Grexit

The Syndicate takes over Greece

Off the keyboard of Yanis Varoufakis

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Published on Yanis Varoufakis Blog on July 22, 2015

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Europe’s Vindictive Privatization Plan for Greece – Project Syndicate

For the Project Syndicate site click here. Or…

ATHENS – On July 12, the summit of eurozone leaders dictated its terms of surrender to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who, terrified by the alternatives, accepted all of them. One of those terms concerned the disposition of Greece’s remaining public assets.

Eurozone leaders demanded that Greek public assets be transferred to a Treuhand-like fund – a fire-sale vehicle similar to the one used after the fall of the Berlin Wall to privatize quickly, at great financial loss, and with devastating effects on employment all of the vanishing East German state’s public property.

This Greek Treuhand would be based in – wait for it – Luxembourg, and would be run by an outfit overseen by Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, the author of the scheme. It would complete the fire sales within three years. But, whereas the work of the original Treuhand was accompanied by massive West German investment in infrastructure and large-scale social transfers to the East German population, the people of Greece would receive no corresponding benefit of any sort.
Euclid Tsakalotos, who succeeded me as Greece’s finance minister two weeks ago, did his best to ameliorate the worst aspects of the Greek Treuhand plan. He managed to have the fund domiciled in Athens, and he extracted from Greece’s creditors (the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) the important concession that the sales could extend to 30 years, rather than a mere three. This was crucial, for it will permit the Greek state to hold undervalued assets until their price recovers from the current recession-induced lows.
Alas, the Greek Treuhand remains an abomination, and it should be a stigma on Europe’s conscience. Worse, it is a wasted opportunity.

The plan is politically toxic, because the fund, though domiciled in Greece, will effectively be managed by the troika. It is also financially noxious, because the proceeds will go toward servicing what even the IMF now admits is an unpayable debt. And it fails economically, because it wastes a wonderful opportunity to create homegrown investments to help counter the recessionary impact of the punitive fiscal consolidation that is also part of the July 12 summit’s “terms.”
It did not have to be this way. On June 19, I communicated to the German government and to the troika an alternative proposal, as part of a document entitled “Ending the Greek Crisis”:

“The Greek government proposes to bundle public assets (excluding those pertinent to the country’s security, public amenities, and cultural heritage) into a central holding company to be separated from the government administration and to be managed as a private entity, under the aegis of the Greek Parliament, with the goal of maximizing the value of its underlying assets and creating a homegrown investment stream. The Greek state will be the sole shareholder, but will not guarantee its liabilities or debt.”

The holding company would play an active role readying the assets for sale. It would “issue a fully collateralized bond on the international capital markets” to raise €30-40 billion ($32-43 billion), which, “taking into account the present value of assets,” would “be invested in modernizing and restructuring the assets under its management.”
The plan envisaged an investment program of 3-4 years, resulting in “additional spending of 5% of GDP per annum,” with current macroeconomic conditions implying “a positive growth multiplier above 1.5,” which “should boost nominal GDP growth to a level above 5% for several years.” This, in turn, would induce “proportional increases in tax revenues,” thereby “contributing to fiscal sustainability, while enabling the Greek government to exercise spending discipline without further shrinking the social economy.”

In this scenario, the primary surplus (which excludes interest payments) would “achieve ‘escape velocity’ magnitudes in absolute as well as percentage terms over time.” As a result, the holding company would “be granted a banking license” within a year or two, “thus turning itself into a full-fledged Development Bank capable of crowding in private investment to Greece and of entering into collaborative projects with the European Investment Bank.”

The Development Bank that we proposed would “allow the government to choose which assets are to be privatized and which not, while guaranteeing a greater impact on debt reduction from the selected privatizations.” After all, “asset values should increase by more than the actual amount spent on modernization and restructuring, aided by a program of public-private partnerships whose value is boosted according to the probability of future privatization.”

Our proposal was greeted with deafening silence. More precisely, the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers and the troika continued to leak to the global media that the Greek authorities had no credible, innovative proposals on offer – their standard refrain. A few days later, once the powers-that-be realized that the Greek government was about to capitulate fully to the troika’s demands, they saw fit to impose upon Greece their demeaning, unimaginative, and pernicious Treuhand model.
At a turning point in European history, our innovative alternative was thrown into the dustbin. It remains there for others to retrieve.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/greece-privatization-plan-public-assets-by-yanis-varoufakis-2015-07#HHZZL9E3voHpScF5.99

Greek Debt Deal Collapsing

Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder

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Published on The Economic Collapse on July 14, 2015

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The ‘Greek Debt Deal’ Is Already Starting To Fall Apart

The “deal that was designed to fail” has already begun to unravel.  The IMF, which was expected to provide a big chunk of the financing, has indicated that it may walk away from the deal unless Greece is granted extensive debt relief.  This is something that the Germans and their allies have resolutely refused to do.  Meanwhile, outrage is pouring in from all over Europe regarding what the Greek government is being forced to do to their own people.  Most of this anger is being directed at the Germans, but the truth is that without German money the Greek banking system and the Greek economy will completely and utterly collapse.  So even though Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras admits that this is a deal that he does not believe in, he is attempting to get it pushed through the Greek parliament, and we should know on Wednesday whether he was successful or not.  But even if the Greek parliament approves it, we could still see either the German or the Finnish parliaments reject it.  It seems as though nobody is really happy with this deal, and these negotiations have exposed very deep divisions within Europe.  Could this be the beginning of the end for the eurozone?

The Germans appear to believe that they can push the Greeks out of the eurozone and that everything will be okay somehow.  This is something that I wrote about extensively yesterday, and it turns out that a lot of other prominent voices agree with me.  For example, just consider what Paul Krugman of the New York Times had to say about this.  I am kind of amazed that he finally got something right…

Suppose you consider Tsipras an incompetent twerp. Suppose you dearly want to see Syriza out of power. Suppose, even, that you welcome the prospect of pushing those annoying Greeks out of the euro.

Even if all of that is true, this Eurogroup list of demands is madness. The trending hashtag ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief. It is, presumably, meant to be an offer Greece can’t accept; but even so, it’s a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.

Greece desperately wants to stay in the euro, and they desperately want money from the rest of Europe to keep coming in.  At this point, they will agree to just about anything to keep from getting booted out of the common currency.  That is why the Germans and their allies had to make the deal so horrible.  They were attempting to find some way to make things so harsh on the Greeks that they would finally choose to walk away.

And to a certain extent it seems to be working.  Even some members of Syriza are publicly declaring that they are going to vote against this package.  The following comes from the Washington Post

Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads a hard-line leftist faction within Syriza, said in a statement Tuesday that the country’s creditors had “acted like cold-blooded blackmailers and economic assassins.”

Yet he also took indirect aim at Tsipras, calling on the Greek prime minister to reverse himself and tear up the agreement, which he described as a violation of the party’s ideals.

Even if Tsipras can pass the deal in Parliament, as he is expected to do, Lafazanis vowed that the Greek people would “annul it through their unity and struggle.”

Right now, the vote looks like it could be quite close.  Even though Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras has publicly admitted that this is a deal that “I do not believe in“, he is really pushing hard to get the votes that he needs.  In fact, according to Reuters he has been actively reaching out to opposition parties to secure votes…

Having staved off a financial meltdown, Tsipras has until Wednesday night to pass measures tougher than those rejected in a referendum days ago. With as many as 30-40 hardliners in his own ranks expected to mutiny, Tsipras will likely need the support of pro-European opposition parties to muster the 151 votes he needs to pass the law in parliament.

But even if this deal gets through parliament, it is highly questionable whether Greece will actually be able to do what is being required of them.  For instance, the 50 billion euro “privatization fund” seems to be something of a pipe dream

Privatisation agency Taiped has put out to tender assets with a nominal value of 7.7 billion euros since 2011, but has cashed in only just over 3.0 billion euros, according to 2014 figures.

On June 26 even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), one of Greece’s creditors, raised eyebrows over the idea of raking in lots of money from privatisations.

It stressed that the sale of public banking assets was supposed to raise tens of billions of euros but it was “highly unlikely that these proceeds will materialise” considering the high levels of nonperforming loans in the banking system.

It said that realistically only 500 million euros of proceeds were likely to materialise each year — at which rate it would take around 100 years to reach the 50 billion euro goal.

For the moment, though, let’s assume that the Greek parliament agrees to these demands and that by some miracle the Greek government can find a way to do everything that is being required of them.

And for the moment, let’s assume that this deal is approved by both the German and Finnish parliaments.

Even if everything else goes right, this deal can still be killed by the IMF

The International Monetary Fund has sent its strongest signal that it may walk away from Greece’s new bailout programme, arguing in a confidential analysis that the country’s debt is skyrocketing and budget surplus targets set by Athens cannot be achieved, reports FT.

In the three-page memo, sent to EU authorities at the weekend and obtained by FT, the IMF said the recent turmoil in the Greek economy would lead debt to peak at close to 200 percent of economic output over the next two years. At the start of the eurozone crisis, Athens’ debt stood at 127 percent.

In order for the IMF to participate in this new Greek bailout, the IMF must deem Greek debt to be sustainable.  And at this point that does not appear to be the case

Under its rules, the IMF is not allowed to participate in a bailout if a country’s debt is deemed unsustainable and there is no prospect of it returning to private bond markets for financing. The IMF has bent its rules to participate in previous Greek bailouts, but the memo suggests it can no longer do so.

But the Germans made it very clear that there would be no bailout unless the IMF was involved.

So what would satisfy the IMF?

The IMF study seems to indicate that massive debt relief for Greece would be required.  The following comes from Reuters

The study, seen by Reuters, said European countries would have to give Greece a 30-year grace period on servicing all its European debt, including new loans, and a dramatic maturity extension. Or else they must make annual transfers to the Greek budget or accept “deep upfront haircuts” on existing loans.

Needless to say, those kinds of concessions are anathema to the Germans.  There is no way that anything like that could ever get through the German parliament.

But to be honest, the Germans never intended for this deal to be successful anyway.  Just consider what German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble told reporters on Tuesday

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble made clear in Brussels on Tuesday that some members of the Berlin government think it would make more sense for Athens to leave the euro zone temporarily rather than take another bailout.

This is what Schauble and his allies have wanted all along.  This entire “deal” was crafted with the intent of creating conditions under which Greece could be forced out of the euro.

By this time tomorrow, we should know what the Greek parliament is going to do.  However, that won’t be the end of the story.  One way or another, the Germans are going to get their wish.  But once they do, I think that they will be quite surprised by the chaos that is unleashed.

Yanis Varoufakis Intervention

Off the keyboard of Yanis Varoufakis

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Published on Yanis Varoufakis Blog on June 28, 2015

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As it happened – Yanis Varoufakis’ intervention during the 27th June 2015 Eurogroup Meeting

The Eurogroup Meeting of 27th June 2015 will not go down as a proud moment in Europe’s history. Ministers turned down the Greek government’s request that the Greek people should be granted a single week during which to deliver a Yes or No answer to the institutions’ proposals – proposals crucial for Greece’s future in the Eurozone. The very idea that a government would consult its people on a problematic proposal put to it by the institutions was treated with incomprehension and often with disdain bordering on contempt. I was even asked: “How do you expect common people to understand such complex issues?”. Indeed, democracy did not have a good day in yesterday’s Eurogroup meeting! But nor did European institutions. After our request was rejected, the Eurogroup President broke with the convention of unanimity (issuing a statement without my consent) and even took the dubious decision to convene a follow up meeting without the Greek minister, ostensibly to discuss the “next steps”. 

Can democracy and a monetary union coexist? Or must one give way? This is the pivotal question that the Eurogroup has decided to answer by placing democracy in the too-hard basket. So far, one hopes.

 

Intervention by Yanis Varoufakis, 27th June 2015 Eurogroup Meeting

Colleagues,

In our last meeting (25th June) the institutions tabled their final offer to the Greek authorities, in response to our proposal for a Staff Level Agreement (SLA) as tabled on 22nd June (and signed by Prime Minister Tsipras). After long, careful examination, our government decided that, unfortunately, the institutions’ proposal could not be accepted. In view of how close we have come to the 30th June deadline, the date when the current loan agreement expires, this impasse of grave concern to us all and its causes must be thoroughly examined.

We rejected the institutions’ 25th June proposals because of a variety of powerful reasons. The first reason is the combination of austerity and social injustice they would impose upon a population devastated already by… austerity and social injustice. Even our own SLA proposal (22nd June) is austerian, in a bid to placate the institutions and thus come closer to an agreement. Only our SLA attempted to shift the burden of this renewed austerian onslaught to those more able to afford it – e.g. by concentrating on increasing employer contributions to pension funds rather than on reducing the lowest of pensions. Nonetheless, even our SLA contains many parts that Greek society rejects.

So, having pushed us hard to accept substantial new austerity, in the form of absurdly large primary surpluses (3.5% of GDP over the medium term, albeit somewhat lower than the unfathomable number agreed to by previous Greek governments – i.e. 4.5%), we ended up having to make recessionary trade-offs between, on the one hand, higher taxes/charges in an economy where those who pay their dues pay through the nose and, on the other, reductions in pensions/benefits in a society already devastated by massive cuts in basic income support for the multiplying needy.

Let me say colleagues what we had already conveyed to the institutions on 22nd June, as we were tabling our own proposals: Even this SLA, the one we were proposing, would be extremely onerous to pass through Parliament, given the level of recessionary measures and austerity it entailed. Unfortunately, the institutions’ response was to insist on even more recessionary (aka parametric) measures (e.g. increasing VAT on hotels from 6% to 23%!) and, worse still, on shifting the burden massively from business to the weakest members of society (e.g. to reduce the lowest of pensions, to remove support for farmers, to postpone ad infinitum legislation that offers some protection to badly exploited workers).

The institutions new proposals, as expressed in their 25th June SLA/Prior Actions document, would make a politically problematic package – from the perspective of our Parliament – into a package that would extremely difficult to push through our Parliamentary caucus. But this is not all. It gets worse much worse than that once we take a look at the proposed financing package.

What makes it impossible to pass the institutions’ proposal through Parliament is the lack of an answer to the question: Will these painful measures at least give us a period of tranquillity during which to carry out the agreed reforms and measures? Will a shock of optimism counter the recessionary effect of the extra fiscal consolidation that is being imposed on a country that has been in recession for 21 consecutive quarters? The answer is clear: No, the institutions’ proposal is offering no such prospect.

This is why: The proposed funding for the next 5 months (see below for a breakdown) is problematic in a variety of ways:

First, it makes no provision for the state’s arrears, caused by five months of making payments without disbursements and of falling tax revenues as a result of the constant threat of Grexit that has been wafting in the air, so to speak.

Secondly, the idea of cannibalising the HFSF in order to repay the ECB’s SMP-era bonds constitutes a clear and present danger: These monies were earmarked, correctly, for strengthening Greece’s fragile banks, possibly through an operation that deals with their mountainous NPLs that eat into their capitalisation. The answer I have been given by senior ECB officials, whose name will remain unsaid, is that, if need be, the HFSF will be replenished to cope with the banks’ capitalisation needs. And who will do the replenishing? The ESM, is the answer I was given. But, and this is a gigantic but, this is not part of the proposed deal and, moreover, it could not be part of the deal as the institutions have no mandate to commit the ESM in this manner – as I am sure Wolfgang will remind us all. And, moreover, if such a new arrangement could be made, why then is our sensible, moderate, proposal of a new ESM facility for Greece that helps shift SMP liability from the ECB to the ESM not discussed? The answer “we will not discuss it because we will not discuss it” will be very hard for me to convey to my Parliament, together with another package of austerity.

Thirdly, the proposed disbursements’ schedule is a minefield of reviews – one per month – that will ensure two things. First, that the Greek government will be immersed every day, every week in the review process for five long months. And well before these five months expire, we shall enter into another tedious negotiation over the next program – since there is nothing in the institutions’ proposal capable of inspiring even the faintest of hopes that at the end of this new extension Greece can stand on its own two feet.

Fourthly, given that it is abundantly clear that our debt will remain unsustainable by the end of the year, and that market access will remain as distant then as it is now, the IMF cannot be counted upon to disburse its share, the 3.5 billion that the institutions are counting as part of the funding package on the table.

These are solid reasons why our government does not consider it has a mandate to accept the institutions’ proposal or to use its majority in Parliament in order to push it through and onto the statutes.

At the same time, we do not have a mandate to turn down the institutions’ proposals either, cognizant of the critical moment in history we find ourselves in. Our party received 36% of the vote and the government as a whole commanded a little more than 40%. Fully aware of how weighty our decision is, we feel obliged to put the institutions’ proposal to the people of Greece. We shall endeavour to spell out to them fully what a Yes to the Institutions’ Proposal means, to do the same regarding a No vote, and then let them decide. For our part we shall accept the people’s verdict and will do whatever it takes to implement it – one way or another.

Some worry that a Yes vote would be a vote of no confidence in our government (as we shall be recommending a No vote), in which case we cannot promise to the Eurogroup that we shall be in a position to sign and implement the agreement with the institutions. This is not so. We are committed democrats. If the people gives us a clear instruction to sign up on the institutions’ proposals, we shall do whatever it takes to do so – even if it means a reconfigured government.

Colleagues, the referendum solution is optimal for all, given the constraints we face.

  • If our government were to accept the institutions’ offer today, promising to push it through Parliament tomorrow, we would be defeated in Parliament with the result of a new election being called within a very long month – then, the delay, the uncertainty and the prospects of a successful resolution would be much, much diminished
  • But even if we managed to pass the institutions’ proposal through Parliament, we would be facing a major problem of ownership and implementation. Put simply, just as in the past the governments that pushed through policies dictated by the institutions could not carry the people with them, we too would fail to do so.

On the question that will be put to the Greek people, much has been said about what it should be. Many of you tell us, advise us, instruct us even, that we should make it a Yes or No question on the euro. Let me be clear on this. First, the question was formulated by the Cabinet and has just been passed through Parliament – and it is “Do you accept the institutions’ proposal as it was presented to us on 25th June in the Eurogroup?” This is the only pertinent question. If we had accepted that proposal two days ago, we would have had a deal. The Greek government is now asking the electorate to answer the question you put it to me Jeroen – especially when you said, and I quote, “you can consider this, if you wish, a take or leave it proposal”. Well, this is how we took it and we are now honouring the institutions and the Greek people by asking the latter to deliver a clear answer on the institutions’ proposal.

To those who say that, effectively, this is a referendum on the euro, my answer is: You may very well say this but I shall not comment. This is your judgement, your opinion, your interpretation. Not ours! There is a logic to your view but only if there is an implicit threat that a No from the Greek people to the institutions’ proposal will be followed up by moves to eject Greece, illegally, out of the euro. Such a threat would not be consistent with basic principles of European democratic governance and European Law.

To those who instruct us to phrase the referendum question as a euro-drachma dilemma, my answer is crystal clear: European Treaties make provisions for an exit from the EU. They do not make any provisions for an exit from the Eurozone. With good reason, of course, as the indivisibility of our Monetary Union is part of its raison d’ etre. To ask us to phrase the referendum question as a choice involving exit from the Eurozone is to ask us to violate EU Treaties and EU Law. I suggest to anyone who wants us, or anyone else, to hold a referendum on EMU membership to recommend a change in the Treaties.

Colleagues,

It is time to take stock. The reason we find ourselves in the present conundrum is one: Our government’s primary proposal to you and the institutions, which I articulated here in the Eurogroup in my first ever intervention, was never taken seriously. It was the suggestion that common ground be created between the prevailing MoU and our new government’s program. For a fleeting moment, the 20th February Eurogroup statement raised the prospect of such common ground – as it made no reference to the MoU and concentrated on a new reform list by our government that would be put to the institutions.

Regrettably, immediately after the 20th of February the institutions, and most of colleagues in this room, sought to bring the MoU back to the centre, and to reduce our role in marginal changes within the MoU. It is as if we were told, to paraphrase Henry Ford, that we could have any reform list, any agreement, as long as it was the MoU. Common ground was thus sacrificed in favour of imposing upon our government a humiliating retreat. This is my view. But it is not important now. Now it is up to the Greek people to decide.

Our task, in today’s Eurogroup, ought to be to pave the ground for a smooth passage to the referendum of 5th July. This means one thing: that our loan agreement be extended by a few weeks so that the referendum takes place in conditions of tranquillity. Immediately after 5th July, if the people have voted Yes, the institutions’ proposal will be signed. Until then, during the next week, as the referendum approaches, any deviation from normality, especially in the banking sector, will be invariably interpreted as an attempt to coerce Greek voters. Greek society has paid a hefty price, through huge fiscal contraction, in order to be part of our monetary union. But a democratic monetary union that threatens a people about to deliver their verdict with capital controls and bank closures is a contradiction in terms. I would like to think that the Eurogroup will respect this principle. As for the ECB, the custodian on our monetary stability and of the Union itself, I have no doubt that, if the Eurogroup takes a responsible decision today to accept the request for an extension of our loan agreement that I am now tabling, it will do what it takes to give the Greek people a few more days to express their opinion.

Colleagues, these are critical moments and the decisions we make are momentous. In years to come we may well be asked “Where were you on the 27th of June? And what did you do to avert what happened? At the very least we should be able to say that: We gave the people who live under the worst depression a chance to consider their options. We tried democracy as a means of breaking a deadlock. And we did what it took to give them a few days to do so.

POSTSCRIPT – The day the Eurogroup President broke with the tradition of unanimity and excluded Greece from a Eurogroup gathering at will

Following my intervention (see above) the Eurogroup President rejected our request for an extension, with the support of the rest of the members, and announced that the Eurogroup would be issuing a statement placing the burden of this impasse on Greece and suggesting that the 18 ministers (that is the 19 Eurozone finance ministers except the Greek minister) reconvene later to discuss ways and means of protecting themselves from the fallout.

At that point I asked for legal advice, from the secretariat, on whether a Eurogroup statement can be issued without the conventional unanimity and whether the President of the Eurogroup can convene a meeting without inviting the finance minister of a Eurozone member-state. I received the following extraordinary answer: “The Eurogroup is an informal group. Thus it is not bound by Treaties or written regulations. While unanimity is conventionally adhered to, the Eurogroup President is not bound to explicit rules.” I let the reader comment on this remarkable statement.

For my part, I concluded as follows:

Colleagues, refusing to extend the loan agreement for a few weeks, and for the purpose of giving the Greek people an opportunity to deliberate in peace and quiet on the institutions’ proposal, especially given the high probability that they will accept these proposals (contrary to our government’s advice), will damage permanently the credibility of the Eurogroup as a democratic decision making body comprising partner states sharing not only a common currency but also common values.

 

PRESS CONFERENCE PRESENTATION IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE 27th JUNE 2015 EUROGROUP MEETING

History in Free Verse

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation June 22, 2015
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History might not rhyme, exactly, but it’s not bad for free verse. Greece is this century’s Serbia — a tiny, picturesque backwater nation blundering haplessly into the center stage of geopolitics. And the European Union is, whaddaya know, Germany in drag, on financial steroids.

Nobody knows what will happen next in the struggle to wring some kind of debt repayment promises out of poor Greece. Without “restructuring” — a virtual national bankruptcy proceeding — there can be no plausible promises of repayment. Both sides seem to have exhausted their abilities to juke their way out. The European Union and its wing-men at the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can only pretend to kick that fabled can down the road because it has turned into a cement-filled 50-gallon drum. The Greek government can only pretend to further dismantle its civil service and pension systems lest angry citizens toss it out and replace it with a new government, perhaps an ugly and pugnacious one made up of Golden Dawn party Nazis.

In the background, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and perhaps even France wait without peeping to see if Greece is allowed to restructure, because you can be sure they will demand the same privilege to debt relief. But that’s hardly possible because the ECB has been engineering a shift of debt-holding away from the big corporate banks  — which made all the stupid loans — to the taxpayers of their member states, especially Germany, which stands to be the biggest bag-holder when a contagion of serial default seeps across the continent.

This implies, of course, that along the way to that outcome something sickening happens to the price of all the bonds that the debt is embodied in. Namely, its value craters for the simple reason that the threat of non-payment makes interest rates shoot up to reflect the actualization of risk. That would certainly set off the booby-trap of derivative interest rate swaps and credit default swaps that have been laid into history’s greatest financial minefield. Thus, the big banks that were supposedly shielded by the ECB shell game of Hide the Debt Pea Somewhere Else, will blow up in a daisy-chain of unpayable obligations.

The net effect of all that will be the disappearance of nominal wealth — it crosses an event horizon into a black hole never to be seen again. The continent discovers it is a lot poorer than it thought. Fifty years of financial engineering comes to the grief it deserves for promoting the idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing.

The same thing more or less awaits the USA, China, and Japan. For the USA in particular the signs of bankruptcy have been starkly visible for a long time outside the bubble regions of New York, Washington, and San Francisco. You see it in the amazing decrepitude of the built environment — the cities and towns left for dead, the struggling suburban strip malls tenanted if at all by wig shops and check-cashing operations, the rusted bridges, pot-holed highways, the Third World style train service. Most sickeningly you see it in a population of formerly earnest, hard-working, basically-educated people with hopes and dreams transformed into a hopeless moiling underclass of tattooed savages dressed in baby clothes devoting their leisure hours (i.e. all their time) to drug-seeking and the erasure of sexual boundaries.

That shocking social and political bankruptcy has, so far, acted as the sinkhole for all America’s financial degeneracy and the entropy it generates. The financial class (the 1 percent who own 40-plus percent of the financialized economy) must think it’s immune to the consequences of its activities, namely racketeering of one kind or another — criminal misconduct and accounting fraud in the service of money-grubbing. They must truly believe that risk has been offloaded into the ring-fenced concentration camps of capital: the derivatives pools. But risk, like rust, never sleeps and can’t be so easily contained. The obstreperous claims of debt only die down with the acknowledged disappearance of wealth, as when a bottom-feeding collection agency attempts to collect a few cents on the dollar of a car loan gone bad.

The US Federal Reserve, like the European Central Bank, sits atop a vault of bonds representing a colossal aggregate promise to repay debt that can never be repaid. Their loss of value will come to be seen for what it is: the disappearance of national wealth. We’ll have our moment, too, when the 50-gallon can full of cement can’t be kicked down the road another inch. It might come when Europe sets the example for a loss of faith in a system run to crime and rot.

 

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Greek Deadline Fatigue

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on April 24, 2015

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Greece: Deadline fatigue is in danger of boring us all to death

I went for a long lie down in a cool room this afternoon after a morning full of chores, followed by a lunchtime laying gravel, and then bordering it with rocks the size of Earth-threatening asteroids.

All of this, I’m here to tell you, was less tiring than Deadline Fatigue – a new board-game for all the family invented by the Eurogroupe-Varoufakis-IMF Toy Company.

I’m up and about again now, preparing dinner while lighting the fire-pit outside because the weather’s gone a little grey and chilly here. Things also seem to have gone a little chilly in the ‘tough’ negotiations between sound economics on the one hand, and Jeroboam Drivelclown on the other. Tough or not, this ridiculous paint-drying championship could have been predicted from Day One.

I shrink, as always, from the limelight; but as it happens, The Slog did piss off just about everyone at the outset by suggesting there were no grounds at all for optimism on the subject of compromise.

I posted this gentle mickey-take on the chances of building bridges between Frankfurt and Athens last January 28th. What followed was obduracy after obduracy: the Draghi/Schauble ambush of Yanis Varoufakis in late February, and the rise and rise of their Dutch bumboy Dieselbang…with Pristine Lowgrade joining the ‘non’ tendency despite a Varoufakis attempt to charm the charmless.

The timeline, as one looks back now, really is almost funny: Greece must default on February 26th, then March 11th, then March24th, then April 14th. Reuters might just as well have had a daily column called ‘Another day, another deadline’.

All this week we’ve been fed with spin about ‘rapid progress being made’, but today’s free-for-all presser was nothing more than a statement of the obvious: the two sides are no nearer a compromise today than they were almost three months ago to the day.

The following realities need to be borne in mind in this poker marathon:

1. The weak card in the Syriza hand is without doubt that they have a mandate to tell Brussels to piss off, but not to take Greece out of the euro.

2. Over 50% of all Greeks believe they could be kicked out of the euro, although legally this is an impossibility.

3. The weak card in the Troika2 hand is that – despite what the markets might suggest now – the reality of a Greek default within the eurozone is that discontent contagion will swiftly follow….and whether or not that’s reflected immediately in bond yield spikes is neither here nor there. The markets would have to be deficient in all the primary senses not to spot that rebellion on such a scale spelt the end of the euro.

4. If Troika2 really was comfortable with the idea of Greek default, they would’ve engineered it by now: you are a boxer and you have the other guy on the ropes….do you just tickle him under the armpits and spin things out until the bell goes for the end of the round? I think not. Bear in mind that twice now, Draghi has continued to drip feed ELA funds to Greek banks. It is a very odd general indeed who plays to keep his enemies in the game.

5. Far away to the West, we are a little over 12 days away from the UK General Election. Nigel Farage is very excited because a new poll in the constituency he’s fighting – Thanet – puts him nine points clear…when just two weeks ago he looked in danger of losing. This is Nigel looking very excited:

nigelexcited24415Nigel gets excited by almost anything…a media crew, a flood, a camel hair coat, a pint of Old Scrotum and so on. But if there really is a Ukip surge about to take off, while it is highly unlikely to deliver more than four seats in total, this will nevertheless represent a third front opening against beleaguered Brussels-am-Berlin: not only an austerity rebellion in Greece and euro rebellions in Italy and Spain, but suddenly an EU rebellion in Britain. Marine Le Pen in France may very well intensify in the nightmare in two years time.

I do think now that the time is long past when anyone can credibly raise an argument to say that Master Tactician Yanis Varoufakis knows exactly what he’s up to, and every step is carefully planned: as I have written before, Yanis overestimated the leverage available to produce a compromise, and Troika2 drastically underestimated the unwillingness of the Greek electorate to buy into any more “serves you right” bollocks.

I still believe that in late February Varoufakis should have revealed the Eurogroupe perfidy and walked away from the ambush. But all this is now water under the bridge. The reality is that if a deal were to be reached now, it would have zero credibility in the markets, and a Syriza having done that deal would have zero electoral credibility at home.

Yanis thought it necessary to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Syriza was holding an olive branch, whereas the Troikanauts were wielding baseball bats. I suspect this was the truth: but it’s not the way the Western MSM have portrayed it.

The only honourable path ahead for Tsipras and Varoufakis now is to say, “Right – do your worst: we are not going to accept your neoliberal crap thinly disguised as “reform”. We will default inside the eurozone: let’s see how you like them apples”.

Exposing the Euro Clowns

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on April 10, 2015

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EXPOSED: The reason why none of us can be sure what’s going on in the EU v Greece yawn

merkmario1pt

When there is only cacophony, nobody can follow the tune

I’ve posted many times before about why a neolib minority constantly dissembles to confuse: there is so little ‘truth’ behind their ridiculous socio-economic and fiscal theories, they have no choice but to do what they do.

The same thing applies to the European Union, the ideas behind which – non-sovereign federalisation and yet a single currency ambition – make no anthropological, banking, libertarian or Bond market sense at all.

But there is another reason why second-guessing what comes next in the EU has been an impossible task in recent years: the people allegedly running it (another Slog hobby-horse this) are split along several crucial dimensions. So apart from the banking lies and the let’s-rewrite-history school of mogul-lapdog tabloid journalism, we have this factor added to the witch’s brew: if they don’t know what’s going to happen next, how the hell are we supposed to speculate with any accuracy?

We are now, little by little, beginning to see the odd glimpse of holey stocking beneath the holy, long skirts of sanctimony pumped out by the various power points in Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris and Brussels. Even better, we can catch these glimpses…..and view them alongside what the BSDs – preparing for what they think is to come – put out their agenda in the media they own and/or influence.

This morning offers a classic example of this. The Americo-Austropathicus threat Rupert Murdoch puts out this version of the immediate future in his Times newspaper this morning:

‘….Eurozone countries are secretly drawing up plans to expel Greece from the European Union’s single currency as they prepare for the country to be declared bankrupt next month.

A memo drawn up by the finance ministry in Finland, which is closely allied to Germany, has revealed preparations for a Greek exit from the euro.

The document warns of “very difficult political decisions” this spring amid predictions that Greece will be bankrupt next month unless the eurozone agrees the next tranche of aid for it within the next three weeks.

Greece has been given until next Friday to come up with…..’

Here the message ends, the rest of it hidden behind Roop’s paywall – which continues not to get many people paying to climb over the wall. This is slightly different to the Telegraph, where the Barclay Twins peddle their corporate bias completely free, but both readers and journos are climbing a Berlin Wall in a desperate bid to get out.

But the tone is clear: Greece is a disaster area, they’re all scrounging mongrels, so like dogs they shall be kicked out of the house. Except of course this can’t happen legally without treaty change….so here we see more Turdcock readying the ground for something illegal that will be accepted by the Sleeple because they, er, read it in a quality newspaper recently or something and what should we download from Netflix tonight?

Here, Murdoch is doing the will of ECB boss Mario Draghi….because he agrees with what Mario and the Goldin Sacks lads see as the future.

But this is just one power centre. Wolf Street pointed out yesterday in another smart piece that the Jean-Claude Drunker view of the world is quite different, because he leads the EC – an unelected bedlam of corruption which is seeing its power rapidly eroded by the ECB and Berlin, plus the odd Weidbombe thrown in by Frankfurt.

This time, the road being followed conjures up an entirely different future…one in which the FuhrerJuncker’s Luxembourg will be left alone to pull every tax-evading bank stunt in the book, but those in the commercial sector will be asked to return to some vague version of recognised value.

We’ve been here before, but the subhead is ‘Clubmed banks no longer able to disguise loan made in 2002 to Tartan Paint Co Venezuela sa as an asset’. This is going to cause all kinds of mayhem in Greece, Italy, Portugal and especially Spain – where the practice has been used to suggest the banks are still solvent, when of course we all know they’re broke.

More importantly, although the ECB pays lip-service to reforming ezone banking accountancy, the EC policy will put it on a collision course with Mario Draghi.

But we don’t want to leave it like that, good God no – get a grip dear reader: this is the EU, where disaster must be meticulously planned to ensure that it moves from probable outcome to racing certainty.

And so we move on to Wolfgang Schauble the Secret Wheelchair Weapon…and Jens Weidmann, the Bundesbank’s Big Banana. While they share the ECB-Eurogroupe-Troika’s general approach – “Let’s blame Greece and show the markets we’re safe” – the Dutch Donkey Dijessilbloem is hated by the ECB because he’s a threat to their power….and despised by Weidmann as a fiscal lightweight. Dieselboom also has a tendency to blab, a trait which doesn’t endear him to Wolfie.

Where the two Germans chiefly differ from the rest of the pack is that they believe in fiscal and currency discipline – and of course, the ulltimate right of Berlin to run the Fiskalunion. Also their heads are stuck in 1923.

Two days ago, Weidmann went public again to say he did not think Greece should issue any more Treasury Bills – to help stave off the bankruptcy forced upon Greece by a Berlin-exaggerated problem and a Wall Street/Troika inspired infinite slavery repayment ‘programme’ – and he did not think QE was necessary. In short, real monetarism rules, OK.

I’m sorry to labour this point, but these are thus the three ‘strategies’ being proposed by ‘A United Europe’:

1. Greece should be kicked out (ECB)

2. Banks should be telling the truth about their balance sheet fraud (EC)

3. We should stop QE now and get Greece back in the programme at all costs (Germany)

Now, what we are not going to get is a debate followed by a decision, because this is The Fourth Reich, and we don’t do discussion…we do divide and rule. Also we have a crypto-Queen in Berlin who never makes any decisions until one eventuality or another is crystal clear. (The real sign to watch for is Frau Doktor Merkel moving her Chancellery fridge down into the bunker. Or Moscow. Or Frankfurt. Or Washington. Those wanting to have it all must “get on their bikes”).

What we will get is all three being followed at the same time. And this must involve a continuing QE blast alongside Greek forced exit from the eurozone (breaking the Lisbon Treaty on at least five counts) but still in the EU plus a contagion outwards towards Italy and Spain accelerated by the EC’s search for Beyond Basel III to come into force plus the German financial and fiscal power centres trying to effect the exact opposite on all fronts.

There are thus in turn three potential (ie, realistic) outcomes:

1. Chaos

2. Draghi & the Eurogroup cut off the EC’s balls, leaving Juncker as a very loose but fully-loaded cannon, and with a very high voice.

3. Merkel sides with the 1923 Tendency, and leaves the eurozone.

Many other related events will of course follow – and the above trio of troubles aren’t mutually exclusive. But my view remains the same as it was by the end of 2010: the euro is dead, and the EU is eating itself. Only Mario Draghi launching a putsch to get himself declared Supreme Emperor of Europe could stop the process.

That isn’t going to happen. Draghi’s view of chaos is “bring it on”….because down that road lies US domination of all european transactions. For in this, the epoch of Western decline, that is what the Looney Tunes on Wall Street, inside the State Department/CIA axis and in Texas want.

The bottom line: anything could happen, and nothing will change on the road to global corporatocracy.

Yet.

But eventually, top-down will collapse…as all flawed administrative processes do. And after the chaos, things will very slowly get better.

I end where I started. With too many factions wanting different things from the Greece deadlock – external and internal – the reason no clear interpretation of outcome is possible swings on the surreal 3D hinge of there being no united Sovereign, and little or no commonality of aims between the factions.

Greece: Is this the Syriza Game Plan?

Off the keyboard of John Ward

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Published on The Slog on March 6, 2015

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Does the master of game plans have a master plan?

yaniswolfieptMost people who’ve read George Orwell’s 1984 will remember the word ‘newspeak’ he gave to the habit Big Brother had of using one word to describe its antonym. Those suffering in southern and south-eastern Europe will be well aware by now that a consistent trick employed by neoliberals is to use the word reform to mean “go back 150 years”.

In this latest week of surreal mayhem, I’ve seen the term used by the FT, the Wall St Journal, the EC, Bloomberg, the Telegraph and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. They all mean the same thing – light regulation, lower taxes and greater wealth inequities; but applying them to Greece is, to say the least of it, surreal: taxed to hell by a Berlin driven Troika from the north – and sat upon by a crooked, wealthy oligarchy above who’ve never been regulated about anything – it’s hard to think of a more inequitable distribution of wealth than in that unfortunate country, given that half the population is skint, and half the young are jobless. In maths, filthy rich divided by zero = infinity. Infinity is it: there’s nothing bigger.

They surely cannot mean ‘reforming’ the oligarchy (although Syriza plan to obliterate it) because they’ve been the group favoured by the Troika from Day One. The Troika can’t have failed to notice that Veryzealous is also very fat with little piggy eyes, and little Antonikis an idiot; but that’s who they wanted on the team.

By ‘reform’, what they mean is selling State assets bought by and owned on behalf of The People to bankers and multinationals they represent in order to continue the greatest shift in social structure ever seen in modern times: the complete transfer of power from the citizen to banks and globalists. In a nutshell, the wealth of labour being given to capital. But not capital invested in an economy dedicated to the greatest contentment of the greatest number: no, to interbank trading, inventing money through the fractional reserve system, and making 1.5% of people unfeasibly rich.

The one gangster acting as top Capo for The Mob in this instance is Mario Draghi. The crooked guy in City Hall is Wolfgang Schauble, who doesn’t entirely trust the Capo. These two singularly unpleasant people led the austerity attack on Greece, and the Varoufakis ambush last Friday fortnight. Draghi is encouraging HNWIs in Athens to get their money out, while Schauble’s spooks spread rumours (alongside the CIA) throughout Greece – all of them suggesting that the Syriza government is just days away from default. They insist that Greece is staring down the barrel of Grexit, but it isn’t because nobody can do that….and the gun isn’t loaded.

So I ask again, why oh why didn’t this alleged master of Game Theory Yanis Varoufakis – who may be a narcissist, but is far from stupid – simply walk out of the ambush on that perfidious Friday?

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None of the excuses I’ve heard for Varoufakis’s behaviour make any sense at all to me. I’m told that, not being Greek, I don’t understand. I’m told he wanted to buy time. Before that I was told Yanis was shrewdly flying steerage all over the EU to get new adherents to the cause. But it isn’t working, is it?

So I’ve been ringing and asking and digging and hypothesising, and oddly enough it wasn’t long – eight days isn’t much time at all – before I arrived at what to me is the only explanation left that doesn’t brand Varoufakis a coward, and Alexis Tsipras the latest Tony Blair on the block. So herewith five points I think significant, from which some informed speculation and dot-joining can emerge.

1. Four months is a ridiculously short period of time to do anything on this scale: the pressure, rumours, financial tightening and orchestrated press speculation are merely there to keep Syriza’s head spinning. Ditto the ‘reforms’ which the Athens government clearly isn’t going to carry out, because they’re antithetical to the Party’s philosophy.

2. Syriza’s leaders know they can’t keep their faded rainbow of leftists in order for four months, during which nothing gets done. The whole thing nearly came off the rails Sunday fortnight when the Party grasped the extent of the Varoufakis climbdown.

3. Earlier this week, Syriza raised E1.3bn in restructuring bonds without any EU or ECB involvement. It’s a drop in the ocean, but it’s something Nia Demokratia never managed. It’s a start, and it suggests to me that the Greek government is dipping a toe in the water while demonstrating that maybe credit is not a closed shop for them after all. (It gives the lie, for instance, to a rather silly piece in The Economist today suggesting that Syriza’s ‘readiness to go so close to the edge has hurt the economy and brought the state close to bankruptcy’. Oh per-leeeez).

4. Yesterday – as the euro began to sink further into the quicksand – Draghi proved how weak his hand really is by raising the ELA limit for Greek banks: the week before last, if you recall, he was threatening to turn off the tap. Varoufakis cannot fail to have spotted this.

5. A senior and reliable London City contact (who would only talk off the record) told me last Tuesday, “The [Greek] crisis has raised doubts about the long-term survival of the euro hugely. Maybe it’s not the same in Berlin or New York, but on this floor the majority of us are absolutely certain that the Troika has far more to lose than the Greeks. Whether the Greeks realise that is another matter”. So in short, we have the neoliberal press insisting that Greece is in trouble, but the sharp end in the City telling the truth. Makes you think.

This is my imaginary piece, dated 7th September 2015, which might perhaps move somewhere nearer to an explanation of WTF is going on:

‘What the Troika – and especially the ECB – underestimated last February was Mr Varoufakis’s willingness to challenge the accepted shibboleths. Initially taken by surprise on Fatal Friday – and puzzled by the frequency with which his Party Leader Alex Tsipras was ringing Merkel in Berlin – on his return to Athens, both men quickly agreed that, while the EU was bluffing, as and when the euro got into trouble they would need a money supply from elsewhere….and they didn’t have that.

‘The ‘deal’ they brought back was a hard one to sell to Syriza, and this was only achieved by taking the most influential members into their confidence about the new Game Plan. This Varoufakis defined as “seeking and then demonstrating independence” – first of all to the markets, then to the media, and finally to the Greek people. Each Syriza minister was in turn briefed to start the sort of reforms the Government (not the Troika) wanted to enact, but muddy the waters with Brussels and Berlin about what shape the reform would actually take. “We must make hay while the sun shines,” he told one intimate, “we have four months of bailout – let’s spend within budget, but in the People’s favour”.

‘The two leaders were also gambling on some situations in the eurozone beyond Greece becoming unmanageable during the four-month interregnum. Austria was a surprise candidate, but by the end of March it was clear that France had no intention of meeting its budget targets or ‘reforming’ to get the deficit ‘down’. Even the suggestion of a Troika coming in ‘to help’ was greeted by howls from the Socialist hard Left and Marine LePen’s Far Right Front Nationale. The gigantic Franco-German split at the heart of the EU was becoming increasingly apparent: the markets were nervous, and the euro continued to tumble. France’s debt bonds spiked, forcing the ECB to surreptitiously buy lots of it. At this point, both the Bundesbank in Frankfurt and the Schauble tendency in Berlin came out of the closet, launching barely veiled attacks on Draghi – who was by now chucking QE at the situation in order to do for European stock markets and banks what three bouts of QE had achieved in the US.

‘As this story unfolded, Varoufakis continued to distance himself from eurozone insanity when talking to lenders. Astonishingly – by stressing that Greece would not get any QE – he made a compelling case for investment in Greece being almost a safe haven. “We will be accountable,” he told them, “the ECB won’t. Our real economic position won’t be hidden behind Draghi’s tricks. Remember how he subordinated you illegally in Cyprus?”

‘It was Italy, however, that changed every game. Already courting Russian support, Italian PM Renzi was also keen to be seen standing on his own two feet: eurosceptic support had been growing, and privately the Italian leader saw the ‘austerity programme’ as insane. But all plans were blown out of the water when (as in Austria) the ‘bad bank’ fantasy became a real live nightmare. Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan tried frantically throughout February to accelerate the planned hidey-hole for toxic loans, but the amount was massive even by eurozone standards: Italian banks were sitting on 330 billion euros of loans, the vast majority of which stood no chance of being repaid. The colossal sum was equivalent to a fifth of Italy’s gdp — and had trebled in seven years. This (added to an economy showing no sign of recovery) had by late April switched the lenders’ focus away from Greece towards both France and Italy. Bond yields began to spike….but less so in Greece.

‘When the next major Eurogroupe summit took place in mid-June, Greece remained illiquid – and in default on its IMF loans. But Christine Lagarde had been able – with help from Wall Street and Washington – to fudge the issue. Varoufakis, meanwhile, enjoyed not only irritating Dijessilbloem and Schauble on the Italian and French problems, but also to casually point out that the German electorate was up in arms – and switching in droves to the anti-euro Alternativ fur Deutschland. In turn, the acrimonious atmosphere between the ECB, Berlin and Paris was obvious. And finally, the UK election’s huge popular vote for the europhobic Ukip Party promised a Brexit from the EU within two years

‘The net result of this was hugely increased negotiating power for Athens. In secret session, Yanis Varoufakis cut an amazing deal whereby – in return for some secret ECB-funded debt relief – Greece would pay off 30% of the IMF loan with money raised on the markets….and come off the Bailout Programme within two months. Effectively, the Greek finance minister was offering Lagarde the chance to keep a clean sheet, and not to be a further problem for the already beleaguered EC-ECB axis. Varoufakis returned to Athens a national hero. Wolfgang Schauble, meanwhile, returned to Berlin…and suggested to both Jens Weidmann and Angela Merkel that it was time to go back to the Mark.

‘Two months on, nobody quite knows what either Greece or Germany will do next. But the fate of the euro seems to have been sealed’.

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Personally, I find this analysis sound, but unlikely. It can easily be dismissed as naively optimistic. But on the other hand, if this isn’t the Syriza game plan, then what the Hell are they up to?

The Anti-Empire Report #137

From the Keyboard of William Blum
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Illustration for Trends Journal by Anthony Freda

Illustration for Trends Journal by Anthony Freda

Published originally in The Anti-Empire Report February 23, 2015

The Greek Tragedy: Some things not to forget, which the new Greek leaders have not.

American historian D.F. Fleming, writing of the post-World War II period in his eminent history 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

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

 

How Goes the War?

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation February 16, 2015

Oh, you didn’t notice that World War Three is underway, actually has been for more than year? Well, that’s because most of it has been taking place in the banking sector, which for most people is just an alternative universe of math. The catch, which many people either miss or don’t care about, is that the math doesn’t add up.

For instance, the runaway choo-choo train of linked European sovereign bond obligations with its overloaded caboose of interest rate swaps and other janky derivatives of mass destruction. That train left the station in Athens a few weeks ago bound for Frankfurt. Ever since, the German government and its cohorts in the EU, the ECB, and the IMF have been issuing reassurances that the choo choo train will not blow up when it reaches its destination.

Few people grok that Greece is an entity with an economy not much bigger than North Carolina’s, yet it is burdened with roughly $350 billion of old debt that will never be paid back. The only thing at issue is how it will not be paid back, that is, what mode of pretense will be employed to disguise the inability to pay back this debt. The mode du jour has been the crude one of lending Greece more money to pay back the interest on the old debt. A seven-year-old ought to be able to understand where that leads.

It’s kind of up to the Greeks this week to possibly opt out of that farcical deal. They have at least two other present options: return to being a sunwashed semi-medieval backwater of olive farmers, shepherds, and inn-keepers, or perhaps lease out some cozy corner of their vast Mediterranean coastline to the Russian navy for enough annual walking-around money to keep the lights on for the aforementioned farmers, shepherds, and inn-keepers. Of course, that would drive the US and its NATO quislings batshit crazy.

We’ve already got our knickers in a twist over Ukraine, a so-called nation whose highest and best purpose over the millennia has been as a sort of lethal doormat in front of Russia, leaving adventurers like Napoleon and Hitler bleeding in the snow as they crawled back to their nations of origin. In short, Ukraine has worked so well for Russia that we must be insane to imagine that it would give up that traditional relationship. Yet the US and NATO persist in their foolishness and attempt to back up their Kievan intrigues with financial “sanctions” against Russia.

Russia is doing what it has always done in the face of adversity, which is to suck it up. And, anyway, these western financial monkeyshines don’t hold a candle to ordeals like the siege of Stalingrad. What’s more, the Russians, despite their peculiar alphabet and thuggish demeanor, are at least as clever with computers as our code jockeys. We (in the USA) think just because we’ve made it possible for everyman to drool over Kim Kardashian’s booty on an iPhone screen that we have some kind of immunity against cyber counter-attack from way out east.

It seems to me that Russia (with China and others) is very busy constructing an alternate financial network that will allow for international money transfers and other necessities for conducting normal trade operations, outside of systems like the SWIFT code, which the US has been using as a knout against our imagined enemies. The upshot will leave America high and dry in a lot of what remains of international trade, especially in oil.

Meanwhile we continue to tell ourselves the false and idiotic story of “energy independence,” based on the shale oil Ponzi scheme that blew up last fall — the consequences of which won’t really be felt for about another eight months, when all those wells drilled and fracked in 2013-14, start to fall off their production cliff, and the replacement wells will not have been drilled. We’re still importing almost 8 million barrels of oil a day, contrary to all the fairy tales we tell ourselves. What happens when the sellers decide they won’t take US dollars for it? Hmmmm….

 

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Greek Chicken Souvlaki Kabuki

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on February 17, 2015

 

Discuss this Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

 

The Game Continues…

For you Rant Fans, I found a New Gear for this one, and got it into OVERDRIVE by about the 7 minute mark, channeling Peter Finch.  🙂  A little Charlton Heston for Spice too!

Also, be aware I started the script for this last Friday during the first meetings, so the first part is not about the stupidity today, but a preview of that stupidity.

Snippet:

…Well, a thoroughly anti-climactic day here in the Greek Souvlaki Kabuki, as DieselBoom and Souvlakis spent a whole day talking past each other, with absolutely no indication that anyone is going to give an inch here. The Can Kick for this now is back to the 'Deadline' date of next Monday and the ultimatum that the Greeks will be CUT OFF from their Euro Gold Card and left to twist in the wind.

So what's the chances that they can come up with a SOLUTION to the problem on Monday they couldn't come up with today? Slim & None of course, unless somebody capitulates, and neither side can do that. The market of course believes that this is just another one of the endless series of “Deadlines” that will be Can Kicked down the road once again, and that very well might happen. Or maybe not.

What will it take to get a reaction here? Basically, the day the Greeks finally declare a Bank Holiday and start printing New Drachmas. Then Mr. Market finally wakes up from the stupor and does a Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes scene.

You did it! You finally really did it! You Blew it all Up! Damn You! Damn you all the HELL! LOL…

 

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

 

In case you missed them, here are the last 2 installments of Greek Kabuki…

Greek Souvlaki Kabuki Roller Coaster

logopodcastOff the microphone of RE

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Aired on the Doomstead Diner on February 11, 2015

cat_coaster

Discuss this Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner

The Game Continues…

Snippet:

 

…Going into the weekend, the chairman of the Eurozone FinMins Jeroen DieselBOOM laid down the LAW with the Greeks, basically giving them about 10 days to either CAPITULATE or be thrown under the bus and pitched out of the Eurozone, though nobody is quite clear on how legal that is to do.

There was a decent amount of speculation in the aftermath of that that it would cause the Greeks to fold up their tent and come begging for more money, but the exact opposite occurred here, which is that by Sunday both Tspiras and Souvlakis were issuing out even MORE uncompromizing Tweets, basically threatening to bring down the entire Eurozone with them if they are flushed down the toilet.

The Clowns and Jokers in Brussel Sprouts have their Poker Face on, bluffing that the economic cascade from a Grexit can be “contained” and the rest of Europe will do just fine without Feta Cheese, so best of luck there fellas! LOL…

 

For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!

 

In case you missed it, here is the last installment of Greek Kabuki…

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