Category Archives: Debt

The painful slow death of the liberal church

In this, the latest episode in his series for teleSUR English, Pulitzer prize winning journalist and Harvard Divinity School graduate Chris Hedges joins two graduate students of Union Theological Seminary to discuss the plight of the liberal Christian church in the United States.

As conservative — even radically conservative — Christian denominations surge in membership and their seminaries thrive, the schools which turned out the liberal ministers who served as bulwarks of the civil rights movement are faced with declining enrollments.

As Michael Vanacore and Edward Escalon recount, Union is currently center of a storm of controversy as the school entertains plans to build a luxury condominium tower as a way to fund repair of is decaying campus.

The tragedy is that development of the project would go a long way toward gentrifying Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, a neighborhood largely inhabited be people of color.

It’s a fascinating discussion.

From the Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: The Suicide of the Liberal Church

Program notes:

In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges speaks with two Union Theological Seminary student-activists about their fight against the school’s plans to sell property to luxury condo developers and further gentrify Harlem.

As for esnl, we’re of the atheist persuasion. That said, we don’t espouse to the creed of the so-called New Atheists, folks who are as evangelical about their beliefs that they remind us of Jehovah’s witnesses.

We’ve believed, in turn, in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity again, before arriving at our present position.

There are many times in our life when we’ve been helped by religious folks, including the months after we forced out of our parental home for refusing induction into the army during the Vietnam War, when we were given a place to live in the homes of a Quaker family and later a religiously Jewish family.

It was our father’s mother who led the integration of her Presbyterian church in Abilene, Kansas, early in the last century, forcing the overtly racist minister to back down when she threatened to lead her family and friends in an exodus from the church.

The resurgence of fundamentalist Christianity, often tinged with racism and bigotry against all whose lives differ from their narrowly prescribed beliefs and proscribed conduct, is fully as disturbing as the soaring wealth of the one percent.

The fusion of two tendencies in today’s political landscape is troubling indeed.

Charts of the day II: Student debt, Black burden

Student debt is yet another burden that falls disproportionately on America’s African American families, as evidenced in these charts from Less Debt, More Equity: Lowering Student Debt While Closing the Black-White Wealth Gap [PDF], a joint report from Demos and The Institute on Assets and Social Policy:


Greek tragedy and dreams of a Star Trek future

Yanis Varoufakis is a political hybrid, perceived as so a dangerous radical by the financial powers of Europe that they forced his ouster as finance minister in the supposedly radical leftist government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had be voted into power precisely to resist that Troika of European Central Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.

His term in office lasted less that six months, from 27 January to 6 July of 2015.

Varoufakis now serves as Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens and as private consultant for Bellevue, Washington, video game  development and software distributor Valve Corporation. He’s also a prolific blogger and Twitterpater.

In a 3 August 2015 profile by Ian Parker of the New Yorker, Varoufakis described one incident during his brief tenure a Greek money manager:

At the White House, Varoufakis repeated a line that he had used at Brookings: “Mr. President, my government is planning, and I am planning, to compromise, compromise, and compromise, but we’re not going to be compromised.” (“He liked that,” Varoufakis recalled.) Varoufakis told him, “Mr. President, of course one has to suffer costs in order to get the benefits, but the question is the balance. There has to be a positive balance.” He went on, “We are being asphyxiated for trying to simulate what you did, right?”

Obama showed more solidarity than Varoufakis was expecting. “I know — austerity sucks,” Obama said. (“He used those words. Very un-Presidential.”) According to Varoufakis, the President was referring less to austerity’s unpleasantness than to its ineffectiveness. Obama meant that austerity “doesn’t work — it creates misery, and it’s self-perpetuating, and it’s self-defeating.”

Varoufakis told Obama that he hadn’t felt quite the same comradeship when speaking with the U.S. Treasury Secretary. “Jack Lew is not toeing the Obama line,” he said.

Lew’s views prevailed.

In the following interview for The Real News Network by Canadian lawyer, journalist, and environmental activist Dimitri Lascaris, Varoufakis details the pressure on Greece and the reasons he abandoned his office:

Yanis Varoufakis: How The Greek People’s Magnificent “No” Became “Yes”

From the transcript:

LASCARIS: Let’s talk a little bit about the future, what the future holds for Greece in particular. As you know, I’m sure all too painfully, the Syriza government has been implementing a series of so-called reforms at the insistence of the Troika, which many regard as being harsher than the terms previously dictated to the right-wing New Democracy-led government. And recently Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, expressed the view that 2016 would mark the beginning of the end of the economic crisis in Greece. Do you think that that’s a realistic assessment in light of the nature and harshness of the austerity measures being implemented?

VAROUFAKIS: Dimitri, a simple one-word answer: no. Look. This program that was agreed in August, and which I voted against in Greek parliament, was designed to fail. There is precisely zero probability that it will succeed. The prime minister himself, Tsipras, said so back in August. He described the treaty that he signed, the agreement that he signed on [I think] the 13th of July, as a document that was extracted from him by coup d’etat. These were not my words. These were his.

Now, the great disagreement we had, we had this personally, as well, in a very comradely and friendly way, but it was nevertheless a strong, intellectual disagreement, was this. He said to me, and he said to the parliament, and he said to the public, that we have to accept this toxic, failed program that is never going to work, because if we don’t then the banks will never open again, and we’ll then have blood on the streets, more or less.

Well, what he intended to do was to introduce a parallel program, legislative program, comprising his own, his own government’s agenda for looking after the weak, sustaining those on very low pensions and income. A parallel program, he called it. So there is the [proposed] failed program, which is the price we have to pay according to Prime Minister Tsipras, for the surrender, the defeat. But we introduce a parallel program which justifies why you are staying in power to implement the toxic program.

Now, it is indeed the case that Prime Minister Tsipras and his government tried to do that. In early–late November, early December, they did table in Greek parliament the parallel program. Two days later, the president of the Euro Working Group, which is the effective functionary of the Troika, it came out and said, uh-uh, you have to withdraw that. And a Greek minister humiliated himself and the Greek government by making it sound as if it was his own idea that they should withdraw this parallel program. So this parallel program now has been withdrawn by the Greek government itself, at the behest of the Troika.

So even by the logic of the prime minister, the answer to your question is no.

If you’re curious about Varoufakis’s political and economic beliefs, here’s a December TED talk in which he expounds of a set of ideas that he believes is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian, via his post on Social Europe:

Why Capitalism Will Eat Democracy

Program notes:

Have you wondered why politicians aren’t what they used to be, why governments seem unable to solve real problems? Economist Yanis Varoufakis, the former Minister of Finance for Greece, says that it’s because you can be in politics today but not be in power — because real power now belongs to those who control the economy. He believes that the mega-rich and corporations are cannibalizing the political sphere, causing financial crisis. In this talk, hear his dream for a world in which capital and labor no longer struggle against each other, “one that is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian.”

A transcript of the talk is posted here.

The New Official City of Berkeley Anthem™

Yep, there’s no more fitting anthem for the City of Berkeley, California, than this little video offering from Berkeley music vlogger 6VIDEO9.

For six years we toiled as the land use reporter for the late print edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet til shortly before the paper folded, laying off its paid journalists but still active as a website.

Despite it’s reputation as a city of the radical Left, Berkeley has a political system devoted to gentrification and the construction of massive apartments catering to upscale tenants, while less monumental erections serve as hives for UC Berkeley students, who are forced to pay their rent to corporations run by investment bankers, massive real estate holding companies, and the occasional UC Berkeley professor.

The reason the city allows the demolition of existing buildings is due in part to the city’s largest landowner — an owner exempt from property taxes and development fees — the University of California.

And the pressure comes from a decades-old decision to stop building student housing for undergrads, rendering students objects of corporate prey. And to cover the coast of soaring rents and ever-increasing tuition rates, they become prey for another clutch of predators, the banksters who force them into indentured servitude to cover the costs of their student loans.

The city government and its police, fire, ambulance, and other services depends in part on funds from it’s share of real estate taxes, and in part on funds from real estate development fees, which serve as the basis for the budget of the city planning department.

Oh, and it’s a former city planning executive who spun through the revolving door and emerged as a [shock!] real estate developer who is spearheading what will be the largest upscale apartment highrise of the 21st Century, with images of the ex-planner and his project featured prominently in the video.

Mayor Tom Bates is also included, his image shown under a Bates Hotel header. Bates is a developer-turned politician, and a former UC Berkeley football star who campaigns are mainly funded by folks from the real estate trade, from builders and owners to those who earn their money from commissions on building and land sales.

And with further ado [or adieu] the :

Stack o’ Dolla

Program note:

Is this the City You Want? Collective

Headline of the day IV: Fears of Spanish Left turn

From El País, fears of a left-populist Spanish government:

Brussels warns that “political risk” in Spain is eroding market confidence

European Commission lays out views of current situation in its draft ‘Spain 2016’ report

Chart of the day II: Euro governments’ debt/GDP

From Eurostat [PDF], with averages in black for both the 28-nation European Union [EU28]and the 19-nation common currency Eurozone Area [EA19]:

Compared with the second quarter of 2015, twenty-one Member States registered a decrease in their debt to GDP ratio at the end of the third quarter of 2015 and seven an increase. The  highest decreases in the ratio were recorded in Ireland (-2.7 percentage points -pp), Italy (-1.4 pp), Bulgaria (-1.3 pp), Finland (-1.2 pp) and Malta (-1.1 pp), and the highest increases in Slovenia (+3.3 pp), Greece (+2.1 pp) and Portugal (+1.9 pp).

Compared with the second quarter of 2015, twenty-one Member States registered a decrease in their debt to GDP ratio at the end of the third quarter of 2015 and seven an increase. The highest decreases in the ratio were recorded in Ireland (-2.7 percentage points -pp), Italy (-1.4 pp), Bulgaria (-1.3 pp), Finland (-1.2 pp) and Malta (-1.1 pp), and the highest increases in Slovenia (+3.3 pp), Greece (+2.1 pp) and Portugal (+1.9 pp).

Greeks take to the streets in rage over austerity

Any hope that a Greek coalition government led by the leftist Syriza party of Alexis Tsipras could save the country from the domination of the IMF/European Commission/Eurobank Troika’s harsh asuterity demands has proven illusory, and Greeks are once again hitting the streets to express their outrage of the immiserization of lives.

From the Guardian:

Farmers’ roadblocks, ferries immobilised in ports, pensioners taking to the streets: protest has returned to Greece in what many fear could be the beginning of the crisis-plagued country’s most confrontational winter yet.

From the Greek-Bulgarian frontier to the southern island of Crete, farmers are up in arms over the spectre of more internationally mandated austerity.

“It’s war,” says Dimitris Vergos, a corn grower speaking from the northern town of Naoussa. “If they [politicians] go on pushing us to the edge, if they want to dehumanise us further, we will come to Athens and burn them all.”

From PressTV, a look at one protest, a tractorcade — a form of agrarian protest launched here in the U.S. in the 1970s by the National Farmers Union:

Greek Farmers Block Roads In Anti-Austerity Demo

Still more on the farmers action from euronews:

The Greek government’s plans for pension reforms have brought thousands of farmers out on the streets in protests in the north of the country, and in Athens it was pensioners who voiced their anger.

The farmers have threatened to block key roads with their tractors on Wednesday.

“We have to stop this pension reform plan, because in the end we will be left both without pensions and without health care. They just keep cutting and cutting with each bailout that comes,” said one elderly woman in Athens.

“Their goal is for social security as we know it to cease to exist,” said an 82-year-old man.

Reuters covers another aspect of today’s actions:

Public and private sector workers plan a national walkout on Feb. 4 but ship workers took early action on Wednesday by starting a 48-hour strike that brought passenger shipping activity in the seafaring nation to an effective standstill.

Ferries remained docked at Greek ports and farmers poured milk onto the streets on Wednesday in protest over plans to revamp Greece’s pensions system, a condition for the country’s multi-billion euro bailout.

Public anger is growing over the leftist-led government’s drive to cut its costly pension bill by some 1.8 billion euros this year, the equivalent of about 1 percent of national output.

This footage from the Adalou Agency shows the action — or rather inaction — today at Piraeus, port for the city of Athens, where the engines of the normally bustling ferries are silent and the ships remained moored. Via Video-News:

Protest against government’s plans on social insurance and pension reform in Athens

Program notes:

Mooring ferries during a 48-hour strike of National Seamen’s Federation against the government’s new social security reform, at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece,on 20 January 2016. The National Seamen’s Federation (PNO) announced a 48-hour nationwide strike on 20 and 21 January, during which no ships will set sail from ports around the country. People take fruits and vegetables as open-air fruit and vegetable vendors block with their products the entrance of Labor Ministry, downtown Athens, Greece, and gave away their produce to passersby. The protesters oppose government’s plans on social insurance and pension reforms.

Ekathimerini covers the so-called “necktie protest” in Athens itself:

More than 6,000 Greek white-collar professionals including doctors, lawyers and engineers protested in Athens on Thursday, waving their neckties as they marched against proposed pension reforms required by the country’s creditors.

“No to the law that dumps us in the street,” read one of the banners of the workers who joined in what the Greek media has dubbed the “Necktie Revolution”. Police estimated the crowd at 6,000-strong.

Greece’s leftist government recently proposed reducing the highest pension benefits and increasing social security contributions by both employers and staff.

“According to this proposed law, 84 percent of our earnings will go to taxes and other contributions (to the state),” said a 35-year-old engineer who gave his name as Haris.

RT’s RUPTLY has raw video of the Athens protest:

Greece: Rise of the professionals – architects, engineers and lawyers take to Athens’ streets

Program notes:

Thousands of engineers, lawyers and freelancers marched through Athens, Thursday, to protest against government-proposed reforms to social security payments and pensions, as mandated in the latest tranche of Troika measures.

SOT Katerina Fasoula, Protesting Egineer (Greek): “I voted for Mr. Tsipras two times, because I believed in him and his word, I thought he would understand us engineers, but unfortunately they do not understand anything and only care about strictly personal benefits.”

SOT Vassilis Donas, Protesting Engineer (Greek): “It is impossible for us freelancers to be paying more than 90% of our income in insurance contributions and taxes to the state.”

Syriza campaigned and won on a pledge to overturn the Troika’s austerian regime, and now that it has knuckled under, one wonders what impetus their failure will give to the hopes of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, the only other significant party with a firm anti-Troika stance.

One shudders to think.