Pepe Escobar, Inside China’s “New Normal”

 

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Pepe Escobar

 

Sometimes this planet changes right under your nose and you still don’t notice.  This sentence, buried in a New York Times piece on the Greek debt crisis, caught my attention the other day: “Greece, meanwhile, has suggested that it could turn to Russia or China for help if its talks on debt relief and a rollback of austerity measures break down.”  Russia is, of course, an unlikely bulwark, being on distinctly shaky economic grounds itself right now, but I’m not surprised by the thought — at least from Syriza, the lefty party now in power in Greece.  But China?  Not since tiny Albania joined the Chinese camp in the Cold War have we seen a sentence that in any way resembled that one.  And yet it certainly catches something of the changing face of our planet.  After all, as time goes by, the magnetic power of the Chinese economy is moving ever closer to Europe.  Just two years ago, the Chinese became the Middle East’s largest trading partner, leaving the European Union in second place and the United States in third.  By then, China was already Africa’s largest trading partner, having displaced the U.S. some years earlier.

This may not be making headlines here, but it’s no small thing.  The economic rise of China, especially in areas where the U.S. had committed so much in blood, sweat, and drones, should take anyone’s breath away.  Fortunately, TomDispatch’s peripatetic Eurasian correspondent Pepe Escobar (the man who invented the termPipelineistanfor the web of energy conduits that crisscross that vast continental area) arrives in the nick of time to offer us a view from Beijing of an economy still staggeringly on the rise and the plans of the Chinese leadership, from Asia to Europe, for knitting together what, if it happened, might indeed someday be seen as a new world economic order. Tom

Year of the Sheep, Century of the Dragon?
New Silk Roads and the Chinese Vision of a Brave New (Trade) World
By Pepe Escobar

BEIJING — Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls “new normal” mode.

“Slower” economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7% in what is now the globe’s leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44%.

Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed rail remix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad. And Beijing is committed to translating its growing strategic partnership with Russia into crucial financial and economic help, if a sanctions-besieged Moscow, facing a disastrous oil price war, asks for it.

To China’s south, Afghanistan, despite the 13-year American war still being fought there, is fast moving into its economic orbit, while a planned China-Myanmar oil pipeline is seen as a game-changing reconfiguration of the flow of Eurasian energy across what I’ve long called Pipelineistan.

And this is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.

Don’t think of this as the twenty-first-century Chinese equivalent of America’s post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe, but as something far more ambitious and potentially with a far vaster reach.

China as a Mega-City

If you are following this frenzy of economic planning from Beijing, you end up with a perspective not available in Europe or the U.S. Here, red-and-gold billboards promote President Xi Jinping’s much ballyhooed new tagline for the country and the century, “the Chinese Dream” (which brings to mind “the American Dream” of another era). No subway station is without them. They are a reminder of why 40,000 miles of brand new high-speed rail is considered so essential to the country’s future. After all, no less than 300 million Chinese have, in the last three decades, made a paradigm-breaking migration from the countryside to exploding urban areas in search of that dream.

Another 350 million are expected to be on the way, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study. From 1980 to 2010, China’s urban population grew by 400 million, leaving the country with at least 700 million urban dwellers. This figure is expected to hit one billion by 2030, which means tremendous stress on cities, infrastructure, resources, and the economy as a whole, as well as near-apocalyptic air pollution levels in some major cities.

Already 160 Chinese cities boast populations of more than one million. (Europe has only 35.) No less than 250 Chinese cities have tripled their GDP per capita since 1990, while disposable income per capita is up by 300%.

These days, China should be thought of not in terms of individual cities but urban clusters — groupings of cities with more than 60 million people. The Beijing-Tianjin area, for example, is actually a cluster of 28 cities. Shenzhen, the ultimate migrant megacity in the southern province of Guangdong, is now a key hub in a cluster as well. China, in fact, has more than 20 such clusters, each the size of a European country. Pretty soon, the main clusters will account for 80% of China’s GDP and 60% of its population. So the country’s high-speed rail frenzy and its head-spinning infrastructure projects — part of a $1.1 trillion investment in 300 public works — are all about managing those clusters.

Not surprisingly, this process is intimately linked to what in the West is considered a notorious “housing bubble,” which in 1998 couldn’t have even existed. Until then all housing was still owned by the state. Once liberalized, that housing market sent a surging Chinese middle class into paroxysms of investment. Yet with rare exceptions, middle-class Chinese can still afford their mortgages because both rural and urban incomes have also surged.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is, in fact, paying careful attention to this process, allowing farmers to lease or mortgage their land, among other things, and so finance their urban migration and new housing. Since we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people, however, there are bound to be distortions in the housing market, even the creation of whole disastrous ghost towns with associated eerie, empty malls.

The Chinese infrastructure frenzy is being financed by a pool of investments from central and local government sources, state-owned enterprises, and the private sector. The construction business, one of the country’s biggest employers, involves more than 100 million people, directly or indirectly. Real estate accounts for as much as 22% of total national investment in fixed assets and all of this is tied to the sale of consumer appliances, furnishings, and an annual turnover of 25% of China’s steel production, 70% of its cement, 70% of its plate glass, and 25% of its plastics.

So no wonder, on my recent stay in Beijing, businessmen kept assuring me that the ever-impending “popping” of the “housing bubble” is, in fact, a myth in a country where, for the average citizen, the ultimate investment is property. In addition, the vast urbanization drive ensures, as Premier Li Keqiang stressed at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, a “long-term demand for housing.”

Markets, Markets, Markets

China is also modifying its manufacturing base, which increased by a multiple of 18 in the last three decades. The country still produces 80% of the world’s air conditioners, 90% of its personal computers, 75% of its solar panels, 70% of its cell phones, and 63% of its shoes. Manufacturing accounts for 44% of Chinese GDP, directly employing more than 130 million people. In addition, the country already accounts for 12.8% of global research and development, well ahead of England and most of Western Europe.

Yet the emphasis is now switching to a fast-growing domestic market, which will mean yet more major infrastructural investment, the need for an influx of further engineering talent, and a fast-developing supplier base. Globally, as China starts to face new challenges — rising labor costs, an increasingly complicated global supply chain, and market volatility — it is also making an aggressive push to move low-tech assembly to high-tech manufacturing. Already, the majority of Chinese exports are smartphones, engine systems, and cars (with planes on their way). In the process, a geographic shift in manufacturing is underway from the southern seaboard to Central and Western China. The city of Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan, for instance, is now becoming a high-tech urban cluster as it expands around firms like Intel and HP.

So China is boldly attempting to upgrade in manufacturing terms, both internally and globally at the same time. In the past, Chinese companies have excelled in delivering the basics of life at cheap prices and acceptable quality levels. Now, many companies are fast upgrading their technology and moving up into second- and first-tier cities, while foreign firms, trying to lessen costs, are moving down to second- and third-tier cities. Meanwhile, globally, Chinese CEOs want their companies to become true multinationals in the next decade. The country already has 73 companies in the Fortune Global 500, leaving it in the number two spot behind the U.S.

In terms of Chinese advantages, keep in mind that the future of the global economy clearly lies in Asia with its record rise in middle-class incomes. In 2009, the Asia-Pacific region had just 18% of the world’s middle class; by 2030, according to the Development Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, that figure will rise to an astounding 66%. North America and Europe had 54% of the global middle class in 2009; in 2030, it will only be 21%.

Follow the money, and the value you get for that money, too. For instance, no less than 200,000 Chinese workers were involved in the production of the first iPhone, overseen by 8,700 Chinese industrial engineers. They were recruited in only two weeks. In the U.S., that process might have taken more than nine months. The Chinese manufacturing ecosystem is indeed fast, flexible, and smart — and it’s backed by an ever more impressive education system. Since 1998, the percentage of GDP dedicated to education has almost tripled; the number of colleges has doubled; and in only a decade, China has built the largest higher education system in the world.

Strengths and Weaknesses

China holds more than $15 trillion in bank deposits, which are growing by a whopping $2 trillion a year. Foreign exchange reserves are nearing $4 trillion. A definitive study of how this torrent of funds circulates within China among projects, companies, financial institutions, and the state still does not exist. No one really knows, for instance, how many loans the Agricultural Bank of China actually makes. High finance, state capitalism, and one-party rule all mix and meld in the realm of Chinese financial services where realpolitik meets real big money.

The big four state-owned banks — the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, and the Agricultural Bank of China — have all evolved from government organizations into semi-corporate state-owned entities. They benefit handsomely both from legacy assets and government connections, or guanxi, and operate with a mix of commercial and government objectives in mind. They are the drivers to watch when it comes to the formidable process of reshaping the Chinese economic model.

As for China’s debt-to-GDP ratio, it’s not yet a big deal. In a list of 17 countries, it lies well below those of Japan and the U.S., according to Standard Chartered Bank, and unlike in the West, consumer credit is only a small fraction of total debt. True, the West exhibits a particular fascination with China’s shadow banking industry: wealth management products, underground finance, off-the-balance-sheet lending. But such operations only add up to around 28% of GDP, whereas, according to the International Monetary Fund, it’s a much higher percentage in the U.S.

China’s problems may turn out to come from non-economic areas where the Beijing leadership has proven far more prone to false moves. It is, for instance, on the offensive on three fronts, each of which may prove to have its own form of blowback: tightening ideological control over the country under the rubric of sidelining “Western values”; tightening control over online information and social media networks, including reinforcing “the Great Firewall of China” to police the Internet; and tightening further its control over restive ethnic minorities, especially over the Uighurs in the key western province of Xinjiang.

On two of these fronts — the “Western values” controversy and Internet control — the leadership in Beijing might reap far more benefits, especially among the vast numbers of younger, well educated, globally connected citizens, by promoting debate, but that’s not how the hyper-centralized Chinese Communist Party machinery works.

When it comes to those minorities in Xinjiang, the essential problem may not be with the new guiding principles of President Xi’s ethnic policy. According to Beijing-based analyst Gabriele Battaglia, Xi wants to manage ethnic conflict there by applying the “three Js”: jiaowang, jiaoliu, jiaorong (“inter-ethnic contact,” “exchange,” and “mixage”). Yet what adds up to a push from Beijing for Han/Uighur assimilation may mean little in practice when day-to-day policy in Xinjiang is conducted by unprepared Han cadres who tend to view most Uighurs as “terrorists.”

If Beijing botches the handling of its Far West, Xinjiang won’t, as expected, become the peaceful, stable, new hub of a crucial part of the silk-road strategy. Yet it is already considered an essential communication link in Xi’s vision of Eurasian integration, as well as a crucial conduit for the massive flow of energy supplies from Central Asia and Russia. The Central Asia-China pipeline, for instance, which brings natural gas from the Turkmen-Uzbek border through Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan, is already adding a fourth line to Xinjiang. And one of the two newly agreed upon Russia-China pipelines will also arrive in Xinjiang.

The Book of Xi

The extent and complexity of China’s myriad transformations barely filter into the American media. Stories in the U.S. tend to emphasize the country’s “shrinking” economy and nervousness about its future global role, the way it has “duped” the U.S. about its designs, and its nature as a military “threat” to Washington and the world.

The U.S. media has a China fever, which results in typically feverish reports that don’t take the pulse of the country or its leader. In the process, so much is missed. One prescription might be for them to read The Governance of China, a compilation of President Xi’s major speeches, talks, interviews, and correspondence. It’s already a three-million-copy bestseller in its Mandarin edition and offers a remarkably digestible vision of what Xi’s highly proclaimed “China Dream” will mean in the new Chinese century.

Xi Dada (“Xi Big Bang” as he’s nicknamed here) is no post-Mao deity. He’s more like a pop phenomenon and that’s hardly surprising. In this “to get rich is glorious” remix, you couldn’t launch the superhuman task of reshaping the Chinese model by being a cold-as-a-cucumber bureaucrat. Xi has instead struck a collective nerve by stressing that the country’s governance must be based on competence, not insider trading and Party corruption, and he’s cleverly packaged the transformation he has in mind as an American-style “dream.”

Behind the pop star clearly lies a man of substance that the Western media should come to grips with. You don’t, after all, manage such an economic success story by accident. It may be particularly important to take his measure since he’s taken the measure of Washington and the West and decided that China’s fate and fortune lie elsewhere.

As a result, last November he made official an earthshaking geopolitical shift. From now on, Beijing would stop treating the U.S. or the European Union as its main strategic priority and refocus instead on China’s Asian neighbors and fellow BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa, with a special focus on Russia), also known here as the “major developing powers” (kuoda fazhanzhong de guojia). And just for the record, China does not consider itself a “developing country” anymore.

No wonder there’s been such a blitz of Chinese mega-deals and mega-dealings across Pipelineistan recently. Under Xi, Beijing is fast closing the gap on Washington in terms of intellectual and economic firepower and yet its global investment offensive has barely begun, new silk roads included.

Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo sees the newly emerging world order as a solar system with two suns, the United States and China. The Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy affirms that “the United States has been and will remain a Pacific power” and states that “while there will be competition, we reject the inevitability of confrontation” with Beijing. The “major developing powers,” intrigued as they are by China’s extraordinary infrastructural push, both internally and across those New Silk Roads, wonder whether a solar system with two suns might not be a non-starter. The question then is: Which “sun” will shine on Planet Earth?  Might this, in fact, be the century of the dragon?

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times, an analyst for RT and Sputnik, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos. Follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Pepe Escobar

Nazi Kiev Official Greeted in Ottawa and Washington

INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM

In-depth Report:

 

Kiev’s national security and defense council secretary Andriy Parubiy was feted Andriy-Parubiy-Ottawa-400x262on visits to Ottawa and Washington.

He came seeking more heavy weapons and funding than already provided. He orchestrated February 2014 Maidan killings.

As security chief, he controlled access to weapons used. He took full advantage. He positioned snipers with automatic weapons in Kiev’s Philharmonic Hall.

They murdered around 100 protesters and police. President Viktor Yanukovych was wrongfully blamed. His ouster followed.

Things were scripted in Washington. The rest, as they say, is history. Plans are to Nazify Ukraine nationwide.

Eliminate Donbass democracy. Use Ukraine as a dagger against Russia’s heartland. Perhaps a prelude to WW III.

Parubiy belongs in prison, not high office. He’s responsible for mass murder and coup following violence he and others staged.

On February 23, Canada’s Globe and Mail covered his Ottawa visit. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper marches in lockstep with imperial US policy.

Parubiy said Canada has an “authoritative voice” on what’s ongoing in Donbass. He asked for help to get Washington to supply more heavy weapons and funding than already.

He wants Canada and other Western countries helping the same way.

So Kiev can prepare for renewed aggression against its anti-fascist Southeastern citizens wanting fundamental democratic freedoms everyone deserves.

So-called “defensive” ones are for offense. Including virtually anything short of nuclear bombs. Maybe they come later.

According to the Globe and Mail, Parubiy met with “Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson and James Bezan, the parliamentary secretary to the defence minister…”

Other scheduled meetings followed with House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer an various MPs.

“Canada has been a kind of a leader in the world vis-a-vis Ukraine,” said Paubiy (in translation).

“Words and actions are the same in Canada, so it’s kind of an example for the rest of the world with their Ukraine policy.”

Parubiy discussed Canadian and US support for the next phase of Kiev’s planned aggression.

He called its dirty war without mercy “a global challenge, a global fight, not just a Russia-Ukraine fight.”

He sounded like a sawdust Caesar saying “we are fighting not only for Ukraine but for Euro-Atlantic and European values.”

Providing more funding and heavy weapons likely assures a deeper hole.

Following discussions, Canada’s Nicholson said Canada supports Minsk. “Any attempt to reduce or take away Ukraine’s sovereignty in that way is completely opposed by Canada,” he added.

He withheld comment on whether Ottawa would supply Kiev with weapons.

On February 25, Parubiy arrived in Washington. America’s global propaganda service Voice of America interviewed him.

Ukraine’s Unian (dis)information agency said he discussed some of the armaments he wants Washington to supply – including anti-tank systems and other heavy weapons.

“The list of required equipment has already been submitted to US President Barack Obama, but it is also planned to present it to other officials who ‘are directly involved in the decision making process,’ ” said Unian.

He’s scheduled to meet with Speaker John Boehner, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, and Pentagon officials.

No comment on whether he and Obama will meet. Maybe quietly with little or nothing said.

Kiev and Washington are partners in high crimes. Renewed aggression on Donbass is planned at Obama’s discretion.

Parubiy is a convenient stooge. He came to get marching orders. They exclude peace, stability and good will.

Rogue states make their own rules. Oppose them and face possible imprisonment or death.

Ukrainian Law Professor Olga Zagulskaya criticized Kiev’s war on Donbass. Persecution followed.

She now suffers from hypertension. Kiev’s “psychological torture had its intended effect,” she said.

She was warned her students prepared to boycott her. They were

“set upon (her) by the ‘intelligentsia’ of Miroslav Popovich, Yuriy Vinnichuk ,and Otar Dovzhenko.”

“At least three SBU men were circling around (her), which means it’s not a purely student event.”

Journalists targeted her. Articles said “Lvov National University professor openly supports terrorists.”

She faced possible criminal charges.To avoid legal proceedings, she resigned three years before retirement.

“At one point (she) felt so dizzy (she) could no longer stand.” She sought medical care. She’s “in treatment, possibly for a long time.”

“All because” she opposes Kiev’s war on Donbass. “(A)s Taras Shevchenko once said,” she explained: ‘I incur punishment, I suffer, but I do not repent!’ ”

Obama’s Ukrainian friends are cutthroat killer Nazi thugs. Zagulskaya is lucky to be alive.

She could have been imprisoned or marked for death. Hooligans running Ukraine operate this way.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.” http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network. It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs.

What Syriza’s Victory Means for Europe

Independent Investigative Journalism Since 1995

From Editor Robert Parry: We founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the first investigative news magazine on the Internet. The site was meant to be a home for important, well-reported stories and a challenge to the inept but dominant mainstream news media of the day.

As one of the reporters who helped expose the Iran-Contra scandal for the Associated Press in the mid-1980s, I was distressed by the silliness and propaganda that had come to pervade American journalism. I feared, too, that the decline of the U.S. press corps foreshadowed disasters that would come when journalists failed to alert the public about impending dangers.

Exclusive: The Greek election of the left-wing Syriza party sent shock waves across Europe with establishment parties fearing more populist resistance to years of austerity and to putting bankers first. The question now is whether European voters will follow Syriza’s lead, says Andrés Cala.

Traditionally “democracy” has meant government by the people, particularly their ability through voting to make their societies bend to their needs and interests. However, in recent decades, the word has undergone a significant redefinition, made to mean the right of business elites to operate with relative freedom.

That is why “democratic reform” in Eastern Europe has referred to the opening of former communist societies to “market forces,” even if that means the demise of popular safety-net programs. The same has held true across Europe during the Great Recession. What the powers-that-be have insisted on is repayment of debts owed to banks, even if that requires painful austerity and unemployment for average citizens.

1024px-Alexis_Tsipras_Syriza-300x200

Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s Syriza party. (Photo credit: FrangiscoDer)

 

 

What Syriza’s Victory Means for Europe
February 1, 2015
 

 

Exclusive: The Greek election of the left-wing Syriza party sent shock waves across Europe with establishment parties fearing more populist resistance to years of austerity and to putting bankers first. The question now is whether European voters will follow Syriza’s lead, says Andrés Cala.

Traditionally “democracy” has meant government by the people, particularly their ability through voting to make their societies bend to their needs and interests. However, in recent decades, the word has undergone a significant redefinition, made to mean the right of business elites to operate with relative freedom.

That is why “democratic reform” in Eastern Europe has referred to the opening of former communist societies to “market forces,” even if that means the demise of popular safety-net programs. The same has held true across Europe during the Great Recession. What the powers-that-be have insisted on is repayment of debts owed to banks, even if that requires painful austerity and unemployment for average citizens.
Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s Syriza party. (Photo credit: FrangiscoDer)

Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s Syriza party. (Photo credit: FrangiscoDer)

What happened in last week’s elections in Greece was, in many ways, a reclaiming of the old definition of democracy, which, of course, the Greeks are credited with inventing around the Fifth Century B.C.

Tired of an economy crippled by austerity — and frustrated by moral lectures about the responsibility to pay creditors — the Greek voters threw out the old political establishment and elected the leftist Syriza party which had highlighted popular demands for more economic stimulus and fewer cuts to government spending.

In effect, what the people of Greece were saying was that they want their political system to work for them, not for the banks and other elites. It is a message with strong appeal across other parts of Europe where the Wall Street collapse in 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession have caused years of suffering and despair.

The ruling elites and their supporters now worry that Syriza’s ascent is the inflexion point that may usher in popular resistance to the European Union’s austerity programs that will spread through Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and other countries tired of joblessness.

“The winds of change are blowing in Europe,” Pablo Iglesias, leader of the Podemos told Syriza supporters in Greece ahead of the election. “In Greece it’s called Syriza. In Spain it’s called Podemos” — “We can” in English.

Though Greece itself is small with a modest-sized economy and limited political influence, the message that Syriza is sending is potentially Continent-shaking. Syriza’s leaders are determined to renegotiate Greece’s credit terms, but they also are at pains to show they can govern responsibly and avoid radical moves that would do more damage to the Greeks than to the Continent’s elites.

A Continent-wide Revolt?

Yet, while Syriza may have many sympathizers especially around Europe’s long-suffering periphery, the populist anti-austerity drive has many powerful opponents, too. Germany, with its strong economy, has been most insistent on the poorer countries repaying their debts but Germany’s position is also supported by conservative governments ruling Spain, Portugal and Ireland that have humbly accepted austerity.

Those governments, which are facing their own challenges from Syriza-like movements, were the first to deny Athens any flexibility. These conservative parties are worried less about Greece than empowering their own anti-austerity challengers by admitting mistakes.

Other European leaders, along with most of the media and international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, are resorting to fear-mongering by grouping this new, still undefined Left in the same basket with extreme-right, ultranationalist, anti-immigrant political movements, creating a frightening image of these populist parties.

Such tactics have worked in the past with many Europeans cautious about appeals for radical change because of the Continent’s troubled history with extremist movements over the centuries. The European establishment offers a comforting sense of order but that appeal has eroded along with the living standards of millions of citizens and popular patience is growing thin.

And, though Syriza is regarded as a leftist party outside of Europe’s recent mainstream, it represents an anti-austerity bloc that is actually rather moderate, pro-European and inclusive. What this bloc is demanding is serious reform in how the Continent’s economy is managed to concentrate on making life better for average people rather than comfier for the rich and powerful.

Europe’s Right has exploited the economic pain in another way, by focusing on how immigration from the Middle East and poorer parts of Europe has taken jobs from the white traditional citizens of European countries. But those messages from extreme-right parties, like UKIP in the U.K. and the National Front in France, represent a lesser threat to Europe’s establishment because most Europeans don’t favor these extremist appeals.

The European establishment is more worried about the anti-austerity bloc. Germany and northern European countries – along with the Continent’s business elites – are alarmed that the anti-austerity parties will unite into a bloc able to disrupt first the politics in various nations and then elections in the European Union.

These anti-austerity forces could appeal to centrist voters as Syriza’s victory in Greece and polls in other countries have shown. The internal politics in Spain, Italy and France – much larger countries than Greece – could lead to an alliance that, given their economic weight and population, could push back on austerity in the 19-member Eurozone.

How Radical?

Parties like Syriza and Podemos have surged in popularity by siphoning off votes from traditional center-left, social-democratic parties, which have generally accepted the austerity demands. To a lesser extent, some center-right fence-straddlers have also switched to these new populist movements.

In Spain, Podemos is edging ahead in a three-way sprint with the ruling conservative Popular Party and the Socialist Party, with municipal, regional and national elections starting in March and ending in December. The Podemos base is young, including activists who ignited the global “Occupy” movement in May 2011 when protesters spontaneously took over Madrid’s most important squares.

The party was started less than a year ago by a group of university professors who were involved as advisers in Latin America’s Bolivarian movement, especially in Venezuela. Traditional parties, even those to its left, accuse Podemos of being Chavista, i.e., inspired by Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

But Podemos’s broad proposals (details are still pending) are not so radical. They reject the notion of a Chavista-like regime in Spain and don’t intend to flout the country’s financial obligations. But they do want an overhaul of economic policies. And despite mounting attacks from Spain’s establishment, Podemos appears to be gaining momentum after Syriza’s victory.

The Irish cousin of Syriza and Podemos is Sinn Féin, which has recently taken the lead in opinion polls. In Italy, the center-left government, which until now has been the most vocal in the EU against German-imposed austerity, is facing an internal rebellion from those who want it to take an even harder line.

The situations in France and Portugal are more fluid with the Socialists discredited and the Left splintered but increasingly anti-austerity. Perhaps the biggest uncertainty is France. It won’t hold elections any time soon, but the Parti de Gauche is rising. If Podemos gets enough leverage in Spain and Italy’s government moves further to the left, there might just be enough political muscle to confront Germany and offer an alternative to its austerity policies.

“The German risk is a new form of conservatism which is the fetishism of budget balance, the fascination for debt reduction, which is also the symptom of an aging country,” French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said, signaling the French Socialists might climb on the anti-austerity bandwagon.

But Berlin and northern European capitals are going through opposite political realities, with their constituents demanding more austerity from the rest of Europe. This bloc remains the most powerful when it comes to decision-making, among other things because it has the support of the conservative governments in Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

A Edge to the Populists

Over the next year or so, the electoral cycles also favor the anti-austerity parties, though perhaps not enough to oust the ruling elites and replace the current mindset but still enough to force greater flexibility on debt and budget issues.

This idea of making governments serve the people’s needs rather than the interests of the creditor class is spreading outside the Eurozone as well, including the U.K., the Democratic Party in the U.S., and even in the EU Parliament and among some IMF economists.

The democratic sea change that appears to be sweeping across Europe is also the result of an ongoing generational change as well as a sign of deep divisions in the establishment that have been exposed by the Great Recession. In essence, this movement is calling for Europe’s democracy to be more populist, more direct, more in the service of the people, less obedient to the ruling elites.

While the resistance to austerity arguably started from isolated flickers across the Continent – resentment toward the harsh cuts in the welfare state and the stubborn levels of record unemployment – it has grown into a political firestorm across southern Europe.

But the demands of this nascent anti-austerity bloc are not revolutionary. In short, it seeks to reboot the system, not to replace it. The leaders don’t pitch an alternative order, but rather ways to correct how policies under the existing framework are implemented, with the ultimate goal of rebuilding a system in which governments care more for the common citizens than the banks and the well-to-do.

The movement favors paying back debts, but not at the cost of economic growth, suggesting that payments be stretched out so more public monies can be spent on stimulus to get Western economies out of the prolonged slump that followed the Crash of 2008.

Or as Thomas Piketty, the star economist and best-selling author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, said in an interview: “It’s an act of historical amnesia to tell southern European countries that they have to pay all their debt, down to the last cent, with zero inflation.”

Of course, Europe’s establishment is hoping Syriza’s victory and the burst of enthusiasm for similar movements is just a fad and that the long-awaited economic recovery will finally arrive and begin to trickle down to average Europeans with everything going back to normal. But these elites may be underestimating just how deeply rooted this democratic awakening is.

When one of the top Podemos leaders was asked about the durability of this movement, he said: “If we disappear tomorrow, we will have taught the elite a good lesson. They will be afraid. Just by existing, Podemos has demonstrated the peoples’ desire for a democratic regeneration, it has unearthed like never before the need for rulers to be held accountable.”

Andrés Cala is an award-winning Colombian journalist, columnist and analyst specializing in geopolitics and energy. He is the lead author of America’s Blind Spot: Chávez, Energy, and US Security.

‘Bankrupt but free’: Greeks stage nationwide anti-austerity rallies

Thousands of Greeks take part in a pro-government demonstration in front of the parliament in Athens February 11, 2015. (Reuters/Yannis Behrakis)

Published time: February 11, 2015 21:54
Edited time: February 13, 2015 11:22

RT NEWS

 

 

 

As EU politicians failed to reach a Greek debt deal in Brussels, thousands of people poured onto the streets of Athens and other large cities to protest austerity and voice support for the recently elected Syriza party.

Eurozone finance ministers have made progress in discussions with Greece following hours of talks on Wednesday. The talks on whether to extend an international bailout to Athens will continue during the next scheduled meeting on Monday, as the sides could not agree on another meeting before then.

“We explored a number of issues, one of which was the current program,” Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem said. “We discussed the possibility of an extension. For some that is clear that is preferred option but we haven’t come to that conclusion as yet.”

Greece: Athenians rally against the Troika, debt and NATO

 

 

Greece has confirmed there was no agreement, adding that “negotiations will continue with the goal of a mutually beneficial agreement.”

“An extension of the memorandum cannot be accepted,” a statement from Athens reads. Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is negotiating to adjust conditions of the $284 billion bailout memorandum, agreed by a previous government in 2012.

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Hundreds defy cold to support gov’t at #Eurogroup, with Athens rally #Greece (Photo: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)
11:58 AM – 11 Feb 2015

According to his recent statements, Varoufakis is looking to scrap about 30 percent of the conditions, which came attached with the previous loans. He is also seeking to secure an extension for further talks, funded by a loan that will allow the government to fulfill its obligations.

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#Greece: FinMin @yanisvaroufakis says #eurogroup talks were “constructive” and “see you monday”. Photo via @Suanzes
6:23 PM – 11 Feb 2015

After seven hours of talks, Varoufakis said it was a “good discussion” that will continue on Monday, adding he believes a “healing deal” on Greece’s finances could be reached next week.

‘Bankrupt but Free’

Standing in front of the parliament building in central Athens – the traditional place for public demonstrations – a peaceful crowd held placards with the slogans “Bankrupt but Free” and “Stop Austerity, Support Greece, Change Europe.”

“In the cities of Greece and Europe the people are fighting the negotiation battle, They are our strength,” leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tweeted along with a picture of the rally in Athens, which attracted at least 15,000.

Other large rallies took place in Kalamata, Thessaloniki, and Crete, with smaller solidarity demonstrations occurring in major European capitals.

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1:16 PM – 11 Feb 2015

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A recent poll said that 75 percent of all Greeks support the actions of Syriza since it assumed power as the dominant part of the coalition, following early elections on January 25.

Most EU officials were skeptical about agreeing to any deal on Wednesday, with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble saying the talks would give a chance to demarcate “red lines.”

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Anti-austerity parties rising: from Athens to Dublin! @conormurphymp speaks at rally in London in support of #Syriza
2:51 PM – 11 Feb 2015

 

Alexis Tsipras: Greece has won a battle but the real difficulties lie ahead

Prime minister says his anti-austerity government now faces its toughest work, in first public reaction since deal made to extend bailout for four months

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Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras at a cabinet meeting on Saturday. Photograph: Kostas Tsironis/Reuters

Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has said the country has won a significant battle but has yet to win the war, in his first public reaction to the latest deal to keep the debt-stricken nation financially afloat.

Addressing Greeks less than 12 hours after the agreement was sealed at an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels, the leftist leader said the hardest work now lay before his anti-austerity government.

The accord, which now rests on Athens proposing reforms acceptable to its creditors at the EU and IMF by Monday, was the bridge that would link Greece from a hated era of international oversight embodied by hard-hitting austerity to a period of growth envisaged by the government.

“We kept Greece standing and dignified,” said Tsipras, adding that the deal had ended the unrealistic primary surpluses demanded by the previous bailout plan signed by his predecessor. “In effect it cancels austerity … In a few days we have achieved a lot but we have a long road. We have taken a decisive step to change course within the eurozone. Now negotiations enter a new, effective stage.”

But Tsipras, whose left-dominated coalition won power almost a month ago, is also likely to face a backlash from within his own Syriza party.

The bailout programme extended for four months under the agreement reached late on Friday has prevented Greece from being shown the euro exit door but has come at a heavy price.

Despite the government’s positive spin, Athens was forced to make significant concessions, including reneging on demands for a writedown of its monumental debt load.

On Saturday, there was widespread consensus in Athens that what the government had agreed to – under threat of capital controls being enforced on the country’s fragile banking system – was the best of increasingly bad deals that would inevitably be on offer.

‘We won time’

Capital flight has accelerated in recent days, with an estimated €1bn flooding out of Greek banks on Friday, according to the country’s central bank, as worried investors, fearing the loss of savings if the talks failed, withdrew funds.

“We won time,” said government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis early on Saturday. “The Greek economy and the Greek government weren’t strangled, as was perhaps the original political plan by centres abroad and within the country.”

Faced with the risk of a chaotic bank run on Tuesday after a long holiday weekend, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis stressed that the deal should calm savers.

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Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks after the meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels on Friday night. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

“It is quite clear that the reason why we had a deposit flight was because every day, even before we were elected, Greeks were being told that if we were elected and we stayed in power for more than just a few days the ATMs will cease functioning,” he said in Brussels on Friday night.

“Today’s decision puts an end to this fear, to the scaremongering.”

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Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, left, and Tsipras. Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who had fought making any further concessions for Greece, said after the deal was announced: “Being in government is a rendez-vous with reality. Quite frequently it is not as nice as the dream.”

European officials said the standoff had in some ways come down to a clash of personalities, with Schaeuble furious at the negotiating style of the casual Varoufakis.

The relationship between the two finance ministers remained difficult, one official said: “The trust just isn’t there. [This time] Varoufakis kept a very low profile.”

The Guardian

The Greek Government’s Full List of Reforms Sent to EC, ECB and IMF – By Greece Reporter

Yanis_Varoufakis

Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis emailed a list of structural reforms and measures which the Greek government is prepared to implement in order to complete the agreement for an extension at Friday’s Eurogroup.

By Philip Chrisopulous –  February 24, 2015

The Greek government’s list of proposals includes commitments on tax policy, public finance management, revenue administration, public spending, social security reform, public administration and corruption, installment schemes, banking and non-performing loans, privatization and public asset management, labor market reforms, product market reforms, judicial system reforms and the humanitarian crisis.

The Greek Government’s Full List:

Dear President of the Eurogroup, In the Eurogroup of 20 February 2015 the Greek government was invited to present to the institutions, by Monday 23rd February 2015, a first comprehensive list of reform measures it is envisaging, to be further specified and agreed by the end of April 2015.

In addition to codifying its reform agenda, in accordance with PM Tsipras’ programmatic statement to Greece’s Parliament, the Greek government also committed to working in close agreement with European partners and institutions, as well as with the International Monetary Fund, and take actions that strengthen fiscal sustainability, guarantee financial stability and promote economicrecovery.

The first comprehensive list of reform measures follows below, as envisaged by the Greek government. It is our intention to implement them while drawing upon available technical assistance and financing from the European Structural and Investment Funds.
Truly
Yanis Varoufakis
Minister of Finance
Hellenic Republic

I. Fiscal structural policies
Tax policies – Greece commits to:
• Reform VAT policy, administration and enforcement. Robust efforts will be made to improve collection and fight evasion making full use of electronic means and other technological innovations. VAT policy will be rationalised in relation to rates that will be streamlined in a manner that maximizes actual revenues without a negative impact on social justice, and with a view to limiting exemptions while eliminating unreasonable discounts.
• Modify the taxation of collective investment and income tax expenditures which will be integrated in the income tax code.
• Broaden definition of tax fraud and evasion while disbanding tax immunity.
• Modernising the income tax code and eliminating from it tax code exemptions and replacing them, when necessary, with social justice enhancing measures.
• Resolutely enforce and improve legislation on transfer pricing.
• Work toward creating a new culture of tax compliance to ensure that all sections of society, and especially the well-off, contribute fairly to the financing of public policies. In this context, establish with the assistance of European and international partners, a wealth database that assists the tax authorities in gauging the veracity of previous income tax returns.

Public Finance Management – Greece will:

• Adopt amendments to the Organic Budget Law and take steps to improve public finance management. Budget implementation will be improved and clarified as will control and reporting responsibilities. Payment procedures will be modernised and accelerated while providing a higher degree of financial and budgetary flexibility and accountability for independent and/or regulatory entities.
• Devise and implement a strategy on the clearance of arrears, tax refunds and pension claims.
• Turn the already established (though hitherto dormant) Fiscal Council into a fully operational entity.

Revenue administration – Greece will modernise the tax and custom administrations benefiting from available technical assistance. To this end Greece will:

• Enhance the openness, transparency and international reach of the process by which the General Secretary of the General Secretariat of Public Revenues is appointed, monitored in terms of performance, and replaced.
• Strengthen the independence of the General Secretariat of Public Revenues (GSPR), if necessary through further legislation, from all sorts of interference (political or otherwise) while guaranteeing full accountability and transparency of its operations. To this end, the government and the GSPR will make full use of available technical assistance.
• Staff adequately, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the GSPR and in particular the high wealth and large debtors units of the revenue administration and ensure that it has strong investigative/prosecution powers, and resources building on SDOE’s capacities, so as to target effectively tax fraud by, and tax arrears of, high income social groups. Consider the merits of integrating SDOE into GSPR.
• Augment inspections, risk-based audits, and collection capacities while seeking to integrate the functions of revenue and social security collection across the general government.

Public spending – The Greek authorities will:

• Review and control spending in every area of government spending (e.g. education, defence, transport, local government, social benefits)
• Work toward drastically improving the efficiency of central and local government administered departments and units by targeting budgetary processes, management restructuring, and reallocation of poorly deployed resources.
• Identify cost saving measures through a thorough spending review of every Ministry and rationalisation of non-salary and non-pension expenditures which, at present, account for an astounding 56% of total public expenditure.
• Implement legislation (currently in draft form at the General Accounts Office – GAO) to review non-wage benefits expenditure across the public sector.
• Validate benefits through cross checks within the relevant authorities and registries (e.g. Tax Number Registry, AMKA registry) that will help identify non-eligible beneficiaries.
• Control health expenditure and improve the provision and quality of medical services, while granting universal access. In this context, the government intends to table specific proposals in collaboration with European and international institutions, including the OECD.
Social security reform – Greece is committed to continue modernising the pension system. The authorities will:
• Continue to work on administrative measures to unify and streamline pension policies and eliminate loopholes and incentives that give rise to an excessive rate of early retirements throughout the economy and, more specifically, in the banking and public sectors.
• Consolidate pension funds to achieve savings.
• Phase out charges on behalf of ‘third parties’ (nuisance charges) in a fiscally neutral manner.
• Establish a closer link between pension contributions and income, streamline benefits, strengthen incentives to declare paid work, and provide targeted assistance to employees between 50 and 65, including through a Guaranteed Basic Income scheme, so as to eliminate the social and political pressure for early retirement which over-burdens the pension funds.

Public administration & corruption – Greece wants a modern public
administration. It will:

• Turn the fight against corruption into a national priority and operate fully the National Plan Against Corruption.
• Target fuel and tobacco products’ smuggling, monitor prices of imported goods (to prevent revenue losses during the importation process), and tackle money laundering. The government intends immediately to set itself ambitious revenue targets, in these areas, to be pursued under the coordination of the newly established position of Minister of State.
• Reduce (a) the number of Ministries (from 16 to 10), (b) the number of ‘special advisors’ in general government; and (c) fringe benefits of ministers, Members of Parliament and top officials (e.g. cars, travel expenses, allowances)
• Tighten the legislation concerning the funding of political parties and include maximum levels of borrowing from financial and other institutions.
• Activate immediately the current (though dormant) legislation that regulates the revenues of media (press and electronic), ensuring (through appropriately designed auctions) that they pay the state market prices for frequencies used, and prohibits the continued operation of permanently loss-making media outlets (without a transparent process of recapitalisation)
• Establish a transparent, electronic, real-time institutional framework for public tenders/procurement – re-establishing DIAVGEIA (transparencey), a side-lined online public registry of activities relating to public procurement.
• Reform the public sector wage grid with a view to decompressing the wage distribution through productivity gains and appropriate recruitment policies without reducing the current wage floors but safeguarding that the public sector’s wage bill will not increase
• Rationalise non-wage benefits, to reduce overall expenditure, without imperilling the functioning of the public sector and in accordance with EU good practices
• Promote measures to: improve recruitment mechanisms, encourage merit-based managerial appointments, base staff appraisals on genuine evaluation, and establish fair processes for maximizing mobility of human and other resources within the public sector

II. Financial stability

Instalment schemes – Greece commits to

• Improve swiftly, in agreement with the institutions, the legislation for repayments of tax and social security arrears
• Calibrate instalment schemes in a manner that helps discriminate efficiently between: (a) strategic default/non-payment and (b) inability to pay; targeting case (a) individuals/firms by means of civil and criminal procedures (especially amongst high income groups) while offering case (b) individuals/firms repayment terms in a manner that enables potentially solvent enterprises to survive, averts free-riding, annuls moral hazard, and reinforces social responsibility as well as a proper re-payment culture.
• Decriminalize lower-income debtors with small liabilities
• Step up enforcement methods and procedures, including the legal framework for collecting unpaid taxes and effectively implement collection tools

Banking and Non-Performing loans. Greece is committed to:

• Banks that are run on sound commercial/banking principles
• Utilise fully the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund and ensure, in collaboration with the SSM, the ECB and the European Commission, that it plays well its key role of securing the banking sector’s stability and its lending on commercial basis while complying with EU competition rules.
• Dealing with non-performing loans in a manner that considers fully the banks’ capitalisation (taking into account the adopted Code of Conduct for Banks), the functioning of the judiciary system, the state of the real estate market, social justice issues, and any adverse impact on the government’s fiscal position.
• Collaborating with the banks’ management and the institutions to avoid, in the forthcoming period, auctions of the main residence of households below a certain income threshold, while punishing strategic defaulters, with a view to:
(a) maintaining society’s support for the government’s broad reform program, (b) preventing a further fall in real estate asset prices (that would have an adverse effect on the banks’ own portfolio), (c) minimising the fiscal impact of greater homelessness, and (d) promoting a strong payment culture.
Measures will be taken to support the most vulnerable households who are unable to service their loans
• Align the out-of-court workout law with the instalment schemes after their amendment, to limit risks to public finances and the payment culture, while facilitating private debt restructuring.
• Modernise bankruptcy law and address the backlog of cases

III. Policies to promote growth

Privatisation and public asset management – To attract investment in key sectors and utilise the state’s assets efficiently, the Greek authorities will:

• Commit not to roll back privatisations that have been completed. Where the tender process has been launched the government will respect the process, according to the law.
• Safeguard the provision of basic public goods and services by privatised firms/industries in line with national policy goals and in compliance with EU legislation.
• Review privatisations that have not yet been launched, with a view to improving the terms so as to maximise the state’s long-term benefits, generate revenues, enhance competition in the local economies, promote national economic recovery, and stimulate long term growth prospects.
• Adopt, henceforth, an approach whereby each new case will be examined separately and on its merits, with an emphasis on long leases, joint ventures (private-public collaboration) and contracts that maximise not only government revenues but also prospective levels of private investment.
• Unify (HRDAF) various public asset management agencies (which are currently scattered across the public sector) with a view to developing state assets and enhancing their value through microeconomic and property rights’ reforms.

Labor market reforms – Greece commits to:

• Achieve EU best practice across the range of labour market legislation through a process of consultation with the social partners while benefitting from the expertise and existing input of the ILO, the OECD and the available technical assistance.
• Expand and develop the existing scheme that provides temporary
employment for the unemployed, in agreement with partners and when fiscal space permits and improve the active labour market policy programmes with the aim to updating the skills of the long-term unemployed.
• Phasing in a new ‘smart’ approach to collective wage bargaining that balances the needs for flexibility with fairness. This includes the ambition to streamline and over time raise minimum wages in a manner that safeguards competitiveness and employment prospects. The scope and timing of changes to the minimum wage will be made in consultation with social partners and the European and international institutions, including the ILO, and take full account of advice from a new independent body on whether changes in wages are in line with productivity developments and competitiveness.

Product market reforms and a better business environment – As part of a new reform agenda, Greece remains committed to:

• Removing barriers to competition based on input from the OECD.
• Strengthen the Hellenic Competition Commission.
• Introduce actions to reduce the burdens of administrative burden of
bureaucracy in line with the OECD’s input, including legislation that bans public sector units from requesting (from citizens and business) documents certifying information that the state already possesses (within the same or some other unit).
• Better land use management, including policies related to spatial planning, land use, and the finalization of a proper Land Registry
• Pursue efforts to lift disproportionate and unjustified restrictions in regulated professions as part of the overall strategy to tackle vested interests.
• Align gas and electricity market regulation with EU good practices and legislation

Reform of the judicial system – The Greek government will:

• Improve the organisation of courts through greater specialisation and, in this context, adopt a new Code of Civil Procedure.
• Promote the digitization of legal codes and the electronic submission system,
and governance, of the judicial system.

Statistics – The Greek government reaffirms its readiness to:

• Honour fully the Commitment on Confidence in Statistics, and in particular the institutional independence of ELSTAT, ensuring that ELSTAT has the necessary resources to implement its work programme.
• Guarantee the transparency and propriety of the process of appointment of the ELSTAT President in September 2015, in cooperation with EUROSTAT.

IV. Humanitarian Crisis – The Greek government affirms its plan to:

• Address needs arising from the recent rise in absolute poverty (inadequate access to nourishment, shelter, health services and basic energy provision) by means of highly targeted non-pecuniary measures (e.g. food stamps).
• Do so in a manner that is helpful to the reforming of public administration and the fight against bureaucracy/corruption (e.g. the issuance of a Citizen Smart
Card that can be used as an ID card, in the Health System, as well as for gaining access to the food stamp program etc.).
• Evaluate the pilot Minimum Guaranteed Income scheme with a view to
extending it nationwide.
• Ensure that its fight against the humanitarian crisis has no negative fiscal effect.

– See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2015/02/24/the-greek-governments-full-list-of-reforms-sent-to-ec-ecb-and-imf/#sthash.yK1T7YGp.dpuf

The Greek Tragedy: Some Things not to Forget, which the New Greek Leaders have not

 

Region:

 

American historian D.F. Fleming, writing of the post-World War II period in his eminent William_Blumhistory of the Cold War, stated that “Greece was the first of the liberated states to be openly and forcibly compelled to accept the political system of the occupying Great Power. It was Churchill who acted first and Stalin who followed his example, in Bulgaria and then in Rumania, though with less bloodshed.”

The British intervened in Greece while World War II was still raging. His Majesty’s Army waged war against ELAS, the left-wing guerrillas who had played a major role in forcing the Nazi occupiers to flee. Shortly after the war ended, the United States joined the Brits in this great anti-communist crusade, intervening in what was now a civil war, taking the side of the neo-fascists against the Greek left. The neo-fascists won and instituted a highly brutal regime, for which the CIA created a suitably repressive internal security agency (KYP in Greek).

In 1964, the liberal George Papandreou came to power, but in April 1967 a military coup took place, just before elections which appeared certain to bring Papandreou back as prime minister. The coup had been a joint effort of the Royal Court, the Greek military, the KYP, the CIA, and the American military stationed in Greece, and was followed immediately by the traditional martial law, censorship, arrests, beatings, and killings, the victims totaling some 8,000 in the first month. This was accompanied by the equally traditional declaration that this was all being done to save the nation from a “communist takeover”. Torture, inflicted in the most gruesome of ways, often with equipment supplied by the United States, became routine.

George Papandreou was not any kind of radical. He was a liberal anti-communist type. But his son Andreas, the heir-apparent, while only a little to the left of his father, had not disguised his wish to take Greece out of the Cold War, and had questioned remaining in NATO, or at least as a satellite of the United States.

Andreas Papandreou was arrested at the time of the coup and held in prison for eight months. Shortly after his release, he and his wife Margaret visited the American ambassador, Phillips Talbot, in Athens. Papandreou later related the following:

I asked Talbot whether America could have intervened the night of the coup, to prevent the death of democracy in Greece. He denied that they could have done anything about it. Then Margaret asked a critical question: What if the coup had been a Communist or a Leftist coup? Talbot answered without hesitation. Then, of course, they would have intervened, and they would have crushed the coup.

Another charming chapter in US-Greek relations occurred in 2001, when Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street Goliath Lowlife, secretly helped Greece keep billions of dollars of debt off their balance sheet through the use of complex financial instruments like credit default swaps. This allowed Greece to meet the baseline requirements to enter the Eurozone in the first place. But it also helped create a debt bubble that would later explode and bring about the current economic crisis that’s drowning the entire continent. Goldman Sachs, however, using its insider knowledge of its Greek client, protected itself from this debt bubble by betting against Greek bonds, expecting that they would eventually fail.

Will the United States, Germany, the rest of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – collectively constituting the International Mafia – allow the new Greek leaders of the Syriza party to dictate the conditions of Greece’s rescue and salvation? The answer at the moment is a decided “No”. The fact that Syriza leaders, for some time, have made no secret of their affinity for Russia is reason enough to seal their fate. They should have known how the Cold War works.

I believe Syriza is sincere, and I’m rooting for them, but they may have overestimated their own strength, while forgetting how the Mafia came to occupy its position; it didn’t derive from a lot of compromise with left-wing upstarts. Greece may have no choice, eventually, but to default on its debts and leave the Eurozone. The hunger and unemployment of the Greek people may leave them no alternative.

The Twilight Zone of the US State Department

“You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop … the Twilight Zone.” (American Television series, 1959-1965)

State Department Daily Press Briefing, February 13, 2015. Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, questioned by Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.

Lee: President Maduro [of Venezuela] last night went on the air and said that they had arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was backed by the United States. What is your response?

Psaki: These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.

Lee: Sorry. The US has – whoa, whoa, whoa – the US has a longstanding practice of not promoting – What did you say? How longstanding is that? I would – in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.

Psaki: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history –

Lee: Not in this case.

Psaki: – is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations.

Lee: In this specific case.

Psaki: Correct.

Lee: But if you go back not that long ago, during your lifetime, even – (laughter)

Psaki: The last 21 years. (Laughter.)

Lee: Well done. Touché. But I mean, does “longstanding” mean 10 years in this case? I mean, what is –

Psaki: Matt, my intention was to speak to the specific reports.

Lee: I understand, but you said it’s a longstanding US practice, and I’m not so sure – it depends on what your definition of “longstanding” is.

Psaki: We will – okay.

Lee: Recently in Kyiv, whatever we say about Ukraine, whatever, the change of government at the beginning of last year was unconstitutional, and you supported it. The constitution was –

Psaki: That is also ludicrous, I would say.

Lee: – not observed.

Psaki: That is not accurate, nor is it with the history of the facts that happened at the time.

Lee: The history of the facts. How was it constitutional?

Psaki: Well, I don’t think I need to go through the history here, but since you gave me the opportunity –- as you know, the former leader of Ukraine left of his own accord.

Leaving the Twilight Zone … The former Ukrainian leader ran for his life from those who had staged the coup, including a mob of vicious US-supported neo-Nazis.

If you know how to contact Ms. Psaki, tell her to have a look at my list of more than 50 governments the United States has attempted to overthrow since the end of the Second World War. None of the attempts were democratic, constitutional, peaceful, or legal; well, a few were non-violent.

The ideology of the American media is that it believes that it doesn’t have any ideology

So NBC’s evening news anchor, Brian Williams, has been caught telling untruths about various events in recent years. What could be worse for a reporter? How about not knowing what’s going on in the world? In your own country? At your own employer? As a case in point I give you Williams’ rival, Scott Pelley, evening news anchor at CBS.

In August 2002, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told American newscaster Dan Rather on CBS: “We do not possess any nuclear or biological or chemical weapons.”

In December, Aziz stated to Ted Koppel on ABC: “The fact is that we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. We don’t have chemical, biological, or nuclear weaponry.”

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein himself told CBS’s Rather in February 2003: “These missiles have been destroyed. There are no missiles that are contrary to the prescription of the United Nations [as to range] in Iraq. They are no longer there.”

Moreover, Gen. Hussein Kamel, former head of Iraq’s secret weapons program, and a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, told the UN in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its banned missiles and chemical and biological weapons soon after the Persian Gulf War of 1991.

There are yet other examples of Iraqi officials telling the world, before the 2003 American invasion, that the WMD were non-existent.

Enter Scott Pelley. In January 2008, as a CBS reporter, Pelley interviewed FBI agent George Piro, who had interviewed Saddam Hussein before he was executed:

PELLEY: And what did he tell you about how his weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed?

PIRO: He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the U.N. inspectors in the ’90s, and those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.

PELLEY: He had ordered them destroyed?

PIRO: Yes.

PELLEY: So why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk? Why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?

For a journalist there might actually be something as bad as not knowing what’s going on in his area of news coverage, even on his own station. After Brian Williams’ fall from grace, his former boss at NBC, Bob Wright, defended Williams by pointing to his favorable coverage of the military, saying: “He has been the strongest supporter of the military of any of the news players. He never comes back with negative stories, he wouldn’t question if we’re spending too much.”

I think it’s safe to say that members of the American mainstream media are not embarrassed by such a “compliment”.

In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter made the following observation:

Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.

But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized as crimes at all.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

Cuba made simple

“The trade embargo can be fully lifted only through legislation – unless Cuba forms a democracy, in which case the president can lift it.”

Aha! So that’s the problem, according to a Washington Post columnist – Cuba is not a democracy! That would explain why the United States does not maintain an embargo against Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt and other distinguished pillars of freedom. The mainstream media routinely refer to Cuba as a dictatorship. Why is it not uncommon even for people on the left to do the same? I think that many of the latter do so in the belief that to say otherwise runs the risk of not being taken seriously, largely a vestige of the Cold War when Communists all over the world were ridiculed for blindly following Moscow’s party line. But what does Cuba do or lack that makes it a dictatorship?

No “free press”? Apart from the question of how free Western media is, if that’s to be the standard, what would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control almost all the media worth owning or controlling?

Is it “free elections” that Cuba lacks? They regularly have elections at municipal, regional and national levels. (They do not have direct election of the president, but neither do Germany or the United Kingdom and many other countries). Money plays virtually no role in these elections; neither does party politics, including the Communist Party, since candidates run as individuals. Again, what is the standard by which Cuban elections are to be judged? Is it that they don’t have the Koch Brothers to pour in a billion dollars? Most Americans, if they gave it any thought, might find it difficult to even imagine what a free and democratic election, without great concentrations of corporate money, would look like, or how it would operate. Would Ralph Nader finally be able to get on all 50 state ballots, take part in national television debates, and be able to match the two monopoly parties in media advertising? If that were the case, I think he’d probably win; which is why it’s not the case.

Or perhaps what Cuba lacks is our marvelous “electoral college” system, where the presidential candidate with the most votes is not necessarily the winner. If we really think this system is a good example of democracy why don’t we use it for local and state elections as well?

Is Cuba not a democracy because it arrests dissidents? Many thousands of anti-war and other protesters have been arrested in the United States in recent years, as in every period in American history. During the Occupy Movement two years ago more than 7,000 people were arrested, many beaten by police and mistreated while in custody.   And remember: The United States is to the Cuban government like al Qaeda is to Washington, only much more powerful and much closer; virtually without exception, Cuban dissidents have been financed by and aided in other ways by the United States.

Would Washington ignore a group of Americans receiving funds from al Qaeda and engaging in repeated meetings with known members of that organization? In recent years the United States has arrested a great many people in the US and abroad solely on the basis of alleged ties to al Qaeda, with a lot less evidence to go by than Cuba has had with its dissidents’ ties to the United States. Virtually all of Cuba’s “political prisoners” are such dissidents. While others may call Cuba’s security policies dictatorship, I call it self-defense.

The Ministry of Propaganda has a new Commissar

Last month Andrew Lack became chief executive of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees US government-supported international news media such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio Free Asia. In a New York Times interview, Mr. Lack was moved to allow the following to escape his mouth: “We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram.”

So … this former president of NBC News conflates Russia Today (RT) with the two most despicable groups of “human beings” on the planet. Do mainstream media executives sometimes wonder why so many of their audience has drifted to alternative media, like, for example, RT?

Those of you who have not yet discovered RT, I suggest you go to RT.com to see whether it’s available in your city. And there are no commercials.

It should be noted that the Times interviewer, Ron Nixon, expressed no surprise at Lack’s remark.

 

Notes

  1. William Blum, Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II, chapters 3 and 35
  2. Greek Debt Crisis: How Goldman Sachs Helped Greece to Mask its True Debt”, Spiegel Online(Germany), February 8, 2010. Google “Goldman Sachs” Greece for other references.
  3. U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, February 13, 2015
  4. Overthrowing other people’s governments: The Master List
  5. CBS Evening News, August 20, 2002
  6. ABC Nightline, December 4, 2002
  7. “60 Minutes II”, February 26, 2003
  8. Washington Post, March 1, 2003
  9. “60 Minutes”, January 27, 2008
  10. Democracy Now!, February 12, 2015, Wright statement made February 10
  11. Al Kamen, Washington Post, February 18, 2015
  12. Huffington Post, May 3, 2012
  13. New York Times, January 21, 2015