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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

ERT: Appeal to foreign media and journalists

In News on June 12, 2013 at 10:27 am
pic by @polyfimos

pic by @polyfimos

Yesterday the Greek government (primarily New Democracy party, without the support of coalition partners PASOK and DIMAR) announced they would shut down ERT, Greece’s national broadcaster. The argument was that ERT is marred with corruption and that it operates at a cost to the public sector. First, ERT is profitable, as its employees testify. Second, the New Democracy spokesman Kedikoglou who announced the decision and raged about “corruption” was the same politician that has requested the hiring of 23 of “his” people in ERT!

More importantly, the decision was not approved by the parliament but was implemented through a ministerial decree (which is a violation of the Constitution and Greek legislative procedure). The decree is now at the office the President of the Hellenic Republic and parties opposing it have contacted him NOT to sign it. Neo-nazi Golden Dawn and New Democracy are the only 2 parties that have openly supported the decision (although it seems coalition partners were aware of it).

The decision was announced during the day and at 11pm riot police went to Mount Ymittos and turned off the digital and analogue signals. ERT was still broadcasting and used TVE (Spanish), and 902 channels (owned by the Communist Party), among others. A couple of hours later DIGEA (private operator of the digital signal in Greece) turned off the 902 channel, claiming it should not broadcast ERT!

ERT employs more than 2500 people and operates channels across Greece, in remote areas where other broadcasters have no signal. It also broadcasts across the world, informing Greeks living abroad and providing a live link to them with Greek culture and “home”. Protesters gathered outside the ERT building until 3 am in the morning and they are gathering again today.

ERT is the only broadcaster that actually operates legally in Greece, with all other TV channels lacking an official permit from the state.

Here in London, a demonstration has been organised to support ERT employees, at 5pm London time at the Greek Embassy  W11 3TP.

This is the facebook link http://www.facebook.com/events/551233141581740/551427951562259/?notif_t=plan_mall_activity

This is the announcement by the European Federation of Journalists.

http://europe.ifj.org/en/articles/closure-of-public-broadcaster-in-greece

This is the announcement by the European Broadcasting Union.

http://www3.ebu.ch/cms/en/sites/ebu/contents/news/2013/06/ebu-urges-greek-government-to-re.html

This is the announcement of the National Union of Journalists in London.

http://www.nuj.org.uk/innerPagenuj.html?docid=2950

This is a petition to stop the shutdown of Public Television in Greece.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_the_shutdown_of_Public_Television_in_Greece/?awfVmdb

Please follow #ERT on twitter to find out more.

Please write about this and support us, we have no other outlet except internet and foreign broadcasters.

This is about freedom of speech, the right to independent information and democracy itself.

Thank you in advance for your support.

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IMF’s “mea culpa”

In News on June 10, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Last week, the IMF admitted it had been wrong in its predictions about the consequences austerity would cause to Greece and that some of the reforms imposed as part of the loan agreement had been too harsh. (See for instance p.6 of this IMF paper, where the IMF reports mentions that “the macroeconomic assumptions at the initiation of the program proved optimistic” as well as this IMF paper)

So, let’s recap on what has happened in Greece in the past 4 years.

  • Greece is now in its 6th year of recession.
  • GDP has contracted 22% between 2008-2012, one of the deepest peacetime recessions in industrialised economies GreatDepression_Greece

 

 

 

  • Unemployment is now at 28% unemployment

 

 

 

  • Youth unemployment is over 60%
  • Greece’s debt to GDP was 129% at the end of 2009 and prior to the IMF loan agreement. At the end of 2012, it stood at 157%. The aim is to bring it down to 124% by 2020

    Public_Debt

  • Homelessness has sharply increased. Partly due to the important role family plays in Greece, Athens was unlike other European capitals where homelessness is visible in the streets. In 2009, Athens had about 2,000-3,000 homeless people. In 2012 the number was 40,000 (for more info, see this article).
  • National minimum wage has been decreased by 22% and 32% for the young. It was reduced from €780 gross a month at 25% and 32% as of 1.1.2012. It went down to €586 gross and €511 for workers 15-25 years old, irrespectively of education and skills.
  • Pensions of public servants have been slashed by 40%.
  • Increase of suicides. Until 2008 Greece had one of the lowest suicide rates in the world, with 2.8 suicides per 100 000 inhabitants. Statistics released in 2011 by the Greek ministry of health show a 40% rise in death by suicide between January-May compared to the same period in 2010 (for more info see this EP discussion and this article).
  • The national health budget has been cut by 40% since 2008. As of January 2014, hospitals will also collect a fee of 25€ for each inpatient care, for services which were previously provided for free (see Ministry of Health’s presentation for more)
  • Expenditure for mental health has been cut by 50%. As of December 2012, employees in the mental health sector had not been paid for 6 months.
  • Increase in HIV/Aids; The incidence of HIV/Aids among intravenous drug users in central Athens soared by 1,250% in the first 10 months of 2011 compared with the same period the previous year, according to the head of Médecins sans Frontières Greece
  • Rise of malaria: Malaria is becoming endemic in the south for the first time since the rule of the colonels, which ended in the 1970s, after mosquito-spraying programs were slashed in southern Greece
  • Infant mortality has risen by 40%.
  • Hospitals are forced to cancel operations (for more, watch this short film by Aris Chatzistefanou)

The above provide a snapshot of the situation in Greece, not to mention the rise of the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party, which has entered the Greek parliament and attacks and stabs immigrants, with the cooperation of the Hellenic police (see more here  and here).

I guess it’s ok, since the IMF said they are sorry about the mess, as they had to prevent contagion of the Greek sovereign debt crisis to the rest of the Eurozone. Although it was clear from the beginning that the IMF’s technocratic approach was indifferent to any social cost, it’s ok, they are having second thoughts, even now.

Of course, the Greek government at the time could have resisted signing the loan agreement proposed by the IMF and the EU. There are many Greek technocrats, university professors, economists and experts around the world, which could have been brought forward to make a counter-proposal [and they did, see for instance here, but they were dismissed without second thought]. The Greek government could then have negotiated a different solution which would have been less painful to the Greek people and society. And how knows, maybe that solution would have included a fairer allocation of the costs of lending to high-risk Greece, rather than blame it all on the “lazy Greeks that don’t pay taxes and retire at 50”.

But fortunately for foreign institutions like the IMF and governments, they have always found eager collaborators among the Greek elite, who have been more than willing to disregard the country’s and its peoples’ interest in favour of a “good boy” pat and a cookie from Europe and other foreign “partners”.

The right to disobedience (or Of Greece’s squats)

In News on January 10, 2013 at 1:49 pm

In December 2012, Hellenic police evicted squatters in the Villa Amalias building in central Athens, located at the crossing of Acharnon and Heyden str. The building belongs to the Hellenic Schools Buildings Organisation. The squat has been going on for 22 years. On 9 January 2012, the squatters re-occupied the villa (video) and the police arrested them. They are taken to court today, 10 January.

Later on 9 January, Hellenic police raided a second squat, located at the crossing of 61 Patission ave. and Skaramaga str., the Skaramaga squat. This building belongs to the Sailors’ Pension Fund (NAT) and had remained empty for 10 years. The squat began in 2009. Here are pictures from the squat in the building, which includes a bike workshop, a dance room, a library, a sewing workshop and a rock climbing training board.

Greek mainstream media are framing the issue as if the squats were army headquarters for terrorists, with one journalist caught live calling the squatters “little shits” (video in Greek). The main angle adopted by mainstream journalists is that the squatters had no right to be in the building(s) in the first place, that this is illegal and that the squatters are destroying these neighbourhoods and the buildings.

Naturally, there are many who are convinced by the “legal” argument. Now, here are some other facts:

George Papaconstantinou is an ex-Finance  Minister who has been accused of manipulating the so-called Lagarde list, a catalogue of Greeks that hold accounts in Switzerland (and could be tax evaders) and removing the names of members of his family (more here). He has not been arrested.

Meanwhile, Greeks are called upon to pay exorbitant taxes each year, additional taxes, leading many to poverty, migration or homelessness.

In addition, there have been hundreds of incidents which implicates the police in exercising unwarranted and excessive violence to demonstrators and to immigrants – the latest one today by BBC (here and here) . These are often not investigated and if they are, it is after years. The Minister for Public Order, Nikos Dendias has promised to look into the issue but no progress has been made (more here).

One can support or not the squatters.

But there comes a point where you have to take a stand.

And in Greece 2013, you can either be with the current government or against it.

All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1849)

Mr. Stournaras’s credentials

In News on July 8, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Yesterday, Greece’s new Finance Minister  Prof. Yannis Stournaras made his first policy speech since taking office. He said that Greece must implement the measures it has agreed upon its international lenders and he announced that he would speed up privatisations. Some key points of his speech include (here, in full, in Greek):

  • speeding up the privatisation programme and including new assets in the existing one
  • concluding the privatisation of the Public Power Corporation (DEI)
  • developing the land from Faliro to Sounion in Attica through privatisations
  • 90% of the privatisation programme will include selling or renting land and infrastructure
  • creating a modern social state through combatting tax evasion and tax avoidance
  • reducing uncertainty in the economy and improving the economic climate
  • greater transparency in the tax system
  • battling corruption
  • creating a social consensus to accept that staying in the eurozone is the only road available

Like any critical reader and thinking citizen, one should always check the sources of his information. Prof. Yannis Stournaras full cv can be found here. The highlights include a strong academic record (Master’s and Ph.D. from Oxford) and a long list of publications.

In addition, he has worked in many respected positions in the Greek public administration. In particular, Stournaras worked as a

  • 1986-1989 Special Advisor to the Ministry of Economy and Finance on Public Enterprises and Incomes Policy issues
  • 1989-1994 Special Advisor to the Bank of Greece on Monetary Policy issues. During that period he represented the Bank of Greece as an alternate member in the Meetings of the Governors of European Union’Αs Central Banks.
  • 1994 – July 2000 Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors at the Ministry of Economy and Finance. He participated in the design of macroeconomic and structural policies (especially in the design and implementation of the Convergence Programmes) and represented the Ministry of Economy and Finance at the Monetary Committee (now Economic and Financial Committee) of the European Union. In this capacity, he participated in the negotiations for the entry of Greece in the Economic and Monetary Union. He was responsible for the consultations with international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  • 1994 – 1997 Vice Chairman of the Public Gas Corporation
  • 1998 – July 2000 Member of the Board of Directors of the Public Debt Management Office
  • 2000 – 2004 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Emporiki Bank and Vice-Chairman of the Association of Greek Banks

Which side do you think he will be on? The people’s?

Catastroika made in Greece

In News on July 8, 2012 at 1:47 pm

According to Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, the Greek government will pursue an aggressive plan of privatisation, in an effort to satisfy international lenders, the European Commission- ECB – IMF troika. Privatisations have always been part of any IMF lending agreement in the world, as have trade liberalisation, reducing the budget deficit and the public sector and generally following a neo-liberal economic agenda (see here).

The rationale behind the IMF’s SAP (Structural Adjustment Programs) have been toe reduce the state in order to “unleash” the private sector to create growth, but in reality to allow – primarily the US and Western – multinationals to enter the developing countries’ markets on a privileged basis.

For Greece, Stournaras’ list of companies to be privatised the former Airport at Hellenikon, the Public Gas Corporation (DEPA), the National Gas Transmission System, the Greek Petroleum (ELPA), the General Mining & Metallurgical Company (LARKO), the Greek Organization of Football Prognostics (OPAP), airports, ports, marines and the Greek National Railway (OSE) and many other assets.

It is a no-brainer that since Greece is essentially a bankrupt country in all but paper, the Greek assets will be sold at bargain prices. But even so, for anyone who still doubts how privatisation harms citizens, both as consumers and as taxpayers, there is the Catastroika documentary to watch.

http://www.catastroika.com/indexen.php

Immigrant stabbed in Athens

In News on June 20, 2012 at 9:04 pm

Dear non-Greek friends, this is a video where you can see (or rather hear, unfortunately in Greek) members of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn attacking an immigrant with a knife in Athens metro. The view that they belong to the Golden Dawn comes from their clothes and the mob-style of their attack.

The person whose voice you can hear is pretending to be on the phone to film the incident. This happened on 17 June 2012, one day after the Greek elections.

No Greek tv channel showed this, no politicians mentioned it (they were busy trying to form a coalition government and secure their position in power), no DA started an investigation. This is the state of the Greek democracy today, where human life costs less that repaying a debt created by corrupt politicians.

Who knows, maybe if you share, some foreign journalist may pick it up among everything else and something will change.

Memorandum of Understanding

In News on June 7, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Below is a link with the Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and the IMF. It should be noted that the Greek parliament voted on the draft. The final contract has never reached the Greek parliament.

Here it is in English and in Greek.

Point of no return

In News on May 14, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Last week, the Greek elections were at the centre of international attention. The first reason was that the election results saw a neo-nazi (yes, not far-right, neo-nazi) party, Golden Dawn, entering the parliament. The second reason was the rise of SYRIZA or the Coalition of the Radical Left. SYRIZA, which traditionally received 3-4% of the vote, reached 17% and became the second party, following New Democracy with 19% (full elections results here).

For those who are not familiar with the Greek political system, here is some background information: The country has been ruled by centre-left PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Party) and centre-right New Democracy parties alternating in power since 1974 – the year when democracy was established in Greece, after the end of the dictatorship 1967-1974.

New Democarcy 1974 1977
New Democarcy 1977 1981
PASOK 1981 1985
PASOK 1985 1989
New Democracy-KKE coalition 1989 1990
New Democracy 1990 1993
PASOK 1993 1996
PASOK 1996 2000
PASOK 2000 2004
New Democracy 2004 2007
New Democracy 2007 2009
PASOK 2009 2012

The two mainstream parties have set the internal agenda for almost 40 years. They are the ones responsible for hiring public servants based on party politics, of not using EU funds efficiently and feeding them to their voters, of excessive borrowing in the decade which followed the introduction of the euro. The two large parties are the ones that have left their stamp on Greece’s political scene.

The latest elections were viewed by many spectators in Greece and abroad as surprising and many tried to understand the”angry” vote or the way voters shifted across the political spectrum. (here is a good analysis by BBC’s Paul Mason)

While the international media are trying to make sense of Greek politics and Greek politicians are trying to shuffle a new government of “personalities” which will lead the country out of the state of ungovernability (and chaos) (e.g. see here), the anger of Greeks is rising. This anger is reflected in the rise of SYRIZA. And this anger consists of three elements:

1. anger and despair by the economic reality that has hit most Greeks, which includes income reduction by 40%, abolishing labour laws, reducing pensions, unemployment at 21%.

2. cumulative anger at the bashing Greeks have received by foreign and domestic commentators over the past two years about the Greek statistics, working hours, laziness, spending more than producing etc.

3. a cumulative anger at the political system and the mainstream parties‘ politicians who have been repeatedly lied to citizens and have brought the country where it is today. All politicians lie and Greeks like their tales. But in the past two years the hypocrisy of the Greek mainstream parties has reached new levels, as PASOK has basically become a right-wing party and New Democracy is tiptoeing around it awkwardly (e.g. New Democracy voted in favour of the 1st Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and opposed the 2nd).

With every political tactic followed by the mainstream political parties, with every article published by the Spiegel, with every comment expressed as a threat by Angela Merkel, these feelings of anger and despair are increasing.

Many Greeks no longer care for the country’s stability, Greece’s image abroad, the critique by international media and Europe’s politicians but instead want their lost dignity. SYRIZA seems to have realized this and expresses a new narrative and hope.

Increasingly, Greeks are reaching a point of no return.The sooner Europe’s political elites (and Greece’s pro-austerity political elites) realize this, the better for everyone.

How short is the “short-term”?

In News on April 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Today European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi speaking at a hearing in the European Parliament urged the Eurozone to continue supporting austerity and “fiscal adjustment”. His comments come after the first round of French presidential elections, where Socialist leader Francois Hollande came first and ahead of the second round of the French elections and the Greek parliamentary elections on 6 May .

One of the arguments Draghi used – and supporters of austerity measures generally reproduce – is that the recession and high unemployment levels that Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland to name a few are experiencing, are the “necessary steps” on the way to growth. More importantly, this “necessary pain”, the adverse, contractionary effects, which are only to be felt in the short/ medium term.

Let’s clarify a few things about the short-term: In economics and finance, the short-term is defined as a short period of time, usually 12 months. In fact, in some fast-moving business sectors, the short-term is 6 months, but let’s be generous and round it up to 12 months.

Now let’s review some data. Greece has been in a recession since 2008 [A recession is defined as 6 months of negative growth rate. Negative growth is when the country produces less than the year/ month before. A good, healthy growth rate is usually considered to be between 3-6%]. Greece’s recession is expected to become worse in 2012. Greece’s recorded unemployment is 22%.

Ireland has been in a recession since 2008. It moved to a growth rate of 0.7% in 2011 and is to grow by 0.5% in 2012.  Unemployment is at 15%.

Portugal had  zero growth in 2008, recession in 2009, and really low growth in 2010, before moving back into recession in 2011. The recession is expected to become worse in 2012. Unemployment levels are at 15%.

Spain had a marginal growth rate in 2008, before plunging into recession in 2009 and 2010. It rebounded slightly in 2011 and is moving back into a recession for 2012. Unemployment is 25%.

These are all countries that are implementing austerity measures either because they are forced to through their Memorandum of Agreement with the IMF or through political pressures EU or nationally driven.

Draghi’s and European leaders’ remarks about the short-term are not only unfounded economically but also socially provocative.

People don’t wait for the long-term to live, gentlemen. People actually try to “live” in your “short-term”. They lose their jobs, they can’t pay their bills and taxes, they can’t afford to buy basic products. They fall below the poverty lines and leave their country to find work.

It is short-term that matters. Besides, as Keynes said, in the long-term we are all dead. But then again, his economics actually made sense.

1. People in crisis, Greece http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/04/portraits-of-greece-in-crisis/100285/

2. All the economic data can be found here

Of European solidarity and other demons

In News on March 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm

On 13 March 2012, the Council of the EU ministers adopted a decision suspending €495.2 million in scheduled commitments for Hungary under the EU’s cohesion fund, to be implemented from January 2013.

This was the result of the fact that Hungary did not take enough measures to reduce its budget deficit and meet the target of 3% of GDP.

This is the first time that a clause enabling the suspension of commitments has been invoked since the cohesion fund was established in 1994.

It should be reminded that Germany and France were the first ones to break the 3% deficit limit agreed in the Stability the Growth Pact in 2003. Back then, the Commission requested Germany to reduce its structural deficit by 0.8% of the GDP, and France by 0.4%. The recommendation was blocked in the Council. As a result, there was no case for imposing sanctions if these countries would not comply.

Commitments suspended for Hungary amount to 29% of scheduled commitments for 2013. Germany’s GDP per capita in PPP prices is $37,935, France’s is $35,048. Hungary’s is $19,647.

This is not European solidarity. This is not even European cooperation.

This is plain and simple a Europe where the powerful impose their terms on the weak. Good old, traditional rule of power.