Category Archives: Deep Politics

Austerity forces Greeks to sell assets abroad


We have consistently held that the whole purpose of austerity regimes implemented and enforced by the world’s institutional lenders has but one goal: The concentrate wealth at the top.

The latest example comes from Greece, where the Troika of the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and the European Commission have forced the sales of nationally owned transportation systems, healthcare programs, the electric power grid, ports, islands, and other assets.

The austerity regime also forces Greeks to pay more in taxes and fees, while mandating public and private sector pay, pension, and benefit cuts.

So it should come as now surprise that Greeks are being forced to sell their homes, businesses, and other assets to foreing buyers,

From Kathimerini:

The mergers and acquisitions (M&A) chart of Greece in 2016 that PricewaterhouseCoopers presented on Wednesday showed that foreigners have been acquiring assets in Greece while Greeks have generally been selling.

In total last year assets with a combined value of 4.4 billion euros changed hands in 38 transactions. The value level is about two-and-a-half times that recorded in 2015. Sixty-two percent of that amount came from National Bank’s sale of Finansbank in Turkey.

Last year’s M&A crop was dominated by what PwC dubbed “divestment of the systemic banks from their non-core assets.” This divestment fetched about 3.3 billion euros, or 75 percent of all transactions’ value. When the 500 million euros from privatizations (Piraeus Port Authority, Astir Palace etc) are added, then 2016 can be seen as the year of almost compulsory divestment. Without that, the M&A transaction volume would have come to just 600 million euros.

In recent years the M&A cycle has been “incoming,” with PwC analysts noting that foreign buyers are trying to take advantage of the drop in the value of Greek assets, as three in five transactions last year concerned acquisitions of Greek assets by foreign investors.

Steve Bannon elevated to National Security Council


Be afraid.

Be very, very afraid.

An outspoken white supremacist and guru of the Alt-right has been handed one of the most powerful positions in the White House, in addition to all the others he already holds.

From the New York Times: [emphasis added]:

The whirlwind first week of Donald J. Trump’s presidency had all the bravura hallmarks of a Stephen K. Bannon production.

It started with the doom-hued inauguration homily to “American carnage” in United States cities co-written by Mr. Bannon, followed a few days later by his “shut up” message to the news media. The week culminated with a blizzard of executive orders, mostly hatched by Mr. Bannon’s team and the White House policy adviser, Stephen Miller, aimed at disorienting the “enemy,” fulfilling campaign promises and distracting attention from Mr. Trump’s less than flawless debut.

But the defining moment for Mr. Bannon came Saturday night in the form of an executive order giving the rumpled right-wing agitator a full seat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council — while downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities. It is a startling elevation of a political adviser, to a status alongside the secretaries of state and defense, and over the president’s top military and intelligence advisers.

In theory, the move put Mr. Bannon, a former Navy surface warfare officer, admiral’s aide, investment banker, Hollywood producer and Breitbart News firebrand, on the same level as his friend, Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, a former Pentagon intelligence chief who was Mr. Trump’s top adviser on national security issues before a series of missteps reduced his influence.

But in terms of real influence, Mr. Bannon looms above almost everyone except the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the Trumpian pecking order, according to interviews with two dozen Trump insiders and current and former national security officials. The move involving Mr. Bannon, as well as the boost in status to the White House homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, and Mr. Trump’s relationships with cabinet appointees like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have essentially layered over Mr. Flynn.

Empire Files: America’s tawdry meddling in Russia


The utter hypocrisy of the United States complaining about Russia meddling in U.S. affairs is, to say the least, mind-boggling.

Never mind that American intelligence agencies have yet to share the full body of information they say would prove that Russia hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee.

And never mind the fact that the U.S. has directly interfered in scores of other countries’ elections — at least 81 times between 1946 and 2000 alone, according to one study.

Only consider the fact that the United States directly and repeatedly interfered with post-Soviet Russia in countless ways and with hundreds of millions of dollars, all aimed at ending decades of social protections and ensuring the rise of the oligarchs.

In this, the latest edition of her teleSUR English series, Abby Martin sits down with veteran Russia-watcher Mark Ames and lays bare the scale of American efforts to bend Russia to its will:

Empire Files: Post-Soviet Russia, Made in the U.S.A.


Program notes:

The increased aggression towards Russia from US politicians and media is made more clear when taking into account the real history of the post-Soviet period. The hidden story of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency explains how deeply the US government, along with Western capitalist institutions, cheered, shaped and exploited the country after the fall of the Soviet Union, paving the way for the political system they all condemn today.

To uncover just how much the US Empire has interfered in Russia’s political evolution, Abby Martin interviews Mark Ames, an American journalist who spent a decade reporting from Yeltsin’ and Putin’s Russia and witnessed the country’s transformation from an American “colony” to it’s “number one threat.”

Brazil gives Trump a present: Secret military base


Brazil becomes the first nation to give President Littlefingers a major gift, and it’s a doozy.

The unelected neoliberal regime, installed by the legislature after the ouster of moderate leftist President Dilma Rousseff, has been following the standrad disaster capitalism model, selling off public resources and cutting back on programs for the nation’s poorest.

But their latest action is an imperialist’s wet dream, the handover of a site for a secret U.S, military, located in the heart of Brazil’s threatened Amazonia.

From teleSUR English:

The government of Brazilian President Michel Temer has invited the United States to use the Alcantara missile launching base in the Amazon region to launch satellites as part of bilateral negotiations in the so-called “Brazil and United States Defense Industry Dialogue.”

Defense Minister Raul Jungmann made the announcement following a meeting with U.S. officials at the headquarters of the Ministry of External Relations of Brazil in the national capital of Brasilia.

The final decision will be determined by Congress, as it remains one of the most sensitive issues in the bilateral relationship. The current law imposes safeguards on foreign technology on national soil. Back in 2003, then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva vetoed a similar proposal by the Congress that sought to allow the U.S. military to use the facility.

During that time, people poured into the streets to celebrate Lula’s decision to defend Brazilian sovereignty and the Amazon, which alone represents 50 percent of Brazil’s national territory.

The facility was created in 1982 under the last of the U.S.-backed military regimes led by dictator João Figueiredo that ruled the country following a 1964 coup. It is located three degrees south of the equator, which allows rockets to be more efficiently launched into space due to the rotation of the earth.

For its construction, an area of 52,000 hectares was expropriated, a process that displaced tens of thousands from native and Black communities that entirely depended on agriculture. The base was part of Washington’s plans to have a military presence in the Amazon.

If passed in Congress, the law will allow the U.S. to control the area and Brazilian authorities would not be able to monitor their activities. Activists have raised concerns that the activity at the base would not be limited to just launching rockets, but could also include other military actions.

Quote of the day: Putting the Gasolinazo in context


The New Year saw a dramatic increase in gasoline prices south of the border, with the government ordering gasoline prices raised to about four dollars, or what an average Mexican minimum wage worker earns in a day.

The result, as he have reported extensively, has been a wave of massive protests, looting, and violence.

But the protests, dubbed El Gasolinazo, have their roots in a deeper agenda art work in the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the most unpopular incumbent in recent history.

From Luis Rangel and Eva María, writing in Jacobin:

What’s happening right now in México is a result of an accumulation of offenses by the regime led by Peña Nieto. For one, Ayotzinapa (one of the thousands of cases of disappeared people, as is the case of Raquel Gutiérrez, the disappeared daughter of our comrade Guillermo Gutiérrez), as well as massacres such as that of Tlatlaya or Nochixtlán, and the seven femicides per day reported in our country that, for the most part, go with impunity.

Politically, Peña Nieto’s government has killed the constitution of 1917 (which came out of the revolution) and the Mexican state’s “social pact” that was created in the twentieth century.

Additionally, with the new energy reform, oil, until now under state control, has been newly sold to the transnational companies expropriated under Cárdenas. If we add to this the surreal cases of corruption, the mining concessions (at least 20 percent of the national territory), the invitation to Trump to come to México when he was just a presidential candidate (!), among other things, what we are seeing is not only the little credibility this government has, but also the deep crisis that the regime is facing as an “oligarchic-neoliberal” state which substituted the “Bonapartist sui generis” of the twentieth century.

Thus, “el Gasolinazo” isn’t a last drop in the bucket, but part of a climate of constant crisis and mass uprisings in México.

And massive protests continue throughout Mexico

The latest from teleSUR English:

Thousands of protesters from various organizations gathered Sunday in Mexico City’s main square to reject the increase in gasoline prices, which came into effect at the beginning of 2017, while similar protests took place in other parts of the country.

Shouting “Peña Out,” in reference to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and demanding “social justice,” thousands gathered at the Plaza de la Constitucion to denounce a double-digit spike in fuel prices known as the “gasolinazo” which is also set to raise the cost of basic food staples like tortillas by up to 20 percent.

Other groups of protesters gathered in front of the National Palace as well as other government buildings in the city to protest against the measure. No official figures were available but EFE news agency reported that at least 7,500 people were at the main square.

Another large mobilization took place in Guadalajara, the capital of the western state of Jalisco, where some 10,000 people from local unions, nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups walked the main streets of the city in rejection of the government’s economic policies.

Protests also took place in Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco state, Morelos state capital Cuernavaca and Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacan. The large nationwide demonstrations united around the demand of calling for the resignation of the president and rolling back hikes in fuel prices.

Peña Nieto’s government hiked gasoline prices by 20 percent on the first day of 2017, insisting that the move corresponds to international prices and is not a result of his neoliberal reforms.

Quote of the day: The rush to kiss Trump’s ass


The day Littlefingers became president of the united States also brought down the curtain on the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, the gathering of 2,500 leading corporate moguls, banksters, elected officials, economists, celebrities [George Clooney attended this year], and media figures in the elite Swiss resort town of Davos.

One of those in attendance was former World Bank Chief Economist, U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, a man who played a central role in the deregulation of American banking and the unleashing of the derivatives market.

In of the other words, he bears much of the responsibility for bringing on the Crash of 2008 and the ongoing global Great Recession.

But even he abhors the rush to embrace President Pussygrabber by his fellow Davos elites, as he writes in Financial Times [subscription only]:

I am disturbed by (i) the spectacle of financiers who three months ago were telling anyone who would listen that they would never do business with a Trump company rushing to praise the new administration; (ii) the unwillingness of business leaders who rightly take pride in their corporate efforts to promote women and minorities to say anything about presidentially sanctioned intolerance; (iii) the failure of the leaders of global companies to say a critical word about US efforts to encourage the breakup of European unity and more generally to step away from underwriting an open global system; (iv) the reluctance of business leaders who have a huge stake in the current global order to criticise provocative rhetoric with regard to China, Mexico or the Middle East; (v) the willingness of too many to praise Trump nominees who advocate blatant protection merely because they have a business background.

>snip<

My objection is not to disagreements over economic policy. It is to enabling if not encouraging immoral and reckless policies in other spheres that ultimately bear on our prosperity. Burke was right. It is a lesson of human experience whether the issue is playground bullying, Enron or Europe in the 1930s that the worst outcomes occur when good people find reasons to accommodate themselves to what they know is wrong. That is what I think happened much too often in Davos this week.

Headline of the day: Hang on to your hats, folks


From the New York Times:

18 Million May Lose Insurance After Repeal, Study Finds

  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year.
  • The number of uninsured Americans would increase to 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time.

From the study, a report on investigations by the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation [JCT]:

Estimated Changes Before the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

Following enactment but before the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated, the effects of H.R. 3762 on insurance coverage and premiums would stem primarily from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. CBO and JCT expect that the number of people without health insurance coverage would increase upon enactment of H.R. 3762 but that the increase would be limited initially, because insurers would have already set their premiums for the current year, and many people would have already made their enrollment decisions for the year. Subsequently, in the first full plan year following enactment, by CBO and JCT’s estimates, about 18 million people would become uninsured. That increase in the uninsured population would consist of about 10 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 3 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.

Most of those reductions in coverage would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. However, CBO and JCT also expect that insurers in some areas would leave the nongroup market in the first new plan year following enactment. They would be leaving in anticipation of further reductions in enrollment and higher average health care costs among enrollees who remained after the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated. As a consequence, roughly 10 percent of the population would be living in an area that had no insurer participating in the nongroup market.

Effects on Premiums. According to CBO and JCT’s analysis, premiums in the nongroup market would be roughly 20 percent to 25 percent higher than under current law once insurers incorporated the effects of H.R. 3762’s changes into their premium pricing in the first new plan year after enactment. The majority of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Doing so would both reduce the number of people purchasing health insurance and change the mix of people with insurance—tending to cause smaller reductions in coverage among older and less healthy people with high health care costs and larger reductions among younger and healthier people with low health care costs. Thus, average health care costs among the people retaining coverage would be higher, and insurers would have to raise premiums in the nongroup market to cover those higher costs. Lower participation by insurers in the nongroup market would place further upward pressure on premiums because the market would be less competitive.

Estimated Changes After the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

The bill’s effects on insurance coverage and premiums would be greater once the repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces took effect, roughly two years after enactment.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, enacting H.R. 3762 would increase the number of people without health insurance coverage by about 27 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies and by 32 million in 2026, relative to the number of uninsured people expected under current law. (The number of people without health insurance would be smaller if, in addition to the changes in H.R. 3762, the insurance market reforms mentioned above were also repealed. In that case, the increase in the number of uninsured people would be about 21 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies; that figure would rise to about 23 million in 2026.)

The estimated increase of 32 million people without coverage in 2026 is the net result of roughly 23 million fewer with coverage in the nongroup market and 19 million fewer with coverage under Medicaid, partially offset by an increase of about 11 million people covered by employment-based insurance. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, 59 million people under age 65 would be uninsured in 2026 (compared with 28 million under current law), representing 21 percent of people under age 65. By 2026, fewer than 2 million people would be enrolled in the nongroup market, CBO and JCT estimate.

According to the agencies’ analysis, eliminating the mandate penalties and the subsidies while retaining the market reforms would destabilize the nongroup market, and the effect would worsen over time. The

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