New study highlights the repeated failure by U.S. lawmakers to crack down on tax avoidance schemes
The Source of Terrorism Revealed – Is Anyone in Congress Paying Attention?
If the U.S. body politic were susceptible to teachable moments, this would seem to be a prime one.
Russia starts bombing Syria and the American establishment howls in outrage: Lt. Gen. Robert P. Otto, U.S. Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, declares, "If at the end of the day you inadvertently kill innocent men, women and children, then there’s a backlash from that. And so we might kill three, and create 10 terrorists." Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, warns Russia that civilian casualties "will only fuel more extremism and radicalization." And the hot air had not even had time to cool from this national display of righteousness about the failings of our old Cold War foe, before the U.S. proceeded to bomb a hospital in Afghanistan. We know that the military is not going to point out the obvious—they follow orders. And we know the Administration is not going to either—they’ve invested seven years in the Afghanistan War. But where is Congress when we need them?
As Otto and Power have so appropriately, if inadvertently, pointed out, current American foreign policy fails the first test of what a defense policy is supposed to do, which is to make the nation safer. At the time that Osama bin-Laden stated his goal of tying the United States down in a war with Islam along “a large scale front which it cannot control,” it seemed like a sick fantasy. Fourteen years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, however, our leaders have taken the terrorist bait with such regularity, to the tune of two full-out invasions, bombing campaigns in five additional Muslim nations, and military operations in a total of 135 countries last year, that they now find themselves in the position of openly considering arming an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria because of the rise of another group, ISIS, that hates us even more. Is anyone in Congress even paying attention? Or are they simply afraid to speak the truth about our own disastrous course?
Certainly the rest of the world isn’t buying it anyhow. Last year’s Pew Research Center’s survey of global attitudes and trends found our drone bombing campaign enjoying majority support in but four out of forty nations—and one of those four was the United States. In thirty-three of those countries, the opposition ran to two-thirds or higher. Scorned around the globe, successful only in ever extending the reach of our conflict, our foreign policy is, in short, delusional.
A telling insight into the depth of that delusion arose around the recent revelation that Mullah Omar, the presumed leader of the Afghanistan Taliban, had actually been dead for two years. At the time of the discovery, "a Western official in Kabul... speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering colleagues" told the "New York Times" that the illusion of a still-living Mullah Omar had helped keep "hidden a simple truth that we don’t really know what’s going on or who we’re fighting on any given day, and who their backers are."
I'm sure I'm wrong (and this may come off as a little wacky), but stick with it a bit and see where it leads.
After all, no one is paying me for saying what I say, so it/I may be suspected as being crazy (or mad) in a way in which someone who is paid by others to write or talk is not.
So, to begin today's essay . . . I don't think that the gun violence evident in the huge number of attacks this year is because people have too many guns, or are all mentally ill and not responsible for their actions, or is because people are mad at strangers for no specific reason and feel free to blast their way to prison or eternity.
They are maddened, I believe, to be sure. But it's quite comprehensible.
They live in a violent country that uses its armaments against any country or people who don't obey them.
(And . . . they don't have any financial security or even own a home anymore, and they can't get a decent job, so why not adopt the same policy as their sainted country?)
Professor Paul Craig Roberts has been outed at this moment in history by the right wing as a crazy financial/economics "expert." He was, of course, a very big one of theirs in the 80's, who now admits that his plans for small tax cuts for business and wealthy taxpayers in order to stimulate the economy backfired when the rightwingers took over the government and decided to have much more massive tax breaks, deregulation of most industries and financial instruments, and to eviscerate everything they could get their hands on that ended in privatization of public institutions for profit for the buyers mainly.
He should never be listened to, let alone given any credence from normal American citizens (of which he is also one).
According to his ex-friends on the right wing.
This stellar collection of Paul Craig Roberts’ essays dating from February 2014 explores the extreme dangers in Washington’s imposition of vassalage on other countries and Washington’s resurrection of distrust among nuclear powers, the very distrust that Reagan and Gorbachev worked to eliminate.
On the military front we have Russia being the bad, bad, bad guy.
Just ask the Neolib cons.
Or the rest of the world.
October 3, 2015
The realpolitik in the Levant changed significantly upon the entry of the Russian Government into the foray. Russia announced recently it would assist the Assad Government in Syria as well as Kurdish forces in fighting what it perceives to be a mutual threat to Russia by ISIS. It has interest in maintaining the Assad government, which has long established ties with Moscow. In the past weeks the Russian military established operational bases in Syria and began a heavy program in supplying material and personnel.
Now, the Russian leadership announced it was working on providing weapons to Iraqi Kurds fighting ISIS through the Iraq Government. This shows a clear departure from the politics in the region where the focus was upon the United States to provide the Iraqis with defense abilities. Yet, this has proven to be ineffective due to the rapid expeditionary campaign launched against the people and government of Iraq by ISIS.
It was almost an embarrassment when the United States surprised the world with the announcement of ISIS’ threat after it was six months into its war effort against Iraq and Syria and went so far as to claim that despite the loss of 25% of Iraq’s territory and ISIS forces advancing within several dozen miles of Iraq’s capital, the situation was under control and was not an existential threat to the nation.
Now, in the vacuum of a serious effort on behalf of the west to address the ISIS problem, other than airstrikes and millions of dollars recruiting and training a handful of Syrian volunteers, Russia is emerging to fulfill the void left behind. Russia will gain both in terms of influence in credibility in the area as a result.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced last Thursday that his government will supply through Baghdad supplies and weapons to those Kurdish fighters engaged in combating ISIS. The Kurds meaning those in the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.
He stated that a fusion center was established in Bagdad having representatives and military personnel from the Kurds as well as nation stakeholders from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Russia. The center focuses on coordinating the war against ISIS by these stakeholders.
However, the Minister of Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurdistan), Jabar Yawar told Rudlaw News that they had not been informed of cooperation between Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Russia.
Minister Lavrov however stated during a UN Conference, “We have replied to the Kurdish request regarding armament and send arms to them through Baghdad.”
In other news, the United States reportedly is now supplying the Kurds with MRAP military vehicles which will be of great use.
Whatever the immediate logistics between these nations and the fusion center might be it is clear that Russia is garnering a strong presence. In the past few days Russia has confirmed that it carried out airstrikes against rebel positions in Syria. It is noteworthy that a difference of loyalties exists between the West and Russia with regard to Syria. The U.S. and especially Turkey maintain that the Assad Regime must go and Russia states that the Syrian government is an ally and that it is respecting what it refers to the legitimate government elected by the people of Syria.
During an interview on the Charlie Rose program, Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressed concern that it would be unacceptable to topple Assad because this would lead to another vacuum and chaos where non-state terrorists would then seize control of the country and lead to even larger problems than what might be expected in assisting the Syrian Government in its combat with rebels forces.
While ISIS and other terrorist organizations are a common enemy as defined by all international governments, allied “moderate Syrian Resistance fighters” as the US Government refers, are also by definition fighting Assad: specifically the Free Syrian Army. The FSA, a reported ally of the United States, was the target of a Russian airstrike several days ago.
President Putin also made mention of the how the West allowed Libya to descend into chaos by expunging the legitimate government of the nation and creating an environment for militias and terrorists to operate. He made a similar objection to the effort by the US to destroy the Iraq government in the 2003 war which also led to chaos and the situation we have presently in the region.
The Russians will, in the opinion of your author, have the potential to displace the United States from a position of authority and reverence as a savior to those fleeing the attacks by ISIS and other terrorists.
There has unfortunately been a long history of the United States making promises of salvation to those under struggle from oppression in the area only to be abandoned later when political interests wane. The US did this to the Kurds, and the Marsh Arabs after the First Gulf war who believed after the decimation of Iraqi President Hussein’s military and promises to the Kurds that if they fought Saddam, the United States would protect them. Unfortunately Saddam recovered his forces and launched putative attacks against the Kurds in retaliation for their loyalties.
Years earlier, it also can be found in how the US previously supported Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war where Iraq legitimately believed America was on its side, especially knowing the hostility between the US and Iran after the Shah was deposed and the taking of American hostages. It came as a great shock when Iraq discovered that the US was also covertly supplying Iran with arms and support during the same conflict.
Another example was with a great many in Syria. The United States promised to arm and train resistance fighters in the Syrian Civil war, such as the Free Syrian Army, where it initially rolled out the red carpet to the FSA leadership with more promises, only to later begin to cut off essential munitions and supplies the FSA begged for.
And probably the greatest betrayal, as seen by many war-weary Syrian civilians, was the infamous “Red Line” saber rattling by President Obama declaring if Assad’s forces utilized chemical weapons in the civil war, the US would intervene militarily.
In the aftermath and terror the civilians suffered from the chemical attack, many truly believed the United States was now determined to take out Assad from a leadership role and help bring an end to the civil war and their suffering. But, to them President Obama reneged on what they believed to be his promise to the Syrian people to deliver them from war and instead found a face saving way out for the United States to negotiate the removal of weapons in talks brokered by the Russian Government without having to remove Assad and get its knuckles bruised. The barrel bombings and shelling soon returned against Syrian civilians courtesy a newly revived President Assad.
Now we return to the problems at had where at least initially the US Government and President Obama are very critical if not angry with the Russians for their entry into the war, their backing of Assad, and taking over. Putin offered, and it possibly is occurring operationally in some degree between the US and Russian militaries in the area, to provide a working plan with the United States that ensures both forces do not cross each others’ lines, leading to friendly fire episodes. Furthermore he expressed interest in sharing intelligence information and steps to end the hostilities ultimately. But, it certainly complicates the matter when several of the actors’ allies are the enemy of the other. At least with regard to the Kurds, they have a common “friend” in Syria and Iraq.
One other complicating matter could be the situation with Turkey.
Turkey only reluctantly allowed Kurdish Peshmerga forces from Iraq to cross its territory to engage ISIS in Syrian Rojova, specifically Kobani, to assist the YPG/YPJ in driving terrorists from the city.
Due to decades long fighting between the Turks and the Kurds in Turkey proper, it was hesitant to allow an formalized Kurdish presence on its border. It was even indifferent in allowing ISIS to fight up to its border. As long as it was fighting the Kurds, and not Turkey, Ankara would at least allow the status quo. Turkey did finally allow US bombers and aircraft to station at air bases for attacks in Syria albeit reluctantly.
Yet Turkey demands that Assad must go, which complicates the Russian entry, but it also creates problems between Kurds and the Syrian Government. Turkey asserted that it would not accept an independent Syrian Kurdistan on its borders, for fear it would assist forces such as the PKK by providing a safe harbor for militia fighters to launch attacks into Turkey. Yet, diplomatic sources have raised the probability that Assad would agree to granting a more autonomous state for the Kurds in Rojova in exchange for the Kurds battling those resistance forces fighting the Syrian Army.
In the larger picture Russia has been, though largely unsuccessfully, trying to dislodge the United States from its influence in Europe by carrot and stick measures to draw western European nations into its sphere of influence. Now the largest influx of refugees since the Second World War into Western Europe, much of which stems from civilians fleeing the Syrian civil war, is creating the seeds of discord that Russia can take advantage of. Though some countries such as Sweden, Austria, and Germany promote themselves as being welcoming to refugees, others such as those nearer to Russia the mood is more hostile and fearful.
Russia can offer to take charge of the situation on the ground in Syria where the US and other external powers have proven to be largely ineffective in destroying the terrorist elements leading to the crisis in Syria and Iraq; hence the refugee exodus. If Russia can create through its stepped up efforts in Syria at least a workable resolution to the civil war and to bring in some measure of stability, especially if most of the refugees are able to return home, Europe and other nations surrounding Syria who are being burdened with the huge costs and resource allocation of hosting refugees will now view Russia more favorably than the Americans.
It is of course premature to predict that the coming of the Russian military will knock out the terrorists quickly, easily, and singlehandedly but it certainly will prove to be a game changer. Also many of the resistance forces and those ethnic groups who can argue that they were oppressed under the Assad regime will worry that once he is strengthened he will then resort to old practices and at least disallow any gains in autonomy they received at least in theory from the government.
Then there is the question of how “moderate forces” (as the US refers to them) who have legitimate and strong grievances with the Syrian Government. In attacking these forces it could likely put Russia into the middle and result in what the United States called a quagmire, adding years and more blood to the war.
The Kurds in Iraq are generally very supportive of the United States, and it is one of the few true allies the United States has in the region. So, it is unlikely that the Russians will be entirely successful in unseating the Americans from its position of respect and praise there. But, if the United States can counter Russian influence by showing demonstrated steps to cr(e)ate a true homeland, under their own governance, for the various ethnic groups that were carved up between arbitrary borders following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the events of the early 1920’s, it could regain a lot of face and standing in the region for many years to come._ _ _ _ _ _ _
And in sub rosa fighting closer to home . . . .
First you get the upper-class soccer moms upset over the mediocre schooling their children are receiving.
Inspiring big fear among the supremely ignorant and easily led.
Then you get everyone across the political spectrum (Thanks, Rahmbo!) to decide to abandon the mediocre schools because they cannot be saved (unless they are funded at the levels at which they had been funded before the revolutionaries running the Reagan Revolution in the 80's decided to steal their designated funds and use them (and many others) to give huge tax breaks to the rich and their corporations).
Then you sell it (the education establishment, buildings, and all the good will that free public education in the U.S. had engendered throughout the past decades) to the highest bidders.
Your backers (and good friends).
Childhood has become a period of high-stakes preparation for life in a stratified economy.
The rightwing leaders in Congress and in many other powerful venues have spoken clearly.
Government institutions/functions that benefit citizens are terrible uses of public tax money.
So privatize them all.
Start with the Post Office.
They already did.
The privatization of America’s postal buildings, and the New Deal art inside them, represents an assault on democracy itself.
In 1938, as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Ben Shahn and Bernarda Bryson began work on thirteen large murals for the lobby of the Bronx General Post Office (GPO). Collectively entitled “Resources of America,” the Shahn-Bryson murals were inspired by the Walt Whitman poem “I Hear America Singing.” A large, central panel depicts two columns of workers, backs turned to us as they read the following Whitman lines on a chalkboard:
For we support all,
After the rest is done and gone, we remain,
There is no final reliance but upon us,
Democracy rests finally upon us, (I, my brethren,
And our visions sweep through eternity.
The murals embody a spirit of public luxury that couldn’t be more alien to today’s political discourse. From 1933 to 1939, in the face of the Great Depression, federally funded public works projects created jobs, built infrastructure (including 1,100 post offices, the Bronx GPO among them), and produced one of the largest public art collections in the world. In what is nothing less than an enclosure of public property, this luxury is now being handed over to private interests.
Last year, the Bronx GPO was sold to the real-estate developer Youngwoo & Associates for $19 million. The sale is but one casualty of an ongoing effort to privatize the United States Postal Service (USPS). The assault on USPS is, in turn, only one example of a larger push toward privatization.
But the historical and cultural significance of postal properties makes this a particularly tragic instance of the government’s growing willingness to hand over public property. It is also a singular example of the lengths to which right-wing politicians and their corporate beneficiaries will go in order to justify the transference of public wealth to the private sector.
The Bronx GPO was recently approved for development as a retail space — so members of the public will still be able to physically enter the premises. And because the murals were classified as an interior landmark in 2013, they remain the property of the USPS. This means that the artworks, thankfully, are not subject to the whims of market logic. It also means that USPS — not Youngwoo & Associates — is paying for their intensive and expensive restoration.
USPS has recently been unloading buildings at an alarming rate. According to Hutkins, since 2010 the Postal Service has sold at least sixty properties and perhaps as many as a hundred. The 2012 USPS annual report stated that after a review of four thousand facilities more than six hundred buildings were “earmarked for disposal.” A significant portion of those sold or listed are historic buildings or are eligible for the National Register.
The post office in Venice, CA was sold to a film producer in 2012; Greenwich, CT’s historic post office is slated to become a Restoration Hardware; and Bethesda, MD lost its only building listed in the historic register when its Wisconsin Avenue branch — also a New Deal building with historic murals — was sold for $4 million.
Cooking the Books
As the last thirty years of world economic history have shown, deficits are one of the best ways to ideologically justify the private plunder of public coffers. But the post office is not broke.
The efforts of David Walker, who served as the country’s comptroller general from 1998–2008 and whose right-wing resume is extensive, were indispensable to the companies trying to profit off the panic. The reports issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during Walker’s tenure repeatedly label the postal service as “high risk” and suggest measures such as downsizing the workforce, selling buildings, and outsourcing or fully privatizing certain aspects of its operations.
But in order to do any of these things, the system needed to look like it was actually in trouble.
The political manufacturing behind the agency’s current “crisis” is appallingly obvious if a bit convoluted. A 2002 GAO report estimated that the USPS was liable for close to $100 billion in pensions, workers’ compensation, treasury debt, and post-retirement health benefits.
On review by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), however, it was discovered that rather than running a deficit, current USPS payments to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), were set to overfund benefit obligations by $71 billion. In 2003, another GAO report reviewed the figure offered by the OPM and estimated the potential overfunding at $103 billion.
The OPM recommended that the postal service reduce its payments, effectively saving $3 billion annually. But even though the post office is mandated to run much like a private business, generating its income from operations rather than tax dollars, the money it pays into the CSRS is figured into the unified federal budget. If the post office were to keep the extra money, the Treasury Department would be out $3 billion dollars annually. In order to keep the $3 billion in payments, the Retiree Health Benefits Fund was created as part of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) of 2006.
The PAEA also demands that the Postal Service pre-fund the next fifty to seventy years of retiree health benefits over the course of a decade — a demand that is not made of any other federal agency. A sensible payment schedule would be something along the lines of $1.5 billion annually over forty to fifty years, but the PAEA requires the post office to pay $5.4–$5.8 billion annually over the next ten years — producing the $5.5 billion figure regularly cited by Congress and uncritically repeated by news outlets.
Public Versus Private
The sense of urgency generated by the postal service’s entirely fake debt is buoyed by the neoliberal myth that for-profit enterprises are masters of efficacy. But historically, the postal service has been effective precisely because it is not organized around a bottom line.
As historian Richard John notes, if the USPS had been created by “market incentives [rather] than political fiat,” heavy, and therefore expensive, newspapers would not have reached the hinterlands — cutting off millions from political debate. The postal service continues to incur some losses fulfilling its public mandate through delivery to sparsely populated areas.
This democratic logic is nowhere to be found in policymakers’ handling of the post office today. Congress’s choice of real-estate broker for the postal properties is a great example. In 2011, the CB Richard Ellis Group (now CBRE), the world’s largest commercial real-estate services firm, was awarded an exclusive contract to market USPS facilities, earning a commission of 2 to 6 percent on sales. Richard Blum, Sen. Diane Feinstein’s husband, was one of the company’s main stakeholders.
Nepotism aside, the company’s handling of these transactions has been problematic at best. CBRE frequently represents both buyer and seller, creating a conflict of interest that is likely to lose the post office millions while making CBRE a pretty penny by doubling its commissions on each sale.
CBRE also manages much of the USPS’s leased property (24,000 spaces) and has been accused of illegally high rent increases, as well as collecting commissions for lease renewals (nowhere to be found in the original contract). Earlier this year, the postal service’s Office of Inspector General recommended the termination of CBRE’s contract.
Profiteering and Pushback
Precisely because the postal service is quite profitable, a number of corporations would be happy to take responsibility for certain aspects of its operations.
A 2013 report by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), one of many right-wing think tanks with similarly anodyne names, suggested that the operations of the post office be divided into retail, processing, and delivery. According to the scheme laid out in the ostensibly independent report presented to Congress, retail and processing would be taken over by private entities, and delivery, the least profitable of the three operations, would continue to be the responsibility of the state.
The report, far from being independent, was funded by Pitney Bowes, Inc, a company that already owns and operates a massive pre-sorting network and makes millions of dollars through contracts with the post office.
USPS offers discounted rates for mail that is pre-sorted by zip code. Pitney Bowes contracts with companies that send large amounts of mail and splits the savings with its clients. It has a direct interest in the privatization of mail sorting services. The study also happened to be coauthored by the same David Walker who, as comptroller general, was behind the series of GAO reports designating the postal service as “high risk.”
The USPS has apparently realized that the symbolism of these sales is not sitting well with the public. The sale of postal buildings has slowed down significantly. There are currently only thirty-eight buildings listed on the USPS properties for sale website. Community activists along with organizations such as the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Trust have thrown their weight behind the effort to keep these buildings public, and Congress has taken an interest in slowing the sales.
Berkeley’s La Jolla Post Office is a case in point. In 2012, after learning of plans to sell the historically significant property, Brechin gave a talk at the Hillside Club — a community organization devoted to promoting the arts in Berkeley — that led to the Save the Berkeley Post Office movement. City attorney Antonio Rossman filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the sale, arguing that it violated the National Historic Preservation Act as well as a number of EPA regulations.
The San Francisco court ruled in their favor — kind of. The post office sale isn’t off the table, but it is “under advisement” for the next five years. Brechin speculates that USPS backed off because it feared losing, and thus setting a difficult legal precedent for other sales.
Delaying sales does not mean that the effort to privatize the postal service has ended or even slowed down. USPS recently contracted with Staples to take over portions of its retail business, shifting its efforts toward the building of alternative and private infrastructure.
Blocking these other routes to privatization requires continued public diligence. The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint charging that USPS illegally subcontracted this work with the office supply chain store. A favorable decision would return this work to postal employees and safeguard one of the postal services’ revenue streams.
More is at stake than the transference of capital. The buildings and artwork of the USPS embody and maintain a collective memory of government largesse that many seem anxious to forget. Often local in nature, New Deal murals are intimately tied to the under-documented history of small towns, encouraging a sense of civic pride in places that are too economically underdeveloped to be graced by the aesthetic luxury of a high-end art market.
The art itself ranges widely in content and style, depicting nostalgic country view, the aftermath of the Civil War, and scenes critical of capitalist exploitation. More than a mere byproduct of privatization, the disappearance of New Deal artwork from the public sphere is an active repression of the knowledge and memory of social alternatives — a sort of negative propaganda in the service of neoliberalism.
By the time the Bronx GPO reopens, the layers of coal dust and mismatched paint on the Shan-Bryson murals will have been removed. But the now bright and impressive murals will no longer be implicitly linked to a public service in the minds of the spectators. Save for a handful of diligent readers of plaques and an occasional history buff, they will appear to be like any other wall decoration in any other mall.
Greece is recoiling from the death blows they've suffered (from its friends within and without the country) and are trying mightily to right itself.
Who will help?
Stathis Kouvelakis on Syriza’s record in office, the mood in Greece, and why Alexis Tsipras should’ve stepped down months ago.
Austerity-themed street art in Greece. Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP
On September 20, less than eight months after coming to power, Syriza won another commanding victory. Notable, however, was the lack of enthusiasm with which its electoral triumph was greeted — at home or abroad.
In Greece, the 45 percent abstention rate told much of the story. Popular Unity, a fusion of Syriza’s former left-wing and other radical forces, didn’t benefit from the climate. It earned 2.9 percent, just shy of the 3 percent threshold necessary for parliamentary representation. Besides for perhaps some relief that New Democracy was kept out of power, there was little for the Left to cheer.
In the interview below — first conducted in French by Clémentine Athanasiadis and David Doucet two days before the vote and translated for "Jacobin" by David Broder — Popular Unity member Stathis Kouvelakis analyzes Syriza’s trajectory, Alexis Tsipras’s leadership, and what was at stake in the ballot.
What would be your assessment of Syriza’s seven and a half months in government?
Syriza ended up in failure, I would even say a disaster. It is the most serious failure of any Left government in decades. That is what will go down in history. Syriza did take a few so-called humanitarian measures like getting rid of the high-security wings of the prisons, but these were more gestures than anything else. The only positive point I take from all this is that the political illusions have now dissipated.
Syriza’s strategy did more than years of far-left propaganda ever managed to do in persuading Greek society and European public opinion of the brutally undemocratic and pernicious character of the European Union. It provides a peerless practical demonstration of this.
Do you think that this was a political betrayal on Alexis Tsipras’s part, accepting a third memorandum?
Objectively, that is indeed the case — Tsipras has completely betrayed his promises. But the idea of betrayal very much reduces things to a subjective level. There we are entering into the realm of an individual leader’s psychology, which is not of great interest.
He had no prior plan to do this. I believe that this is more a case of political bankruptcy than of the failings of a single individual. Anyone carrying forward this same approach and strategy would have ended up with the same result.
Syriza’s illusion that it could break with austerity and neoliberalism on friendly terms, through negotiations, has collapsed. This government found itself completely disarmed, faced with the utterly brutal offensive the Europeans unleashed against it immediately after it was elected on January 25.
Making concession after concession, Tsipras lost every battle up till the final capitulation on July 13, when he signed up to a third memorandum. That without taking account of the results of the July 5 referendum, when the Greek people refused the austerity plan en masse.
Do you think that when Tsipras entered into this struggle he was aware that we would not manage to make the European Union give ground?
Tsipras’s discourse concerning the end of austerity and the memorandums was without a doubt sincere. The true problem is Europeanist blindness. The Syriza leadership’s way of thinking was the following: “We are here among European democrats, we will come to an agreement.”
I remember a face-to-face discussion that I had with Tsipras in 2012 in Paris, where I was serving as his translator. We had brought up the Euro question, and I told him that the other European leaders would not leave it up to him to choose whether to leave the currency zone. Either he would be forced to quit the Eurozone, or he would have to give in to their demands.
I will always remember his response. He said to me, “Why would they do that? That is not in their interests.” I was perturbed by this. He had not understood that the interests of the EU leaders could be contradictory and antagonistic. For me he proved his genuine blindness — he was truly naïve.
A lot of people who voted for Alexis Tsipras in January are now preparing to vote for him again in this set of parliamentary elections, since they reckon that there is no longer any alternative . . .
Tsipras is currently repeating the same thing that all the governments who went before him said: “I couldn’t have done any differently, there was no solution other than to sign up to these memorandums.” He recites the famous neoliberal credo, “There is no alternative.”
Faced with this, the dominant sentiment in society is one of immense disillusionment. The Greeks are demoralized. They cannot believe or understand what has happened. And from this point of view, Tsipras has succeeded where George Papandreou (Pasok) and Antonis Samaras (New Democracy) failed — that is, in making people fully believe that there was no other alternative.
But there was an alternative, the one that we proposed, namely to take our monetary sovereignty back in hand by leaving the euro.
How would you explain the major sympathy that Alexis Tsipras today enjoys, remaining ahead in the surveys despite his political about-turn?
This is relative. His popularity is the same as the New Democracy candidate Evangelos Meimarakis’s. And Meimarakis is an insignificant and colorless figure, appointed by default after Antonis Samaras’s resignation. It should be understood that Tsipras’s popularity has collapsed. The one thing saving him is the fact that the Greek political class is entirely discredited. Many Greeks think that Tsipras is a lesser evil, but they don’t believe in him anymore.
Alexis Tsipras has also said that he will renegotiate the debt.
What has taken place is so dispiriting that people do cling on to this hope. But Alexis Tsipras will end up with the same fate as Papandreou and Samaras, who became invisible figures.
For the moment, Tsipras is clinging on to power. He is not a Lionel Jospin figure, admitting that he failed and handing in his resignation. He has made a fundamental break from the ethics of a man of the Left. The slightest honesty would compel him to recognize that he failed and to give up politics – Lionel Jospin resigned for a lot less than this.
Today Syriza is nothing more than a mutant party, and it only has one product left to sell: Alexis Tsipras. Their PR is completely personalized. It vaunts the image of a guy with heart who truly tried, and suffered enormously for that: a man who was tortured for Wolfgang Schäuble and Angela Merkel in Brussels for seventeen hours.
This discourse is a little obscene in a country where many left-wing activists really were tortured. Syriza is only playing with affects, and no longer has any political message.
Do you think that Tsipras has become a politician like the rest?
It’s utterly different now. Even physically you can see that he has changed. I have known him since 2008, and I don’t recognize him any longer. His body language has changed. He doesn’t at all have the same smile and freshness he had at the start. Today everything that he says sounds false.
Why didn’t you manage to make yourselves heard within Syriza?
After his election in January, Tsipras took decisions without consulting the party. I was on the central committee, and I saw its degradation at close hand. After January 25 we hardly met at all.
Since 2012 Tsipras and the Syriza majority adopted a twin-track discourse. Faced with public opinion, they very firmly insisted that it was necessary to cancel the memorandums and adopt an emergency program with measures to help the poorest. But in actual fact when Tsipras traveled abroad his discourse was more moderate and consisted of saying, “We are reasonable people, we don’t want to get into clashes.”
Tsipras thought that it was possible to reach an honorable compromise. He sincerely believed this, and then he saw his gamble fail, given the Europeans’ inflexible attitude. We proposed another alternative within Syriza, but our proposals went against staying in the eurozone.
What does Popular Unity represent today?
Popular Unity is not just the regroupment of disappointed Syriza supporters and the Left Platform. The president of Popular Unity, former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, has allowed other currents to take part as well — currents that may be small in size, but which represent genuine political realities.
Indeed, Syriza itself began like this. It was an alliance of small organizations and of one party a little bigger than the others. Today Zoe Konstantopoulou, the president of the Greek Parliament, has joined us. And we also have Manolis Glezos, a symbolic figure. He is the most popular political figure in Greece. He is ninety-three years old, a historic “resistant.” It was he who tore the Nazi flag down from the Acropolis in May 1941.
Does Popular Unity have contacts with Yanis Varoufakis?
Yes, we have had contacts with Yanis Varoufakis, but for our part we considered that there were not enough points held in common in order for us to be able to go forward together. With Yanis Varoufakis it is difficult to say what we agree on and what we don’t. His statements are too contradictory — you don’t know what to expect with him.
Will Popular Unity agree to vote in favor of certain Syriza bills if in parliament?
Syriza is going to implement the memorandum. There is no chance of us accepting that. But if Syriza proposes social measures, for example in favor of gay marriage or loosening the legislation concerning immigrants, then we will of course support that.
Could the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party be the surprise factor in these elections?
It is obvious that this party will strengthen its support. In the context of our political class’s betrayals and bankruptcy, part of the popular anger will head in their direction. Greece’s situation is an extreme one, so it calls for a form of radicalism. Syriza was able to embody a left-wing, progressive radicalism but it ended in failure. So right-wing radicalism will inevitably exploit this reversal.
Can we expect big demonstrations in the coming months?
This is the great unknown. People still haven’t felt the effects of the [latest] memorandum, since it still hasn’t been implemented in its entirety. It is truly brutal — and radical.
Today in Greece there is the same atmosphere as in autumn 2010, after George Papandreou got the memorandum through that May. Greeks understood that something serious was coming, but the economic consequences had not yet fully shown themselves. So Pasok easily won the regional and municipal elections of autumn 2010 — before utterly collapsing.
Do you think that the European Union is today at war against Greece?
It is at war against the Greek people. It uses our political personnel, who have completely failed, in order to continue waging this persecution. Greece serves as a guinea pig to demonstrate what fate is prepared for all those peoples who mount the slightest resistance against neoliberalism._ _ _ _ _ _ _
A Trail of Bodies Leads Back to the USA
A friend of mine told me the following curious story. In the early 1990s, while taking a course at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, he sat next to an ordinary-looking older man, a soft-spoken, pudgy fellow, who said he was from Guatemala. After a few weeks into the term, he came to class one day and found the man sitting alone, far from the other students, who seemed to be avoiding him.
Another student explained to my friend who the man was: Hector Gramajo, a former Guatemalan general and defense minister who was there on a Mason fellowship, studying for a degree in public administration. While he was Army Vice-Chief of Staff and Director of the Army General Staff, the Guatemalan army massacred more than 75,000 Mayans in what a United Nations Truth Commission later (1999) called genocide.
On graduation day, while in his academic gown, Gramajo was handed court papers informing him that he was being sued in the US by eight Guatemalans who together with family members had been abused by soldiers under his command. Later, the lawsuit was joined by one from Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American nun, who had been raped and tortured by Gramajo’s men.
He didn’t contest the lawsuit; he just ignored it, and left the US for Guatemala to run for – what else! – the presidency. Before he left, however, he gave a public lecture at Harvard and, blessed by that august institution, and with his prestigious degree in hand, went to his other alma mater, the School of the Americas (SOA), which some refer to as the “School of Assassins,” at Ft. Benning, where he gave the commencement address. (More on this “educational” organization below.)
In 1995, a federal judge in Boston awarded $47.5 million to the plaintiffs. Gramajo never paid. He was back in Guatemala, where, in 2004, in a fitting twist of fate, he was killed by a swarm of Africanized bees.
So there's that.