Jun 272017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews:

A homeless person changes clothes outside a bank in central Athens. Nearly one-in-four Greeks are unemployed and receive no benefits. Poverty rates have surged here since the start of the crisis in late 2009, with nearly 36 percent of the country living in financial distress. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

A homeless person changes clothes outside a bank in central Athens. Nearly one-in-four Greeks are unemployed and receive no benefits. Poverty rates have surged here since the start of the crisis in late 2009, with nearly 36 percent of the country living in financial distress. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS (Analysis)– It has become an increasingly common sight on Greek streets, even in formerly prosperous neighborhoods. Elderly—and sometimes not so elderly—individuals rummaging through rubbish bins in search of scraps of food to eat. Beggars are now practically a universal sighting in Athens and other large cities.

More and more young Greeks are migrating abroad by the day, contributing to a “brain drain” that has totaled approximately 500,000 individuals since the onset of the crisis. In my neighborhood in central Athens, several parked cars are filled to the brim with a life’s worth of possessions, packed in boxes by individuals who have likely lost their homes and livelihoods and who now call their automobiles home. Everywhere, abandoned cars and motorcycles rust away on curbsides and sidewalks.

In another universe, the Greek coalition government comprised of the “leftist” SYRIZA and the “patriotic” Independent Greeks political parties is celebrating. Greece has, at the recently-concluded Eurogroup summit, once again been “saved.” In this latest agreement, an 8.6 billion euro tranche of “bailout” funds—a loan (not a “handout”) which had already been promised to Greece in previous agreements—was released and a long-delayed review of Greece’s “progress” under the austerity mechanisms was finally completed. Quite a cause for celebration!

Or is it? Out of the 8.6 billion, 7.7 billion euros will initially be disbursed, out of which 6.9 billion will be immediately paid back to Greece’s lenders: the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and bondholders. In exchange for the release of these funds, which will be funneled right back to those who are releasing them, Greece’s government has agreed to achieve a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of its GDP annually through 2023, and thereafter to maintain primary budget surpluses of 2 percent annually from 2023 until 2060.

Until 2023, the Greek government has agreed to pay 27 billion euros (15 percent of Greece’s GDP) in debt service alone, and that figure increases to a 36 billion euro annual sum until 2060.

For the uninitiated: what does a primary budget surplus actually mean? It means that the state spends less than it receives in revenue. While this may sound like a fiscally prudent policy direction for Greece or any country to take, what this actually means in plain language is that in an economy that is shrinking, as with Greece, the amount of money being spent by the state each year on investment, social services, salaries, pensions and other vital services will perpetually decrease, furthering the austerity death spiral.

To provide some perspective, the IMF itself considers a primary budget surplus of 1.5 percent “realistic,” while the Central Bank of Greece, 92 percent of whose shareholders are not known, considers 2 percent a “realistic” target. In a study by economists Barry Eichengreen and Ugo Panizza that examined economic performance across 235 countries, it was found that there were only 36 cases in which countries were able to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3 percent of GDP for a five-year period, and only 17 cases where countries maintained a primary budget surplus of 3 percent of GDP across an eight-year period. Germany, often touted for its fiscal prudence, was not one of these countries.

For the SYRIZA-led regime in Greece, this is a cause for celebration. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras publicly announced that “we got what we wanted” through this deal, which points the way towards Greece’s exit from the “supervision” of its lenders.

The newspaper Avgi, an official party organ of SYRIZA, announced for the upteenth time Greece’s impending “exit” from the economic crisis. And the Greek government is publicly touting the upcoming return of Greece to the international financial markets, ironically celebrating the prospect of Greece once again being able to attain more debt via borrowing, likely at usurious terms.

Unfortunately for Tsipras and his government, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble acted as a party pooper, putting a damper on the celebrations. Speaking publicly after the Eurogroup deal was reached, Schäuble stated that the agreement, which followed what were claimed by the Greek government to be fierce negotiations, was reached three weeks prior but was delayed because the Greek government requested additional time for PR reasons—in other words, to claim that hard negotiations took place.

Pensions, salaries see cuts as austerity steamrolls ahead

Indeed, if the rhetoric of the SYRIZA-led government is a guide to go by, then the successes have kept on coming. In February, the SYRIZA government reached yet another deal with its lenders to once again release “bailout” loan funds that already had been pledged to Greece from previous austerity agreements.

In this agreement, the government claimed that “not one euro” of new austerity would be enacted, as any austerity measures and cuts (including interventions to the tax system, which were previously claimed by the government to be “red lines” in its “negotiations” with lenders) would be offset by countermeasures in other areas, euphemistically referred to as “neutral fiscal balance” and “zero-sum fiscal interventions.”

In a “read my lips, no new taxes” moment for the Greek government, these declarations of “zero-sum fiscal interventions” and the “end of austerity” had only just barely been uttered when a host of new austerity measures were unveiled. Initially announced at 3.6 billion euros, these austerity measures now total 14.2 billion euros’ worth of cuts.

These include further reductions of 18 percent to already battered pensions, as well as salary cuts, tax increases, a cut in health expenditures, a further reduction of 50 percent to heating oil subsidies (in a country where the majority of households already cannot afford heating oil and have reverted to fireplaces and makeshift furnaces to keep warm), a reduced tax-free threshold and an increase in tax contributions, and the freeing up of home foreclosures and auctions.

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

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

In exchange, “countermeasures” that will be enacted in 2019 will only take place if Greece meets “fiscal targets” up until then, include minor tax cuts (such as a 70-euro reduction to the “unified property tax” which SYRIZA, prior to ascending to power, denounced as “unconstitutional”) and offering school lunches.

The Greek government, along with its bosses in Brussels and Berlin, continue to insist that tax increases will help, despite all economic evidence to the contrary. While revenues from the value-added tax (VAT) were at 16.3 billion euros when the VAT rate was at 19 percent, those revenues declined to 14.4 billion euros when the VAT was increased to 21 percent, and dropped further to 13.7 billion euros when the VAT was increased again to 23 percent. Today, the VAT for most goods and services is at 24 percent amidst an economic depression that has shown no real signs of abating.

While the SYRIZA-led government is congratulating itself for putting an end to austerity, the aforementioned unified property tax, which according to SYRIZA’s pre-election rhetoric was unconstitutional and to be abolished, will remain in effect at least until 2031. One year ago, in June 2016, a 7,500-page omnibus bill ratified by the Greek government without any debate transferred ownership of all of Greece’s public assets (ranging from water utilities to prime beachfront parcels of land) to a fund controlled by the European Stability Mechanism for the next 99 years.

The same bill also reduced the parliament to playing a rubber-stamp role, as it annulled the ability of the Greek parliament to formulate a national budget or to pass tax legislation, with automatic cuts to be activated if fiscal targets agreed upon with the country’s lenders are not met. Foreign experts working on the implementation of the austerity measures and privatizations in Greece were also, as of 2016, granted immunity from prosecution. If all of this seems exaggerated or far-fetched, consider a recent remark by the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici, who stated that “[The EU] often decide[s] Greece’s fate, in place of the Greeks.”

Move toward cashlessness benefiting “too big to fail” institutions

As all of this is taking place, Greek businesses—particularly small businesses—are being burdened further, required as of July 27 to install “point of sale” (POS) card readers and to accept payments via credit, debit or prepaid cards. Another law, which came into effect on January 1, pushes consumers towards card payments by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10 percent of one’s income via card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold.

In a country where capital controls restricting withdrawals from bank accounts and ATMs have been in effect since June 2015, cash is being further withdrawn from the marketplace and is being delivered to a banking system that has already been recapitalized three times and is likely on its way towards a fourth taxpayer-funded “bailout,” keeping with the fine tradition of financial institutions that are said to be “too big to fail.” We are told, of course, that this is for society’s own good, in order to combat “tax evasion” and other terrible things.

As all of this has taken place, 14 profitable Greek regional airports of strategic and economic importance have been privatized—ironically by being sold to Fraport, itself owned by the German public sector. The port of Piraeus, one of the largest in Europe, has been completely privatized; sold for a pittance to Chinese-owned Cosco. Greek water and power utilities, having been transferred to the aforementioned fund controlled by the ESM, are among the next assets slated for privatization.

Foreclosures of homes are slated to be expanded to primary residences, leaving many households at risk of ending up on the streets, while come September, foreclosures are slated to take place electronically, in accordance with the Greek government’s agreements with its lenders. It should be noted that foreclosure auctions that take place in Greek civil courts each Wednesday have become one of the few remaining battlegrounds where citizens are actively, and often quite successfully, pushing back against one of the products of the economic crisis, preventing many foreclosures from occurring. Switching to electronic foreclosures would eliminate this “inconvenience.”

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

People queue in front of a bank for an ATM as a man lies on the ground begging for change, in Athens. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Other “inconveniences” are also being done away with in swift fashion. In August 2016, police in the city of Katerini arrested a father of three for selling doughnuts without a license, fining him 5,000 euros for the offense. In another case, a vendor selling roasted chestnuts in the city of Thessaloniki was surrounded by 15 police officers and arrested for the high offense of operating without a license. In the meantime, Greek television and radio stations—almost the entirety of which are vehemently pro-EU and pro-austerity and which greatly impact public opinion—operate without valid broadcast licenses.

The SYRIZA government, elected in part on pledges to “nip oligarchs in the bud” (including taking care of the issue of unlicensed broadcasters), has instead allowed oligarchs to shift their money to offshore tax havens, while collectively treating ordinary citizens and small business owners as being guilty of tax evasion. Former finance minister with the center-right New Democracy political party Gikas Hardouvelis was recently acquitted in court for failure to submit a declaration of assets.

In a December 2015 interview, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos stated that the SYRIZA-led government “didn’t have time to go after the rich.” Unlicensed chestnut vendors, apparently, are another matter altogether, as are activists against the environmentally destructive and economically dubious gold mining operations in north Greece’s Skouries that are being conducted by Eldorado Gold with a Greek oligarch, Giorgos Bobolas.

In late May, the physically disabled 77-year-old Thodoros Karavasilikos was issued a 12-month suspended jail sentence for, apparently, physically assaulting 10 riot police officers in a protest against the Skouries mining operations. Furthering this war on the elderly, Dimitris Kammenos, a member of parliament with the “patriotic” Independent Greeks party which is co-governing with SYRIZA, stated in a televised interview in April that 100 euros that were being slashed from pensions were “better off being taken by the state” than to be “given by pensioners to their grandchildren to go out and have coffee.”

Civil unrest on the rise amid economic uncertainty

It can be argued that being a Greek citizen is a great disadvantage in Greece at the present time. In the blighted Athens suburb of Menidi, an 11-year-old Greek child was apparently killed by a stray bullet, said to have been fired from a residence of a Roma family. Civil unrest has followed in the area between the Greek and Roma populations, to which the SYRIZA-led government has somehow responded by proposing that Roma children be allowed to enter Greek universities and the police academy without taking entrance exams.

A protester reacts next to a flare outside the the Interior Ministry as thousands of striking municipal workers demonstrate in central Athens, June 22, 2017. Union officials want the left-led government to grant full-time, permanent state jobs to municipal workers employed on short-term contracts that have expired or are about to expire. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A protester reacts next to a flare outside the the Interior Ministry as thousands of striking municipal workers demonstrate in central Athens, June 22, 2017. Union officials want the left-led government to grant full-time, permanent state jobs to municipal workers employed on short-term contracts that have expired or are about to expire. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

While migrants in Greece are receiving 400 euro monthly subsidies (greater than many salaries and pensions in present-day Greece) and free housing, thanks to assistance from the EU and numerous “well-meaning” non-governmental organizations, the same sensitivity has not been displayed to victims of a recent earthquake that severely impacted the island of Lesvos, one of the primary entry points for migrants. Instead, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the center-right New Democracy, the main opposition party in Greece which is favored to win the next national elections whenever they take place, promised those whose homes were destroyed by the quake a two-year waiver of the unified property tax, should his party be elected.

Tourism, however, is said to be saving the day. Greece is said to be receiving record numbers of visitors, and the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens is receiving a record number of passengers. These statistics are often repeated by the government and by Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura of the Independent Greeks political party, the minority partner in Greece’s coalition government. What is not said is who these tourists are, or what their real impact on the economy is.

Many of these tourists are visiting the country on package travel deals booked with overseas travel agencies, flying to and from Greece on foreign-owned charter airlines and staying in hotels which themselves are often owned by foreigners. Many of these hotels offer “all-inclusive” hospitality packages, often offering the very lowest-quality imported food and drink products in order to slash costs. While foreigners get to enjoy Greek resorts and sunshine at bargain rates, austerity-hit Greeks, battered by the crisis, cannot afford to—nor are they offered the same low rates provided to foreign visitors.

Most tourists on “all-inclusive” deals rarely venture away from their hotels, and businesses in tourist regions, ranging from convenience stores to restaurants, are seeing business suffer while their tax burden continues to increase. In a recent visit to Rhodes, one of Greece’s pre-eminent tourist destinations, I observed that the Old Town of Rhodes, perhaps the top tourist destination on the island, was almost deserted at 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night in a country that “stays up all night.” Tourists remained largely locked away in their all-inclusive resorts.

Greece’s “boom times” for tourism are evident by the country’s lack of a national air carrier, which has been the case ever since the previously state-owned Olympic Airlines was dismantled at the behest of the EU and purportedly for violating the European Commission’s competition rules. The privately-owned near-monopoly that has replaced it, Aegean Airlines, has somehow managed not to run afoul of such rules.

While Greece, one of Europe’s top destinations, does not possess any wide-body aircraft, countries such as Serbia and Rwanda do and are running nonstop flights to the United States. Aegean Airlines may not have long-haul flights, but it has delivered much-vaunted “foreign investment”—often touted as the cure-all for Greece’s economic ills, despite a major privatization push since the 1990s, which did not stop the crisis—as 25 percent of the airline is reportedly being purchased by Hainan Airlines of China.

Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, apropos of nothing, recently brought us back to 2015 and to the referendum which took place that year, where 62 percent of voters rejected an EU-proposed austerity plan—only for the result to be overturned within days, as the SYRIZA-led government turned around and agreed to an even harsher austerity package, known as the third memorandum agreement, than the one voters had rejected.

The SYRIZA-led government has since agreed to a fourth memorandum agreement, but according to Kountoura, the negotiation that occurred in 2015 that led to the third memorandum—chock-full of austerity measures and the privatization of profitable assets—prevented 16 billion euros’ worth of austerity measures from being enacted.

No end in sight for bleak austerity

Unfortunately, two years after the “triumphant” referendum and rejection of austerity—which was promptly overturned and replaced with even harsher austerity—there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for the beleaguered nation. Nor does a political “savior” appear to exist. The aforementioned New Democracy party is part and parcel of the corrupt political duopoly, along with PASOK, which ruled Greece for 40 years after the fall of the military junta in 1974, and is vehemently pro-EU and pro-austerity (as long as they are the ones implementing the austerity and pro-Europe policies, instead of SYRIZA).

In previous elections, political “renegade” Vasilis Leventis and his Centrists’ Union political party were elected to parliament—likely as a protest vote. Leventis is famous for his supposed crusades against corruption and the two-party system, and for wishing cancer upon former Prime Ministers Kostantinos Mitsotakis (father of the current New Democracy leader) and Andreas Papandreou (father of George Papandreou, prime minister when Greece was led into the IMF-EU “bailout” and austerity regime) on live television in 1993.

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)

Today, Leventis is calling for the installation of a “government of technocrats” (much like the non-elected government led by banker Loucas Papademos in late 2011 and 2012, which passed the second memorandum agreement with no popular mandate) and who has also stated recently that Greece “does not deserve to have its debt restructured.”

In reality, the entirety of parliament—despite the eight political parties which comprise it and which create the facade of political pluralism—can be described as being pro-austerity, pro-euro, and pro-EU. The same can be said of smaller political parties, currently outside of parliament and vying to gain public support.

These include parties founded by Panagiotis Lafazanis and Zoe Konstantopoulou—who as part of the first SYRIZA government of January-September 2015 voted in favor of numerous pro-memorandum and pro-austerity pieces of legislation and in favor of the pro-Europe corrupt former government minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Hellenic Republic, who recently stated that Greece will remain in the EU “indefinitely and irrevocably.”

Two years after saying “no” to austerity, this is the state of affairs in Greece today. Poverty, fear, unemployment and a continued brain drain, as well as corruption, lies, and above all, an undying attachment to the EU and the Eurozone, at least on the part of the almost complete entirety of the country’s political class. That’s life today in a modern-day EU debt colony.

May 222014
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

Written by Afrodity Giannakis, Thessaloniki

Protest against Sunday trading

Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — “I wish I could leave Greece. I can’t go on living here. I work very long hours and live more frugally than ever, but I still can’t pay the bills, the income tax or the other taxes like the property poll tax. My tax debt keeps building up. I’ll end up losing my home. They are stealing our homes and they are not communists. And people are getting sadder and madder every day. I can’t go on like this.”

This was the response I got when I greeted a stall holder at an open-air market in my area. Due to my own extremely difficult working and commuting conditions, I hadn’t seen him in months. His anger and despair were much stronger than before, as is the case with most ordinary people in Greece.

My friend’s allusion to the communists concerns a decades-long anti-communist argument used by the power elites. The argument went that if the communists came to power, they would confiscate people’s homes. It was recently used by far-right health minister Adonis Georgiadis.

In fact, small real-estate property is being confiscated under capitalism. People are losing their homes to the banks for failing to meet mortgage payments, or to the taxation department for accumulated tax debts.

Home confiscations have been facilitated by a recent law enabling seizure of salaries, pensions, bank savings and property for even small debts to the state. There are specified debt amounts that incur property seizure or jailing. They vary according to the recipient (whether the money is owed to the taxation department, a public insurance fund etc.). The different amounts are often changed by the government. The latest ministerial circular (issued on April 15, 2014) concerning tax debts sets the line at 1500 euros.

The number of confiscated homes has risen in recent years. A big wave of new house seizures is expected soon. The finance ministry has made an agreement with the “troika” (the European Union, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) to set the opening bid at auctions at 30% of the houses’ real values.

Financial hardship, combined with recent law changes, has led to a dramatic rise in debt-related jailings. People are kept in barbaric and unconstitutional prison conditions.

The ‘aid’ trap

The vast majority of people are bound to have difficulty paying their mortgages or to run up a tax debt sooner or later. This is due to the extreme austerity measures imposed on Greece at the behest of the “troika” in agreement with Greek governments.

People in Greece are suffering high unemployment (officially well over 27%, the highest in Europe), huge income cuts, rising prices of basic goods, unfair and unpayable taxes and the sky-rocketting fees imposed on many middle-class professionals.

Since the first “memorandum” agreement signed with the troika in May 2010, real-estate taxes have risen by 684%. Overall taxation has risen by up to 900% since 2010.

In addition to many other irrational measures, people are now asked to pay tax on “implied income”. In practice, this means that even if you have no income, chances are you’ll have to pay a considerable amount of tax. “Implied income” is based on the assumption that if you can afford to maintain a home or a car, you have a source of income. This has especially serious implications for most unemployed people, as about only one-tenth of the officially unemployed are currently receiving the unemployment benefit.

What’s more, the income tax for 2014 is set to rise due to the abolition of most tax exemptions and deductions. Individual taxpayers are expected to pay taxes of 800-1000 euros more than for 2013, while the clear minimum wage has dropped below 480 euros per month.

The situation was already pretty bad before the first memorandum. It has been getting much worse since the so-called “aid” from the troika and the required “structural adjustment” reforms it comes with.

Despite their stated aim, the loans given to Greece were intended to destroy rather than help the country’s economy. In May 2010, Greek public debt was 120% of GDP. Today, after four years of savage measures, it is 175% and growing.

Most of the bailout money is used to pay off previous loans and excessive loan interest. It is also handed to parasitic banks and insurance companies. On top of that, the people of Greece have paid 100 billion euros more than the loan given to their government.

20140412-130749

In a cynical statement in January, Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras confirmed that the people of Greece have suffered a drop in living standards greater than any other people has since the end of World War II.

Even though the people and the economy are all but crushed, the government is triumphant about a supposed current or ever-imminent economic recovery.

But, despite the government’s show of optimism, the disastrous policies it follows are not conducive to development. The “structural adjustment” memorandum-dictated measures are leading to total pauperisation and helplessness, the complete destruction of the country’s economy, the theft of all its public and private property, and the abolition of hard-won social and workers’ rights.

As in most parts of the world, capitalism is again openly showing its hideous face, even in Europe, which has been touted as the stronghold of democracy and welfare.

The deliberate economic and social destruction by big capital in many countries is clearly expounded by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Also, the documentaries Debtocracy (2011) and Catastroika (2012) (with special reference to Greece) are enlightening about the ways global capitalism works to subjugate whole countries and their peoples.

Greece is the first eurozone country to be subjected to this fate, being often referred to as a “test case”. The implication is that the same savage policies are to be applied to other peoples if the experiment turns out to be successful. The measures taken in Greece are spreading to other countries too, especially in southern Europe.

The violent destruction of Greece’s economic order was effected through the memorandum agreements. However, it had started decades before, especially after the country joined the European Community (the previous form of the European Union) in 1981. In 1976, industrial production was about 34% of GDP. In 2000 it dropped to almost 21% and in 2008 it reached 19%. The agricultural economy was clearly restricted by European Common Agricultural Policy agreements. Agricultural production was 14% in 1976, 7% in 2000 and dropped to 3% in 2008.Between 2010 and 2013 GDP was further reduced by 40 billion euros.

All-encompassing barbarism

Since the first memorandum, the country’s decline has been much more rapid.

The powers-that-be are blatantly violating common sense, the law and the constitution in total disregard for human, working and political rights. The situation is so mind-boggling, with the attacks so relentless and all-encompassing they cannot be easily described. All areas of life are affected, from financial affairs to cultural, relationships and psychological issues. A bitter memorandum-time joke aptly describes the people’s state of mind: “Anyone who lives in Greece and is not depressed must see a doctor.”

Greek governments have been continuously changing the legislation to enforce more and more anti-people measures. To achieve their ends, they use any means, including breaking their own laws. Ministers or even the prime minister can be appointed at will, as has been the case with ex-prime minister Lucas Papademos and current finance minister Yiannis Stournaras. Important decisions are made by presidential decree and bills are rushed through parliament rapidly and quietly. There is serious criticism by experts that the imposition of the memorandum was unconstitutional. The assertion is based on the grounds that the constitution-specified parliamentary majority of three-fifths of the number of MPs was not adhered to when Greece was put under troika supervision.

Moreover, the governing parties, New Democracy and the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), gave themselves a bonus of 50 extra seats (out of a total of 300 parliamentary seats) through a law expressly introduced before the last election, in anticipation of the election result. In this way, they ensured a parliamentary majority, which at first was made much more comfortable with the participation of the Democratic Left (DIMAR). DIMAR, a nominally left-wing party, has consistently supported memorandum policies. (Seehttp://www.redpepper.org.uk/greek-election-analysis/.)

Like legislation, the judicial system favours the dominant class against ordinary people, who more often than not cannot get justice when they are wronged. The major drawbacks are the expenses involved, long waiting periods and unfair verdicts.

Inequality and injustice are extreme on all levels. The memorandum offensive is all-sweeping. Hospitals and other services are closing down. Thousands of schools have closed and class sizes in the remaining schools have increased. Many job positions are lost and people are left without essential services like education, medical care and medication.

Salaries and pensions have been cut by about 40%. Reduced incomes are compounded by rising prices and unreasonable taxation measures, high unemployment, widespread underemployment and sackings in the private and public sectors. It is the first time since 1911 that public servants have been dismissed.

In both the public and private sectors, working conditions have deteriorated immensely, which is facilitated by newly introduced legislation. Also, many employers get away with further violations of workers’ rights. About 50% of workers have not been paid for up to 18 months.

Unpaid overtime, intensification of work, illegally low wages, extra duties and extra working time are now rampant, especially in the private sector. Working conditions of public employees have also worsened. For instance, in the teaching profession, there has been an increase in face-to-face teaching hours and student numbers per class have increased. These changes have raised stress levels and have affected the quality of teaching and learning. They have meant the closure of thousands of schools with the accompanying loss of thousands of teaching positions, especially since 2011. In recent years, teachers are also forced to do administrative work traditionally done by clerical staff or sub-principals.

People are robbed of their free time when they are forced to do work previously performed by specialised employees. That was the case with recent public servant censuses, which involved the employees’ filling out complicated forms and submitting them online in their own time. In the same spirit, taxpayers now have to download tax documents and file their tax returns electronically, irrespective of their PC and Internet skills or access.

Self-employed professionals are now required to do intricate time-consuming bookkeeping work constantly and submit records to the taxation department monthly. Failure to meet the deadline incurs a fine of 250 or 500 euros. The fines were originally 1000 and 2500 euros respectively, but were subsequently reduced. All tax penalties in the revised tax code are absurd and exorbitant.

Besides eating into people’s free time, these unprecedented measures cause a lot of stress. Some of them directly lead to the downsizing of public services by making job positions redundant. As a consequence, the remaining employees work more hours and more intensively for less money.

And the chain-reaction effect does not stop there. Reduced consumer spending ability is the main cause of the closure of small and medium-scale businesses. State-imposed excessive financial burdens on consumers and shop owners also play a large part in the closures.Thousands of shops fold up every month.

Against this background, social problems such as homelessness, crime and prostitution are on the rise. The same goes for psychological and health problems.

Another big social issue is the electricity cut-offs to hundreds of thousands of households for unpaid bills. This, together with the high cost of other conventional heating methods, has resulted in fatal accidents caused by makeshift heaters.

In keeping with its anti-social policies, the establishment follows blaming-the-victim tactics. In this spirit, it opts for punishment over social and preventive measures.

As a result, prisons have filled well beyond capacity. The conditions are inhumane, as are the conditions in migrant concentration camps. Health care in prisons and migrant detention centres is almost non-existent, so prisoners are left untreated and they often contract diseases. Physical abuse of inmates is another common occurrence.

It is the first time in the country’s history that there are concentration camps for migrants. Thousands of people are detained there in appalling conditions.

Currently, a new prison is being constructed in an ex-military camp in the city of Korinthos by George Bobolas. He is a super-rich industrialist, media magnate, real-estate owner and national roads contractor. He has huge interests both in Greece and overseas. Among these interests are the mine in Skouries, the road tolls on badly constructed national roads and the well-known Keratea dump business, whose construction has been frozen due to the magnificent struggle of the town’s residents.

The prison under construction is reported by certain sources to be the first specialised prison for financial “criminals”, that is, for people unable to pay off even small tax debts,. At the moment, the premises serve as a concentration camp where 1200 “illegal” migrants are confined in harsh and barbaric conditions.

There is a very fine line between living free and being in prison for many people in Greece these days. About 2,500,000 people have outstanding debts to the state at this time, which makes them potential prisoners and highly vulnerable in many ways. Once people lose their freedom, many possibilities are opened.

Not surprisingly, my stall-holder friend who wants to leave Greece is in good company. Hundreds of thousands have emigrated in recent years and about 400,000 are considering it. The emigration rate is rising by almost 40% a year. Emigration has played a big part in Greece’s population decrease. It is the first time in modern Greece that a population decrease has been recorded. The drop in the birthrate, combined with a higher death rate, is another factor.

The rising death rate is due to greater illness levels, compounded by the shocking state of the national health-care system and high medication prices.

Growing numbers of suicides add to the death figures. Greece is leading the world in its rising rate of suicides. Memorandum-related suicides are estimated to be up to 6000. Due to the secrecy around the issue, the exact number is not clear.

Worse in store

As the vast majority of the people suffer, Greek and foreign big capital are making huge profits. Government officials, like Georgiadis, state publicly that suffering is a fact of life. Such statements are intended to make people resigned to the current situation and prepare them for more of the same. And there is worse in store.

Troika officials keep saying the country is not ready for profitable investment yet. At the same time, they are pressing for further salary cuts. The objective is the maximum plunder of Greece’s natural wealth and exploitation of the people.

On May 6, Greek vice-president Evangelos Venizelos made a telling statement during a TV interview. He said that in Moldavia, which he claimed “is practically next to Greece”, there are wages of 70 euros per month. He concluded that Greece is a country with a really high standard of living.

Official papers and statements reveal plans to cut the minimum monthly wage to 200 euros and further increase “flexibility” in working conditions. Other plans include more tax increases and pension cuts, instituting labour hire, pillaging the country’s forests, closing public services and transferring them to private concerns, sacking tens of thousands of public servants in the next few months, creating a permanent public service mechanism for sackings and introducing individual pay for public servants based on performance assessment.

Currently, the government is trying to enforce an evaluation plan that is a pretext for more closures and sackings. The relevant law sets quotas for the classification of public servants in every single workplace into outstanding (25%), competent (60%) and inadequate (at least 15%). Those judged to be inadequate will be sacked.

The law is harsh and unreasonable, something not uncommon in the current political “paranoia”. The presumption that at least 15% of employees in each workplace are incompetent does not stand to reason. What’s more, according to the relevant government circular, failure of the assessor to conform with the quotas specified would constitute a disciplinary offence. The “inadequate” employees will be marked from 1 to 6.9. An illogical stipulation states that only those with marks 1-6 will have a right of appeal, while the ones getting 6.1-6.9 will not. The reaction to the planned assessment has been quite strong, forcing the government to tactical maneuvers.

If the government is not stopped, the consequences will be tremendous. Tens of thousands (the plan is for 150,000 sackings by the end of 2015) will lose their jobs. This will adversely affect the economy, add to the existing social misery, and deprive the people of even more badly-needed services.

Privatisation

As the people of Greece are robbed of their basic rights, public goods and services are being privatised. Electricity, water, ports, beaches, the national broadcasting service, national health care and education are only a few examples.

Greek banks, after robbing taxpayers of tens of billions of bailout money, are now sold out at bargain prices to Greek and foreign capitalists.

In August last year, about 50 public vocational education specialist courses were abolished. About 2500 teachers lost their jobs and about 20,000 students were thrown out of highly popular courses (e.g. nursing, plumbing, hairdressing and physiotherapy). Within days, the same specialist courses appeared in private teaching centres.

Opening up professional fields is another way of transferring material and human resources to big corporations. Deregulation has been viciously pursued by the government in businesses such as pharmacies, taxis and trucks, and more recently in open-air “people’s” markets.

Similar moves include facilitating milk imports at the expense of local producers and the enforcement of extended opening hours, especially introducing Sunday trading, which will wipe out small shops.

While shops have already been closing by the thousands, there is an exception. Pawnbrokers’ shops have mushroomed, being one more way of stealing people’s wealth.

There is a lot of resistance to these policies. However, it hardly has any results, as workers from different professional categories are largely isolated in their struggles. Major reasons for this are the dominant divide-and-rule propaganda, which is promoted by the media, as well as divisive and ineffectual tactics of sell-out trade-union leaderships.

The whole country is up for grabs by privateers. Whole areas are sold out for exploitation, such as the mines in Skouries, Thrace and Kilkis. The struggle against this plunder is dynamic and ongoing, most characteristically in Skouries.

In such places, as well as in ports, Special Economic Zones and Free Zones have started to materialise. Their purpose is to ensure high corporate profits of “investors” through slavery-type conditions for workers and overall unaccountability.

Authoritarianism, violence, fascism

These measures are accompanied by heightened authoritarianism. The erosion of democratic rights and police repression are reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. Police brutality is mainly aimed at those resisting the government’s policies.

Unlawful arrests, detention and prosecution practices have been extreme. Many people are persecuted for their political views and legitimate action. Strikes and political rallies are banned to an extent not seen since the end of the military junta in 1974.

The police have been given excessive powers, including the power to arrest impoverished people for tax debts. Among those arrested, there have been many feeble elderly people.

Also, there have been many reported cases of torture of activists and migrants, for example, in police custody or in detention concentration camps. The case of Ilia Kareli, a prisoner of Albanian origin who was tortured to death by correctional officers last March, is indicative of such practices. Racist attitudes that go unchecked pose a great risk for migrants.

In April last year, about 200 migrants were chased and shot by their employer’s foremen and at least 28 were transferred to hospital. They were working in strawberry fields in the area of Manolada of Ilia. Just before the event, they had met with the foremen and demanded overdue wages of six months.

These kinds of practices are akin to Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn’s actions, whose members, usually in gangs, have been attacking and killing innocent migrants on the basis of their appearance and social standing. Leftist individuals, groups and offices have also been targets. Last September, Golden Dawn thugs murdered a non-migrant, anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

Golden Dawn paved the way for an exacerbation of the government’s racist rhetoric and measures. Like extreme-right Popular Orthodox Alert (LAOS) before it, the neo-Nazi gang has been given disproportionate media exposure to suit the needs of the establishment. Even though Golden Dawn pretends to be on the side of ordinary people, it has strong connections with big private interests and works for them against union struggles. The criminal gang’s MPs also vote in favour of big interests in parliament and they even support the country’s sell-out, exposing the falseness of its pro-people and patriotic façade.

LAOS, a “softer”-profile fascist organisation, was a precursor of Golden Dawn. It gave ideological support to the government and participated in the undemocratically formed provisional government in November 2011. In a similar way, Golden Dawn’s racist ideas and criminal action suit the government, as they push forward the government’s political agenda. For this reason, the neo-Nazis are allowed to run wild, committing political and common law crimes, often with police cover. This started many years before the memorandum and has been going on under successive governments of the two ruling parties.

Last year, the government realised it had lost control of the situation and was losing voters to Golden Dawn. So, it decided to take action against the gang, on the grounds of its criminal activity. The government made a big fuss about being anti-fascist, while it implemented racist measures like anti-migrant police pogroms and migrant concentration camps,

At the same time, like its predecessors, the current government enforces inhumane border controls. Such policies have caused a great deal of pain. Many people have died while trying to enter Greece in order to escape terrible conditions in their countries. Two recent examples are the people who drowned off the islands of Farmakonisi and Samos. The great majority of refugees use Greece as a transit point to other European countries.

As the government puts on an anti-fascist act, it violently represses left-wing, anti-fascist actions. Furthermore, Venizelos recognised the far-right government of Ukraine, thus legitimising the neo-Nazi atrocities there and the planned destruction of the country.

Also, there are members of the Greek government who are openly fascist. Two of its ministers, Makis Voridis and Adonis Georgiadis, have a well-known history of far-right activity.

Another far-right government official, Panagiotis Baltakos, who was general secretary of the Greek government and Samaras’ right-hand man, was forced to resign in April. The reason was a big scandal concerning a videotaped private talk between him and Golden Dawn top member, Ilias Kasidiaris. On the tape, Baltakos appeared to be on very good terms with Golden Dawn. The mood and the content of the conversation were quite compromising for himself and the government.

Both the government and the neo-Nazis serve the interests of big business. Fascism is called to the system’s rescue when bourgeois democracy has reached its limits and can no longer serve corporate objectives. The connection between big capital and fascism is clearly shown in the recent documentary of the makers of Debtocracy and CatastroikaFascism Inc.

Backed by big business interests, Golden Dawn has been lying in wait, making methodical moves for many years. The neo-Nazis have infiltrated the police force and the army in large numbers. About 50% of police voted for Golden Dawn in the last elections. (This video deals with Golden Dawn’s infiltration of the state: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiEHGMwud0c.)

On the bright side, an ongoing strong anti-fascist movement from the whole of the left has helped raise consciousness and contain neo-Nazi activity.

Some gains

The anti-fascist movement has had some apparent success. Other successes of the people’s fightback include a judicial win by sacked school guards and the government’s withdrawal of a planned 25-euro hospital admission fee.

Although such victories can boost people’s confidence and increase awareness, the tangible gains do not last long, with the government always finding ways to realise its plans.

A sign of increased political consciousness is the shift to the left of the balance of forces in some trade unions. Furthermore, the left is making conscious efforts to set up new union groups and counter sell-out top-tier leaderships.

With the coming combined Greek local and European Parliament election on May 18 and 25, a lot of hope is invested in an electoral victory of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). SYRIZA representatives express a belief that it will win the highest vote of any Greek political force in these polls, which will instigate national general elections.

But the system has so many means of manipulating voting choices that a SYRIZA win is not certain. For one thing, new capitalist parties have formed and some are promoted by the media to diffuse the vote. Forty-three political parties are going to take part in the coming elections.

As part of the effort to fool the electorate, the Greek government has tried to keep secret its new agreement with the troika, which has been revealed.

At the same time, the government is handing out a one-off 500-euro benefit to the most disadvantaged. Ostensibly, the intention is to share around a supposed budget surplus. The government and the mainstream media have been making a big deal of this surplus, which they attribute to economic development. In reality, the extra money comes from the merciless robbery of ordinary people. Besides, due to strict eligibility criteria, the benefit is given to very few.

The ruling parties are running an election campaign on accusations against SYRIZA, fear-mongering, lies and deceit. In the 2012 general national elections, they maximised their vote through false promises and scare tactics. They are employing similar methods this time and they may also have last-minute tricks up their sleeves.

There is a strong likelihood of early national elections. But even if SYRIZA wins government in the next national elections, it would need the support of a strong popular movement. Therefore, SYRIZA should step up its efforts to stand by the grassroots movement, increasing political consciousness and rallying support.

The powers-that-be are well aware of the implications of this radicalism. So they have been trying hard to tame SYRIZA and cut it off from the people’s struggle.

Although SYRIZA keeps promising it will annul all memorandum-related laws, some left-wing forces are questioning it. They accuse SYRIZA of being an establishment party and deliberately misleading the people. These practices do not help promote the badly needed unity of the left, which SYRIZA is trying to encourage.

It is imperative that left forces stick together against vested interests. They must not compromise, but find effective ways to organise and earn the people’s trust, so they can work with the people to reverse the catastrophe. If this can trigger a similar change in other countries, there might be some hope for a better future. Coordination of the struggle across Europe and other neighbouring countries could prove essential in the current circumstances.

Afrodity Giannakis is part of the Left Platform in SYRIZA, which is currently more than one-third of the party’s forces.

Jul 302012
 

 

By greydogg, 99GetSmart

– IMF KNEW GREEK PROGRAM WOULD FAIL

By Katerina Nikolas, Digital Journal

Former Greek finance minister and Greece’s representative to the IMF until January, Panagiotis Roumeliotis, has spoken of the bail-out Memorandum imposed on Greece by its Troika of lenders, the IMF, EU and ECB. To Vima reported Roumeliotis accused the Troika of underestimating the negative affects the austerity program would have on the Greek economy, pushing it deeper into recession.

In an interview with the New York Times Roumeliotis revealed officials at the IMF knew the program was doomed to failure. He said “We knew at the fund from the very beginning that this program was impossible to be implemented because we didn’t have any – any – successful example.”

He added that whilst the IMF uses Greece’s failure to implement structural reforms as an excuse for the programs failure, the real cause “is that the severe cuts contributed to the downward spiral by decimating economic demand within Greece.”

Roumeliotis’s words reiterate those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who admitted in June that Greece’s program of austerity was important even if it did not succeed, in order to set an example to other European countries to adhere to their future obligations within the EU. […]

READ @ http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/329376?fb_action_ids=10151132441877959%2C10151132424507959&amp

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* PROTECTORS OF WALL STREET

A vital new book from the TARP IG, and yesterday’s vote on a Fed audit, reveal some disturbing truths

By Glenn Greenwald, Salon

If you believe the Federal Reserve has done a fine job of managing monetary policy and trust it to continue to exert vast power with no accountability or transparency, then you are probably content with the status quo. But yesterday, “a powerful left-right coalition” in the House of Representatives — defying the Fed as well as a likely White House veto — voted overwhelmingly to enact Rep. Ron Paul’s bill to subject the Fed’s monetary policy to audits by the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan and independent congressional agency. As Dennis Kucinich, one of 89 Democrats to vote for the bill, put it: “It’s time that we stood up to the Federal Reserve that right now acts like some kind of high, exalted priesthood, unaccountable to democracy.”

Despite the large bipartisan House majority in favor of the bill, it is almost certain, as Reuters put it, “to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate.” That’s because “Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, at one time expressed support for an audit — though he reportedly has changed his mind.” Indeed, despite substantial Democratic support for the bill (including some from the progressive wing, such as Kucinich, Jerry Nadler and Raul Grijalva), “every top Democratic leader [in the House] voted against the bill, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.” As former Alan Grayson aide Matt Stoller documented yesterday, Democratic leaders did not merely oppose the bill but actively whipped against it, meaning they sought to pressure caucus members to stay in line and oppose it; but as he observes: “The Democratic leaders, despite whipping, barely got a majority of the caucus to vote no. This is a massive failure on their part, and shows how weak they are.”

It was this same left-right coalition, led by Paul and joined by liberal Democrats such as Alan Grayson, that succeeded in enacting an Audit the Fed bill back in 2010. Even though that 2010 bill was substantially weakened by the same forces that oppose the bill now — the Fed, the White House, and party leadership — that audit, once completed, “revealed 16 trillion dollars in secret bank bailouts and has raised more questions about the quasi-private agency’s opaque operations” and independently showed that the Fed ignored rules to aid the largest banks. Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose watered-down Audit the Fed amendment is what passed in the Senate in 2010, said this about the audit revelations:

The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. . . . “As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world,” said Sanders. “This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.”

The argument has always been that the Fed must be able to act with independence and secrecy and that transparency would undermine its credibility and lead to political interference in monetary policy; especially now, the ostensible concern is that Republicans will impede necessary measures. But as Stoller points out, none of the parade of horribles about which the Fed warned resulted from the 2010 audit, and more to the point, the Fed — prime enablers of banks, crony capitalism and oligarchy — has proven that it deserves neither the trust nor the credibility which it had previously commanded. It’s remarkable to watch the Democratic Party become its most devoted defenders. As Stoller said about yesterday’s vote: “It’s so tiresome to see the Democratic leadership take the side of Wall Street, over and over and over.” […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2012/07/26/protectors_of_wall_street/

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* THOSE WHO BENEFITED FROM WALL STREET FRAUD MUST BE PROSTCUTED … INCLUDING ROGUE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS WHO AIDED AND ABETTED THE CRIMES

By George Washington, Washington’s Blog

Wall Street fraud caused the Great Depression and the current financial crisis. Top economists and financial experts agree that our economy will never recover unless Wall Street fraud is prosecuted.

Yet the government has more or less made it official policy not to prosecute fraud, and instead to do everything necessary to cover up for Wall Street.  For example, the Obama administration is prosecuting fewer financial crimes  than under Reagan or either Bush.

For example, we pointed out in 2010:

The government’s entire strategy now – as during the S&L crisis – is to cover up how bad things are.

But it is not only a matter of covering up fraud that has already happened. The government also created an environment which greatly encouraged fraud.

Here are just a few of many potential examples:

  • Tim Geithner was complicit in Lehman’s accounting fraud, (and see this), and pushed to pay AIG’s CDS counterparties at full value, and then to keep the deal secret. And as Robert Reich notes, Geithner was “very much in the center of the action” regarding the secret bail out of Bear Stearns without Congressional approval. William Black points out: “Mr. Geithner, as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York since October 2003, was one of those senior regulators who failed to take any effective regulatory action to prevent the crisis, but instead covered up its depth”
  • The former chief accountant for the SEC says that Bernanke and Paulson broke the law and should be prosecuted
  • The government knew about mortgage fraud a long time ago. For example, the FBI warned of an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud in 2004. However, the FBI, DOJ and other government agencies then stood down and did nothing. See this and this. For example, the Federal Reserve turned its cheek and allowed massive fraud, and the SEC has repeatedly ignored accounting fraud. Indeed, Alan Greenspan took the position that fraud could never happen
  • Paulson and Bernanke falsely stated that the big banks receiving Tarp money were healthy, when they were not

READ @ http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/07/corrupt-government-officials-should-be-in-jail-alongside-corrupt-banksters/#more-82308

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* 2 ANAHEIM PROTEST: 1 FAUCOUS, 1 SILENT MARCH; 9 ARRESTED

Source: The Orange Country Register

Anaheim SWAT members cruise down Ball near Harbor, where a growing group of more than 100 protesters blocked traffic. SWAT TEAMS FOR LESS THAN 200 PEOPLE??? 

READ / VIDEO @ http://www.ocregister.com/news/anaheim-366053-group-peace.html

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* A CALL TO ACTION: PROTEST ANAHEIM POLICE BRUTALITY AT DISNEYLAND 7/29/12 12PM-4PM EAST SHUTTLE AREA AND HARBOR BLVD 

Source: youtube

WE HAVE BEGUN ORGANIZING FOR PROTESTS AT DISNEYLAND @ East Shuttle Area and Harbor Blvd.

PROTESTS at DISNEYLAND will begin Saturday July 28, 2012 from 12 to 4 PM and again on Sunday July 29 from 12 to 4 PM.

We will protest every weekend until we get justice.

STAY UPDATED IN INFORMED ON FACEBOOK:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Protest-Police-Brutality-at-Disneyland-Updates…

*** WARNING ***

WE MUST REMEMBER THAT THIS IS A PEACEFUL PROTEST!

IN THE TRADITION OF NON-VIOLENT STRUGGLES for civil rights and justice, we ask that all participants in these protests hold their anger, their outrage, so that THE MESSAGE OF OUR DEMANDS FOR JUSTICE CAN BE UNDERSTOOD. We need justice done against these racists in police uniform. PLEASE!!! DO NOT TAUNT THE POLICE; DO NOT GIVE THEM A FALSE REASON TO ATTACK THE MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN THAT WILL BE JOINING US IN THESE PROTESTS.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VSzj4oZ1NY

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* THIS IS MY BODY

By Jason Stefaniak

VIDEO @ http://vimeo.com/45539176