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

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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