Ecuador crowds greet Pope Francis on his Latin America tour
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Pope Francis has celebrated Mass in front of nearly one million Catholics in Ecuador’s capital Quito.
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Pope Francis has celebrated Mass in front of nearly one million Catholics in Ecuador’s capital Quito.
Did you notice that Greece’s creditors are not rushing to offer the Greeks a new deal in the wake of the stunning referendum result on Sunday? In fact, it is being reported that the initial reaction to the “no” vote from top European politicians was “a thunderous silence“. Needless to say, the European elite were not pleased by how the Greek people voted, but they still have all of the leverage. In particular, it is the Germans that are holding all of the cards. If the Germans want to cave in and give the Greeks the kind of deal that they desire, everyone else would follow suit. And if the Germans want to maintain a hard line with Greece, they can block any deal from happening all by themselves. So in the final analysis, this is really an economic test of wills between Germany and Greece, and time is on Germany’s side. Germany doesn’t have to offer anything new. The Germans can just sit back and wait for the Greek government to default on their debts, for Greek banks to totally run out of cash and for civil unrest to erupt in Greek cities as the economy grinds to a standstill.
In ancient times, if a conquering army came up against a walled city that was quite formidable, often a decision would be made to conduct a siege. Instead of attacking a heavily defended city directly and taking heavy casualties, it was often much more cost effective to simply surround the city from a safe distance and starve the inhabitants into submission.
In a sense, that is exactly what the Germans appear to want to do to the Greeks. Without more cash, the Greek government cannot pay their bills. Without more cash, Greek banks are going to start collapsing left and right. Without more cash, the Greek economy is going to completely and utterly collapse.
So yes, the Greeks voted for change, but the Germans still hold the purse strings.
And right now the Germans do not sound like they are in any mood to compromise. The following comes from a Reuters report that was published on Monday…
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy said Athens had wrecked any hope of compromise with its euro zone partners by overwhelmingly rejecting further austerity.
Merkel and French President Francois Hollande conferred by telephone and will meet in Paris on Monday afternoon to seek a joint response. Responding to their call, European Council President Donald Tusk announced that euro zone leaders would meet in Brussels on Tuesday evening (1600 GMT).
German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Merkel’s centre-left Social Democratic junior coalition partner, said it was hard to conceive of fresh negotiations on lending more billions to Athens after Greeks voted against more austerity.
Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had “torn down the last bridges on which Greece and Europe could have moved towards a compromise,” Gabriel told the Tagesspiegel daily.
In addition, Angela Merkel’s office released a statement on Monday that placed the onus on making a new proposal to end this crisis on the Greek government…
“It is up to Greece to make something of this. We are waiting to see which proposals the Greek government makes to its European partners,” the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s leading austerity advocate, said in a statement.
Just because the Greek people want the Germans to give them a very favorable deal does not mean that the Germans will be inclined to do so. The Germans know that whatever they do with the Greeks will set a precedent for the rest of the financially-troubled nations all across Europe. If Greece gets a free lunch, then Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and France will expect the same kind of treatment…
Angelos Chryssogelos, an expert on Greek politics at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said the strength of Sunday’s mandate handed to Tsipras means it will be almost impossible for the prime minister’s leftist Syriza party to make a deal with European creditors.
“The Europeans made it pretty clear where they stand, and they have been consistent,” Chryssogelos said, adding that the creditors also are unlikely to back down. “Right now, voters across the eurozone largely support the tough stance taken by the eurozone.”
Chryssogelos said Greek voters may have underestimated the resolve of the creditors to reach an accord on their terms. “If someone is seen getting preferential treatment, then someone else will want that treatment,” he said, referring to other eurozone debtors such as Ireland and Portugal.
And remember, there is a very important Spanish election coming up in December.
If Syriza comes out as the big winner in this crisis, it will empower similar movements in Spain and all over the rest of the continent.
So look for Greece’s creditors to tighten the screws over the coming days. In fact, we already saw a bit of screw tightening on Monday when the ECB announced that Greek banks would not be receiving additional emergency assistance…
In a move sure to increase pressure on Greece’s flailing banks, the European Central Bank on Monday decided not to expand an emergency assistance program, raising fears that Greece could soon go completely bankrupt.
The move put a swift crimp on Greek leaders’ jubilation after winning a landslide endorsement from their citizens to reject Europe’s austerity demands and seek a new bailout bargain. Now they must seek a bargain before the money runs out within days, which would likely force them off the euro.
Basically we are watching a very high stakes game of chicken play out. And as the cash dwindles, economic activity in Greece is slowly grinding to a halt. The following comes from the Washington Post…
The dwindling cash is sucking the life out of everything from coffee shops to taxis, as anxious Greeks economize amid fears for the future. Greek leaders also banned transfers of money abroad, meaning that very little can now be imported into the country.
Printing plants are warning that they may run out of paper to print newspapers by the end of the week. Butchers say that stocks of imported meat are dwindling.
Some are even projecting that we could see civil unrest erupt in Greece in about “48 hours” once the ATM machines run out of cash…
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras probably has 48 hours to resolve a standoff with creditors before civil unrest breaks out and ATMs run out of cash, hedge fund Balyasny Asset Management said.
Yes, the Greek people exhibited great resolve in voting against the demands of the creditors on Sunday.
But how long can they endure this economic siege?
It is inevitable that a breaking point will come. Either the Greek government will give in, or the Greeks will leave the euro and start to transition back to the drachma.
If we do see a “Grexit”, and many analysts believe that one is coming, it could set off a chain of events that could cause immense financial pain all over the planet. There are tens of trillions of dollars of derivatives that are tied to European bond yields, European interest rates, etc. The following is an excerpt from a piece authored by Phoenix Capital Research that explains what kind of jeopardy we could potentially be facing…
The global derivatives market is roughly $700 trillion in size. That’s over TEN TIMES the world’s GDP. And sovereign bonds… including even bonds from bankrupt countries such as Greece… are one of, if not the primary collateral underlying all of these trades.
Greece is not the real issue for Europe. The entire Greek debt market is about €345 billion in size. So we’re not talking about a massive amount of collateral… though the turmoil this country has caused in the last three years gives a sense of the importance of the issue.
Spain, by comparison has over €1.0 trillion in debt outstanding… and Italy has €2.6 trillion. These bonds are backstopping tens of trillions of Euros’ worth of derivatives trades. A haircut on them would trigger systemic failure in Europe.
If Greece gets a “haircut” on their debt, other European nations would want the same and that would cause massive chaos in the derivatives markets.
But if Greece does not get a deal and ends up leaving the eurozone, that will cause bond yields to go crazy all over Europe and that would also cause tremendous chaos in the derivatives markets.
So much depends on keeping this system of legalized gambling that we call “derivatives trading” stable. We have allowed the global derivatives bubble to become many times larger than the GDP of the entire planet, and in the end we will pay a great price for this foolishness.
Every pyramid scheme eventually collapses, and this one will too.
But the difference with this pyramid scheme is that it is going to take the entire global financial system down with it.
OpEdNews Op Eds 7/6/2015 at 15:50:17
By Greg Palast
Not surprisingly, by nearly two-to-one, Greeks have overwhelmingly rejected the cruel, economically bonkers “austerity” program required by the European Central Bank in return for an ECB loan to pay Greece’s creditors. In doing so, the Greek people overcame an unprecedented campaign of fear from the Greek and international media, the European Union (EU), and most of our political parties.
What’s simply whack-o is that, while voting “No” to austerity, many Greeks wish to remain shackled to the euro, the very cause of our miseries.
Resistance, not Crisis
Before we explain how the euro is the cause of this horror show, let’s clear up one thing right away. All week, worldwide media was filled with news of the Greek “crisis.” Yes, the economy stinks, with one in four Greeks unemployed. But two other euro nations, Spain and Cyprus, also are suffering this depression level of unemployment. Indeed, more than 11% of workers in seven euro nations, including Portugal and Italy, are out of work.
But unlike Greece, these other suffering nations have quietly acquiesced to their “austerity” punishments. Spaniards now accept that they are fated forevermore to be low-paid servants to beer-barfing British tourists. Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who has enacted a draconian protest ban at home to keep his own suffering masses at bay, has joined in the jackal-pack rejecting anything but the harshest of austerity terms for Greece.
The difference between these quiescent nations and Greece is that the Greeks won’t take it anymore.
What the media call the Greek “crisis” is, in fact, resistance.
Resistance to nowhere
But it’s a resistance whose leaders are leading them nowhere.
For decades, Greeks have suffered governments that are both corrupt and dishonest. The election of SYRIZA changed all that: the government is now merely dishonest.
Our new SYRIZA Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, correctly called the austerity plan “blackmail.” However, before Sunday’svote, Tsipras told the nation a big fat fib. He said we could vote down the European Bank’s plan but keep the European Bank’s coin, the euro. How? Tsipras won’t say; it’s part of a policy ploy his outgoing finance minister Yanis Varoufakis calls “creative ambiguity.” To translate: Creative ambiguity is Greek for “bullshit.”
Sorry, Alexis, if you want to use the Reich’s coin you have to accept the Reichsdiktat.
Not a coin, a virus
Tsipras’ claim that Greece can keep the euro while rejecting austerity is crazy-talk. The fact is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Cruella De Vil of the Eurozone, will ignore the cries of the bleeding Greeks and demand we swallow austerity–or lose the euro.
But, so what if we lose the euro? The best thing that can happen to Greece, and should have happened long, long ago, is that Greece flee the Eurozone.
That’s because it is the euro itself that is the virus responsible for Greece’s economic ills.
Indeed, the sadistic commitment to “austerity” was minted into the coin’s very metal. We’re not guessing. One of us (Palast, an economist by training) has had long talks with the acknowledged “father” of the euro, Professor Robert Mundell. It’s important to mention the other little bastard spawned by the late Prof. Mundell: “supply-side” economics, otherwise known as “Reaganomics,” “Thatcherism” — or, simply “voodoo” economics.
The imposition of the euro had one true goal: To end the European welfare state.
For Mundell and the politicians who seized on his currency concept, the euro itself would be the vector infecting the European body politic with supply-side Reaganomics. Mundell saw a euro’d Europe as free of trade unions and government regulations; a Europe in which the votes of parliaments were meaningless. Each Eurozone nation, unable to control neither the value of its own currency, nor its own budget, nor its own fiscal policy, could only compete for business by slashing regulations and taxes. Mundell said, “[The euro] puts monetary policy out of the reach of politicians” Without fiscal policy, the only way nations can keep jobs is by the competitive reduction of rules on business.”
Here’s how it works. To join the Eurozone, nations must agree to keep their deficits to no more than 3% of GDP and total debt to no more than 60% of GDP. In a recession, that’s plain insane. By contrast, President Obama pulled the USA out of recession by increasing deficit spending to a staggering 9.8% of GDP, and he raised the nation’s debt to 101% from a pre-recession 62%. Republicans screamed, but it worked. The US has lower unemployment than any Eurozone nation.
As Obama scolded the European tormentors of Greece: “You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of depression.” Cutting spending power only leads to less spending which leads to further cuts in spending power — a death spiral we see today in the Eurozone from Greece to Italy to Spain–but not in Germany.
“Not in Germany.” There’s the rub. Normally, a nation such as Greece can quickly recover from debt-induced recession by devaluing its currency. Greece would become a dirt cheap tourist destination once more and its lower-cost exports would zoom, instantly increasing competitiveness. And that’s what Germany can’t allow. Germany lured other European nations into the euro in order to keep them from undercutting Germany’s prices in export markets.
Restricted by the 3% deficit rule, the only recourse left for Eurozone debtors: pay the piper with “austerity” measures.
Tsipras in Wonderland
So therein lies the lie. Tsipras tells his fellow Greeks that we can live in a Looking Glass world, where we can have our euro and eat it too; that we can stay handcuffed to the euro but run free without austerity.
The nonsense continues: Following the announcement of the official results of the referendum on Sunday night, Tsipras tweeted that the Greek electorate voted for a “Europe of solidarity and democracy,” while the now-resigned finance minister Varoufakis tweeted that “Greece’s place in the Eurozone is non-negotiable,” claiming that he would not allow the “only alternative,” the old drachma trading alongside the euro.
SYRIZA’s euro-fetish was already evident in its pre-referendum proposals to the IMF and European Bank, a 47-page document which included 8 billion euros in new austerity measures plus a new round of sell-offs of state industries, the maintenance of a primary surplus of 1% this year which would increase in the coming years, the increase of the retirement age to 67, and making permanent the previously “temporary” taxes upon an already overtaxed populace. In Tsipras’ own proposal, there was no word of a debt write-down or stoppage of payments, despite the fact that the government’s own Debt Audit Commission announced on June 17 that the bulk of Greece’s debt is illegal, “odious,” and should not be paid.
Instead, Tsipras has come out in support of the IMF’s proposal for a mere 30% “debt haircut” and a 20-year grace period, effectively sweeping the problem under the rug. Greece is currently running a deficit, meaning that in order for the 1% surplus to be achieved, SYRIZA must cut, cut, cut. Exactly as Mundell and the supply-siders intended.
Death by “Reform”
Like Obama, Tsipras knows that cutting pensions, privatizing and closing industries, slashing wages — in other words, “austerity” — or, to use the latest jargon, “reform” — is not just cruel, it’s plain stupid: it can only push a nation in recession into depression.
That’s not just theory. The Troika (the European Central Bank, IMF and European Commission) first imposed their vicious austerity measures on Greece in 2010. Greeks watched their annual salaries plummet to half of a German’s paycheck. Greece’s supposedly generous pensions have been cut eight times during the crisis, while two-thirds of pensioners live below the poverty line. Everything from Greece’s airports to harbors, the national lottery to prime publicly-owned real estatewas sold off, while schools and hospitals were shuttered.
And, for the first time since World War II, widespread starvation had returned. 500,000 children in Greece are said to be malnourished. Students fainting from hunger in frigid schools which cannot afford heating oil is now a common phenomenon.
This cruel “belt tightening,” the Troika promised, would restore Greece’s economy by 2012 (and then 2013, 2014, and 2015). In reality, unemployment went from a terrible 12.5% in 2010 to a horrendous 25.6% today.
Now, the Troika demands more of the same, a continuation of this disastrous policy.
Crashing into Africa?
Meanwhile, following the referendum result which made him a hero, finance minister Varoufakis resigned. Ironically, while Varoufakis rubbed German officials the wrong way with his unorthodox style, he, too, maintained the pro-euro myth. Previous austerity measures continued under his watch. To please the mad austerity masters, he said he would “squeeze blood from a stone” to repay the IMF–which he did in May, when all remaining funds in the Greek Treasury were rounded up by presidential decree to make that month’s IMF loan payment. Varoufakis was so wedded to the euro that he claimed that Greece would be unable to print its old currency, the drachma, because we destroyed our currency printing presses when we joined the euro. In fact, the government’s banknote printing facility in Athens still operates, printing the 10-euro note.
Meanwhile, our future flees. A quarter million university graduates have abandoned our nation. They have no choice: unemployment for those under 25 has hit 48.6%.
I know that many Greeks, Cypriots, Italians and Portuguese all express a visceral fear of leaving the euro. Depending on which polls one chooses to believe, anywhere from a near-majority to an overwhelming majority of Greeks wish to remain in the euro at all costs. From the hysterical statements I heard from some Greeks that, “We cannot leave Europe!”, you’d think that dropping the euro will cause Greece to break off at the Albanian border and crash into Africa.
It would be refreshing to hear political leaders say the honest economic truth: “Workers of Europe unite! You have nothing to lose but the euro–and your chains.”
Michael Nevradakis is host of Dialogos Radio in Athens.
The Greek edition of Greg Palast’s book, Vultures’ Picnic, will soon be released by Livanis Publishing.
About Greg Palast
Author of the New York Times and international bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse, Palast is Patron of the Trinity College Philosophical Society, an honor previously held by Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde.
Palast turned his skills to journalism after two decades as a top investigator of corporate fraud and racketeering. Palast’s reports appear on BBC’s Newsnight and in Britain’s Guardian, Rolling Stone and Harper’s.
Palast is best known as the investigative reported who uncovered how Katherine Harris purged thousands of African-Americans from Florida’s voter rolls in the 2000 Presidential Election.
Palast directed the US government’s largest racketeering case in history–winning a $4.3 billion jury award. He also conducted the investigation of the Exxon Valdez on behalf of the Alaskan Natives.
Palast is recipient of the George Orwell Courage in Journalism Prize for his BBC television documentary, Bush Family Fortunes.
Greg Palast’s newest book, Vultures’ Picnic will be released by Penguin Books in November of 2011. Find out more info at VulturesPicnic.org
Posted by Ainhoa Aristizabal
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