Jul 282017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern-day Greece: Fatalism, defeatism and hopelessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental colonization

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

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

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

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

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

Greece: The worst in everything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devaluing the domestic, lionizing the foreign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divide and conquer in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We don’t produce anything”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An abject lack of pride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A losing battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apr 242012
 

 

* THE GLOBALIZATION OF HOLLOW POLITICS

By Chris Hedges, OpEdNews

[…] The extremists, of course, are already in power. They have been in power for several years. They write our legislation. They pick the candidates and fund their campaigns. They dominate the courts. They effectively gut regulations and environmental controls. They suck down billions in government subsidies. They pay no taxes. They determine our energy policy. They loot the U.S. treasury. They rigidly control public debate and information. They wage useless and costly imperial wars for profit. They are behind the stripping away of our most cherished civil liberties. They are implementing government programs to gouge out any money left in the carcass of America. And they know that Romney or Barack Obama, along with the Democratic and the Republican parties, will not stop them.

The abrasive Nicolas Sarkozy is France’s oilier version of Bush. Sarkozy, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has done the dirty work for bankers. He and Merkel have shoved draconian austerity measures down the throats of Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy. The governments of all these countries, not surprisingly, have been deposed by an enraged electorate. And if the new governments in these distressed European states continue to be ineffectual — which is inevitable given the sacrifices demanded by the banks — the instability will get worse.

Politicians such as Obama — and, I fear, Holland — who carry out corporate agendas while speaking in the language of populism become enemies of liberal democracies. Labor unions, environmentalists, anti-war activists and civil libertarians, blinded by the images and lies disseminated by public relations offices, stop watching what these politicians do. They mute their criticism to give these politicians, whose rhetoric is rarely matched by reality, a chance. The result accelerates our disempowerment. It is also, more ominously, a discrediting of traditional liberal democratic values. The longer the liberal class does not vigorously denounce expanded oil drilling, our corporate health insurance bill and the National Defense Authorization Act, simply because these initiatives have been pushed through by the Democrats, the more marginal the left becomes. If Bush had carried these policies, “liberal” pundits would have thundered with feigned outrage. The hypocrisy of the American left is too blatant to ignore. And it has effectively left us disempowered as a political force. […]

READ @ http://www.opednews.com/populum/printer_friendly.php?content=a&id=149307

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* 500 TROOPERS MAY HELP HANDLE NATO PROTESTERS

By Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times

As many as 500 troopers from the Illinois State Police will assist the Chicago Police Department in handling thousands of protesters expected to descend on Chicago during the May 20-21 NATO summit, City Hall sources said Friday.

The 500-trooper contingent would represent nearly 40 percent of the statewide total, raising questions about how the State Police would be able to juggle their other responsibilities to patrol state expressways and tollways and perform other emergency functions. […]

READ @ http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/12033252-418/as-many-as-500-troopers-from-the-illinois-state-police-will-assist-the-chicago-police.html

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* SPVM SHOOTS DEMONSTRATOR POINT BLANK

Source: youtube

SPVM Shoots demonstrator point blank with CS canister gun at the montreal congress center.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0Gm4_cix8w&amp

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* MONTREAL STUDENT PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT

Source: Canadian Press

Unusually violent clashes with police, projectiles thrown at highway vehicles, an apparently hacked government website, and a joke by Premier Jean Charest about it all that some thought in bad taste.

At a moment when Quebecers thought the mood couldn’t be more venomous between student protesters and the government, events degenerated once again Friday.

Protesters, primarily those raging over planned hikes to college and university tuition, showed up at Montreal’s convention centre, where hundreds of business people were gathered to hear Charest vaunt his “North Plan,” a major mining and natural resource development strategy in the province’s north.

They pounded on the centre’s multicoloured windows and picketed the entrances. Then about 150 found their way inside and Charest’s speech was delayed.

Shortly after noon, police declared the demonstration illegal and moved to disperse those inside and outside the centre. […]

READ @ http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1165275–charest-speech-erupts-into-rowdy-protest-in-montreal

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* IT TOOK THE BANK OF GREECE ONLY THREE WEEKS TO REVISE ITS 2012 GDP FORECAST EVEN LOWER

By Tyler Durden, ZeroHedge

If there is anyone shocked by today’s announcement by the Bank of Greece that the country is once again slashing its full year economic forecast by 10%, aside from the IMF of course, please raise your hand. As a reminder, the IMF, whose projections were the basis for the recently released second bailout, and which assume a flat GDP in 2013, somehow has visibility through 2020. Which is more than can be said for the Bank of Greece: its latest forecast of 4.5% GDP decline was made three weeks ago. THREE WEEKS. And it already is being revised. In other news, we look forward to updating the deposit flight out of Greek banks when the most recent monthly update is released shortly, confirming that the local economy continues to be, simply said, dead. A few more such comparable downward revisions, and the Third Greek bailout (Of European Banks), which is due any second now, may be jeopardized (as it will be more difficult to sell to Germans why they are once again bailing out French banks). […]

[…] And some more bad news: more wage cuts are coming. Yes, soon our Onionesque forecast of negative wages will come true…

Apart from reiterating its call for further layoffs in the public sector, the Bank of Greece also said that wages should be cut further in order to boost competitiveness. It added that Greece is still missing structural reforms that could boost productivity, services and the business environment generally. […]

READ @ http://www.zerohedge.com/news/it-took-bank-greece-only-three-weeks-revise-it-2012-gdp-forecast-even-lower

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* GREEK TOWN DEVELOPS BARTERING SYSTEM

Source: youtube

Greek town develops bartering system without euro. As Greece wonders whether its debt crisis will eventually spell its exit from the euro, one town in the centre of the country, Volos, has formed an alternative local currency. It works through a bartering system or exchange of goods.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTMXhSSOBSk

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* GREEKS TO PAY 25% INCREASE IN PUBLIC TRANSPORT, ELECTRICITY AND WATER

Source: keeptalkinggreece

That’s the country of economic miracles full of paradoxes. While the incomes decrease and wages undergo more and more cuts of 20-30%, prices keep going higher and higher. As if the 40% hikes in heating oil were not enough, prices for public transport and utilities are expected to rise at 25%. Greek media report that public transport tickets will be up, the same will happen with electricity and water consumption.

Tickets for one public transport mean (bus, trolley and tram) will increase from €1.20 to €1.50, while tickets for the metro and combined for all transport means will reach €1.75 -from €1.40 today. Increases of 25% will also affect the fares for trains and Proastiakos.

Electricity bills for households and small enterprises are expected to rise with the arrival of 2013, while water bills will see hikes within 2012.

According to the Greek media, the administrations of the state-run enterprises are on ‘reorganization tour’ as dictated in the second loan agreement between Greece and its lenders: The plans include these 25% hikes, further decreases in wages and operating costs. And getting ready for privatizations. […]

READ @ http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2012/04/24/greeks-to-pay-25-increases-in-public-transport-electricity-and-water/

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* QATAR ‘ROYAL’ BUYS GREEK ISLAND 

By Claire Valdini

A member of Qatar’s royal family has purchased a Greek island for €5m, according to a local report.

The 1,236-acre island, named Oxia, was initially advertised by owners the Greek-Australian Stamoulis family for €6.9m ($9.1m), Greek daily Ekathimerini reported, citing unnamed sources.

The island’s new owners are expected to develop part of the island, it added.

The island is located in the Ionian Sea, near Ithaca, and is protected by the Natura 2000 ecological network, the newspaper said.

Greece’s government has been under pressure to privatise the country’s islands in the wake of its sovereign debt crisis.

The sale follows a week after Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund announced it had signed an agreement to acquire Smeralda Holding, owner of luxury hotel resorts on Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. […]

READ @ http://m.arabianbusiness.com/qatar-royal-buys-greek-island-report-454838.html

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* WORLD BANK OVERSEEING GLOBAL LAND GRAB

By Carey L. Biron, IPS

[…] According to activists and farmers speaking ahead of the World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty here in Washington, part of the blame also needs to be placed on the Bank’s own technical assistance, past and present. The issue formed a core message during more than 250 protests worldwide on Apr. 17, marked as the International Day of Peasant Struggle.

‘Decades of World Bank policies have created the basis for what is happening today,’ Giulia Franchi, a campaigner with the Italian Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale, said on Monday.

Franchi and others express particular frustration with a Bank-led initiative known as the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (commonly referred to as RAI), which came into existence in January 2010.

The RAI, Franchi says, constitutes ‘an attempt to support transnational corporations to acquire land worldwide. While it looks like it’s standing with local communities, there is no way that the expropriation of people’s lands can be considered responsible.’ […]

READ @ http://www.globalissues.org/news/2012/04/23/13444

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* CZECH REPUBLIC: UNION DEMO IN PRAGUE

By Django, Libcom.org

[…] The official demands of the protest were an end to the austerity measures (at least in their current form, the dissolution of the government and new elections. Recent corruption scandals have also led to demands to “clean up” politics. The demand for elections may materialise, as the coalition teeters on the brink of collapse following the disintegration of the Public Affairs party. The Social Democrats would stand to benefit, followed by the Communist Party who currently are standing second in opinion polls.

However, the composition of attendees, and the numbers (double what was expected by the organisers) show a current of anger over an erosion of day-to-day living standards. AFP quoted a pensioner, Jana Sizlingova on her reasons for attending: “I’m upset with corruption, non-transparent procurement, the health system, the social system — simply, there’s nothing good about this government,”

The protest numbers among the largest since those which brought down the Stalinist government in conjunction with a general strike in 1989. Until a similar protest last year, large-scale demonstrations of this kind have been rare in the Czech Republic.

Below are photos I took on the demonstration today, which began in the historically working class district of Žižkov and culminated in a rally in the packed out Wenceslas square (so packed, in fact, that I was caught in a nasty crush on one side of the square). Police presence was low (perhaps because they’d underestimated numbers in the same way as the organisers), and the demonstration was incredibly noisy but not especially boisterous. […]

READ and PHOTOS @ http://libcom.org/blog/stop-vládě-union-demo-prague-21042012

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* DUTCH GOVERNMENT COLLAPSES IN RE-EMERGENCE OF EUROPE’S FAR RIGHT

The Dutch government has collapsed as the Prime Minister handed in his resignation following this weekends news of the rejection of austerity measures needed to save the Euro.

By Alexander Higgens

As I reported on Saturday, the Dutch government was facing collapse after politicians rejected EU mandated austerity measures needed to secure an EU bailout to keep the Euro alive and fight of the contagion that has now officially led to a depression in Greece and has Spain teetering on the brink of collapse.

Making the bloodbath worse are news headlines that the Chinese manufacturing has contracted for 6th straight month in a row.

Combine that with news coming out of France that has the Global banking cartel shaking in fear – The candidate who won the first round of the French elections and is expected to win by a landslide in the upcoming run-off against Sarkozy plans on rejecting EU austerity measures while promising to “rip up France’s agreement to the European fiscal pact.”

That is truly disturbing news since the entire Eurozone is being kept afloat on the backs of German and French taxpayers. […]

READ and CHARTS @ http://blog.alexanderhiggins.com/2012/04/23/collapses-dutch-government-eu-stock-markets-125911/

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* FORMER ICELANDIC PM CONVICTED FOR NEGLIGENCE OVER FINANCIAL COLLAPSE 

By Joshua Keating, Foreign Policy

In 2009, Iceland’s Geir Haarde became the first European leader to lose power as a result of the financial crisis. (Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte seems to be the latest.) He is now also the first country leader in the world convicted of negligence because of the crash, though he was cleared of three other charges and will face no jail time. Haarde’s prosecution has unsurprisingly been controversial:

Mr Haarde pleaded not guilty and called the accusations “political vendetta” that would set a “terrible precedent”. “Nobody predicted that there would be a financial collapse in Iceland” in 2008, he said.

Criticism of the trial has been widespread throughout Iceland. Many questioned why the centre-left controlled parliament chose to put only Mr Haarde on trial while rejecting charges against Social Democratic ministers who were serving in government at the same time.

Others have criticised that fact that the trial was not televised and complained that much of the political elite of Iceland chose to support Mr Haarde with their testimony.

READ @ http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/04/23/former_icelandic_pm_convicted_for_negligence_over_financial_collapse

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* HOW AMERICA WENT ROGUE: WHAT WE ALL NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OUR GOVERNMENT’S SHADOW WARS

By Juan Cole, AlterNet

[…] Although the Iraqis managed to compel the withdrawal of US troops by the end of last year, Washington is nevertheless seeking to remain influential through shadow power. The US embassy in Baghdad has 16,000 employees, most of them civilian contractors. They include 2,000 diplomats and several hundred intelligence operatives. By contrast, the entire US Foreign Service corps comprises fewer than 14,000. The Obama administration has decided to slash the number of contractors, planning for an embassy force of “only” 8,000. This monument to shadow power clearly is not intended merely to represent US interests in Iraq but rather to shape that country and to serve as a command center for the eastern reaches of the greater Middle East. The US shadow warriors will, for instance, attempt to block “the influence of Iran,” according to the Washington Post. Since Iraq’s Shiite political parties, which dominate Parliament and the cabinet, are often close to Iran, that charge would inescapably involve meddling in internal Iraqi politics.

Nor can we be sure that the CIA will engage only in espionage or influence-peddling in Iraq. The American shadow government routinely kidnaps people it considers dangerous and has sent them to black sites for torture, often by third-party governments to keep American hands clean. As usual with the shadow government, private corporations have been enlisted to help in these “rendition” programs, which are pursued outside the framework of national and international law and in defiance of the sensibilities of our allies. How the United States might behave in Iraq can be extrapolated from its recent behavior in other allied countries. In November 2009 an Italian court convicted in absentia twenty-three people, most of them CIA field officers who had kidnapped an alleged Al Qaeda recruiter, Abu Omar, on a Milan street in the middle of the day and sent him to Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt for “interrogation.” Obama has explicitly continued this practice as a “counterterrorism tool,” though he says torture has been halted. Iraq is likely to continue to be an arena of such veiled struggles. […]

READ @ http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/155000

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* SUGAR DADDIES

The old, white, rich men who are buying this election 

By Frank Rich, NYTimes

If you want to appreciate what Barack Obama is up against in 2012, forget about the front man who is his nominal opponent and look instead at the Republican billionaires buying the ammunition for the battles ahead. A representative example is Harold Simmons, an 80-year-old Texan who dumped some $15 million into the campaign before primary season had ended. Reminiscing about 2008, when he bankrolled an ad blitz to tar the Democrats with the former radical Bill Ayers, Simmons told The Wall Street Journal, “If we had run more ads, we could have killed Obama.” It is not a mistake he intends to make a second time. The $15 million Simmons had spent by late February dwarfs the $2.8 million he allotted to the Ayers takedown and the $3 million he contributed to the Swift Boat Veterans demolition of John Kerry four years before that. Imagine the cash that will flow now that the GOP sideshows are over and the president is firmly in Simmons’s crosshairs.

His use of the verb killed was meant in jest, of course, much as Foster Friess ($1.8 million in known contributions, and counting) was joking when he suggested that “gals” could practice birth control by putting Bayer aspirin between their knees. America’s billionaires are such cards! And we had better get used to their foibles and funny bones. Whatever else happens in 2012, it will go down as the Year of the Sugar Daddy. Inflamed by Obama-hatred, awash in self-pity, and empowered by myriad indulgent court and Federal Election Commission rulings, an outsize posse of superrich white men will spend whatever it takes to have its way with the body politic and, if victorious, with the country itself. Given the advanced age of most of this cohort, 2012 may be seen as the election in which the geezer empire struck back.

This isn’t quite what was supposed to happen. When the Supreme Court handed down its five-to-four Citizens United decision in 2010, pre-vetting Mitt Romney’s credo that “corporations are people,” apocalyptic Democrats, including Obama, predicted that the election would become a wholly owned subsidiary of the likes of Chevron and General Electric. But publicly traded, risk-averse corporations still care more about profits than partisanship. They tend to cover their bets by giving to both parties. And they are fearful of alienating customers and investors. Witness, most recently, the advertisers who fled Rush Limbaugh, or the far bigger brands (­McDonald’s and Wendy’s, Coke and Pepsi) that severed ties with the conservative lobbying mill responsible for pushing state “stand your ground” laws like the one used to justify the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida. While corporations and unions remain serious players in the campaign of 2012, their dollars don’t match those of the sugar daddies, who can and do give as much as they want to the newfangled super-PACs. […]

READ @ http://readersupportednews.org/off-site-opinion-section/72-72/11085-sugar-daddies

Dec 222011
 

 

* LOCAL POLICE STOCKPILE HIGH-TECH, COMBAT-READY GEAR

By Andrew Becker, Center for Investigative Reporting

If terrorists ever target Fargo, N.D., the local police will be ready.

In recent years, they have bought bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers in foreign wars. For local siege situations requiring real firepower, police there can use a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. Until that day, however, the menacing truck is mostly used for training runs and appearances at the annual Fargo picnic, where it’s been displayed near a children’s bounce house.

“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” said Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”

Fargo, like thousands of other communities in every state, has been on a gear-buying spree with the aid of more than $34 billion in federal government grants since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

The federal grant spending, awarded with little oversight from Washington, has fueled a rapid, broad transformation of police operations in Fargo and in departments across the country. More than ever before, police rely on quasi-military tactics and equipment, the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

No one can say exactly what has been purchased in total across the country or how it’s being used, because the federal government doesn’t keep close track. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records. But a review of records from 41 states obtained through open-government requests, and interviews with more than two-dozen current and former police officials and terrorism experts, shows police departments around the U.S. have transformed into small army-like forces.

Since Occupy Wall Street and similar protests broke out this fall, confusion about how to respond has landed some police departments in national headlines for electing to use intimidating riot gear, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. Observers have decried these aggressive tactics as more evidence that police are overly militarized. Among them is former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, who today regrets his “militaristic” answer in 1999 to the infamous “Battle in Seattle” protests.

Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The list of equipment bought with the federal grants reads like a defense contractor catalog. High-tech gear fills the garages, locker rooms and patrol cars in departments across the country.

Although local officials say they have become more cautious about spending in recent years, police departments around the country are continually expanding the equipment and tactics of their jobs, despite, in many cases, the lack of an apparent need.

The share of federal grants for Fargo and the county it anchors is more than $8 million, a considerable sum for terrorism defense given its remote location and status as one of the safest areas in America. Fargo has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there have been no prosecutions of international terrorism in the state for at least a decade, if ever.

North Dakota’s biggest city is a humble place set on plains so flat that locals like to say you can watch your dog run away for two weeks. Yet all patrol officers in Fargo now carry an assault rifle in their squad car.

Fargo police Lt. Ross Renner, who commands a regional SWAT team, said the world is a dangerous place, and the city wants to be ready for anything.

With that in mind, Renner pushed for military-style assault rifles to become standard issue in department patrol cars.

“It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected,” Renner said. “We don’t have every-day threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”

Other communities also have ramped up as well. In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone. In Garland County, Ark., known for its pleasant hot springs, a local law enforcement agency acquired four handheld bulletproof protective shields costing $600 each. In East Baton Rouge, La., it was $400 ballistic helmets. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. And for police in Des Moines, Iowa, it was two $180,000 bomb robots.

Homeland security and law enforcement officials say the expenditures and modern training have helped save civilian and police lives. Do the armored vehicles and combat dress produce a sort of “shock and awe” effect? Lt. Jeremy Clark of the West Hartford Police Department in Connecticut hopes so. He said it can persuade suspects to give up sooner.

“The only time I hear the complaint of ‘God, you guys look scary’ is if the incident turns out to be nothing,” said Clark, who organizes an annual SWAT competition.

But the gear also can be used for heavy-handed – even excessive – tactics. In one case, dozens of officers in combat-style gear raided a rave in Utah as a police helicopter buzzed overhead. An online video shows the battle-ready team wearing masks and brandishing rifles as they holler for the music to be shut off and pin partygoers to the ground.

Arizona tactical officers this year sprayed the home of ex-Marine Jose Guerena with gunfire as the man stood in a hallway with a rifle that he did not shoot [PDF]. He was hit 22 times and died. Police had targeted the man’s older brother in a narcotics-trafficking probe, but nothing illegal was found in the younger Guerena’s home, and no related arrests had been made months after the raid.

Police say greater firepower and more protective equipment became increasingly necessary not only as everyday criminals obtained deadlier weapons, but also in response to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks. They point to a 1997 Los Angeles-area shootout with heavily armed bank robbers and the bloody 2008 shooting and bombing attack in Mumbai, India, which left 164 people dead and 300 wounded.

Every community in the country has some explanation for why it needs more money, not less, to protect against every conceivable threat. It could be a shooting rampage at an amusement park, a weapon of mass destruction hidden at a manufacturing plant, a nuclear device detonated at a major coastal port. Nothing short of absolute security seems acceptable.

“The argument for up-armoring is always based on the least likely of terrorist scenarios,” said Mark Randol, a former terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service. “Anyone can get a gun and shoot up stuff. No amount of SWAT equipment can stop that.”

Law enforcement leaders nonetheless bristle at the word “militarization,” even if the defense community itself acknowledges a convergence of the two.

“I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society,” said former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton, now chairman of Kroll Inc., the security consulting firm. […]

READ @ http://americaswarwithin.org/articles/2011/12/21/local-police-stockpile-high-tech-combat-ready-gear

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* OCCUPY PROTESTERS INDICTED ON FELONY CHARGES IN HOUSTON

By Miranda Leitsinger, msnbc.com

Cody Duty / AP Occupy Houston protesters lay in the exit ramp at the Port of Houston Authority on Dec. 12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Occupy protesters were indicted on felony charges by a grand jury in Houston on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office says, in connection with their demonstration at the local port as part of a national day of action by the movement.

The decision comes nearly a week after a judge initially dismissed the charges, saying the protesters could not be charged with possessing or using a “criminal instrument” – a felony in Texas – for their use of PVC pipe.

The protesters — three from Austin, four from Houston — put their arms through the pipe and used latches on it to connect together, making their arrest more difficult but not preventing it, said one of their attorneys, Daphne Silverman, of the National Lawyer’s Guild in Houston. Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, confirmed the indictment.

“They are feeling, ‘wow,’ is the word. … They’re in a lot of shock. They were very happy with the justice’s decision last week, they believed in her, they believed in the justice system,” Silverman said. “These people … are not criminals. These folks are out there attempting to make the country better for all of us.”

Silverman, who noted that she believed the law had been wrongly applied by the prosecutor, said it’s likely the protesters will be back in court in January to talk about the next step, such as negotiations or to go to trial. If convicted, they face up to two years in jail.

READ @ http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/12/20/9587551-occupy-protesters-indicted-on-felony-charges-in-houston?mid=55

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* DO PRIVATE MILITARY CONTRACTORS HAVE IMPUNITY TO TORTURE?

By Laura Raymond, Firedoglake

Unbelievably, in 2011 this question has not yet been settled in the courts of the United States. Human rights attorneys are headed back to court in the coming month to argue that, yes, victims of war crimes and torture by contractors should have a path to justice. Attorneys from my organization, the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with co-counsel, are representing Iraqi civilians who were horribly tortured in Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq in seeking to hold accountable two private contractors for their violations of international, federal and state law. By the military’s own internal investigations, private military contractors from the U.S.-based corporations L-3 Services and CACI International were involved in the war crimes and acts of torture that took place, which included rape, being forced to watch family members and others be raped, severe beatings, being hung in stress positions, being pulled across the floor by genitals, mock executions, and other incidents, many of which were documented by photographs. The cases, Al Shimari v. CACI and Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla and L-3 aim to secure a day in court for the plaintiffs, none of whom were ever charged with any crimes.

The Department of Justice has thus far failed to prosecute any of the contractors involved, so the only path currently available for any accountability is through these human rights lawsuits. However, after years of litigation, the allegations of torture by contractors in these cases have still never been seriously examined, much less ruled on, by the courts. None of the plaintiffs in any of these cases has yet to have his or her day in court to tell their account of what they suffered. The reason is because the private military contractors have raised numerous legal defenses– many of which the plaintiffs’ lawyers have argued are plainly inapplicable to private corporations–which have kept the cases from moving into the discovery phase, where the nature of the contractors obligations, actions and oversight, as well as what happened to the plaintiffs would be the examined in detail. So far, CACI and Titan/L-3 have focused the courts on any question but whether the plaintiffs were tortured. As CCR and co-counsel summarize the question in their brief in Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla and L-3:

Are corporate defendants entitled to categorical “law of war” immunity for their alleged torture and war crimes when such a proposed immunity runs counter to settled understandings of the law of war and centuries of Supreme Court precedent, and would give for-profit contractors more protection from suit than genuine members of the U.S. Armed Forces?

This week, CCR and co-counsel filed briefs that argue the cases must go forward. Additionally, yesterday a number of other human rights organizations along with a group of retired high-ranking military officers are filing supporting amicus briefs to add their voices to the chorus of concern over contractor impunity. The military officers’ brief argues that, “given that employees of civilian contractors indisputably are not subject to the military chain of command, and therefore cannot be disciplined or held accountable by the military, it makes little sense to extend to them such absolute tort law immunity for their misconduct.” […]

READ @ http://my.firedoglake.com/lauraraymond/2011/12/21/do-private-military-contractors-have-impunity-to-torture/

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* THE DEFINING ISSUE: NOT GOVERNMENT’S SIZE, BUT WHO IT’S FOR

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog

The defining political issue of 2012 won’t be the government’s size. It will be who government is for.

Americans have never much liked government. After all, the nation was conceived in a revolution against government.

But the surge of cynicism now engulfing America isn’t about government’s size. The cynicism comes from a growing perception that government isn’t working for average people. It’s for big business, Wall Street, and the very rich instead.

In a recent Pew Foundation poll, 77 percent of respondents said too much power is in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.

That’s understandable. To take a few examples:

Wall Street got bailed out but homeowners caught in the fierce downdraft caused by the Street’s excesses have got almost nothing.

Big agribusiness continues to rake in hundreds of billions in price supports and ethanol subsidies. Big pharma gets extended patent protection that drives up everyone’s drug prices. Big oil gets its own federal subsidy. But small businesses on the Main Streets of America are barely making it.

American Airlines uses bankruptcy to ward off debtors and renegotiate labor contracts. Donald Trump’s businesses go bankrupt without impinging on Trump’s own personal fortune. But the law won’t allow you to use personal bankruptcy to renegotiate your home mortgage. […]

READhttp://robertreich.org/post/14480589454

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* CHOMSKY TO OCCUPY: MOVE TO THE NEXT STAGE

By Lance Tapley, The Boston Phoenix

[…] Chomsky’s speech was entitled “Arab Spring, American Winter.” In it, he presented the Occupy movement as the first popular reaction to a “vicious class war” waged against working people for over 30 years in the United States, just as the Arab Spring uprisings this year in the Middle East and North Africa were reactions to decades or centuries of repression by wealthy elites supported by the United States and other Western powers.

Greeted with a standing ovation, on top of his game at 83, he stood, in jeans and sweater, talking and answering questions for two hours in his always-even voice.

Riffing from one topic to another, Chomsky — who, an emeritus professor at MIT, also is known as the father of modern linguistics — demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of American foreign policy and history, citing stunningly revealing official documents chronicling our country’s economic and military predations abroad.

He compared the rule of international elites over Middle Eastern, African, Latin American, and Asian countries to the rule of the rich 1 percent — it is often the rule of one-tenth of one percent, he suggested — in the United States.

Quoting Adam Smith, the 18th-century father of capitalist theory, Chomsky delved into the roots of the neoliberal soak-the-poor philosophy dominant worldwide. “We’re essentially living in a nightmare” that the classical economists predicted, he said.

This nightmare’s concentration of wealth “accelerates” political-campaign-money competition, he said, driving politicians into the arms of wealthy interests. One result: “The Democrats are now what used to be called moderate Republicans.” […]

READ @ http://thephoenix.com/boston/news/131298-chomsky-to-occupy-move-to-the-next-stage/

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* THIS BASTARDIZED LIBERTARIANISM MAKES ‘FREEDOM’ AN INSTRUMENT OF OPPRESSION

It’s the disguise used by those who wish to exploit without restraint, denying the need for the state to protect the 99%

By George Monibot, Common Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom: who could object? Yet this word is now used to justify a thousand forms of exploitation. Throughout the right-wing press and blogosphere, among thinktanks and governments, the word excuses every assault on the lives of the poor, every form of inequality and intrusion to which the 1% subject us. How did libertarianism, once a noble impulse, become synonymous with injustice?

In the name of freedom – freedom from regulation – the banks were permitted to wreck the economy. In the name of freedom, taxes for the super-rich are cut. In the name of freedom, companies lobby to drop the minimum wage and raise working hours. In the same cause, US insurers lobby Congress to thwart effective public healthcare; the government rips up our planning laws; big business trashes the biosphere. This is the freedom of the powerful to exploit the weak, the rich to exploit the poor.

Right-wing libertarianism recognizes few legitimate constraints on the power to act, regardless of the impact on the lives of others. In the UK it is forcefully promoted by groups like the TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Adam Smith Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, and Policy Exchange. Their concept of freedom looks to me like nothing but a justification for greed.

So why have we been been so slow to challenge this concept of liberty? I believe that one of the reasons is as follows. The great political conflict of our age – between neocons and the millionaires and corporations they support on one side, and social justice campaigners and environmentalists on the other – has been mischaracterized as a clash between negative and positive freedoms. These freedoms were most clearly defined by Isaiah Berlin in his essay of 1958, Two Concepts of Liberty. It is a work of beauty: reading it is like listening to a gloriously crafted piece of music. I will try not to mangle it too badly.

Put briefly and crudely, negative freedom is the freedom to be or to act without interference from other people. Positive freedom is freedom from inhibition: it’s the power gained by transcending social or psychological constraints. Berlin explained how positive freedom had been abused by tyrannies, particularly by the Soviet Union. It portrayed its brutal governance as the empowerment of the people, who could achieve a higher freedom by subordinating themselves to a collective single will.

Rightwing libertarians claim that greens and social justice campaigners are closet communists trying to resurrect Soviet conceptions of positive freedom. In reality, the battle mostly consists of a clash between negative freedoms.

As Berlin noted: “No man’s activity is so completely private as never to obstruct the lives of others in any way. ‘Freedom for the pike is death for the minnows’.” So, he argued, some people’s freedom must sometimes be curtailed “to secure the freedom of others”. In other words, your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. The negative freedom not to have our noses punched is the freedom that green and social justice campaigns, exemplified by the Occupy movement, exist to defend.

Berlin also shows that freedom can intrude on other values, such as justice, equality or human happiness. “If the liberty of myself or my class or nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.” It follows that the state should impose legal restraints on freedoms that interfere with other people’s freedoms – or on freedoms which conflict with justice and humanity.

These conflicts of negative freedom were summarized in one of the greatest poems of the 19th century, which could be seen as the founding document of British environmentalism. In The Fallen Elm, John Clare describes the felling of the tree he loved, presumably by his landlord, that grew beside his home. “Self-interest saw thee stand in freedom’s ways / So thy old shadow must a tyrant be. / Thou’st heard the knave, abusing those in power, / Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free.”

The landlord was exercising his freedom to cut the tree down. In doing so, he was intruding on Clare’s freedom to delight in the tree, whose existence enhanced his life. The landlord justifies this destruction by characterizing the tree as an impediment to freedom – his freedom, which he conflates with the general liberty of humankind. Without the involvement of the state (which today might take the form of a tree preservation order) the powerful man could trample the pleasures of the powerless man. Clare then compares the felling of the tree with further intrusions on his liberty. “Such was thy ruin, music-making elm; / The right of freedom was to injure thine: / As thou wert served, so would they overwhelm / In freedom’s name the little that is mine.”

But right-wing libertarians do not recognize this conflict. They speak, like Clare’s landlord, as if the same freedom affects everybody in the same way. They assert their freedom to pollute, exploit, even – among the gun nuts – to kill, as if these were fundamental human rights. They characterize any attempt to restrain them as tyranny. They refuse to see that there is a clash between the freedom of the pike and the freedom of the minnow. […]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/20-5#.TvCu4tED_ZY.facebook

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* A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM AMERICA’S RICH

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

It seems America’s bankers are tired of all the abuse. They’ve decided to speak out.

True, they’re doing it from behind the ropeline, in front of friendly crowds at industry conferences and country clubs, meaning they don’t have to look the rest of America in the eye when they call us all imbeciles and complain that they shouldn’t have to apologize for being so successful.

But while they haven’t yet deigned to talk to protesting America face to face, they are willing to scribble out some complaints on notes and send them downstairs on silver trays. Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.

Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:

“Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”

Former New York gurbernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the billionaire owner of the billing firm Paychex, offered his wisdom while his half-his-age tennis champion girlfriend hung on his arm:

“If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share’ one more time, I’m going to vomit,” said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Then there’s Leon Cooperman, the former chief of Goldman Sachs’s money-management unit, who said he was urged to speak out by his fellow golfers. His message was a version of Wall Street’s increasingly popular If-you-people-want-a-job, then-you’ll-shut-the-fuck-up rhetorical line:

Cooperman, 68, said in an interview that he can’t walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said.

“You’ll get more out of me,” the billionaire said, “if you treat me with respect.”

Finally, there is this from Blackstone CEO Steven Schwartzman:

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television, Blackstone Group LP CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”

There are obviously a great many things that one could say about this remarkable collection of quotes. One could even, if one wanted, simply savor them alone, without commentary, like lumps of fresh caviar, or raw oysters.

But out of Abelson’s collection of doleful woe-is-us complaints from the offended rich, the one that deserves the most attention is Schwarzman’s line about lower-income folks lacking “skin in the game.” This incredible statement gets right to the heart of why these people suck.

Why? It’s not because Schwarzman is factually wrong about lower-income people having no “skin in the game,” ignoring the fact that everyone pays sales taxes, and most everyone pays payroll taxes, and of course there are property taxes for even the lowliest subprime mortgage holders, and so on.

It’s not even because Schwarzman probably himself pays close to zero in income tax – as a private equity chief, he doesn’t pay income tax but tax on carried interest, which carries a maximum 15% tax rate, half the rate of a New York City firefighter.

The real issue has to do with the context of Schwarzman’s quote. The Blackstone billionaire, remember, is one of the more uniquely abhorrent, self-congratulating jerks in the entire world – a man who famously symbolized the excesses of the crisis era when, just as the rest of America was heading into a recession, he threw himself a $5 million birthday party, featuring private performances by Rod Stewart and Patti Labelle, to celebrate an IPO that made him $677 million in a matter of days (within a year, incidentally, the investors who bought that stock would lose three-fourths of their investments).

So that IPO birthday boy is now standing up and insisting, with a straight face, that America’s problem is that compared to taxpaying billionaires like himself, poor people are not invested enough in our society’s future. Apparently, we’d all be in much better shape if the poor were as motivated as Steven Schwarzman is to make America a better place.  

But it seems to me that if you’re broke enough that you’re not paying any income tax, you’ve got nothing but skin in the game. You’ve got it all riding on how well America works.

You can’t afford private security: you need to depend on the police. You can’t afford private health care: Medicare is all you have. You get arrested, you’re not hiring Davis, Polk to get you out of jail: you rely on a public defender to negotiate a court system you’d better pray deals with everyone from the same deck. And you can’t hire landscapers to manicure your lawn and trim your trees: you need the garbage man to come on time and you need the city to patch the potholes in your street.

And in the bigger picture, of course, you need the state and the private sector both to be functioning well enough to provide you with regular work, and a safe place to raise your children, and clean water and clean air.

The entire ethos of modern Wall Street, on the other hand, is complete indifference to all of these matters. The very rich on today’s Wall Street are now so rich that they buy their own social infrastructure. They hire private security, they live on gated mansions on islands and other tax havens, and most notably, they buy their own justice and their own government.

An ordinary person who has a problem that needs fixing puts a letter in the mail to his congressman and sends it to stand in a line in some DC mailroom with thousands of others, waiting for a response.

But citizens of the stateless archipelago where people like Schwarzman live spend millions a year lobbying and donating to political campaigns so that they can jump the line. They don’t need to make sure the government is fulfilling its customer-service obligations, because they buy special access to the government, and get the special service and the metaphorical comped bottle of VIP-room Cristal afforded to select customers.

Want to lower the capital reserve requirements for investment banks? Then-Goldman CEO Hank Paulson takes a meeting with SEC chief Bill Donaldson, and gets it done. Want to kill an attempt to erase the carried interest tax break? Guys like Schwarzman, and Apollo’s Leon Black, and Carlyle’s David Rubenstein, they just show up in Washington at Max Baucus’s doorstep, and they get it killed.

Some of these people take that VIP-room idea a step further. J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon – the man the New York Times once called “Obama’s favorite banker” – had an excellent method of guaranteeing that the Federal Reserve system’s doors would always be open to him. What he did was, he served as the Chairman of the Board of the New York Fed. […]

READ @ http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/a-christmas-message-from-americas-rich-20111222

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* VARIOUS MATTERS

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

There are several relatively brief items worth noting today:

(1) There are two new must-read articles on one of the worst legacies of the Obama presidency thus far: the failure to prosecute Wall Street executives for the criminal behavior that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis. The first is from Jeff Connaughton, the former chief of staff to former Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, who chaired Senate oversight hearings on financial fraud prosecutions; Connaughton documents what he calls the “misleading” statements and multiple actions of President Obama designed to shield those executives from accountability. The second is from Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi who, commenting on Connaughton’s piece, writes that “what makes Obama’s statements so dangerous is that they suggest an ongoing strategy of covering up the Wall Street crimewave.”

(2) A New York Times article yesterday examined the sometimes severe psychological stress experienced by the long-distance, remote-controlled operators of America’s drones. In one sense, that story angle is perverse: whatever stress these drone pilots experience is a tiny fraction of that continuously suffered by those who live with the falling bombs and missiles launched by these drones near their homes and children. But the articles makes one interesting point: while long working hours are the principal cause of the stress (necessitated by America’s massive increase in drone usage under President Obama), one source of stress for at least a small portion of these pilots is having to confront the images of the “collateral damage” they cause — meaning the innocent human life they extinguish with their joysticks and video game buttons:

In one surprising finding that challenged some of the survey’s initial suppositions, the authors found limited stress related to a unique aspect of the operators’ jobs: watching hours of close-up video of people killed in drone strikes. After a strike, operators assess the damage, and unlike fighter pilots who fly thousands of feet above their targets, drone operators can see in vivid detail what they have destroyed. . . .

Both Dr. Chappelle and Colonel McDonald said that 4 percent or less of operators were at high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, the severe anxiety disorder that can include flashbacks, nightmares, anger, hypervigilance or avoidance of people, places or situations. In those cases, the authors suggested, the operators had seen close-up video of what the military calls collateral damage, casualties of women, children or other civilians. “Collateral damage is unnerving or unsettling to these guys,” Colonel McDonald said.

The doctors conducting the study were actually surprised that the psychological injuries from seeing this was as limited as it is. Still, at least some of these drone pilots have enough of a conscience to be seriously disturbed by the horrific results of these strikes. If only the general citizenry — who are typically kept blissfully unaware of the human devastation their government is causing — were as affected.

Along those lines, CNN.com, to its credit, today has a stomach-turning story of a 4-year-girl Pakistani girl who was severely burned by an American drone strike back in 2009, when she was a year old, complete with horrifying videos of her injuries:

She has eyelashes but no eyebrows. She has all her fingers but is missing four nails. Her skin is so taut now that she can no longer frown.

But she can still smile.

Her face tells a story of suffering. . . .Shakira, believed burned in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, will undergo reconstructive surgery in January. . .

In 2009, [Hashmat] Effendi was on a medical mission with Texas-based House of Charity in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The region’s natural beauty was once compared to Switzerland’s, but by then it was a Taliban-infested area rife with violence.

One of the doctors found three little girls left in a trash bin. They’d suffered horrific injuries.

“Who are they?” the doctor asked.

Nobody knew.

Where were their parents? Where were they from?

Shakira, 4, is believed to have been burned in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan in 2009.

All anyone could say is that there had been a U.S. drone attack.

The doctor, who was traveling with House of Charity, took them back with him. They were in grave condition. Two of the girls died, but the littlest one had a chance of making it if she were treated right away.

She was only a year old, Effendi guessed, but small for her age. She was skinny. Dirty. Very bloody. She had fresh burns all over her face, her scalp and on her arms.

This repeats itself over and over. And yet, it could hardly be less controversial in the country responsible for these attacks, largely because there is no partisan gain to be had from caring about it (merely to mention the irony that the GOP candidate currently leading most Iowa polls is the only major candidate from either party who opposes all of this is to trigger all sorts of recriminations; apparently, the ongoing slaughter of innocent men, women and children is far too insignificant an issue even to make the agenda of discussion). In fact, literally every time I even raise the horrors of the Obama drone program and the secrecy and lawlessness under which it’s conducted, I’m bombarded with arguments that drones are not an important issue or, from the most pathological Obama apologists, even fun drone humor designed to mock concerns about these attacks (such frivolity follows in the footsteps of their leader himself and his top aides). Contrary to the outright lie told by John Brennan, the President’s top counter-terrorism adviser, the fact is that the U.S. is continuously blowing up, burning, and killing innocent people, including numerous children, in the Muslim world. The program under which that is done is shrouded in almost complete secrecy. And it not only continues, but does so with little controversy.

(3) In response to the criticism I voiced a couple of weeks ago of NPR’s largely one-sided news story on domestic drones (criticism apparently expressed as well by numerous NPR listeners), that outlet’s Ombudsman defended the coverage but said “the complaints raise good—even intriguing—points for a second story that focuses exclusively on the privacy concerns surrounding potential police use of drones here at home.” Yesterday, the generally excellent Tom Ashbrook devoted a full hour on his NPR On Point Show to the proliferation of drones, featuring an ACLU staff attorney specializing in privacy issues.  TPM’s Jillian Rayfield also has a good article on the growth of domestic drones and the unique dangers they pose.

(4) In Salon, Jordan Michael Smith compiles substantial evidence to argue that “the media consensus on Israel is collapsing.” Few developments are as imperative: The Australian reports today how the U.S., yet again, is alienating itself from the world consensus, and angering even close allies, by standing alone once again to shield Israel from even the mildest rebuke for the most egregious misconduct. To be sure, the smear campaigns are as concerted as ever toward those who question this bipartisan Israel orthodoxy — Time‘s Joe Klein this week responded to some of those smears aimed at him for doing so: see his Point 7 and the update – but, as Smith documents, they are increasingly ineffective.

(5) In The New Yorker, George Packer, who vocally supported the attack on Iraq but criticized it when it starting failing, writes about Christopher Hitchens, who never deviated from full-throated support. Most of what Packer writes is, as one would expect, little more than the now-trite reminiscing about Hitchens we’ve heard from his thousands of media friends which Neal Pollack parodied so brilliantly here, but Packer’s concluding paragraph struck me as something worth highlighting:

Iraq led Hitchens to some of his worst indulgences—the propaganda trip to Iraq in Wolfowitz’s entourage, the pose of Byronic heroism. But perhaps the war and the enemies it made him helped give Hitchens the courage of his last years and months—the atheist in the foxhole. Hitchens was one of the very few people who could slash and burn you in print, then meet for drinks and talk in the true warmth of friendship, discussing a writer we both admired, garrulous to the very last. It was a sign of his essential decency that he didn’t make it personal.

Is it really “a sign of decency” to refuse to view any political ideas as not merely wrong in some abstract intellectual sense, but as a reflection of the person’s character? Obviously, there are many political disagreements — most — which can and should be conducted in perfectly good faith without the need for personal animus. Conversely, though, aren’t there some political views so repellent and sociopathic that “a sign of essential decency” is to make it personal, rather than refusing to do so? This line of thought strikes me as anything but essentially decent:

Sure, he was and remained a fervent, unrepentant public cheerleader for an aggressive, baseless attack on another country that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and displaced millions more, and sure, he was very eager to fuel an Endless War that resulted in the deaths of countless innocent men, women and children that he himself never fought in, but I’m not going to hold any of that against him. I’ll argue with him as part of entertaining, invigorating political debate, but then will be happy to go out for drinks with him — he’s a really fun guy — and will proudly call him my friend.

In what sense does “decency” compel — or even permit — that line of thought? Packer, as he usually does, is simply giving voice to the standard mindset of Washington’s political and media class. As Charles Davis put it to me by email a couple of days ago when discussing David Corn’s expressed admiration for Hitchens — the irony that the Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones, of all places, waxed so effusive about one of the nation’s leading war zealots:

That’s Washington. Issues of war and peace — life and death — are just something you argue about from 9 to 5, and only when the cameras are on. Disagreeing on the wisdom of invading and occupying other nations is like disagreeing on whether the minimum wage should be $9.50 or $9.25: nothing serious enough to end a relationship over (see: Lake, Eli). And what’s a few hundred thousand dead brown people between friends?

The bottomless willingness of political and media elites to forgive each other of their sins, insulate personal relationships from everything else, and subordinate all other considerations to loyalty to their shared membership in those circles is not “a sign of essential decency.” It’s one of the leading causes of Washington’s rot.

(6) Physics Professor, noted atheist, and author Mano Singham has an interesting review of With Liberty and Justice for Some. […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2011/12/22/various_matters_15/singleton

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* THE GLOBALIZATION OF WAR: “MILITARY ROADMAP TO WWIII

ONLINE INTERACTIVE E-READER

By Michel Chossudovsky and Finian Cunningham, Global Research

The Pentagon’s global military design is one of world conquest.

The military deployment of US-NATO forces is occurring in several regions of the world simultaneously.

The concept of the “Long War” has characterized US military doctrine since the end of World War II. The broader objective of global military dominance in support of an imperial project was first formulated under the Truman administration in the late 1940s at the outset of the Cold War.

In September 1990, some five weeks after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait, US President and Commander in Chief George Herbert Walker Bush delivered a historical address to a joint session of the US Congress and the Senate in which he proclaimed a New World Order emerging from the rubble of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union.

Bush Senior had envisaged a world of “peaceful international co-operation”, one which was no longer locked into the confrontation between competing super powers, under the shadow of the doctrine of  “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) which had characterized the Cold War era.

Bush declared emphatically at the outset of what became known as “the post-Cold War era” that:

“a new partnership of nations has begun, and we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times… a new world order can emerge: A new era freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony.”

Of course, speeches by American presidents are often occasions for cynical platitudes and contradictions that should not be taken at face value. After all, President Bush was holding forth on international law and justice only months after his country had invaded Panama in December 1989 causing the deaths of several thousand citizens – committing crimes comparable to what Saddam Hussein would be accused of and supposedly held to account for. Also in 1991, the US and its NATO allies went on to unleash, under a “humanitarian” mantle, a protracted war against Yugoslavia, leading to the destruction, fragmentation and impoverishment of an entire country.

Nevertheless, it is instructive to use Bush Senior’s slanted vision of a “New World Order” as a reference point for how dramatically the world has changed in the intervening 20 years of the so-called post-Cold War era, and in particular how unilaterally degenerate the contemporary international conduct of the US has become under the Clinton, G. W. Bush Junior and Obama administrations.

Bush Senior’s “promise” of world peace has opened up, in the wake of the Cold War, an age of continuous warfare accompanied by a process of economic dislocation, social devastation and environmental degradation.

In a bitter irony, this concept of peaceful international co-operation and partnership was used as a pretext to unleash The Gulf War, which consisted in  “defending the sovereignty” of Kuwait and “upholding international law” following the Iraqi 1990 invasion.

Global Warfare

We are dealing with a global military agenda, namely “Global Warfare”. Far from a world of peaceful cooperation, we are living in a dystopian world of permanent wars – wars that are being waged in flagrant contravention of international law and against public opinion and interest.

Far from a “new era more secure in the quest for peace” we may see a world more akin to George Orwell’s 1984, dominated by perpetual conflict, insecurity, authoritarian surveillance, doublethink and public mind control.

A problem for many citizens is that “doublethink and mind control” have become so deeply embedded and disseminated by the mass media, including the so-called quality free press, such as The New York Times and The Guardian.

The Post 9/11 Era: America’s Doctrine of Pre-emptive Warfare

Allegedly sponsored by Al Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon played a central role in molding public opinion.  One of the main objectives of war propaganda is to “fabricate an enemy”. The “outside enemy” personified by Osama bin Laden is “threatening America”.

Pre-emptive war directed against “Islamic terrorists” is required to defend the Homeland. Realities are turned upside down: America is under attack.

In the wake of 9/11, the creation of this “outside enemy” served to obfuscate the real economic and strategic objectives behind the American-led wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Waged on the grounds of self-defense, the pre-emptive war is upheld as a “just war” with a humanitarian mandate.

From the outset of the Soviet-Afghan war in the early 1980s, the US intelligence apparatus has supported the formation of the “Islamic brigades”. Propaganda purports to erase the history of Al Qaeda, drown the truth and “kill the evidence” on how this “outside enemy” was fabricated and transformed into “Enemy Number One”.

The US intelligence apparatus has created it own terrorist organizations. And at the same time, it creates its own terrorist warnings concerning the terrorist organizations which it has itself created. Meanwhile, a cohesive multibillion dollar counterterrorism program “to go after” these terrorist organizations has been put in place.

Instead of “war” or “state terrorism”, we are told of “humanitarian intervention” directed against “terrorists”.

Instead of “offence”, we are told of “defense” or “protection”.

Instead of “mass murder” we are told of “collateral damage”.

A good versus evil dichotomy prevails. The perpetrators of war are presented as the victims. Public opinion is misled: “We must fight against evil in all its forms as a means to preserving the Western way of life.”

Breaking the “Big Lie” which presents war as a humanitarian undertaking, means breaking a criminal project of global destruction, in which the quest for profit is the overriding force. This profit-driven military agenda destroys human values and transforms people into unconscious zombies. […]

READ @ http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28254

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* NURSES SAY PRIVATE EQUITY FIRM STARVING MASSACHUSETTS HOSPITALS

By Mark Brenner and Mischa Gaus, Labor Notes

Nurses sang sour carols today to the private equity firm they say is starving Massachusetts hospitals and pitting workers against each other.

Massachusetts nurses came to the headquarters of Cerberus Capital in Manhattan because Cerberus is the money behind Steward Health Systems, which took over the troubled Catholic hospital system Caritas last year and now is squeezing patients and workers for ultra-profits.

Hundreds of fellow members of National Nurses United, the Massachusetts nurses’ national union, sang and chanted outside Cerberus this afternoon.

Realizing that private equity firms specialize in stripping troubled businesses down and flipping them to new owners, the Massachusetts Nurses Association had insisted during the takeover on guarantees that practices and specialties could not be phased out.

Hospital workers did take concessions, but MNA secured a multi-employer pension plan and set the stage for negotiating with the chain collectively across four of its hospitals rather than one by one.

Now Steward is challenging MNA’s pension plan, closing down units, and threatening to shutter whole hospitals in order to get nurses to open up their contracts.

“Their whole pitch was to keep the community hospitals alive,” said Linda Tasker, a telemetry nurse at Merrimack Valley Hospital. “But they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, and picking out the hospitals that will make the most money.”

Steward is also laying off many staff nurses—especially those at the top of the seniority list and pay scale.

Victoria Webster and Lynne Blanchard were two of 13 nurses fired in May at Carney hospital’s psychiatric unit in Dorchester. They say the firings, which included 19 mental health counselors, came after they blew the whistle on patient violence and poor staffing at the facility. Steward hired a crop of inexperienced new nurses, they say.

Cerberus, with reported holdings of about $20 billion, has a checkered history in health care: One of its companies held a contract at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where abysmal conditions for wounded veterans came to light in 2007. A Congressional oversight committee said the decision to privatize support services to the Cerberus outfit “led to a precipitous drop in support personnel.”

READ @ http://labornotes.org/print/2011/12/nurses-say-private-equity-starving-massachusetts-hospitals

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* EUROPEANS LEAVE EN MASSE AMIDST CRISIS

By PressTV

Tens of thousands of Europeans are migrating from their homelands, many heading to the southern hemisphere, as the continent sinks deeper into financial crisis.

While official statistics shows that Portugal, Greece and Ireland had the largest stream of immigrants leaving their country’s this year, evidence points to the same happening in Spain and Italy.

In 2010, 1.21 million Greeks have emigrated, according to the World Bank, equaling 10.8 percent of the population.

The top destinations for the Greek were Germany, Australia, Canada, Albania, Turkey, UK, Cyprus, and Belgium.

This year, 2,500 Greek citizens have moved to Australia and another 40,000 have “expressed interest” in moving south.

In Ireland, where 14.5 percent of the population is jobless, in the 12 months to April this year, 40,200 Irish passport-holders left, up from 27,700 the previous year.

According to the Ireland’s central statistics office, the number will increase to 50,000 by the end of year, many heading for Australia and the US.

Meanwhile, Portugal’s foreign ministry reports that at least 10,000 people have left for oil-rich Angola this year. The Portuguese are also heading to other former colonies, such as Mozambique and Brazil.

According to Brazilian government figures, the number of foreigners legally living in Brazil rose to 1.47 million in June, which 330,000 of them are Portuguese.

Since its formation, the European Union has been a haven for those seeking refuge from war, persecution and poverty in other parts of the world.

The worsening debt crisis, however, has forced European governments to adopt harsh austerity measures and tough economic reforms, which have made life much harder for ordinary citizens, creating a new stream of immigrants leaving the continent.

The debt crisis has also sparked several incidents of social unrest, with strikes in Greece against austerity measures turning bloody and a violent protest in Rome injuring more than 100 people.

Europe plunged into a financial crisis in early 2010. Insolvency now threatens heavily debt-ridden countries such as Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain

READ @ http://www.presstv.ir/detail/217012.html

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* GUNDERSEN: GOVERNMENT DUMPING RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL INTO TOKYO BAY — CONTAMINATING SEAWEED FOUND IN AREA (VIDEO)

By ENENEWS ADMIN

Transcript Summary at 26:00 in

  • The Japanese can’t dump the radioactive waste in the ocean because they signed a convention that prohibits dumping at sea
  • What they’re doing to get around all of this is they are dumping from dump trucks into Tokyo Bay… not at sea
  • Using it as landfill
  • So eventually all this radioactive material is not being monitored
  • It is certainly not being retained in any kind of geologic fashion
  • But in fact is getting dumped in Tokyo Bay

Perhaps this is related to today’s report from EX-SKF: Radioactive Nori in Tokyo Bay, Dec. 22, 2011:

  • The Fisheries Agency publishes the result of the survey of radioactive materials (iodine, cesium only) in marine products including seaweeds. In the latest result published on December 21 for the items reported since October, radioactive cesium has been found in dried “nori” in:
  • Kanagawa Prefecture – 1 sample, at 11 becquerels/kg
  • Chiba Prefecture – 6 samples, 11, 27, 25, 16.5, 5.6, 17.7 becquerels/kg respectively […]
  • I’ve never seen the news of radioactive cesium detection in nori in the mainstream media at all. Without Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about it. I’m curious to know how radioactive cesium traveled from Fukushima to Tokyo Bay. The government has claimed that the Kuroshio Current would prevent the spread of radioactive materials south of Ibaraki.
  • Judging by the reaction to my Japanese tweet, there are many others like me who didn’t know about the detection. […]

READ @ http://enenews.com/gundersen-govt-dumping-radioactive-material-into-tokyo-bay-radioactive-seaweed-found-in-area-video