizes the rest of the United States.

Workers are treated and mistreated by the health system: They have inadequate and often incompetent medical treatment, cursory examinations by inexperienced medical assistants and end up victims of the widespread over-prescription of highly addictive narcotics and other medications. Over-prescription of narcotics by incompetent ‘providers’ has significantly contributed to the rise in premature deaths among workers, spiraling cases of opiate overdose, disability due to addiction and descent into poverty and homelessness. These irresponsible practices have made additional billions of dollars in profits for the insurance corporate elite, who can cut their pensions and health care liabilities as injured, disabled and addicted workers drop out of the system or die.

The shortened life expectancy for workers and their family members is celebrated on Wall Street and in the financial press. Over 560,000 workers were killed by opioids between 1999-2015 contributing to the decline in life expectancy for working age wage and salary earners and reduced pension liabilities for Wall Street and the Social Security Administration.

Inequalities are cumulative, inter-generational and multi-sectorial.

Billionaire families, their children and grandchildren, inherit and invest billions. They have privileged access to the most prestigious schools and medical facilities, and conveniently fall in love with equally privileged, well-connected mates to join their fortunes and form even greater financial empires. Their wealth buys favorable, even fawning, mass media coverage and the services of the most influential lawyers and accountants to cover their swindles and tax evasion.

Billionaires hire innovators and sweat shop MBA managers to devise more ways to slash wages, increase productivity and ensure that inequalities widen even further. Billionaires do not have to be the brightest or most innovative people: Such individuals can simply be bought or imported on the ‘free market’ and discarded at will.

Billionaires have bought out or formed joint ventures with each other, creating interlocking directorates. Banks, IT, factories, warehouses, food and appliance, pharmaceuticals and hospitals are linked directly to political elites who slither through doors of rotating appointments within the IMF, the World Bank, Treasury, Wall Street banks and prestigious law firms.

Consequences of Inequalities

First and foremost, billionaires and their political, legal and corporate associates dominate the political parties. They designate the leaders and key appointees, thus ensuring that budgets and policies will increase their profits, erode social benefits for the masses and weaken the political power of popular organizations.

Secondly, the burden of the economic crisis is shifted on to the workers who are fired and later re-hired as part-time, contingent labor. Public bailouts, provided by the taxpayer, are channeled to the billionaires under the doctrine that Wall Street banks are too big to fail and workers are too weak to defend their wages, jobs and living standards.

Billionaires buy political elites, who appoint the World Bank and IMF officials tasked with instituting policies to freeze or reduce wages, slash corporate and public health care obligations and increase profits by privatizing public enterprises and facilitating corporate relocation to low wage, low tax countries.

As a result, wage and salary workers are less organized and less influential; they work longer and for less pay, suffer greater workplace insecurity and injuries – physical and mental – fall into decline and disability, drop out of the system, die earlier and poorer, and, in the process, provide unimaginable profits for the billionaire class. Even their addiction and deaths provide opportunities for huge profit – as the Sackler Family, manufacturers of Oxycontin, can attest.

The billionaires and their political acolytes argue that deeper regressive taxation would increase investments and jobs. The data speaks otherwise. The bulk of repatriated profits are directed to buy back stock to increase dividends for investors; they are not invested in the productive economy. Lower taxes and greater profits for conglomerates means more buy-outs and greater outflows to low wage countries. In real terms taxes are already less than half the headline rate and are a major factor heightening the concentration of income and power – both cause and effect.

Corporate elites, the billionaires in the Silicon Valley-Wall Street global complex are relatively satisfied that their cherished inequalities are guaranteed and expanding under the Demo-Republican Presidents- as the ‘good times’ roll on.

Away from the ‘billionaire elite’, the ‘outsiders’ – domestic capitalists – clamor for greater public investment in infrastructure to expand the domestic economy, lower taxes to increase profits, and state subsidies to increase the training of the labor force while reducing funds for health care and public education. They are oblivious to the contradiction.

In other words, the capitalist class as a whole, globalist and domestic alike, pursues the same regressive policies, promoting inequalities while struggling over shares of the profits.

One hundred and fifty million wage and salaried taxpayers are excluded from the political and social decisions that directly affect their income, employment, rates of taxation, and political representation.

They understand, or at least experience, how the class system works. Most workers know about the injustice of the fake ‘free trade’ agreements and regressive tax regime, which weighs heavy on the majority of wage and salary earners.

However, worker hostility and despair is directed against ‘immigrants’ and against the ‘liberals’ who have backed the import of cheap skilled and semi-skilled labor under the guise of ‘freedom’. This ‘politically correct’ image of imported labor covers up a policy, which has served to lower wages, benefits and living standards for American workers, whether they are in technology, construction or production. Rich conservatives, on the other hand, oppose immigration under the guise of ‘law and order’ and to lower social expenditures – despite that fact that they all use imported nannies, tutors, nurses, doctors and gardeners to service their families. Their servants can always be deported when convenient.

The pro and anti-immigrant issue avoids the root cause for the economic exploitation and social degradation of the working class – the billionaire owners operating in alliance with the political elite.

In order to reverse the regressive tax practices and tax evasion, the low wage cycle and the spiraling death rates resulting from narcotics and other preventable causes, which profit insurance companies and pharmaceutical billionaires, class alliances need to be forged linking workers, consumers, pensioners, students, the disabled, the foreclosed homeowners, evicted tenants, debtors, the under-employed and immigrants as a unified political force.

Sooner said than done, but never tried!  Everything and everyone is at stake: life, health and happiness.

Oct 042017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the Bank of Greece has recommended that banks remain closed and restrictions be imposed on transactions, after the European Central Bank didn't increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders can access from the central bank. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

Members of left wing parties shout slogans behind a burning European Union flag during an anti-EU protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, June 28, 2015. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says the Bank of Greece has recommended that banks remain closed and restrictions be imposed on transactions, after the European Central Bank didn’t increase the amount of emergency liquidity the lenders can access from the central bank. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

ATHENS, GREECE — In the second and previous installment of this series, which generated a great deal of consternation — reflecting the inferiority complex and pro-EU dogmatism prevalent in much of Greek society — the grim future Greece would face by opting to retain its protectorate status with the EU and eurozone was examined. It was shown to be a future of essentially perpetual austerity and almost no upside prospects. An array of good reasons for considering the Grexit alternative — departing those trans-national power centers and restoring a measure of cultural and currency independence — were presented.

Rumor still has it, however, that there is no practical pathway to that end, even if the end itself were conceded to be desirable. It is widely claimed that no one has ever presented an articulate departure plan.

The reality, however, could not be farther from that canard. The fact is that multiple economists, scholars, and analysts have presented a variety of plans regarding how Greece or other eurozone member states could leave the common currency bloc, or how a European Union member-state could depart from the EU entirely.

Existing plans for departure

A pedestrian passes anti-austerity graffiti in front of Athens Academy. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A pedestrian passes anti-austerity graffiti in front of Athens Academy. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Proposal “A”: Perhaps the most well-known of these EU/eurozone departure plans has been presented by British economist Roger Bootle, of Capital Economics in London. The plan developed by Bootle and his team, titled “Leaving the euro: A practical guide,” was awarded the 2012 Wolfson Prize in Economics, the second most prestigious prize in that field.

Bootle’s plan calls for preparations for a eurozone exit to be undertaken initially in secret and to be implemented swiftly. Debt would be redenominated into the new currency and would fall under the jurisdiction of domestic law. All bank deposits and loans would also be redenominated into the new currency.

Capital controls would be imposed to prevent capital flight resulting from a possible initial panic or bank run. The transition period until the new currency circulates would be mitigated by allowing continued use of the euro and by promoting non-cash transactions. Devaluations of the new currency would occur and a moratorium on government debt service be imposed under this plan, which would also include a potential for a haircut of the public debt and debt relief for private firms with substantial foreign exposure. The option of bank nationalization would be on the table if necessary. Bootle also makes recommendations for how the ECB and the EU can, in turn, manage the departure of a eurozone member.

Bootle’s plan is essentially what has been put forth by CNBC economist John Carney, who points out something seemingly obvious, yet apparently lost on Greek and EU politicians as well as eurozone supporters: that there is no realistic way to get around austerity within the eurozone. Similarly, bestselling author Greg Palast, trained as an economist, has described SYRIZA’s idea of ending austerity within the eurozone as “fantasy.”

Proposal “B”: Economist Warren Mosler, a known proponent of modern monetary theory (MMT), describes larger deficits as a solution for the economic depression in Greece. It follows that if the EU is unwilling to relax its deficit rules—a refusal that seems a virtual certainty in light of the agreement between Greece and the EU for the maintenance of budget surpluses through 2060—then exiting is Greece’s best, next, and only option.

Mosler’s plan calls for the introduction of the new currency via taxing and spending, meaning that taxes would be levied in the new currency and spending would occur in the new currency as well, including payment of public-sector salaries. The denomination of the new currency would follow that of the euro: i.e., one euro would become one drachma.

Initially though, the currency would exist only in electronic form. Euro notes and coins would remain in circulation. However, a process Mosler describes as a “short squeeze” would follow: with tax obligations due in the new currency and accepted only in the new currency, individuals and businesses will have to sell euro notes to purchase the new currency.

This will actually place upward pressure on the new currency, alleviating fears of a devaluation and the loss of value of deposits. Gradually, this process will lead to the withdrawal of euros from circulation. The supply of euros would essentially become a foreign reserve currency for the country, while the new domestic currency would gradually make its way into circulation.

Notably, even Yanis Varoufakis, famous for his opposition to Grexit or the abolition of the eurozone, presents essentially this very plan for leaving the euro, essentially as a “last resort” for fleeing “a sinking ship.” It is therefore interesting that Varoufakis refused to consider raising the prospect of “Grexit,” even as a “Plan B,” in his negotiations with the troika during his tenure as Greece’s finance minister. Instead, he agreed to continue 100 percent of the previous austerity agreements before putting on a final show of “defiance.”

Proposal “C”: An academic paper written by Yiannis Athanasiadis of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam puts forth yet another course of action for departing from the eurozone. This plan analyzes the breakup of several currency unions, including the cases of the problematic breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the somewhat more optimistic examples of the breakup of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. It also highlights the examples of Iceland and Argentina as being more similar to the Greek case—and points to the more propitious outcome experienced by those countries as a further reason for optimism.

In his proposal, Athanasiadis calls for the suspension of debt payments, along with an audit of the debt and outstanding liabilities; introducing the new currency at a 1:1 conversion rate (meaning no devaluation); and introducing capital controls to prevent capital outflows.

Proposal “D”: A team of Finnish economists and mathematicians has also put forth a plan for eurozone departure. They highlight the many challenges that would face a country seeking to depart from the common-currency bloc–problems that nevertheless are not deemed to be insurmountable. The need for secrecy before the transition is also emphasized, as well as the necessity for maintaining a functioning system of payments. They also leave open the possibility of the devaluation of the new currency and the potential conversion of loans to the new currency.

Proposal “E”: Greek economist Spiros Lavdiotis, a former analyst with the Central Bank of Canada, recently presented his own departure plan. He highlights a six-month transition period during which a country like Greece would remain in the eurozone while negotiations are held with EU officials and creditors. He points out that putting the very real threat of an exit on the table would encourage creditors and EU officials to negotiate a deal beneficial for both sides in order to prevent an uncontrolled exit.

During this initial period, a stoppage of payments on debt and interest would be imposed. The money saved during this period would be utilized to finance an initial growth plan for the economy post-exit. The new currency would be ready to circulate after a few months, and a law would be implemented making it the exclusive legal tender. The exchange rate would remain at a 1:1 parity between the euro and the new currency. Loans would be redenominated but deposits would remain in euros while withdrawals would be in the new currency. Exiting the eurozone would also be accompanied by a departure from the EU.

Proposal “F”: Another Greek economist, Dimitris Karousos, has presented a blueprint for departing the eurozone. This twelve-step plan includes the immediate declaration of a stoppage of payments; disputing the legality of the public debt; canceling all existing memoranda and austerity agreements, and repealing associated legislation; and nationalization of the central bank and liquidation of existing commercial banks.

Imposition of capital controls would follow, as well as the development of a payment system to allow transactions to take place until the new currency is in circulation; maintaining some level of price controls to prevent gouging and abuse; restoring wages and pensions to pre-crisis levels; and debt forgiveness for households and small- and medium-sized businesses, mirroring debt forgiveness that actually was implemented in Iceland. This plan would also entail a departure from the EU.

Proposal “G”: Finally, in the United Kingdom, the Leave Alliance presented its blueprint for departure from the EU in the absence of any such plan from the country’s political parties. This plan identifies six phases of departure, covering such ground as trade negotiations, regularization of immigration policy and controls, breaking with Brussels-centric trade regimes, developing wider global relations, and implementing some degree of direct democracy for future decision-making.

What should be evident and obvious from this analysis of a small sample of the proposals that have been put forth is that, contrary to a common anti-exit argument that no one has actually developed a plan for how such a transition can take place, many such plans exist and have been developed by credible economists, based on reasonable economic assumptions as well as historical precedent and experience.

How to depart: some further thoughts and considerations

A tourist makes his way as youths make a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Eurobank Bank branch in Athens, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. The European Central Bank says Greece's battered banks need 14.4 billion euros ($15.8 billion) in fresh money to get back on their feet and resume normal business. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

A tourist makes his way as youths make a transaction at an automated teller machine (ATM) of a Eurobank Bank branch in Athens, Greece. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

In order to better understand the intricacies surrounding a departure from the eurozone in particular, certain additional issues require examination. This analysis will demonstrate that a departure from the common currency is indeed feasible based on current conditions while introducing some additional thoughts and proposals to the discussion.

Foreign reserve assets: As mentioned in Part Two of this series, in the pre-euro days, European countries with weaker economies, including Greece, paid for imports of vital goods such as oil and medicine with foreign currency reserves. This is also how other countries without a “hard” currency import goods today.

It, therefore, should be noted that, according to official data from the Bank of Greece, the country’s reserve assets total 6.378 billion euros, including 1.731 billion euros in foreign exchange. However, to this figure we can add the outstanding loans of Greek banks to external borrowers (approximately 27.4 billion euros as of 2015); the long-term bond portfolio of the Greek banking system, exceeding 55 billion euros; and the foreign stocks and securities held by the Greek banking system, exceeding 9 billion euros as of 2015.

Furthermore, the total circulation of euro banknotes in Greece (an estimated 27.4 billion euros in 2015) would essentially be converted to foreign exchange, as these notes cannot be canceled. In all, this creates a supply of foreign reserve assets that, according to Karousos, can cover Greece’s needs for the next five years, even if no further foreign reserves were to enter the system.

Balance of payments and trade: As pointed out by both Lavdiotis and Karousos, Greece continues to maintain a trade deficit, totaling approximately 15 billion euros. However, the difference is covered by services, specifically shipping and tourism, which generate foreign reserve and income for Greece. In short, Greece has achieved a balance of payments and services.

What this means is that Greece will continue to be in a position to import necessary goods and services during and after a transition to a domestic currency.

To float or not to float: One of the fears that is often expressed regarding a eurozone exit is a potentially catastrophic or uncontrolled currency devaluation that may follow–though this presumes that the new currency will be floated on the international markets.

Flotation, however, is not a necessity, and an excellent example exists: China. Between the late 1940s and the late 1970s, with a gradual rollback that spanned until relatively recently, China maintained its currency at an artificially overvalued level instead of allowing it to be freely floated in the global markets.

What this did was allow China to import technology relatively inexpensively with a strong currency–using this technology to promote the country’s domestic industrial base and to promote domestic consumption at the expense of exports. Once China’s industrial machine was ready to take the next step, this import-substitution model began to be carefully rolled back, opening up Chinese products to the world and eventually anchoring China as a global export powerhouse.

Conversely, in adherence with the aforementioned proposal put forth by Mosler, it would be possible to allow the new currency to float on the international markets. The domestic “short squeeze” would then be likely to counterbalance any downward, speculatory pressures on the new currency from the international markets. Furthermore, Greece could threaten to redenominate its debt into euros. This could act as a check against devaluatory pressures on the new currency, as the debt would, in turn, be devalued.

To devalue or not to devalue, to peg or not to peg: There are pros and cons to both options that bear examination.

One option is to maintain a peg with another currency, such as the euro or the U.S. dollar. There are actually two separate issues here: the initial conversion rate of the euro to the new currency, and a possible peg of the new currency to another currency, whether the euro or something else.

Here I will argue that setting the initial rate of exchange between the old and new currency is simply a conversion–essentially an arbitrary arithmetic choice without objective (i.e., non-psychological) monetary implications. Therefore, it actually should not matter whether the conversion rate is, say, one euro to one drachma, or one euro to one hundred drachmas. Either denomination would still be equal to the initial one euro. This relates to an old economic idea, that of money illusion, coined in the early 20th century by economist Irving Fisher, who pointed out the tendency to confuse the nominal value of currency with its real value.

Here, I will posit that large denominations, such as those that Greece and Italy had pre-euro with the drachma and lira, actually are beneficial to weaker economies, as they serve as a check of sorts upon inflation. It’s much easier, for instance, to raise a price from, say, one euro to 1.50 euros (a 50 percent increase) than to, for instance, raise a price from 10,000 drachmas to 15,000 drachmas (an equivalent percent increase). The psychology of money should never be downplayed and, psychologically, a hypothetical 5,000 drachma increase has a greater impact than a seemingly minor 50 cent increase. So, following this view, the drachma could be redenominated back at the original exchange rate of 340.75 drachmas to one euro.

This line of thinking is similar to the ideas proposed by professors Priya Raghubir and Joydeep Srivastava. Their 2009 paper titled “Denomination Effect” found that people are less likely to spend larger units of currency than their equivalent amount in smaller units; while their 2002 paper titled “Effect of Face Value on Product Valuation in Foreign Currencies” found that tourists underspent when the face value of foreign currency was a multiple of the equivalent amount in their home currency, and vice versa. This rule, of course, is applicable not just to tourists: psychologically, one is less likely to spend, say, 1000 drachmas than the equivalent amount of less than 3 euros.

These rules of economic behavior were evident in Greece and some other countries immediately after the transition to the euro. Amounts that previously seemed significant, such as 500 or 1000 drachmas (denominations represented by banknotes), were the equivalent of loose change with the euro, with amounts up to 2 euros minted as coins. Furthermore, businesses across the economic spectrum took advantage of this psychological effect to round up prices while seemingly still keeping them low. For instance, a 100 drachma (0.29 euro) bottle of water was “rounded up” to 1.00 euros (340.75 drachmas). Inevitably, purchasing power diminished almost overnight.

A post-conversion peg can take place independent of the currency conversion rate. Here though, it is important to consider that a peg will tie the new currency to the fiscal policy being implemented for the foreign currency to which it is pegged. This was the case in Argentina, which led to the country’s economic collapse in 1999.

Pegging the new currency to, say, the euro, might have negative consequences: the euro itself might begin a downward spiral in the markets if one or more of its members depart. On the other hand, a peg could allow a country like Greece to essentially do what China did: maintain an artificial value of the currency for a period of time until the initial difficulties of the transition to a new economy have been surmounted.

Capital controls: In Greece, capital controls have been in place since June 2015, just prior to the July 2015 referendum. These restrictions have essentially limited withdrawals to an average of 60 euros per day–having changed during this period from a daily withdrawal limit, to weekly, to biweekly, to monthly, without significantly changing the bottom line rate.

The truth is that these capital controls have posed tremendous difficulties to Greek businesses in particular. However, in a post-transition period they might be a necessary evil until economic jitters have been overcome. If this is the case, what will be imperative is for a clear and reasonable capital control plan to be developed and to be communicated to the public, free of the uncertainty that exists with the current controls that are in effect in Greece, and with a clear forecast of when they will be loosened and/or eliminated.

Taxes: In a country like Greece, and with the economy in the condition its in, less is more when it comes to taxation. Greece’s sky-high tax rates have stifled consumer spending and have placed a chokehold on small- and mid-sized businesses, freelancers, and independent contractors. They have imposed a great burden on households and, ironically, they have encouraged the practice of which Greeks are stereotypically accused: tax evasion. For many in Greece today, it’s a simple choice between paying taxes or paying for bare necessities in order to survive.

Post-transition, a new tax regime must be ready to be enforced. One that is simple and easy to understand and fair to citizens and households, the self-employed, and to the small- and medium-sized businesses that have been a cornerstone of the Greek economy for decades.

Stability is key: in Greece, tax laws invariably change every year or even every few months, and retroactive taxation is often imposed! This makes it practically impossible for households and businesses alike to plan ahead or to make investments.

Furthermore, the Greek tax system unfairly presumes a certain level of income simply by virtue of owning a house or property (which may have been inherited), or owning a car or some other valuable asset—even if one is currently unemployed. This blatantly unfair practice must immediately be eliminated.

The value-added tax on goods–particularly vital necessities such as food, clothing, medicine, and heating oil–must also be abolished. Incentives could also be offered to lure back emigrants and businesses that have fled the country during the crisis.

Privatizations: The vast majority—perhaps all—of the privatizations that have taken place in Greece, particularly during the crisis, have been on blatantly unfair, vulture-like terms that have been completely unfavorable for the Greek state. Furthermore, many of the assets that were sold off, such as regional airports or the national lottery, were profitable—meaning that they provided income to public coffers each and every year. Many of these assets, such as airports and harbors, are also of high strategic importance.

Greece should, therefore, consider following the example of many other countries by re-nationalizing assets of vital national importance and assets that were profitable for the public sector. Other privatizations for non-vital and underutilized assets can and should be audited and reviewed–and canceled if need be. These assets can then be retained by the state as part of a public redevelopment plan, or tendered again at terms more favorable to the state, perhaps even as a long-term lease instead of an outright sale.

Red tape and bureaucracy: No matter what currency you use, your economy will be stymied if it is drowned in red tape and bureaucracy. Traditionally in Greece, this endless bureaucracy has been employed as a weapon to curtail any entrepreneurial initiative, such as the many attempts to develop an automotive industry in Greece.

Simply starting a business or forming a corporation in Greece can take months or years. In turn, the judicial system is, to put it mildly, slow as molasses. Simple “open and shut” legal cases are not “open and shut” in Greece, and almost invariably last a decade or more. This is not an environment within which businesses—particularly small businesses—or entrepreneurs can operate in an optimal fashion.

In other words, a change of currency is not enough. A change in public policy is also in order.

Legal changes: European Union membership meant that domestic law had to be “harmonized” with EU law. In order for an exit from the eurozone and the EU to be a true exit, these laws must be repealed.

But what about human rights? That’s a question that is often hysterically asked in Britain regarding Brexit. This is based on the silly assumption that human rights cannot exist without a supranational guarantor such as the EU. It also presupposes that the EU itself protects human rights. As has been determined by the UN and other bodies, this has not been the case in crisis-stricken Greece. Domestic law and international treaties are perfectly suitable for protecting human rights.

In the case of Greece in particular, what must be repealed are any and all laws pertaining to the memorandum agreements and austerity measures that have been imposed. A “clean break” cannot be considered to have been accomplished barring this. And if it is, for instance, determined that the economy is not in a position to immediately sustain a rollback to pre-crisis salaries and pensions, a clear road map for the process must be presented and communicated openly and clearly to the public.

Trade: No one is arguing that a country such as Greece should isolate itself from the world. But it is clear that EU-style “free trade” has not benefited the country, with agriculture being a case in point.

Outside of the eurozone and EU, countries are free to pursue trade agreements and partnerships with any other country in the world, without the need for approval from some other institution. Greece, which maintained strong agricultural trade with Russia, for instance, would no longer be hindered by EU sanctions, as it would be free to repeal them. Greece would be free to pursue trade relations with the BRICS nations, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, North America, and indeed even Europe. But it would have the ability to negotiate terms more favorable to its economic needs, rather than being covered by blanket EU trade rules.

One word of warning here: the BRICS, often touted as saviors, are themselves proponents of the neoliberal tenets of so-called “free” trade, including opposition to “protectionism,” which in the realm of economics has attained the same derogatory status as “nationalism” has in the political context. But what is protectionism? It’s merely the practice of defending domestic industries of vital or strategic significance from foreign competition. Especially for a vulnerable economy, the ability to protect key industries is indispensable.

Protectionism does not mean isolationism: While these two concepts are increasingly conflated, there is no argument for a country like Greece to isolate itself from Europe or the rest of the world post-exit. For instance, visa-free travel regimes can and do exist outside of a supranational context. International trade can continue. Tourism would still be welcome. And indeed foreign investment would be welcome, provided that it was on terms favorable to the local economy and domestic workers.

Protectionism can also be viewed as a means of protecting local culture from the homogenizing forces of economic and cultural globalization. Diversity and heterogeneity of course neither cause nor imply isolation.

Banking: This may be the stickiest issue of all. It is likely that, as part of a eurozone exit, commercial banks may need to be nationalized. In a sense this has already happened, as Greek banks have been recapitalized three times with taxpayer monies during the economic depression. These banks are essentially bankrupt and have been kept afloat using the tried-and-true logic of “too big to fail.”

Then there is the issue of the central bank to contend with. Greece’s central bank, for instance, is largely a privately-owned entity and 94 percent of its shareholders are not publicly known. Reforming Greece’s central banking system would seem to be the trickiest issue of all and larger-scale economic changes on a global scale would likely be a prerequisite for this to occur.

Economic development: In Greece, a mantra uttered all too frequently is that “we are a poor country” that “doesn’t produce anything.” This is not true. Greece is a land blessed with an incredible amount of natural resources; energy resources (including great potential for solar and other “green” energy sources); a rich culture and history; a large shipping fleet; an educated population and an innovative younger generation; strong agricultural capabilities and an excellent climate; and an entrepreneurial spirit—despite the culture of red tape and a supposedly “bloated” public sector. Greece has much to offer the world, and much to offer its citizens—if only its potential were to be tapped into.

To take just the example of tourism’s and the possibilities it offers: despite record tourist numbers now visiting Greece, there are many types of tourism that remain largely undeveloped or underdeveloped, including conference tourism, winter tourism (Greece has numerous ski resorts and chalets, for instance), natural tourism and camping, medical tourism, gastronomy tourism, sports tourism and sporting events that would utilize the country’s underused athletic infrastructure, and much more.

There’s a lot of potential in Greece, but the country must be free to tap into it. As long as it is not in control of its own economic destiny, this will not be possible.

Challenges real and imaginary: the impact of fear

Pro-Euro demonstrators, wearing t-shirts depicting the one Euro coin, sit on a sidewalk during a rally at Syntagma square in Athens, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

Pro-Euro demonstrators, wearing t-shirts depicting the one Euro coin, sit on a sidewalk during a rally at Syntagma square in Athens, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

An exit—and a post-exit transition—will not be easy. Nobody has claimed otherwise. But what Greece is currently experiencing–and what its government has committed to for the next four-plus decades–is also painful, with no realistic light at the end of the tunnel. Having committed to decades of austerity within the eurozone context and with no control over its fiscal or monetary policy or its economic destiny, it is hard to make a convincing argument that Greece’s economy can recover within the eurozone and the EU.

The main challenge though, as I see it, has nothing to do with the eurozone, the EU, or the obstacles that might be faced during the transition process. The primary difficulty Greece faces concerns its political class and the willingness of its people to move ahead with change—true change. To be perfectly frank, this author does not believe that any entity, any individual or any party or movement within the present-day political landscape–and particularly among those in parliament today–is competent or decisive enough to oversee a smooth transition to a post-euro and perhaps post-EU future, whether this transition were to happen by choice or involuntarily.

I do not believe a “Plan B” is in place even as a worst-case scenario, such as if there were to be a sudden collapse of the eurozone or Greece were to be forced out for other reasons. I also do not believe that the track record of Greece’s political class—replete with corruption, cronyism, irresponsibility and impunity—leaves much room for optimism. This is a political class that is most likely compromised as a result of its corrupt practices, and one that has proven that it places neoliberal interests and personal gain ahead of the public interest and well-being. And frankly, if such a transition were to be handled by a corrupt, compromised government with a poor track record, Greece might be better off standing pat for now.

It would not surprise this author, for instance, to see the current government or other so-called “leftist” forces like the DiEM25 movement of Yanis Varoufakis, if they were to ascend to power, introduce a parallel currency and sell it to the public and to the markets as “a return to a domestic currency.” The disastrous history of parallel currencies and bimetallism does not provide much hope that this would be a viable solution for Greece.

This means that it’s up to the citizenry of Greece to be the force that delivers change. This too seems something of a tall order, however. Learned helplessness and misery are deeply rooted in Greece, as has been demonstrated. It is not uncommon to hear, for instance, people react to suggestions not to vote for any of the existing political parties and to look instead to support new political forces or develop new political movements, by retorting “and who else is there to vote for?”

Another dangerously prevalent viewpoint is that Greece is “the worst in everything” and, by extension, that “Greeks are the worst people in the world,” a populace that brought economic disaster upon itself. In a climate of such helplessness, fear, misery and complacency, it’s hard to imagine any sort of motivation or clarion call that would allow the people to overcome these sentiments.

Such expressions are usually accompanied by fears of the “external threats” Greece faces due to its geopolitical location. As this line of thinking goes, Greece cannot afford to leave the “umbrella of protection” provided by EU membership (and also by being part of NATO). It bears noting though that EU membership has done nothing to stop Turkish aggression in the Aegean, including violations of Greek territorial waters and airspace. This has not been a victimless activity: for example, in 2006, Greek air force pilot Konstantinos Iliakis was killed in an aerial exercise near the Greek island of Karpathos, while attempting to intercept Turkish fighter jets.

EU membership has also done nothing to put an end to the Turkish occupation of nearly 40 percent of Cyprus. Indeed, the EU supported the UN’s “Annan Plan,” which would have granted permanent status to the Turkish military presence and the illegal settlers from the Turkish mainland on the island. All of Greece’s major political parties openly supported this plan.

Indeed, while the EU has recently been posturing against Turkey, with threats to put a permanent end to its hopes for EU membership, it is the EU that succumbed to the bullying of autocratic Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, his demands for EU money, and his threats to allow refugees and migrants to freely pass through Turkey into European territory. Turkey is the West’s favored son in the region (and increasingly Russia’s as well), and seemingly can do no wrong.

As for NATO, this author’s experience at NATO headquarters during an academic visit in 2013 sums up its arrogance and Greece’s second-class standing within the “alliance.” In a roundtable meeting with then-U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, and in response to an audience question regarding which countries were candidates for NATO membership, he asked whether anybody in the room was of Greek descent. When I raised my hand, he arrogantly retorted that because I was present, he’d make a reference to the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” instead of simply “Macedonia” — referencing Greece’s longstanding dispute with its northern neighbor over its usage and historical appropriation of the name “Macedonia.”

Greece’s geopolitical position and threats existed prior to eurozone and EU and NATO membership. Today, with membership in these institutions, these threats continue to exist. And yet the perception that Greece would be “destroyed,” not just economically but militarily, the moment it leaves the eurozone or EU, still persists.

Grexit a first step, not a cure-all

Greece

Credit: SOOC

Returning to a domestic currency isn’t a panacea or a cure-all. The right policies, and perhaps more importantly, the right attitudes must be in place. Corruption must be rooted out. The judicial system must be reformed and must work for its citizens for perhaps the first time in Greece’s modern history. Learned helplessness and dependency must be overcome. And the various banes of austerity, privatizations, and high taxation are all just as possible with your own currency as with the euro. To wit, privatizations in Greece began in earnest in the early 1990s, a decade before joining the eurozone.

Nevertheless, the debate must be opened. As evidenced by Varoufakis himself, even the staunchest pro-EU, pro-euro supporter would be foolish not to have a plan for a transition in place, for any number of scenarios that might make an exit inevitable. Yet these plans have been systematically excluded from the public discourse in Greece and internationally, and have never been used as a negotiating tool by successive governments. It’s time this discussion was introduced into the public debate.

Sep 272017
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

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Cold War Then. Cold War Now.

The anti-Russian/anti-Soviet bias in the American media appears to have no limit. You would think that they would have enough self-awareness and enough journalistic integrity -– just enough -– to be concerned about their image. But it keeps on coming, piled higher and deeper.

One of the latest cases in point is a review of a new biography of Mikhail Gorbachev in the New York Times Book Review (September 10). The review says that Gorbachev “was no hero to his own people” because he was “the destroyer of their empire”. This is how the New York Times avoids having to say anything positive about life in the Soviet Union or about socialism. They would have readers believe that it was the loss of the likes of Czechoslovakia or Hungary et al. that upset the Russian people, not the loss, under Gorbachev’s perestroika, of a decent standard of living for all, a loss affecting people’s rent, employment, vacations, medical care, education, and many other aspects of the Soviet welfare state.

Accompanying this review is a quote from a 1996 Times review of Gorbachev’s own memoir, which said:

“It mystifies Westerners that Mikhail Gorbachev is loathed and ridiculed in his own country. This is the man who pulled the world several steps back from the nuclear brink and lifted a crushing fear from his countrymen, who ended bloody foreign adventures [and] liberated Eastern Europe. … Yet his repudiation at home could hardly be more complete. His political comeback attempt in June attracted less than 1 percent of the vote.”

Thus is Gorbachev’s unpopularity with his own people further relegated to the category of “mystery”, and not due to the profound social changes.

It should be noted that in 1999, USA Today reported: “When the Berlin Wall crumbled [1989], East Germans imagined a life of freedom where consumer goods were abundant and hardships would fade. Ten years later, a remarkable 51% say they were happier with communism.”1 Earlier polls would likely have shown even more than 51% expressing such a sentiment, for in the ten years many of those who remembered life in East Germany with some fondness had passed away; although even 10 years later, in 2009, the Washington Post could report: “Westerners [West Berliners] say they are fed up with the tendency of their eastern counterparts to wax nostalgic about communist times.”2 It was in the post-unification period that a new Russian and eastern Europe proverb was born: “Everything the Communists said about Communism was a lie, but everything they said about capitalism turned out to be the truth.”

The current New York Times review twice refers to Vladimir Putin as “authoritarian”, as does, routinely, much of the Western media. None of the many such references I have come across in recent years has given an example of such authoritarian policies, although such examples of course exist, as they do under a man named Trump and a woman named May and every other government in the world. But clearly if a strong case could be made of Putin being authoritarian, the Western media would routinely document such in their attacks upon the Russian president. Why do they not?

The review further refers to Putin to as “the cold-eye former K.G.B. lieutenant colonel”. One has to wonder if the New York Times has ever referred to President George H.W. Bush as “the cold-eye former CIA Director”.

Just as in the first Cold War, one of the basic problems is that Americans have great difficulty in believing that Russians mean well. Apropos this, I’d like to recall the following written about George Kennan, one of the most prominent American diplomats ever:

Crossing Poland with the first US diplomatic mission to the Soviet Union in the winter of 1933, a young American diplomat named George Kennan was somewhat astonished to hear the Soviet escort, Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, reminisce about growing up in a village nearby, about the books he had read and his dreams as a small boy of being a librarian.

“We suddenly realized, or at least I did, that these people we were dealing with were human beings like ourselves,” Kennan wrote, “that they had been born somewhere, that they had their childhood ambitions as we had. It seemed for a brief moment we could break through and embrace these people.”3

It hasn’t happened yet.

Kennan’s sudden realization brings George Orwell to mind: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

The plague of nationalism

The world has enough countries. Too goddamn many if you ask me. Is there room for any more delegations at the United Nations? Any more parking spots in New York? Have the people of Catalonia, who are seeking independence from Spain in an October 1 vote, considered that their new nation will have to open hundreds of new embassies and consulates around the world, furnish them all, fill them all with paid employees, houses and apartments and furniture for many of them, several new cars for each diplomatic post. … How many billions of dollars in taxes will be taken from the Catalan people to pay for all this?

And what about the military? Any self-respecting country needs an army and a navy. Will the new Catalonia be able to afford even halfway decent armed forces? The new country will of course have to join NATO with its obligatory minimum defense capability. There goes a billion or two more.

Plus what it will have to pay the European Union, which will simply be replacing Madrid in imposing many legal restrictions upon the Catalan people.

And for what noble purpose are they rising up? Freedom, democracy, civil liberties, human rights? No. It’s all for money. Madrid is taking in more in taxes from Catalonia than it returns in services, something which can be said about many city-state relationships in the United States. (Presumably there are also some individual Catalans who have their odd personal reasons.)

Catalan nationalists insist that “self-determination” is an inalienable right and cannot be curbed by the Spanish Constitution.4 Well, then, why stop with an “autonomous community” as Catalonia is designated? Why don’t provinces everywhere have the right to declare their independence? How about cities? Or neighborhoods? Why not my block? I could be the president.

And there are many other restive independence movements in the world, like the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey; in Scotland, Belgium and Italy; and California. Lord help us. Many countries are very reluctant to even recognize a new state for fear that it might encourage their own people to break away.

If love is blind, nationalism has lost all five senses.

“If nature were a bank, they would have already rescued it.” – Eduardo Galeano

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a New York investor conference that Hurricane Irma would ultimately boost the economy by sparking rebuilding. “There clearly is going to be an impact on GDP in the short run, we will make it up in the long run. As we rebuild, that will help GDP. It won’t have a bad impact on the economy.”

Hmmm … very interesting … Can we therefore assume that if the damage had been twice as bad it would have boosted the economy even more?

Meanwhile, in the non-Trump, non-fantasy world, there is a thing called climate change; i.e. the quality of our lives, the survival of the planet. What keeps corporations from modifying their behavior so as to be kinder to our environment? It is of course the good old “bottom line” again. What can we do to convince the corporations to consistently behave like good citizens? Nothing that hasn’t already been tried and failed. Except one thing. … unmentionable in polite company. … unmentionable in a capitalist society. … Nationalization. There, I said it. Now I’ll be getting letters addressed to “The Old Stalinist”.

But nationalization is not a panacea either, at least for the environment. There’s the greatest single source of man-made environmental damage in the world – The United States military. And it’s already been nationalized. But doing away with private corporations will reduce the drive toward imperialism sufficiently that before long the need for a military will fade away and we can live like Costa Rica. If you think that that would put the United States in danger of attack, please tell me who would attack, and why.

The argument I like to use when speaking to those who don’t accept the idea that extreme weather phenomena are man-made is this:

Well, we can proceed in one of two ways:

  1. We can do our best to limit the greenhouse effect by curtailing greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) into the atmosphere, and if it turns out that these emissions were not in fact the cause of all the extreme weather phenomena, then we’ve wasted a lot of time, effort and money (although other benefits to the ecosystem would still accrue).
  2. We can do nothing at all to curtail the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and if it turns out that these emissions were in fact the leading cause of all the extreme weather phenomena (not simply extreme, but getting downright freaky), then we’ve lost the earth and life as we know it.

So, are you a gambler?

The new Vietnam documentary

At the beginning of Ken Burns’ new documentary on the American war in Vietnam the narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings.”

The early American involvement in Vietnam can be marked by two things in particular: (1) helping the French imperialists in their fight against the forces led by Ho Chi Minh of North Vietnam and (2) the cancellation of the elections that would have united North and South Vietnam as one nation because the US and its South Vietnam allies knew that Ho Chi Minh would win. It was that simple.

Nothing of good faith or decency in that scenario. No misunderstandings. Ho Chi Minh was a great admirer of America and its Declaration of Independence. His own actual declaration of 1945 begins with the familiar “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But Ho Chi Minh was what was called a “communist”. It was that simple. (See the Vietnam chapter in my book Killing Hope for the details.)

Daniel Ellsberg’s conclusion about the US in Vietnam: “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side; we were the wrong side.”

Ms. Hillary

She has a new book out and lots of interviews, all giving her the opportunity to complain about the many forces that joined together to deny her her rightful place as queen. I might feel a bit, just a bit, of sympathy for the woman if not for her greatest crime.

There was a country called Libya. It had the highest standard of living in all of Africa; its people had not only free education and health care but all kinds of other benefits that other Africans could only dream about. It was also a secular state, a quality to be cherished in Africa and the Middle East. But Moammar Gaddafi of Libya was never a properly obedient client of Washington. Amongst other shortcomings, the man threatened to replace the US dollar with gold for payment of oil transactions, create a common African currency, and was a strong supporter of the Palestinians and foe of Israel.

In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the prime moving force behind the United States and NATO turning Libya into a failed state, where it remains today.

The attack against Libya was one that the New York Times said Clinton had “championed”, convincing President Obama in “what was arguably her moment of greatest influence as Secretary of State.”5 The people of Libya were bombed almost daily for more than six months. The main excuse given was that Gaddafi was about to invade Benghazi, the Libyan center of his opponents, and so the United States and NATO were thus saving the people of that city from a massacre. The American people and the American media of course swallowed this story, though no convincing evidence of the alleged impending massacre has ever been presented. The nearest thing to an official US government account of the matter – a Congressional Research Service report on events in Libya for the period – makes no mention at all of the threatened massacre.6

The US/NATO heavy bombing sent Libya crashing in utter chaos, leading to the widespread dispersal throughout North African and Middle East hotspots of the gigantic arsenal of weaponry that Gaddafi had accumulated. Libya is now a haven for terrorists, from al Qaeda to ISIS, whereas Gaddafi had been a leading foe of terrorists. He had declared Libya as a barrier to terrorists, as well as African refugees, going to Europe.7 The bombing has contributed greatly to the area’s mammoth refugee crisis.

And when Hillary was shown a video about the horrific murder of Gaddafi by his opponents she loudly cackled (yes, that’s the word): “We came, we saw, he died!” You can see it on Youtube.

There’s also her support of placing regime change in Syria ahead of supporting the Syrian government in its struggle against ISIS and other terrorist groups. Even more disastrous was the 2003 US invasion of Iraq which she as a senator supported.

If all this is not sufficient to capture the utter charm of the woman, another foreign-policy adventure, one which her swooning followers totally ignore, the few that even know about it, is the coup ousting the moderately progressive Manuel Zelaya of Honduras in June, 2009. A tale told many times in Latin America: The downtrodden masses finally put into power a leader committed to reversing the status quo, determined to try to put an end to two centuries of oppression … and before long the military overthrows the democratically-elected government, while the United States – if not the mastermind behind the coup – does nothing to prevent it or to punish the coup regime, as only the United States can punish; meanwhile Washington officials pretend to be very upset over this “affront to democracy”.8

District of Columbia

How many people around the world know that in Washington, DC (District of Columbia, where I live), the capital city of the United States –- the country that is always lecturing the world about this thing called “democracy” –- the citizens do not have the final say over making the laws that determine life in their city? Many Americans as well are not aware of this.

According to the US Constitution (Section 8) Congress has the final say, and in recent years has blocked the city from using local tax dollars to subsidize abortion for low-income women, blocked the implementation of legal marijuana use, blocked needle exchanges, blocked certain taxes, blocked a law that says employers cannot discriminate against workers based on their reproductive decisions, imposed private schools into the public-school system, and will soon probably block the District’s new assisted-suicide law (already blocked in the House of Representatives). On top of all this, since DC is not a state, its citizens do not have any representatives in the Senate and their sole representative in the House has only the barest non-voting, token rights. DC residents did not even have the right to vote for the president until 1964.

In 2015 in Brussels, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization formally voted to accept the District of Columbia as a new member. UNPO is an international democratic organization whose members are indigenous peoples, minorities and unrecognized or occupied territories who have joined together to protect and promote their human and cultural rights, to preserve their environments and to find nonviolent solutions to conflicts which affect them.

Notes

  1. USA Today, October 11, 1999, p.1
  2. Washington Post, May 12, 2009; see a similar story November 5, 2009
  3. Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas, The Wise Men (1986), p.158
  4. Associated Press, September 21, 2017
  5. New York Times, February 28, 2016
  6. Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy”, updated March 4, 2016.
  7. RT (Russia Today) television station, January 8, 2016
  8. See Mark Weisbrot’s “Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side The United States Government is On With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras
Sep 232017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on Thursday, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in Athens, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. A nationwide 24-hour general strike called by unions against austerity measures disrupted public services across Greece on Thursday, while thousands marched in protest in central Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

With the Greek psyche itself the victim of a relentless shaming campaign, the idea of Greece “going it alone” begins to seem outlandish and quixotic. It is not. But it is as much tied to a revival of spirit and self-esteem as to the nuts and bolts of economic transformation.

Eight years into the deepest economic depression that an industrialized country has ever experienced, we are now being told that Greece is a “success story.” Having accepted the “bitter medicine” prescribed by the “troika”—the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—the storyline today is that Greece is on the road to recovery, firmly within the European Union and the eurozone.

This narrative was recently echoed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his annual speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, Greece’s equivalent to the State of the Union address. In this speech, Tsipras triumphantly declared that talk of “Grexit”—or a Greek departure from the eurozone and the EU—has been replaced by that of “Grinvest.”

Within such a context, there is seemingly no room for discussions about whether it is in Greece’s best interest, even after so many years of implementing the troika’s austerity diktats, to consider a departure from the eurozone and the EU. Indeed, the narrative is that the people of Greece overwhelmingly have never supported the prospect of “Grexit.”

All throughout the economic crisis in Greece, it has been reported that polls have consistently shown clear majorities favoring the country’s “European trajectory” and rejecting the possibility of a departure from the eurozone and EU.

So the Greeks want the euro at all costs, even if it means more harsh austerity measures and cuts to wages, pensions and social services. Or so we are told. These claims would be believable if they were the product of robust public debate and deliberation on the respective pros and cons of remaining within the “European family” or departing. But in Greece, and in most of the global mainstream media, there is no such debate and never has been.

Instead, what has taken place in Greece during the economic crisis has been the complete elimination from public debate of opponents of the prevalent economic and political doctrines. Those who oppose the eurozone, the EU, or simply the austerity measures, are stamped with the “scarlet letter” of being “nationalists,” “xenophobes,” or “fascists.” Such rhetoric became even more polarized following the Brexit referendum result. The Brexit result and the rise of “populism” have themselves been demonized, while poll results that contradict the mainstream narrative are habitually buried by the supposedly “objective” major media outlets.

Following the first installment of this series – in which the less-than-democratic roots of the EU, the zeal with which the EU is lionized by the global media today, the EU’s present-day democratic deficit and hypocrisy, and the attempts to discredit opponents of the EU and neoliberalism were analyzed — this piece will focus on what has long been the “elephant in the room” in Europe: the possibility of departure from the eurozone and from the EU, and why it must, at the very least, be debated on equal terms in economically suffering countries such as Greece.

Fostering fear and lies

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Vlasia Pavlopoulou wife of the Greek President toast their drinks at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a "slow disintegration. (AP/Charalambos Gikas)

French president Emmanuel Macron, right, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Vlasia Pavlopoulou wife of the Greek President toast their drinks at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Standing at a Greek site where democracy was conceived, French President Emmanuel Macron called on members of the European Union to reboot the 60-year-old bloc with sweeping political reforms or risk a “slow disintegration. (AP/Charalambos Gikas)

Throughout the crisis, the austerity measures that have been imposed on Greece, the arguments in favor of the necessity of remaining “in Europe,” the mythos surrounding the “European dream,” and the horror that would result from “Grexit” have been propped up by a series of lies and scare tactics that have been repeatedly propagated by politicians and media outlets alike.

This has fostered a form of learned helplessness in Greece, a belief that the country is incapable of surviving outside the eurozone and EU and therefore must remain, even if the preconditions for doing so are harsh.

One such myth pertains to the idea that Greece “doesn’t produce anything” and is therefore reliant on imports. These imports must, of course, be paid for with hard currency; therefore, the conventional line of thinking suggests that Greece would be unable to import vital necessities with its own “soft” currency.

Case in point: a 2012 Eurobarometer survey found that 94 percent of Greeks were concerned about national food security, the highest level in the EU. In addition, Greece was the only EU member-state where a majority (61 percent) expressed concern with national food production. Moreover, 79 percent of Greeks expressed the belief that Greece does not produce enough food to meet domestic needs. Again, this was the highest percentage recorded in the EU.

The claim that Greece doesn’t produce anything and is not nutritionally self-sufficient is constantly repeated by the media and used to justify remaining in the common market, but is it true? As of 2010, the most recent year for which complete statistics seem to be available, Greece met, exceeded, or came close to meeting domestic demand for staples such as eggs, meat and milk derived from sheep and goats, olive oil, several crops (including oranges, peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers, apricots, potatoes, and grapes), honey, whole grains, and poultry.

Furthermore, according to data from 2012, Greece is second worldwide in the production of sheep’s milk, third in olive and olive oil production, fourth in the production of pears, fifth in the production of peaches and nectarines, sixth in pistachio production, and in the top ten in goat’s milk, chestnuts, cantaloupes, cherries, and cotton. It is also just outside the top ten in the production of almonds, cottonseed, asparagus, figs, and other legumes. Greece is third in the world in the production of saffron and sixteenth in the world in the production of cheese products.

Outside of food production, Greece is a strong producer of such resources as aluminum and bauxite (first in Europe), magnesium (meeting 46 percent of Western Europe’s production), second in the world behind the United States in the production of smectite clay, and is the only European country with significant nickel deposits. Greece is also a significant producer of laterite and marble, as well as steel and cement.

Outside of production, Greece possesses one of the world’s largest shipping fleets, ranking second worldwide in total tonnage, while the Greek flag fleet and merchant fleet rank second in the EU and seventh globally. In addition, Greece is fourteenth in the world in tourist arrivals (but twenty-third in tourist revenue).

It is these three sectors — agriculture, shipping, and tourism — that have traditionally sustained the Greek economy, alongside domestic small businesses, which themselves have suffered during the crisis under the weight of decreased spending and increased taxation. Prior to the euro, the agricultural, shipping, and tourism sectors provided Greece with the hard currency with which it financed imports.

Indeed, it is membership in the EU that has led to a sharp decline in the domestic production of numerous staples in Greece. In 1961, twenty years before joining the EU, “impoverished” Greece produced 169,200 tons of figs, 6,374 tons of sesame, 52,000 tons of dry beans, 13,365 tons of chickpeas, and 19,246 tons of quince. In 2011, the respective figures were 9,400 tons of figs, 33 tons of sesame, 22,744 tons of dry beans, 2,200 tons of chickpeas, and 3,432 tons of quince.

In 1981, the year Greece joined the EU, production of fresh vegetables was at 123,298 tons, lemon production was at 216,874 tons, apple production was at 337,091 tons, almond production at 73,181 tons, tobacco production at 130,900 tons, tomato production at 1,884,600 tons, and potato production at 1,056,000 tons.

Thirty years later, the figures for each of these crops had sharply declined: 74,393 tons of fresh vegetables, 70,314 tons of lemons, 255,800 tons of apples, 29,800 tons of almonds, 20,287 tons of tobacco, 1,169,900 tons of tomatoes, and 757,820 tons of potatoes.

A major factor in this decline is the EU’s common agricultural policy, which sets production quotas for each country and each sector of production, and dictates to each country what to produce and which crop varieties to cultivate, what not to produce, where to export, where not to export, how much to export and at what price.

For example, until 2005 Greece’s sugar production sector was profitable and met a large part of domestic demand. In a 2006 deal with the EU, however, Greece agreed to reduce its domestic sugar production and increase imports. In 1980, the year before Greece ascended to the EU, pork meat production met 84 percent of domestic needs, while beef production met 66 percent of domestic demand. Those figures have declined to 38 and 13 percent, respectively.

The decline in beef production has also impacted the dairy sector. The EU’s influence is evident here as well: in 2000, Greece was fined 2.5 billion drachmas (over 7.3 million euros) for exceeding EU-imposed quotas for the production of cow’s milk.

And yet the myth persists: Greece “cannot survive” outside of the eurozone and EU. And while the lack of production—whether imagined or real—is one of the main arguments used by proponents of remaining in the EU, the lies do not stop there.

Greece wants to stay in the eurozone and EU — or does it?

A man walks past a graffiti made by street artist N_Grams that read ''NO'' in German but also ''YES, IN'' in Greek language in Athens, June 28, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A man walks past a graffiti made by street artist N_Grams that read ”NO” in German but also ”YES, IN” in Greek language in Athens, June 28, 2015. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

One of the most prevalent and recurring myths to come out of crisis-stricken Greece is that despite the austerity measures and cuts that the Greek people have been faced with, the overwhelming majority wishes to remain in the EU “at all costs.”

This exact wording has been used in numerous public opinion polls, such as one published on July 5, 2015, the day of the Greek referendum on whether to accept or reject a new troika-backed austerity proposal. According to this poll, conducted by polling firm GPO on behalf of one of Greece’s most notoriously pro-austerity TV stations, Mega Channel, 74.1 percent of respondents wished to remain in the EU at all costs.

Is this really the case? It is worth considering that in Greece, there are no polling firms which conduct public opinion polls independently. Surveys are conducted on behalf of large media outlets which are, without exception, favorable to the policies of austerity and continued membership in the eurozone and the EU. The polling firms themselves also belong to similarly entrenched interests. The aforementioned GPO, for instance, was co-founded by construction and publishing magnate Christos Kalogritsas, who is said to still maintain a close friendship with GPO’s main shareholder, Takis Theodorikakos.

Further limiting their independence, Greece’s major public opinion polling firms are all recipients of state funding. Between 2010-2013, Kapa Research received 3,126,900 euros, MRB received 877,423 euros, GPO received 395,003 euros, Metron Analysis received 273,574 euros, Marc received 82,650 euros, VPRC received 55,500 euros, and ALCO received 50,677 euros.

Despite this though, the question remains: are the polling results accurate? What has been evident throughout the crisis is that poll results have often been woefully inaccurate. For example, prior to the 2015 referendum, major public opinion polls showed “yes” and “no” in a statistical dead heat. In reality, over 61 percent of voters rejected the EU’s austerity proposal, even if this result was itself overturned by Greece’s subservient SYRIZA-led government, which itself seemingly wishes to keep Greece inside the eurozone and EU “at all costs.”

More evidence can be found from the results of the few relatively independent public opinion polls which have taken place in Greece in recent years. For example, in a pan-European survey conducted by the Gallup International polling firm in December 2014, 52 percent of Greeks favored a return to a domestic currency, while only 32 percent favored remaining in the eurozone. Notably, Gallup International’s respective 2016 end-of-year poll found less than overwhelming support in Greece for remaining in the EU: while 54 percent of respondents stated that in a hypothetical referendum they’d vote to remain, 46 percent would vote to leave.

Furthermore, a March 2015 poll by Bridging Europe—an upstart polling firm which has since openly and unabashedly supported SYRIZA—found that 53 percent of respondents favored a return to a domestic currency. Together, these results contradict polling results which claim that overwhelming majorities of Greeks wish to remain, and at all costs to boot. However, these poll results have never been reported by either the Greek or the international media.

What the mainstream public opinion survey results in Greece aim to accomplish is threefold. First, they seek to impact public opinion in Greece by making it seem like there is such an overwhelming majority in favor of continued EU and eurozone membership that resistance is futile—and the product of “fringe” elements of society. Secondly, it impacts the international media in their reporting on Greece and the crisis, as they regurgitate these poll results without question.

Third, it reinforces the pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity politics enforced by Greece’s current and previous governments, and the respective pro-EU and pro-euro positions of the entirety of the political spectrum that is represented in parliament.

Varoufakis: more blatant lies and pro-EU propaganda

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks during a parliamentary session in Athens, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP/Yannis Liakos)

When concealing inconvenient public opinion survey results isn’t enough, more blatant lies are employed. A characteristic example comes from the statements made by former finance minister and “heroic” celebrity economist Yanis Varoufakis, who in an interview with ABC Radio in Australia in 2015 stated that even if Greece wanted to return to a domestic currency, its printing presses were destroyed in 2000 prior to joining the eurozone. In reality, Greece’s mint is still in operation in the Athens suburb of Holargos and prints euro banknotes today.

In the minds of many Greeks, the old drachma is also associated with crippling inflation and economic instability, a perspective which the major media outlets have done nothing to dispel. Listening to certain Greeks discussing the pre-2002 era, one would think that prior to the euro Greeks must have lived in caves, without electricity, automobiles, or running water—and that such days will swiftly return if Greece dares to depart from the common currency.

Particular fears are expressed about inflation. However, this ignores the fact that from the 1950s through the early 1970s, inflation in “impoverished” Greece hovered at or below 5 percent. In the late 1990s, as Greece prepared to meet Maastricht criteria to join the eurozone, inflation once again fell into the single digits. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, other southern European countries, such as Italy and Spain, also frequently attained double-digit inflation levels similar to those seen in Greece.

When all else fails, stereotypes and collective guilt are employed to great effect. Greece lied in order to enter the eurozone, we are told, and therefore is reaping its just rewards. But as was pointed out in the first installment of this series, other countries such as Spain and Italy performed similar accounting tricks, but no similar calls to “punish” these countries have been heard.

What is heard though, by both the Greek and international media, is that the Greek people “lived beyond their means.” This viewpoint is consistent, whether you consult with the “leftist” Guardian, the right-wing Daily Telegraph, German finance minister-for-life Wolfgang Schäuble, or former EU economy commissioner Ollie Rehn. The head of the Eurogroup—the committee of eurozone finance ministers—and member of Holland’s Labour Party Jeroen Dijsselbloem stated earlier this year that Greeks spent their money on “drinks and women.” In turn, Dutch “eurosceptic” politician Geert Wilders claimed that Greeks spent their money “on souvlaki and ouzo.”

Never mind that Greece’s private sector debt has consistently ranked at the lowest levels among OECD countries and still does today. This has not stopped the Greek media and Greece’s politicians from repeating such claims, ascribing collective blame to the entire populace when it was a small cohort of politicians and crony capitalists who largely benefited from the public spending bonanza and augmentation of Greece’s public debt.

"Swindlers in the euro family:" A controversial cover has come back to haunt Germany's Focus magazine.

“Swindlers in the euro family:” The controversial cover of Germany’s Focus magazine.

Nevertheless, such statements are coupled with heavy doses of racism from Greece’s “European partners.” In 2010, the “reputable” German magazine Der Spiegel published, on its front cover, an image of the goddess Aphrodite, cloaked in a Greek flag, giving the finger to Europe, accompanied by the headline “Swindlers in the euro family.” Two studies, commissioned by the Hans Böckler Foundation and by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, have found that German media coverage of Greece’s crisis has been rife with stereotypes, bias, and superficial reporting.

The Feb. 13, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured a parody of ancient Greek art—now well-concealed on the Internet—displaying an ancient god begging for change. The Telegraph has referred to the crisis in Greece as the “ouzo crisis” while referring to the suffering economies of southern Europe as “Club Med.”

One of the many end results of this constant barrage of disparagement and insults towards the Greek people is that they have become ingrained in the national psyche. A common refrain heard in Greece in reference to anything negative occurring within the country is that “this is who we are.” Greece lied and therefore it must be punished. Greeks lived beyond their means and are now getting their just dues. Greeks were corrupt and “ate it all together,” in the words of ex-politician Theodoros Pangalos, and therefore collectively must share the blame.

Herein lies a paradox: on the one hand, Greeks are consistently ranked as among the unhappiest people in the world. Greece ranked fourth in this year’s Bloomberg misery index, and has been found to be the unhappiest country in Europe by both the Eurobarometer survey and by Gallup International. In such a toxic environment, the prevailing policies of economic austerity, cuts, and privatization are therefore met with tacit acceptance.

Collective guilt has set in for Greece’s supposed sins, and these painful austerity measures—and the misery they bring—are considered an inevitable result of these “sins.” On the other hand, the actors in large part responsible for the austerity that has delivered such misery, such as the EU, continue to receive support from a significant percentage of the population.

As for those who dare to openly speak out against austerity and in opposition to the EU and the eurozone? They are swiftly labeled. A favorite retort in Greece concerns the supposed existence of a “conspiracy of the drachma” in which diaspora Greeks and wealthy Greeks who have moved their money offshore favor a return to the drachma. As this line of thinking goes, these individuals would then move their money back to Greece and take advantage of a sharply devalued local currency, getting wealthier in the process.

Other attacks are simpler, often branding opponents of the prevailing European order as “fascists,” “xenophobes,” “nationalists” and “populists”—the latter two, of course, being rather dirty words in the present-day context.

When insults and labels don’t do the job, fear is effective. According to a European Commission adviser and as reported by Newsweek in 2015, Greece would promptly find itself out of oil and medical supplies once it leaves the eurozone and EU. In the lead-up to the 2015 referendum, both Greek and international media outlets, including the Washington Post—which later replaced the image on this article—circulated untrue and undated photos of supermarket shelves devoid of food. Greece’s Mega Channel broadcast images of senior citizens using ATMs in fear—images which actually were from South Africa.

Greek tabloid newspaper Press Star published a “heartbreaking” photo of an elderly man in tears while holding a solitary loaf of bread—even though the photo was actually from the aftermath of the Istanbul earthquake of 1999. The photo was shamelessly recycled one more time earlier this year, in the aftermath of an earthquake on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Another national TV broadcaster, Antenna TV, reported that in the 2015 referendum, Greeks were choosing between a future “as Europe” or “as Zimbabwe.” The same station, prior to the June 2012 parliamentary elections, circumvented a pre-election freeze on political broadcasts by airing, on the eve of the polls, a “documentary” on the (obviously adverse) impacts of “Grexit,” laughably insinuating that a SYRIZA victory would result in “Grexit.”

Never mind that Greek domestic production and industry have been decimated during the years of EU and eurozone membership. Never mind that the EU allowed for the debt of Greece’s national railway to be waived in order to facilitate its privatization—but refuses to allow the same for Greece’s national debt. Never mind that 92 percent of the “bailouts” (loans) Greece has received during the crisis have gone right back to its lenders. Never mind that even EU monies for major infrastructure projects often went right back to European contractors or consultants, in a process of crony capitalism described by former “economic hitman” John Perkins. Never mind that the austerity regime itself has been found to violate the fundamental human rights of the people of Greece. As the title of part one of this series suggested, for the Greek and international media and a substantial portion of the Greek populace, it is “EU über alles”—Europe or bust—even if Greece is the one that goes bust in the process.

The argument for leaving the eurozone and the EU

Pedestrians pass a poster depicting a map of Greece with the letter E being replaced by Euro symbols in Athens, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Pedestrians pass a poster depicting a map of Greece with the letter E being replaced by Euro symbols in Athens, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

If we truly support and believe in open and robust public debate, then the discussion as to whether Greece (or any other EU member-state) will be better served by departing from the EU or eurozone must be a part of that dialogue. So far, however, it has largely been excluded from the public sphere and from anything resembling equal footing in public discourse—whether that discussion is occurring in the media, in academia, or in the political arena.

Even if one is not a proponent of leaving the eurozone or the EU, the fiscally and politically prudent thing to do would be to have a plan in place for such a possibility. If, for instance, there is a collapse of the Italian banking system—which is presently teetering on the edge—or some other large-scale economic disaster in the eurozone, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a domino effect to impact the entirety of Europe, forcing out some eurozone member states or resulting in the collapse of the eurozone system itself.

If this sounds far-fetched, consider the following: there are several examples of currency unions breaking apart, such as that of the Austro-Hungarian empire, or more recently the cases of the breakup of the Czech-Slovak union or Latvia leaving what was essentially a currency union with Russia in 1992.

While not exactly like the eurozone today, in the 19th and early 20th century, the Latin Monetary Union and the Scandinavian Monetary Union attempted to create a currency peg across multiple countries—which also occurred more recently in the lead-up to the launch of the eurozone via the creation of the European Monetary Union. For different reasons, both monetary unions ended up dissolving, with member-states eliminating currency pegs between them.

More recently, the United Kingdom departed the EMU in 1992 amidst doom-and-gloom scenarios highly similar to those heard today about departing the eurozone. Instead, what followed was one of the strongest periods of economic growth in the UK’s history.

Further precedent exists in the well-known examples of Argentina, which repudiated the IMF’s austerity diktats and declared a stoppage of payments on its public debt in 1999. What followed was over a decade of economic growth which exceeded the global average, and indeed even the eventual repayment of much of its previous debt at new terms that it negotiated with most of its creditors.

Iceland, following its banking collapse in 2008 which was, proportionally, the largest collapse sustained by the banking sector in a developed country in history, enacted policies which were in direct opposition to those being recommended by the IMF. Banks were allowed to collapse, foreign creditors were initially not repaid, bankers were jailed. The economy soon boomed, with GDP growthexceeding EU and eurozone averages and Iceland’s GDP eventually eclipsing pre-collapse levels. Meanwhile, a devalued currency led to a tourism and export boom. Eventually, creditors were repaid as well.

While Iceland and Argentina were not a part of a common currency bloc, their examples highlight how a nation can reject the austerity demands of institutions such as the IMF, can declare a stoppage of payments on its debt, roll back austerity, devalue its currency, and swiftly return to economic growth. Moreover, Argentina broke its 1:1 currency peg to the U.S. dollar — which, while not the equivalent to departing a currency union, had the result of restoring the Argentine government’s ability to enact monetary policy instead of being reliant on U.S. policy.

Therefore, even the most vociferous supporter of “remain” would be well advised to support the development of an exit plan in preparation for a worst-case scenario which may well emerge from outside the country’s borders. Unlike the “heroic” Yanis Varoufakis, who negotiated so fiercely as finance minister in 2015 that he openly stated he had no “plan B” and would not place “Grexit” on the table even as a negotiating tool, such a plan would be the most prudent option even for the most enthusiastically pro-EU regime.

The paragraphs which follow will outline why a country like Greece must consider leaving the eurozone and the EU, the various proposals which have been put forth as to how this could be accomplished, and how a departure could occur.

Why leave?

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

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

The euro is essentially a debt instrument: According to economist and former central banker Spiros Lavdiotis, the European Central Bank does not lend directly to its members—i.e. the member states of the eurozone. It instead lends to the private sector, at interest. In turn, the private sector lends to states who seek to borrow money, at higher interest. This perpetuates the debt cycle, while the higher interest is often financed in the form of budget cuts or higher taxes.

Restoring monetary sovereignty – external devaluation instead of internal devaluation: What has taken place during the years of the economic crisis in Greece is essentially a process of “internal devaluation.” This means that the cost of labor in Greece—that is, wages, insurance contributions and the like—have been slashed, purportedly in an attempt to boost the country’s competitiveness.

Traditionally, however, many countries have employed a different remedy for responding to an economic downturn: external devaluation. Instead of cutting wages and pensions at home, the value of the national currency would be devalued, immediately making the country’s exports, services, and labor cheaper and more competitive on a global level, compared to other stronger currencies.

External devaluation also helped foster much-vaunted foreign investment (as the cost of investment would decrease) in economic sectors such as tourism, as the country proceeding with an external devaluation would automatically become cheaper for foreign visitors. With domestic wages, pensions, and social services unaffected, quality of life was largely not impacted by an external devaluation.

The main disadvantage with external devaluation is that the cost of imports rises. This, however, was traditionally offset in two ways: paying for imports with foreign hard currency reserves (which can indeed increase if foreign tourism and investment in the economy increases), and by increasing domestic production, where possible, to alleviate the need for imports. This promoted domestic industry and a policy of full employment.

But today, countries such as Greece are saddled with a hard currency that is overvalued for the needs of the domestic economy, and where there is no level of control on monetary policy. If this seems like a mere unfortunate consequence of the euro, think again: Roger Mundell, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and architect of the euro, foresaw precisely this eventuality.

In Mundell’s vision, as eurozone economies were squeezed with the first sign of an economic downturn, all of the traditional monetary policy tools would be unavailable in their policy-making toolkit. Unable to devalue the currency or to increase deficit spending due to EU rules, governments would be left with one choice: austerity. Cut wages, cut pensions, slash social services to the bone. It’s a neoliberal wet dream—and it is the European “dream” today.

Escaping stifling EU fiscal rules: Currently, EU member-states must abide to strict EU fiscal rules as part of its Stability and Growth Pact. The main rules are that total government debt must not be more than 60 percent of GDP, and government deficits must not exceed 3 percent of GDP.

At face value, this sounds reasonable and prudent. However, the problem with these rules is that they eliminate many of the traditional tools that were available in the fiscal policy toolkit during times of economic recession. Deficit spending, for instance, has enabled many sputtering economies to get back on track, as cash re-enters the economy, encouraging consumer and business spending and private lending. Limiting this ability handicaps countries which are stuck in a recession.

Indeed, one of the primary ideas behind such rules is, quite cynically, to reduce the political cost of what would otherwise be unpopular policies: cuts to social services and pensions and the like.

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

A man stands in front of a banner during an anti-austerity rally by workers in the health sector outside the Labour ministry in Athens, March 2, 2017. The banner reads : “Medical Association of Athens, We demand the immediate withdraw of the pension bill”. (AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

It should be noted here that leaving the eurozone or even the EU does not mean an automatic green light to act recklessly. But it will afford a country like Greece the freedom to take control of its fiscal and economic policy. Notably, for Greece, the EU has determined that the aforementioned strict rules do not go far enough. Greece’s current “leftist” SYRIZA-led government, entirely subservient to Brussels and Berlin, agreed earlier this year to achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent annually each year through 2023, and primary budget surpluses of 2 percent annually through 2060.

This certainly contradicts Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ current rhetoric regarding the official end of the crisis coming sometime in 2018. A primary budget surplus means that the state spends less than it takes in. For a country with a stagnant or shrinking GDP such as Greece, this means spending an ever-shrinking amount of money. And as government revenues dry up, the surplus target is met by further cutting spending, creating a perpetual austerity death spiral. As of now, this is the economic future Greece faces, no matter what Tsipras, the EU, or the media claim.

Increased competitiveness on the global markets: Free of EU fiscal and monetary shackles, Greece will be free to enact its own policy, including future devaluations of its newly-restored domestic currency (more on devaluation below).

When a country such as Greece is ready to take this step and devalue its domestic currency, it will be able to better compete globally in its three cornerstone economic sectors: tourism, agriculture, and shipping. Greece will be a less expensive destination for foreign tourists, while Greek agricultural products and Greek services will be comparatively less expensive. And this will take place via a process of external devaluation, rather than cutting domestic wages and reducing the quality of life.

Greece has an educated and multilingual workforce, as well as lots of untapped or deprecated (due to EU) agricultural potential. Tourism, while increasing in raw numbers, has a lot of potential for growth, especially since average spending per visitor is far less than other countries.

An increase in foreign trade, exports, and tourism will, in turn, ensure that Greece will maintain the necessary foreign hard currency reserves with which it will import vital goods that it cannot produce domestically. This is how the Greek economy operated prior to entering the eurozone in 2002, and it is how even the poorest of states are able to import oil, automobiles, medicine, or other necessities.

Rolling back austerity: Every sector of the Greek economy has been impacted by the austerity measures that have been imposed by Greece’s lenders in the troika since 2010.

Free of a requirement to sustain a primary budget surplus, Greece would have the ability to increase spending in vital social sectors such as healthcare and education, to at least partially restore pensions and salaries that have been repeatedly slashed, and to cut taxes, such as the heating oil tax which has resulted in most Greek households not being able to afford to heat their homes in the winter. Other cuts could be applied to the value-added tax (VAT), which even for many staple items is a hefty 24 percent, as well as high business taxes that are choking the life out of Greece’s traditional economic base of small businesses.

Even without funding coming from the EU, the ability to increase spending could also allow the state to jump-start infrastructure projects or to continue existing public works. Measures could also be financed to reverse the country’s “brain drain” and to attract some of the 600,000 Greeks who have emigrated back to Greece.

Protecting and promoting industry: Free of the requirements of participating in the European common market, a country like Greece will be less exposed to unequal or unfair competition from industrial powerhouses such as Germany, which has flooded domestic markets with cheap imports, while domestic industries have been shuttered or bought out.

Furthermore, liberated from the requirement of enforcing production quotas under such policy frameworks as the EU’s common agricultural policy, Greece will be able to enact measures to return agricultural production to its much higher pre-EU levels, thereby alleviating many of the concerns regarding the country’s self-sufficiency and “dependence” on Europe for its survival.

Think people don’t want it? Think again: As was shown earlier, public opinion poll results which claim that overwhelming majorities of Greeks wish to remain in the eurozone and EU at all costs are likely “fake news”—meant to influence public opinion and marginalize opposition. What independent polls have indicated is that, at the very least, a departure from the EU and, in particular, the eurozone will not be nearly as unpopular as claimed—and may perhaps even enjoy the support of a small majority.

Leaving the “Hotel California”?

Yanis Varoufakis has famously uttered that the EU (and by extension, the Eurozone) are like the Hotel California: you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. It’s one thing, of course, to understand why a country like Greece—and its economy—may be at a disadvantage within the Eurozone and the EU. It’s another thing, however, to actually leave these institutions.

In the next and final installment of this piece, it is the very process of leaving that will be analyzed. Contrary to a commonly-expressed sentiment that no coherent plan for a country to depart from the Eurozone has ever been presented, the third and final part of this series will present some of the proposals that have been developed by economists and scholars for an orderly departure from the Eurozone–and how some of the challenges and obstacles, which will inevitably be faced, may be overcome.

Sep 202017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

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Dear friends and listeners of Dialogos Radio,

A new season of Dialogos Radio is approaching, and this week our Greek-language broadcasts are set to launch. More details are available below, or on our Greek-language webpage, http://dialogosmedia.org/?lang=el.
 
New Dialogos Radio affiliate stations
 
Dialogos Radio’s Greek-language broadcasts will now be heard on Sunday mornings at 8 am Eastern time on Greek-Canadian radio station CHIR, heard on Rogers and Bell Fibre digital cabale in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Hamilton, the Niagara region, and other regions throughout the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
 
In addition, our English-language broadcasts are now heard on the following Global Community Radio affiliate stations:
 
WLRI 92.9 FM (Gap/Lancaster, PA) – Saturday 5 am local time
KIEZ 106.7 FM (Monroe, LA) – Saturday 5 am local time
KLQS 96.7 FM (Agua Dulce, CA) – Saturday 2 am local time
KFZR 93.3 FM (Frazier Park, CA) – Saturday 2 am local time
 
More affiliate stations are set to be added to our growing network… stay tuned!
 
Best,
Dialogos Radio & Media
 
***************************************
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα: Συνέντευξη με το δημοσιογράφο Δημήτρη Γιαννόπουλο
 
Αυτή την εβδομάδα, η εκπομπή «Διάλογος» επιστρέφει, ξεκινώντας τη νέα ραδιοφωνική σεζόν 2017-2018. Στην εκπομπή μας, θα φιλοξενήσουμε το δημοσιογράφο Δημήτρη Γιαννόπουλο, πρώην σύμβουλος τύπου του τότε υπουργού οικονομικών Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη, με σημαντικές αποκαλύψεις για την θητεία του Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη ως υπουργός οικονομικών, και συζήτηση για τις τρέχουσες οικονομικές και πολιτικές εξελίξεις.
 
Περισσότερες πληροφορίες εδώ: http://dialogosmedia.org/?p=7087
 
Νέοι συνεργαζόμενοι σταθμοί στο δίκτυο μας
 
Οι Ελληνόφωνες εκπομπές μας θα μεταδίδονται από το ομογενειακό ραδιοφωνικό σταθμό CHIR, που μεταδίδεται μέσω καλωδιακών δικτύων στις ευρύτερες περιοχές του Τορόντο, του Μόντρεαλ, της πόλης του Κεμπέκ, της πόλης Οτάβα, του Χάμιλτον και του Νιαγάρα.
 
Επίσης, η Αγγλόφωνη εκπομπή μας θα μεταδίδεται από τους ακόλουθους ραδιοφωνικούς σταθμούς των ΗΠΑ, μέσω του δικτύου Global Community Radio:
 
WLRI 92.9 FM (Gap/Lancaster, PA) – Σαββάτο 5:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
KIEZ 106.7 FM (Monroe, LA) – Σαββάτο 5:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
KLQS 96.7 FM (Agua Dulce, CA) – Σαββάτο 2:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
KFZR 93.3 FM (Frazier Park, CA) – Σαββάτο 2:00 π.μ. (τοπική ώρα)
 
Φιλικά,
Διάλογος Radio & Media
Sep 182017
 

By dokuz8 News99GetSmart

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Demands for Secular Education under Violent Attack in Istanbul!

https://theradicaldemocrat.wordpress.com/2017/09/15/demands-for-secular-education-under-violent-attack-in-istanbul/

[Please click on the link above to view the video footage]

An angry mob attacked activists and parents who demanded secular education, during a protest against new educational curriculum provisioning more religious education in Turkey.

Education Movement had called for a protest against educational curriculum changes; starting at 5 pm in Istanbul’s Kadıköy -a pro-secular district which would not be a site for violent protests. The protest would have simultaneous action in other cities such as Ankara and İzmir. As the protest group started gathering, a counter-protest group also formed. The violent mob equipped with iron-clubs and stones attacked the education activists and parents who demanded a more secular curriculum to be in place for 18 million students in Turkey. Kadıköy locals have joined in and defended the protestors against violent mob and attackers were pushed back.

https://twitter.com/dokuz8_EN/status/908719053996511234

Sep 162017
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Defense Secretary General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

Defense Secretary General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

Introduction

Clearly the US has escalated the pivotal role of the military in the making of foreign and, by extension, domestic policy. The rise of ‘the Generals’ to strategic positions in the Trump regime is evident, deepening its role as a highly autonomous force determining US strategic policy agendas.

In this paper we will discuss the advantages that the military elite accumulate from the war agenda and the reasons why ‘the Generals’ have been able to impose their definition of international realities.

We will discuss the military’s ascendancy over Trump’s civilian regime as a result of the relentless degradation of his presidency by his political opposition.

The Prelude to Militarization: Obama’s Multi-War Strategy and Its Aftermath

The central role of the military in deciding US foreign policy has its roots in the strategic decisions taken during the Obama-Clinton Presidency. Several policies were decisive in the rise of unprecedented military-political power.

  1. The massive increase of US troops in Afghanistan and their subsequent failures and retreat weakened the Obama-Clinton regime and increased animosity between the military and the Obama’s Administration. As a result of his failures, Obama downgraded the military and weakened Presidential authority.
  2. The massive US-led bombing and destruction of Libya, the overthrow of the Gadhafi government and the failure of the Obama-Clinton administration to impose a puppet regime, underlined the limitations of US air power and the ineffectiveness of US political-military intervention. The Presidency blundered in its foreign policy in North Africa and demonstrated its military ineptness.
  3. The invasion of Syria by US-funded mercenaries and terrorists committed the US to an unreliable ally in a losing war. This led to a reduction in the military budget and encouraged the Generals to view their direct control of overseas wars and foreign policy as the only guarantee of their positions.
  4. The US military intervention in Iraq was only a secondary contributing factor in the defeat of ISIS; the major actors and beneficiaries were Iran and the allied Iraqi Shia militias.
  5. The Obama-Clinton engineered coup and power grab in the Ukraine brought a corrupt incompetent military junta to power in Kiev and provoked the secession of the Crimea (to Russia) and Eastern Ukraine (allied with Russia). The Generals were sidelined and found that they had tied themselves to Ukrainian kleptocrats while dangerously increasing political tensions with Russia. The Obama regime dictated economic sanctions against Moscow, designed to compensate for their ignominious military-political failures.

The Obama-Clinton legacy facing Trump was built around a three-legged stool: an international order based on military aggression and confrontation with Russia; a ‘pivot to Asia’ defined as the military encirclement and economic isolation of China – via bellicose threats and economic sanctions against North Korea; and the use of the military as the praetorian guards of free trade agreements in Asia excluding China.

The Obama ‘legacy’ consists of an international order of globalized capital and multiple wars. The continuity of Obama’s ‘glorious legacy’ initially depended on the election of Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, for its part, promised to dismantle or drastically revise the Obama Doctrine of an international order based on multiple wars, neo-colonial ‘nation’ building and free trade. A furious Obama ‘informed’ (threatened) the newly-elected President Trump that he would face the combined hostility of the entire State apparatus, Wall Street and the mass media if he proceeded to fulfill his election promises of economic nationalism and thus undermine the US-centered global order.

Trump’s bid to shift from Obama’s sanctions and military confrontation to economic reconciliation with Russia was countered by a hornet’s nest of accusations about a Trump-Russian electoral conspiracy, darkly hinting at treason and show trials against his close allies and even family members.

The concoction of a Trump-Russia plot was only the first step toward a total war on the new president, but it succeeded in undermining Trump’s economic nationalist agenda and his efforts to change Obama’s global order.

Trump Under Obama’s International Order

After only 8 months in office President Trump helplessly gave into the firings, resignations and humiliation of each and every one of his civilian appointees, especially those who were committed to reverse Obama’s ‘international order’.

Trump was elected to replace wars, sanctions and interventions with economic deals beneficial to the American working and middle class. This would include withdrawing the military from its long-term commitments to budget-busting ‘nation-building’ (occupation) in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and other Obama-designated endless war zones.

Trump’s military priorities were supposed to focus on strengthening domestic frontiers and overseas markets. He started by demanding that NATO partners pay for their own military defense responsibilities. Obama’s globalists in both political parties were aghast that the US might lose it overwhelming control of NATO; they united and moved immediately to strip Trump of his economic nationalist allies and their programs.

Trump quickly capitulated and fell into line with Obama’s international order, except for one proviso – he would select the Cabinet to implement the old/new international order.

A hamstrung Trump chose a military cohort of Generals, led by General James Mattis (famously nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’) as Defense Secretary.

The Generals effectively took over the Presidency. Trump abdicated his responsibilities as President.

General Mattis: The Militarization of America

General Mattis took up the Obama legacy of global militarization and added his own nuances, including the ‘psychological-warfare’ embedded in Trump’s emotional ejaculations on ‘Twitter’.

The ‘Mattis Doctrine’ combined high-risk threats with aggressive provocations, bringing the US (and the world) to the brink of nuclear war.

General Mattis has adopted the targets and fields of operations, defined by the previous Obama administration as it has sought to re-enforce the existing imperialist international order.

The junta’s policies relied on provocations and threats against Russia, with expanded economic sanctions. Mattis threw more fuel on the US mass media’s already hysterical anti-Russian bonfire. The General promoted a strategy of low intensity diplomatic thuggery, including the unprecedented seizure and invasion of Russian diplomatic offices and the short-notice expulsion of diplomats and consular staff.

These military threats and acts of diplomatic intimidation signified that the Generals’ Administration under the Puppet President Trump was ready to sunder diplomatic relations with a major world nuclear power and indeed push the world to direct nuclear confrontation.

What Mattis seeks in these mad fits of aggression is nothing less than capitulation on the part of the Russian government regarding long held US military objectives – namely the partition of Syria (which started under Obama), harsh starvation sanctions on North Korea (which began under Clinton) and the disarmament of Iran (Tel Aviv’s main goal) in preparation for its dismemberment.

The Mattis junta occupying the Trump White House heightened its threats against a North Korea, which (in Vladimir Putin’s words) ‘would rather eat grass than disarm’. The US mass media-military megaphones portrayed the North Korean victims of US sanctions and provocations as an ‘existential’ threat to the US mainland.

Sanctions have intensified. The stationing of nuclear weapons on South Korea is being pushed. Massive joint military exercises are planned and ongoing in the air, sea and land around North Korea. Mattis twisted Chinese arms (mainly business comprador-linked bureaucrats) and secured their UN Security Council vote on increased sanctions. Russia joined the Mattis-led anti-Pyongyang chorus, even as Putin warned of sanctions ineffectiveness! (As if General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis would ever take Putin’s advice seriously, especially after Russia voted for the sanctions!)

Mattis further militarized the Persian Gulf, following Obama’s policy of partial sanctions and bellicose provocation against Iran.

When he worked for Obama, Mattis increased US arms shipments to the US’s Syrian terrorists and Ukrainian puppets, ensuring the US would be able to scuttle any ‘negotiated settlements’.

Militarization: An Evaluation

Trump’s resort to ‘his Generals’ is supposed to counter any attacks from members of his own party and Congressional Democrats about his foreign policy. Trump’s appointment of ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, a notorious Russophobe and warmonger, has somewhat pacified the opposition in Congress and undercut any ‘finding’ of an election conspiracy between Trump and Moscow dug up by the Special Investigator Robert Mueller. Trump’s maintains a role as nominal President by adapting to what Obama warned him was ‘their international order’ – now directed by an unelected military junta composed of Obama holdovers!

The Generals provide a veneer of legitimacy to the Trump regime (especially for the warmongering Obama Democrats and the mass media). However, handing presidential powers over to ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and his cohort will come with a heavy price.

While the military junta may protect Trump’s foreign policy flank, it does not lessen the attacks on his domestic agenda. Moreover, Trump’s proposed budget compromise with the Democrats has enraged his own Party’s leaders.

In sum, under a weakened President Trump, the militarization of the White House benefits the military junta and enlarges their power. The ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis program has had mixed results, at least in its initial phase: The junta’s threats to launch a pre-emptive (possibly nuclear) war against North Korea have strengthenedPyongyang’s commitment to develop and refine its long and medium range ballistic missile capability and nuclear weapons. Brinksmanship failed to intimidate North Korea. Mattis cannot impose the Clinton-Bush-Obama doctrine of disarming countries (like Libya and Iraq) of their advanced defensive weapons systems as a prelude to a US ‘regime change’ invasion.

Any US attack against North Korea will lead to massive retaliatory strikes costing tens of thousands of US military lives and will kill and maim millions of civilians in South Korea and Japan.

At most, ‘Mad Dog’ managed to intimidate Chinese and Russian officials (and their export business billionaire buddies) to agree to more economic sanctions against North Korea. Mattis and his allies in the UN and White House, the loony Nikki Hailey and a miniaturized President Trump, may bellow war – yet they cannot apply the so-called ‘military option’ without threatening the US military forces stationed throughout the Asia Pacific region.

The Mad Dog Mattis assault on the Russian embassy did not materially weaken Russia, but it has revealed the uselessness of Moscow’s conciliatory diplomacy toward their so-called ‘partners’ in the Trump regime.

The end-result might lead to a formal break in diplomatic ties, which would increase the danger of a military confrontation and a global nuclear holocaust.

The military junta is pressuring China against North Korea with the goal of isolating the ruling regime in Pyongyang and increasing the US military encirclement of Beijing. Mad Dog has partially succeeded in turning China against North Korea while securing its advanced THADD anti-missile installations in South Korea, which will be directed against Beijing. These are Mattis’ short-term gains over the excessively pliant Chinese bureaucrats. However, if Mad Dog intensifies direct military threats against China, Beijing can retaliate by dumping tens of billions of US Treasury notes, cutting trade ties, sowing chaos in the US economy and setting Wall Street against the Pentagon.

Mad Dog’s military build-up, especially in Afghanistan and in the Middle East, will not intimidate Iran nor add to any military successes. They entail high costs and low returns, as Obama realized after the better part of a decade of his defeats, fiascos and multi-billion dollar losses.

Conclusion

The militarization of US foreign policy, the establishment of a military junta within the Trump Administration, and the resort to nuclear brinksmanship has not changed the global balance of power.

Domestically Trump’s nominal Presidency relies on militarists, like General Mattis. Mattis has tightened the US control over NATO allies, and even rounded up stray European outliers, like Sweden, to join in a military crusade against Russia. Mattis has played on the media’s passion for bellicose headlines and its adulation of Four Star Generals.

But for all that – North Korea remains undaunted because it can retaliate. Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons and remains a counterweight to a US-dominated globe. China owns the US Treasury and its unimpressed, despite the presence of an increasingly collision-prone US Navy swarming throughout the South China Sea.

Mad Dog laps up the media attention, with well dressed, scrupulously manicured journalists hanging on his every bloodthirsty pronouncement. War contractors flock to him, like flies to carrion. The Four Star General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis has attained Presidential status without winning any election victory (fake or otherwise). No doubt when he steps down, Mattis will be the most eagerly courted board member or senior consultant for giant military contractors in US history, receiving lucrative fees for half hour ‘pep-talks’ and ensuring the fat perks of nepotism for his family’s next three generations. Mad Dog may even run for office, as Senator or even President for whatever Party.

The militarization of US foreign policy provides some important lessons:

First of all, the escalation from threats to war does not succeed in disarming adversaries who possess the capacity to retaliate. Intimidation via sanctions can succeed in imposing significant economic pain on oil export-dependent regimes, but not on hardened, self-sufficient or highly diversified economies.

Low intensity multi-lateral war maneuvers reinforce US-led alliances, but they also convince opponents to increase their military preparedness. Mid-level intense wars against non-nuclear adversaries can seize capital cities, as in Iraq, but the occupier faces long-term costly wars of attrition that can undermine military morale, provoke domestic unrest and heighten budget deficits. And they create millions of refugees.

High intensity military brinksmanship carries major risk of massive losses in lives, allies, territory and piles of radiated ashes – a pyrrhic victory!

In sum:

Threats and intimidation succeed only against conciliatory adversaries. Undiplomatic verbal thuggery can arouse the spirit of the bully and some of its allies, but it has little chance of convincing its adversaries to capitulate. The US policy of worldwide militarization over-extends the US armed forces and has not led to any permanent military gains.

Are there any voices among clear-thinking US military leaders, those not bedazzled by their stars and idiotic admirers in the US media, who could push for more global accommodation and mutual respect among nations? The US Congress and the corrupt media are demonstrably incapable of evaluating past disasters, let alone forging an effective response to new global realities.

Sep 082017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Case Study In Neoliberalism: What The EU Actually Is

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

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

The EU’s not so humble beginnings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There is no alternative”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the fear of losing the EU?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discrediting the EU’s opponents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International cooperation and repairing what’s broken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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