Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: It’s Time for Greece to Say No to the Murderous Austerity of Its Creditors

Anti-austerity protestors in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece in 2011.I couldn’t let this week pass without a mention of the crisis in Greece, where the left-wing Syriza government has called a referendum for Sunday, so that the Greek people can either approve — or turn down — the latest crippling austerity package from the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. If they choose yes, the slow death of the economy and of Greek society will continue — a slow death that appears to have no end and will continue, generation after generation — and if they say no, it looks like they will have to leave the Euro, entering uncharted waters and dealing a major blow to the entire Euro project that will have repercussions way beyond Greece’s borders.

I have not written about Greece for many years, but back in 2011, when revolution was in the air via the Arab Spring, and I had recently visited Greece, for a family holiday, just before the collapse of the Greek economy began in earnest, I wrote a number of articles — The Revolution Reaches Europe: Tens of Thousands Protest in Greece and Spain, Crisis in Greece: Experts Call for Return of the Drachma, As Prime Minister Cancels Bailout Referendum, We Are All Greece: Expert Explains How the Greek Crisis is Being Manipulated by Banks and Governments to Enslave Us All (featuring a video in which, as I explained at the time, “Spanish author and professor Pedro Olalla, who has been living in Athens since 1994, discuss[es] the crisis, what it means for Greece, and for the wider European community, in which, in clear language that can be understood by those without specific economic expertise, he explains how Greece’s crisis has largely been manufactured by financial speculators and their willing and unquestioning servants in government”), New Perspectives on the Euro Crisis, and the Need for Greece to Default, Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: Greeks Rise Up Against Austerity, and, in 2012, Greek Despair: Will the EU and the Bankers Finally Accept That Austerity is Killing Greece? and Austerity Under Attack in Europe: Can Socialism Offer A Cure, and Keep Fascists and Conservatives at Bay?

Some of those previous articles summed up my position, which hasn’t changed since. The Troika’s punishment of Greece for having lived beyond its means (after it was allowed into the Euro project when it shouldn’t have been) is a disaster of almost unbelievable cruelty — a siege conducted using modern methods; in this case, horrendous austerity measures that are so punishing that, as well as crippling Greek society and the economy, with essential services savagely cut, unemployment rampant, and suicides on the rise, are so severe that the economy cannot recover, and, moreover, the debts will never be paid off. Read the rest of this entry »

The Occupy Movement’s Global May Manifesto: Actions Worldwide on May 12 and 15

After returning to the streets en masse on May 1, the global Occupy movement will be active in towns and cities worldwide from Saturday May 12 to Tuesday May 15, as the next phase of what Occupy supporters, and those in other allied movements, are calling the “Global Spring.” Below is an introduction to the events, as published on the Occupy Wall Street website, which is followed by the “Global May Manifesto” that was conceived and written by numerous activists around the word over the last four months. For further information, see the People’s Assemblies Networkthe May 12th 2012 siteAcciones 12M/15M and the 12M15M map.

As both the introduction and the manifesto are self-explanatory, I’ll refrain from further comments, except to note that it sounds like a first attempt to create a Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the times we find ourselves in — not the post-World War II community of idealists concerned to make sure that genocide and torture were outlawed (although that, sadly, still remains horribly relevant), but the 99 percent and the indignados faced with governments that serve only the interests of the very rich, whose criminal plunder is essentially unchecked. This is in spite of the fact that those directing this plunder bankrupted the world in 2008, and had to be bailed out by the rest of us, but it is, I believe, appropriate to consider, here and now, that bankers, corporations, the wealthiest individuals and their servants are now committed to using the rest of us — the 99 percent — as scapegoats and pawns in a new game, one of allegedly necessary “austerity” (although that is largely an ideological construct) in which all but the very rich will, within a decade or less, be driven into savage poverty.

I’ll also just add that I’ll be in London tomorrow, and will be posting information about the events planned for London in an article to follow. See you there, literally or metaphorically, and, as we used to say in the 1990s, it’s time to “Reclaim the Streets.” Read the rest of this entry »

How Can We Stop the Tories’ Relentless Destruction of Britain?

On Wednesday, the coalition government delivered a dud Queen’s Speech demonstrating that they have run out of ideas, apart from insisting, like deranged automata, that their inflexibility and lack of vision is actually helpful. In the House of Commons, David Cameron claimed that the Queen’s Speech was “about a government taking the tough, long-term decisions to restore our country to strength, dealing with the deficit, rebalancing the economy and building a society that rewards people who work hard and do the right thing.”

That is ridiculous, of course, as the Tory-led government’s mania for austerity has pushed Britain into a double-dip recession, and rewards are the last thing being visited on “people who work hard and do the right thing.” Instead, the ordinary hard-working people of Britain are being squeezed financially and besieged by ministers whose only message seems to be to tell people to be permanently insecure, while the only people who really matter to those in power — those rich enough not to feel the squeeze — continue to get richer through their dubious investments in property, their exploitative ventures around the world, and their shareholding in private companies profiting or preparing to profit from the destruction of the state (as with the NHS, for example).

In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins did a good job of kicking the government, as they deserve to be kicked, in an article entitled, “George Osborne’s growth policy is turning British cities into Detroit UK.” Jenkins began by noting, with reference to the pan-European obsession with austerity over the last two years, that “Europe’s collective response to the 2008 credit crunch ranks with the treaty of Versailles and German reparations among the great follies of history.” Read the rest of this entry »

Austerity Under Attack in Europe: Can Socialism Offer A Cure, and Keep Fascists and Conservatives at Bay?

So what’s happening in Europe? Voters in France and Greece delivered huge swings to Socialists at the weekend, with François Hollande replacing Nicolas Sarkozy as the French President, and an alliance of left-wing parties taking second place in the Parliamentary elections in Greece, and breaking the long-established hold on power of New Democracy and Pasok.

In the UK too, although voters stayed at home in droves during last Thursday’s council elections, there was a huge swing to Labour at the expense of the Tories and the Lib Dems, even though the Labour Party would be hard-pressed to describe itself as Socialist after its destruction of left-wing politics over the last two decades.

The swing is causing a huge stir in the EU, and with good reason, as the most savage manifestation of austerity is taking place in Greece, as a direct result of the banking world’s self-inflicted financial crash in 2008, which almost destroyed the world economy, and led to the unprecedented crisis we are now facing, as a result of massive bailouts, increased unemployment and reduced revenues. Literally a country that is being squeezed to death, Greece has been made to make such savage cuts that its economy is in terminal decline — and, of course, the suffering of Greece, is, to some extent, being echoed throughout southern Europe, with Spain as the most notable example of a country crippled with unemployment and unable to cope with the death spiral of savage austerity. Read the rest of this entry »

Occupy Wall Street: May Day General Strike Called in US; Other Workers Actions Worldwide

I’ve known about the Occupy movement’s May Day General Strike for ages, ever since a good friend, an activist in Denver, posted an excellent promotional poster back in the middle of February (see the bottom of this article), and while I didn’t need any reminding about the date, as I’ve been a May Day supporter for my whole adult life, I had intended to post something about it sooner than the day before.

However, I’m sure you know all about what can happen to the best-laid plans — and it’s not like I haven’t been busy! — so here, just in time, is my supportive message for all workers — the employed and the self-employed — to down tools tomorrow, along with everyone else who is part of the 99 percent — parents, children, the unemployed and the disabled, as well as those who have retired — to let the 1 percent who still lord it over us from their tax havens and gated communities, and in board rooms and parliaments, know that the inequality that caused the Occupy Wall Street movement to spring to life last September and to become an international phenomenon last October has not diminished in the last seven months.

Governments may have acted to shut down the extraordinary Occupy camps in public spaces, in coordinated raids across the United States at the end of last year, and by various means elsewhere, but it remains as true now as it was last year that you can”t kill an idea, and also that, if you’re part of the 1 percent, you can’t get away with presiding over a program of endless enrichment for those who are already rich — when doing so involves increasing unemployment and destroying the middle class — without some people deciding to fight back, and others waking out of a slumber of self-obsession and materialism to realize that all is not well with the world, and that those who claim to be in charge bear the lion’s share of the blame that they’re trying to shift onto us instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Greek Despair: Will the EU and the Bankers Finally Accept That Austerity is Killing Greece?

“Despair has enveloped Greece. This weekend the bankrupt nation, for that is what it is, began negotiating the latest act of a drama that many fear will end in catastrophe — financially, socially and politically.”

These are the opening words of an article for the Observer by Helena Smith, who has reported from Athens for more than 20 years, and who says the country is “on the edge of a precipice.” On Sunday evening, the Greek parliament accepted a €130bn (£108bn) rescue package from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, to prevent a default, in March, on €14.5bn in maturing debt. However, this also involves a further €3.3bn in wage, pension and job cuts, including axing another 15,000 civil servants’ jobs by the end of the year (and the loss of 150,000 public sector jobs by 2015), and imposing a 22 percent cut in the minimum wage and pension cuts of €300bn, even though Greece is already in a catastrophic state that will not be helped by a further round of savage cuts.

This is because the austerity measures of the last few years have led only to further economic stagnation, and are driving Greece into what I believe it is appropriate to describe as a death spiral. The country is in its fifth successive year of recession, and on Friday a two-day general strike began, and demonstrators took to the streets of Athens, which erupted in fire and violence. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Eleven, October to December 2011

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Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analyzed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.

As recent events marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo have shown, this remains an intolerable situation, as Guantánamo is as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work nearly six years ago.

Throughout my work, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen.

This has involved demonstrating that the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: Greeks Rise Up Against Austerity

As the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) delivered some “chilling words on the euro debt crisis” (as the Daily Telegraph described it), warning that policy makers around the world must “be prepared to face the worst,” and that the “euro area crisis represents the key risk to the world economy at present,” and that a “large negative event would … most likely send the OECD area as a whole into recession,” the spotlight has generally shifted from the suffering of those most drastically affected by the economic meltdown in Europe, which is bad news for the people of Greece in particular.

As I explained earlier this month, in my articles, Crisis in Greece: Experts Call for Return of the Drachma, As Prime Minister Cancels Bailout Referendum, We Are All Greece: Expert Explains How the Greek Crisis is Being Manipulated by Banks and Governments to Enslave Us All and New Perspectives on the Euro Crisis, and the Need for Greece to Default, Greece has become the scapegoat for the failure of the Euro project, exposing the harsh reality that, after years of irresponsible lending by richer countries, in which the poorer countries not only became horrendously indebted but also saw their cost of living rise alarmingly, making them less competitive in terms of business, they are being made to foot the bill as a result of the banking crisis of 2007 and 2008, which destabilized Western economies to an extent that few commentators realized.

For Greece, the upshot of a debt crisis that first emerged in May 2010 had been 18 months of savage austerity that has been so severe that it has only served to further strangle the economy it was supposedly designed to revive. Earlier this month, the Greeks suffered a further humiliation, when their democratically elected government was replaced by a technocrat government imposed by the EU and the IMF, designed to further destroy Greece’s already shattered economy, in order to protect the bankers behind the Euro, and not to let Greece default and return to the drachma as some critics of the failure of the Euro project — myself included — recommend. Read the rest of this entry »

New Perspectives on the Euro Crisis, and the Need for Greece to Default

Delighted though I am to see the back of Silvio Berlusconi, no one should be reassured that his replacement, the unelected technocrat and former EU commissioner Mario Monti — or another unelected technocrat, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank., who has taken over in Greece from former Prime Minister George Papandreou — are in a position to provide a solution to the financial crisis sweeping Europe.

Even before the unelected technocrats were parachuted in, those intent on addressing the crisis through austerity cuts of unprecedented savagery had a crisis of authority, having failed to consult with the electorates of the countries involved, and imposing unelected leaders is a truly alarming development.

For those seeking to understand why, it is clear that the fault lies primarily with the entire Euro project, and not with individual countries, but understanding that involves certain Northern European countries putting aside their dreadful knee-jerk racism regarding their southern neighbours’ purported laziness and corruption, and understanding that the Euro is and was an inherently flawed project, biased in favour of the richer countries, and essentially presided over by a handful of unaccountable officials.

As the Guardian noted in an article last week, “the latest phase of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has exposed the quite flagrant contempt for voters, the people who are going to bear the full weight of the austerity programmes being cooked up” by “the Frankfurt Group, an unelected cabal made of up eight people: [Christine] Lagarde, [the head of the IMF]; [Angela] Merkel; [Nicolas] Sarkozy; Mario Draghi, the new president of the ECB [European Central Bank]; José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission; Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup; Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council; and Olli Rehn, Europe’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner.” Read the rest of this entry »

We Are All Greece: Expert Explains How the Greek Crisis is Being Manipulated by Banks and Governments to Enslave Us All

In response to the ongoing Greek financial crisis, which I discussed in my article on Saturday, Crisis in Greece: Experts Call for Return of the Drachma, As Prime Minister Cancels Bailout Referendum, I was directed by my friend George Kenneth Berger to a video of the Spanish author and professor Pedro Olalla, who has been living in Athens since 1994, discussing the crisis, what it means for Greece, and for the wider European community, in which, in clear language that can be understood by those without specific economic expertise, he explains how Greece’s crisis has largely been manufactured by financial speculators and their willing and unquestioning servants in government.

Like others whose expertise is not in economics, I often struggle to understand quite what has been happening in the world since the financial crisis of 2008, and I found this to be a useful pointer towards a bleak truth that I can, nevertheless, at least partly comprehend from what has been happening in the UK since the Tories managed, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, to form a government 18 months ago. The Tories’ campaign of austerity involves falsely blaming all of Britain’s ills on its deficit — and making the ordinary people pay for it with savage cuts to education, welfare, health and any other services that involve the state — while obscuring the financial sector’s huge responsibility for creating the crisis. In this topsy-turvy world, the banks demanded and received huge bailouts, but then refused to reform their behaviour or to pay the taxes they owe, despite having created a situation that led to increased unemployment, reduced revenues, increased borrowing to compensate for the shortfall and for the increased pressure on the government’s finances.

Pedro Olalla’s 15-minute video, “Palabras desde Atenas — Words from Athens,” was recorded on October 5, and is available below, via YouTube, where, I’m glad to note, over 125,000 people have already seen it. It is subtitled in English (from the original Spanish), and this morning, in an attempt to understand more fully what was being explained, and to provide a permanent record in print, I transcribed the subtitles, and, with some minor edits for style and comprehensibility, have posted it below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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