Category Archives: Resources

Troika agrees to modest debt relief for Greece


Greece, the European nation hardest hit by the Wall Street-sparked Great Recession, has been granted some modest debt relief, but conditions set the Troika [the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and European Commission] mandate that the regime of austerity continue.

That means that cutbacks in pay, pensions, healthcare, and other social programs will continue, along with privatization of national resources and higher taxes on necessary consumer goods.

But the conditions set also require that the government maintain a high surplus, a measure ensuring that austerity pains will continue.

From Ekathimerini:

Monday’s decision at a Eurogroup meeting in Brussels to approve short-term debt relief measures for Greece was a “decisive step towards stabilizing the Greek economy and restoring trust,” the government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Speaking to the press, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that the government will continue negotiations with its eurozone partners for longer-term measures to reduce Greece’s huge debt pile, but stressed that Athens will “under no circumstances” agree to more belt-tightening once the bailout program is complete.

Tzanakopoulos was referring to the International Monetary Fund, which has demanded more structural measures in order to join the Greek program.

“The IMF cannot pressure the Greek government for new measures and not its European partners for lower primary surplus targets,” Tzanakopoulos said, referring to a demand that Greece maintain a primary fiscal surplus of 3.5 percent after 2018, a factor considered crucial by the IMF.

His comments echoed those of Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos who warned international creditors, including the IMF, on Monday not to pressure Athens to implement measures it had not previously agreed to.

But the IMF isn’t as happy with the deal as Tzanakopoulos indicated and has called for a halt to further austerity measures, as well as a lower GDP surplus, reports To Vima:

The International Monetary Fund welcomed the short-term debt relief measures that were announced at the Eurogroup, however it noted that they are not sufficient.

An IMF officer reportedly told Bloomberg that the Fund insists that the primary surplus targets after 2018 must not exceed 1.5% of the GDP, since anything higher is unrealistic.

As the officer commented, the targets set must not require austerity and argued that the fewer years the high targets are maintained, the lesser the impact will be on the country’s growth, since the 3.5% GDP target will require additional reforms in the pension and tax system.

The officer also called Athens and Brussels to present measures to be taken, should the primary surplus target of 3.5% be maintained after 2018.

The Troika’s official statement is posted here.

Ever more marine creatures imperiled by plastics


Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

The 20th Century is notable for four major technological innovations, each problematic: Nuclear power/weapons, antibiotics, the digital computer, and plastics.

Nuclear gave us the threat of planetary genocide and environmental degradation, antibiotics gave rise to resistant strains of bacteria, the computer gave rise to the panopticon surveillance state, and plastics have proven to cause a host of afflictions and threaten the oceans from which we all draw life.

It’s this last threat that is the subject of a sobering new report.

From the United Nations News Center:

Marine debris is negatively affecting more than 800 animal species and causing serious losses to many countries’ economies, according to a United Nations report launched Monday.

The report, Marine Debris: Understanding, Preventing and Mitigating the Significant Adverse Impacts on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity found that the number of species affected by marine debris has increased from 663 to 817 since 2012. It also warned that this type of waste, which is mostly made of plastic, is an increasing threat to human health and well-being, and is costing countries billions of dollars each year.

“I hope that this report will provide governments and other stakeholders with the information needed to take urgent actions to address marine debris, one of the most prominent threats to marine ecosystems, and support healthy and resilient oceans as a critical aspect of achieving sustainable development,” said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The report was launched in Cancun, Mexico, on the sidelines of the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to Convention, known as ‘COP13,’ where governments and private sector delegations have been gathered since 2 December to discuss, among others, how to integrate biodiversity into policies relevant to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors. The meeting wraps up on 17 December.

Marine debris is usually defined as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Three-quarters of all marine debris is plastic, a persistent and potentially hazardous pollutant, which fragments into microplastics that can be taken up by a wide range of marine organisms.

The most common types of marine debris are: food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, grocery bags, beverage bottles and cigarette butts. Five of these items are made of plastic.

Marine and coastal species – fish, seabirds, marine mammals and reptiles – are affected by marine debris mostly through ingestion or entanglement. According to the report, 40 per cent of cetaceans, and 44 per cent of seabird species are affected by marine debris ingestion. The effect of ingestion is not always understood, as many ingest microplastics – little pieces or fragments that are less than five millimetres in diameter.

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Headline of the day: Finally, some really good news


At least until Trump takes office, that is.

From the London Daily Mail:

Victory! Dakota Access protesters WIN as the feds block oil pipeline that was to be built next to Native American land – kicking off wild celebrations in Standing Rock

  • Dakota Access Pipeline protesters cheered as the news emerged and cried ‘Mni Wiconi’, or ‘water is life’
  • Corps of Engineers said they would not be granting an easement for the DAPL to cross Lake Oahe
  • Federal agency said on Sunday afternoon that they would explore alternate routes for the pipeline
  • Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council Chairman Harold Frazier told DailyMail.com that he was ‘shocked’
  • Thousands of veterans arrived this weekend to support the protests as temperatures hovered around 30F
  • Clashes were thought to intensify after evacuation was ordered and area was to be shut down on Dec 5

Disabled Greeks oppose new austerity regime


We should give austerity a new name: Call it the Reverse Robin Hood Doctrine.

Austerity is the regime imposed on the world’s debt-ridden poor nations to qualify them for loans to pay the corporations and banksters of the world’s richest nations.

To make those payments, the debt-plagued countries are forced to slash programs designed to help the nation’s afflicted, poor, sick, and otherwise afflicted.

The latest crisis, the Great Recession, brought Greece to its knees, and the government sought loans from the Troika, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.

Needless to say, austerity was imposed, forcing drastic cuts in the national healthcare system, the selloff of public assets [including power companies, transit systems, ports, and much more], as well as drastic cuts in public pensions and paychecks, as well as reduced social benefits payments imposed on those who could least afford the loss.

The austerity regime prompted voter to elect a government which promised them an end to austerity, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has knuckled under, and new rounds of deprivation are underway.

Some of those most deeply impacted are now expressing their outrage.

From Kathimerini:

Disabled people and patients with chronic illnesses from around Greece protested in central Athens Friday against austerity measures as the government races to clinch a new deal with bailout lenders.

Protesters in wheelchairs carried black balloons while deaf demonstrators wore white gloves as they used sign language to join chants of anti-government slogans.

Disabled groups are seeking exemptions from budget austerity measures imposed under the country’s international bailout agreements.

Unemployment among people with disabilities was more than double the national jobless rate of 23 percent with poverty levels also sharply higher, according to Yannis Vardakastanis, head of the National Confederation of Disabled People of Greece.

“We want to live in dignity,” Vardakastanis, who is blind, told the AP. “It’s the obligation of the government and European institutions to stop us from being further isolated, impoverished and discriminated against.”

Greece is currently finalizing a new package of economic measures that would make home foreclosures and business firings easier. The measures are required in exchange for new bailout loan payouts and talks on debt relief measures.

Shame on the Troika, and shame on Tsipras.

Headlines of the day: Oh, isn’t that rich? Really rich


“That” being the Trump cabinet.

First from the Washington Post:

Donald Trump is assembling the richest administration in modern American history

  • Trump is putting together what will be the wealthiest administration in modern American history. His announced nominees for top positions include several multimillionaires, an heir to a family mega-fortune and two Forbes-certified billionaires, one of whose family is worth as much as industrial tycoon Andrew Mellon was when he served as treasury secretary nearly a century ago.
  • Rumored candidates for other positions suggest Trump could add more ultra-rich appointees soon.
  • Many of the Trump appointees were born wealthy, attended elite schools and went on to amass even larger fortunes as adults. As a group, they have much more experience funding political candidates than they do running government agencies.

And from BBC News:

Trump assembles America’s ‘richest cabinet’

  • US President-elect Donald Trump took a populist tone on the campaign trail, pledging to stand for a beleaguered working class abandoned by the elite.
  • Mr Trump, of course, brings immense wealth to his new role. The property tycoon’s worth is estimated at $3.7bn (£3bn) by Forbes magazine, with more than 500 businesses in his empire.
  • But he might not be the richest member of his team. His nominee for education secretary, Betsy Devos, is the daughter of Richard DeVos, who founded the Amway retail giant. Forbes puts their family wealth at $5.1bn.
  • Next up is Wilbur Ross, the president-elect’s pick for commerce secretary. Forbes puts the wealth of Mr Ross, who headed Rothschild Inc’s bankruptcy practice before starting an investment firm, at $2.5bn.
  • Mr Ross’s deputy will be Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, who has an estimated wealth of $1.75bn.

Finally, the front page headline on the New York Times:

Trump Cabinet Choices Signal Embrace of Wall St. Elite

  • Donald J. Trump picked Steven Mnuchin, a hedge fund manager, to run the Treasury and Wilbur L. Ross Jr., a billionaire investor, to head the Commerce Department.
  • The choices have been cheered by investors, but they stand in stark contrast to the populist campaign that Mr. Trump ran.

And while not headlines, two of this morning’s tweets from Sen. Bernie Sanders add some perspective:

blog-sanders-cabinetblog-sanders-rigged

As does the editorial cartoonist of the Los Angeles Times:

David Horsey: Trump gets comfy in the Washington swamp

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Map of the day: Massive drought in South America


blog-drought

From NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Even before the 2016 dry season started in South America, a marked deficit in rainfall was apparent across much of the continent. Parts of the Amazon, for example, were already far drier than in 2005 and 2010, the last serious drought years. Now, as the wet season approaches, intense drought still runs deep across the Amazon basin and much of Brazil.

The map above shows the accumulated deficit in rainfall flowing into surface and groundwater storage as of October 2016. The data were compiled by the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre, which analyzes precipitation data collected from rain gauges. Red areas show the level of the rainfall deficit compared to the norm for October, while blue areas had more than usual amounts of rainfall.

Some areas fared better than others. For example, Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, is located between areas that were anomalously dry (to the north) and others that were anomalously wet (south). The city has reportedly received sufficient rain since late 2015 to begin raising the water level in its main reservoir system.

But as the map also shows, rainfall elsewhere in Brazil and the Amazon was far below normal for October. It remains to be seen whether the rainfall associated with the wet season can break the ongoing drought.

“In Brazil, the rainy season is the austral summer, from December to March,” said Augusto Getirana, a hydrologist and remote sensing scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It’s hard to tell if this summer will be the same, but considering the pattern of previous years, my guess would be a yes.”

Getirana knows well the patters of recent years. In February 2016, he published a satellite-based study showing that southeastern Brazil lost 6.1 centimeters of water per year from 2012 to 2015. That may not sound like much, but in terms of volume over the entire area, that’s 56 trillion liters of water.

Economy: Spain’s Millennials live with parents


While Eurocrats have hailed Spain’s “recovery” from the Great Recession, lauding themselves for accomplishing a miracle with bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank, the reality is quite different.

The draconian austerity regime dictated by the by the financial oligarchs effectively destroyed the futures of millions of young Spaniards.

From El País:

For the first time in 12 years, less than 20% of people aged between 16 and 30 are living outside the family home. In the second quarter of 2016, the figure was 19.6%, a 4.84% increase on the period in 2015, says Spain’s Youth Council. It adds that of those who have managed to leave their parents, only 16.7% are living alone.

The official unemployment rate among the under-30s is 34.4%, but the reality is that only two out of every 10 under-24s is working, and more than 55% of them are on short-term contracts, while 60% are earning less than €1,000 a month.

Victor Reloba, of the Youth Council, says that while unemployment has fallen slightly, young people are unable to leave the family home because even if they are in work, they will likely be on zero-hours contracts, short-term contracts, or earning money from a number of different activities. “One in four young people is poor,” he explains.

Most under-30s who have managed to leave home are living in shared accommodation with two or more other people.