Sep 042017
 
 September 4, 2017  Posted by at 3:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Detail of a fresco from the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 2nd century BC

 

About a month ago, I finished reading former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis’ book “Adults in the Room”, subtitled “My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”, and published by The Bodley Head. I started writing about it right away, but noticed I was writing more about my personal ideas and experiences related to Greece than about the book. So I let it rest a bit.

I read the book in, of all places, Athens, sitting outside various old-style cafés. That got me a lot of reactions from Greeks seeing the cover of the book, most of them negative, somewhat to my surprise. Many Greeks apparently do not like Varoufakis. Of course I asked all the time why that is. “He’s arrogant” was/is a frequent one.

That’s not very helpful, I find, since first of all, it’s a purely subjective judgment, and second, I’m convinced their views come to a large extent from Greek media coverage, not only during Yanis’ term as finance minister from January to July 2015, but also in the years leading up to it. And Greek media are all controlled by ‘oligarchs’ et al, who certainly do not like either Yanis or the Syriza party he represented as minister.

The irony is that Varoufakis received more -individual- votes in the January 2015 election that brought Syriza to power than any other party member. And in the July 5 referendum 61.3% of Greeks voted against -yet- another bailout, very much in line with what Varoufakis had proposed. So there was a time when he was popular.

One guy said: ”he should be in jail”. When I asked why, the response was something like “they should all be in jail”, meaning politicians. Which is a bit curious, because whatever Varoufakis may be, a politician he is not. And the Greeks know that. They are very disappointed, and often depressed, by what has happened to them, of course they are. But why they would think Yanis is responsible for that is much less clear. Other then: “they’re all responsible”.

The best line in my opinion came from someone who said he thought Varoufakis was wrong for getting involved with Greek politics in the first place, a pit -as is the EU- replete with slithering venomous snakes. That I understand. That he should never have become minister since it could only have ended badly because of the corruption and backstabbing at all levels. I’m guessing Yanis himself has thought that too at times.

But at the same time, I remain convinced, as I’m sure he does, that he genuinely did it to help his people -who were already in terrible shape in late 2014 when he decided to run, and are much worse off now. And that’s not all. He would never have done it if he hadn’t had a plan to make things better. He did. If anything, that’s the key to his story.

And if his one-time friend, PM Tsipras, had not been paralyzed with fear at the last moment, that plan might well have worked. Yanis is an economist, and a game theorist at that. And though he has always insisted game theory was not the basis of what he did as minister, and rightly so because it’s not a game, there’s one aspect of what happened that comes straight from that field.

That is, before he agreed to run for finance minister, as he writes in the book, he tells Tsipras and his closest Syriza confidants that because Greece is very weak vs the Troika, they are not in any position to bluff. Meaning, if they are going to follow ‘the plan’, they must follow it to the end, in other words, they must be willing to walk away from the Troika, from the EU.

Not because they want to, but because the rules of the game demand it. When you’re weak, you cannot afford to blink. Yanis based his plan on letting the other side blink first, as he felt they would have to if only Greece did not. That’s what the whole thing was based on. And then, after -or rather, even before- winning the NO referendum, Tsipras blinked.

And yes, you can blame Varoufakis for that: for not making sure that would not happen. For putting trust where none was warranted. But the alternative would have been to stay in Texas and see his country perish. He was asked to join, he had a plan he believed in, what was he supposed to do?

 

“[The book] reads like a train”, says a Dutch review of Adults in the Room. And it does. Yanis proves a talented writer in the ‘genre’, which is not his by trade -so to speak-, of a day-to-day description of a series of events, conversations, confrontations with Greek, European and global political elites -with the occasional economist thrown in here and there-. The fact that he recorded many of the conversations on his iPhone, and undoubtedly made notes of many things as they happened, makes it a very compelling read. It’s obvious he’s not making it up, that he wrote down what actually happened -much of it word for word-. Seen through his eyes, of course.

As much as it reads like a train though, it also reads like a trainwreck. The portraits Yanis paints of many of the individuals he encounters, as well as of the institutions they represent, are often as painful as they are damning. Still, that is not what he sets out to do, as many of those who find their names in the book will undoubtedly claim. They are simply the portraits that emerge as events unfold.

In the world of power politics, this should not be a great surprise. But the picture of the dynamics that ‘control’ the European Union and it representatives, as well as the Troika institutions, the IMF, ECB, Eurogroup and European Commission, becomes, as we read along, more and more that of one familiar to us through the Godfather and the Sopranos. For many of the ‘players’ that appear on the scene, a comparison to ‘made men’ in the mafia is hard to avoid. Only, without a proper code of honor. A conversation Yanis describes in the introduction of the book makes this ‘analogy’ even more striking. He’s talking to Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary, who talks about insiders and outsiders.

“I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People – powerful people – listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: They don’t criticize other insiders.”

That’s obvious stuff. Except that this quote is from another book, US Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “A Fighting Chance”, and it’s almost verbatim the same as the one in Yanis’ book. It’s just politics. In the same way that Vito Corleone says: “it’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business”. And Larry Summers is a consiglieri who spreads the gospel. Like it was once spread to him.

How do you become an insider, a made man? By committing to ‘the cause’, the family, through performing acts, initiation rituals. In the mob, that act is mostly murder, in the EU it’s something else, like obliterating the Greek economy. Or, in the case of European Council president Donald Tusk or First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, incessantly badmouthing Vladimir Putin. That gets you in. We know this because neither Tusk nor Timmermans had any other outstanding achievements to their names before they landed their top jobs.

So that gets you in. But into what, exactly? That’s a very opaque issue, and Varoufakis’ book doesn’t shine much light on it. Which is not a criticism, that’s not what he set out to do. Still, when he writes that in many occasions, as he tries to talk to for instance the assembled Eurogroup (all EU finance ministers plus -often- ECB head Mario Draghi and IMF head Christine Lagarde) about actual policies and plans, he “might as well have been singing the Swedish national anthem”, the opaqueness is the only thing that does ‘shine’.

A question that occurred to me, repeatedly, was how many of the people he tries to discuss issues with, actually understand what he’s talking about. For instance, once you delve into the specifics of debt swaps, what the benefits of one sort of bond are over others, you need a specific kind of knowledge, something an experienced investment banker or economist would have.

Schäuble’s a lawyer. Dijsselbloem’s an ‘agricultural economist’, whatever that may be. If you want to prevent any discussion on issues, what better than to put people in place who are -by education, by intelligence- simply not able to discuss them?

 

Not even Yanis, in my view, condemns Merkel and Schäuble and Dijsselbloem and a whole host of other characters in Brussels, Athens and beyond, strongly enough. Because the mob truly resides in Brussels -and Athens is truly corrupt. And Berlin. No matter how many times you may hear, or say, that something is simply politics, or it’s simply business, and nothing personal, it is very much personal and we should never accept it as normal human behavior.

That is the most damning issue Varoufakis brings up, but he doesn’t do that strong enough. When he seals a deal with China’s ambassador to Greece for Beijing to invest in Greece’s ports and railways, Angela Merkel calls the Chinese to tell them to back off; Germany’s not done with Greece yet. When current French President Emmanuel Macron, who was Economy Minister in 2015, sought to help Greece, Merkel called then-President Hollande to order him to get Macron ‘off the case’.

The European Union is undemocratic in myriad ways. What Varoufakis lays bare in his book, and then fails to utterly condemn, is that it is also undemocratic in the ‘ultimate’ way. That is, no country has anything to say except Germany. The EU’s largest member country decides everything. Not that Berlin sweats the small stuff, mind you, others are allowed to keep the illusion of democracy alive there.

But as soon as big decisions are made, finance, defense, there is one voice only that counts. That is the final nail in Europe’s coffin, even if it remains hidden very well. But spell that out loud and clear to the French people, or the Italians, that they have nothing at all to say about their own country and their own laws anymore, that the Germans decide FOR them, and what do you think they will say?

The very concept of a sovereign country, and the Union officially has 27 of them left, has turned into a joke inside the EU. Plus, Merkel and Macron and Brussels are calling for more Europe. Go to a supreme court in any EU country and tell them their own governments have lost all power over money and economics, and what do you think their constitutions will say? Care to define sovereignty?

So tell people that. Tell them that in reality Angela Merkel is their ‘leader’, not the people they have voted for. Ironically and unfortunately, the right wing regimes in eastern Europe may prove to be the ones who point this out first. Which is in line with how Brexit came about, and Trump, but in the end what all this really exposes is that we are all lied to three ways to Sunday, every day of the week.

Perhaps just as ironically, Varoufakis now leads a movement, named DiEM 25, that seeks to democratize the EU. I wish him all the good and then some with that, but I don’t see it. Because you would have to ‘overthrow’ Germany’s dictatorship of Europe, and get Germany to agree to being voluntarily ‘overthrown’. Why would Berlin ever agree to that? That’s even less likely than them agreeing to Varoufakis’ ideas about saving the Greek economy.

I’ve said it many times before, Europe’s nations can work together in many different ways, and the EU is just one of them, and it’s a very bad option. But reforming the EU from within does not look to me to be the way to go. It’s like reforming the US Republican or Democratic parties: they’re rotten to the core; why not start something new that doesn’t come with the whole deep-state-style burden?

 

You will hear and see a lot about how Yanis is naive and/or didn’t know what he was doing and proposing. But the only way in which he may have been naive is that he believed common sense would ultimately rule Europe. He might still have been right, if Tsipras et al had not choked. Which he told them repeatedly before he became Finance Minister would be fatal for Greece. He was right on that too, but he’ll find no pleasure in it.

His fault is that he didn’t – and doesn’t- want to ‘play the game’. That game is the only one in town, and it consists of keeping the established order in charge of everything, and of enhancing that power. It’s about politics, not economics. Or rather, the prevalent economic models suit the power elite just fine, so much so that their very faults help them stay in power, and nobody wants better models.

For trying to swim against that stream, you can blame Yanis, but that is the world turned upside down. Because if you look just a little bit closer, you can see that the present model is not only riddled with nonsensical assumptions, it is, because it is, destroying formerly sovereign nations.

For trying to prevent his country, Greece, from becoming the first nation in the formerly rich world to fall prey to that new-fangled colonialist model, Varoufakis deserves praise, not scorn. Do remember that when you see yet another ‘serious’ reviewer ridicule him for being naive. As in: who’s naive, you or Yanis? Is one naive for not kneeling before dictatorship disguised as democracy?

 

One last issue. It is often mentioned that the reason Brussels acts the way it does towards Greece is to scare off other EU members from ‘trying the same’, i.e. go against the rules set by the EU -which we, thanks to Yanis, know means Germany, and Germany only. But I don’t think that is true. It’s not about going against the EU; it’s doing anything. whatever it is, that would endanger the banks.

What the -scandalous- treatment of EU member and sovereign country Greece reveals is that it’s in the end not even Angela Merkel who calls the shots, but the main German, French, Dutch banks. Why the British would want to remain members of that kind of cabal will never cease to amaze me, but why their banks would does not in the least.

But yeah, so, the banks. That’s where it all started. Europe’s main banks lent Greek banks and corporations, all as corrupt as can be, money ‘up the wazoo’. When that could not be paid back this debt was not restructured, as it would be in any normal bankruptcy case, it was transferred first to the EU and then directly to Greek pensioners and other citizens. That is why Greece is in such a deplorable state.

The banks who made the loans were made whole, through a trick that hadn’t been tried before -and may not have been 100% legal but who cares about law in the EU?- and the entire mess was unloaded upon Greek society. Which is now in an even much bigger mess, with no end in sight, than when Varoufakis became finance minister. He knew that was coming and tried to prevent it.

What Merkel et al have done is to make sure that this ‘salvation’ of Deutsche Bank, Crédit Agricole et al will not be in peril. That’s more important to the system than Portugal or Italy questioning the powers of Berlin or Brussels. It’s not about scaring off other countries, it’s about safe-guarding the banks. It’s not about economics, it’s about raw political power.

In the next economic downfall, watch that dynamic. I’ve often said that the general principle of globalization/centralization, of which the EU is a good example, cannot stand in times of negative growth, because people won’t accept decisions about their lives being taken by far-away ‘leaders’ unless they think they can profit from it.

Wait till the realization dawns that Europe, like the rest of the world, only looks sort of okay because debt levels are rising everywhere. Mario Draghi still buys tens of billions of euros in ‘paper assets’ every month. That’s the European economy, that’s all that keeps it looking good, that’s the pig and that’s the lipstick, right there.

But forst and foremost, read the book. Yanis Varoufakis: “Adults in the Room”, subtitled “My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment”, published by The Bodley Head. If you’re at all interested in Greece, politics, economics, Michael Corleone, the EU, the IMF and/or the Sopranos. It reads like a train.

And it tells you a lot about how the world does (not) work. From the inside, and you don’t get to have a lot of views from the inside. “Adults in the Room” is a rare chance. The ruling powers will keep trying to discredit Yanis, but the more they do, the more you should be alerted.

 

 

Mar 312017
 
 March 31, 2017  Posted by at 7:23 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Ray K. Metzker Europe 1961

 

The true face of the EU is presently on display in Greece, not in Germany or Holland or France. Brussels must first fix what’s going wrong in Athens and the Aegean, and there’s a lot going wrong, before it can move on towards the future, indeed towards any future at all. It has a very tough job in Italy as well, which it’s trying hard to ignore.

You can’t say ‘things are fine in Germany’ or ‘Finland is recovering’ and leave it at that. Not when you’re part of a political -and to a large degree also economic- Union, let alone when you’re preaching tightening -and deepening- that Union. Not when parts of that Union are not only doing much worse than others, but are being thoroughly gutted. Then again, they’re being gutted by the very Union itself, so Brussels -and Berlin, The Hague, Paris- can’t very well feign surprise or deny responsibility.

Of course the European continent needs a ‘body’, some form of organization -and it needs it badly- that will allow its nations to cooperate, in 1000 different ways and fields, but the EU is not it. The EU is toxic. It is turning nations against each other as we speak. So much so that it’s crucial for these nations to leave the union and dismantle the entire operation before that happens, because there will be no opportunity left to do it once the toxicity takes over. The UK should count itself lucky for getting out while it did.

 

In its present setting, the EU has no future. And, more importantly, there is no mechanism available to change that setting. It should have been insisted on when the Union was founded, or in one of its various treaties after. This never happened, though, and that’s no coincidence, it was always about power. It’s therefore very hard -if not impossible- to see how the EU could be altered in such a way that it has a chance of survival.

Changing or tweaking a few rules is not going to do it. It’s the very Brussels power structure that is inherently faulty, and those parties that under this structure have the power, are the same ones who would have to change it (against their own interests). There is not a single decision concerning important -for instance economic- EU policies that can be taken against the wishes of Berlin. And Berlin demands what’s good for Germany, even if that is bad for other member states.

In order to save the EU, German representatives would have to vote against their own national interests. But they were elected specifically to protect those interests. There is no better way to illustrate the fatal flaw in the -construction of- the EU. Politicians are elected to protect the interests of their member states, and no member state can possibly prevail but Germany, because it’s the biggest. You can put any label you want on that, but democratic it’s not.

 

Germany and Holland are doing great, according to the most recent economic data. But how is that a reason to celebrate when Greece and Italy, among others, are not doing great at all? Why the difference? It’s not because they spend their money on “Schnaps und Frauen” as Eurogroup president and Dutch demissionary FinMin Dijsselbloem so poetically suggested.

It’s because the Eurogroup has not acted in their best interests. Because when their interests differed from the Dutch and German ones, the latter won out. Easily. And they always will under the present terms. As head of the Eurogroup, Dijsselbloem should represent the best interests of all member nations, not just Holland and Germany.

So should Angela Merkel as the de facto head of the EU. And it’s a very simple fact, easy to explain as well, that these interests can conflict. Obviously, that Merkel can call all the important shots in the EU should be a red, flashing, blinding and deafening alarm sign to start with. Germany should have taken a step back, back in 1960 or so, or even 1999, but for obvious reasons didn’t, and got away with that. It’s about power, it was never about Union other than to increase Power.

European politicians have not been able to make the ‘shift’ from nation to Union. Once they are faced with decisions that may harm their national interests, but benefit those of the EU as a whole, they must revert back, by default, to their own respective nationalistic priorities. Even if they are the ones who complain loudest about rising nationalism and protectionism.

And they’re -kind of- right, or justifiable. German, French, Dutch politicians are not accountable to Slovakian or Slovenian interests. That’s just extra, nice if it happens to coincide with what Berlin or Paris want, but not a priority in any sense of the word. Understandable, but lethal to the idea of a Union.

 

 

There is your fatal EU flaw. The whole common interest idea is just a sales pitch, always was. Which worked fine in times of growth. But take a look now. There’s nothing left. The rich north has used the poorer south to transfer its losses to. It’s not a union, it’s old-fashioned colonialism.

Europe’s political problem can perhaps best be expressed by comparing it to the US. Germany, plus to a lesser extent Holland, and France, have so much power that it would be like California and New York could call all important shots in America. But they can’t. Trump’s election shows that they cannot. Europe doesn’t even have that escape valve.

Delving a bit deeper, Kansas and California may be different cultures, but their people speak the same language, they watch the same TV shows, read the same news. Different cultures, but also part of the same culture. In Europe, most people have no idea who EU head Juncker is, or care, or how he got where he’s at.

Most likely know who Angela Merkel is, but they don’t know that she takes all the important decisions about their lives now. If they did, the pitchforks would be out in minutes. Luckily for Merkel, the EU is as opaque as can be,

90% of Europeans need subtitles to understand Juncker and Merkel. Or for some journalist to translate for them. Everyone in Kansas and California understands what Trump says, no matter how confused he may sound or what they may think of him. He’s American, and so are they. He’s one of them.

Needing subtitles to understand Juncker and Merkel may work in times of plenty. But in lean years, people don’t take kindly to that kind of thing, that someone you can’t even understand, and that you can’t hold to account, makes important decisions that impact you directly, as you see your jobs and savings and homes vanish and the future of your kids disappear.

That is asking for trouble. The EU has that trouble, and it will have much more of it. The only way out of that trouble is for the Union to dismantle itself. But as we can see in the whole Brexit story, that would involve so many interested parties giving up on so many perks that feed them, politicians, businesses, what have you, that none of it would ever happen voluntarily.

The EU has become a farcically intricate web of policies and laws and regulations, all built on fatally flawed foundations, that no citizen of sound mind feels connected with. The only way out of that is to literally get out. The UK got it right, whether they meant it or not.

The EU cannot be reformed because the only people -and the countries they represent- who could do the reforming, profit hugely from the present state of affairs, from not reforming. Fatal. Flaw.

As any builder can tell you who’s ever seen a structure on the verge of collapse: some can be saved and some of them you just have to let go. Raze ’em and start from scratch. Which in many cases, as builders know, is simply the best choice.

Please don’t get me wrong: of course there are tons of things the EU has done that are great, and right, and all that. But it’s the power structure that will inevitably kill it no matter what else it does that actually works. And that structure is beyond redemption.

 

 

Jun 242016
 
 June 24, 2016  Posted by at 10:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Stephen Green 18×24 inches. 2016. Acrylic on canvas. MuseumofAwesomeArt.com

Well, they did it. A majority of Britons made clear they’re so fed up with David Cameron and everything he says or does, including promoting the EU, that they voted against that EU. They detest Cameron much more than they like Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson. It seems that everyone has underestimated that.

Cameron just announced he’s stepping down. And that points to a very large hole in the ground somewhere in London town. Because going through a list of potential leaders, you get the strong impression there are none left. Not to run the country, and not to negotiate anything with Brussels. Which has a deep leadership -credibility- hole of itself, even though the incumbents are completely blind to that.

But first Britain. The Leave victory was as much a vote against Chancellor George Osborne as it was against Cameron. So Osborne is out as potential leader of the Conservatives. Boris Johnson? Not nearly enough people like him, and he fumbled his side of the Leave campaign so badly his credibility, though perhaps not being fully shot, is far too much of an uncertainty for the Tories to enter the upcoming inevitable general elections with.

Who else is there? Michael Gove? Absolute suicide. Likeability factor of zero Kelvin. That bus these guys drove around which proclaimed they could get £350 million extra a week for the NHS health care system in case of a Brexit will come back to haunt all of them. Just about the first thing Farage said earlier when the win became clear, was that the £350 million was a mistake.

I guess you could mention Theresa May, who apparently wants the post, but she’s an integral part of the Cameron clique and can’t be presented as the fresh start the party so badly needs.

 

Talking about Farage, who’s not Tory, but Ukip, he’s done what he set out to do, and that means the end of the line for him. He could, and will, call for a national unity government, but there is no such unity. He got voted out of a job today -he is/was a member of the European Parliament- and Ukip has only one seat in the British parliament, so he’s a bit tragic today. There is no place nor need for a UK Independence Party when the UK is already independent.

Then there’s Labour, who failed to reach their own constituency, which subsequently voted with Farage et al, and who stood right alongside Cameron for Remain, with ‘leader’ Jeremy Corbyn reduced to the role of a curiously mumbling movie extra. So Corbyn is out.

Shadow finance minister John McDonnell has aspirations, but he’s a firm Remain guy as well, and that happens to have been voted down. Labour has failed in a terrible fashion, and they better acknowledge it or else. But they already had a very hard time just coming up with Corbyn last time around, and the next twist won’t be any easier.

Cameron, Osborne, Corbyn, they have all failed to connect with their people. This is not some recent development. Nor is it a British phenomenon, support for traditional parties is crumbling away everywhere in the western world.

 

The main reason for this is a fast fading economy, which all politicians just try to hide from their people, but which those same people get hit by every single day.

A second reason is that politicians of traditional parties are not perceived as standing up for either their people nor their societies, but as a class in themselves.

In Britain, there now seems to be a unique opportunity to organize a movement like (Unidos) Podemos in Spain, the European Union’s next big headache coming up in a few days. Podemos is proof that this can be done fast, and there’s a big gaping hole to fill.

Much of what’s next in politics may be pre-empted in the markets. Though it’s hard to say where it all leads, this morning there’s obviously a lot of panic, short covering etc going on, fact is that as I write this, Germany’s DAX index loses 6% (-16.3% YoY), France’s CAC is down 7.7% (-18.5%) and Spain’s IBEX no less than 10.3% (-30%). Ironically, the losses in Britain’s FTSE are ‘only’ 4.5% (-11%).

These are numbers that can move entire societies, countries and political systems. But we’ll see. Currency moves are already abating, and on the 22nd floor of a well-protected building in Basel, all of the relevant central bankers in the world are conspiring to buy whatever they can get their hands on. Losses will be big but can perhaps be contained up to a point, and tomorrow is Saturday.

By the way, from a purely legal point of view, Cameron et al could try and push aside the referendum, which is not legally binding. I got only one thing on that: please let them try.

As an aside, wouldn’t it be a great irony if the England soccer (football) team now go on to win the Euro Cup? Or even Wales, which voted massively against the EU?

 

Finally, this was of course not a vote about the -perhaps not so- United Kingdom, it was a vote about the EU. But the only thing we can expect from Brussels and all the 27 remaining capitals is damage control and more high handedness. It’s all the Junckers and Tusks and Schäubles and Dijsselbloems are capable of anymore.

But it’s they, as much as David Cameron, who were voted down today. And they too should draw their conclusions, or this becomes not even so much about credibility as it becomes about sheer relevance.

Even well before there will be negotiations with whoever represents Britain by the time it happens, the Brussels court circle will be confronted with a whole slew of calls for referendums in other member states. The cat is out of Pandora’s bag, and the genie out of her bottle.

Many of the calls will come from the far-right, but it’s Brussels itself that created the space for these people to operate in. I’ve said it before, the EU does not prevent the next battle in Europe, it will create it. EC head Donald Tusk’s statement earlier today was about strengthening the union with the remaining 27 nations. As if Britain were the only place where people want out…

Holland, France, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Hungary, they will all have calls for referendums. Greece already had one a year ago. The center cannot hold. Nor can the system. If referendums were held in all remaining 27 EU member states, the union would be a lot smaller the next morning. The Unholy Union depends on people not getting a say.

The overwhelming underlying principle that we see at work here is that centralization is dead, because the economy has perished. Or at least the growth of the economy has, which is the same in a system that relies on perpetual growth to ‘function’.

But that is something we can be sure no politician or bureaucrat or economist is willing to acknowledge. They’re all going to continue to claim that their specific theories and plans are capable of regenerating the growth the system depends on. Only to see them fail.

It’s high time for something completely different, because we’re in a dead end street. If the Brexit vote shows us one thing, it’s that. But that is not what people -wish to- see.

Unfortunately, the kinds of wholesale changes needed now hardly ever take place in a peaceful manner. I guess that’s my main preoccupation right now.

 

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
Yeats

May 252016
 
 May 25, 2016  Posted by at 1:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


G.G. Bain Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, New York 1907

There’ve been a bunch of issues and topics on my -temporarily non-writing- mind, and politics, though as I’ve often said it’s not my preferred focus, keeps on slipping in. That’s not because I’ve gotten more interested in ‘the game’, but because the game itself is changing in unrecognizable fashion, and that is intricately linked to subjects I find more appealing.

For instance, in the past few days, I’ve read Matt Taibbi’s epos on the demise of America’s Republican Party in R.I.P., GOP: How Trump Is Killing the Republican Party, and Shaun King on a similar demise of the Democrats in Why I’m Leaving the Democratic Party After This Presidential Election and You Should Too, and both make a lot of sense.

But I think both also miss out on the main reason why these ‘demises’ are happening. In my view, it’s not enough, not satisfactory, to talk about disgruntled voters and corrupt politicians and the antics of Donaldo, and leave it at that. There is something bigger, much bigger, going on that drives these events.

But that I will explain in a later article (soon!). Right now, I want to address another piece of the same pie (though it’s perhaps not obvious that it is): the Brexit ‘discussion’ in Europe. A May 11 piece by ex-World Banker Peter Koenig provides as good a starting point as any:

The Collapse of the European Union: Return to National Sovereignty and to Happy Europeans?

Imagine – the EU were to collapse tomorrow – or any day soon for that matter. Europeans would dance in the streets. The EU has become a sheer pothole of fear and terror: Economic sanctions – punishment, mounting militarization, the abolition of civil rights for most Europeans. A group of unelected technocrats, representing 28 countries, many of them unfit to serve in their own countries’ political system, but connected well enough to get a plum job in Brussels – are deciding the future of Europe. In small groups and often in secret chambers they decide the future of Europe.

Koenig makes much work of connecting what’s bad about the EU, to the TTiP and TiSA trade deal negotiations. And though the TTiP deal has lately come under rapidly increasing fire in Europe, that is a relevant point. Koenig also, perhaps more importantly, concludes that the EU has no future.

If the TTIP is ratified despite all logic, and if subsequently the EU fell apart – each country would still be held accountable to the terms of the agreement. Hence, time for an EU collapse before signing of the TTIP and TiSA is of the essence. This radical solution may be too much even for staunch EU / Euro opponents. Many of them still seek, hope and dream of a reformed EU. They still live under the illusion that ‘things’ could be worked out. Believe me – they cannot.

The Machiavellian US-invented venture called EU with the equally US-invented common currency – the Eurozone – has run its course. It is about to ram the proverbial iceberg. The EU-Euro vessel is too heavy to veer away from disaster. Europe is better off taking time to regroup; each nation with the objective of regaining political and economic sovereignty – and perhaps with an eye a couple of generations down the road envisaging a new United Europe of sovereign federal states, independent, totally delinked from the diabolical games of the western Anglo-American empire.

That last bit is- or should be- highly relevant to the Brexit discussion that’s ongoing in Britain, working up to an undoubtedly grotesquely clownesque climax on June 23, the day some 40 million by then supremely confused Britons get to vote. Koenig’s last words also contradict the goals and aspirations of Yanis Varoufakis’ new initiative DiEM25, which seeks to democratize the EU from the inside out.

Now, I appreciate Yanis quite a bit, and certainly much more than most Greeks seem to do these days, but ever since DiEM25 announced itself I haven’t been able to keep from thinking: have you looked at the EU lately, like, really looked? I get the idea, obviously, but why would you, to use a convenient metaphor, want to go through the trouble of renovating a building that’s been structurally condemned for good reasons, instead of tearing it down and build a new one?

The only reason I can think of is that DiEM25 thinks the building is still salvageable. Question then: is it? And that’s a question Britain should ask itself too in the run-up to June 23. If you vote yes, what exactly are you voting to belong to, what -sort of- edifice are you electing to continue living in? A delapidated structure bound and waiting to be torn down? If so, why would you do that, and what would be the consequences?

And what about the alternative, what if you voted to leave the building? It’s not as if the present EU is the only way for European countries to work together. There are a zillion others, and arguably some of those might actually do what the EU portends to do but is failing miserably at: that is, prevent violence from breaking out. The narrative of Brussels as a grand peacemaker sounds less credible by the minute.

It is perhaps open to personal interpretation, but when I look at what the EU has done, and is still doing to Greece, the country I’m visiting again trying to relieve some of the pain inflicted on it by the EU, and I look at how the refugee issue has been handled by ‘Brussels the peacemaker’s actions and inactions, causing thousands of deaths and infinitely more misery, you’d have to be a darn great orator to make me support the what I have come to call Unholy Union.

What Greece shows is that there is no Union, other than in times of plenty. What Aylan Kurdi and the sorrowful litany of other drowned toddlers of the Aegean show is that there are no moral values inside the -leadership of the- Union. One drowned child can be an accident. Hundreds of them constitute criminal moral deficiency.

Of course you can argue that since Britain’s handling of the refugee crisis is just as obscene as the rest of Europe’s, this is not in and of itself a reason to vote Leave, but it’s no ground to vote Remain either. If anything, it’s a reason to indict politicians across the European board. Their behavior contrasts sharply with that of many of their constituents, as countless stories testify and as I’ve seen in such sparkling bright light here in Athens.

But we can take this back a few steps. I was surprised to see PM David Cameron appear as the big voice for “Remain”, for the UK to stay within the EU. Cameron was never exactly a fan of the Union. And as the Daily Mail observes, just 6 months ago Mr Cameron “declared there was ‘no question’ that Britain could survive and do well outside the EU.”

But then, he’s a man who’ll happily blow along with whatever wind is prevalent. I was even more surprised to see Boris Johnson try to take the lead of the “Leave” side, because Boris, a weather vane as much as Cameron, had always belonged to the same side as the latter on everything, and now suddenly differs on Remain or Leave. A shrewd career gamble?

The British Conservative Party has managed to corner the entire debate, both yes and no, between them. I mean, kudos and well done old boys, but what a farce that is. Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn sides with Cameron’s Remain side, without wanting to, but has failed utterly to make sure he has a realistic part in the discussion. Exit Jeremy. Where was their spin team when Corbyn fell into that hole?

Of course, there’s Nigel Farage and UKIP, but Nigel will forever be a fringe character. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, by the way; the British Lower House is not that fine of a place to sit in on a daily basis. Whenever I see footage of it I can’t help thinking AA meeting for masochists.

Farage’s main contribution to the discussion will forever be the countless YouTube clips in which he very succinctly explains how dysfunctional the European Parliament he is (was?) a member of, is, to the very same parliamentarians. Maybe more Brits should watch those and think again about what their vote is about.

An apt comparison would seem to lean towards a Tower of Babel much bigger than the original one, and in which between mountains of paper not a single scrap can be found that pertains to the prevention of poverty, misery and the drowning deaths of 4- and 5-year olds. Or at least such, most basic, principles are nowhere near the top of any lists.

Inside the pretend Union, it is obvious that the people of Germany, Holland, France find their own children’s lives more valuable than those of other children. And their futures too; half of Spanish and Greek youngsters are out of work and out of a future. And Brits are asked to vote to keep that demonic apparatus intact and join the oppressors.

Framing it in those terms also tells you something about the DiEM25 question: is it worth one’s while to try and democratize the EU from within? Given how entrenched the predators vs prey positions have become, and how unlikely the predators are to defend their advantages tooth and nail, and how their ‘chosen’ people have taken over Brussels, does that look like a project to put a lot of energy in?

The Euro is just 15 years old, but the EU goes back many decades. Strategic positions have long been taken in trenches that have long been dug. Is that the fight you want to fight? There’ll always be a Europe, but there’s nothing inevitable or incontrovertible about the EU, or about Brussels being its capital. All it takes is perhaps for one country to say “Thanks, but no, thanks.” The EU for all its bluster is very vulnerable.

So there’s your voting options. But it should be clear that the Brexit vote is headlined by the wrong people, for all the wrong reasons, and with all the wrong arguments. It can’t be exclusively about money, but it is. And if the Unholy Union falls apart sometime further down the line regardless, a vote for Remain on purely financial grounds will take on a whole different light: wasted energy, wasted money, wasted morals.

Besides, nobody knows what the -financial- effects of a Brexit will be, and any claims that are made to the contrary are just guesses based on whatever political -career- preferences the person or institution making them has. ‘Things’ ‘could’ crash on Trump victories and they could crash on Brexit, but any numbers attached to these potential events are 100% made up. It’s hilarious to see Treasurer George Osborne declare with a straight face that a Brexit would cause UK home prices to fall by 18%, but that’s all it is.

First question is: you sure it’s not 18.5%? What genius advisor came up with that number? Or did they have a committee of wise men in a week-long cigar-fueled brainstorming session that split their differences? Second question: do you guys realize that falling home prices are exactly what at least half of Britain is looking for? That distorting your real estate market to the extent that nobody can afford a home anymore is a dead-end street that kills cities and communities and people in the process?

I should stop here right? I can write a book about this, not because Brexit is such a huge subject (just see if anyone in Europe cares), but because the EU is such a yuuge disaster, and there will be many more opportunities to return to the topic. I have tons more little notes scribbled down, and a flood more crazy claims and comments will be made by various parties in the ‘fight’. Just wanted to say that this whole ‘debate’ -if you can call it that- has so far been very different from what it should have been.

Why would you want to belong to a team like the EU? I know that Cameron does, and so does Corbyn, but none of that is reason you should too. Nor should you want to ‘Leave’ because Boris Johnson wants to. You need to look out over the whole landscape. But that’s just me.

Dec 142015
 
 December 14, 2015  Posted by at 3:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange White Angel Breadline San Francisco 1933

Many people are cheering now that yesterday Marine Le Pen and her Front National (FN) party didn’t get to take over government in any regions in the France regional elections. They should think again. FN did get a lot more votes than the last time around, and, though she will be a little disappointed after last weekend’s results, it’s exactly as Le Pen herself said: “Nothing can stop us”.

And instead of bemoaning this, or even not believing it, it might be much better to try and understand why she’s right. And that has little to do with any comparisons to Donald Trump. Or perhaps it does, in that in the same way that Trump profits from -people’s perception of- the systemic failures of Washington, Le Pen is being helped into the saddle by Brussels.

The only -remaining- politicians in Europe who are critical of the EU are on the -extreme- right wing. The entire spectrum of politics other than them don’t even question Brussels anymore. Which is at least a little strange, because support for the EU on the street is not nearly as strong as among politicians, as referendum after referendum keeps on showing.

Some of which have rejected (more power to) the EU outright, like the one in Denmark last week, while others do it indirectly, by voting for anti-EU parties -see France this and last weekend-. There’s a long list of these votes going back through the years, with for instance both France and Holland saying No to the EU constitution in 2005, which led to many countries to postpone their own votes on the topic.

Brussels had an answer, though: by 2007, the Constitution proposal was converted into a Treaty (of Lisbon), which said basically the same but in a different order, and only through amendments to existing treaties. It was still rejected again in an Irish referendum, but in a second vote in 2009 accepted.

Importantly, the switch from Constitution to Treaty meant unanimity among EU nations was no longer needed; a majority was good enough. And so the whole thing was pushed through regardless of what people thought -and voted .

The overall picture is clear: Europeans in general are fine with the EU, but when it tries to grab more sovereign powers, they say NO, time and again. Only to be overruled by their own domestic politicians as well as Brussels. Their worries, frictions and arguments have only one way to go: the far right. All other political currents are united in unwavering support for the EU, basically no matter what.

But people see what’s happening in Greece, and with refugees, they see the way the Union treats the Russia and Ukraine issue, they see the new-fangled unholy plans with the EU border force, and they don’t want Brussels to tread on their respective nation’s sovereignty anymore than it already has.

They find no resonance for their worries at home, however, other than with people like Le Pen, Nigel Farage and similar ‘political outcasts’. And therefore that’s where they will turn. All Le Pen has to do is wait for the economy to get worse, and it will, and she can reap what the EU has sown.

As soon as Brussels threatens to turn into an authoritarian body, something it has already very evidently done, people will resist it.

The European Union could have been a very useful and appreciated organization, with many obvious advantages for the people of Europe. But as soon as it oversteps its boundaries, it is destined to self-implode. This process and outcome has become inevitable, because the Union has de facto appointed itself the arbiter of these boundaries.

The unelected high lords of Brussels have become too greedy, and too unaccountable, and they will end up achieving the exact opposite of what they claim the EU stands for: they will lead the continent into conflict, armed and otherwise.

The new border force concept is the perfect example for what is going wrong in Europe. A group of the largest, and therefore most powerful EU nations, have agreed on a rainy Monday afternoon that they’re going to set up some sort of military police force that will ‘protect’ the borders of member nations even if these nations don’t ask for such protection and/or outright resist it.

This is obviously directed mostly at Greece for now, and the EU thinks it can do with Greece as it pleases. But ask any German, French or British citizen if they want entrance to their countries controlled and decided by a para-military bunch of foreigners, and they’ll think you’ve lost it. But that’s the idea behind the border force: take away nations’ sovereignty. Start with the smaller and weaker and work your way up.

That this has some interesting legal implications, as I wrote recently in Greece Is A Nation Under Occupation, that few seem to even contemplate, will add to the entertainment.

There are 28 separate constitutions in the EU. Under which of these is it legal for a government to sign away control of its own borders? In how many of these countries will this be appealed at their own version of the Supreme Court? And how many of these courts will say: sure, sovereignty is way overrated anyway!?

The EU could have been a useful union. Not all those border checks, for one thing, not all those forms to fill out all the time. But with the advent of the euro, things got out of hand. You can have a functioning union between very different entities. But only as long as those differences are recognized and respected.

The euro is an idea that seeks to deny the differences between the people(s) of Europe, it seeks to claim that Germany IS Greece. To that end, it must then take away all nations’ sovereignty. The euro cannot exist without that. To function properly as a currency, it needs a banking union, a fiscal union. And then take it from there.

These are all things that nobody properly thought or talked about before it was introduced. Perhaps because everyone knew that these things would be unacceptable to the European people. And now the euro’s here, and all these things will have to be pushed through anyway. Brussels thinks it has plenty experience pushing things through despite the will of the people, so this one will work too.

But all it takes is for someone to point this out in clear language to people. Unfortunately, the only ones who do today connect this with resistance to refugees, to open societies, to all sorts of things that have nothing to do with why the euro is a failure.

Meanwhile, as I’ve written many times before, the EU is this body that self-selects for sociopaths in its hierarchy, being its undemocratic self. What few people recognize is that it also self-selects for the likes of Marine Le Pen.

And we haven’t seen anything yet. As I said before, all Le Pen has to do is for the economy to pine for the fjords. And looking at the current commodities slaughter, that might happen before anyone can look it up in the dictionary.

And Angela Merkel, after having pushed aside the Dublin accord on refugees and opened German doors, now wants to close them again. As if that works. The EU now wants to hand Greece tens of millions of euros just to keep refugees in the country.

But what happens when the recent projection of another 3 million arriving in Europe in 2016 comes to fruition? What happens when the refugees don’t listen to the Berlin/Brussels dictates? One can only imagine the chaos. The EU has offered Turkey €3+ billion to keep them there, but president Erdogan doesn’t look like the kind of guy you can make a deal with and expect him to live up to it.

Europe seriously risks being flooded with people, while its economy shrinks like a cotton jersey in an autumn rain storm. And who’s going to be looking at the wannabe dictators in Brussels for help then? Nations will end up deciding to decide for themselves. And because all politicians but the far right have unequivocally supported the Union for many years, guess who’ll be coming to dinner?

Today the victims are the Greeks and the refugees. And all those whose governments cut their benefits to ‘balance their budgets’. Tomorrow, those budgets must be balanced all over Europe, in this line of thinking.

As we witness the commodities plunge, and the stock market crash that must of necessity follow it, it becomes hard to see how countries like Italy, Spain, even France, could escape resembling Greece a whole lot more in 2016. And then Europe will be right back where it left off 70 years ago.

Sep 052015
 
 September 5, 2015  Posted by at 8:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Marion Post Wolcott Works Progress Administration worker’s children, South Charleston, WV 1938

In the end, what should have been avoided all along, was. The refugees who were treated like subhumans for days in Hungary, and who in the end refused to be subjected to that treatment any longer and started walking to the Austrian border, are being taken as we speak to that border, on buses provided by the government in Budapest.

Meanwhile, we have all been subjected to the words and ideas of Victor Orban, the loose cannon who rules Hungary. The media largely portray the sudden change from refugees stuck on trains in Budapest train station and locations just outside of the city, to the buses that will take them to Austria and presumably Germany, as something that sprouted from Orban’s brain.

But that is not true. One can call Orban on his crazy notions, but not on decisions about the movements of the refugees. Both the decision to in effect ‘detain’ the thousands of refugees inside Hungary for days, and the decision late last night to let them leave, came from one person only: Angela Merkel. She’s the only one with sufficient power to make such things happen.

She told Orban earlier this week to stop the trains from coming west. And she told him later all refugees would have to be registered. In fact, that was a EU wide order, which is why the Czechs started putting numbers on refugees’ arms. Another image Merkel couldn’t possibly tolerate, even if she initially managed to deflect the blame for that too.

Once again, Merkel diddled till she couldn’t diddle any longer. The one and only reason why she decided to change course was the damage to her stature as a leader and politician. The images of little Aylan Kurdi dead on a beach, and the images of thousands of refugees walking to the Austrian border, had simply become too damaging to Merkel’s reputation.

So she took the opportunistic and at least somewhat cynical decision to tell Orban he could set them free.

The Syrian refugees have taken to calling her Mama Merkel. They don’t know who she is, or what role she plays.

The situation would have gotten out of hand somewhere, either in Budapest or along the highway to the border. People would have died, and cameras would have recorded the deaths.

Merkel might have had a second Aylan on her hands, and at some point even the thickest among reporters would have made the connection to her, the only voice with decision power in that part of the world. She knew her Teflon coat would at some point wear off.

To a large extent, Merkel’s headaches have only started. She can’t let the Budapest train station scenes, or the miles long stream of walking destitute, or the image of drowned children, repeat. If she had come to her senses earlier, much of the misery would have been avoided. And she knows it. She knew the risk of more and worse tragedy was getting too big. And it still is, this is far from over.

But there’s another side to the story as well. That of private European citizens. And not the goons attacking refugees on Kos and in Hungary. We’ve seen the tireless long-term Greek private efforts to feed and shelter refugees on the islands and the cities, Hungarians handing out hundreds of bottles of water, 2200 Austrians last night volunteering to drive across the Hungarian border to pick up the refugees marching along the highway at night (which was a major factor in the decision to send buses).

There are many examples of European citizens showing what decent behavior actually is. And it comes naturally to them.

There is a huge gap between these Europeans and the people who are supposed to be their leaders. And that gap cannot be bridged, and will not be, just because Angela Merkel acknowledges that she’s been being defeated by numbers and images, everytime she is.

Merkel has shown us once again this week that humanity is an orphan in European decision making. Neither Angela or any other of the leaders, be it in national capitals or in Brussels, put humane treatment of refugees first. They are cool and calculated first.

Their attitude towards Syrian refugees is the same as that towards the poor in Greece. They are more than ready to accept that there will be human casualties because of whatever it is they decide. They want the power but not the responsibility.

The EU meeting on the refugee topic, which you can bet they will label ‘migrant’, is still over a week away, on September 14. And it will be about numbers, not about people.

German financial support on the issue is planned to be more than 3 weeks away. During that time, the horror is sure to repeat somewhere along the line that runs from Syria to Berlin. Yes, it starts in Syria.

Therefore, Europeans -and the international media- need to keep the pressure on Merkel now. And on Hollande and Cameron and Juncker, and all of their minions. But first of all on Merkel. She’s key.

Sep 022015
 
 September 2, 2015  Posted by at 2:56 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Migrant family in trailer home near Edinburg, Texas Feb 1939

A few days ago, I joked to Nicole that Paddypower should by now have a bet open on how much longer the Schengen open border treaty will be valid in Europe. Didn’t check if they actually had one, mind you.

But it can’t be long anymore, so it wouldn’t be a big money maker even if it existed. I give it a few days at most. Italy just announced it wants guards at Brennero, one of its main border posts with Austria. One down, a few hundred to go, and they may go at a rapid clip.

Europe’s countries are not each other’s enemies yet, but they will shut borders. Germany pulled a fast one yesterday by telling Hungary to stop the trains from rolling west, but now Budapest has a big problem. They should have just allowed the refugees to board the trains and leave. Put them on a train, give them food and drink and make them first Austria’s and then Germany’s problem.

And Germany’s a fine place for the refugees to go, since Berlin is sort of the de facto capital of the EU, at least when that seems a profitable position to be in, but it’s not the perfect place to go, because Merkel and her ilk will denounce their leadership claims whenever that looks more beneficial in the polls.

Merkel and Schäuble can screw over Greece three ways to Sunday, but they’re like this Bill Pesek headline on Bloomberg two weeks ago about the Chinese leadership that said something to the effect that they like the power but not the responsibility. That’s at least as true for Europe as it is for Beijing.

And that makes it hard to call any supposed leaders on any of their responsibilities. It’s also why thousands of refugees have drowned and not one of the ‘leaders’ have lifted a finger. They’re there for the power, not the other stuff.

And that, as I’ve said a hundred times before, is embedded in the EU model, in its design, its regulations, its laws, the whole shebang. When I read that Yanis Varoufakis wants a pan-European anti-austerity movement, I’m thinking he doesn’t understand how it’s set up. The whole bureaucracy was made to resist change, democracy, and any challenges to its ‘belief’ system.

It’s no use saying the EU should do something or another in the refugee crisis, because it won’t. And what it may do will always be way too late and way too little. It’s how it was structured. The EU is geared towards accumulating more power, not solving its own problems.

But at the same time, Brussels is still the only capital the EU has. And that’s why all refugees, wherever they are at the moment, Hungary, Greece, Italy, Serbia, Macedonia, should be allowed to board trains, with enough humane facilities and provisions, bound for Brussels.

They should all be directed towards the European Parliament and/or other posh buildings – they recently opened a €1.2 billion one, that should facilitate a few refugees -, and stay there until the EU is forced to solve the issue.

And every single cameraman on the planet should be there to register what happens. How long they will be allowed to go without food, water and shelter. How long they will go without proper medical treatment.

Let’s see how Brussels deals with 50,000 -100,000 people in its streets and parks, with more coming every day, while the whole world is watching live on a hundred news channels.

And I know Strasbourg will want to dispute the claim that Brussels is the capital, and you know what?, I’m willing to send half of the refugees there too. Just so the French don’t feel left out or insultée or have their pride hurt.

And something tells me that the citizens of Belgium and France, like their Greek peers, will have the decency to feed and shelter the Syrian and Libyan mothers and children on their doorsteps while the ivory towers diddle.

It looks to me to be the only way to expose the EU for what it is, and then put an end to the macabre monstrosity it has become.

We would need to convince the refugees that by doing things this way, they would open the way for those who come after them, of which there will undoubtedly be many.

The Italian, Hungarian, Greek etc. governments should issue rail tickets from their countries to Brussels and tell the refugees that that’s where the European capital is, and to apply there for visas, asylum, and everything else.

Brussels lives by the adage of divide and rule. And that serves only the bureaucrats that inhabit the institution. Not the refugees, and not the people of Europe.

Jul 262015
 
 July 26, 2015  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Balancing act, John “Jammie” Reynolds, Washington DC 1917

There’s arguably nothing that’s been more hurtful -in more ways than one- to Greece and its Syriza government over the past six months, than the lack of support from the rest of Europe. And it’s not just the complete lack of support from other governments -that might have been expected-, but more than that the all but complete and deafening silence on the part of individuals and organizations, including political parties.

It’s no hyperbole to state that without their loud and clear support, Syriza never stood a chance in its negotiations with the Troika. And it’s downright bewildering that this continues to get so little attention from the press, from other commentators, and from politicians both inside Greece and outside of it.

This gives the impression that Greece’s problems are some sort of stand-alone issue. And that Athens must fight the entire Troika all on its own, a notion the same Troika has eagerly exploited.

It’s strange enough to see the supposedly well-educated part of the rich northern European population stay completely silent in the face of the full demolition of the Greek state, of its financial system, its healthcare and its economy.

Perhaps we should put that down to the fact that public opinion in for instance Germany is shaped by that country’s version of the National Enquirer, Bild Zeitung. Then again, the well-educated in Berlin allegedly don’t read Bild.

That no massive support movements have risen up in “rich Europe” to provide at least financial and humanitarian aid, let alone political support, can only be seen as a very significant manifestation of what Europe has become.

Which is something that “poorer Europe” should take note of, much more than it has. There is no solidarity, neither at the top nor at the ground level, between rich and poor(er) in the EU.

That in turn greatly enhances the need for Europe’s periphery to support one another, whether at government level or in the streets of Madrid, Milan etc. But that’s not happening either.

There have been sporadic declarations of undoubtedly well-intended support for Syriza from the likes of Podemos in Spain and M5S in Italy, but it’s been words only, and only on occasion; that’s where solidarity stops.

Brussels likes it just fine that way. They can pick off the weaker nations one by one, instead of having to deal with a united front. And that should count as a tactical failure for all of these nations.

As Greece has shown, fighting Brussels on your own is simply not a good idea. But Greece had no choice, it was left abandoned and exposed by the other countries in similar conditions as itself.

We can speculate as to why that happened – and keeps on happening. Kindred spirits to Syriza in Portugal, Italy, Spain, Ireland may be too focused on their own economies and circumstances. Or on their own political careers. Alternatively, they may simply be too scared of the Troika to take a stand against it.

In that light, Beppe Grillo’s words this week denouncing Alexis Tsipras are utterly unfair and not at all helpful, even if perhaps to an extent understandable.

Italy’s Plan B For An Exit From The Euro

Tsipras couldn’t have done a worse job of defending the Greek people. Only profound economic short-sightedness together with an opaque political strategy could transform the enormous electoral consensus that brought him into government in January into the victory for his adversaries, the creditor countries, only six months later, in spite of winning the referendum in the mean time.

An a priori rejection of a Euroexit has been his death sentence. Like the PD, he was convinced that it’s possible to break the link between the Euro and Austerity. Tsipras has handed over his country into the hands of the Germans, to be used like a vassal. Thinking that it’s possible to oppose the Euro only from within and presenting oneself without an explicit Plan B for an exit, he has in fact ended up by depriving Greece of any negotiating power in relation to the Euro.

Now, it’s no secret that I appreciate Grillo, and I think people like him are sorely needed in order to get rid of what Beppe in his ‘flowery’ language calls the “Explicit Nazi-ism [..] by Adolf Schauble”. And I do understand that he must get the message across to -potential- M5S voters that he does not intend to fold in face of the Troika’s demands as Tsipras has supposedly done.

But at the same time he completely ignores his own lack of support for Tsipras, the fact that he left him to fight the entire Troika on his own. Sure, Grillo visited Athens on the day of the latest referendum, but that is woefully inadequate. If anything, it seems to depict a lack of vision.

Beppe Grillo seems unaware that his criticism of Tsipras risks isolating himself when it comes time for Rome to be in the position Athens has been in since at least January 2015.

Moreover, Grillo has never had the fully loaded Troika gun pointed at his head and that of his people, the way Tsipras did. As a matter of fact, one might well argue that Tsipras gave in to a large extent precisely because he could not be sure enough that the likes of Grillo would follow him, and support him, if he would have chosen Plan B.

That is to say, if he would have refused to give in to the Troika demands and elected to leave open the option of a Grexit, in whatever form that might have taken.

On top of that, Grillo seems to forget that Tsipras never came into the talks with a democratic mandate to leave the eurozone. And the other side of the table was well aware of that, and used it against him.

After the next round of Italian elections, Grillo may well find himself in a similar position, and if he does he will call undoubtedly on Tsipras for support.

Podemos, Syriza, M5S and others should present themselves, very publicly, as a front. That should hold regular well-publicized meetings, issue clear and strong declarations of solidarity and support for one another, and make sure all of it gets a prominent place in international media.

The ruling class has organized itself, and the ruled won’t be able to fight them unless they do the same. You either do it together, or it’s not going to happen.

Grillo calls on Italy to use its massive €2 trillion debt as a threat against Germany, suggesting that, once Italy leaves the eurozone, it can be converted into lira. That threat would be a lot more credible if the entire periphery would present itself as a front.

And that front should perhaps even include France’s Front National and Marine Le Pen, or Britain’s Nigel Farage. One could argue that they would be strange bedfellows, but battling Brussels alone, as Tsipras has been forced to do, hardly looks to be the best way forward.

And unless and until there is a viable way forward, the European periphery will continue to move backward. That’s the number one lesson from Athens. Where the Troika is about to re-enter its trenches.

Jun 302015
 
 June 30, 2015  Posted by at 9:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Soldier group, Federal Army 1865

I have plenty to say on the topic of this essay. But the most important thing I think is that I know the EU is blowing up itself by trying to exert far too much influence on the very member nations that made its existence possible. Brussels is a blind city. To see it blowing itself to smithereens makes me very happy.

The flipside is that it will take a lot of pain, and probably even the very wars the EU was originally founded to prevent, to figuratively burn it to the ground. But that, if you’ll alow me, is for another day:

Loads of good words published today on EC President Jean-Claude Juncker and the Greeks, and the crop gets creamier, there’s fake Nobles winners and all joining in, but this is not a new issue, guys, and the lot of you are quite late to the game.

Moreover, y’all Krugmans and Stiglitzes fully missed something that happened while Juncker was ‘speaking’ yesterday: Jean-Claude changed the entire game in one brilliant move. The Greeks I was with, including in Syntagma Square, didn’t notice it either.

What changed is that after Juncker’s speech, the discussion is no longer about data or numbers or facts anymore (but who understands that?), because he never mentioned them.

It’s instead now about fear and fight and flight and various other base instincts, you name them. And that’s not a coincidence. The reason he, and the EU as a whole, resort to this ‘message’ (and no, these guys’ spin teams are not stupid) is to a substantial extent that it’s simply all they have left.

Whatever they had to present in the way of numbers, data etc. has already been rejected by the Greek government 100 times. Since their data have since the start been diametrically opposed to what Syriza stands for and was elected on, which they knew, that should be no surprise, and indeed never was for the Troika.

If you saw Juncker yesterday, and it doesn’t even matter whether he was inebriated or not (does he perhaps wake up drunk, like Yeltsin?), accusing Tsipras of lying -for which he offered no proof- while telling big fat obvious lies himself (“we never asked for pension cuts”) -for which ample proof to the contrary is available-, y’all should realize that a bit more scrutiny of the man is obviously warranted.

I’ve written this story a hundred different times before already: the EU is an organization led by people with, let’s define this subtly and carefully, sociopathic traits (Antisocial Personality Disorder), simply because the EU structure self-selects for such people. As do all other supra-national organizations, and quite a few national ones too, but let’s stick with Brussels for now.

That such people are selected is due in great part to the less than transparent democratic acts and procedures in Brussels. Which allow for ever larger numbers of the same ‘sort’ of people to accumulate. No coincidence there either.

Many of you will say that you can’t say that kind of thing, you can’t call Juncker a sociopath. But the fact is, I can. Who can not say it are Tsipras and Varoufakis, not in public. But I wouldn’t even want to guess at the number of times they’ve done so in private. And it’s high time we lift the veil on this. We are being governed by sociopaths, and that’s by no means just a European thing.

And besides, in general it’s not something that we should refrain from talking about. The reason we do is, I bet you, is because we don’t know how to recognize the traits and characteristics. But in fact, that’s not hard. Just plucked this off the interwebs in 2 seconds flat:


Profile of the Sociopath
• Glibness and Superficial Charm.
• Manipulative and Conning.
• Never recognize rights of others, see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. …
• Grandiose Sense of Self. …
• Pathological Lying. …
• Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt. …
• Shallow Emotions. …
• Incapacity for Love, Compassion
• Need for Stimulation.

Anyone want to tell me that does not describe Juncker? Still, the big problem with sociopaths -and do note how I subtly steer away from the term psychopath- is that you can not have an effective negotiation with them. Because once you’ve reached a conclusion -which’ll be hard fought and take forever-, they’ll just renege on it and come back with additional conditions. And then claim you are the one who did that.

Check Juncker. Check the 5 month history of Greece negotiations with the Troika. And note that that’s exactly what they accuse Syriza of. They claim Tsipras suffers from the very disorder they do. That too is typical. It’s a pattern, an MO, it’s how these minds function.

The main one for me is the lack on empathy, compassion. That got 1000s killed in Ukraine, and in the Mediterranean, and now in Greece. All deathly dramas Brussels could have prevented, and chose not to. In Brussels and Berlin, it’s more important that countries toe the line than that their citizens actually survive.

Europe has moved, at a very rapid clip, from a union of 28 different sovereign states, each with their own governments and political views and directions, to one where a top heavy bureaucratic structure, hand-puppeted on by a mere handful member states and systemic banks, dictate what each member state, both its politicians and its citizens, may do or not do. Or think. Electing a left wing government, for instance, equals asking for trouble.

There is no democracy left in Europe, people have no direct say anymore, there’s just a two-pronged dictatorship: there’s Merkel and Hollande, who in the Greek crisis have proven themselves to be mere tools to vested interests, and I’m being extremely kind now, and there’s Juncker and Tusk and Dieselflower, who are really just inconsequential sociopathic wankers that could at any moment be replaced by other hammers and screwdrivers.

In that light, it can only be a fitting irony that it was Juncker in his speech yesterday who said:

“Playing off one democracy against 18 others is not an attitude which is fitting for the great Greek nation.”.

He could have easily followed up with:

Because that’s what we in Brussels have a monopoly on.”

The EU is a club led by people with mental disorders, that panders to special interests. It’s not a union of sovereign nations that hold meetings on how to find common ground. That common ground is now supposedly a given, and no matter what any nation thinks about that matters one bit anymore. Unless it’s Germany or France, and even then. The EU has superseded the nations that formed it. And that can never have been the idea of the people of these nations. As I started writing a few hours earlier today:

It won’t be a surprise anymore that I am not a fan of the European Union. That is to say, I like the idea but not the execution of it, and certainly not the clowns who execute it. However, what happened yesterday is something that even I couldn’t foresee. The Troika volunteered to self-immolate, though the three-headed beast is undoubtedly too full of hubris to understand what it did. Good.

Still, I’m looking at this, thinking: really guys? You really think deliberately sparking chaos in an EU member state on the eve of a democratic referendum is something that will help your case in the long term? Have you thought this through at all? I’m guessing the overriding notion is that threatening and bullying as a model has worked for Brussels so far; but I’m also guessing that the approach has its limits.

Like with many things, there may well be a gaping hole between what can be considered legally justified and what morally justified. But be that as it may, you can’t rule over 28 different sovereign nations with no morals whatsoever. That’s coming back to bite you in the face.

For the ECB to freeze ELA for Greek banks is the biggest blunder it has ever made, and arguably the biggest one it is capable of making in its present mandate. For one thing, it’s a purely political move, and the ECB has no place in politics, or politics inside the ECB.

That the Eurogroup added to the insult a refusal to grant Greece a one-week extension so preparations for the referendum could be executed in peace, tells us loud and clear what it thinks about democracy: it’s a mere afterthought.

Bullying sovereign nations gets old, fast. What you guys are at the moment doing to Greece, you won’t be able to repeat against Italy or Spain. They’ll have you for breakfast.

The EU, which is made up of 28 democratic and sovereign nations, is being run like some absolute kingdom, ostensibly led by a 24/7 drunk. How long do you think that can last?

The very minimum the ECB should have done thi week is to issue an explicit guarantee for all Greek bank deposits up to and including the July 5th referendum. To make sure there would be no bank runs and line ups at ATMs leading up to the vote, which merely represents the purest form of democracy. That is hasn’t speaks volumes. And it can’t possibly have been a monetary deliberation; what happens now is far more costly for the bank, and for European taxpayers, than such a guarantee.

I love that the EU does this, and the Troika with it, because they ensure their own demise. What I don’t like is the people who will fall victim in the interim, starting with the ones here in Greece. If this is the best the EU can do on a human scale, it has no reason to exist. And everyone better get out while they can.

Europe can form a great union, peaceful and prosperous and happy. It has many many wise and smart people who can make that work. But those people are not in Brusssels, where the decisions are being taken. And there’s a reason for that.

Jun 242015
 
 June 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Ben Shahn Sideshow, county fair, central Ohio 1938

The only thing that would really go towards beginning to solve the problems with Greece is for Athens to NOT sign a deal. The short version of why that is so: it would leave the EU intact for longer. And the ECB.

Neither have any viable future, but as they go down, they can cause a lot of damage and pain. It’s mitigating that pain which should now be our priority no. 1, the pain that will result from the demise of Europe’s institutions. But we see precisely zero acknowledgment of this. Anywhere.

All that attention for whatever comes out of yesterday’s, and today’s, and tomorrow’s Troika vs Athens talks is very cute and nice and all, and putting on a ‘phantom summit’ is hilarious, but in reality it’s all based on a far too myopic picture.

Maybe that’s what you get when you’re only looking at life as exclusively consisting of things that can be either bought or sold, which seems to be the way the entire world press interprets the negotiations, the only way they have of interpreting anything. But this is not about money.

There’s more to life than money. That is to say, there’s a lot more going on than those talks and the deal-or-no-deal results that may or may not emanate from them. To wit: If the past 5 months or so have made anything clear, it’s that the eurozone has no future at all, and the EU as a whole has very little.

There is no trust left between Brussels and Greece, and therefore at the same time also not between Brussels and Rome, or Madrid. Italy and Spain could be the next to receive a five-month treatment like the one Greece has had, and the people there sense it. Even if their present governments do not.

As I said a few days ago :

None of these institutions, IMF, EU, ECB, has any raison d’être or any claim to fame unless there is explicit trust in what they represent. That trust is now gone, and it’s hard to see how it can ever be recovered.

Whatever happens to Greece going forward, that is perhaps the biggest gain its dramatic crisis will gift to the rest of Europe, and indeed the world. Which therefore owe it a debt of gratitude, and of solidarity.

You know, we’ve heard it said that politics is about seeing ahead. Well, that’s just too bad, because if there’s one thing European politicians, to a (wo)man, show us these days it’s that they lack the ability to see ahead, even just beyond the beam in their own eyes.

These people don’t see ahead, they project ahead. They are under the self-reinforcing collective illusion that the future will bring what they want it to bring. They honestly think they have the power to control history. And control all of Europe. Their vision of the future is one that they look good in.

And that can in turn only possibly bring about mayhem. Or actually, as the Greece crisis tells us, it already has. Something the leadership in Brussels, Paris and Berlin will flatly deny, because, as Paulo Coelho once said: “Collective madness is called sanity”.

The more power they seek to gather in Brussels, the harder the resistance against them, and against that power, will become. But that is not going to stop them. Just read the report issued last week by the “Five Presidents: Completing Europe’ Economic and Monetary Union.

Brussels sees, projects, solutions to its problems exclusively in more Brussels. But nobody in Europe wants more Brussels. Nobody wants to give up more sovereignty, people instead want back what has been given away. Still, the myopic Five Presidents come with this:

Economic Union: A new boost to convergence, jobs and growth
• Creation of a euro area system of Competitiveness Authorities;
• Strengthened implementation of the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure;
• Greater focus on employment and social performance;
• Stronger coordination of economic policies within a revamped European Semester.

Financial Union: Complete the Banking Union
• Setting up a bridge financing mechanism for the Single Resolution Fund (SRF);
• Implementing concrete steps towards the common backstop to the SRF;
• Agreeing on a common Deposit Insurance Scheme;
• Improving the effectiveness of the instrument for direct bank recapitalisation in the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Launch the Capital Markets Union
• Reinforce the European Systemic Risk Board

Fiscal Union: A new advisory European Fiscal Board
• The board would provide a public and independent assessment, at European level, of how budgets – and their execution – perform against the economic objectives and recommendations set out in the EU fiscal framework. Its advice should feed into the decisions taken by the Commission in the context of the European Semester.

Those “Five Presidents” (isn’t it telling enough that that Brussels counts five of them?) are Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Mario Draghi and Martin Schulz. Nice little team you got there. Politico referred to them as the “Five Horsemen Of The Euro’s Future”.

• Juncker, president of the European Commission, was one of the main architects of the chaos we now see, in a long stint as president of the Eurogroup, 2005-2013. For causing the mayhem he was rewarded with his present seat. Not an unfamiliar chain of events in the musical chairs game for career politicians in Brussels.

• Donald Tusk, president of the EC council, has only one claim to fame, but that still gifted him with his present position: he is a vocally rabid anti-Putin orator. They love that in the EU these days.

• Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the Eurogroup who works hard to remain in that seat for another term, is an agricultural economist. Which is fine for telling us what strawberries should go for in winter, but not for defining policies with regards to for instance Greece. He’s so far outclassed by Varoufakis it can only lead to stupidity.

• Mario Draghi, governor of the ECB, is a Goldman Sachs man, and that’s all we need to know. He’s also one of the global class of central bankers who feel omnipotent after discovering the printing press. They will instead bankrupt their economies.

• Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, is just another career EU tool. After 20 years of loyal heel-licking and brown-nosing, he was rewarded with the seat he’s now in. Nobody should be allowed to be in Brussels any longer than perhaps 5 years at the most. It’s the worst of all possible worlds.

Summarized: it’s incredible and insane that such a set of clowns can actually present a paper about Europe’s future. They all come with a huge agenda, and their own future is far more important to them than doing what’s best for Europe. As the Greeks know better than anyone.

A structure such as the EU, we’ve said it before, selects for the exact wrong people. Power is accumulated is non-transparent and only pseudo-democratic ways, and the accumulation continues unabated if left unchecked. A certain class of wannabe ‘leaders’ feeds on just that.

And now the only conclusion is that the EU as an experiment has failed. There is nothing anyone can do anymore to repair it, there is nothing that can be done to undo the damage. Trust is broken, and will never return. Pushing one nation into utter misery, for everyone to see. is all it took.

The only remaining question now is how to dissolve the union. But that of course is not what those whose income and status depend on that union want to even contemplate, let alone discuss. So who’s going to do it? Who’s going to do it for them? People in the street, that’s who. They’re the only option there is. National governments are not willing to perform that function for them.

To do what everyone should be able to see, should be done. Because if you look hard enough, it’s awfully obvious that the euro is finished. Perhaps not the EU, but that can only continue to exist if the entire structure built around and on top of it is thrown out the window, and if European countries start again from scratch to organize their ‘channels’ of cooperation.

If they stick to the present structure, that can only lead to nasty ugliness, because they are tied together in a union that constraints their freedom and their cultures far more than people are comfortable with.

Something that could always only ever have become clear in less prosperous times. Well, we have those. And with them the gaping cracks in the political edifice. As any builder will tell you, cracks in a foundation are a death sentence.

And those times have made painfully obvious that monetary union without fiscal union, or even political union, can not work. It never could. But a political union would never be accepted. European countries want to remain sovereign.

Anything else is unacceptable. The only reason the euro was ever accepted is that hardly anyone understood at the time that it would imply handing over a substantial part of sovereign powers to increasingly dodgy bureaucrats in Brussels and Strasbourg (well, Britain sort of understood).

In the Greek case, what we’ve seen is that the troika did not go into the negotiations on an equal partners basis. Although the EU is an equal partners union, that’s its very foundation. But it still could have worked, and the problems worked out, though only temporarily, if Brussels had resisted the temptation to turn the EU into a power game. Then again, a structure such as the EU exclusively selects for ‘leaders’ drawn to power games, removed from the everyday public scrutiny national leaders have.

The national leaders, it should be obvious, have also fallen into the power game trap. It is not hard to go out and play bully to a country like Greece, and kick it while it’s down. It’s not even hard to lure such a country, a small player when it comes to population and economy, into yet another trap: that of unpayable debts.

Certainly not if and when you can nominate technocrats to lead nations. Which Brussels has done in Greece, in Italy and in Spain. The problem with that is it’s a blind and unwinnable game in a set-up like the EU. Because the nations you attempt to force into submission, politically and economically, will always remain sovereign nations.

It’s a game you can’t win, because you can’t take over power forever in foreign sovereign nations. The EU has 29 of those. One day an election will take place in which the people will elect a government that seeks to protect the people’s personal and sovereign interests. And until you take away that option, you will never win the game, you will only cause a lot of misery. Again, in Greece this is duly noted.

We’re not entirely comfortable with the far right being the only side that thoroughly understands this, but we’ll take it; we have no choice. Besides, what happens on the left in Greece, Spain, and Portugal may yet balance this out. The crucial mistake the left makes is that so far it’s seeking to remain part of the Europe that Brussels is seeking to construct. Not a wise idea.

So we have Marine Le Pen who speaks most clearly about Europe, and who understands best of everyone in public office what is going on, or at least expresses it best:

Marine Le Pen: Just Call Me Madame Frexit

Marine Le Pen, a frontrunner in France’s 2017 presidential election, says a Greek exit from the euro is inevitable. And if it’s up to her, France won’t be far behind. “We’ve won a few months’ respite but the problem will come back,” Le Pen said of Greece[..]. “Today we’re talking about Grexit, tomorrow it will be Brexit, and the day after tomorrow it will be Frexit.”

Le Pen, 46, is leading first-round presidential election polls in France, ahead of President Francois Hollande, ex-leader Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. She’s the only one of the four calling for France to exit the euro, banking on people’s exasperation with the Greek crisis and Britain’s proposed referendum on the European Union to win over voters.

“I’ll be Madame Frexit if the European Union doesn’t give us back our monetary, legislative, territorial and budget sovereignty,” Le Pen said. She’s calling for an orderly breakup of the common currency, with France and Germany sitting around the table to dismantle the 15-year-old monetary union. [..]

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed concern about the level of support Le Pen will receive in 2017 and how that power might weigh on French economic policy. “She knows perfectly well that if France leaves, there’s no more euro,” Le Pen said. Although Le Pen hasn’t given a full, detailed plan of how she would lead her country out of the euro, she says she doesn’t believe France would be shut out of the borrowing market or rejected by investors as a result.

We shouldn’t need Le Pen to voice the obvious. But that no other ‘leader’, save for Nigel Farage, puts it into these crystal clear terms, does tell us a lot about all other European leaders. And unfortunately that includes Alexis Tsipras. Though we hold out some hope for him yet.

Here’s hoping he will not sign that deal, whichever it may be in the end, and thereby set in motion the disintegration of the unholy Union.