Athens Burning

From our vantage point in the US, Greece seems very far away.  That is an illusion of mere miles.  The disintegration of the Cradle of Democracy should send shivers down the spine of every American because this is what a plutocracy looks like. This is the dismantlement of a civil society for the sake of the 1%.

Yes, yes, we’ve heard all the stories of the profligate Greeks, lazy to the extreme, addicted to the welfare state, ridiculously high wages and cushy, early retirements.  The Greeks, we are told, are the millstone around the northern European neck, a weak sister draining the stamina and wealth from her industrious siblings, the Germans in particular.

Really?

Here are some factoids that don’t match the stereotypes we’ve been fed:

  • Greece has had one of the lowest per capita income levels in Europe.  Average Greek wage comes in at 21,100 euros [$27, 640] as compared to the Eurozone 12 average off $27,600 euros [$36,134].
  • According to Eurostats, the average retirement age for most Greek citizens is 61.
  • The average Greek schoolteacher makes 800 euros a month [$1041.04].
  • The Greek social welfare system is considerably lower than its European neighbors, averaging 3530.49 euros per capita [$4593.87] as compared to the Eurozone 12 average of 6251.78 euros [$8135.32]
  • Unemployment has spiked to nearly 22%, the number increasing with each round of austerity measures, which has deflated the Greek economy and exacerbated the problem. [In actuality, unemployment is higher since anyone working 16 hours is listed as fully employed.  However, even those workers working fulltime are often listed as part time, allowing employers to avoid paying minimum wage, insurance and other benefits.]
  • The top 20% in Greece pay virtually no taxes at all, a cushy deal reached during the days of the junta between the military and Greece’s wealthy plutocrats.
  • The cost of living [food, rent, energy] has spiraled out of control, leaving many Greek citizens unable to make ends meet.

As you might recall Greece’s elected leader George Papandreou resigned [with encouragement] and was replaced by Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank [what a coincidence!].   Papademos assembled a temporary government then quickly pledged to approve the tough terms of a second European aid package of $150 billion.

The new, current round of austerity measures, which resulted in citizens taking to the streets and setting Athens afire, will purge another 150,000 public sector workers, mandate a 22% decrease in private sector salaries [the third decrease in less than a year] and substantial decreases in pensions and welfare services.

Mike Whitney at Counterpunch has said this about the new agreement, the Memorandum of Understanding [MOU]:

The Memorandum is as calculating and mercenary as anything ever written. And while most of the attention has been focused on the deep cuts to supplementary pensions, the minimum wage, and private sector wages; there’s much more to this onerous warrant than meets the eye. The 43-page paper should be read in its entirety to fully appreciate the moral vacuity of the people who dictate policy in the Eurozone.

Greece will have to prove that it’s reached various benchmarks before it receives any of the money allotted in the bailout. The Memorandum outlines, in great detail, what those benchmarks are— everything from reduced spending on life-saving drugs to “lift(ing) constraints for retailers to sell restricted product categories such as baby food.”

And,

It just shows what the MOU is really all about. It’s a corporate “wish list”; a mix of punitive belt tightening policies for working people and perks for big oil, big gas, electric, aviation, railroads, communications etc. “Fast track licensing” and “baby food” have nothing to do with helping Greece reach its budget targets. It’s a joke.

Oddly enough, much of this has the ring of the ‘Privatize the World,” theology, so popular with the Republican Party.  Ron Paul?  He finds the idea of all government owned lands very disagreeable.  It should be opened to private enterprise, he has said.  Think of that splendid idea of mining uranium in the Grand Canyon.  The evils of the public sector [that would be teachers and firemen and police] have been eloquently dissected by the likes of Scott Walker now facing a recall in November.  Paul Ryan has thrilled Tea Party aficionados by warbling vouchers = Medicare and offering schemes to privatize Social Security. Public schools?  Don’t fix them, critics say, replace them with private, for-profit Charter schools because for-profit universities have been such a treat for many low-income students, strapped with unsustainable debt and worthless, unaccredited degrees. Prisons?  Turn them private and watch costs escalate to the moon.  Taxes?  We all know the mantra: we cannot possibly tax the ‘job creators.’  Accountability in financial matters?  See the ‘deal’ the Administration’s Fraud Task Force crafted with the TBTFs. Respect for the environment?  Go no further than the proposed Keystone Pipeline, but never forget the Gulf of Mexico, the shameless behavior of BP and their political handmaidens.

The beat goes on.

These are self-serving reasons to sit up, listen and pay attention before it’s too late.  On a more human level is this:

Athens has always had a problem with homelessness, like any other major city. But the financial and debt crises have led poverty to slowly but surely grow out of control here. In 2011, there were 20 percent more registered homeless people than the year before. Depending on the season, that number can be as high as 25,000. The soup kitchens in Athens are complaining of record demand, with 15 percent more people in need of free meals.

It’s no longer just the “regulars” who are brought blankets and hot meals at night, says Effie Stamatogiannopoulou. She sits in the main offices of Klimaka, brooding over budgets and duty rosters. It was a long day, and like most of those in the over-heated room, the 46-year-old is keeping herself awake with coffee and cigarettes. She shows the day’s balance sheet: 102 homeless reported to Klimaka today.

Or this,

“Enough is enough!” said 89-year-old Manolis Glezos, one of Greece’s most famous leftists, who long ago tore down a Nazi flag under the noses of German occupiers. “They have no idea what an uprising by the Greek people means. And the Greek people, regardless of ideology, have risen.”

And this,

“I can still remember as a boy how it was during the great famine and great freeze of the winter of 1941,” said Panaghiotis Yerogaloyiannis, a former mariner now surviving on a pension of €500 [$650.55] a month.

“We have a different sort of war now, one that’s economic, that’s not fought on the field. But it’s still the same enemy, the Germans. And today you are not even allowed to protest. I carry this around,” he said producing a wooden baton from a plastic bag, “to protect myself from the police and thugs who hijack our demonstrations.”

Athens was burning on Sunday.  Beneath the rubble, it burns still. No, we are not Greece.  But Athens has sent a clear, unmistakable signal.  It should be a warning to us all.


Corporate Money, Corporate Press, Corporate Congress

Some astute and somewhat outrageous comments by outgoing Congressman John Hall in The New York Observer should cause pause and some good discussions. That is, if any one pays attention to them.

Speaking about the Citizen’s United decision, which allowed unregulated flow of cash into campaign coffers, Hall said, “I learned when I was in social studies class in school that corporate ownership or corporate control of government is called Fascism. So that’s really the question— is that the destination if this court decision goes unchecked?”

That’s the astute part.  The outrageous part is “the flow of corporate dollars is why he and the Democrats lost control of Congress”.  Well, imho, there’s some yes and no in that.  Here’s a CNN corporate sponsored poll that may shine some light on that.

President Barack Obama enters the new year with a growing number of Americans pessimistic about his policies and a growing number rooting for him to fail, according to a new national poll.

Full poll results [pdf]

But a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday also indicates that while a majority of the public says Republican control of the House of Representatives is good for the country, only one in four say the GOP will do a better job running things than the Democrats did when they controlled the chamber.

Sixty-one percent of people questioned in the poll say they hope the president’s policies will succeed.

“That’s a fairly robust number but it’s down 10 points since last December,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Twelve months ago a majority of the public said that they thought Obama’s policies would succeed; now that number has dropped to 44 percent, with a plurality predicting that his policies will likely fail.”

There’s a large number of people out there that seem to see no real difference between the Republicans, INC. and Democrats Inc. in terms of outcomes. They hope the explicitly stated goals of Obama policy succeed.  They doubt the laws passed support those goals.  They believe they will fail.  I think people see the disconnect between the rhetoric and the product delivered now. I honestly don’t believe that voters put the Republicans in charge of the house because they love Republican policy, if these polls mean anything.  That poll and many others show voters support the outcomes of authentically Democratic policy.  I believe this election was more a play for gridlock simply because they don’t see what’s been passed as achieving the ends of what they want.  They believe it will fail.

How many people really want the kinds of things pushed by John Bohener who–as an example–just met with culture thug Randall Terry and other monsters of the Republican base after their mid-November victory lap? There’s only so far you can get by pushing a repeal to DADT on the basis of  gays and straights showering together.   This is especially true when the vast majority of people support repeal. Remember Terry Schiavo?  Played well with the base but horrified the country?  What would happen if we saw more reporting of this kind of thing on CNN?   I bet you never saw that before I pointed it out to you via Salon.

Let’s get back to Hall’s comments.

The extra money floating around, he said, compounded the Democrats’ weaknesses on the economy, unemployment and the mortgage crisis. And he said that for of the accomplishments of the lame duck Congress, their failure to pass the Disclose Act—which would have at least forced corporations to reveal who they were donating to—stood out a as a black mark on the session.

“We are talking about supposedly wholesome names like Revere America, American Crossroads, Americans for Apple Pie and Motherhood—if somebody hasn’t trademarked that one I probably should.  The fact is you can call it anything and the money could be coming from BP or Aramco or any corporation domestic or foreign,” Congressman Hall said.

Well, that’s a good point.  I’m still pushing for congress critterz to be forced to wear NASCR-like jackets listing their top corporate contributors as long as they’re in office.  That would include the ones hiding behind their advocacy ad creating subsidiaries okayed by SCOTUS, INC.  I’m still not certain that the extra money floating around was the reason for The Big Shellac.  I’m still guessing that every one was hoping to stop the Washington DC Pork Train and laws so long and complex that no one can really figure out what they really do.  These are the laws that people think will fail them.  If anything, we should see a slow down of that process. I think the American people want to slow the process down so they can figure out if it’s good or bad for them and if it will achieve what they support.

BUT, The Big Shellac came at the high cost of forwarding Republican laws and agendas that please the Republican Bircher Base.  Plus, there’s more possible SCOTUS fights and appointments that only please the Bircher and Religionist Base.  Hence, the nice get together with Randall Terry whom Salon described as:

Randall Terry is a psychopath, an antiabortion zealot who endorses domestic terror and compares coldblooded murderers to heroic abolitionists. He’s also a ridiculous character whose true calling is self-promotion, by any means necessary.

He long ago went from prominent figure in the raging abortion debate to desperate self-parody. He renounced his gay son, left his wife for a campaign volunteer, and sought a reality television show. If it weren’t for YouTube, no one would’ve even noticed his inflammatory statements about the murder of Dr. George Tiller. In short, Randall Terry’s not only an extremist nutcase, he’s also old news.

But now that the Republicans are back, this faded celebrity is mounting a comeback. Terry’s most recent e-mail blast featured a photo of the radical Catholic cleric sitting down with incoming Speaker John Boehner himself. “With Boehner’s chief of staff, after the election,” the caption read. (Terry also presented the incoming speaker with a fetus doll resting on some sort of “decree.”)

A Speaker of the House Boehner does not return to Congress to any degree of sanity. I won’t even go in to the incredible problems some one must have to cry that much and drink that hard.  A Republican congress  just increases the show factor, imho.  It also brings us back to the idea that we not only need to get corporate money out of politics,we need it out of the press. The CNN indicates that the President is likable enough, he’s just not focused on the right things.  That’s where the money comes in.  If congressional leaders and the White House continue to go back and forth between corporate and state interests and the only folks with real access are either groups that can deliver zealous voters and big bucks, we’re in trouble.  We’re especially in trouble of the press continues on in its route of  “sins of omission” that appear  to play into the hands of their advertisers and the interests of government. The Village does not want to run off their advertisers and the few readers/viewers left standing.

This is the importance of Wikileaks and independent media organizations like Democracy Now. They produce things of Public Interest that  are not censored, swayed, or bullied by corporate and state interests.  As we’ve seen in one after another of the dribbles of diplomatic cables coming from European press, there appears to be a lot of  melding of corporate and state interests.  This is not good for any one but corporate and authoritarian state interests.   European press is filtering the leaked diplomatic cables right now. The majority of them remain out of the public domain.  The European papers are less corporate than their U.S. counterparts which is better.  We may still not actually see all of the material.   Press, government and corporate interests are way too cozy in this country.  If you go back to what Congressman Hall said, it’s the classic definition of fascism.

update: I wanted to add the link above on the  “classic definition of fascism” because I just read some posts from right wing sources linked to this article at Mememorandum that are obviously trying to rewrite history.  I’ve linked to the writings of Mussolini.  This is part of the definition of fascism as put forward by Mussolini.  Socialism and Marxism are NOT fascism in Mussolini’s definition.  The right frequently tries to shove them into the same package.  It was a post war trick used to focus hate of Nazis/Facism over to our former allies, the Soviets.  Mussolini wrote this in 1932 as part of his definition.

…Fascism [is] the complete opposite of…Marxian Socialism, the materialist conception of history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and development in the means and instruments of production…. Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance, while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied – the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society.

I think if you go read it much of it sounds like the Republican manifesto.

“Given that the nineteenth century was the century of Socialism, of Liberalism, and of Democracy, it does not necessarily follow that the twentieth century must also be a century of Socialism, Liberalism and Democracy …”

Mussolini spit out the world socialism, liberalism, and democracy in the same way the Bircher wing of the Republican party spits those words out.