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?

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.

Nov 292016
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

luiz-inacio-lula-da-silva-3-400x305

Left-wing academics, writers and journalists have written tendentious articles where they manage to transform reactionary political leaders into working class heroes and present their dreadful policies as progressive advances.

Recently, leftist pundits throughout US and Latin America have plagued the reading public with gross distortions of historical events contributing, in their own way, to the demise of the left and the rise of the right.

The leading international figures in this deceptive left-wing punditry include the famous Noam Chomsky, once eulogized by the New York Times (NYT) as ‘America’s most important public intellectual’. Such effusion is not surprising: Professor Chomsky and the NYT both supported the presidential candidacy of the warmongering Hillary Clinton, the perpetrator of seven wars that uprooted 20 million people from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, sub-Sahara Africa (Is this any different from Stalin in the ‘30s?) and author/supporter of numerous coups and attempted ‘regime changes’ in Brazil, Honduras, Venezuela, Paraguay and Ukraine.

The same MIT intellectual turned his prestige-laden ire on the authors of the definitive critique of the pro-Israel lobby (The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (2007)) and slandered the most effective activist group against Israeli colonial land grabbers – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). So much for America’s most ‘prominent intellectual’ – a crypto-warmonger, who not only supported the candidacy of the blood-gorged war goddess Clinton, but has become a leader of the post-election propaganda and ‘regime change’ campaign to overthrow the buffoonish President-Elect Donald Trump. Chomsky’s diatribe against Trump claimed nothing less than the world now faced the gravest danger in all its history with the election of the real estate-casino King Donald. Noam deftly papered over his defeated candidate Hillary’s vow to unleash possible nuclear war by shooting down Russian planes over Syria – in opposition to Trump’s reasoned proposal to work with Putin in ending the brutal war in Syria.

There are different versions of the ‘leftist’-imperial-collaborator apologist Chomsky throughout Latin America. One is Emir Sader.

Emir Sader, professor of Political Science at the University of Rio de Janeiro and author of the book celebrating the first ‘workers’ President of Brazil, Lula DaSilva (Without Fear of Being Happy: Lula, The Workers Party and Brazil(1991)) is a frequent contributor to the leading ‘progressive’ daily newspapers throughout Latin America, including La Jornada of Mexico, as well as the influential bi-monthly The New Left Review in Great Britain.

Lula
Lula

Needless to say, Sader never cited any inconvenient facts when praising the leadership of Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s last two elected presidents from the Workers Party. For example, Sader omitted the fact that President Da Silva implemented an IMF-mandated austerity program upon taking office. He tiptoed around the Wall Street Bankers’ awarding Lula a “Man of the Year” prize. Professor Sader forgot to cite the abrupt drop in farmland expropriations (guaranteed under Brazil’s Constitution) for rural landless workers movement (MST) – leaving hundreds of thousands of landless peasant families under thin plastic tents. His ‘Worker President’ Lula appointed neo-liberal economists and central bank directors to his cabinet. Lula supported the interests of big agro-business, big oil and big mining oligarchs who slashed and burned the Amazon rain forest murdering indigenous leaders, peasants and ecologists who resisted the devastation and displacement.

Sader lauded, as ‘generous’, the monthly ‘food baskets’, equivalent to $60 dollars, which the local Workers Party operative passed out to about 30 million destitute families to create a rural client-base. Sader and his string of leftist followers in North and South America, England and France never attacked the high level bribery, fraud and corruption linking Workers Party leaders to construction multi-nationals and Petrobras, the state oil company and billions of state contracts.

Sader and his international acolytes celebrated Brazil’s ascent to world power as a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) with Lula as a leader in bringing the poor into the ‘middle class’. He never stopped to analyze how Lula managed to balance the interests of the IMF, Wall Street, agro-business, bankers while enticing a huge voting majority among the poor and workers.

Lula’s ‘miracle’ was a temporary mirage, its reality evident to only a few critics who pointed to the reliance on a prolong commodity export boom. The business elites backed Lula because of state subsidies and tax incentives. Hundreds of right-wing Congress people and cabinet members jumped on the Workers Party bandwagon to enjoy the payola payoffs from contractors. But by the end of Lula’s eight year term, exports of primary commodities to China sharply declined, commodity prices collapsed and the business elites and bankers turned their backs on the ‘Worker President’ as they looked for a new regime to rescue them by sacrificing the poor.

The rest of the story is well known: Former PT allies launched corruption investigations to pull down the PT government. Twice-elected President Dilma Rouseff was impeached in a bizarre legislative coup, orchestrated by a corrupt PT ally from a right-wing party, Congressional head Eduardo Cunhal; Rouseff’s corrupt Vice President Temer took over and Lula was indicted for corruption by right-wing prosecutors appointed by the PT. The House of Cards in Brasilia became a grotesque comic opera with all the major players waltzing in and out of jail (except the impeached Rouseff).

But Professor Sader did not looked back in contemplation, let alone class analysis, at the 13 years of Worker Party power in coalition with the worst of Brazil’s crooks. Instead, he bellowed that Lula’s former allies, the corrupt politicians from the right-wing parties, had unjustly ousted the PT. These ‘traitors’ were the same politicians that Professor Sader embraced as ‘strategic allies’ from 2003 to 2014. Any serious observer could understand why Lula’s was first embraced and then divorced by the financial elite – for its own class interest.

Lula and Dilma’s ‘Three-Cornered Ménage’ with Bankers

Contrary to Sader’s PT propaganda and the predictably ill-informed kudos of Chomsky, et al, the Workers Party policies benefited the banks and the agro-business elites above all others, to the detriment of the popular movements and the Brazilian people. Brazilian investment bank revenues rose from $200 million dollars in 2004 to $1.6 billion dollars in 2007 and remained close to the peak until the commodity crash reduced bank revenues drastically. Likewise, the financial speculators and corporate monopolies took part in the capitalist bonanza under Presidents Lula and Dilma. Merger and acquisitions (M&As) rose from $40 billion in 2007 to $140 billion in 2010 but then sharply declined with the drop in world commodity prices down to $25 billion in 2015. The banks made billions of dollars in management fees for arranging the M&A’s over the eight-year period (2007-2015).

The Fall of Banking Revenues and the Rise of Corporate Activists

If we examine Brazilian merger and acquisitions activity and investment bank revenues, one sees a close correlation with the rise and fall of the PT regime. In other words, when the bankers, speculators and monopolists flourished under the PT policies, they supported the government of Lula and Dilma. When the export agro-mining commodity boom collapsed, slashing profits, management fees and interest, the financial sector immediately mobilized their right-wing allies in congress, allied prosecutors and judges and successfully pushed for Dilma’s impeachment, Lula’s indictment, the arrest of former PT allies and the appointment of Vice President Temer to the Presidency.

With the recession fully underway, the business and banking elite demanded large-scale, long-term cuts in public expenditures, slashing budgets for the poor, education, health, housing and pensions, severe wage reduction and a sharp limit on consumer credit. At the same time they pushed through the privatization of the multi-billion dollar petroleum industry (Petrobras) and related state industries, as well as public ports, airlines and airfields, highways and whatever else among Brazil’s public jewels could compensate for their drop in investment bank revenues and management fees for M&As.

For the finance sector, Lula and Dilma’s main crime lay in their reluctance to impose the brutal ‘new austerity policies’ fast enough or totally privatize public enterprises, reverse subsidies to the destitute, freeze wages and slash social budgets for the next two decades.

As soon as the economic elite successfully ousted President Dilma Rousseff through a legislative ‘coup’, their newly enthroned (Vice) President Michel Temer rose to the task: He immediately announced the privatization of Petrobras and froze health and educational budget for the next twenty years. Instead of recognizing the true nature of the ruling class interests behind the coup against Dilma and the arrest of Lula, the PT party hacks and writers denounced political ‘plotters’ and “traitors” and imperialist agents … puppets who were only following orders from the banking and export elite.

After the fall of Dilma and faced with resounding defeats in the 2016 municipal elections wiping out almost all of the PT big city mayors and city officials, Lula finally called for a ‘Left Front’ – fifteen years after having pursued an allied bankers’ front!

Reflections on a Debacle

What stands out is how pro-PT intellectuals and writers have failed to understand that the party’s vulnerability, opportunism and corruption were present early on and reflected the class composition, policy decisions and lack of ethical principles among the PT leadership. Wide-eyed and seduced at their warm reception at PT functions and international conferences, the ill-informed US, Canadian and European intellectuals understood nothing about the real structural and strategic flaws within the party and instead published hundreds of shallow ‘puff pieces’ about Lula’s poverty reduction, minimum wage increases, and consumer credit – ignoring the real nature of class power in Brazil.

Apparently, they threw out two centuries of even the most basic grammar school level history lessons describing the cyclical boom and bust nature of commodity export economies. They ignored a half-century of left-right ‘populist front’ governments, which collapsed into coups once bourgeois support was withdrawn – and instead whined about ‘betrayals’ – as if the elite were capable of anything else.

The fundamental problem was not the stratospheric intellectual pronouncements – the key was the economic and political strategies and policies under Lula and Dilma

The PT Presidents failed to diversify the economy, institute an industrial program, impose content regulations on foreign producers, nationalize the banks and monopolies, prosecute corrupt political officials (including PT leaders) and stop the practice of funding political campaigns through kick-back rewards for rotten deals with construction contractor-cronies.

Once in power, the PT ran expensive campaigns with heavy mass media saturation, while rejecting their own twenty years of effective class struggle that had built the political party with a strong working class cadre.

By the time it was elected to the presidency, the PT membership had shifted dramatically – from workers to middle class professionals. By 2002, 70% of active party members were professionals. They formed the leadership base running for office, designed the new strategies and forged new allies.

The PT discarded its popular class allies in order to gain short-term capitalist alliances based on the export commodity boom economy. During the height of the ‘boom’ they managed to satisfy the bankers and stockbrokers, while providing some subsidies to workers and the poor. When the budgets and the boom economy crashed, the business allies turned against the PT. Meanwhile, the PT had also lost its mass base, which was experiencing double-digit unemployment. The once reliable PT voters knew that, while they suffered, some of their ‘Workers Party’ leaders had become millionaires through corruption and were living in ‘soap-opera’-style luxury. They could imagine them consulting their gold Rolex watches so not to miss an appointment with the corrupt contractors…

Lacking critical and knowledgeable advisers, depending on allies and ministers from the capitalist elite, abandoning the politics of class struggle, and failing to implement any national industrial strategy – including the most basic processing of Brazil’s agro-mineral products, the Left disintegrated losing Latin America’s historic best opportunity to build a workers’ and peasant government from below.

The fiasco of left intellectuals and politicos is not confined to the case of Brazil. The same capitulation to the hard-right keeps happening: In the US, France, England, Greece and Portugal, there were the Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomskys and a small army of left journalists and identity activists rushing to support the candidacy of Hillary Clinton — the most bellicose imperial politician in recent memory. Despite her record of supporting or launching seven wars, creating twenty-million refugees and over one million deaths, despite her reckless advocacy of nuclear war with Russia over Syria, the self-declared ‘anti-fascists’ joined hands to support a recidivist catastrophe-candidate, whose only real success would be her million-dollar speeches before the financial elite and speculators! But then again, the famously furious Greek Left voted for Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras who then imposed history’s worst peacetime austerity program on the people of Greece. It must console Lula and Dilma to know they have plenty of company among the left politicians who speak to the workers and work for the bankers.

James Petras is author of  The End of the Republic and the Delusion of EmpireExtractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle EastRead other articles by James, or visit James’s website.

 

Mar 082014
 

Posted by SnakeArbusto, 99GetSmart

Source: CADTM Europe

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The CADTM affirms its full and complete solidarity with the people of Cyprus and their organisations struggling against privatizations in the energy, telecoms, and shipping sectors – privatizations required by the Memorandum imposed by the Troika in March 2013. Cyprus is the fourth country to be placed under the budgetary supervision of the European Union, after Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

In the face of the demonstrations of 27 February (a 3-day renewable strike by Electricity Authority of Cyprus workers and a strike by longshoremen at the ports of Limassol and Larnaca), the Parliament was unable to reach a majority to adopt the initial bill (25 votes for, 25 against, 5 abstentions; a majority of 29 is required for adoption). The following day the government handed in its resignation. The media, in total complicity with the Troika, have observed total silence over this situation – an extraordinary one, to say the least.

Despite the refusal expressed by the population in the streets, the Cypriot legislators have just adopted (4 March), by a vote of 30 to 26, a bill that is only a slightly modified version of the one they had themselves rejected the preceding week and which would result in the privatisation of the major public services: EAC (electricity), CYTA (telecoms), and CPA (the port authority). This new version of the law claims to guarantee the jobs of the employees of these companies, but no one actually believes that.

Adoption of the law was a condition for the granting of a new 236-million € tranche of the 10-Bn € loan granted by the Troika in March 2013.

The causes of the crisis in Cyprus have been clearly identified: 

1) A hypertrophied banking system
 that was completely out of control. The banks, who have considerable liquid assets provided by the “financial markets,” have recklessly made risky investments.

In 2012, Cyprus’s banks speculated on the restructuring of the Greek debt – 40% of their external commitments, which cost them 4.5 Bn €, or the equivalent of a quarter of Cyprus’s GDP, and brought on the collapse of this overinflated sector (whose assets represent seven times the country’s GDP).

These private losses were then promptly transformed into public debt. These debts are totally illegitimate and must be abolished, along with those stemming from the assistance plan!

graph-3-ca531

In 2009 and 2010, Cyprus’s public debt was only 52.4% and 60.8% of GDP, whereas in the Euro zone as a whole it was 80% of GDP in 2010.

In Germany, the percentage was 74.5% in 2009 and 82.5% in 2010.

2) A tax situation that is highly advantageous for companies: Corporate tax, which until the Memorandum was at an official rate of 10%, has only been raised to 12.5% (not enough to resolve the budget deficit).

To obtain the 10-Bn € assistance plan from the Troika (9 Bn € from the ECB and 1 Bn € from the IMF), Cyprus’s government also agreed to the restructuring of its banking system, a 10% reduction in public expenditures, and the privatization of the island’s main public sectors.

The IMF, represented in Cyprus by a former executive of Lehman Brothers, itself recognizes the economic ineffectualness of such measures. The IMF’s goal is not to provide support for the population of Cyprus, but to protect and guarantee the interests of the creditors! That is why the agents of the IMF must be run out of Cyprus, along with the representatives of the European Commission and the ECB!

Aside from the obvious risk of growth in unemployment (forecast to reach 19.4% in 2014), Cypriots fear skyrocketing prices, with wages and pensions already reduced by 20% in one year. The people’s mobilisation, practically uninterrupted for months, goes well beyond the industry sectors that are directly concerned.

Rubbish bins brought by the population are piled up in front of bank branches. There are regular interruptions of electrical power and the people are besieging the Parliament and official buildings. All sectors, both private and public, are present around the Parliament, demonstrating their opposition to the Troika’s structural adjustment plan.

The CADTM considers:

  • that the entire debt of Cyprus to the Troika is illegitimate and odious, and must be abolished in its entirety;
  • that the austerity plan imposed by the Troika must be revoked.

The population does not want to pay for the speculators and the wealthiest 1%. International solidarity must organise as soon as possible in support of this exemplary struggle. The CADTM will do all it can.

Translation by Snake Arbusto

Photo : CC – Eu Council Eurozone
Discussion before the meeting begins : Christine LAGARDE, IMF ; Thomas WIESER, President of the EFC (Economic and Financial Committee) and Michael SARRIS, Finances Minister of Cyprus (on the right).

Jul 242013
 

By James Petras, 99GetSmart

Introduction

Burning forest in Brazil. The removal of forest to make way for cattle ranching was the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from the mid 1960s. Soybeans have become one of the most important contributors to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Burning forest in Brazil. The removal of forest to make way for cattle ranching was the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon from the mid 1960s. Soybeans have become one of the most important contributors to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

Brazil has witnessed one of the world’s most striking socio-economic reversals in modern history: from a dynamic nationalist industrializing to a primary export economy. Between the mid 1930’s to the mid 1980’s, Brazil averaged nearly 10% growth in its manufacturing sector largely based on state interventionist policies, subsidizing, protecting and regulating the growth of national public and private enterprises. Changes in the ‘balance’ between national and foreign (imperial) capital began to take place following the military coup of 1964 and accelerated after the return of electoral politics in the mid-1980’s.  The election of neo-liberal politicians, especially with the election of the Cardoso regime in the mid-1990’s, had a devastating impact on the strategic sectors of the national economy: wholesale privatization was accompanied by the denationalization of the commanding heights of the economy and the deregulation of capital markets.[1]  Cardoso’s regime set the stage for the massive flow of foreign capital into the agro-mineral, finance, insurance and real estate sectors. The rise in interest rates as demanded by the IMF and World Bank and the speculative market in real estate raised the costs of industrial production. Cardoso’s lowered tariffs ended industrial subsidies and opened the door to industrial imports. These neo-liberal policies led to the relative and absolute decline of industrial production.[2]

The Presidential victory of the self-styled “Workers Party” in 2002 deepened and expanded the ‘great reversal’ promoted by its neo-liberal predecessors. Brazil reverted to becoming a primary commodity exporter, as soya, cattle, iron and metals exports multiplied and textile, transport and manufacturing exports declined.[3]  Brazil became one of the leading extractive commodity exporters in the world. Brazil’s dependence on commodity exports was aided and abated by the massive entry and penetration of imperial multi-national corporations and financial flows by overseas banks. Overseas markets and foreign banks became the driving force of extractive growth and industrial demise.

To gain a better understanding of Brazil’s ‘great reversion’ from a dynamic nationalist-industrializing to a vulnerable imperial driven agro-mineral extractive dependency, we need to briefly review the political-economy of Brazil over the past fifty years to identify the decisive ‘turning points’ and the centrality of political and class struggle.

Military Model: Modernization from Above

Under the military dictatorships (1964-1984) economic policy was based on a hybrid strategy emphasizing a triple alliance of state, foreign and national private capital[4] focused primarily on industrial exports and secondarily on agriculture commodities (especially traditional products like coffee).

The military discarded the nationalist-populist model based on state industries and peasant cooperatives of the ousted leftist President Goulart and put in place an alliance of industrial capitalists and agribusiness. Riding a wave of expanding global markets and benefiting from the repression of labor, the compression of wages and salaries, comprehensive subsidies and protectionist policies, the economy grew by double digits from the late 1960’s to the mid 1970’s, the so-called “Brazilian Miracle”[5]. The military while ending any threats of nationalizations, put in place a number of ‘national content’ rules on the foreign multi-nationals which expanded Brazil’s industrial base and enlarged the size and scope of the urban working class especially in the automotive industry. This led to the growth of the metal workers union and later the Workers’ Party. The ‘export model’ based on light and heavy industry, foreign and domestic producers, was regionally based (southeast). The military modernization strategy heightened inequalities and integrated the local ‘national’ capitalists to imperial MNCs. This laid the groundwork for the onset of the anti-dictatorial struggles and the return of democracy. Neo-liberal parties gained hegemony with the turn to electoral politics.

Electoral Politics, the Rise of Neo-Liberalism and the Ascendancy of Extractive Capitalism

The electoral opposition which succeeded the military regimes was initially polarized between a liberal, free market, agro-mineral elite allied with imperial MNC and on the other hand a worker, peasant, rural worker and lower middle class nationalist bloc, intent on promoting public ownership, social welfare, the redistribution of income and agrarian reform. Militant labor formed the CUT; landless peasants formed the MST and both joined the middle class to form the PT[6]

The first decade of electoral politics 1984-94, was characterized by the tug and pull between the residual statist capitalism inherited from the previous military regime and the emerging liberal ‘free market’ bourgeoisie. The debt crises, hyper-inflation, massive systemic corruption, the impeachment of President Collor and economic stagnation severely weakened the statist capitalist sectors and led to ascendancy of an alliance of agro-mineral and finance capital, both foreign and local capitalists, linked to overseas markets.  This retrograde coalition found their political leader and road to power with the election of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former leftist academic turned free market zealot.

The election of Cardoso led to a decisive break with the national statist policies of the previous sixty years.  Cardoso’s policies gave a decisive push toward the denationalization and privatization of the economy, essential elements in the reconfiguration of Brazil’s economy and the ascendancy of extractive capital[7].  By almost all indicators Cardoso’s ultra neo-liberal policies led to a precipitous great leap backward, concentrating income and land, and increasing foreign ownership of strategic sectors. Cardoso’s “reform” of the economy at the expense of industrial labor, public ownership, landless rural workers provoked widespread strikes and land occupations[8]. The ‘extractive economy’ especially the opening of lucrative sectors in agriculture, mining and energy took place at the expense of the productive forces: the relative position of manufacturing, technology and high end services declined.  In particular labor earnings as a whole declined as a percentage of GNP[9].

The average growth rate of industry declined to a paltry 1.4%. Employment in the industrial sector fell by 26%, unemployment rose to over 18.4%, the ‘informal sector’ rose from 52.5% in 1980 to 56.1% in 1995[10].

Privatization of public enterprises like the giant and lucrative telecommunication firm Telebras led to the massive firing of workers and subcontracting of labor at lower wages and without social benefits. Under Cardoso, Brazil had the highest rates of inequality (Gini coefficient) in the world – bar one country.

Cardoso used state subsidies to promote foreign capital especially in the agrarian export and mining sectors while the small and medium size farmers were starved for credit. His program of financial deregulation led to currency speculation, massive windfall profits for Wall Street banks as the regime raised interest rates by over 50%[11]. Bankruptcy of farmers led to their dispossession by agro-export capitalists. Concentration of land took a decisive turn as .7% of large landowners owning farms over 2,000 hectares increased their acreage from 39.5% to 43% of Brazilian farmland[12].

During Cardoso’s eight years in office, (1994-2002) there was a tsunami of foreign investment:  over $50 billion flowed in just the first 5 years – ten times the total of the previous 15 years[13]. Foreign owned agro-mineral companies among the top foreign owned companies (as of 1997) numbered over one-third and growing. Between 1996-1998 foreign MNC acquired eight major food, mining and metal production firms[14].

Cardoso’s neo-liberal policies opened the door wide open for foreign capital takeover of critical industrial and banking sectors. Nevertheless, it was the subsequent “Workers Party” presidents Da Silva and Rousseff who completed the Brazilian economy’s Great Leap Backward by decisively turning to extractive capital as the driving force of the economy.

From Neoliberalism to Extractive Capital

Cardoso’s privatizations were sustained and deepened by the Lula regime.  Cardoso’s outrageous privatization of the Vale do Doce iron mine at a fraction of its value was defended by Lula; the same was the case with Cardoso’s defacto privatization of the state oil company Petrobras. Lula embraced the restrictive monetary policies, budget surplus agreements with the IMF and followed the budgetary prescriptions of the IMF directors[15].

The Lula regime (2003-2011) took Cardoso’s neo-liberal policies as a guide to further reconfigure Brazil’s economy to the benefit of foreign and domestic capital located now in the primary, raw material export sector. In 2005 Brazil exported $55.3 billion dollars in raw materials and $44.2 billion in manufacturing goods; in 2011 Brazil tripled its raw material exports to $162.2 billion while its manufacturing exports increased to a mere $60.3 billion[16].

In other words the difference between the value of raw material and manufacturing exports increased from $13 billion to over $100 billion in the last 5 years of Lula’s regime. The relative de-industrialization of the economy, the growing imbalance between the dominant extractive and manufacturing sector illustrates the reversion of Brazil to its ‘colonial style of development’.

Agro-Mining Capitalism, the State and the People

Brazil’s export sector benefited enormously from the rise in commodity prices. The prime beneficiary was its primary agro-mineral sector. But the cost to industry, public transport, living conditions, research and development and education was enormous. Agro-mineral exports provided great revenues to the state but also extracted great subsidies, tax benefits and profits.

Brazil’s industrial economy was adversely affected by the commodity boom because of the rise in the value of its currency, the real by 40% between 2010 – 2012 which increased the price of manufacturing exports and decreased the competitiveness of manufacturing products[17]. The “free market” policies also facilitated the entrance of lower priced manufactured goods from Asia, particularly from China. While Brazil, primary exports to China boomed, its manufacturing sector, particularly consumer goods like textiles and footwear, declined from 2005-2010 by over 10%[18].

Under the Lula-Rousseff regimes, the extreme dependence on a limited number of commodities led to a sharp decline in the productive forces, measured by investments in technological innovations, especially those related to industry[19]. Moreover, Brazil became more dependent than ever on a single market. From 2000 to 2010 Chinese imports of soy – the major agro export – represented 40% of Brazil’s exports; Chinese imports of iron – the key mining export – constitute over a third of the total exports of that sector.  China also imports about 10% of Brazil’s exports of petrol, meat, pulp and paper[20]. Under the Lula and Rousseff regimes, Brazil has reverted to a quasi-mono-cultural economy dependent on a very limited market. As a result the slowdown of China’s economy has predictably led to a decline in Brazil’s growth to fewer than 2% from 2011 to 2013[21].

Brazil: Finance Capital’s Economic Paradise

Under the Workers Party free market policies, finance capital has flooded into Brazil, as never before. Foreign direct investment jumped from about $16 billion in 2002 during the last year of the Cardoso regime to over $48 billion in the last year of Lula’s rule[22]. Portfolio investment – the most speculative sort – rose from a negative $5 billion in 2002 to $67 billion in 2010. Net inflows of FDI and portfolio investments totaled $400 billion during 2007 – 2011 compared to $79 billion during the previous 5 year period[23].  Portfolio investments in high interest bonds, securities returned between 8% – 15% ,triple and quadruple the rates in North America and Europe. Lula and Dilma are poster presidents of Wall Street.

By most important economic indicators the policies of the Lula-Dilma regimes have been the most lucrative for  overseas financial capital and the investors in the primary agro-mineral sectors in the recent history of Brazil.

Agro-Mineral Model and the Environment

Despite their political rhetoric in favor of family farming, the Lula-Dilma regimes have been among the biggest promoters of agro-business in recent Brazilian political history. The largest share of state resources allocated to agriculture, finances agribusiness and large landowners. According to one study, in 2008/2009 small holders received about $6.35 billion (US), while agribusiness and large landholders received $31.9 billion (US) in funding and credit[24]. Less than 4% of government resources and research was directed to family farming and agro-ecological farms.

Under Lula the destruction of the rain forests occurred at a rapid pace. Between 2002 and 2008 the Cerrado region’s vegetation was reduced by 7.5% or over 8.5 million hectares, mostly by agro-business corporations[25]. The Brazilian Cerrado is one of the world’s most biologically rich savannah regions concentrated in the center-east region of the country. According to one study 69% of all the land owned by foreign corporations is concentrated in Brazil’s Cerrado[26]. Between 1995 – 2005 the share of foreign capital in Brazil’s agro-industrial grain sector jumped from 16% to 57%.  Foreign capital has capitalized on the neo-liberal policies under Cardoso, Lula and Dilma to move into agro-fuel (ethanol) sector, controlling about 22% of Brazilian sugar cane and ethanol companies[27] – and rapidly encroaching on the Amazon forest.

Between May 2000 and August 2005, thanks to the expansion of the export sector, Brazil lost 132,000 square kilometers of forest due to the expansion of large landowners and multinationals engaged in cattle raising, soya and forestry[28].  Between 2003 – 2012 over 137 square kilometers have been deforested, aided and abetted by multi-billion dollar government infrastructure investments, tax incentives and subsidies.

In 2008 damage to the Amazon rain forest surged 67%. Under pressure from indigenous, peasant and landless rural workers’ and ecology movements the government took action to curtail deforestation. It declined from a peak of 27,772 square kilometers in 2004 (second only to the highest ever under Cardoso in 1995, 29,059 square kilometers) to 4,656 sq. km in 2012[29].

Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Estimates attribute over 40% to big capitalist and MNC meat processing corporations[30]. The Lula-Dilma regimes’ major infrastructure investments, especially roads, opened previously inaccessible forest lands to corporate cattle firms. Under Lula and Dilma, commercial agriculture, especially soya beans became the second biggest contributor to deforestation of the Amazon.

Accompanying the degradation of the natural environment, the expansion of agro-business has been accompanied by dispossession, assassination and enslavement of indigenous peoples. The Christian, Pastoral Land Commission reported that landlord violence reached its highest level in at least 20 years in 2004 – Lula’s second year in office. Conflicts rose to 1,801 in 2004 from 1,690 in 2003 and 925 in 2002[31].

According to the government, cattle and soy corporations exploit at least 25,000 Brazilians (mostly dispossessed Indians and peasants) under “conditions analogous to slavery”. Leading NGOs claim the true figure could be ten times that number. Over 183 farms were raided in 2005 freeing 4,133 slaves[32].

Mining: The Vale Rip-off as “Privatization” and the Number One Polluter

Nearly 25% of Brazil’s exports are composed of mineral products – highlighting the growing centrality of extractive capital in the economy. Iron ore is the mineral of greatest importance, representing 78% of total mining exports. In 2008, iron ore accounted for $16.5 of a $22.5 billion of the industry’s earnings[33]. The vast majority of iron exports are dependent on a single market – China. As China’s growth slows, demand declines and increases Brazil’s economic vulnerability.

One firm, privatized during the Cardoso presidency, Vale, through acquisitions and mergers controls almost 100% of Brazil’s productive iron mines[34]. In 1997 Vale was sold by the neoliberal state for $3.14 billion, a small fraction of its value.  Over the following decade it concentrated its investments in mining, establishing a global network of mines in over a dozen countries in North and South America, Australia, Africa and Asia. The Lula – Dilma regime played a major role in facilitating Vale’s dominance of the mining sector and the exponential growth of its value: Vale’s net worth today is over $100 billion but it pays one of the lowest tax rates in the world, despite being the second largest mining company in the world, the largest producer of iron ore and the second largest of nickel.  Maximum royalties on mineral wealth rose from 2% to 4% in 2013[35]; in other words during the decade of the “progressive” government of Lula and Dilma, the tax rate was one-sixth that of conservative Australia with a rate of 12%.

Vale has used its enormous profits to diversify its mining operations and related activities. It sold off businesses such as steel and wood pulp, for $2.9 billion – nearly the price paid for the entire mineral complex.Instead it concentrated on buying up the iron mines of competitors and literally monopolizing production. Vale expanded into manganese, nickel, copper, coal, potash, kaolin, bauxite; it has bought out railroads, ports, container terminals, ships and at least eight hydroelectric plants; two-thirds of its hydro-electrical plants were built during the Lula regime[36].

In sum, monopoly capitalism flourished during the Lula regime with record profits in the extractive sector, extreme damage to the environment and massive displacement of indigenous peoples and small scale producers. The Vale mining experience underlines the powerful structural continuities between the neo-liberal Cardoso and Lula regimes: the former privatized Vale at a “fire sale” price; the latter promoted Vale as the dominant monopoly producer and exporter of iron, totally ignoring the concentration of wealth, profits and powers of extractive capital.

In comparison to the geometrical growth of monopoly profits for the extractive sector, Lula and Dilma’s paltry two dollars a day subsidy to reduce poverty hardly warrants calling the regime “progressive” or “center-left”.

While Lula and Dilma were enraptured with the growth of Brazil’s “mining champion” (Vale), others were not. Into 2002 Public Eye a leading human rights and environmental group gave Vale an “award” as the worst corporation in the world: “The Vale Corporation acts with the most contempt for the environment and human rights in the world”[37]. The critics cited Vale’s construction of the Belo Monte dam in the middle of the Amazon rain forest as having “devastating consequences for the regions unique biodiversity and indigenous tribes”[38].

The mining sector is capital intensive, generates few jobs and adds little value to its exports.  It has degraded water, land and air; adversely affected local communities, dispossessed Indian communities and created a boom and bust economy.

With the marked slowdown of the Chinese economy, especially its manufacturing sector in 2012-14, iron, copper prices have fallen.  Brazil’s export revenues have declined, undermining overall growth. Especially important, channeling resources into infrastructures for the agro-mineral sectors has resulted in the depletion of funds for hospitals, schools and urban transport – which are run down and provide poor service to millions of urban workers.

The End of the Extractive “Mega Cycle” and the Rise of Mass Protests

Brazil’s extractive led model entered a period of decline and stagnation in 2012-2013 as world market demand – especially Asia – declined especially in China[39]. Growth hovered  around 2% ,barely keeping up with population growth. The class based growth model, especially the narrow stratum of foreign portfolio investors, monopoly mining and big agro-business corporations which controls and reaped most of the revenues and profits, limited the “trickle down effects” which the Lula-Dilma regimes promoted as their “social transformation”. While some innovative programs were initiated, the follow-up and quality of services actually deteriorated.

In-patient hospital beds have declined from 3.3 beds per 1,000 Brazilians in 1993, to 1.9 in 2009, the second lowest in the OECD[40]. Hospital admissions financed by the public sector have fallen and long waits and low quality is endemic.

Federal spending on the health system has fallen since 2003, when adjusted for inflation according to the OECD study. Public spending on health is low: 41% compared to the UK at 82% and the US, 45.5%[41].  The class polarization embedded in the agro-mineral extractive model extends to government spending, taxes, transport and infrastructure:  massive financing for highways, dams, hydro-electric power stations for extractive capital versus inadequate public transport and declining spending for public health education and transport.

The deeper roots of the mass upheavals of 2013 are located in the class politics of a corporate state. The Cardoso, Lula-Dilma regimes, over the past two decades, have pursued a conservative elitist agenda, cushioned by clientelistic and paternatistic politics which neutralized mass opposition for an extended period of time, before the mass rebellion and nationwide protests unmasked the “progressive” facade.

Leftist publicists and conservative pundits who claimed Lula as a “pragmatic progressive” overlooked the fact that during his first term, state support for the agro-business elite was seven times  that offered to the family farmers who represented nearly 90% of the rural labor force and provide the bulk of food for local consumption. During Lula’s second term, the Ministry of Agriculture’s financial support for agro-business during the 2008-09 harvest was six times larger than the funds allocated for Lula’s poverty reduction program, the highly publicized “Bolsa Familia” program[42]. Economic orthodoxy and populist demagogy is no substitute for substantive structural changes, involving a comprehensive agrarian reform embracing 4 million landless rural workers, and a re-nationalization of strategic extractive enterprises like Vale in order to finance sustainable agriculture and preserve the rainforest.

Instead Lula and Dilma jumped full force into the ethanol boom: “sugar, sugar everywhere” but never asking, “Whose pocket does it fill?” Brazil’s growing structural rigidity, its transformation into an extractive capitalist economy, has enhanced and enlarged the scope for corruption. Competition for mining contracts, land grants and giant infrastructure projects encourages agro-mineral business elites to pay-off the “party in power” to secure competitive advantages. This was particularly the case for the “Workers Party” who’s executive and party leadership (devoid of workers) was composed of upwardly mobile professionals, aspiring to elite class positions who looked toward business payoffs for their ‘initial capital’, a kind of ‘initial accumulation through corruption’.

The commodity boom, for almost a decade, papered over the class contradictions and the extreme vulnerability of an extractive economy dependent on primary goods exports to limited markets. The neo-liberal policies adapted to further commodity exports led to the influx of manufactured goods and weakened the position of the industrial sector. As a result the efforts of Dilma to revive the productive economy to compensate for the decline of commodity revenues has not worked:  stagflation, declining budget surpluses and weakening trade balances plague her administration precisely when the mass of workers and the middle class are demanding a large scale reallocation of resources from subsidies to the private sector to investments in public services.

Rousseff’s and her mentor, Lula’s entire political fortunes were built on the fragile foundations of the extractive model.  They have failed to recognize the limits of their model, let alone formulated an alternative strategy. Patchwork proposals, political reforms, anti-corruption rhetoric in the face of million person protests spanning all the major and minor cities of the country do not address the basic problem of challenging the concentration of wealth, property and class power of the agro-mineral and financial elite. Their MNC allies control the levers of political power, with and without corruption and block any meaningful reforms.

Lula’s era of “Wall Street Populism” is over. The idea that high revenues from extractive industries can buy popular loyalties via consumerism, funded by easy credit ,has passed. Wall Street investors are no longer praising the BRICs as a new dynamic market.  As is predictable they are shifting their investments to more lucrative activity in new regions. As portfolio investments decline, and the economy stagnates, extractive capital intensifies its push into the Amazon and with it the terrible toll on the indigenous population and the rain forest.

The year 2012 was one of the worst years for the indigenous peoples. According to the Indigenous Missionary Council, affiliated with the Catholic Church, the number of violent incidents against the Indian communities increased 237%[43]. The Rousseff regime has given Indians the least number of legal title (homologado) to land of any president since the return of democracy (seven titles). At this rate the Brazilian state will take a century to title land requests of the Indian communities. At the same time in 2012, 62 Indian territories were invaded by landowners, miners and loggers, 47% more than in 2011[44]. The biggest threat of dispossession is from mega dam projects in Belo Monte and giant hydro-electric projects being promoted by the Rousseff regime. As the agro-mineral economy falters the Indian communities are being squeezed (“silent genocide”) to intensify agro-mineral growth.

The biggest beneficiaries of Brazil’s extractive economy are the world’s top commodity traders who, worldwide, pocketed $250 billion over the 2003-2013 period, surpassing the profits of the biggest Wall Street firms and five of the biggest auto companies. During the mid-2000’s, some traders enjoyed returns of 50 – 60 percent. Even as late as 2013 they were averaging 20 – 30% (Financial Times 4/15/13, p. 1).  Commodity speculators earned more than 10 times what was spent on the poor.  These speculators profit from price fluctuations between locations, from the arbitrage opportunities offered by an abundance of price discrepancies between regions. Monopoly traders eliminated competitors and low taxes (5-15%) have added to their mega wealth. The biggest beneficiaries of the Lula-Dilma extractive model, surpassing even the agro-mineral giants are the twenty biggest commodity traders-speculators.

Extractive Capital, Internal Colonialism and the Decline of the Class Struggle

The class struggle, especially its expression via strikes led by trade unions and by rural workers located in campsites (campamentos) who launch land occupations has declined precipitously over the past quarter of a century. Brazil during the period following the military dictatorship (1989) was a world leader in strikes with 4,000 in 1989. With the return of electoral politics and the incorporation and legalization of the trade unions especially in tripartite collective bargaining framework, strikes declined to an average of 500 during the 1990’s. With the advent of the Lula regime (2003-2010) strikes declined further from 300-400 a year[45].  The two major trade unions CUT and Forca Sindical allied with the Lula regime became virtual adjuncts of the Ministry of Labor:  trade unionists secured positions in government and the organizations received major subsidies from the state, ostensibly for ‘job’ training and worker education  With the commodity boom and the rise in state revenues and export earnings, the governments formulated a trickle down strategy, increasing the minimum wage and launching new anti-poverty programs. In the countryside, the MST continued to demand an agrarian reform and engaged in land occupations but its position of critically supporting the Workers Party in exchange for social subsidies led to a sharp decline in campsites (campamentos) from which to launch land occupations.  At the start of Lula’s presidency (2003) the MST had 285 campamentos, in 2012 it had 13[46].

The decline of class struggle and the co-optation of the established mass movements coincided with the intensification of extractive capitalist exploitation of the interior of the country and the violent dispossession of the indigenous communities. In other words, the heightened exploitation of the ‘interior’ by agro-mineral capital facilitated the concentration of wealth in the large urban centers and the established rural areas, leading to co-optation of trade unions and rural movements. Hence despite some declaratory statements and symbolic protests, agro-mineral capital encountered little organized solidarity between urban labor and the dispossessed Indians and enslaved rural workers in the ‘cleared’ Amazon.  Lula and Dilma played a key role in neutralizing any national united front against the depredations of agro-mineral capital.

The degeneration of the major labor confederations is visible not only in their presence in government and in the absence of strikes but also in the organization of the annual May 1 workers meetings. The recent events have included virtually no political content. There are music spectacles, spiced with lotteries offering automobiles and other forms of consumerist entertainment, financed and sponsored by major private banks and multi-nationals[47]. In effect this relation between city and Amazon resembles a kind of internal colonialism, in which extractive capital has bought off a labor aristocracy as a complicit ally to its plunder of the interior communities.

Conclusion Mass Movements The Extractive Model under Siege

If the CUT and Forca Sindical are co-opted, the MST is weakened and the low income classes received monetary raises how and why did unprecedented mass movements emerge in close to a hundred major and minor cities throughout the country?

The contrast between the new mass movements and the trade unions was evident in their capacity to mobilize support during the June/July(2013) days of protest: the former mobilized 2 million ,the latter 100,000

What needs to be clarified is the difference between the small student and local groups (Movemiento Passe Livre-MPL) which detonated  the mass movements over a raise in bus fares and the pharaonic state expenditure on the World Cup (soccer championship) and Olympics and the spontaneous mass movements which questioned the state’s budgetary policies and priorities in their entirety.

Many publicists for the Lula-Dilma regimes accept at face value, the budgetary allocations destined for social and infrastructure projects, when in fact only a fraction is actually spent as much is stolen by corrupt officials. For example between 2008-12

R$6.5 billion was designated for public transport in the principal cities but only 17% was actually spent.(Veja ano 46,no29 7/17/2013) According to the NGO “Contas Abertas” (Open Accounts) over a ten year period Brazil spent over R$160 billion in public works which are unfinished, never left the drawing board or were stolen by corrupt officials. One of the most egregious cases of corruption and mismanagement is the construction of a 12 kilometer subway in Salvador, with the provision that it would be completed in 40 months at the cost ofR$307 million. Thirteen years later (2000-13) expenditures increased to nearly 1 billion reales and barely 6 kilometers have been completed. Six locomotors and 24 wagons purchased for 100 million reales have broken down and the manufacturers warranty has expired (Veja ano 46.no 29 7/17/13). The project has been paralyzed by claims of corrupt  overcharging (sobrefacturacion) involving federal, state and municipal officials. Meanwhile 200,000 passengers are forced daily to travel on dilapidated buses.

The deep corruption which infects the entire Lula-Dilma administration has driven a deep wedge between the achievements claimed by the regime and the deteriorating everyday experience of the great majority of the Brazilian people. The same gap exists regarding expenditures to preserve the Amazon rain forest, the Indian lands, and to fund the anti-poverty programs: corrupt PT officials siphon funds to finance their election campaigns rather then reduce environmental destruction and reduce poverty.

If the wealth from the boom in the agro-mineral extractive model “percolated” into the rest of the economy and raised wages, it did so in a very uneven, unequal and distorted fashion. The great wealth concentrated at the top found expression in a kind of new caste-class system in which private transport – helicopters and heliports – private clinics, private schools, private recreation areas, private security armies for the rich and affluent was funded by state promoted subsidies. In contrast the masses experienced a sharp relative and absolute decline in public services in the same essential life experiences. The raise in minimum wage did not compensate for 10 hour waits in crowded public emergency rooms, irregular and crowded public transport, daily personal threats and insecurity (50,000 homicides). Parents, receiving the anti-poverty dole sent their children to decaying schools where poorly paid teachers rushed from one school to another barely meeting their classes and providing meager learning experiences. The greatest indignity to those receiving subsistence handouts was to be told that, in this class-caste society, they were “middle class”; that they were part of an immense social transformation that lifted 40 million out of poverty, as they crawled home from hours in traffic, back from jobs whose monthly salary paid for one tennis match at an upscale country club. The agro-mineral extractive economy, accentuated all Brazil’s socio-economic inequalities and the Lula-Dilma regime accentuated these difference by raising expectations, claiming their fulfillment and then ignoring the real social impacts on everyday life. The government’s large scale budgetary allocations for public transport and promises of projects for new subway and train lines have been delayed for decades by large scale, long term corruption. Billions spent over the years have yielded minimum results-a few kilometers completed. The result is that the gap between the regime’s optimistic projections and mass frustration has vastly increased. The gap between the populist promise and the deepening cleavage between classes could not be papered over by trade union lotteries and VIP lunches. Especially for an entire generation of young workers who are not attached to the ancient memories of Lula the “metal worker” a quarter century earlier. The CUT, the FS, the Workers’ Party are irrelevant or are perceived to be part of the system of corruption, social stagnation and privilege. The most striking feature of the new wave of class protest is the generational and organizational split: older metal workers are absent, young unorganized service workers are present. Local, spontaneous organizations replace the co-opted trade unions.

The point of confrontation is the street – not the workplace. The demands transcend monetary wages and salaries – the issues are the social wage, living standards, national budgets. Ultimately the new social movements raise the issue of national class priorities. The regime is dispossessing hundreds of thousands of residents of favelas – a social purge – to build sports complexes and luxury accommodations. Social issues inform the mass movements. Their organizational independence and autonomy underline the deeper challenge to the entire neo-liberal extractive model; even though no national organizations or leadership of these mass movements has emerged to elaborate an alternative. Yet the struggle continues. The traditional mechanisms of co-optation fail because there are no identifiable leaders to buy off. The regime, facing the decline of export markets and commodity prices, and deeply committed to multi-billion dollar non-productive investments in the Games has few options. The PT long ago lost its anti-systemic cutting edge.  Its politicos are linked with and funded by the banks and agro-mining elites. The trade union leaders protect their fiefdoms, automatic dues deductions and stipends. The mass movements of the cities like the Indian communities of the Amazon will have to find  new political instruments. But having taken the path of “direct action” they have taken a big first step.

[1] James Petras and Henry Vettmeyer Cardoso’s Brazil:  A land for Sale (Lanham, Maryland:  Rowman and Littlefield 2003/Chapter 2.

[2] ibid Chapter 1.

[3] James Petras, Brasil e Lula – Ano Zero (Blumenau: EdiFurb 2005) Chapter 1.

[4] Peter Evans, Dependent Development:  The Alliance of Multinational State and Local Capital in Brazil (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press 1979.

[5] Jose Serra “The Brazilian Economic Miracle” in James Petras Latin America from Dependence to Revolution (New York:  John Wiley 1973) pp. 100 – 140.

[6] Brasil e Lula op cit. Ch. 1

[7] Cardoso’s Brazil  Ch. 5

[8] ibid, Ch.3 and 6

[9] ibid, Table A.12, p. 126

[10]iIbid, Ch. 3.

[11] ibid, Ch. 1, 2.

[12] ibid, Ch. 5

[13] ibid, Ch. 2.

[14] ibid, Table A. 6.

[15] Brasil e Lula, Ch. 1.

[16] Brazil Exports by Product Section (USD) http:\\www.INDEXMUNDI.com/trade/exports/Brazil

[17] Peter Kingstone “Brazil’s Reliance on Commodity Exports threatens its Medium and Long Term Growth Prospects” http://www.americasquarterly.or/icingstone.

[18] Brazil Exports op cit.

[19] Kingstone op cit.

[20] Kingstone op cit. World Bank Yearbook 2011.

[21] Financial Times 3/26/13, p. 7.

[22] Brazil’s Surging Foreign Investment:  A Blessing or Curse?  VSITC Executive Briefing on Trade Oct. 2012.

[23] ibid

[24] http://rainforests:mongabay.com/amazon_destruction

[25] Ibid.

[26] Bernard Mancano Fernandes and Elizabeth Alice Clements “Land Grabbing, Agribusiness and the Peasantry in Brazil and Mozambique” Agrarian South (April 2013).

[27] Rainforests op cit.

[28] Rainforests op cit.

[29] Rainforests op cit.

[30] ibid

[31] Jose Manual Rambla “La agonia de los pueblos indigenas, buera de la agenda reivindicativa de Brasil” rebellion.org/notice, 5/7/13.

[32] Rainforests ibid p. 8

[33] Brazil Mining http://www.e-mj.com/index.php/reatures/850-Brazil-,mining.

[34] Wikipedia Vale http://en.wilkipedia.org/wiki/vale_miningcompany.

[35] The Economist, June 2, 2013.

[36] Wikipedia, p. 9.

[37] Guardian, Jan. 27, 2012.

[38] ibid

[39] Financial Times, July 13, 2013, p. 9.

[40] Financial Times, July 1, 2013.

[41] ibid

[42] Rainforest op cit.

[43] ibid

[44] ibid

[45] Raul Zibechi “Elfindel consenso lulista” rebellion 7/7/13

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

 

Jun 262013
 

El análisis de James Petras, 99GetSmart

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“Esa coexistencia entre corrupción, enriquecimiento y la incapacidad de atender las exigencias populares queda latente por muchas razones. Por razones de la mistificación de Lula como demagogo populista y después con Rousseff con la esperanza de que ella podría –por lo menos- eliminar la corrupción que estaba fuertemente ubicada en todos los niveles del gobierno y del partido. Sin embargo, se acaba la paciencia, el gobierno involucrado con enormes gastos multimillonarios para la Copa, los juegos olímpicos, etcétera, y la gente no aguanta más”, dijo el sociólogo norteamericano James Petras al analizar este lunes (*) en CX36, lo que está pasando en Brasil. Además, Petras explicó en que está el ‘caso Snowden’, habló de lo que dejó la reunión del G8 y adelantó un trabajo que está concluyendo sobre la demagogia política en Estados Unidos. Transcribimos este análisis a continuación.

Efrain Chury Iribarne: Estamos saludando con mucho gusto a James Petras que ya está en contacto con CX36.

Tenemos muchos temas hoy, si te parece comenzamos con Brasil que vive una situación de agitación popular realmente fuerte.

Petras: Si es muy importante discutir de Brasil porque tiene implicaciones para todos los países de América Latina que combinan un tipo de populismo con el neoliberalismo.

Hace más de 6 años yo escribí sobre los primeros años de gobierno de Lula enfatizando la continuidad entre su política económica y las expresiones populistas que él articulaba. En realidad, Brasil sigue la política de privatización del enfoque sobre el modelo agro mineral, con enormes proyectos que no tienen nada que ver con las necesidades populares y todo disfrazado bajo una imagen de Lula como amigo de los pobres y los programas supuestamente anti pobreza. Ahora, mientras Brasil acumulaba enormes recursos económicos a partir de los altos precios de los commodities, mucha gente academica pensaba que los programas anti pobreza está levantando mucha gente a la clase media y con el gasto de los consumidores eso formaba un nuevo proyecto progresista. Pero en realidad lo que estaba pasando en Brasil era una enorme concentración de ganancia, una enorme acumulación de riqueza y mucho pasaba directamente a las multinacionales y a las cuentas externas. Hemos visto como en Nueva York, en Florida, en Miami, los brasileños venían comprando departamentos de un millón, dos millones de dólares y nosotros pensábamos que algo de enorme concentración de riqueza venía pasando.

Pero los progresistas, los académicos propagandistas del régimen como Emir Sader decían que realmente Lula -y después Rousseff- formaron un nuevo modelo progresista que combinaba bienestar social con el crecimiento económico. En realidad mientras algunos ingresos aumentaran el estandard  de vida,especialmente  la vida cotidiana, se estaba deteriorando. Es decir que si siempre mirabas el ingreso del pobre aumentó en un 20, 30% en términos nominales, pero los gastos para vivir, las condiciones de vida, los hospitales, el transporte, las escuelas no recibieron las subvenciones. Las subvenciones fueron a tres lados, fueron primero al sector agro mineral que era el motor de crecimiento -exportaciones de minerales, petróleo y agricultura, soja, carne,; por otro lado los enormes gastos en proyectos que beneficiaban los grandes contratistas; y tercero a partir de los contratos en los mega proyectos una enorme explosión de corrupción.

Esa coexistencia entre corrupción, enriquecimiento y la incapacidad de atender las exigencias populares queda latente por muchas razones. Por razones de la mistificación de Lula como demagogo populista y después con Rousseff con la esperanza de que ella podría por lo menos eliminar la corrupción que estaba fuertemente ubicado en todos los niveles del gobierno y del partido.

Sin embargo, se acaba la paciencia, el gobierno involucrado con enormes gastos multimillonarios para la Copa, los juegos olímpicos, la gente no aguanta más. Pero pensar que sólo eran los 20 centavos de aumento por el transporte es una de las cosas más ignorantes y pensar que sólo es en exigencia en los servicios públicos también es falso.

Es el conjunto del sistema, la construcción de una economía, donde toda la riqueza y todas las subvenciones están concentrados en una pequeña elite agro mineral y los banqueros y contratistas que se benefician de este proyecto.

El problema es sistémico, no es por un simple cambio de políticas públicas, es la estructura de poder que está influyendo sobre las políticas de Lula y Rousseff, la estructura que concentra poder en los grandes agro negociosos, dueños de minas como Vale de Doce,  y otras empresas

EChI: ¿Qué le han parecido los resultados de la reunión del Grupo de los 8 que tuvo como centro el problema de Siria?

JP: No resolvieron nada en serio. Porque en realidad los países de Europa y Estados Unidos estaban canalizando armas y dinero, junto con las monarquías del Golfo hacia los terroristas, eso ya lo sabemos. Ahora hay una escalada, armas más pesadas que están entregando a los terroristas.

La clave de la reunión era un fracaso de negociar un trato de libre comercio entre Estados Unidos y Europa.Hay tanta discrepancias sobre diferentes sectores económicos que no quieren abrir el mercado, el conflicto entre Francia y Estados Unidos sobre los medios de comunicación y la independencia cultural, las subvenciones norteamericanas sobre la agricultura, las prohibiciones en Europa contra Monsanto y las químicas que están involucrados en diferentes productos norteamericanos; esto sí fue un enorme fracaso.

El hecho de que llegaran allá y que no pudieran firmar ningún acuerdo sobre la gran crisis europea y el estancamiento norteamericano, es notable. Y tratar de concentrar ahora sobre lo que arreglaron con Siria, me parece una indicación de que son incapaces de superar la crisis económica y simplemente postergaran cualquier decisión para el futuro

EChI: Petras recién mencionabas Monsanto, el otro día recibió un premio muy importante ¿cómo consecuencia de qué recibió ese premio?

JP: No sé sobre el premio que refieres…

Pero Monsanto tiene mucho poder económico, tiene acciones multimillonarias, tienen directores involucrados con todos los sectores económicos, enorme influencia en los medios, en los gobiernos y también con los grandes productores en el campo, entonces es un complejo financiero químico agricultor y siempre pueden conseguir cualquier premio en cualquier contexto.

El hecho es que hay una conciencia cada vez más amplia y profunda del daño que Monsanto produce con los químicos, las fumigaciones y la química en la comida .Y también el hecho que tratan de imponer la semilla transgénica que pueden costar a agricultores pequeños y medianos una enorme pérdida de ingresos y costos.

Yo creo que Monsanto es el principal enemigo de muchos agro ecologistas en este mundo que vivimos. En Europa tiene tanta fuerza que limitan la aplicación de la química de Monsanto. El eje de Monsanto está en Norteamérica, en Estados Unidos, en Canadá, en México, y en Inglaterra también. El problema es que cuando la gente aprende es demasiado tarde y por eso Estados Unidos tiene problema al exportar carne y diferentes granos a muchos países, tratan de decir que es un problema de proteccionismo, cuando es un problema de Salud.

EChI: Pasemos a las denuncias de espionaje, el denominado ‘caso Snowden’. ¿En qué está esto?

JP: Lo que pasa con Edward Snowden, es que las revelaciones que hizo sobre el espionaje tuvo enormes repercusiones en todo el mundo, muestra la proyección del estado policíaco interno hacia todo el mundo. No es simplemente para recopilar información sobre todas las comunicaciones entre todo el mundo, sino utilizándola para arreglar la política norteamericana, consiguen información a través del espionaje que después utilizan en cualquier situación militar, económica, negociaciones, etc.

Más allá de eso, el señor Snowden, por su posición en la CIA y después en la Agencia de seguridad Nacional, consiguió el nombre de muchos agentes y las operaciones que realizan a lo largo y ancho del mundo. Pero de eso no se habla hasta ahora.

Es por eso que Estados Unidos entró en pánico y desesperado para de cualquier manera capturarlo y silenciarlo, ya sea poniéndolo en la cárcel o incluso matarlo. También por eso se puso un alto precio a su captura, amenazando con romper relaciones con los países que le ofrezcan refugio como perseguido político; empezando por China a quien informaron que si no lo entregaba sufriría las consecuencias, ahora lo mismo con Rusia, tratan de presionar para que se lo entreguen. Y Rusia obviamente no va a entregarlo pero tampoco le da el asilo.El asunto pasa a ser  qué país lo acogerá, y surge la idea de América Latina. Se ha comentado que puede ir a Cuba en tránsito a Venezuela o Ecuador. Ahora, el caso es que Cuba está tratando de mejorar sus relaciones con Estados Unidos y Venezuela también, y sabemos que Venezuela no tiene el mejor antecedente en cuanto dar asilo a refugiados, como han entregado personas sospechas de estar con el FARC, que en el pasado entregaron a Colombia. Por tanto queda Ecuador, donde el gobierno de Rafael Correa es muy estable, no tiene el tipo de oposición que existe en Venezuela y además, el gobierno ecuatoriano ha dado refugio a Julián Assange y mantiene sus principios firmemente.

Hay que reconocer que mundialmente e incluso en gran parte de los Estados Unidos, el señor Snowden es un héroe, es una persona que tuvo el valor de denunciar toda la máquina de espionaje y las represalias que el gobierno estadounidense puede tomar a partir de las informaciones que consiguen a través del espionaje.

También descalifica  todas las denuncias del gobierno de Estados Unidos de que está bajo el ciber ataque. Ahora la gente dice ‘qué ridículos (el presidente estadounidense Barack) Obama y (el secretario de Estado, John) Kerry que denuncian todo eso mientras son ellos los más grandes ciber agresores en todo el mundo’.

Por tanto, todo esto ha desprestigiado mucho a los Estados Unidos, ha demostrado que no tiene nada que ver con la defensa de la libertad de Internet ya que es el primer violador y Snowden ha jugado en eso un papel muy importante.

EChI: ¿En qué otro tema está trabajando?

JP: Bueno, estoy terminando un análisis sobre cómo los políticos presidenciables norteamericanos logran ser elegidos. Y hay que ver aquí que lo que importa no es lo sustancial en la política, no es la política económica lo que influye en la campaña electoral. Aquí en Estados Unidos todos los candidatos tratan de adoptar un tipo de populismo de Wall  Street, hablan con un acento populista, un lenguaje populista caminan sin corbata aunque con diferentes estilos.

Por ejemplo, Jimmy Carter habló mucho de los derechos humanos,  de los presos políticos en Argentina o Chile, mientras apoyaba a (Anastasio) Somoza (en Nicaragua); mientras lanzó una agresión junto a los yihadistas en Afganistán, matando a miles de personas y lanzando la segunda guerra fría. Ronald Reagan, tocaba la guitarra y hablaba como un vaquero de los westerns de Hollywood, mientras apoyaba baños de sangre en Guatemala con Ríos Mont. Y Bill Clinton fue a las Iglesias negras, mientras aplicaba recortes federales al Presupuesto eliminando los beneficios sociales a las madres jefas de hogar, lanzó guerras ‘humanitarias’ en Yugoslavia. Y podríamos repetir al gran maestro de toda esta demagogia, que es (Barack) Obama  que promete terminar con las guerras y en cambio las multiplica; y sigue presentándose como el gran libertador negro mientras que fue el que lanzó más guerras y agresiones bélicas contra el pueblo africano que cualquier  otro en el mundo; y el que  multiplicó por cinco a los encarcelados mexicanos que cruzan las fronteras, comparado con lo que hizo George W. Bush.

Entonces, hay que entender que el engaño, lo que nosotros llamamos ‘confidence man’ o sea el engañador, el que defrauda a la gente diciendo una cosa y haciendo lo opuesto; y en ese sentido Obama ha superado a todos los que hemos tenido en los últimos 40 años. Es un maestro de la mistificación. Pero cada vez más la gente entiende que es un fraude, lo que falta ahora es ver como formalizar esta denuncia y desenmascararlo.

EChI: Muy bien Petars, te agradecemos todos estos aportes y nos reencontramos el próximo lunes.

JP: Muchas gracias, un saludo para toda la audiencia.

(*) Escuche en vivo los lunes a las 11:30 horas (hora local) la audición de James Petras por CX36, Radio Centenario desde Montevideo (Uruguay) para todo el mundo a través de www.radio36.com.uy

Jun 222012
 

 

* THE SCAM WALL STREET LEARNED FROM THE MAFIA

How America’s biggest banks took part in a nationwide bid-rigging conspiracy – until they were caught on tape

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

[…] But this just-completed trial in downtown New York against three faceless financial executives really was historic. Over 10 years in the making, the case allowed federal prosecutors to make public for the first time the astonishing inner workings of the reigning American crime syndicate, which now operates not out of Little Italy and Las Vegas, but out of Wall Street.

The defendants in the case – Dominick Carollo, Steven Goldberg and Peter Grimm – worked for GE Capital, the finance arm of General Electric. Along with virtually every major bank and finance company on Wall Street – not just GE, but J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Wachovia and more – these three Wall Street wiseguys spent the past decade taking part in a breathtakingly broad scheme to skim billions of dollars from the coffers of cities and small towns across America. The banks achieved this gigantic rip-off by secretly colluding to rig the public bids on municipal bonds, a business worth $3.7 trillion. By conspiring to lower the interest rates that towns earn on these investments, the banks systematically stole from schools, hospitals, libraries and nursing homes – from “virtually every state, district and territory in the United States,” according to one settlement. And they did it so cleverly that the victims never even knew they were being ­cheated. No thumbs were broken, and nobody ended up in a landfill in New Jersey, but money disappeared, lots and lots of it, and its manner of disappearance had a familiar name: organized crime. […]

[…] More interesting, though, were the stories about political payoffs. In 2001, CDR hired a consultant named Ron White, a Philadelphia bond attorney who happened to be the chief ­fundraiser for then-mayor John Street. CDR gave White two tickets to the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego plus a limo – a gift worth $10,000. As his “guest,” White took Corey Kemp, the city treasurer for Philadelphia, who, 16 days later, awarded CDR a $150,000 contract to advise the city on swap deals. But that wasn’t the end of the gravy train: CDR doled out those swap deals to selected banks, who in return kicked back $515,000 to CDR for steering city business their way.

So a mere $10,000 bribe to a politician – a couple of Super Bowl tickets and a limo – scored CDR a total of $665,000 of the public’s money. If you want to know why Wall Street has been enjoying record profits, here’s your answer: Corruption is a business model that brings in $66 for every dollar you invest. […]

[…] Over the years, many in the public have become numb to news of financial corruption, partly because too many of these stories involve banker-on-banker crime. The notorious Abacus deal involving Goldman Sachs, for instance, involved a hedge-fund billionaire ripping off a couple of European banks – who cares? But the bid-rigging scandal laid bare in USA v. Carollo is a totally different animal. This is the world’s biggest banks stealing money that would otherwise have gone toward textbooks and medicine and housing for ordinary Americans, and turning the cash into sports cars and bonuses for the already rich. It’s the equivalent of robbing a charity or a church fund to pay for lap dances. […]

READ @ http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-scam-wall-street-learned-from-the-mafia-20120620?print=true

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* THE FINANCIAL CRASH IN ICELAND IN 6 MINUTES ACCORDING TO ABC’s 20/20

Source: youtube

In the early 21st century, Iceland experienced one of the most spectacular cycles of boom and bust in history.

For centuries, Iceland was a simple fishing society, largely shut off from mainland Europe. The people survived off the sheep in the meadows and the fish in the sea. For cultural sustenance they had elaborate sagas — intricate tales of fairies and goblins, heroes and ghosts — that would inspire J.R.R. Tolkien and other fantasy writers.

At the peak of Iceland’s boom, Stefan Alfsson left his fishing boat and started trading commodities for an investment bank. “We could do more,” he said. “I got a bigger house, bigger and more cars, better snowmobiles.”

Then a modern saga began to unfold — that of a nation of fishermen who became millionaires, only to lose it all and return to the seas.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X35R_3ZN-t8&feature=player_embedded

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* ICELAND: THE MOUSE THAT ROARED (BIRGITTA JONSDOTTIR)

Source: youtube

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goAdDMfpyrA&feature=related

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* ACTIVIST CHURCHES BAIT IRS, BUT AGENCY WON’T BIT SO FAR

By Nanette Byrnes, Reuters

[…] The money involved is enormous. Combined, federal tax breaks on donations to churches and exemptions from state and local property taxes likely add up to something on the order of $25 billion in lost revenue each year.

Last year churches received $96 billion in tax-free contributions, according to estimates compiled by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Unlike other types of charities, churches do not have to file financial statements with the government. There are only rough estimates of church endowment or investment income, which is also tax-free and believed to be larger than annual contributions.

Using tax data from the U.S. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation and data on giving to churches from the Indiana Center, a Reuters analysis found that tax breaks on church giving shaved $12 billion or so from total U.S. tax collections in 2011 and approximately $145 billion over the last decade.

The property tax break is probably even bigger. In their 2011 book “Politics, Taxes, and the Pulpit,” law professors Nina Crimm and Laurence Winer calculated that houses of worship received $12.7 billion in property tax exemptions on $685 billion of property in 2006, a figure large enough to have played a role in city and state budget deficits of recent years.

In big cities the numbers can be dramatic. New York City’s 9,500 churches, synagogues, and mosques, for example, will avoid $626.9 million in property taxes this year thanks to their tax-free status, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. […]

[…] The IRS did not respond to Reuters questions about its enforcement activities in recent years, or explain why they seem to have ended abruptly in 2009. […]

READ @ http://bottomline.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/21/12343407-activist-churches-bait-irs-but-agency-wont-bite-so-far?fb_ref=.T-PdI4oibgA.like&fb_source=home_multiline

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* POLICE CLASH WITH PROTESTERS AT #MicCheckWallStreet MARCH ON 6-20-12

Source: youtube

Video of a pots and pans (“casseroles”) march on 6/20/2012 in Seattle organized by #MicCheckWallStreet (http://miccheckwallst.org) protesting student debt and rising interest rates. Residents bang pots in solidarity. Police arrest someone. People yell at the cops arresting the person.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnmRMYk9VS4&feature=player_embedded#!

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* PRISONS, PRIVATIZATION, PATRONAGE

By Paul Krugman, NYTimes

Over the past few days, The New York Times has published several terrifying reports about New Jersey’s system of halfway houses — privately run adjuncts to the regular system of prisons. The series is a model of investigative reporting, which everyone should read. But it should also be seen in context. The horrors described are part of a broader pattern in which essential functions of government are being both privatized and degraded.

First of all, about those halfway houses: In 2010, Chris Christie, the state’s governor — who has close personal ties to Community Education Centers, the largest operator of these facilities, and who once worked as a lobbyist for the firm — described the company’s operations as “representing the very best of the human spirit.” But The Times’s reports instead portray something closer to hell on earth — an understaffed, poorly run system, with a demoralized work force, from which the most dangerous individuals often escape to wreak havoc, while relatively mild offenders face terror and abuse at the hands of other inmates. […]

READ @ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/22/opinion/krugman-prisons-privatization-patronage.html?_r=1&hp

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* I AM NOT MOVING – SHORT FILM – OCCUPY

Source: youtube

VIDEO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGRXCgMdz9A

Jan 232012
 

 

* POST-WAR CONSTITUTIONS: PRIVATIZATION AND EMPIRE BUILDING

By Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Global Research

The following is a 2011 article by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya for the Italian journal Eurasia about the manipulation of national constitutions as a neo-colonial means of modern empire-building. The article presents an important overview of the U.S. empire-building process. The original print version was published in the Italian language and translated by Pietro Longo.

ABSTRACT: The U.S.A. has re-written the constitution of vanquished nations since the Second World War. In the last two decades, however, Washington has managed to totally restructure vanquished states economically and politically by de-centralizing them and legalizing foreign tutelage over their political structure and their national economies. From the former Yugoslavia to Afghanistan and Iraq, this process has gone hand-in-hand with war and both an immediate and extended foreign military presence. In this regard the new national constitutions of these countries have been central to the process and opened the door for the integration of these states into Washington’s empire-building project.

The geography of a nation is also fixed in its national constitution, such as the state’s definitions of its own national and internal borders. Taking this observation one step further, it has to be said that constitutions can also be utilized and redefined to meet specific geo-political objectives. This is where an important and very relevant modern geo-political issue comes into the forefront of analysis when looking at countries that have been at war with the United States of America and its allies. Looking back at the Second World War, the constitutions of Japan and Germany were re-written after their defeats either directly by Washington or under Allied supervision. The Pentagon also erected military bases in both Germany and Japan that began to alarm Soviet leaders. The reconfigured of both Germany and Japan served Washington’s geo-political interests. This is evident when studying the Japanese Constitution, which was written by the U.S. military. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution renounces Japan’s sovereign right to declare war or to maintain a standing navy, air force, and army.[1] Japan was effectively neutralized by its new national constitution as a potential military rival or threat in East Asia and the Pacific. The last two decades have seen an even more profound interplay between new national constitutions and the geo-political and strategic objectives of Washington.

Nation-Building and Nation-Breaking: A Vital Ingredient for Empire

Roughly speaking within the last two decades the U.S.A. and its allies have been engaged in the practice of what can be called “nation-building.” National constitutions have been re-written within the dynamics of this so-called “nation-building” process in the countries that are “re-built” under the political and military supervision of Washington. This “nation-building” process is not some benign process, but part of a strategy to direct the countries that are being “re-built” to serve global empire and the process of modern-day empire building. In this regard constitutions are re-written to: (1) subordinate countries into vassals or colonial territories; (2) create a niche for these vassal states in the global imperial system of modern empire; and (3) fit Washington’s geo-political objectives of empire-building or expansion. […]

READ @ http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28662

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* TERRORISTS CONTROL THE WHITE HOUSE

Source: youtube.com

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYTvDNg4iic&feature=share

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* CREEPING AUTHORITARIANISM ON CAPITOL HILL

What we can learn from one congressman’s convoluted defense of the NDAA

By John Knefel, Salon

On the day Occupy Congress came to Washington, I tagged along with seven Bard College students who went to talk to their representative, first-term Republican Chris Gibson from the 20th Congressional District of New York.  Listening to Gibson defend his vote for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama signed on New Year’s Eve and which allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens, I had a rare glimpse into the contemporary authoritarian mind-set in all its banality. It illustrated how the slow erosion of civil liberties manifests itself in the halls of power in Washington.

Gibson is a retired Army colonel, and it shows. From the Airborne division name plate on his desk, to the photographs of camouflaged soldiers that adorn his walls, to the “Beat Navy” button on his desk, his military background is on display. He spoke about serving in the military to defend American’s rights – rights that he claims to take very seriously. To his credit, Gibson joined 26 other House Republicans in voting against the extension of the Patriot Act in February 2011. But his written record, and his NDAA vote, indicate he is a politician more concerned with waging war than preserving liberty.

He believes “the West” faces an existential threat from al-Qaida. On Page 4 of his book ”Securing the State,” published in 2008,  he wrote:

The US is engaged in a difficult struggle against a determined enemy who publicly declares his strategic aim the establishment of a caliphate in the Middle East and the ultimate destruction of the West. […]

READ @ http://www.salon.com/2012/01/20/creeping_authoritarianism_on_capitol_hill/?source=newsletter

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* KENTUCKY GOVERNOR CUTS EDUCATION FUNDING WHILE PRESERVING TAX BREAKS FOR BIBLICALLY-THEMED AMUSEMENT PARK

By Travis Waldron, Think Progress

When Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) proposed his 2012-2013 budget this week, he admitted that it was “inadequate for the needs” of the state’s people. “We should be making substantial investments in our physical and intellectual infrastructure to bring transformational change to our state,” Beshear said. “This budget does not allow us to do enough of that.”

Beshear’s assessment of his own budget is, unfortunately, correct. The budget makes $286 million in cuts, including a 6.4 percent cut to a higher education system that has been plagued by funding cuts and rising tuition for years. And though it attempts to preserve K-12 education funding, it will result in less spending on Kentucky’s students and schools, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports:

Although the main funding formula for K-12 schools wouldn’t be cut, population growth means spending per student would decline. Also, education officials say the current year’s population estimate was low, resulting in a cut of more than $50 million to that funding formula.

READ @ http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/01/20/407580/kentucky-gov-cuts-education-funding-while-preserving-tax-breaks-for-biblically-themed-amusement-park/

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* MOYERS AND COMPANY SHOW 102 CRONY CAPITALISM

By Bill Moyers,vimeo

VIDEO @ http://vimeo.com/35372114

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* CHRIS HEDGES OCCUPY THE COURTS NYC JANUARY 20, 2012

Source: youtube

Filmed January 20, 2012. Chris Hedges, Lawrence Lessig, Virginia Rasmussen on the eve of the 2nd Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision “Citizens United v. F.E.C.”. The video begins with a march from Liberty Plaza aka Zuccotti Park to the rally point at Foley Square across the street from Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse at 40 Centre St. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra plays their “Smash a Bank Polka” followed by Chris Hedges giving an update to his lawsuit against Barack Obama and Leon Panetta. Virginia Rasmussen offers a historic perspective on the Citizens United decision. Laurence Lessig gives an inspirational speech on restoring democracy. Other speakers: Alexis from Occupy Wall Street, Camille Rivera, and Amy Muldoon. The video ends with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra finishing of their song.

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QSzIUVlowU&amp

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* COULD ECUADOR BE THE MOST RADICAL AND EXCITING PLACE ON EARTH?

By Jayati Ghosh, CommonDreams.com

Ecuador must be one of the most exciting places on Earth right now, in terms of working towards a new development paradigm. It shows how much can be achieved with political will, even in uncertain economic times.

Just 10 years ago, Ecuador was more or less a basket case, a quintessential “banana republic” (it happens to be the world’s largest exporter of bananas), characterised by political instability, inequality, a poorly-performing economy, and the ever-looming impact of the US on its domestic politics.

In 2000, in response to hyperinflation and balance of payments problems, the government dollarised the economy, replacing the sucre with the US currency as legal tender. This subdued inflation, but it did nothing to address the core economic problems, and further constrained the domestic policy space.

A major turning point came with the election of the economist Rafael Correa as president. After taking over in January 2007, his government ushered in a series of changes, based on a new constitution (the country’s 20th, approved in 2008) that was itself mandated by a popular referendum. A hallmark of the changes that have occurred since then is that major policies have first been put through the referendum process. This has given the government the political ability to take on major vested interests and powerful lobbies. […]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/01/21-0

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* THE WOMAN BEHIND THE RECALL OF WISCONSIN SENATE MAJORITY LEADER SCOTT FITZGERALD

By Rebecca Kemble, The Progressive

Yesterday afternoon’s announcement in front of the Government Accountability Board by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin that more than one million signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker had been gathered eclipsed a smaller, yet very significant event that took place hours earlier at the same location.

Lori Compas and her band of a couple dozen volunteers delivered three boxes full of petitions to recall Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald into the Government Accountability Board just before noon. The boxes were emblazoned with red hearts inked around the tops, and each bore one word: “We” “Love” “Wisconsin.” Compas’s announcement consisted of one sentence: “These boxes contain our hopes, our hard work, and 20,600 signatures!” That’s 3,858 more than the number required to trigger a recall election.

After the announcement, she fumbled around in one of the boxes amidst cheering, tears, and embraces of the sixty well-wishers who gathered in the snow and finally came up with what she was looking for: a trophy. The election “trigger” award was given to Sam Cooper, an organizer with We Are Wisconsin who, unsolicited, showed up to help for the final push in the beginning of January. […]

READ @ http://www.progressive.org/woman_behind_recall_of_wis_sen_scott_fitzgerald.html

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* RICK FALKVINGE: THE SWEDISH RADICAL LEADING THE FIGHT OVER WEB FREEDOMS

The tech entrepreneur launched the Pirate party to fight online censorship. Now, it is Europe’s fastest growing political group

By Carole Cadwalladr, Guardian UK

With his polished shoes, and formal three-piece pinstriped suit, Rick Falkvinge looks like the kind of man you might meet to discuss your tax affairs, or the finer points of your investment portfolio.

Not radical politics. Or illegal file-sharing. Or revolutionary e-currencies that may destroy the global banking system. Because, although sipping a soy latte in the Stockholm cafe that he calls his office, Falkvinge has the air of a successful corporate lawyer, he’s actually the founder and chief ideologue of Europe‘s youngest, boldest, and fastest growing political movement: the Pirate party.

The Pirates are a political force that have come out of nowhere. Dreamed up by Falkvinge in 2006, they’re an offshoot of the underground computer activist scene and champion digital transparency, freedom and access for all. In three years, they gained their first seat in the European parliament (they now have two) and became the largest party in Sweden for voters under 30. Since then they’ve gained political representation in Germany and swept large parts of Europe.

What they’ve done is to use technology in new ways to harness political power. Falkvinge describes how “we’re online 24/7”, how they operate in what he calls “the swarm” – nobody is in charge, and nobody can tell anybody else what to do – and how, essentially, they are the political embodiment of online activist culture.

The Pirates are geekdom gone mainstream and Falkvinge is the Julian Assange-style figurehead. A leading player in a fight for digital freedom that last week came to a dramatic head when the US Congress prepared to vote on the Stop Online Privacy Act (Sopa), and Wikipedia, supported by the likes of Google, led a 24-hour blackout of the internet.

The controversial legislation has, temporarily at least, been shelved, but Falkvinge is unequivocal about the gravity of the threat. The law would have given American courts the right to crack down on internet sites anywhere in the world and to monitor anybody’s private communications. It is, he claims, nothing less than an attack on fundamental human rights.

“We’re at an incredible crossroads right now. They’re demanding the right to wiretap the entire population. It’s unprecedented. This is a technology that can be used to give everybody a voice. But it can also be used to build a Big Brother society so dystopian that if someone had written a book about it in the 1950s, it would have been discarded as unrealistic.” […]

READ @ http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jan/22/rick-falkvinge-swedish-radical-web-freedoms

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* SAY NO TO ACTA

Source: youtube.com

Learn more and take action about ACTA @ http://lqdn.fr/ACTA

VIDEO @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=citzRjwk-sQ