Why Won’t Greece Take a Deal?

Ultimately, it’s about pride.

By John Kiriakou

Greece is in dire straits. As a Greek American, it hurts to watch.

Without emergency loans from its European partners, Greece will default on its debts and likely be forced out of the Eurozone. That means tougher times ahead for Greece, Europe, and international financial markets.

In exchange for a short-term loan, European powers led by Germany want the Greek government to impose brutal new austerity measures on its people. So why won’t Greece take the deal?

First, some background: Past Greek governments are largely to blame for the country’s fiscal woes.

In 1981, Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou famously told his finance minister to “spend it all.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Greece became the first European country to allow all workers to retire with a full pension at the age of 55. A worker in a “dangerous industry” could retire even earlier. But “dangerous industries” ended up including everybody from hairdressers to radio disc jockeys.

In the meantime, the government hired everybody who wanted or needed a job. The public sector ballooned to unsustainable levels, and practically everybody was retiring early at full pension.

Later on, conservative governments jumped on the bandwagon too, handing fat government benefits to their supporters. Tax evasion ran rampant and the entire political system was corrupted.

The system was bound to collapse, and collapse it did. A few years ago, Greece’s neighbors and the International Monetary Fund loaned the country money to make ends meet.

But instead of eating the losses on their banks’ bad investments, the Europeans — and especially the Germans — demanded harsh austerity cuts that shredded Greece’s social safety net, gutted the public sector, and plunged the country deeper into despair.

Fed up with the resulting poverty and unemployment, Greeks rejected their mainstream political parties in the last election and replaced them with the left-wing Syriza party. Led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Syriza campaigned on protecting Greece’s now-huge underclass from Europe’s dictates.

Why would the Greeks risk losing everything by not continuing with a well-defined program of pension cuts and layoffs?

The answer isn’t hard to understand.

First, Syriza rejects balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. Over 40 percent of Greeks now live at or under the poverty level. Middle-class people who worked all their lives have been thrown out of their jobs and have no hopes of getting another. Unemployment for young Greeks hovers around a whopping 50 percent.

Tellingly, suicides in Greece are up over 35 percent since the economy fell apart in 2009, and a “brain drain” of educated professionals to other countries is running apace.

Second, Europeans are ignoring the concept of saving face. The European ultimatum to Greece doesn’t respect the country’s election results or allow the government to claim even a partial victory. Add in the Greeks’ lingering resentment toward the Germans over Nazi atrocities in World War II, and you get an even more difficult situation.

There’s still hope for a last-minute breakthrough. If that doesn’t happen, though, the money will dry up and the Greek economy will fall further apart. Yet compared to endless austerity, that might not be the end of the world.

It may be ugly for a while: Stock markets will slide, Greece will have to re-invent its currency, and the economic depression Greece has endured may last several years longer. But the Greeks will survive, and so will everybody else.

And despite their pain, the poor will know that their government did this for them. The Greek people will know that they weren’t beholden to the Germans or to the International Monetary Fund.

It’s not just about the money. It’s about pride.

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OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. OtherWords.org.

Late, Late Night FDL: Five Long Years

Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, and Ron Wood – Five Long Years

Jonny has a busy Summer ahead of him…

Guitarist Jonny Lang says that playing the blues now that most of the greats are gone is like classical musicians still playing music written centuries ago.

He tells the Columbus Dispatch: “Classical musicians weren’t around when Beethoven was going through whatever he was going through to make him write that music; they’re standing on his shoulders when they perform.“

Lang also reveals that while he can’t experience what greats such as B.B. King went through in their early days, he can still appreciate it.

The North Dakota native adds: “Culturally, I couldn’t be further away from the fellows that this music was born from. I don’t have that life experience, but I can imagine what it was like to the best of my ability.”

Lang released his most recent work Fight For My Soul in 2013 and believes pigeonholing music is growing increasingly pointless.

He says: “I can’t keep tabs on what style of music I’m supposed to fit into. A lot of the songs I’ve done over the years, if you played a Muddy Waters record and then played mine, you’d go: ‘No, those aren’t in the same genre.’

“People’s perception of the blues has evolved.”

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Late, Late Night FDL: Mr Blue Sky

ELO – Mr Blue Sky

Jeff Lynne and ELO plan to release a new DVD and a new album soon…

Jeff Lynne‘s triumphant revival of the Electric Light Orchestra banner for a Sept. 2014 festival performance will get the home video treatment this fall, when Jeff Lynne’s ELO: Live in Hyde Park is scheduled to arrive in stores.

The concert film, due Sept. 11, is being released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital formats, and will include the documentary Mr. Blue Sky: The Story of Jeff Lynne & ELO alongside the band’s Hyde Park live performance, which marked ELO’s first appearance on a festival stage in nearly three decades. According to the Live in Hyde Park press release, Lynne “has been involved every step of the way with every aspect of this production, especially the audio delivery.”

“It seemed like the entire 50,000 were singing and clapping along, which carried on for the whole night. The Hyde Park concert turned out to be one of the most memorable shows ever for me,” says Lynne in a statement. “It’s important to me that viewers experience the Hyde Park show exactly as it was performed on the night … in stereo.”

For Lynne, who’s spent most of the last 25 years focusing on studio work, returning to the concert stage was an experience not without its share of jitters — but one that ultimately left him wanting more.

“For the last 20 years, I’ve been sitting down in the studio playing, so you have to learn all over again how to stand up and sing and play,” he admitted last year. “Once we got that good, that tight, we wanted to play another gig, but my manager said no. We were all fired up and it would’ve been perfect time to do it.”

Happily for fans who’ve been patiently waiting for new music, Lynne evidently feels that time hasn’t passed. Saying he’s “definitely” planning on scheduling some U.S. tour dates in the near future, he revealed, “I’m working on a new album, and that’ll be involved in the new times when we play.”

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Late, Late Night FDL: I’ve Seen All Good People

Yes – I’ve Seen All Good People

R.I.P. Chris Squires…!

Chris Squire, the influential rock bassist who was a founding member of the celebrated British band Yes, died on Saturday in Phoenix. He was 67.

His death was confirmed by the band’s keyboardist, Geoffrey Downes. Mr. Squire, the only member to have played on every one of Yes’s albums and participated in every one of its tours, was being treated for acute erythroid leukemia and said last month that he would not be with Yes for its summer and fall tour, scheduled to begin on Aug. 7.

“I’m in pieces over it,” Mr. Downes said in a phone interview from his home in Wales. “The guy was a total legend.”

Yes, formed in 1968, was known for its blend of rock, jazz, folk and classical influences and also for its complex time signatures and pristine vocal harmonies. One of the first of the so-called progressive (or prog) rock bands — among the others were King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer — it went on to become the most successful and longest-lasting.

The first Yes albums to reach a wide international audience were the group’s third and fourth, “The Yes Album” (1971) and “Fragile” (1972), both released in the United States on Atlantic. The group’s most recent studio album, “Heaven & Earth,” was released by Frontiers Records last year.

Mr. Squire’s propulsive and often melodic bass playing was a key element of the Yes sound. A self-taught virtuoso, he has been cited as an influence by many other rock bassists.

What’s on your mind…?

Late Night FDL: My Sweet Lord + Today Is A Killer

Nina Simone – My Sweet Lord + Today Is A Killer

The Guardian had an interesting article today on Nina Simone…

Nina Simone: ‘Are you ready to burn buildings?’

Nina Simone’s album Black Gold, recorded at New York’s Philharmonic Hall on 26 October 1969, concludes with a deeply moving performance of To Be Young, Gifted and Black. The song took its name from a hit play about Lorraine Hansberry, the celebrated playwright who had converted Simone to political activism before dying young in 1965. As she spoke about Hansberry, Simone’s voice creaked with emotion. “I think that very soon now, maybe four or five weeks, I won’t be able to sing it anymore because each time I do it she comes a little bit closer and I miss her a little bit more.”

In Liz Garbus’s new Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? we see rows of black students enraptured by the song she called “the Black national anthem”, her biggest hit since I Loves You, Porgy a decade earlier. It had the pride and optimism of the cover versions she had alchemised into civil rights anthems: Feeling Good, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, Ain’t Got No/I Got Life. But her Philharmonic performance revealed the undercurrents of pain and loss that were slowly dragging her under.

The tremendous power of Simone’s music has entranced the likes of Kanye West, Antony, Laura Mvula and Lauryn Hill. In 2008, President Obama named her version of Sinnerman as one of his 10 favourite songs. She sang in an almost androgynous baritone that she said ranged from “gravel” to “coffee and cream”, played piano like a virtuoso and interpreted material with power and imagination. When she covered a song it stayed covered, although it’s ironic that her career was revived in 1987 thanks to a perfume commercial that featured 1958’s My Baby Just Cares for Me because that perky jazz standard (which she once called “a piece of shit”) told listeners nothing about who she really was.

There was always something regal about the “High Priestess of Soul” who, at one point, claimed to be a reincarnated Egyptian queen: Nadine Cohodas’s excellent biography is called Princess Noire. “She is loved or feared, adored or disliked, but few who have met her music or glimpsed her soul react with moderation,” Maya Angelou wrote in the 1970 magazine article that gives Garbus’s film its name. “She is an extremist, extremely realised.” {more}

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Congress’s Cat Burglars Are Pulling a Fast One on TPP

June 22, 2015 by Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger

This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com.

TELL CONGRESS: Don't Fast Track TPP“With cat-like tread upon our foes we steal.” So boasted Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance as they decided to try a little burglary for a change. And “steal” is the appropriate word.

It’s hardly a surprise that Republican congressional leaders and their cadre of Democratic allies spurred on by Barack Obama are resorting to a bagful of parliamentary tricks to put the Trans-Pacific Partnership on a “take it or leave it but you can’t change it” fast-track to enactment by Tuesday.

No sooner had the first round gone to pro-democracy forces than Speaker Boehner – forever remembered as the man who handed out tobacco lobby checks to members on the House floor — promptly scheduled a new vote allowing time to bring pressure on naysayers.

Remember when Tom De Lay, the former House Republican majority leader used to stop the clock of a legislative day at five minutes to midnight, the lobbyists’ favorite witching hour? That way he could whipsaw doubters into line behind something President George W. Bush wanted but couldn’t get through Congress in the open.

Boehner learned a lot from watching DeLay, and now he, Senate Majority Leader Mitch (“Mr. Dark Money”) McConnell, and assorted cronies are consorting to deliver to Mr. Obama the goods he has promised multinational conglomerates in the laughable name of “free trade.” And they are doing it the old-fashioned congressional way: hocus pocus.

The bill was reintroduced last Thursday, unaccompanied by a controversial provision to assist workers displaced by the pact, and passed 218 to 208. It now returns to the Senate for approval in its new form and there its opponents will make a last stand on Tuesday.

What a terrible contraption it still is, conceived in secret with the imprimatur of multinational corporate attorneys and dedicated to the proposition that American workers are expendable, the environment is mere foodstuff to swell profit margins, and sovereign American laws are subject to second-opinion lawsuits by foreign companies. “What looks like a stone wall to a layman,” a humorist of an earlier century once wrote, “is a triumphal arch to a corporation lawyer.”

This bag of tricks is full of deceptive arguments. Fast-track proponents claim that expanded trade will be good for everybody by creating plentiful new jobs here in the US. Unfortunately, specific examples and illustrations are conspicuously lacking.

International Business Times has just published a new report examining the known text of the TPP treaty that shows it would provide special legal rights to corporations that it denies to unions, small businesses and other public interest, environmental and civic groups. Specifically, while President Obama keeps repeating the misleading promise that the deal would “level the playing field,” instead, the TPP would let corporations sue in international tribunals to try to overturn labor, environmental and human rights laws while prohibiting public-interest groups from suing in the same tribunals. How’s that for a “level playing field?” Please, Mr. President, how about you leveling with us?

They say that without the treaty, America will be pushed out of its strong role in the world’s economy by China and a potential list of Asian satellites. If so, why is it we only know about the terms of the treaty through leaks, or a carefully condensed and edited online site, or a version available to Congress only on heavily restrictive terms? And why an end run around the Constitution by giving the president a sovereign power to deny the members of Congress their right to offer amendments against provisions that they believe harm the interests of their districts? What on earth would the Founding Fathers think?

(more…)

MENA Mashup: The Saudi Cables

Wikileaks has released the first tranche of The Saudi Cables which contain “more than half a million cables and other documents from the Saudi Foreign Ministry that contain secret communications from various Saudi Embassies around the world.”

Quite literally it’s nothing but ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’…!

For example…

Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media

On Monday, Saudi Arabia celebrated the beheading of its 100th prisoner this year. The story was nowhere to be seen on Arab media despite the story’s circulation on wire services. Even international media was relatively mute about this milestone compared to what it might have been if it had concerned a different country. How does a story like this go unnoticed?

Today’s release of the WikiLeaks “Saudi Cables” from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs show how it’s done.

The oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its ruling family take a systematic approach to maintaining the country’s positive image on the international stage. Most world governments engage in PR campaigns to fend off criticism and build relations in influential places. Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.

Documents reveal the extensive efforts to monitor and co-opt Arab media, making sure to correct any deviations in regional coverage of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-related matters. Saudi Arabia’s strategy for co-opting Arab media takes two forms, corresponding to the “carrot and stick” approach, referred to in the documents as “neutralisation” and “containment”. The approach is customised depending on the market and the media in question. {…}

The documents show concerns within the Saudi administration over the social upheavals of 2011, which became known in the international media as the “Arab Spring”. The cables note with concern that after the fall of Mubarak, coverage of the upheavals in Egyptian media was “being driven by public opinion instead of driving public opinion”. The Ministry resolved “to give financial support to influential media institutions in Tunisia”, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring”.

The cables reveal that the government employs a different approach for its own domestic media. There, a wave of the Royal hand is all that is required to adjust the output of state-controlled media. A complaint from former Lebanese Prime Minister and Saudi citizen Saad Hariri concerning articles critical of him in the Saudi-owned Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat newspapers prompted a directive to “stop these type of articles” from the Foreign Ministry.

This is a general overview of the Saudi Foreign Ministry’s strategy in dealing with the media. WikiLeaks’ Saudi Cables contain numerous other examples that form an indictment of both the Kingdom and the state of the media globally.

Unable to read Arabic myself, I’d been anxiously awaiting some input and I’ve since found this excellent resource in Global Voices(more…)