Aug 192017
 

By Michael Nevradakis, 99GetSmart

Originally published at MintPressNews

A resident tries to extinguish a forest fire at Kalamos village, north of Athens, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017.  A total of 53 wildfires broke out in Greece Saturday and more have done so Sunday, including on the beach resort of Kalamos near Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

A resident tries to extinguish a forest fire at Kalamos village, north of Athens, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. A total of 53 wildfires broke out in Greece Saturday and more have done so Sunday, including on the beach resort of Kalamos near Athens. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

Selling a struggling nation to the highest corporate, oligarchic, and state bidders may be just the way things work in the world, but please stop trumpeting it as a great “success story.” Greece’s forests are burning, its economy sold out, its citizens struggling more than before they were “saved.”

ATHENS, GREECE — (Analysis) Exactly two years ago, on August 14, 2015, the “leftist” SYRIZA-led Greek coalition government — just over a month removed from a referendum that saw 62 percent of voters rejecting a new austerity plan proposed by the “troika” of Greece’s lenders, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund — put the final nail in the coffin of the referendum result, passing the third, and most onerous to date, memorandum proposal, foreseeing ever-harsher austerity measures, cuts, and privatizations.

Today, the sweet smell of “success” is in the air.

If by success, of course, you meant the smell of charred forest, then you would be correct.

Greece is burning, and not just due to the high summer temperatures. Dozens upon dozens of forest fires throughout the country, which broke out in the space of less than a week, have covered Athens and much of Greece with a choking, smoky haze. Outside of Athens, huge forest fires have raged over a span of over 25 kilometers and, as of this writing, a period of three days, inundating the city with a smoky haze.

It could be said that this is the perfect complement to the winter atmosphere in the city, when Athens is blanketed by a noxious smog, the result of the burning of makeshift fireplaces and furnaces keeping many of the city’s residents warm; residents who can no longer afford absurdly-taxed heating oil or to run electric inverters.

In a 24-hour period between August 13 and 14, 91 fires broke out in Greece. On the island of Zakynthos alone, 22 fires occurred during this period, just a few weeks after earlier fires burned parts of the island, which is a popular tourist destination. Across the strait, the mainland region of Ileia—which was heavily impacted by destructive and large-scale fires a decade ago, in the summer of 2007—once again fell prey to fires that ignited in multiple locations.

Both a blessing—due to their capacity to moderate scorching summer temperatures—and a curse, Greece’s famed August winds, known as the “meltemi,” helped fuel many of these fires and aided in spreading them across large areas, igniting multiple fronts. But the outbreak of all of these fires and the scale of their intensity cannot be attributed to heat and wind alone.

The large fires in Zakynthos and outside of Athens, for instance, began along multiple fronts within minutes, hinting at coordinated arson attacks.

Indeed, evidence of arson, including gas canisters and large convex lenses, have already been discovered in Kalamos, the location near Athens where one of the blazes originated.

Two convex lenses placed next to a large canister of natural gas found near Kalamos, a suburb of

Two convex lenses placed next to a large canister of natural gas found near Kalamos, a suburb of Athens.

On August 15, a 62-year-old man, said to be an employee of the Labor Ministry, who was in possession of numerous tools with which a blaze could be lit, was caught and arrested near Mount Parnitha, which itself had been previously reduced to ashes following destructive fires in August 2007. According to Gianna Tsoupra, adviser to the SYRIZA-affiliated regional governor of the Athens region Rena Dourou, such fires are an unfortunate “natural phenomenon.”

Greece burns: who benefits?

Volunteers try to extinguish the fire outside a military base at the village of Varnava , north of Athens, Aug. 14, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Volunteers try to extinguish the fire outside a military base at the village of Varnava , north of Athens, Aug. 14, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

These fires could be described as a microcosm of much of what is wrong with Greece — as well as with the institution the country supposedly cannot survive without, the European Union. Greece today is the only European country without a national cadastre (forest registry). While areas classified as forestland are constitutionally protected, this classification is largely based onaerial photography dating back to 1945 or earlier. The results are often comical.

For instance, a portion of the site of Athens’ former international airport—slated for privatization and development by the same SYRIZA government which prior to its election promised to abolish these very actions—has beenclassified as “forestland,” due to the vegetation which existed on the site in the 1937-39 time period. Indeed, the lack of an actual complete registry has led to a number of unintentional — or perhaps intentional — consequences.

Burned land can, for instance, be sold to developers and then reclassifiedafter the fact. A 2011 study by the Athens Polytechnic Institute found that approximately one million structures in Greece were constructed illegally (including on land previously covered by forest). Flexible legislation, such as Greek Law 4014/2011, allows such illegal properties to be “legalized” upon the payment of a fine—a practice viewed favorably for its lucrative income-generating potential by both the Greek government and its “partners” in the troika.

In turn, this practice fuels—pun intended—more and more fires. According to GlobalForestWatch, over 150,000 hectares of Greek forest have been destroyed since 2000, one percent of the total land area of the country.

At the onset of the Greek economic crisis, former government minister Theodoros Pangalos—whose governments oversaw and tolerated many of the aforementioned practices—stated, in an attempt to ascribe collective guilt and blame to the entire populace for the causes of the crisis, that the Greek people “ate it all together,” implying that the citizenry collectively took advantage of corruption and graft for its own benefit.

As with many attempts at stereotyping, there is a grain of truth in this statement. On the island of Crete for instance, the “Residents Outside Town Planning” club represents approximately 45,000 illegal homeowners.

However, the beneficiaries of such practices extend beyond just a certain segment of the Greek populace. “Ex-pats” who have relocated to Greece from countries considered by many self-loathing Greeks as “civilized” and “law-abiding” have taken advantage of such laws to purchase properties constructed illegally. Indeed, “ex-pats” looking to purchase property in Greece are even advised as to how an illegal property can be legalized. These very same “ex-pats” — reflecting arrogant, time-honored colonial habits that die hard — are known for lecturing the clearly lazy, wayward, and corrupt Greeks for engaging in such terrible practices as “tax evasion” through the withholding of receipts for small purchases.

Meanwhile, Greece continues to reap the benefits of its membership in the “European family”—where, we are told, in a position supported by the entirety of the political representation in the national parliament, the country must remain “at all costs.” With Greece in flames, the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism obliged Greece’s fire service, already stretched thin due to fires at home and EU-supported economic austerity, to send two firefighting planes to Albania to battle forest fires in that country.

A woman with a bucket walks among burnt forest land during a wildfire near the suburb of Kaisariani in eastern Athens, on, Aug. 10, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

A woman with a bucket walks among burnt forest land during a wildfire near the suburb of Kaisariani in eastern Athens, on, Aug. 10, 2017. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Conversely, no corresponding mobilization seems to have occurred at the EU level to fight fires in Greece. France, for instance, felt no need to display “solidarity” towards its “European partner,” refusing a request to send aerial firefighting aircraft to Greece, citing its own difficulties with fires. It is unclear why Greece could not respond in the same manner to the EU’s demands to send planes to Albania.

In a tacit admission of who truly controls the purse strings in Greece, Giorgos Patoulis, the mayor of the northern Athens suburb of Maroussi and president of the Hellenic Union of Municipalities (KEDE), admitted in a radio interviewthat Greece’s limited resources to fight fires via aerial means are a direct consequence of the actions of those who control the country’s public spending. Since 2016, when the Greek Parliament essentially voted itself voteless, Greece’s annual budget has been determined by the EU itself.

Greece: Business as usual?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Under heavy security Netanyahu is in northern Greece to discuss plans to become a key supplier of European energy through an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, talks with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during their meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city on Thursday, June 15, 2017. Under heavy security Netanyahu is in northern Greece to discuss plans to become a key supplier of European energy through an ambitious Mediterranean undersea natural gas pipeline project. (AP/Giannis Papanikos)

Following the 9/11 attacks in the United States, with a country in mourning, then-president George W. Bush famously uttered that America was “open for business.” The current government in Greece is apparently following the same playbook.

The SYRIZA-led government, many of whose members once participated in protest movements against apartheid Israel’s actions in Palestine, recently agreed to expedite efforts on the development of the EastMed pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Israeli gas fields to Greece, Italy, and Cyprus, in a project co-financed by the European Union and previously supported by the Obama administration.

Oddly enough, the proposed pipeline route includes a 600-kilometer overland route in mainland Greece, passing right through the Mani region of the Peloponnese that burned to the ground in early July.

Legislation currently being considered would officially declassify urban green spaces, such as parkland, that are currently considered “forestland” and protected by existing constitutional provisions. Loosening these protections would open the door to the economic “development” of the little remaining green space in Greece’s overcrowded, densely-populated, and haphazardly-planned cities. Meanwhile, in December the Greek Parliament passed Law 4442, Article 33 of which relaxes prior regulations on economic activity and the economic development of Greece’s archaeological sites. This law was passed at the behest of Greece’s so-called “saviors” in the troika.

According to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras though — as well as to the global neoliberal press that fawns over him and his commitment to the “bitter medicine” of austerity — all is well in Greece and the sweet smell of success, rather than that of smoldering ashes, is indeed in the air. In an absurd and comical interview published by the bible of “leftists” worldwide, The Guardian, on July 24, Tsipras described a reality in which apparently only he, his fellow government ministers and members of parliament, and his supporters in the press and the troika apparently reside.

In this interview, Tsipras claimed that “the worst is clearly behind us,” that Greece’s economy is “on the up,” and that his government “will extract the country from the crisis.” He excused his rejection of the referendum result of July 2015 as a “compromise” that prevented Greece from turning “into Afghanistan.” This statement reflects the same blatant fearmongering about the impact of a Greek departure from the EU and Eurozone that is practiced by the Greek and international mass media — which purportedly have fought the “leftist” government of Tsipras — and by the main Greek opposition, the neoliberal-right New Democracy party.

The “objective” Guardian could not conceal its support for Tsipras’ brand of neoliberal “leftism,” peppering the article with language excusing away the actions of Tsipras and his government. SYRIZA’s first-place finish with 36 percent of the vote in the September 2015 elections amidst record voter abstention is described as a “mandate,” while the austerity measures imposed by the troika are described as a “rescue programme” that may be accompanied by “much-needed debt relief.”

Tsipras himself defended his government’s position — to never consider an exit from the Eurozone and the EU — on the grounds that Europe would lose an important part of its history and heritage, an ironic statement when one considers that it is Greece that is losing its history, heritage, culture, language, and especially its sovereignty as a result of its membership in these institutions. This statement did, however, echo Tsipras’ January 25, 2015 victory speech that accompanied his initial ascent to power, a speech that contained constant references to “saving Europe” but no references to saving Greece, the country he was elected to govern.

One day after this puff piece was published by The Guardian, the SYRIZA-led government and the international media (including, you guessed it, The Guardian) triumphantly proclaimed Greece’s “return to the markets” — as Greece “successfully” held its first bond sale in three years, selling 3 billion euros’ worth of five-year bonds at a yield (interest rate) of 4.625 percent.

Compare this to the yields of other EU member-states as of August 15, including Belgium (-0.191 percent), France (-0.146 percent), Germany (-0.284 percent); crisis-hit countries such as Italy (0.7 percent), Portugal (1.089 percent), and Spain (0.217 percent); or even Romania (2.6 percent). It is evident that the idea of a common market and a common currency falls flat on its face. Greece’s 4.625 percent yield can also be compared to those in such economic powerhouses as Malaysia (3.622 percent), Botswana (4.2 percent), the Philippines (4.659 percent), and Vietnam (4.681 percent).

The government of EU and Eurozone member-state Greece is — in honor, it would seem, of Pyrrhus and his “victory” — celebrating its ability to once again borrow on the international markets, at rates comparable to those of Vietnam and the Philippines and worse than Botswana, in order to repay the “bailouts” (in reality, loans) received from its creditors in the troika — which were used to repay the debt that is blamed for thrusting Greece into its current economic predicament in the first place!

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, welcomes European Commissioner for Economy Pierre Moscovici at Maximos Mansion in Athens, July 25, 2017. Greece is poised to tap international bond markets for the first time in three years in a move the government claims will signal the country is ready to emerge from its bailout era. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, welcomes European Commissioner for Economy Pierre Moscovici at Maximos Mansion in Athens, July 25, 2017. Greece is poised to tap international bond markets for the first time in three years in a move the government claims will signal the country is ready to emerge from its bailout era. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Reality, however, must not be allowed to interfere with the sweet scent of success. Hence another one of the Greek government’s and troika’s recent success stories, the purported “loosening” of Greece’s capital controls, imposed under the watch of the supposedly “heroic” former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, which have restricted withdrawals from Greek bank accounts since June 28, 2015. Earlier in August, the Greek government announced a new limit on withdrawals from Greek bank accounts of 1,800 euros per month, replacing the previous limit of 840 euros every two weeks.

Simple math, however, demonstrates that the Greek government and its backers in the troika must consider the Greek people extremely stupid: an 840 euro withdrawal limit each two weeks amounts to a maximum of 21,840 euros per year, while a 1,800 euro monthly withdrawal limit equates to 21,600 euros annually — a reduction, in other words. The Guardian, however, joined the Greek government and most of the press corps in describing this as a “relaxation,” and further evidence of Greece’s “success story.”

Notably, this is not the first time that “fuzzy math” has been used to “loosen” Greece’s capital controls. When initially imposed, a limit of withdrawals of 60 euros per day was established. This 60 euro daily limit was “relaxed” in September of 2015 to a weekly limit of 420 euros, which again equates to 60 euros per day.

In July 2016, this limit was again “loosened”—by permitting withdrawals of 840 euros every two weeks, which again equated to 60 euros per day and 420 euros per week. The current annual limit of 21,600 euros comes out to a daily mean of 59.18 euros per day, less than when the capital controls were initially imposed in 2015!

Greece’s “success story” is indeed so great that Greek justice minister Stavros Kontonis, in interviews with Greek state television ERT and state news agency ANA-MPA, stated his belief that the recent spate of fires in the country is the result of an “organized plan to destabilize the country” hatched by unnamed elements who do not wish to see Greece’s economic “recovery” continue.

EU and media hypocrisy at its finest

On August 1, the former head of Greece’s Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), one-time IMF staffer Andreas Georgiou, was issued a two-year suspended prison sentence by a court of appeals in Athens on charges of breach of duty. Georgiou had been accused by whistleblowers such as Zoe Georganta, a former member of ELSTAT’s board of directors, of manipulating Greece’s deficit and debt figures to cause them to appear worse than they were in reality, thereby providing the political impetus necessary to drag Greece under the troika’s austerity and privatization regime. While the charges of breach of duty related to the lesser crime of having sent data regarding Greece’s 2009 budget deficit to Eurostat without consulting with ELSTAT’s board, this nevertheless represented a victory for those in Greece who have stood opposed to the austerity policies of the past eight years.

Opponents of “Brexit” and proponents of the European Union often hysterically claim that without the EU, human rights would somehow fly out the window. They must not have seen the reaction to the Georgiou case and the eventual verdict, on the part of the Nobel Prize-winning EU. European Commission coordinating spokesperson for Economic and Financial Affairs, Annika Breidthardt, expressed “concern” over the Georgiou ruling, claiming that ELSTAT’s independence was breached and that its members were not being “protected in line with the law,” further adding that the case would be examined by the Euro Working Group this autumn and that an appeal would be a possibility.

Prior to the verdict, Margaritis Schinas, the Greek-born chief spokesperson of the European Commission and former member of the European Parliament with the New Democracy party in Greece, again relayed the Commission’s disappointment and waning trust in Greece over the charges Georgiou was facing. Most damningly though, it was revealed that one of the requirements that the Greek government was obliged to enforce, in order to receive an 8.5 billion euro tranche of loan funds (which had already been earmarked for Greece due to the prior implementation of other troika demands), was to fully cover the cost of Georgiou’s legal defense. Coincidentally, of course, soon after these concerns were raised, a clause inserted into legislation pending before the Greek parliament provided for the full payment of Georgiou’s legal defense costs by the Greek state, via ELSTAT.

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Andreas Georgiou, stands outside the headquarters of the Statistics agency, in Athens, Greece. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

Following the European Union’s lead, the press corps could not conceal their disappointment, seething over Georgiou’s guilty verdict. In an August 4 editorial, Bloomberg described the prosecution of Georgiou as “scandalous” and as “punishment” for “cleaning up” Greece’s finances. That same day, The Washington Post — owned by Jeff Bezos of Amazon and CIA fame, and quick to label independent news sites such as Mint Press News as “fake news” — stated in an editorial that Georgiou was “scapegoated” and was “only doing his job.” The Financial Timescharacterized the Georgiou trial as a “farce,” warning that the decision would “drive a wedge between Athens and euro area creditors.”

In turn, a ludicrous Politico hit piece claimed that Greece “condemned itself” by “convicting an honest statistician” in a decision that “raises questions about the integrity of the country’s institutions.” The author of this particular article, Megan Greene, seems to have taken on the side job of being Georgiou’s public advocate on Twitter, where she also has publicly demonstrated comfortable relationships with editors from Greece’s neoliberal newspaper of record, Kathimerini, and with Greek politicians.

Interestingly, the “integrity” of Greece’s “institutions” was not called into question when, for instance, the Areios Pagos, Greece’s supreme court, ruled in early July that legislation rolling back Greek worker rights — which was implemented as part of Greece’s second memorandum agreement with the troika, and passed by the government of the non-elected technocrat prime minister and former central banker Lucas Papademos — was constitutional. According to the decision issued by the court, the laws in question had the purpose of increasing the “competitiveness” of Greek businesses and it followed that the resulting decrease in labor costs (wages) was therefore in the public interest.

Not a word of protest was uttered by the European Commission, the Financial Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Politico, Megan Greene, or Kathimerini over this decision. Nor was the integrity of Greece’s judicial institutions questioned when, later in July, an appeals court in Athens ruled that wage reductions of up to 45 percent were “legal and constitutional.” Again there was silence from the European Commission and its supporters in the press corps.

Indeed, instead of protest, the president of the Areios Pagos was rewarded: just days after the decision that found that the troika-imposed cutback in worker rights was constitutional, the president of the court, Vassiliki Thanou-Christophilou, was hired as the supervisor of the legal office of prime minister Tsipras, purportedly on a non-salaried basis. Notably, Thanou-Christophilou had also served as Greece’s caretaker prime minister for approximately one month, prior to the September 2015 parliamentary elections.

A “success story” – on paper only

Clearly congratulating himself on a job well done, Tsipras is now reportedly taking a vacation, while much of the country is up in flames, literally and figuratively. And why not? Tourism is said to be breaking records; unemployment is claimed to be on the decline; a primary budget surplus has been achieved; the current austerity program is claimed by Tsipras to be set to finish in 2018; the government is again claiming it will launch a television and radio licensing process to “go after” Greece’s oligarchs, and Greece is even reported to be launching talks to join the BRICS’ development bank. Sounds great, right? Let’s deconstruct these claims.

The August full moon has become an annual commemoration in Greece. Occurring during the peak of Greece’s tourist season, the night of the August full moon is a time when museums and historical sites throughout the country open their doors to the public, hosting free tours and live concerts.

This year, the August 7 full moon was accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. And, this year’s crowds at museums and historical sites were larger than in previous years. This could be attributed, in part, to tourism. Greece is expecting to achieve record tourist arrivals, which this year are projected to surpass 30 million visitors.

The August full moon rises above the 5th Century BC Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio, south of Athens, on Aug. 7, 2017. More than a hundred of Greece's ancient sites _ but not the Acropolis in Athens _ and museums were kept open until late Monday and concerts organized to allow visitors to enjoy the full moon, which is accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

The August full moon rises above the 5th Century BC Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio, south of Athens, on Aug. 7, 2017. More than a hundred of Greece’s ancient sites _ but not the Acropolis in Athens _ and museums were kept open until late Monday and concerts organized to allow visitors to enjoy the full moon, which is accompanied by a partial lunar eclipse. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

There is another factor, however: while foreign tourists are arriving in Greece in droves, Greek residents are increasingly stuck at home — unable to afford even a brief vacation inside their own country and deprived of the opportunity to enjoy Greece’s beautiful beaches, islands, and countryside even for a few days. A 2016 study found that domestic tourism has decreased by 45 percent during the crisis.

Athens neighborhoods that used to resemble ghost towns during August, were this year only moderately less vibrant than during the rest of the year. Unable to afford a vacation, many Greeks stayed home—and likely attended those free full-moon events in record numbers.

Of course, privatizations were supposed to “save” Greece, including Greek tourism, justifying the sell-off of 14 profitable Greek regional airports and the port of Piraeus, the largest port in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. The 14 airports were purchased by a consortium of investors led by Fraport, owned by the German state.

Proponents of privatization in Greece, conditioned over many decades to demonize anything and everything that is publicly owned or operated, argued that this investment was necessary to “improve” these airports and their “efficiency.” Those “improvements” are already evident, as complaints have been rolling in from travelers and employees alike: extremely long queues and a lack of air conditioning have been reported to be commonplace to a far greater extent than in the past, indeed the new normal, while parking privileges for employees at the Fraport-owned airports have all but been curtailed.

Quite fittingly, the final agreement that was reached between the Greek government and Fraport for the privatization of the 14 airports was based on a royal decree enacted by Greece’s “pro-western” post-war government in 1953 and signed by King Paul, of German lineage through the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.

Such privatizations have been touted as “investments” that provide far-reaching benefits and jobs to the Greek economy, and as signs of investor confidence in Greece. The benefits they have actually provided Greece, however, are dubious, as seen in the case of Fraport. This is also evident in the case of the Chinese-owned Cosco, which purchased a controlling share in the entire port of Piraeus from the Greek state in 2016, and which had previously purchased the container port of Piraeus in an agreement with the then-government of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in 2011. What Cosco seems to have actually delivered to Piraeus are Chinese-style labor conditions, under which workers are, for instance, encouraged to urinate into the sea instead of taking toilet breaks.

From a tourism standpoint, however, these privatizations are part of a larger negative trend that goes largely unreported: the profits from these airports and seaports, which previously entered public coffers, now go straight to Germany and China. In the meantime, the “all-inclusive” and cruise-ship models of tourism are those that have been most vigorously developed in recent years.

This means that foreign visitors often arrive in Greece via foreign-owned charter airlines or cruise ships, on vacations that are usually booked with foreign travel agents and tour operators. They then spend most of their time on the cruise ship or inside an all-inclusive resort, contributing very little spending to the real economy. This is evidenced by statistics showing that despite Greece’s record arrivals, spending per tourist is on a decline, at a mere 430 euros per visitor, 15 percent less than Greece’s nearest competitor in the region.

China, of course, is also a member of BRICS, and it has been reported in recent weeks that Greece has entered talks to formally apply for membership in the BRICS’ New Development Bank. Many opponents of neoliberalism around the world have touted BRICS as an alternative to the existing economic order. But is it really? China’s labor record, for instance, suggests otherwise — as does the Temer regime currently at the helm in Brazil, a favorite of Washington, which is currently enforcing troika-style austerity and is embroiled in corruption scandals. The same could be said of India, which is on board with much of the Western world’s efforts to eliminate cash and physical currency.

But what about Russia? Many in Greece believe that Russia and Vladimir Putin can “save” Greece—if only Greece would turn its back on the Eurozone, EU, and NATO. Throughout the crisis, it has been rumored that there were secret plans for Greece to turn to Russia if it could not achieve “bailout” deals with the troika, but there seems to be no real evidence that Russia ever had such an aid package prepared for Greece, or that it was ever willing to provide such assistance. What is clear, however, is that Russia,  like China and like Germany, sees fertile ground in Greece for its own investments.

In Febrary 2016, a series of economic deals were signed between Greece and Russia. At the time, the Russian government expressed its interest in a number of potential privatization deals in Greece. Flashing forward to April of this year, a majority share (67 percent) of the port of Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, which is viewed as a strategic gateway to the Balkans, was privatized. The buyer? The Deutsche Invest Equity Partners-CMA consortium, in which a major investor is a business figure by the name of Ivan Savvidis.

Who is Savvidis? Born in Georgia when it was part of the former Soviet Union, Savvidis was employed in a state-owned tobacco factory during the Soviet years, becoming its general director soon after the collapse of the USSR and subsequent privatization of the factory. Savvidis was previously a deputy with Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, in the country’s parliament. He is also chairman of the SKA Rostov-on-Don football club in Russia.

Prior to the 2010s, he was unknown in Greece, and there is some question as to whether he had even visited the country. In recent years, however, he has made his presence felt in Greece—especially since SYRIZA ascended to power. It could be said that he’s followed the path to power and influence that is preferred by the Greek oligarchic class.

His first big splash was through the purchase of the PAOK football club in Thessaloniki, joining the ranks of other oligarchs who own football teams in Greece. His group of companies has made various investments in Greece, such as in the field of tourism, where he has bought out various hotels and established an aviation company.

More recently, Savvidis began his foray into Greece’s utterly corrupt media sector, first via his participation in last year’s licensing bid for nationwide television licenses — a process ultimately struck down by Greece’s highest administrative court due to constitutional irregularities. Unabated, he has purchased the major daily tabloid Ethnos and financial newspaper Imerisia, as well as a share in the financially struggling national television station Mega Channel. These purchases were followed by his buyout of another national television station, Epsilon TV, earlier this month.

These purchases have solidified Savvidis’ place in the Greek media landscape, just in time for the relaunch of the licensing bid for nationwide television stations by the SYRIZA-led government. Following the rejection of last year’s bidding process by Greece’s administrative high court, the government has set up a new bidding process, this time in conjunction with the purportedly independent national broadcasting regulator, but which repeats many of the same lies that were heard prior to last year’s bid.  These lies pertain particularly to the number of stations that the television spectrum can “fit” — a number that has now increased to seven national stations from four last year, but that is still far fewer than in other countries (such as Italy), and that all but ensures the continuation of an oligopoly controlled by a few powerful actors, namely Greece’s traditional oligarchs and more recent entrants like Savvidis.

For the SYRIZA-led government, however, this forthcoming television licensing bid—which is said to be likely to extend to radio as well, with onerous requirements that smaller and rural stations will likely be unable to fulfill—represents another part of its “success story,” via the “fulfillment” of one of its many campaign promises, namely to “restore law and order” to the broadcast landscape. In reality, though, whereas the main opposition party SYRIZA promised to “crush” the oligarchs once in power, it is now preparing to turn the media landscape over to them officially. It should be noted at this point that the entirety of Greece’s major media owners have maintained, throughout the crisis, a staunch and unflinching pro-EU, pro-Eurozone, pro-austerity line.

The puff piece published by The Guardian touted the drop in Greece’s official unemployment rate to 21.7 percent, from a peak of 27.9 percent in 2013, as yet another aspect of SYRIZA’s “success story.” Much is left unsaid, however: the long-term unemployed, who are not counted in the statistics; the 500,000-plus person “brain drain” out of Greece during the crisis years; the poor working conditions and paltry wages of many of those who are still employed; part-time jobs that are counted as “full” employment; the aforementioned rollback of worker rights; the job insecurity that workers face, including going months at a time without pay or enduring unpaid overtime, and their fear of leaving due to the uncertainty of being able to find any other job; and so forth.

Just the 500,000-plus person brain drain alone would be enough for Greece’s unemployment rate to skyrocket, had these individuals not emigrated.

Ah, but Greece has attained—and maintained—a primary budget surplus, which reached 3.05 billion euros in the first seven months of 2017. That’s good news, right? Not if one considers what a primary budget surplus actually is. Briefly, it means that the Greek state is spending less than it is taking in as revenue. While this may sound prudent, what decades and centuries of experiments in economic austerity have demonstrated is that for countries experiencing a severe economic depression, as in the case of Greece, maintenance of a primary budget surplus merely exacerbates the problem: money is sucked out of the real economy and not returned to it.

As spending continues to decrease in a cash-starved economy where taxes are increasing and wages are declining, more and more cuts have to be made to government spending in order to meet surplus targets, perpetuating a never-ending death spiral.

In the case of Greece, the SYRIZA-led government, in an agreement with the troika earlier this year, pledged to maintain a primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of its GDP each year through 2023, and 2 percent annual surpluses thereafter until 2060. Tsipras’ claims, therefore,  that Greece’s austerity program will come to a close sometime in 2018 are laughable: the maintenance of primary budget surpluses is, by definition, the continuation of austerity—which Greece has pledged to continue for (at least) the next 43 years!

But nevertheless, the smell of success is in the air. Prime Minister Tsipras and The Guardian say so, after all. The problem is, that scent hasn’t been detected by ordinary Greeks or by small business owners. Just in the first half of 2017, more than 15,000 businesses shuttered in Greece. But while the SYRIZA-led government is preparing to “crush” Greece’s oligarchs — who, like oligarchs the world over, evade their fair share of taxes by shifting profits offshore — the state has gotten to the bottom of Greece’s supposed problem with tax evasion via other apparently more effective means.

In July, a man who has been unemployed since 2010 and whose income consisted of 24 cents in interest from his bank account, was issued a 4,470 euro tax bill, as the Greek tax system presumes that citizens have a certain income level if they have a bank account, home, or automobile in their possession—even if they are unemployed, even if the property was inherited, even if the citizen is in fact currently impoverished.

In another case, a 49-year-old man in the town of Almiros was arrested and fined for the offense of selling 20 watermelons and 12 cantaloupes without a valid license. Greece’s television and radio stations, however, have operated without official licenses for decades, without anyone so much as batting an eyelash.

In yet another example, if you are a property owner in Greece, rental leases must now be submitted electronically to the tax authorities, with the owner immediately taxed on a percentage of the foreseen rental income for the entire year—before that income has been earned for the year! If, as in the case of a neighbor of this author in Athens, a renter skips town without having paid rent, the owner is nevertheless taxed on this “income.” The deadbeat tenant’s inability to pay–and your consequent taxation on “income” never received–is apparently your problem, not that of the tax office or finance minister!

An uncertain future, not a “success story”

A house damaged by the forest fire stands among pine trees north of Athens, at Kalamos, on, Aug. 16, 2017.  (AP/Ioanna Spanou)

A house damaged by the forest fire stands among pine trees north of Athens, at Kalamos, on, Aug. 16, 2017. (AP/Ioanna Spanou)

As this piece is being written, the smoky smell of the fires raging outside of Athens still hangs ominously in the air, on a day that is supposed to be a national holiday in Greece. For the prime minister and the members of the SYRIZA-led coalition government — as well as for the unabashedly pro-EU, pro-euro, pro-austerity press corps — it is the sweet smell of success that is hanging in the air. Success that exists, if at all, on paper only, as far removed from reality as the government that is nominally in control of the country, and the European and international institutions that are actually at the helm — in Brussels, Berlin, and elsewhere.

A decade ago, in the summer of 2007 and in the aftermath of the aforementioned destructive fires on Mount Parnitha and the Ileia region, an anonymous call went “viral” via SMS text messaging and bloggers, calling upon citizens to wear black and to descend upon Athens’ Syntagma Square, and other central points throughout Greece, for a “non-partisan” protestagainst the then-New Democracy government for its response to the blazes. This was perhaps the first such protest in the country’s modern-day history. Strangely, following the destructive fires of this summer and despite almost ubiquitous smartphone and social media usage, no such similar calls have been extended.

 

Were the 2007 protests an aberration? Possibly. In Greece, the “Indignants” movement disappeared, never to reappear again, after the summer of 2011 and a last hurrah in February 2012 consisting of protests against the second memorandum. In the weeks leading up to the 2015 referendum, a “Solidarity with Greece” movement emerged in major cities in Europe and North America, where academic leftists and ivory-tower activists who somehow were able to procure large quantities of SYRIZA flags, organized rallies against the “blackmail” and “coup” SYRIZA and the Greek people were facing at the hands of the European institutions — which were apparently not evil enough, however, to warrant advocating in favor of “Grexit.”

Following SYRIZA’s wholesale rejection of the referendum result though, an interesting thing happened: this “solidarity” movement largely disappeared — as did its rallies, though perhaps not the SYRIZA flags. Today, a key participant in these rallies, Irish author and “eurocommunist” activist Helena Sheehan, is shilling her recently-published book, Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left. Sheehan has taken advantage of the public catfight between Tsipras and Varoufakis to generate some extra publicity for her book, which she admits she was not the best qualified to write.

Nevertheless, Sheehan gently chides SYRIZA for its capitulation and its supporters’ broken dreams, but does not question the European path followed by SYRIZA and by its predecessors before it. The “European dream” and open borders are a good thing, whereas restoration of national sovereignty is “fascist.” Sadly, there was no word from Sheehan as to when the “solidarity” rallies would take to the streets once more.

Returning to political reality, opinion surveys in Greece, to the extent that they can be trusted, consistently show the former governing party, New Democracy, with a steady and sometimes overwhelming lead. Popular sentiment on the street is that whenever new elections are held again, New Democracy will emerge victorious—though it is likely that they too will fall far short of a parliamentary majority, even with the 50-seat parliamentary bonus undemocratically awarded to the winner.

Just in case anybody believes New Democracy will represent a change in direction for Greece though, they would be wrong. It was two years ago when, following the referendum that overwhelmingly rejected the troika’s new austerity proposal for Greece, the SYRIZA-led government turned its back on the result and rammed through memorandum agreement number three for Greece, upon which much of today’s continued cuts, privatizations, and austerity are based.

However, the third memorandum could not have been successfully passed in parliament without the votes of the members of former ruling New Democracy and “socialist” PASOK parties, as well as upstart pro-establishment party To Potami. New Democracy, like SYRIZA today, brought Greece back to the international financial markets via a bond tender in late 2013 with a similarly high yield — and, like SYRIZA, declared Greece a “success story” and claimed the end of the crisis was nearing.

For Greece’s “saviors,” there’s a scent of success in the air. But for the rest of the Greek populace, what’s in the air, literally and figuratively, is the scent of destruction. In a country where, over the past decade and more, Greece’s agriculture, industry, economy, the dreams of its people, and the country’s future have been methodically burned, why not the nation’s forests as well?

May 072013
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

Share this video and then sign the petition to help end inequality and change our country forever!

This is one of the most important issues our country faces right now and it demands everyone’s attention or else the consequences could be catastrophic.

Breaking Inequality is a documentary film about the corruption between Washington and Wall Street that has resulted in the largest inequality gap in the history of America.

It is a film that exposes the truth behind the single event that occurred back in the early 70’s that set us off on this perilous journey that we are currently on.

The inequality gap is presently the worst that it has ever been and there is no solution in place to repair this crippling problem.

No country in the history of the world has ever remained a super power without a middle class and the road we are currently traveling doesn’t include this all-important segment of the population. The old saying “As goes the middle class… so goes the nation” holds true even more today than ever.

We live in a world where governments can create as much money as they want in order to fund all kinds of wasteful projects, wars, handouts, and banker bailouts. The current system by design has transferred the wealth from average everyday Americans to an elite few who care not about the majority.

Breaking Inequality exposes the truth behind the root of the problem and it provides a solution to help end it.

Our goal is to make enough Americans aware of the current system that is robbing them of their future, so that we can change the system all together.

We have to change our destiny or the middle class will cease to exist in the United States of America.

The time is now and the Breaking Inequality documentary will help lead this charge!

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=s-GWdpvgiIA

Feb 012013
 

Posted by Elena Tiniakou, 99GetSmart

The Greek Public Power Corporation is cutting the electricity supply to 30,000 homes and businesses each month due to unpaid bills.

VIDEO @ http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xx4t3d_power-cuts-a-daily-reality-in-greece_news?start=4

Jan 072013
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

The Greek Crisis : The Real Causes and possible solutions which are hidden from the public is a documentary that was produced in Greece at the end of 2011 and the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister George Papandreou.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZc6oD0WfW8&feature=share

Dec 172012
 

Posted by greydogg, 99GetSmart

* AUSTERITY EXPLAINED: A POCKET GUIDE TO THE EU CRISIS

By Collettivo Prezzemolo, ROARmag

TNI-Pocket-Guide

By blaming the crisis on public spending, politicians’ and bankers’ only solution was to impose austerity. This has predictably worsened the debt crisis.

Excerpt via the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam.

“We are punishing the innocent through austerity, and we are rewarding the guilty because the banks are continuing to receive huge privileges and subsidies from our governments. That is why we must defeat this austerity treaty, and all the measures that come with it unless we want Europe to be retrograded to, shall we say, the 19th century.”

Susan George, President of the Board of the Transnational Institute, author of Whose Crisis, Whose Future?

Austerity measures have never worked, and have led growth to collapse across the EU. Greece witnessed its battered economy shrinking by 6.2% in the second quarter of 2012, and is forecast to enter its sixth straight year of recession in 2013. Austerity means less national income from taxation, reducing governments’ capacity to pay back spiraling debts, leading to even higher debts. […]

Download the full ‘EU Crisis Pocket Guide via the Transnational Institute.

READ @ http://roarmag.org/2012/12/transnational-institute-eu-crisis-pocket-guide/

—————————————————————–

* THE INSUFFERABLE HUMAN DRAMA OF EVICTIONS IN SPAIN

By Jerome Roos, ROARmag

Juana-Madrid-04

With 500 families being evicted in Spain every day, foreclosures have become a source of great suffering. But luckily, there are still those who resist.

Throughout this crisis, there has always been a certain alienating quality to the pronouncements of European leaders and technocrats. Sometimes one is led to wonder if these people are actually talking about the same continent — or the same universe, for that matter. Just today, for instance, the European Central Bank announced that “the eurozone is starting to heal.” Indeed, the major weakness the central bankers could detect from the commanding heights of their glass-and-steel tower in downtown Frankfurt was “falling bank profits.”

But this morning, huddled together with activists and independent journalists in a small apartment in Madrid, the eurozone seemed to be far from healing. Together with Santiago Carrión from the Associated Whistleblowing Press, we were there because the Platform for those Affected by their Mortgage (PAH), which runs the Stop Desahucios (Stop Evictions) campaign, had called on the city’s indignados to protect Juana Madrid and her two daughters of 21 and 17, who were about to be evicted from their humble home in the poor neighborhood of Orcasur. The atmosphere, of course, was tense.

The living room was full of people, most of them photographers, while outside the first chants of activists could be heard as people prepared to physically block the entrance to the apartment. Nervously dragging on her cigarette, Juana’s baggy and dark-ringed eyes said it all: this was a woman on the verge of a breakdown. Her voice was calm and subdued, but her facial expression exuded despair. “We have nowhere to go,” Juana’s 21-year-old daughter Isa told us in the kitchen. “If they evict us today we will end up on the street tonight.”

Sadly, the story of Juana and her daughters is by no means an exception. Ever since the start of the crisis in late 2008, over 350.000 families have been evicted from their homes. According to government figures, Spain currently faces a staggering wave of 500 evictions per day — 150 of them in Madrid alone. The vast majority of these involve families whose main breadwinner lost his or her job in the recession and who have inadvertently fallen behind on their mortgage payments to the bank. At 25.02%, Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the developed world, higher even than in the U.S. at the peak of the Great Depression. […]

READ @ http://roarmag.org/2012/12/spain-evictions-suicide-bankia-rajoy/

—————————————————————–

* POVERTY AND SOCIAL EXCLUSION RISING IN GREECE

By Leonidas Oikonomakis, ROARmag

Greece-poverty

[…] In Greece, we know well who is paying for the crisis. A good question to ask would be: who gains? Apart from Greece’s private creditors, could it be the multinational corporations, which are now swooping in to benefit from the country’s dramatically reduced labor rights and privatization schemes? Again, I will give you an example that I recently read in the press. Kostis Hatzidakis, the Minister of Development, announced proudly that Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch multinational consumer goods company, will from now on produce 110 of its products that it used to produce abroad, in Greece. He also mentioned that this will boost employment and that his government wants to create a business-friendly environment in Greece in order to attract “investments” for “development”.

What Hatzidakis did not mention are the conditions under which the future employees of Unilever — and whatever other multinational decides to “invest” in Greece bringing its production facilities or, maybe, buying its state owned enterprises — will have to work. Let me present them to you: Unilever’s Greek employees will be paid slave salaries (586 euros is the minimum wage today, down from 751 euros before the crisis, while for young workers under the age of 25 it stands at 510 euros: below the poverty threshold!). They will only have minimum labor rights. They will have to work 6 and maybe 7 days a week. They will only have a minimum of 11 hours rest before getting back to work (from 13 that it was so far). And they will be extremely easy to fire without compensation — as the government effectively rid itself of pesky labor rights. […]

READ @ http://roarmag.org/2012/12/poverty-and-social-exclusion-rising-in-greece/

—————————————————————–

* SPECIAL REPORT: GREECE’S TRIANGLE OF POWER

By Stephen Grey and Dina Kyrakidou, Reuters

In late 2011 the Greek finance minister made an impassioned plea for help to rescue his country from financial ruin.

“We need a national collective effort: all of us have to carry the burden together,” announced Evangelos Venizelos, who has since become leader of the socialist party PASOK. “We need something that will be fair and socially acceptable.”

It was meant to be a call to arms; it ended up highlighting a key weakness in Greece‘s attempts to reform.

Venizelos’ idea was a new tax on property, levied via electricity bills to make it hard to dodge. The public were furious and the press echoed the outrage, labeling the tax ‘haratsi’ after a hated levy the Ottomans once imposed on Greeks. The name stuck and George Papandreou, then prime minister, felt compelled to plead with voters: “Let’s all lose something so that we don’t lose everything.”

But not everyone would lose under the tax. Two months ago an electricity industry insider revealed that some of the biggest businesses in the land, including media groups, were paying less than half the full rate, or not paying the tax at all. Nikos Fotopoulos, a union leader at power company PPC, claimed they had been given exemptions. […]

READ @ http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/12/17/us-greece-media-idUKBRE8BG0CF20121217

—————————————————————–

* TAIBBI, SPITZER FUME OVER HSBC SETTLEMENT

Source: Eliot Spitzer’s Viewpoint

VIDEO @ http://current.com/shows/viewpoint/videos/matt-taibbi-on-hsbc-settlement-i-think-even-people-on-wall-street-were-blown-away-by-the-result/

—————————————————————–

* NOAM CHOMSKY: US INTELLECTUAL CLASS IS MORALLY DEGENERATE

By Noam Chomsky and Eric Baily, InformationClearingHouse

Eric Bailey: The last four years have seen significant changes in American federal policy in regards to human rights. One of the few examples of cooperation between the Democratic and Republican parties over the last four years has been the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012. This bill has given the United States military the power to arrest American citizens, indefinitely, without charge, trial, or any other form of due process of law and the Obama administration has and continues to fight a legal battle in federal court to prevent that law from being declared unconstitutional. Obama authorized the assassination of three American citizens, including Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, admittedly all members of Al Qaeda — all without judicial review.

Additionally, the Guantanamo Bay prison remains open, the Patriot Act has been extended and the TSA has expanded at breakneck speeds. What is your take on America’s human rights record over the past four years and can you contrast Obama’s policies with those of his predecessor, George W. Bush?

Noam Chomsky: Obama’s policies have been approximately the same as Bush’s, though there have been some slight differences, but that’s not a great surprise. The Democrats supported Bush’s policies. There were some objections on mostly partisan grounds, but for the most part, they supported his policies and it’s not surprising that they have continued to do so. In some respects Obama has gone even beyond Bush. The NDAA, which you mentioned, was not initiated by Obama (when it passed Congress, he said he didn’t approve of it and wouldn’t implement it), but he nevertheless did sign it into law and did not veto it. It was pushed through by hawks, including Joe Lieberman and others.

In fact, there hasn’t been that much of a change. The worst part of the NDAA is that it codified — or put into law — what had already been a regular practice. The practices hadn’t been significantly different. The one part that received public attention is what you mentioned, the part that permits the indefinite detention of American citizens, but why permit the indefinite detention of anybody? It’s a gross violation of fundamental human rights and civil law, going all the way back to the Magna Carta in the 13th century, so it’s a very severe attack on elementary civil rights, both under Bush and under Obama. It’s bipartisan! […]

READ @ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33336.htm

—————————————————————–

* ANOTHER GOLDMAN CREATURE GIVEN VITAL GOVERNMENT POST

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Big news yesterday in the United Kingdom, where the citizenry surveyed its domestic banking system and discovered that it couldn’t find a single person trustworthy enough to put in the top job at the Bank of England. So they went to Canada and stole that country’s central banker, Mark Carney, who just happens to be a former Goldman, Sachs executive – he was once Goldman’s managing director of investment banking.

Carney’s appointment may be seen as an admission that the British banking sector is now so tainted, only an outsider can be trusted to govern them. Almost all of the major English banks have been dinged by ugly scandals. The LIBOR mess, in which banks have been caught messing around with global interest rates for a variety of sordid reasons, has most infamously implicated Barclays, but the Royal Bank of Scotland is also a cooperator in those investigations.[…]

READ @ http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/another-goldman-creature-given-vital-government-post-20121206

May 162012
 

* PROTESTING NATO: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT THE SECRET SERVICE AND H.R. 346

By Gabe Rottman, Washington Legislative Office

The forthcoming summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, set for May 20 and 21 in Chicago, could be the first public test of H.R. 347, the recently passed law that expanded the ability of the Secret Service to suppress protests in or around certain restricted zones near individuals under its protection. We’ve written about H.R. 347 here and here.

NATO summits are interesting affairs. Unlike the periodic meetings of member nations, the summits are more stately and elaborate events, meant to introduce major policy changes or new members to the strategic alliance (among other things). This means lots of Very Important Persons, and lots of Very Controversial Issues. Both of these things mean lots of expected First Amendment activity.

As far as H.R. 347 goes, the NATO summit has been declared a “National Special Security Event” by the Department of Homeland Security. This puts the Secret Service in charge of the overall security plan. My understanding is that the FBI chips in with counterterrorism and counterintelligence assistance, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (another DHS agency) is in charge of emergency preparation. It also means massive security preparations and infrastructure—and lots of opportunities for the suppression of lawful protest. […]

READ @ https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/protesting-nato-what-know-about-secret-service-and-hr-347

—————————————————————– 

* SHHH U.S. AGREES TO BAHRAIN ARMS DEAL

Souce: RT

While in Washington to attend his son’s college graduation, the Bahraini crown prince also met with Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other high ranking Senators. And he left, with an arms deal.

The sale has been in the news for a long time but it isn’t exactly great timing, considering it was just a few weeks ago the President gave a speech at the Holocaust Museum decrying Syria’s crackdown. Scott Horton, Contributing Editor on legal and national security matters for Harper’s Magazine is on to hash out the details.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=owniVqjn6Bg

—————————————————————– 

* AS OBAMA OKs WEAPONS TO BAHRAIN, NEUROSURGEON TORTURED BY REGIME FACES TRIAL FOR TREATING PROTESTERS

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

Human rights organizations are criticizing the Obama administration’s decision to resume military sales to Bahrain despite the ruling monarchy’s ongoing repression of pro-democracy protests. The State Department has said it will allow a multi-million-dollar weapons shipment to the Bahraini government, citing “national security interests.” The announcement came just days after the Bahraini government vowed “tougher action” in its crackdown on protesters. We’re joined by Dr. Nabeel Hameed, who is one of Bahrain’s only neurosurgeons and among dozens of Bahraini physicians and nurses who have been arrested and tried for treating anti-government protesters. After a three-month prison stint that he says included abuse and torture, Dr. Hameed is expected to be tried by a Bahraini court soon after he returns home. “There is this silence, this deafening silence, from the world governments [about Bahrain],” he says. “There is a situation which is really getting worse and worse. And if you don’t really stop it here, it may get really, really bad in the future. … You don’t have to wait until the violence propagates out of control.” [includes rush transcript]

VIDEO @ http://www.democracynow.org/2012/5/15/as_obama_oks_weapons_to_bahrain

—————————————————————–

* HOUSE PANEL PROPOSED ADDING $847 MILLION FOR WEAPONS

By Roxana Tiron and Tony Cappacio, Bloomberg

The House panel that controls military expenditures proposed a net increase of $874 million for weapons over the Pentagon’s budget plans for the year starting Oct. 1. The largest amounts that the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee added in producing a $102.4 billion procurement request were $562.4 million to buy 11 additional Boeing Co. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets and $447 million to buy seven more Lockheed Martin Corp. C-130J transport planes, according to the defense panel’s report obtained today… The panel recommended adding $848.9 million for Israel’s missile defense, including $680 million for the Iron Dome system and $111.4 million for a system called David’s Sling. […]

READ @ http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-15/house-panel-proposes-adding-874-million-for-weapons.html

—————————————————————–

* UN EURODIPUTADO EXPLOTA Y DICE LA VERDAD

Source: youtube

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qJx_Lrwop1Y

—————————————————————–

* GREECE SETS DATE FOR CRISIS ELECTION

Source: Aljazeera

Greek elections will be held on June 17, the Athens News Agency said on Wednesday, adding that a senior judge had been tasked with heading a caretaker government to organise the ballot.

Council of State president Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the head of Greece’s top administrative court, will be named as caretaker prime minister, the semi-state ANA said on Wednesday.

Political leaders agreed on the appointment with President Carolos Papoulias after an inconclusive general election on May 6 which delivered a strong anti-austerity message and raised fears of a Greek eurozone exit.

After a third day of failed talks with political leaders on Tuesday, a spokesman for President Karolos Papoulias said the process of seeking a compromise had been declared a failure and a new vote would be held. […]

READ and VIDEO @ http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2012/05/2012516113657396864.html

—————————————————————–

* THE CONQUEST OF POVERTY

By G.G. McGeer

Webmaster’s note: While Canadian politician and author, Gerald McGeer, was primarily concerned with the conquest of poverty in his own nation, the Great Depression Canada was experiencing was, of course, the same one being experienced in the United States and around the world during the 1930s. The solutions he proposed, in the form of monetary reform, would be equally applicable in the United States as in Canada and all other nations — and our need for such a solution is much greater (albeit, undoubtedly much more problematical to attain), today than ever before. McGeer was a great admirer of American president Abraham Lincoln, whose economic and monetary ideas form the core of his own proposals. It was McGeer who initially made “Lincoln’s Monetary Policy” widely known, at least in Canada, and may have been the first author to fully articulate it in its presently famous form. “Lincoln’s Monetary Policy” is enumerated in Chapter V. of The Conquest of Poverty.  […]

FOLLY

No sound government in this age of intellectual and technological efficiency with power to mint at the prevailing price of silver, legal tender dollars costing less than 20 cents apiece, is justified in borrowing credit dollars from a private monopoly at interest.  Surely, no one can justify as sound the practice of governmental borrowing at interest of credit from a private monopoly when the government has the power to set up a national banking system through which can be issued paper currency and bank credit more valuable as purchasing power medium of exchange than that which is issued by private bankers.

The perfection of the technique of substituting credit for money has emancipated mankind from any but an artificial shortage of consumers’ buying power. […]

READ @ http://heritech.com/pridger/lincoln/mcgeer/mcgreeintro.htm

—————————————————————–

* PETER PETERSON SPENT NEARLY HALF A BILLION IN WASHINGTON TARGETING SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE

By Paul Blumenthal, HuffPo

Peter Peterson, a Wall Street billionaire who has been calling for cuts to Social Security and other government programs for years, is hosting a “fiscal summit” Tuesday that brings together Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, former President Bill Clinton, Rep. Paul Ryan, House Speaker John Boehner, Tom Brokaw and Politico’s John Harris, among a host of other elites who will gather at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium.

The bipartisan luminaries will be carrying on a discussion to a large extent framed by Peterson, who has spent lavishly to shape a national conversation focusing on the deficit rather than on jobs and economic growth.

That amount of influence — building the very foundation on which political discussion rests — doesn’t come cheap. And Peterson hasn’t skimped.

According to a review of tax documents from 2007 through 2011, Peterson has personally contributed at least $458 million to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to cast Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and government spending as in a state of crisis, in desperate need of dramatic cuts. Peterson’s millions have done next to nothing to change public opinion: In survey after survey, Americans reject the idea of cutting Social Security and Medicare. A recent national tour organized by AmericaSpeaks and largely funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation was met by audiences who rebuffed his proposals. […]

READ @ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/peter-peterson-foundation-half-billion-social-security-cuts_n_1517805.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Email%2BNotifications

—————————————————————–

* TWO BILLION DOLLAR TIP OF THE BANKING ICEBERG

Source: The Real News

Gerald Epstein: J.P. Morgan debacle shows systemic risk unchanged; breaking up big banks, reform Fed and public banking urgently required

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aufSeGRZz0

—————————————————————–

* THE MAGIC OF PRIVATE EQUITY IN 8 EASY STEPS

Source: youtube

How exactly did Mitt Romney Get So Obscenely Rich? Robert Reich explains The Magic of Private Equity in 8 Easy Steps.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rodifJlis2c

—————————————————————–

* CAPITAL CITY

Three years after the biggest bailout in US history, Wall Street lobbyists don’t just have influence in Washington. They own it lock, stock, and barrel 

By Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

THIS STORY IS NOT ABOUT THE origins of 2008’s financial meltdown. You’ve probably read more than enough of those already. To make a long story short, it was a perfect storm. Reckless lending enabled a historic housing bubble; an overseas savings glut and an unprecedented Fed policy of easy money enabled skyrocketing debt; excessive leverage made the global banking system so fragile that it couldn’t withstand a tremor, let alone the Big One; the financial system squirreled away trainloads of risk via byzantine credit derivatives and other devices; and banks grew so towering and so interconnected that they became too big to be allowed to fail. With all that in place, it took only a small nudge to bring the entire house of cards crashing to the ground.

But that’s a story about finance and economics. This is a story about politics. It’s about how Congress and the president and the Federal Reserve were persuaded to let all this happen in the first place. In other words, it’s about the finance lobby—the people who, as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) put it last April, even after nearly destroying the world are “still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

But it’s also about something even bigger. It’s about the way that lobby—with the eager support of a resurgent conservative movement and a handful of powerful backers—was able to fundamentally change the way we think about the world. Call it a virus. Call it a meme. Call it the power of a big idea. Whatever you call it, for three decades they had us convinced that the success of the financial sector should be measured not by how well it provides financial services to actual consumers and corporations, but by how effectively financial firms make money for themselves. It sounds crazy when you put it that way, but stripped to its bones, that’s what they pulled off. […]

READ @ http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/01/wall-street-big-finance-lobbyists

—————————————————————–

* ACCIDENTALLY RELEASED – AND INCREDIBLY EMBARRASSING – DOCUMENTS SHOW HOW GOLDMAN ET AL ENGAGED IN ‘NAKED SHORT SELLING’

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes God smiles on us. Last week, he smiled on investigative reporters everywhere, when the lawyers for Goldman, Sachs slipped on one whopper of a legal banana peel, inadvertently delivering some of the bank’s darker secrets into the hands of the public.

The lawyers for Goldman and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch have been involved in a legal battle for some time – primarily with the retail giant Overstock.com, but also with Rolling Stone, the Economist, Bloomberg, and the New York Times. The banks have been fighting us to keep sealed certain documents that surfaced in the discovery process of an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit filed by Overstock against the banks.

Last week, in response to an Overstock.com motion to unseal certain documents, the banks’ lawyers, apparently accidentally, filed an unredacted version of Overstock’s motion as an exhibit in their declaration of opposition to that motion. In doing so, they inadvertently entered into the public record a sort of greatest-hits selection of the very material they’ve been fighting for years to keep sealed. […]

READ @ http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/accidentally-released-and-incredibly-embarrassing-documents-show-how-goldman-et-al-engaged-in-naked-short-selling-20120515

—————————————————————–

* COMPETING CURRENCY BEING ACCEPTED ACROSS MID-MICHIGAN

Source: youtube

New types of money are popping up across Mid-Michigan and supporters say, it’s not counterfeit, but rather a competing currency.

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

Apr 122012
 

 

* SEYMOUR HERSH ON BUSH TRAINING TERRORISTS IN NEVADA

By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

Journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed that the Bush administration secretly trained an Iranian opposition group on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists. Hersh reports the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Obama took office. The MEK has been listed as a foreign terrorist groups since 1997 and is linked to a number of attacks, spanning from the murders of six U.S. citizens in the 1970s to the recent wave of assassinations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists. Hersh also discusses the role of Israeli intelligence and notes the Obama administration knew about the training, “because they have access to what was going on in the previous administration in this area in terms of the MEK, in terms of operations inside Iran.” His new report for The New Yorker blog, “Our Men in Iran?,” comes as nuclear talks are set to resume this week between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. […]

PART 1

PART 2 

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Htdeuztss4A#!

—————————————————————–

* PERVERTS IN POWER: THE TORTURE-LOVERS WHO RULE US

By Chris Floyd, Information Clearing House

[…] Just when Fatima Bouchar thought it couldn’t get any worse, the Americans forced her to lie on a stretcher and began wrapping tape around her feet. They moved upwards, she says, along her legs, winding the tape around and around, binding her to the stretcher. They taped her stomach, her arms and then her chest. She was bound tight, unable to move.

Bouchar says there were three Americans: two tall, thin men and an equally tall woman. Mostly they were silent. She never saw their faces: they dressed in black and always wore black balaclavas. Bouchar was terrified. They didn’t stop at her chest – she says they also wound the tape around her head, covering her eyes. Then they put a hood and earmuffs on her. She was unable to move, to hear or to see. “My left eye was closed when the tape was applied,” she says, speaking about her ordeal for the first time. “But my right eye was open, and it stayed open throughout the journey. It was agony.” The journey would last around 17 hours. …

Belhaj says he was blindfolded, hooded, forced to wear ear defenders, and hung from hooks in his cell wall for what seemed to be hours. He says he was severely beaten. The ear defenders were removed only for him to be blasted with loud music, he says, or when he was interrogated by his US captors.

Bouchar says that when she was dragged away from her husband she feared he was going to be killed. “I thought: ‘This is it.’ I thought I would never see my husband again … They took me into a cell, and they chained my left wrist to the wall and both my ankles to the floor. I could sit down but I couldn’t move. There was a camera in the room, and every time I tried to move they rushed in. But there was no real communication. I wasn’t questioned.” Bouchar found it difficult to comprehend how she could be treated in this way: she was four-and-a-half months pregnant. “They knew I was pregnant,” she says. “It was obvious.” She says she was given water while chained up, but no food whatsoever. She was chained to the wall for five days. At the end of this period she was taped to the stretcher and put aboard the aircraft, unaware of where she was going or whether her husband was on board. At one point the aircraft landed, remained on the ground for a short period and then took off again. Only when it landed a second time did she hear a man grunting with pain, and realise her husband was nearby.

[…]

As we noted here recently, these torture-renditions are by no means at an end. They thrive under the leadership of Barack Obama and David Cameron just as vigoously as they dd under Bush and Blair. […]

READ @ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31057.htm

—————————————————————–

* WELLS FARGO’S PRISON CASH COW

By Charles Davis, Salon

Wells Fargo is one of the top five largest banks in America, a faict that on its own is damning enough, basic human decency not exactly being conducive to success in the financial industry. Despite, or rather because of, its role as one of the leading sub-prime mortgage lenders prior to the 2008 crash in the housing market, the bank was handed $37 billion from the U.S. government, a transfer of wealth from the foreclosed upon have-nots to the haves doing the foreclosing – people like chairman and CEO John Stumpf, whose compensation actually rose after his company’s de facto bankruptcy to a cool $18 million last year.

As Wells Fargo has grown over the years, using its bailout funds to gobble up rival Wachovia and expand to the East Coast, so has the U.S. prison population. By 2008, one in 100 American adults were either in jail or in prison – and one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34, many simply for non-violent offenses, justice not so much blind as bigoted. Overall, more than 2.3 million people are currently behind bars, up 50 percent in the last 15 years, the land of the free now accounting for a full quarter of the world’s prisoners.

These developments are not unrelated. […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2012/04/11/wells_fargos_prison_cash_cow/singleton/

—————————————————————–

* VIDEO: TEEN IS TIED DOWN, SHOCKED BY TEACHERS AT “SCHOOL” FOR AUTISTIC KIDS

By Clara Jeffery, MotherJones

In 2007, we ran a devastating exposé of the Judge Rotenberg Center, a “school” that took mentally and psychologically troubled kids from across the country and treated them by hooking them up to electrodes and shocking them whenever they misbehaved or displayed symptoms of their disorders, like autism. Reports from former students and staff were horrific, and Jennifer Gonnerman’s extensive reporting helped launch or fortify state and local investigations into the school, and its founder Matthew Israel. Yet despite the investigations and ongoing lawsuits, the school managed to stay open.

Last month the school was targeted by Anonymous, which released a video condemning the “torture” of its students. But the video that may truly take down Rotenberg for good is below. Just yesterday this footage of a Rotenberg student being restrained and shocked for hours was played in a Massachusetts courtroom: […]

READ and VIDEO @ http://motherjones.com/mojo/2012/04/video-child-being-shocked-rotenberg-school-autism

—————————————————————–

* UNCOMPROMISING PHOTOS EXPOSE JUVENILE DETENTION IN AMERICA

By Pete Brook, Wired

On any given night in the U.S., there are approximately 60,500 youth confined in juvenile correctional facilities or other residential programs. Photographer Richard Ross has spent the past five years criss-crossing the country photographing the architecture, cells, classrooms and inhabitants of these detention sites.

The resulting photo-survey, Juvenile-In-Justice, documents 350 facilities in over 30 states. It’s more than a peek into unseen worlds — it is a call to action and care.

“I grew up in a world where you solve problems, you don’t destroy a population,” says Ross. “To me it is an affront when I see the way some of these kids are dealt with.”

The U.S. locks up children at more than six times the rate of all other developed nations. The over 60,000 average daily juvenile lockups, a figure estimated by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), are also disproportionately young people of color. With an average cost of $80,000 per year to lock up a child, the U.S. spends more than $5 billion annually on youth detention. […]

READ and PHOTOS @ http://www.wired.com/rawfile/2012/04/photog-hopes-to-effect-policy-with-survey-of-juvenile-lock-ups/

—————————————————————–

* OBAMA’S JOBS ACT COULDN’T SUCK WORSE

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

[…] The “Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act” (in addition to everything else, the Act has an annoying, redundant title) will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market.

In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

Ostensibly, the law makes it easier for startup companies (particularly tech companies, whose lobbyists were a driving force behind its passage) to attract capital by, among other things, exempting them from independent accounting requirements for up to five years after they first begin selling shares in the stock market.

The law also rolls back rules designed to prevent bank analysts from talking up a stock just to win business, a practice that was so pervasive in the tech-boom years as to be almost industry standard.

Even worse, the JOBS Act, incredibly, will allow executives to give “pre-prospectus” presentations to investors using PowerPoint and other tools in which they will not be held liable for misrepresentations. These firms will still be obligated to submit prospectuses before their IPOs, and they’ll still be held liable for what’s in those. But it’ll be up to the investor to check and make sure that the prospectus matches the “pre-presentation.” […]

READ @ http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/why-obamas-jobs-act-couldnt-suck-worse-20120409

—————————————————————–

* POVERTY – THE MOST EXTREME FORM OF VIOLENCE IN HUMAN HISTORY

Source: youtube

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