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Archive for the ‘debt crisis’ Category

 

In this podcast, Chris Martenson talks with Rob Hopkins, the initiator of the Transition movement. While the movement started off as a reaction to climate change, it has now turned into a project for a holistic cultural change where re-localisation of the economy is seen not only as a survival strategy, but also as a way to invigorate communities and bring people together. Hopkins emphasises the need to have a positive program with creative possibilities for people to engage in when faced with the current global crises.

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This short documentary shows a side of Greece that we don’t get in the news. In Athens, there are currently dozens of neighbourhood assemblies that have started organising their local affairs amongst themselves on the basis of mutual aid, outside of both the market and the state. Notwithstanding the tragic effects of the ongoing debt crisis on the Greek people, it’s good to keep in mind the various other connotations of the Greek word krisis: decision, choice, turning point. A crisis is a situation that forces one to leave the comfort zone, look upon one’s situation critically and make assessments on what’s actually important in life. This applies to individuals and communities alike. If the Greek people can keep these local institutions going even after the national economy improves, I think they’ll be better off when the next crisis hits than us here in the complacent North.

This film is a part of the upcoming DVD Our Present is Your Future from ReelNews.

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Catastroika is a new full length documentary film by the makers of Debtocracy, the highly successful critique of the mainstream narrative about the Greek debt crisis. In Catastroika, the makers turn to the after effects of the crisis, namely the mass privatisation of public services and the selling off of publicly owned assets. They use historical precedents to show that privatisation often can lead to not only poorer services and higher prices but also to more rather than less public debt. The film features interviews with Naomi Klein, Slavoj Žižek and Greg Palast, amongst others. In various languages with English subtitles.

Like its predecessor, Catastroika is also released freely on the Internet under a Creative Commons license. You can download it as a torrent here.

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This is a plea from a group of French intellectuals on behalf of the Greek people. The text is aimed at the French intelligentsia, but applies to other countries as well. I’d definitely like to see far more support from the academic class for the European people’s struggle against austerity. Silence is no longer acceptable; if you’re not with the people, you’re with the banksters. We are living in a time when anti-democratic forces are once again loose in Europe, and the time to fight back is now before it’s too late! The original text is here.

“At a time when one Greek youth out of two is unemployed. Where 25,000 homeless wander the streets of Athens. Where 30% of the population has fallen under the poverty line and where millions of families are forced to place their children in the care of someone else in order for them not to die of hunger or cold, where refugees and the new poor compete for trashcans at the public dump, the “saviors” of Greece, under the pretext that “Greece is not trying hard enough”, impose a new aid plan that doubles the lethal administered dose. A plan that abolishes the right to work and reduces the poor to the most extreme misery, at the same time as it makes the middle class disappear.

The goal is not about “saving” Greece. All economists worthy of this name agree on this point. It’s about gaining time in order to save the creditors at the same time it leads the country into deferred collapse. Above all it’s about making a laboratory of social change out of Greece that, in a second generation, will spread throughout all of Europe. The model experimented upon Greece is one where public social services, schools, hospitals, and dispensaries fall into ruin, where health becomes the privilege of the rich, and where vulnerable populations are doomed to a programmed elimination while those who work are condemned to the most extreme conditions of impoverishment and precarity.

But in order for this neo-liberalist offensive to achieve its ends, it is necessary to install a regime established an economy of the most basic democratic rights. Under the injunction of saviors, we see throughout Europe technocratic governments installing themselves with disregard for popular sovereignty. This is a turning point in the parliamentary system where we see the “representatives of the people” giving carte blanche to the experts and bankers, abdicating their supposed decisional power –A kind of parliamentary coup d’etat, which also uses an amplified arsenal against popular protest. Thus, when members have ratified the convention dictated by the troika (the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), diametrically opposed to the mandate for which they had received power, without any democratic legitimacy, it will have committed to the future of the country for thirty or forty years.

Meanwhile the EU is preparing to establish an account which would be paid directly to aid Greece but only so that it is used for servicing the debt. The revenue of the country should be the “absolute priority” devoted to repay creditors, and, if necessary, paid directly to the account managed by the European Union. The agreement stipulates that any new bond issued under it shall be governed by English law, which involves material guarantees, so that disputes will be adjudicated by the courts of Luxembourg, having Greece waive in advance any rights to appeal against an entry determined by its creditors. To complete the picture, privatization is assigned to a fund managed by the troika, where the title deeds of public goods shall be placed.

In short, it is the widespread looting, characteristic of financial capitalism which here offers itself a really beautiful institutional consecration. To the extent that sellers and buyers sit on the same side of the table, we have no doubt that this enterprise of privatization is a real treat for the buyers. But all the measures taken so far have only dug Greece into deeper sovereign debt. With the help of rescuers who lend at exorbitant rates, it has literally exploded into free fall in approaching 170% of GDP, while in 2009 it represented more than 120%. It is likely that this cohort of rescuers – whenever presented as “final” – had no other purpose than to weaken further still the position of Greece so that, deprived of any opportunity to propose itself the terms of a restructuring, is reduced to yield to all its creditors under the blackmail of “the disaster or austerity.”

The worsening of the artificial and coercive debt problem was used as a weapon to attack an entire society. It is proper that we speak here of terms related to the military: we are indeed dealing with a war conducted by means of finance, politics and law, a class war against society as a whole. And the spoils that the financial class wrestles away from the “enemy”, are the social benefits and democratic rights, but ultimately it is the very possibility of a human life that is taken. The lives of those who do or do not consume enough in terms of profit maximization strategies, should be no longer be preserved.

Thus, the weakness of a country caught between speculation and endless devastating bailouts, is the backdoor through which a new social model erupts conforming to the requirements of neoliberal fundamentalism. A model destined for all Europe and maybe elsewhere. This is the real issue and why defending the Greek people can not be reduced to a gesture of solidarity or abstract humanity: the future of democracy and the fate of European nations are in question. Everywhere the “pressing necessity” of “painful but salutary” austerity will be presented to us as the means to escape the fate of Greece, while it really leads us right into the middle of it.

Up against this attack against society, faced with the destruction of the last pockets of democracy, we call our fellow citizens, our French and European friends to speak loudly. Do not leave the monopoly on speaking to the experts and politicians. Can we remain indifferent to the fact the German and French leaders in particular have requested Greece to be banned from elections? Does the systematic stigmatization and bashing of a European people not deserve a response? Is it possible not to raise ones voice against the institutional assassination of the Greek people? And can we remain silent in front of the establishment of a forced march towards a system that outlaws the very idea of social solidarity?

We are at the point of no return. It is urgent to fight the battle of numbers and the war of words to counter ultra-liberal rhetoric of fear and misinformation. There is urgent need to deconstruct the moral lessons that obscure the actual process at work in society. It becomes more than urgent to demystify the racist insistence on the ” Greek specificity ” that allegedly is the supposed national character of a people (laziness and cunning at will) the root cause of a crisis in global reality. What matters today is not the specifics, whether they are real or imaginary, but the common: the fate of a people that will affect all others.

Numerous technical solutions have been proposed to overcome the alternative of “either the destruction of the society or bankruptcy” (which we see today really means “and the destruction and bankruptcy” of the society). Everything must be brought to the table as food for thought for the construction of another Europe. But first you must report the crime, bring to light the situation in which the Greek people is because of “rescue packages” designed by and for speculators and creditors. When a movement of support is woven around the world, where Internet networks buzz with initiatives of solidarity, are French intellectuals the last to raise their voices for Greece? Without further delay, multiply articles, media appearances, debates, petitions, demonstrations. For any initiative is welcome, any initiative is urgent.

As for us, this is what we propose: quickly move towards the formation of a European community of intellectuals and artists in solidarity with the Greek people in resistance. If we can’t do this, then who will? If we don’t do this now, then when?

Vicky Skoumbi, Editor-in-Chief of the journal, “Alètheia”, Athens, Michel Surya, director of the journal «Lignes», Paris, Dimitris Vergetis, director of the journal, “Alètheia”, Athens. And : Daniel Alvara,Alain Badiou, Jean-Christophe Bailly, Etienne Balibar, Fernanda Bernardo, Barbara Cassin, Bruno Clément, Danielle Cohen-Levinas, Yannick Courtel, Claire Denis, Georges Didi-Huberman, Roberto Esposito, Francesca Isidori, Pierre-Philippe Jandin, Jérôme Lèbre, Jean-Clet Martin, Jean- Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière, Judith Revel, Elisabeth Rigal, Jacob Rogozinski, Hugo Santiago, Beppe Sebaste, Michèle Sinapi, Enzo Traverso”

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Fire on the streets of Athens on February 12, 2012

 

The situation in Greece is getting critical. The government approved yet another austerity package last Sunday which sparked some of the most intense street protests during the ongoing crisis. Greece has reached a point where the politicians can’t even venture out from their offices without facing random people shouting abuse and hurling yoghurt at them. The Greek people seem to have lost any last hope they had that the crisis could be solved by the current political system. The only way the Greek ruling class will be able to push through its austerity agenda now is by brute force. A combination of a general feeling of hopelessness on the streets and harsh repression by the police is potentially highly explosive. One can only hope that should the situation escalate, its resolution will be as quick and as painless (relatively speaking) as that of the Argentina crisis of 2001, as Jerome Roos predicts.

Mike Whitney has deconstructed the “Memorandum of Understanding” inforced by the EU-ECB-IMF troika as a condition for the next tranche of the Greek bailout package here. From reading the memorandum it becomes clear that these austerity policies have nothing to do with helping the Greek economy back on its feet. Indeed, we’ve already seen years of these kinds of policies without any positive effects. Instead, the agreement is all about opening up every area of the Greek society to predatory capital. It’s about removing any barriers to capital accumulation, such as decent wages or even food security. This is no longer even the “fire sale” Greg Palast was writing about, but full on pillage and plunder of the kind that is more familiar from the Third World. Clearly the elite is fully aware that its time is running out, so it’s now simply grabbing anything it can get its hands on without any consideration for repercussions.

On a more positive note, people in other European countries seem to be finally waking up to the reality, as they should since it would be naive indeed to think that the vultures will be satisfied with just Greece. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll be coming for the rest of us, unless we do something about it now. That’s why it’s of foremost importance to stand with the Greek people and against the European elite, including the elites of our own countries who are perpetrating these destructive policies. We must not succumb to the divide-and-rule rhetoric pushed by the elites through mainstream media in Germany in particular. The people of Greece are on our side, not our national or European leaders.

On this Saturday, February 18, people will be demonstrating all around Europe in solidarity with the Greek people. A call out for this event in various languages can be found here:
http://realdemocracygr.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/saturday-18-international-solidarity/

A list of the scheduled events is found here:
https://n-1.cc/pg/pages/view/1173320

There’s also this appeal for solidarity with the people of Greece from the British Coalition of Resistance Against Cuts & Privatisation:
http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2012/02/sign-the-appeal-for-solidarity-with-the-people-of-greece/

You can also sign a petition for the abolition of Greece’s odious debt:
http://www.1millionsignatures.eu/

In case you can’t make it to the streets, you can still show your support via this photo blog:
http://weareallgreeks.tumblr.com/

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I promised to write a quick review of this book, so here goes.

The Debt Generation (2010) is based on commentary written on the financial pages of The Guardian during the period from July 2008 to May 2010. The postings have been somewhat edited for a better flow of the text, but the basic diary type structure has been preserved, so what the book provides is a real-time account of the debt crisis as it unfolded during that period with fresh reactions to whatever news happened to be current at any particular time.

The writer of the commentary, David Malone, is not an economist, but a film maker, so what you get is a layman’s perspective, although informed by contacts in the world of finance. I consider this a positive thing, since economists in general tend to have an amazing capability of disregarding any facts that don’t fit into their preconceived idea of how the world works. This probably has something to do with the fact that mainstream economics as a field of inquiry is much more about pure ideology than empirical science.

Partly because of that, the discourse on economy that we get in the media is chock-full smoke and mirrors and is designed to mislead rather than inform the general public. The media and the politicians deliberately paint a picture of the economy as an esoteric sphere of near magic that only “experts” can master. This is, of course, precisely what these self-proclaimed experts want: it gives them free rein to steal and plunder as much as they want behind the facades of the Potemkin village.

I’m sure most of us common people are able to intuitively sense the vast gulf that exists between what the pundits in the financial press are saying and how the everyday reality in which we live appears to us. But what we’re lacking are the tools to actually call the pundits on their bullshit. And that’s what this book offers. Malone has a talent of explaining even the most arcane workings of the financial system with all its fancy derivative products and risk dispersion schemes in terms that everyone can understand, whilst exposing the lies and half-truths our political leaders fed us at the time, and still keep feeding us. Piece by piece, you can get a fairly complete picture of how the system is rigged against us. And that is the first step on the way of changing it.

Despite its slightly awkward form, the book is also an entertaining read with an abundance of English wit included (just consider this entry from the index: politicians; arse-licking, 201, burbling, 131, craven, 144, idiotic, 130, 106, impotent, 133, lick-spittle, 106, lost, 96, mewling, 133, slavering, 222, supine, 231, tame, 2, wheezing, 52, whimpering, 217). We definitely need more books like this; books that cut through the rhetoric and offer a common sense view of the society we live in.

I’ve posted excerpts of this book on this blog before (here and here), and will probably post some more in the near future, but I really recommend you get the book itself. I also recommend Malone’s blog for an ongoing commentary of the ever-deepening crisis.

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While the mainstream media and the political puppets in Europe keep spewing their crypto-racist propaganda about the “lazy Greeks” who spent more than they could afford and now need to be “saved” by taking away their right to choose their own rulers, it’s sobering to read this article by the investigating journalist Greg Palast, adapted from his new book Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores (2011).

The article elaborates how a small group of American bankers have knowingly and deliberately driven national economies of different countries to the ground since the late 1990s. The story begins when the bankers lobbied the Clinton administration to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, which allowed the large US banks to start dealing in “derivatives”, that is bets on the future value of assets. Using international organizations such as the World Bank and WTO as their tools, they basically blackmailed smaller nations to lift any restrictions to foreign banks they had in place for their local markets, thus allowing the US banks to dump their “products” that they knew perfectly well included worthless assets to pension funds the world over, causing local banks to collapse and resulting in the destruction of civil societies we can now see in various European countries. And now, of course, the banksters are back for the “fire sale” of national assets, as Palast puts it. There’s really no need to make up any conspiracies about secret societies, this is all happening in broad day light. The most shocking part of the whole story is that the whole scam was carried out in a perfectly legal way. Now if that doesn’t convince you that Western democracy is seriously broken, I don’t know what will.

Of course, these days the bankers no longer even need to actually engage in lobbying to squeeze profits out of the national treasuries now that the European elite has been kind enough to hand the formal ability to set laws straight to the bankers themselves. Really, you couldn’t make this shit up. The complete submissiveness of the political elite to even the most outrageous demands of the bankster gang simply boggles the mind. I have a terrible hunch that if we don’t do something about this madness now, there will come a day when our children will curse us bitterly for our passivity.

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