Category Archives: Socialism

Video report: Chinese ‘reforms’ as neoliberal looting


In an interview with Paul Jay of The Real News Network, Minqi Li, assocate professor of economics at University of Utah, rases most of the points we’ve been raising about the just-announced Chinese reforms, namely that they are manifestations of a neoliberal economic structure designed by and for the benefit of the rich.

Chinese Reforms Make Rich Even Richer

From the transcript:

LI: And there is nothing in the decision that would suggest the Party cares very much about a possible income redistribution that is in the favor of labor. Instead, it appears most of the decisions are targeted towards raising the income for the capitalist. And so that would be against the possible macroeconomic and the social rebalancing of the Chinese economy.

JAY: By reducing the role of the state, and particularly in the banking sector, they seem to be going more and more to essentially and actually an American model of capitalism, which is not some great success here.

LI: Yes. And one of the surprising thing is that there’s no reflection of the failure of global neoliberalism in this Party decision at all.

And, of course, in one of the decision, it does say it’s going to raise the dividend payment by the state-owned enterprise to the government, which is supposed to be used for social welfare. But that is actually going to be quite insignificant. The overall Chinese economy right now is between 50 trillion to 60 trillion yuan. And then the total before-tax profits from the state-owned sector right now is only about 1 trillion yuan. So it’s only about 2 percent of China’s GDP. And then the state-owned enterprises already pay about one-third income tax on their profits. So if you just take about 30 percent from the after-tax profits, that may be just 0.5 percent of China’s overall GDP. So that’s not going to really increase the social welfare a lot.

Quote of the day: Asking the right questions


From economist Richard D. Wolff, writing in The Guardian:

Capitalists know their system is unstable. They have never yet prevented recurring crises. They rely instead on policies to “manage” them. The two-step hustle – borrowing for stimulus and bailouts and then austerity – usually does the job. Keynesians promote the borrowing and then seem surprised, even outraged, when austerity follows.

Corporations and the rich should not have escaped taxation in the first place because they helped to cause the crisis; they enriched themselves the most in the decades before the crisis; and they can best afford to pay to overcome the crisis. Had they been taxed to pay for stimulus and bailout, no need would have arisen for borrowing or austerity.

Taxing corporations and the rich would have consequences too, but they would generate far fewer social costs and fall mostly on those best able to cope with them.

But any organized opposition strong enough to make corporations and the rich pay for capitalism’s crises would likely also question capitalism itself. Emerging from nearly six years of crisis, the question “can’t we do better than capitalism?” pushes forward, demanding discussion, debate, and democratic decision.

Read the rest.

Chart of the day: GOP cold shoulders Canada


Should Canada and the U.S. merge.? Democrats say yep, but not the GOP. Probably that socialized medicine, eh? Although like a certain conservative Canadian mayor, a lot of GOPers sound like they’ve been smokin’ crack. [But unlike the GOP, he mayor has apologized.]

From YouGov:

BLOG O Canada

Tea Party shutdown, an interview with Paul Street


Journalist and activist Paul Street has written extensively about the rise of the latest incarnation of Republican Party, media-fueled nationalist populism

In this two-part discussion with Jessica Desvarieux of The Real News Network, Street explores the role the Tea Party played in the current federal shutdown and delves into its origins and the motive of the folks working so hard to promote their agenda.

From The Real News Network. . .

Part I: Gov’t Shutdown Reflects Struggle Within Capitalist Republican Elite

Tea Party candidates strong desire to roll back New Deal comes out of the GOP establishment’s own creation

An excerpt from the transcript:

The vote two days ago to deny the continuing resolution, you know, to fund the government unless Obama care was repealed (you know, an incredible demand, right, to roll into a budget process) was 231 House votes in support of that. And that’s far more than the numbers of people in the Tea Party Caucus, which I think is about 45, 50 at the most. [incompr.] pretty much a straight-line party vote. The vote yesterday to deny continuing resolution unless Obamacare was delayed for one year was 228 votes — again, much bigger. And this was also true during the debt ceiling crisis. It was pretty much a rump vote of a much broader right-wing House Republican group that’s much larger than just the Tea Party phenomenon.

We forget how far to the right — admittedly, what the Tea Party — very much in sort of the shock troop vanguard ever since 2009–but how far to the right the Republican Party — and in fact the whole party system in this country — has been moving over the last three decades plus of neoliberal politics in the United States. There was a government shutdown in the mid 1990s carried out by Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich. They didn’t call themselves Tea Party. In many ways they might as well have. I’ve been calling the Republicans half jokingly for the last few years the Teapublicans.

That said, there is no doubt that the Republican right in the age of Obama, [incompr.] to some extent before that, in its desire to roll back what’s left of the welfare state, what’s left of the New Deal, and back in the Reagan era, in order to crush what was left of the New Deal era, did call, has called into being an almost Frankenstein-like monster in the form of Fox News, a far right-wing talk radio network, and has really created a kind of almost frothing constituency in these very tightly gerrymandered, often rural, white congressional districts.

Part II: Who is Behind the Tea Party?

From the transcript:

The big elite interests behind both of the parties, the ones with the most money, are more multinational and they tend to be more tied to Wall Street, and they think more in global terms than in terms of the overall health of the national economy. A lot of these elite interests, the very top sort of multinational financial corporate elites on the Republican side were willing to bring these sort of shock troops, this sort of frothing base funded by the Koch brothers and the rest into being in order to smash labor, in order to smash the welfare state, in order to go after Social Security, and basically [incompr.] to undo the last remnants of a social and welfare state, of the Great Society, of the New Deal, and so on, that’s fine, you know, willing to sort of bring these people into being as sort of proto-fascists, proto-fascistic shock troop. But at a certain point they go too far, and now they’re stepping back and being almost sort of horrified by this Frankenstein that they brought into creation. I mean, basically you sort of–it’s like the old the John Birch Society of the late ‘50s and the 1960s now has its own television network and its own talk radio network and this whole huge, vast, well-funded foundation network. And those folks, those far-right shock troops, are, you know, stand your ground. They are ready to go all the way to the wall and don’t seem to [incompr.] to shut this government down in ways that only financial interests just don’t find functional and in fact find dysfunctional.

I think this shutdown right now that we’re in, there have been 15 of these in American history, and they tend to be fairly sort. And, of course, not the entire — the entire federal government hasn’t been shut down, so-called nonessential services. It’ll probably be a fix of some kind in the not so distant future.

What I think really horrifies elite interests is the notion that the right, in its ideologically, culturally driven paranoid obsession with supposedly socialist Obamacare will refuse to allow the raising of the debt ceiling. And I think that’s when things really get serious, because then you’re talking about the undoing of America’s status as the investment location of last resort for multinational capital. And you’re talking about undoing the favored status of Treasury bills and you really start attacking financial institutions. And so, you know, the capitalist elite is sort of caught in the conundrum, on the contradictions of its own cultivation of these horrific elements, these paranoid elements who now threaten to bring down the whole house in ways that the elites never had in mind and they’ve never wanted. And so you hear these sort of horrified comments from people like McCain.

Headlines of the day III: Econ, environs, Fuku


Even with Greece broken out for an earlier post, there’s still lots to report, and a lot of it focuses on growing class divisions. There’s Fukushimapocalypse Now!, the latest from China, and lots more after the jump.

First up, Salon debunks that myth loot-o-crats use to justify their Brobdingnagian greed:

Executive stress is a myth!

How tough is it to be the boss? Not nearly as tough as the Wall Street Journal and Forbes would have you believe

And then there’s this, from Business Insider:

Economist Wins Genius Grant For Proving That Most Traders Are Idiots

From Bloomberg, guess where most of it went?:

Household Net Worth in U.S. Increases by $1.3 Trillion

Meanwhile, there’s this from 24/7 Wall St.:

Seven States Slashing School Spending

Bloomberg again, sounding a sour note:

Demand for U.S. Capital Goods Climbs Less Than Forecast

Orders for goods such as computers and machinery rose less than forecast in August, showing a pickup in U.S. business spending will take time to develop.

Similarly sour, from the London Telegraph:

US consumer confidence slips as house prices rise at the fastest rate in seven years

US consumer confidence fell slightly in September as Americans grew more wary about the outlook in coming months, according to a closely watched report.

From Reuters, chop chop:

Citigroup to cut 1,000 mortgage jobs, mostly in Las Vegas

Bloomberg reports another form of chopping. [By way of disclosure, we once reported for McClatchy’s flagship paper, the Sacramento Bee]:

McClatchy to Shut Down Retirees’ Health-Care Plan by End of 2014

Bloomberg again, with another discordant note:

Wal-Mart Cutting Orders as Unsold Merchandise Piles Up

From NBC News, the search for profits turns to catering to the elite:

Luxury tampons? Companies spurn middle class – to everyone’s loss

Reuters offers Banksters Behaving Badly:

‘Massive fraud’ at center of trial against BofA over U.S. mortgages

Bank of America Corp’s Countrywide unit placed profits over quality in a “massive fraud” selling shoddy mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a U.S. government lawyer said on Tuesday.

And from Zero Hedge, ominous news:

The Credit Bubble Is Not Only Back, It Is 94% Bigger Than In 2007

My Budget 360 raises another alarm:

Debt serfdom via student loans: A new class of indentured servants now carry the $1.1 trillion student loan bubble and cracks are already plaguing the system.

While MercoPress reports good news mixed with small numbers for those who cater to the real high-flyers:

IATA forecasts a strong 2014 for the industry, but airlines on average only retain 5 dollars per passenger

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has revised its 2013 global industry outlook downwards to 11.7 billion on revenues of 708 billion dollars, but anticipates that all regions during 2014 will see improved profitability, with divergence in performance and with strong emphasis in North America with 6.3 billion net profits.

And off to Europe. . .

We begin with a Troikarch’s demand from the London Telegraph:

Eurozone governments must give up more power to avoid another crisis, say IMF economists

Eurozone governments must cede more of their sovereignty, create a joint budget and move towards issuing eurobonds to complete a fiscal union and avoid another crippling debt crisis, according to an International Monetary Fund report.

Now add this dimension from New Europe:

Industrial output continues to divide Europe

A two-tier Europe continues in the field of its industrial base, according to new statistics.

Then factor in this from EUbusiness:

Industry on worrying slide in EU, warns report

Industry in the European Union is in a “worrying” state with crucial ground being lost on productivity and employment, the European Commission warned on Wednesday.

Euobserver inspires con-fidence:

ECB hires controversial consultancy for bank audit

The ECB has hired the same consultancy that overlooked Ireland’s banking problems to help with an audit of the eurozone’s 130 largest banks.

Reuters points to an even bigger worry:

Top EU banks have Basel capital shortfall of 70 billion euros

The top 42 banks in the European Union would need an extra 70.4 billion euros ($95 billion) of capital to comply with new rules that take full effect in 2019, the bloc’s banking watchdog said on Wednesday.

Furthermore consider the evolution of a supra-national regulatory regime. From EurActiv:

EU-US trade talks delve into regulatory maze

A gulf has opened up in the approaches taken by the two sides in the transatlantic trade talks, with the European Union wanting sector-specific commitments and the United States leaning towards rules that would apply across industries, EurActiv has learned.

Then recall how this record of how previous supranational regimes played a major role in precipitating the global economic crisis. From Sky News:

Libor Scandal: ICAP Fined Amid Criminal Probe

  • A broker known as Lord Libor and promises of Ferrari gifts emerge in the latest rate-rigging scandal allegations.

  • The London-based brokerage ICAP has been fined £55m and told three individuals will face criminal charges in connection with the Libor rate-rigging scandal.

And from Ireland via Vice, just like old times:

Angry Communists Are Returning to the Streets of Working-Class Belfast

More signs of division from MercoPress:

Germany’s ‘Mom’ Angela no darling for the EU Mediterranean members

Southern Europeans are facing four more years of ‘mutti’ (Mom) Angela Merkel — whether they like it or not. Majorities of 82% in Spain, 65% in Portugal and 58% in Italy repudiate the German leader’s handling of the Euro area’s debt crisis, blaming her for drastic cuts in social services, recession and record unemployment, according to a German Marshall Fund poll released last week.

Call this one a Franco-Bunga-Bunga Bump for a supranational player, albeit one facing pimping charges [really], from FRANCE 24:

Ex-IMF chief Strauss-Kahn takes job as bank boss

Disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears to be making a career comeback after he was named head of a multinational investment firm. The news comes just weeks after Serbia announced that he had been hired as a government advisor.

The South China Morning Post plays it another way:

Disgraced former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn set to become bank chairman

Next, from Reuters, a shrieking French alarm:

Euro crisis over? Think again. France “100%” set to implode

France, Indian worries, Chinese rumblings, Fukushimapocalyse Now! after the jump. . . Continue reading

Cuba at the crossroads: The rise of the co-op


In the aftermath of the 1917 revolution in Russia, Vladimir Lenin aggressively nationalized industry and merchandising, a policy that quickly led to popular

“Socialist Russia will come from NEP.” —Lenin Source.

“Socialist Russia will come from NEP.” —Lenin
Source.

discontent. The Party’s response was to allow small-scale private enterprises and food production, a policy known as the New Economic Policy, or NEP.

But the NEP was brutally destroyed by Stalin after his consolidation of power after Lenin’s death, with the program declared finished in 1928.

In 1959, when Fidel Castro’s revolutionary took control of the Cuban government, both of the world’s leading self-declared communist states were still in the throes of Stalinist central control, though Nikita Khrushchev had loosened the reins a bit in the Soviet Union.

Castro, financially supported by the Soviets, adopted a modified version of the Moscow system, which was maintained trough the collapse of the Soviet system, then modified creatively and by necessity when the flow of Soviet cash and oil evaporated — leading to, among other things, the world’s most productive system of urban agriculture.

Cuban adapted and endured, and despite the decades-long economic embargo by the United States and a ban on U.S. tourism — once an economic mainstay of the island nation.

Now Cuba is embarking on what might be described as its own version of the NEP, most notably in agriculture.

Now the Cuban experiment is treated to coverage by only major international power claiming the communist mantle, China — which has traveled much farther down the market economy road than Cuba.

Here’s the coverage by CCTV’s Americas Now:

Cuba Shifting from State-Operated Establishments to Private Co-Ops

The program notes:

In 1968, Cuba nationalized its businesses, adopting a Soviet style system that had all enterprise controlled by the state. CCTV correspondent Michael Voss finds that conditions appear to be changing.

We love that 1951 Chevrolet driving by the food co-op manager, an amazing testament both to the durability of Detroit’s vintage iron and to the spirit of the Cuba people in keeping it running for the last 62 years.

Video history: The Mike Wallace Interview


In a varied career that including stints as actor, announcer, game show host, and, in his most significant role as correspondent for 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace hosted The Mike Wallace Interview, a thirty-minute 68-episode ABC Sunday night broadcast that ran from 1957 to 1960.

While his revealing questioning of Ayn Rand makes for his best-known episode, we especially liked his interview of Aldous Huxley.

We add two more segements to our posts, each with a transitional figure

Mike Wallace interviews Rod Serling, 1959

Serling was and best known for When Wallace interviewed Serling, a seminal figure in the history of TV drama, the writer/producer was just launching The Twilight Zone, an anthology of fantasy and science fiction featuring some superb writing and memorable acting.

Whast 60 Minutes was to TV magazine shows, Twilight Zone was to drama, both a template for future shows and a springboard for a remarkable range of talent.

Serling has a lot to say about commercial television, and one memorable moment is the rendition of the time he was forced to drop the mention of gas in a story about the Holocaust because a sponsor manufactured gas ranges.

Mike Wallace interviews Erich Fromm, 25 June 1958

Erich Fromm represents a directoion not taken by mainstream psychiatry. A German Jew, he was a member of the Frankfurt School, a remarkable assemblage of thinkers that included the seminal media critic and socialist Walter Benjamin and political philosophers Herbert Marcuse and Theodore Adorno.

From the transcript:

WALLACE:  This is Dr. Erich Fromm, one of the most influential psychoanalysts in the world.  A man whose work has been hailed as a significant step forward from the theories of Sigmund Freud.

WALLACE:  Recently, Dr. Fromm said: “There has never been a better society than in the United States in 1958, but …”  He added, “if the United States goes on in the direction it is now taking, it is in serious danger of destroying itself.” We’ll find out why in a moment.

>snip<

FROMM: Well, Mr. Wallace, I would say, if I would put it generally, because in our enthusiasm to dominate nature and to produce more material good – goods — we have transformed means into ends.   We’ve wanted to produce more in the 19th century and the 20th century in order to give man the possibility for more dignified human life; but actually what has happened  is that production and consumption have become means — have ceased to be means and have become ends, and we are production crazy and consumption crazy.

More interviews here.

Chris Hedges: On building a strong movement


In the latest and penultimate segment of Paul Jay’s interviews of Chris Hedges for The Real News Network, Jay and the former New York Times Middle East bureau chief focuses on the narrow range of mainstream political discourse and the need to build institutions to challenge And circumvent the ever-consolidating wealth and power of the elite.

Chris Hedges: As a Socialist, I Have No Voice in the Mainstream

From the transcript:

JAY: So people watching this, what would you suggest they do next?

HEDGES: We have to begin to build organizations to protect ourselves from corporate forces that are determined to exploit the ecosystem until it collapses. We have to recognize that the implantation of global capitalism is one that will reconfigure the world into a kind of neo-feudal society where workers here will be told that they have to be competitive with the sweatshop workers in Bangladesh and make $0.22 an hour prison labor in China. That’s already happening. We have to recognize that the vast corporate systems that we have set up.

For instance, our food system is very fragile and is not sustainable. Food must once again be local. We can’t continue to feed ourselves on a system where we’re shipping all of our fruits and vegetables from California or Florida across the country. That means beginning to–and more than community gardens, but essentially buying local, creating sustainable systems that are local, bcause when things go down, the elites will withdraw into their gated compounds, where they will have access to security, water, medical facilities, all sorts of things that they will deny to the rest of us. They’re not going to take care of us when things come, when things go bad. And we have to begin to prepare for that.

It’s not a very pleasant scenario. It’s not pleasant to think about. But it’s survivable if we begin to respond to what’s coming. As long as we remain unplugged, as long as we are checked out, which is how they want us, we’re going to be left defenseless.

JP Morgan: Too much European democracy


Yep, a bankster has finally confessed.

Democratic constitutions designed to thwart a resurgence of fascism are getting in the way of all that austerian reconstruction, says JP Morgan’s Europe Economic Research department.

The problem with all those constitutions is that they empower the populace, define limits to central power, and allow for those damnably inconvenient public protests.

Think we’re kidding?

Consider these excerpts from the 28 report The Euro area adjustment: about halfway there [PDF] by JP Morgan’s Malcolm Barr and David Mackie:

Political reform—hardly even begun.

At the start of the crisis, it was generally assumed that the national legacy problems were economic in nature. But, as the crisis has evolved, it has become apparent that there are deep seated political problems in the periphery, which, in our view, need to change if EMU [European Monetary Union is going to function properly in the long run. The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism. Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labor rights; consensus building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the crisis. Countries around the periphery have only been partially successful in producing fiscal and economic reform agendas, with governments constrained by constitutions (Portugal), powerful regions (Spain), and the rise of populist parties (Italy and Greece).

There is a growing recognition of the extent of this problem, both in the core and in the periphery. Change is beginning to take place. Spain took steps to address some of the contradictions of the post-Franco settlement with last year’s legislation enabling closer fiscal oversight of the regions. But, outside Spain little has happened thus far. The key test in the coming year will be in Italy, where the new government clearly has an opportunity to engage in meaningful political reform. But, in terms of the idea of a journey, the process of political reform has barely begun.

>snip<

[I]t is possible that reform fatigue could lead to i) the collapse of several reform minded governments in the European south, ii) a collapse in support for the Euro or the EU, iii) an outright electoral victory for radical anti-European parties somewhere in the region, or iv) the effective ungovernability of some Member States once social costs (particularly unemployment) pass a particular level. None of these developments look likely at the present time. But, the longer-term picture (beyond the next 18 months) is hard to predict, and a more pronounced backlash to the current approach to crisis management cannot be excluded.

So the constitutions created to prevent the resurgence of fascism, a political system defined by Benito Mussolini as the fusion of the corporation and the state, are outmoded and downright inconvenient because they stand in the way of, well, fascism.

And since people are literally demonstrably angry at the gutting of the commons, governments need to implement the powers of fascist police states?

So. . . a Europe under a police state regime and under the domination of Germany. . .

Gee, who really did win World War II?

H/T to Moussequetaire.

Alexis Tsipras, Slavoj Žižek on the European Left


A fascinating discussion on the Role of the European Left from the 6th Subversive Festival: The Utopia of Democracy, held last month in Zagreb, Croatia, and moderated by author Srećko Horvat.

Greek parliamentarian Alexis Tsipras, chair of radical left party Syriza, assails the hegemony of a Germany relentlessly driven to impose the neoliberal agenda on the continent, and the myth of the “lazy Greek” that serves German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s agenda so well.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek declares that Syriza’s fight is for nothing less than the soul of Europe itself, opposed by technocrats and anti-immigrant nationalists. He hails Syriza as “one of the few signs of hope for Europe” and an anomaly among leftist parties in its refusal to accept failure.

One major focus of the evolving is debt, with Žižek noting that United States power in the 20th Century continued without a major payoff in the debt that fueled it.

Especially illuminating is Tspiras’s discussion of what Syriza would do if the party gained power [it now regularly battles second place in public opinion polls with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn].

The discussion is particularly interesting for offering a perspective all too rarely heard in the U.S.

The program notes:

The accession of Croatia to the periphery of the European Union, as the most recent and possibly the last member state, is a good cause to ask ourselves what kind of Europe this is, but also what is the future of Europe and what is the left wing’s role in it. After the great success of SYRIZA in Greece, a question arises concerning the relationship between social movements and organized party activity, as well as the burning issue of taking over the power and resisting the dictatorship of Troika. Is it even possible to design and bring into life a realistic utopian power within the existing frame of the financial and political union, one that will make a radical shift from the prevailing “neoliberal consensus”? And if it is, what are the necessary strategies and forms of organization? All these questions will be discussed – just two months before Croatia’s accession to the EU and one month before the Altersummit in Athens – by the “most dangerous man in Europe”, a name that the leading mainstream media gave to Alexis Tsipras, and “the most dangerous philosopher of the West”, as they call Slavoj Žižek, a regular guest of the Subversive Festival.

Alexis Tsipras: Greek left wing politician and a member of the Hellenic parliament, president of the Synaspismom political party since 2008, head of the SYRIZA parliamentary group since 2009 and Leader of Opposition since June 2012. He studied civil engineering at the National Technical University of Athens As a university student he joined the ranks of the renovative left movement and was member of the executive board of the Student’s union of the Civil Engineering School of National Technical University of Athens, and also served as student representative at the University Senate. In 2009 Tsipras became a leader of SYRIZA parliamentary group. In the 2012 Greek legislative elections SYRIZA became the second largest party in the Greek parliament and the main opposition party.

Slavoj Žižek: Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic working in the traditions of Hegelianism, Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory and theoretical psychoanalysis. Žižek is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a professor at the European Graduate School. He has been a visiting professor at many important universities. He is currently the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis, Ljubljana. He has been called ‘the most dangerous political philosopher in the West’. He is a traditional guest and Parteigenosse at Subversive Festival. He has published over 50 books that have been translated into 20 languages. He writes on many topics including subjectivity, ideology, capitalism, fundamentalism, racism, tolerance, multiculturalism, human rights, ecology, globalization, the Iraq War, revolution, utopianism, totalitarianism, postmodernism, pop culture, opera, cinema, political theology, and religion. Some of his books are The Sublime Object of Ideology (2002.), The Ticklish Subject (2006.), Violence (2008.), The Parallax View (2009.), First As Tragedy, Then As Force (2010).

Srećko Horvat: One of the founders of Subversive Festival and Subversive Forum. Author, publicist and translator. Published seven books in Croatian. His latest publication — entitled Attention! The Enemy is listening! — is a collection of interviews with Amos Oz, Francis Fukuyama, Gayatri Spivak, Stéphane Hessel, Zygmunt Bauman and others. He is also editor-in-chief of the critical theory dossier Up & Underground and deputy editor of the journal for cultural and social issues Zarez.

Quote of the day: Five-star resort socialism


It’s about time somebody said it.

From María Sosa Troya of El País:

The conference organized by the Socialist International in Portugal between February 4 and 5 garnered little attention among the world’s media, but one moment went viral on the social networks. Beatriz Talegón, the Spanish-born secretary general of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), lambasted delegates at a luxury hotel in the chic beach resort of Cascais, who included representatives of the ruling French PS and Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE), accusing them of being out of touch with the problems facing young people.

“When people are taking to the streets in Madrid, in Brussels, in Cairo, in Beirut, they’re fighting for what we here, as convinced socialists, defend. [...] Unfortunately, it has not been us socialists taking enthusiastically to the streets and mobilizing,” said the 29-year-old, looking around at her increasingly uncomfortable audience, before continuing: “I am surprised that we claim to lead the revolution from our five-star hotels, traveling in luxury cars. When you political leaders tell people that you understand them, that you support them, that we are socialists, do you really feel their pain inside? Can we really understand them from a five-star hotel?”

Read the rest.

Here’s a video of her remarks. We’ve not been able to find a English-subtitled version.

 

Quote of the day: The road not traveled


Rosa Luxemburg, quoted by Paul Le Blanc in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal:

“Socialist democracy does not come as some sort of Christmas present for the worthy people who, in the interim, have loyally supported a handful of socialist dictators”, Luxemburg argued. Genuine socialism was inseparable from freedom, and “freedom must always be freedom for those who think differently”. She warned: “Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. . .at bottom, then, a clique affair — a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians. . .”

Quote of the day: Death of the social contract


From Salvatore Babones, originally published in Australian Options Magazine and reprinted in Truthout:

Over the past forty years, America has become much more politically correct with regard to gender and sexualiy. Men do not openly display calendars featuring topless models on their office walls, and public gay bashing is now considered inappropriate, even in Republican circles. But gender and sexuality are issues that transcend social class. Even rich, powerful men have gay children – or may be gay themselves. Even rich, powerful men have wives.

On every other issue, America – or at least American politics – has swung violently to the right. The more social class is involved, the further to the right America has swung. Poverty was once a social disease to be cured; it is now an individual crime to be punished. Put it down to individualism, conservatism, neoliberalism, or whatever -ism you want, America is now the world’s greatest reactionary force.

Unfortunately, all the evidence is that the rest of the world is following America down the road to perdition. Nowhere are national health insurance schemes, access to free education, and old age pensions being expanded. Nowhere is the world moving forward. Everywhere the social gains of the twentieth century are either being eroded, or destroyed.

EuroWatch: Debt, taxes, Spailout, miseries


It’s the D-word that’s much in vogue in Europe these days, with debt on the tongues of all the right eurocrats and banksters. Harnessing the debt monster is the play, rather than the simple and rational expedient of a jubilee. We’ve got pronouncements from the German and Dutch finance ministers, a harsh word from the man who broke the Bank of England, and a call for a financial autocrat.

Meanwhile, the Swiss military is training for a European collapse.

Major tax hikes and other austerian measures are about to inflict more misery on Portugal, prompting the inevitable protests and a regional election loss for the ruling party. The Spailout’s drawing nearer as austerity bites deeper, Spanish banks get another downgrade, the mass exodus continues, the secession struggle is heating up, and the national dropout rate is soaring — wwhile demand for welfare is rising as funding for programs is cut. And the Italians are saying the cost of a Spailout will drive them deeper into recession.

The British health service faces a corporate takeover, the country gets an IMF rebuke and an auditor’s seal of approval. Iirish unemployed face new bureaucratic obstacles, Cypriots vow an austerity fight, French corporateers declare war on the government, and European car sales continue to fall.

The Iron Chancellor’s kinder, gentler approach

Yep, Angela Merkel’s got a soft heart. [Either that or the threat of common currency exports is causing her some discomfort, given the potential impacts on German industry.]

The “new Merkel,” via euronews:

Schäuble again invokes the D-word

German money minister Wolfgang Schäuble has been resolutely flogging the debt issue, declaring that the only solution to the eurocrisis is the relentless sacrifice of lives and livelihoods to the debt beast.

Only through ruthless, remorseless payments to the private investment sector, he says, will ensure the S word, sustainable development, the perpetuation of an economic system in which finance and consumerism are exalted.

From Agence France-Presse:

Slashing government debt is the only way to put Europe back on a path of sustainable economic growth, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Monday.

“If we want to achieve sustainable growth, we have to reduce the sovereign debt in nearly all advanced economies,” Schaeuble said in a speech at the Thai central bank.

“There is no choice (but) to reduce in the medium term the over-indebtedness,” he added.

“The most important thing for growth is confidence — confidence by investors and confidence by consumers… Long term stability is the most efficient precondition for regaining confidence,” Schaeuble said.

Read the rest.

Decades to debt cuts says Dutch central bankster

Here’s another of those “duh” stories.

From Reuters:

It may be decades before debt levels in the euro zone drop below the EU limit of 60 percent of economic output, but states should still aim to beat that target, European Central Bank policymaker Klaas Knot said on Monday.

The currency bloc needed a strong authority to enforce a reduction of debt levels, Knot, who also heads the Dutch central bank, said.

His downbeat assessment of how long it might be before states again met the standards on debt they had to adhere to when they joined the single currency added to a growing debate about whether those at the sharp end of the debt crisis should be allowed to scale back their austerity programmes.

Read the rest.

For the umpteenth time, it’s not debt that’s the problem, it’s a slavish devotion to its service that’s the real killer.

The transformation of citizens from autonomous political actors into passive servants of private finance is lethal, both to the democratic impulse and to the lives of every living thing on earth.

It’s corporate greed that spends billions to manipulate our minds, and not just on election days. It’s no coincidence that the same minds that shaped government propaganda efforts during World War I became pivotal players in advertising [Edward Bernays] and in molding public opinion [Walter Lippmann].

Some Teutonic Soros Tsuris

Yep, the billionaire who broke the Bank of England is coming down hard on Germany’s reluctance to cough up cash and take on it’s new role as “benevolent hegemon.”

Yes, he really said that.

From Capital.gr:

The European Union could be destroyed by the “nightmare” euro crisis, and Germany needs to take the responsibility to save the common currency, billionaire fund manager George Soros said on Monday Soros, who made his mark as an investor on a big bet against the British pound in 1992, said the other alternative is for Germany — the euro zone’s biggest economy — to simply leave the 17-member currency bloc.

The crisis “is pushing the EU into a lasting depression, and it is entirely self-created,” said Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management. “There is a real danger of the euro destroying the European Union,” he said, according to Reuters.

“The way to escape it is for Germany to accept … greater commitment to helping not only its interests but the interests of the debtor countries, and playing the role of the benevolent hegemon.”

Read the rest.

Nowhere, of course, does he suggest a debt jubilee or even a default, general or selective.

No, he wants his own class ensured of future profits.

And Germany’s money minister calls for a financial Führer

Schäuble wants a single official empowered as the Lord High Chancellor of Money, with sweeping powers over the budgets of not-so-sovereign states.

From Capital.gr:

Germany’s finance minister called on Tuesday for the creation of a ‘currency commissioner’ for the euro zone with wide-ranging powers over national budgets as part of an overhaul of the EU treaty to deepen integration and end the bloc’s debt crisis.

Wolfgang Schaeuble also backed reform of the European Parliament to ensure that only lawmakers from countries affected by a particular issue could vote on it, CNBC reported.

He said he had spoken with Chancellor Angela Merkel about the proposals, adding that she was “somewhat more cautious” about them.

Speaking to reporters on his way back from an Asian tour, Schaeuble said the European Union should start to discuss his proposals for treaty change at a summit in Brussels this week.

Read the rest.

Swiss army trains for European collapse

While popular myth paints Switzerland as a pacifist country, it’s anything but.

In fact, until recently Switzerland may have been the most heavily armed nation in Europe, if you counted in the reserves.

The country is also ready for war, with fallout and blast shelters in place ready to house the entire population, though while all roads, bridges, and tunnels leading into the country were mined and fortified until late in the last century, those defenses have been downsized in recent years.

And now, with the continent in chaos, the Swiss military is preparing for the worst.

From Valentina Pop of EUobserver:

The Swiss army is preparing for possible internal civil unrest as well as waves of refugees from euro-countries as the economic crisis drags on.

Switzerland, a non-EU, non-euro country landlocked between eurozone states, last month launched a military exercise to test its preparedness to deal with refugees and civil unrest.

“It’s not excluded that the consequences of the financial crisis in Switzerland can lead to protests and violence,” a spokesperson of the Swiss defence ministry told CNBC on Monday. “The army must be ready when the police in such cases requests for subsidiary help.”

Some 2,000 officers took part in the “Stabilo Due” military exercise in eight towns around the country, based on a risk map detailing the threat of internal unrest between warring factions and the possibility Continue reading

If you think Obama’s a socialist, listen to one


Upton Sinclair was a socialist who almost became Governor of California in 1934, defeated only when state Republican Chair and film mogul Louis B. Mayer produced a series of ads shown in theaters across the state arousing that base fear that always accompanies hard economic tears, the fear of an influx of immigrants eager either to seize jobs or benefits.

Sinclair was both a socialist and a prolific writer, and his best known book, The Jungle [1906], an expose of the Chicago meat-packing industry, led directly to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug and Meat Inspection acts.

This extract from Chapter 28 of The Jungle features the speech by a socialist orator that leads protagonist Jurgis Rudkus into the movement:

Part 1

Part 2

And here’s a video about the ads produced by Mayer’s film crews that led to the defeat of Sinclair’s gubernatorial campaign on the ticket of the End Poverty in California movement, posted by veteran journalist Greg Mitchell, author of a history of the 1934 Sinclair gubernatorial run, The Campaign of the Century:

So the next time you hear a Republican proclaim the “Obama’s a socialist” chestnut, send them the link to this post.

H/T to Reality Zone.

GreeceWatch: Angry seniors, Germans, jobs, more


The finance minister made a trip north Tuesday, hustling his German counterpart and coming back empty-handed. But he’s plotting his own surprise, a war reparations for the country that sent Greece an earlier incarnation of the Men in Black. Meanwhile, the French president says he wants to give more time to inflict those immiserating cuts.

A crowd of retirees, angry at coming pension cuts and increasing problems getting medical care and medicines, paid a noisy visit to the health ministry, while reporters from Athens News, who haven’t been paid in ages, are calling a job action.

Parliament’s pondering stripping immunity from a thuggish neo-Nazi, Russian tourists are flooding the country, the war of words between the fake and real lefts is heating up, and half of foreign workers in Greece are working without insurance or health benefits.

Finance Minister’s German trip a washout

Yannis Stournaras made his trek to Berlin Tuesday and didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt.

Instead, he got another lecture from his German counterpart.

First, the setup, from ANSAmed:

As leaders of the three parties in the Greek coalition government continue their efforts to sign off on an 11.5-billion-euro package of austerity measures, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is on Tuesday due to present the blueprint, and Greece’s plans for reforms and privatization, to his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble in Berlin. The visit, as Kathimerini notes, comes ahead of the scheduled arrival in Athens on Friday of representatives of Greece’s foreign creditors, the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (known as the troika), whose subsequent review will determine whether or not Greece receives a vital 31.5-billion-euro tranche of rescue funding.

A day before the crucial meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support for Greece and other debt-ridden EU states while insisting that agreed-to reforms must be implemented. In his talks with Schaeuble, Stournaras is expected to repeat Greece’s argument — that a deep recession has hampered reforms — and to sound him out on a possible two-year extension to Greece’s fiscal adjustment period.

Read the rest.

Andy Dabilis of Greek Reporter has the goods on what happened when the two money ministers met:

As Greece prepares to lower the boom again on workers, pensioners and the poor to keep international aid coming, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has warned again that there can be no let-up in austerity measures and reforms.

The hard-liner told Greek Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras in a meeting in Berlin that, “Most important is that Greece fully implement its obligations,” referring to pending cuts of another $14.16 billion and other demands, including speeding the pace of privatization. Schaeuble also reminded Stournaras that, “It is central for Greece to implement fully its commitments,” his ministry said.

>snip<

Stournaras asked for Berlin’s help in stabilizing the Greek economy and restoring development as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is falling. Stournaras also met with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. A statement published in the Frankfurt Rundschau, Westerwelle warned German politicians who are constantly carping about Greece that what they say travels outside the country and has serious ramifications.

He added, “The euro is not in crisis but is and will remain a stable currency. In Europe, we face a debt crisis which has developed into a crisis of trust. Our policy, that of financial discipline, of solidarity, and orientation toward development gives the same answers. At the same time though, we have to be careful not to harm our prestige in Europe and the rest of the world with statements that are instigated from political party tactics.”

Read the rest.

But the finance minister has a trick up his sleeve

He’s got his staff calculating just how much Germany owes Greece in the form of reparations from the last time Men in Black called the shots in Greece, the men in the black uniforms of the Schutzstaffel and their gray-clad colleagues in the Sicherheitsdienst:

From A. Papapostolou of Greek Reporter:

Greece’s Finance Ministry will calculate the country’s claim for World War II reparations against Germany, Deputy Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said.

The General Accounting Office will make the calculation for the first time, Staikouras said today in response to a question from a lawmaker from the Independent Greeks party. The ministry has begun collecting archival material to be examined by a group of experts, he said.

“The German reparations are a particularly complex legal issue and subject to study and settlement at an international level in accordance with the rules of international law,” Staikouras said.

“The case is still outstanding, and as a country we reserve the right and the possibility to manage it to a satisfactory conclusion.”

Read the rest.

Hollande favors giving Greece more time

While François Hollande and Angela Merkel have proven the best of friends, the French president’s willing to openly advocate for giving the Greeks more time to implement all those gruesome austerity measures, including yet another round of pay and pensions and the sell-off of islands, power grids, and such.

He came out again Tuesday for a kinder, gentler implementation.

From ANSAmed:

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday he was in favour of granting Greece’s request for more time to hit its economic targets if the troika overseeing application of its bailout conditions gave a positive appraisal of its progress. Hollande said the plan could be “re-applied” without any need for another bailout.

Rowdy pensioners stage a day of rage

Their target was the health ministry, and their anger was directed at the latest austerity measures and their inability to get treatment and medicines because of job actions by doctors and druggists who’ve not been paid by the state, sometimes for months on end.

From Deutsche Presse-Agentur:

Hundreds of protesting pensioners in central Athens on Tuesday stormed the Greek Health Ministry during a rally to protest health care cuts, demanding a meeting with the minister.

Some 300 pensioners briefly scuffled with riot police as they pushed their way into the building, reaching the office of Health Minister Andreas Lykourentzos.

The minister refused to meet with the demonstrators.

The pensioners are protesting plans by the government to further reduce pensions and benefits and the ongoing action by pharmacists and doctors who are refusing to provide medicine and medical care on credit.

Read the rest.

More from Keep Talking Greece:

Members of security tried to stop them from storming the minister’s office,  however the sprightly pensioners would not step back. They chanted slogans demanding from the government to take back measures that decrease their pensions.

Some Greek media report the minister came out asking them to be quiet, other claim, a pensioners’ delegation had a chat with Lykourentzos for just a couple of minutes inside his office.

Inside or outside the office, the issue is Dimos Koumpouris, chairman of IKA-pensioners Association, told the crowd the minister had called them “liars” and “bullies”.

“The minister called us ‘bullies’, he said he doesn’t believe we have to pay for drugs from our own pockets,” Kumpouris told the angry crowd.

Read the rest.

Here’s a short Newsit video [in Greek] via Keep Talking Greece:

University profs face salary cuts

They’re significant, and will take their pay back to levels of 17 years ago.

From Athens News:

University professors have been told to expect an average 17.5 percent pay cut under the new austerity package.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told lecturers’ representatives on Monday that the precise wage cuts will depending on the wage scale.

According to the lecturers who attended the meeting, the proposed cuts are: five percent on those earning up to 1,000 euros monthly; 15 percent on earnings between 1,001 and 1,500; 25 percent on salaries Continue reading

EuroWatch: Trucks of cash, alarm bells scream


A cacphonous clanging crecendo of alarm bells sounds across Europe, with worried banks readying trucks to haul cash out of Greece as fears of a eurozone exit — even an end to the euro itself — hit a new peak. Meanwhile, rising foiod prices across the globe are raising anxieties in the G20 and eurozome manufacturing dropping again, with Germany taking a major hit.

From a Cassandran musing about too little, too late, there’s a German pension system in peril, more layoffs for Opel, and more spats in Merkel’s party over bond buying.

Lots of alarms in Spain, where the government’s now acknowledged they’re working out their Spailout proposal, fervent hopes of an eurobank response, and the provinces are sinking, their cash running out, while the much-merged Bankia spirals into bakruptcy and the prime minister postures.

France gives us another bank collapse, more spiking jobless numbers, a furious effort to control the political base, and some presidential junketeering.

Italy offers more junketerring, ten cities on the verge of bankruptcy and the threat of a school shutdown, and the impending collapse of one of Europe’s oldest banks.

From Ireland, we’ve got a threatened recall and a falling beerometer, while the British cabinet faces a shakeup as a battle over taxes brews, and grownups move back in with their parents, while the Portuguese government prepares for the Portout and a Fozzie bear rises to the heights of Danish politics as unemployment rises, and Cyprus may join the PIIGS.

We conclude with three stories on car sales and some Polish good sense.

Banksters get ready for the Grexit

They’re fine-tuning their systems, readying fleets of trucks to carry cash, and doing everything necessary for the return to the drachma.

It’s all in preparation for the Grexit, but the measures they’re taking will be in place in the event Spain and/or Italy get the boot — or in the event of the end of the euro itself.

From Nelson D. Schwartz of the New York Times:

Bank of America Merrill Lynch has looked into filling trucks with cash and sending them over the Greek border so clients can continue to pay local employees and suppliers in the event money is unavailable. Ford has configured its computer systems so they will be able to immediately handle a new Greek currency.

>snip<

JPMorgan Chase, though, is taking no chances. It has already created new accounts for a handful of American giants that are reserved for a new drachma in Greece or whatever currency might succeed the euro in other countries.

>snip<

Greece’s abandonment of the euro would most likely create turmoil in global markets, which have experienced periodic sell-offs whenever Europe’s debt problems have flared up over the last two and a half years. It would also increase the pressure on Italy and Spain, much larger economic powers that are struggling with debt problems of their own. “It’s safe to say most companies are preparing,” said Paul Dennis, a program manager with Corporate Executive Board, a private advisory firm.

In a survey this summer, the firm found that 80 percent of clients polled expected Greece to leave the euro zone, and a fifth of those expected more countries to follow.

Read the rest.

G20 prepares for global food summit as prices soar

The combination of drought and heavy speculation of the commodities market has sent food prices soaring across the globe.

August was the second month in a row that profits from commodities beat the bond and stock markets, as investors sought refuge in the safety tangible goods — which is good news for them but bad for the rest of us, who are paying more for life’s necessities.

With the global economy in crisis, the G20 nations are under intense pressure to convene a major conference on food prices.

From Tom Bawden of The Independent:

The G20 is under growing pressure to call an emergency food summit after the price of essentials jumped by ten per cent on average in July.

New research shows prices are at a record high following “an unprecedented summer of droughts and high temperatures”. Cereal prices were particularly hard hit, with maize and wheat rising by a quarter and soybeans by 17 per cent, as poor weather decimated harvests in the US, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, according to the World Bank. The average global food price in July stood six per cent higher than a year earlier.

“Food prices rose again sharply threatening the health and well-being of millions of people,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Africa and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable, but so are people in other countries where the prices of grains have gone up abruptly,” he added.

The World Bank report also warned that prices could continue to rise this year. “Negative factors – such as exporters pursuing panic policies, a severe El Nino, disappointing Southern hemisphere crops or strong rises in energy prices – could cause significant further grain price hikes,” the report said.

Read the rest.

Eurozone manufacturing records another decline

While the whole common currency area has been in decline, the latest numbers show a particularly sharp decline in the zone’s industrial giant, Germany.

From the Financial Times via CNN:

Eurozone manufacturing contracted for the 13th consecutive month in August, as exports in Germany, the bloc’s main engine of growth, fell at the steepest rate in three years, according to a purchasing managers’ index.

The Markit manufacturing PMI for the 17-country euro bloc was revised to 45.1 from the initially estimated 45.3. Although above July’s 37-month low of 44.0, it still remained significantly below the 50 mark, which indicates a contraction.

The figures contrasted with more encouraging manufacturing numbers from the UK, also released on Monday, which showed a bounce to 49.5 from 45.2 in July. But Markit, which compiles the data, emphasised a grim underlying picture for the country’s manufacturing sector, while disappointing PMI data from China at the weekend pointed to a more serious downturn than Beijing had been anticipating, economists said.

Analysts said although the eurozone’s PMI rate of decline was easing, eurozone gross domestic product was likely to contract in the third quarter, which would mark the euro region’s second recession in three years. GDP for the single-currency area shrank 0.2 per cent in the second quarter.

Read the rest.

More on the German numbers from Spiegel:

Exports are a major pillar of the German economy, but now the sector is starting to feel the impact of the euro crisis and the global economc slowdown. German export orders fell in August by the highest rate in more than three years, the Markit financial information company announced Monday after conducting a survey of 500 industrial firms.

“Survey respondents commented on a general slowdown in global demand and particular weakness in new business inflows from Southern Europe,” the institute said. The firms hardest hit by declines are manufacturers of machinery and other investment goods as well as producers of intermediate goods such as chemicals.

In the first half of 2012, German exports had still grown thanks to demand from Japan, the United States and Russia. But it was already evident then that exports to crisis-hit countries were falling sharply, and that trend is now continuing.

Markit economist Tim Moore said the German industrial sector is going through its worst quarter — the three months to the end of September — in more than three years.

Read the rest.

And more from Jonathan Cable of Reuters:

In Italy the main index (43.6) has now been below the break-even point for over a year and was worse than economists had predicted while in Spain it has been sub-50 since May last year.

The latter two countries are deep into austerity programs which are aimed at bringing their debt piles under control but also keep their economies stuck in recession.

They are looking for the European Central Bank help them escape this vicious circle by buying debt issued by their governments to bring down borrowing costs.

“The national picture remains one of widespread contraction, only Ireland saw manufacturing output rise. The situation in Italy is also becoming more of a cause for concern, as it falls further down the PMI league table,” [Markit senior economist Rob] Dobson said.

Read the rest.

Merkel and the reign of bean counters

Is the new European regime, pushed by Angela Merkel, doomed to failure?

And, if so, why?

Consider this from New Europe’s pseudonymous Kassandra:

The late interest of Angela Merkel for “more Europe” unveils the German agony after it realised that, in retrospect, things are not developing in the direction it would like.

Germany now asks for a new Treaty that will function as a Constitution with the focus on a common budget centrally controlled from Brussels (write Frankfurt or, better, Berlin). Member states will be offered in return Eurobonds and other ephemeral facilities. Yet the “patent” is unlikely to work as it seems to be late overdue by two or three years. A midsummer night dream as William would have said but the summer is already gone.

For any major or even minor change in the Union, the French agreement is necessary. It is a “sine qua non” prerequisite. Europe without France would only be a complex of barracks and camps with German commanders. Four and a half years ago, October 12, 2008, the then-powerful Nickolas Sarkozy gave to Angela Merkel the great opportunity to reshape Europe, secure the euro and save all economies, now collapsing. Greece, for instance, could have been saved with €20, maximum €30 billion. Now the salvation of Greece (and soon of several others) may well be history. Why it was not done four and a half years ago? Because then (and now), Europe was ruled by accountants.

Read the rest.

Perhaps the writer, whose pseudonym comes from the princess of Troy granted the boon of foretelling the future along with curse that none would believe her, is correct.

We think the real problem is enslavement of debt itself and the concomitant for endless growth contained within it.

So long as the present system endures, cycles of boom and bust, accompanied by the upward transfer of wealth in a globalized financial regime, will continue to inflict misery on billions.

German pension system in peril

Pension systems in both Europe and the U.S. are premised on the accumulation of interest, since companies and government put away insufficient wealth to fund them.

That means times of low interest imperil pensions, dependent as they are on the inflation that comes from debt-based financing.

Now, with interest rates in Germany at or near zero, the government’s pension plan is in crisis, and a political debate over funding is shaping up.

From Michael Gessat of Deutsche Welle:

German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen tells today’s workers that they may face poverty upon retiring. But her proposed fix for the Continue reading

GreeceWatch: The debt madness nears climax?


In its original Greek, klimax meant a ladder, and, by extension, the culmination of a process achieved through a series of steps leading to a defined end.

So it’s an appropriate term to use to describe the process now underway as, step by step, Greece is prepared for what amounts to the final act of, well, a Greek tragedy, is which a people and the wealth they’ve accumulated through a ancient and conflict-ridden history and are sacrificed to appease the paramount god of the age, the financial agora.

With Prime Minister Antonis Samaras busily paying obeisance to the market’s minions this week, the citizens of Greece await word from the North on the next round of miseries awaiting them.

At issue is whether or not the country will receive the next round of Troika bailout cash needed to keep the country in business while it dissects itself, piece by piece, and sells off its body parts to raise the cash to pay off interest on the earlier bailouts and all those bonds, themselves dissected into sundry black instruments of speculation.

There’s a lot to tell today, starting with the latest maneuvers by prime ministers and presidents to iron out the latest austerity package and all those cuts needed to get that next fix of cash. The eurozone’s top financial minister says no money til October, and only then if Greece pays proper obeisance, and there’s worrying evidence that even more cuts are called for, while the top two europols are polishing up their messaging, with some theatrics thrown in for free.

No sooner do we hear softer sounds from the German press that another paper reveals that the world’s giant banks are strategizing for the Grexit.

More pay cuts for civil servants are unveiled, city governments close their doors in protest, while tax collectors angrily denounce layoffs in their own ranks as more evidence of tax evasion surfaces and the government announces a new war on tax cheats. And despite all that, the Democratic Left pledges allegiance.

For out final offerings we have a call to listen to history, a Greek editor’s reminder that the Torika is making real profits from Greece’s misery, and word that Greek junk bonds are all the rage at investment houses.

No bailout money until October at the earliest

The next round of cash is contingent on Greece’s capitulation to the latest demands for budget, jobs, pay, and pension cuts, as well as the sell-off of parts, gas lines, the post office, and so very much more.

Samaras is spending the week ducking in and out of meetings with the powerful pols of the North, trying to sell them on his coalition’s latest round of deadly cuts, whilst simultaneously making a plea to spread the misery out over four years instead of two.

Eurozone finance chief and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker Wednesday told Samaras there’ll be no word on the next round of the bailout until October at the earliest.

He also took pains to warn the Greek public that the country’s now getting its final chance for Troika aide.

From the BBC:

After a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, Mr Juncker praised the nation’s “tremendous efforts” so far to cut its deficit.

But he said “priority number one” was further consolidation of the public finances of Greece.

He added that Athens must put in place economic and structural reforms.

These include changes to the labour market, and the relaunching of privatisation programmes which have been promised but not enacted.

Read the rest.

As for Samaras’s plea to give the country two more years to implement the austerity measures, Juncker said “I have to underline this will depend on the findings of the troika mission and we have to discuss the length of the period and other dimensions.”

More from Agence France-Presse:

Juncker, head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, said he was “totally opposed” to Greece being forced out of the 17-nation bloc, a move he said would create a “major risk” for the entire euro area.

>snip<

“As far as the immediate future is concerned, the ball is in the Greek court. In fact this is the last chance and Greek citizens need to know this,” Juncker said after a two-hour meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

Juncker added that in his opinion, the Greek government’s “priority number one is the consolidation of public finances, (along with) a robust and credible strategy for closing the mid term gap” in its debt-laden accounts.

He called this a “precondition” for the release of further installments from a 130-billion-euro ($161-billion) rescue package that Greece has been drawing from this year to ward off bankruptcy.

Read the rest.

But it gets even worse. . .

Greece may have to make even greater cuts

This is getting ridiculous. Each time the Greek government makes the cuts demanded by the the Troikarchs of the IMF/eurobank/European Commision, they get hit with demands to make even greater cuts.

Andy Dabilis of Greek Reporter writes of that latest ill omen:

[T]he Financial Times reported that Samaras’ uneasy coalition government, consisting of his New Democracy Conservatives, the PASOK Socialists and Democratic Left, may need to make $16.9 billion in cuts, some $2.76 million more than anticipated, although there are fears it could reach $18.7 billion, the amount the government has identified. Much of that would come from yet more pay cuts, tax hikes and a fourth round of slashed pensions that would push many elderly below the poverty line, with some auxiliary pensions to be eliminated while tax evaders owing the country $70 billion continue to escape.

A senior official told the Financial Times that if the cuts are carried out that Greek primary budget expenditures would be the lowest in the Eurozone as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, a humiliating comedown. Greece is trying to cut its budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP in two years, from 9.3 percent now. Samaras wants a two-year extension because he said the austerity measures have worsened a five-year recession that has seen unemployment hit 23.1 percent – 54.9 percent for those under 25 – and is set to shrink the economy by 7 percent. Greece has lost 25 percent of its GDP in five years.

“The economy will not be able to bear the burden of such huge spending cuts in 2013 and 2014. If there is no extension, economic activity will be depressed and it will be very difficult for any government to survive,” said another government official. The government is also considering laying off 40,000 state workers at reduced pay and firing them within a year.

Read the rest.

This is simply madness, an infliction of even more draconian measures that will ensure that the country is unable to raise the revenues demanded, which in turn will lead to one of two eventualities, either a quick Grexit or the final and complete looting of the nation’s resources and the subjugation of its populace into latter-day serfs.

Merkel and Hollande plot their Grand-Guignol

From Wikipedia

Grand-Guignol was a Parisian theater with a bill of fare that gave its name to a genre, the presentation of graphic, amoral horror productions as exemplified in the poster to the right, .

The woman, bound and blinded, threatened by a shadowy man with knife raised to strike provides the perfect metaphor for the people of Greece today, enchained my misery and privation and deprived of a vision of hope.

Two key players in scripting the drama are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, and they’ll soon be meeting to draft the latest act.

From Agence France-Presse:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will try to present a united front when they meet Thursday ahead of a fateful few weeks for Greece’s eurozone future.

As leaders of the bloc’s top two economies, the pair carry the weight of expectations that they will drive decisive action to remedy the near three-year crisis, despite their differences.

The timing of the evening summit in the German capital is no coincidence — Merkel will host the Greek prime minister in Berlin less than 24 hours later before he meets Hollande in Paris Saturday.

>snip<

Germany, Europe’s effective paymaster, has insisted Athens must stick to the timeline and reforms agreed in return for its second rescue package, while France is seen as more flexible.

Read the rest.

But is there a rift between the writers?

Hollande is one of that strange, flabby, and subservient species that passes for a socialist in today’s European politics, while Merkel’s a stolid conservative in the traditional German mold, devoted to banks, business, and bürgerlich values.

So their dance is delicate, and fraught with nuance. Holland must appear to at least mouth the values that once went with the S-world, while invariably capitulating to the demands of the market.

Now there seems to be a tiff, worthy of note, but, we presume, ultimately meaningless.

From Deutsche Presse Agentur:

Signs of tensions between France and Germany emerged Wednesday as cash-strapped Greece stepped up a diplomatic offensive to convince Europe that it needs more time to introduce a tough round of economic reforms.

>snip<

Merkel‘s spokesman said Berlin and Paris had agreed that the German and French leaders would just make short statements to reporters before a dinner meeting to discuss Greece crisis and the eurozone debt crisis.

But it emerged Wednesday that Hollande now plans to break ranks with the Chancellor and to hold his own press briefing of the French media in the French Embassy in Berlin after his talks with Merkel.

>snip<

Merkel‘s spokesman Steffen Seibert denied that Germany was upset at this departure from the usual practice in Berlin.

“If a foreign guest wants to also go to his country‘s embassy, that‘s up to him and certainly not open to criticism from us,” he said.

Read the rest.

Ah, there’s another European term for it, appropriately French: Théâtre de l’Absurde.

And while we’re on the subject of Théâtre de l’Absurde

Consider the following from Melissa Eddy and Jack Ewing of the New York Times:

Bild, Germany’s most-read newspaper, has accused Greece of “making our euro kaput” and only a few days ago referred to the country as “a bottomless pit.”

On Wednesday, though, the paper featured a friendly chat with the man in charge of that bottomless pit: Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, who pleaded during an interview for more time to repair his country’s shattered economy. The Bild reporter even inquired how Mr. Samaras was feeling after an eye operation.

Coming from a newspaper known for a keen understanding of what its 2.8 million readers want to hear, the shift in tone could be significant. It coincides with signals from members of Chancellor Continue reading

Quote of the day: François Hollande, neoliberal


From Philippe Marlière, Professor of French and European politics at London’s University College, on the pseudo-socialism of the French president:

The Socialist president has not opposed the EU-inspired austerity programmes that are strangling the economies of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Worse, he has implicitly endorsed them by sending an unprecedented, thinly veiled warning to Greek voters days before the dramatic rerun of the general elections. He hinted that if Greeks insisted on casting their votes in favour of Syriza, a leftwing “anti-austerity” coalition, it could cost them Greece’s participation in the eurozone.

On 9 August, France’s constitutional council ruled that the adoption of the EU fiscal compact did not require a change to the constitution. This would have necessitated the support of three-fifths of MPs; an unachievable majority. Instead, the treaty will enter into force if the government passes an “organic law” by a simple majority. Hollande said there would be no referendum on the new treaty – he is afraid of losing it.

This denial of democracy has infuriated the left. Many argue that the pact allows Brussels to dictate national policy by allowing it to impose sanctions on countries that fail to respect a structural deficit ceiling of 0.5% of GDP. The diktat will restrict all governments’ room for manoeuvre in the foreseeable future. What is more, it dramatically undermines parliament’s powers to pass laws as it sees fit for the country. When the French return from their summer holidays, they can only hope for further spending cuts (€33bn in 2012-14) and tax rises to meet Hollande’s 3% deficit targets by the end of 2013.

Hollande has chosen to stay the course of the punitive austerity policies that are ruining European countries. Mr Normal has quietly taken to the neoliberal sea – and he makes no waves.

Read the rest.

Gore Vidal on the American national security state


Provocative, outspoken, sometimes eccentric, and invariably interesting, Gore Vidal shuffled off the mortal coil last night in Los Angeles. He was 86.

A member of the American aristocracy and a man who delighted in provoking power, Vidal was, among other things, a brilliant novelist, a scintillating essayist, and a relentless critic of Imperial America, he was, above else, endlessly entertaining.

Here’s his 18 March 1998 appearance at the National Press Club, where his address starts at about the ten minutes mark and ends at the one-hour mark. It’s a devastating and witty critique of the national security state. Note his prescient critique of NATO:

Vidal was regarded by many in the elite as a class traitor, with William F. Buckley Jr. Among his most outspoken critics. Here’s a memorable confrontation between the two from 1968 during the Democratic National Convention:

From his Los Angeles Times obituary:

“Style,” Vidal once said, “is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” By that definition, he was an emperor of style, sophisticated and cantankerous in his prophesies of America’s fate and refusal to let others define him.

Business Insider has a collection of quotes. A couple worth noting:

As the age of television progresses the Reagans will be the rule, not the exception. To be perfect for television is all a President has to be these days.

Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.

More from a compendium posted by The Guardian:

“The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return”

“We should stop going around babbling about how we’re the greatest democracy on earth, when we’re not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic.”

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

UPDATE: Mr. Fish has just posted his own graphic tribute to the writer, via his blog Clowncrack, and titled simply “Gore Vidal”: