Jürgen Habermas On The Shift of Global Policies Away From Basic Human Rights

“Policies predominant in recent decades in the US, the UK, continental Europe, and indeed throughout the world, pretend to be able to secure an autonomous life for citizens primarily through guarantees of economic liberties.  In fact they tend to destroy the balance between the different categories of basic rights.  Human dignity, one and the same for everyone and everywhere, grounds the indivisibility of all categories of human rights.”

Modified extract from the book The Crisis Of The European Union: A Response

Scholars Appeal for Greece

We the undersigned call on the governments of Europe, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF to respect the decision of the Greek people to choose a new course and to engage the new government of Greece in good faith negotiations to resolve the Greek debt.

The government of Greece is correct to insist on new policies because the previous policies have failed. They have not brought economic recovery. They have not brought financial stability. They have not brought jobs or foreign investments. They have stressed and damaged Greek society and weakened Greek institutions. There is therefore no value in that approach and no progress to preserve. We urge Greece’s European partners to accept this reality, without which the new government would never have been elected.

Greece needs immediate humanitarian measures, a higher minimum wage, new jobs, new investments, and steps to restore and improve basic services such as education and health care. It needs a stronger and more progressive tax system, less dependent on VAT and better able to tax incomes and wealth. It needs to fight, punish and root out corruption. The new government needs fiscal space to implement these measures and to demonstrate their worth, and it needs continuing financial support from the European Central Bank to stabilize the financial sector meanwhile. We urge Greece’s European partners and institutions to provide that fiscal space and that support.

The government of Greece is correct to ask for a write-off of debts owed to European partners. These debts are unsustainable and so will not be paid in any event. There is therefore no economic loss involved, for any other nation or its taxpayers, in writing them off. On the contrary, a fresh start for Greece will help bring new activity, income, jobs and profit to her partners. We urge Greece’s creditors to seize this chance, and to explain these facts clearly and candidly to their own peoples.

These issues also engage the future of Europe as a whole. A policy of menace, threats, deadlines, obstinacy and blackmail will demonstrate to all Europeans that the European project will have failed. It will have failed morally, politically, and as a matter of economics. We urge Europe’s leaders to reject and condemn all efforts to coerce the government and people of Greece.

Conversely, success for Greece can show the path toward renewed prosperity and stability for Europe, with a new role for democracy and a new openness to elections that bring constructive change. We stand with Greece and with Europe, with democracy and with change. We urge Europe’s leaders to recognize the special basis of Greek decision-making in hard-fought and decisive democratic choice, and to choose the path of realistic assessment and reasonable negotiation.

Signed,

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Syriza’s real, under-the-radar accomplishment

The radical party that won the recent elections on January 25 2015 and shamed the forces that governed Greece for the past 4 decades, has managed to align a significant portion of the electorate and took off on an impressive, decisive journey towards the same agenda it had adopted at the pre-election period.

Consistency, transparency and determination, are values never before upheld by any Greek government.   Plus a very well done homework and an equally confident plan in immediate motion.

Thrust in the international political scene is equally impressive: Obama’s forthright support, French Fin Min and J.C Junker’s statements, solidarity–work in progress– with the European periphery that suffers from the consequences of the same cruel, irrational model of punitive austerity.  A hypocritical and ironic amalgam of values embedded in Enlightenment and ironclad remainders of the Inquisition and the Dark Ages.  It is not a matter of economics or financial viability, it has nothing from the positive outlook of repairing damages, healing wounds, righting wrongs or restoring balances.  It is purely a cultural war of hatred and revenge as if World War II in Europe never ended, 75 years later.

The value of Syriza’s rise and impressive appeal on a national and international scale lies elsewhere.  Within 7 days they have managed to show the world that there are other ways to rebuild devastated economies, that the alternative vision is entirely existing and cautiously attainable.  In fact it has showcased that non- violent ways are the only ways out of a crisis.  As an inspired friend put it, “you don’t austeritize yourself out of a crisis, you grow yourself out of it.”  And this is not just one option.  It is the only realistic option with win-win consequences for all actors involved.

Secondly, they have managed to turn the sign of the conversation from negative to positive.  An economy in deep recession and depression was in desperate need of climate change.  And by extension, other economies and societies suffocating under irrational fiscal restructuring simply because some brains behind thick walls decided that Milton Friedman’s model of shock therapy would be implemented on a global scale. Just because markets rejoice and some billions end up in a handful of private accounts as bonuses.  People’s rights, international treaties and democratic principles are simply annoying roadblocks.     The “invisible hand” sadly belongs to very real persons who couldn’t care less about balance or justice while they dance their way to banks.

Finally, the way Greece is viewed by its creditors after Syriza’s victory has been exposed as outright unfair, very much revealing of their inadequacy and blunt betrayal of the values, principles and grand vision conceived by the founders of the EEC in the 1950s.  Never has the concept “Union” been violated so blatantly than now that it has forced an entire nation into a vicious circle of recession from restructuring measures based on very wrong assumptions.  Critics of neoliberal principles can no longer be silenced because econometric empiricism no longer stands on their side.

© Maria Jay Em

Greece and Spain helped postwar Germany recover. Spot the difference

Sixty years ago, half of German war debts were cancelled to build its economy. Yet today, debt is destroying those creditors.

Source: The Guardian

Exchanging Food for Circus Tickets

People exchanging food for tickets in 1923 Germany. ‘Many, including Keynes, argued that [reparations imposed on Germany following the Versailles treaty] led to the rise of the Nazis and the second world war.’ Photograph: Keystone/Corbis

Sixty years ago today, an agreement was reached in London to cancel half of postwar Germany’s debt. That cancellation, and the way it was done, was vital to the reconstruction of Europe from war. It stands in marked contrast to the suffering being inflicted on European people today in the name of debt.

Germany emerged from the second world war still owing debt that originated with the first world war: the reparations imposed on the country following the Versailles peace conference in 1919. Many, including John Maynard Keynes, argued that these unpayable debts and the economic policies they entailed led to the rise of the Nazis and the second world war.

By 1953, Germany also had debts based on reconstruction loans made immediately after the end of the second world war. Germany’s creditors included Greece and Spain, Pakistan and Egypt, as well as the US, UK and France.

German debts were well below the levels seen in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain today, making up around a quarter of national income. But even at this level, there was serious concern that debt payments would use up precious foreign currency earnings and endanger reconstruction.

Needing a strong West Germany as a bulwark against communism, the country’s creditors came together in London and showed that they understood how you help a country that you want to recover from devastation. It showed they also understood that debt can never be seen as the responsibility of the debtor alone. Countries such as Greece willingly took part in a deal to help create a stable and prosperous western Europe, despite the war crimes that German occupiers had inflicted just a few years before.

The debt cancellation for Germany was swift, taking place in advance of an actual crisis. Germany was given large cancellation of 50% of its debt. The deal covered all debts, including those owed by the private sector and even individuals. It also covered all creditors. No one was allowed to “hold out” and extract greater profits than anyone else. Any problems would be dealt with by negotiations between equals rather than through sanctions or the imposition of undemocratic policies.

Perhaps the most innovative feature of the London agreement was a clause that said West Germany should only pay for debts out of its trade surplus, and any repayments were limited to 3% of exports earnings every year. This meant those countries that were owed debt had to buy West German exports in order to be paid. It meant West Germany would only pay from genuine earnings, without recourse to new loans. And it meant Germany’s creditors had an interest in the country growing and its economy thriving.

Following the London deal, West Germany experienced an “economic miracle”, with the debt problem resolved and years of economic growth. The medicine doled out to heavily indebted countries over the last 30 years could not be more different. Instead, the practice since the early 1980s has been to bail out reckless lenders through giving new loans, while forcing governments to implement austerity and free-market liberalisation to become “more competitive”.

As a result of this, from Latin America and Africa in the 80s and 90s to Greece, Ireland and Spain today, poverty has increased and inequality soared. In Africa in the 80s and 90s, the number of people living in extreme poverty increased by 125 million, while economies shrank. In Greece today, the economy has shrunk by more than 20%, while one in two young people are unemployed. In both cases, debt ballooned.

The priority of an indebted government today is to repay its debts, whatever the amount of the budget these repayments consume. In contrast to the 3% limit on German debt payments, today the IMF and World Bank regard debt payments of up to 15-25% of export revenues as being “sustainable” for impoverished countries. The Greek government’s foreign debt payments are around 30% of exports.

When debts have been “restructured”, they are only a portion of the total debts owed, with only willing creditors participating. In 2012, only Greece’s private creditors had debt reduced. Creditors that held British or Swiss law debt were also able to “hold out” against the restructuring, and will doubtless pursue Greece for many years to come.

The “strategy” in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain today is to put the burden of adjustment solely on the debtor country to make its economy more competitive through mass unemployment and wage cuts. But without creditors like Germany willing to buy more of their exports, this will not happen, bringing pain without end.

The German debt deal was a key element of recovering from the devastation of the second world war. In Europe today, debt is tearing up the social fabric. Outside Europe, heavily indebted countries are still treated to a package of austerity and “restructuring” measures. Pakistan, the Philippines, El Salvador and Jamaica are all spending between 10 and 20% of export revenues on government foreign debt payments, and this doesn’t include debt payments by the private sector.

If we had no evidence of how to solve a debt crisis equitably, we could perhaps regard the policies of Europe’s leaders as misguided. But we have the positive example of Germany 60 years ago, and the devastating example of the Latin American debt crisis 30 years ago. The actions of Europe’s leaders are nothing short of criminal.

Greece: austerity takes a heavy toll on public health

A paper published in today’s Lancet draws attention to the plight of Greece’s most vulnerable groups who are faced with cuts in the healthcare services they need urgently. Lead author Alexander Kentikelenis describes the situation as a “public health tragedy”.

 

The data reveals that the Greek welfare state has failed to protect people at the time they needed support the most.

Alexander Kentikelenis

Austerity measures in Greece, imposed following a bailout by the international community, have led to devastating social and health consequences for the country’s population, according to a report in yesterday’s Lancet.

Greece’s health crisis: from austerity to denialism, a paper by Cambridge University sociologist Alexander Kentikelenis and colleagues, shows how rising demand for healthcare as a result of the cuts has coincided with a drop in the provision of services, leading to substantial unmet medical need.

In 2010 the Greek government agreed to an austerity package overseen by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, known collectively as the Troika. Since then, Greece has had the largest cutbacks to the health sector seen across Europe, as the bailout package capped public expenditure at 6% of GDP. The country’s public spending on health is now less than any of the other pre-2004 EU members.

“The data reveals that the Greek welfare state has failed to protect people at the time they needed support the most. A rapidly growing number of Greeks are losing access to healthcare as a result of budget cuts and unemployment,” said Kentikelenis.

The authors of the paper acknowledge that Greece’s healthcare system was in need of reorganisation well before its economic plight came to the world’s attention. However, they take the government to task for its denial that the health of the population has been affected as a result of the slashing of budgets.

At a time of increasing health need and falling incomes, Greece’s bailout agreement stipulated shifting the cost of healthcare to patients. The Greek government introduced new charges for visits to outpatient clinics and higher costs for medicines.

The authors’ analysis of the latest available data from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions revealed a 47% rise in people who felt they did not receive medically necessary healthcare. This increase was linked to a rising inability to afford care and the costs of travel to access health services, according to the authors. Rapidly increasing unemployment since 2009 meant a growing number of people no longer had any form of health cover.

“Those without insurance would have been eligible for a basic package of health services after means testing, but the criteria for means testing have not been updated to take account of the new social reality,” said Kentikelenis.

“To respond to unmet need, social clinics staffed by volunteer doctors have sprung up in urban centres. Before the crisis such services mostly targeted immigrant populations, but now as many as half the patients are Greek nationals.”

The health problems are particularly pronounced among Greece’s most vulnerable groups who include the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, pregnant women and children, and those with mental health problems. The paper describes the situation faced by these groups as a “public health tragedy”.

There has been a 120% increase in the use of mental health services at a time of funding cuts of 20% in 2010-2011 and a further 55% in 2011-2012. Suicides and the incidence of major depression have rapidly risen.

Austerity measures have also been linked to increased incidence of infectious disease. Following cuts to outreach programmes, including the distribution of syringes and condoms to injection-drug users, in the first year of austerity, a rapid rise of HIV infections was observed: from 15 in 2009 to 484 in 2012. The incidence of tuberculosis among drug users more than doubled in 2013.

Kentikelenis and co-authors point to the experiences of other countries – notably, Iceland and Finland – in surviving financial crises. They argue that, by ring-fencing health and social budgets, and concentrating austerity measures elsewhere, governments can offset the harmful effect of crises on the health of their populations.

“Although the Greek healthcare system had serious inefficiencies before the crisis, the scale and speed of imposed change have constrained the capacity of the public health system to respond to the needs of the population at a time of heightened demand,” Kentikelenis said.

The paper Greece’s health crisis: from austerity to denialism by Alexander Kentikelenis (University of Cambridge), Marina Karanikolos (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), Aaaron Reeves (University of Oxford), Martin McKee (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) and David Stuckler (University of Oxford) was published by the Lancet on 21 February 2014.

For more information about this story contact Alexandra Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, amb206@admin.cam.ac.uk  01223 761673

Inset image: Greeks protest austerity cuts

– See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/greece-austerity-takes-a-heavy-toll-on-public-health#sthash.JHLgHpVK.dpuf

How to Destroy an Entire Country

From a recent 188-page report by the World Health Organization come these ghastly and appalling factoids:

    • Suicide rates rose 40 percent in the first six months of 2011 alone.

 

    • Murder has doubled.

 

  • 9,100 doctors in Greece, roughly one out of every seven, have been laid off.

Joining those doctors in joblessness are 27.6 percent of the entire Greek labor force. By comparison, in the depths of the Great Depression, unemployment in the United States peaked at a lower percentage than that. Among Greek young adults under 25 years old, unemployment reached an abominable 64.9 percent in May. (Yet the unemployment rate in Greece was as low as 7 percent as recently as 2008.)

I’m sure that my Tea Party friends will blame universal healthcare, paid sick leave and “generous” unemployment benefits for this catastrophe. “If we simply stopped helping people, then they wouldn’t need our help,” they would say. You can see where that “logic” leads. The dead need no help whatsoever, except possibly burial. Sort of like this: “The Republican healthcare plan: Don’t Get Sick. And if you do get sick, Die Quickly.”]

Maybe you think that I’m kidding about what my Tea Party friends would do. I’m not. A few years ago here in Florida, we had a children’s health insurance program called KidCare, with a waiting list of over 100,000. The Tea Party Republicans didn’t like that. So they eliminated the waiting list.

But back to Greece. A lot of people blame Greek government debt for the current suffering. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, that most authoritative of all conceivable sources, Greek government debt stands at 160 percent of GDP, which seems like a lot. But Japanese government debt stands at 215 percent of GDP, and the unemployment rate in Japan is only 4 percent.

Moreover, Spain’s unemployment rate is virtually as high as Greece’s, but Spain’s government debt stands at only 85 percent of GDP. That’s less debt than Singapore’s, and Singapore’s unemployment rate is 1.8 percent.

So we cannot properly attribute the catastrophe in Greece to labor protection, nor can we attribute it to government borrowing. What is the cause, then? The World Health Organization has the answer: austerity. “Austerity” is a bloodless term for gross economic mismanagement, animated by heartlessness. That robotic cut-cut-cut mentality that deprives us of jobs, of public services, of safety, of health, of infrastructure, of help for the needy, and — ultimately — of our economic equilibrium and the ability to survive. The mentality that ushers in, and welcomes, a vicious war of all against all. Austerity is destroying an entire country, right before our eyes.

Or, as the World Health Organization put it: “These adverse trends in Greece pose a warning to other countries undergoing significant fiscal austerity, including Spain, Ireland and Italy. It also suggests that ways need to be found for cash-strapped governments to consolidate finances without undermining much-needed investments in health.”

In America, we have a rich and powerful lobby that has the same prescription for every economic malady: austerity. Cut-cut-cut. Cut Social Security and Medicare. Cut teacher and police and firefighter jobs. Cut health care. Cut pay and cut pensions. It all boils down to that one ugly word: austerity. And austerity always brings disarray, disaster, decay and death.

People often ask me my position on various issues. Well, I’m for certain things, and I’m against others. But on one issue, I’m very consistent. I’m against pain and suffering. Especially avoidable pain and suffering. And therefore, I’m against austerity. It begins with seemingly innocuous budget cuts. It then leads inexorably to the destruction of countless lives.

Why am I telling you about Greece? In 1935, Sinclair Lewis wrote a book called It Can’t Happen Here. But it can. And it’s up to us to prevent it.

Courage,

Rep. Alan Grayson

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The war on Golden Dawn: a dark day for democracy?

Blogger’s foreword:  In other words we celebrate for putting out a burning tree when the whole forest is on fire.  And the arsonist is on the loose. 

However much you hate GD, you should worry about the Greek state’s war on it.

Why isn’t there more discomfort, or at least the asking of some awkward questions, about the arrest of Golden Dawn MPs in Greece? Yes, Golden Dawn is a profoundly unpleasant organisation. Virulently racist, anti-Semitic, allergic to the ideals of free speech and free movement, and supported by people who are quite happy to use violence against those they hate, especially immigrants, it makes our own British National Party look like a chapter of the Women’s Institute in comparison. Yet that doesn’t mean we should give a nod to, far less cheer, the Greek state’s incarceration of GD’s leaders and members of parliament, who were democratically elected. Any police sweep on elected politicians should make those of us who call ourselves democrats anxious; that Greece’s military-style assault on GD hasn’t is very worrying.

In total, 22 of Golden Dawn’s politicians have been arrested, including its leader, deputy leader and four sitting MPs. The party has 18 MPs in total, in a parliament with 300 seats, having won just under seven per cent of the vote in last year’s national elections. The GD leaders were arrested in the wake of the murder of the radical anti-racist rapper Pavlos Fyssas, which caused uproar in Greece. The suspect in the killing of Fyssas claims to be a GD supporter, though GD denies having any connection with him. The charges against GD’s arrested leaders are all criminal in nature, ranging from running a ‘criminal organisation’ to overseeing assaults to possessing illegal weaponry.

Far from asking critical questions about what is motivating the Greek state’s clampdown on Golden Dawn, sections of the Greek left and vast swathes of the European left are celebrating it as a victory for democracy. They echo Greece’s public order minister, Nikos Dendias, who described the sweeping-up of GD’s leaders as ‘a historic day for Greece and Europe’. Greek newspapers are competing to see who can be the most effusive in their support for the clampdown. The brilliant arrests are ‘Golden Dawn’s Holocaust’, said one, rather tastelessly. Another claimed that ‘democracy is knocking out the neo-Nazis’. A left-wing British magazine described the arrests as ‘a victory for democracy in Greece’ and demanded to know why the Greek state isn’t doing more to shut down GD. SYRIZA, the left-wing opposition party in Greece which numerous European leftists have excitably hailed as a radical voice against austerity, has stood shoulder-by-shoulder with the state against Golden Dawn, claiming the arrests show ‘that our democracy is standing firm and is healthy’.

These radical cheerleaders of a state clampdown on democratically elected politicians urgently need to look up the word democracy in a dictionary. To describe the arrest of politicians who were elected by the public, by masked, armed police who were not elected by the public, as a ‘victory for democracy’ is the most profound contradiction in terms. Some leftists are claiming that the militaristic clampdown on GD has nothing to do with its political beliefs and is just a straightforward investigation of some men involved in alleged criminal activity. It’s hard to know whether such naivety is touching or disturbing. If this is just a criminal case rather than a political war waged by agents of the state against ideological undesirables, then why are so many describing it as a ‘victory for democracy’, as opposed to a potential victory for justice, and why are so many hailing the ‘knocking out [of] neo-Nazi ideas’? No number of lists of the alleged weapons found in GD members’ homes (apparently the party’s leader owns three guns) can disguise the fact that what we are witnessing here is a state war on a party supported by a significant number of Greeks.

There are precedents in Greece for this kind of state behaviour. As a BBC news report on the arrest of GD’s politicians said in passing, this is ‘the first time since 1974 that a party leader and MPs have been arrested’. What happened in 1974? That was the tailend of the military dictatorship in Greece. Lasting from 1967 to 1974, The Regime of the Colonels, as the Greek military’s assumption of power was known, launched severe clampdowns on left-wing parties, especially communist ones. Communist organisations were described by the military dictatorship as a ‘threat to the social order’, and even as ‘bandits’. One wonders if the naive leftists currently swallowing the Greek state’s propaganda about the clampdown on GD being a straightforward criminal investigation would have so readily accepted the military’s not dissimilar claims that communists were a destabilising force and therefore had to be banned. For leftists to demand the banning of a political party in Greece, where previously such stringent action was taken against left parties, suggests they haven’t learned one of the most basic lessons of history –  that if you empower the state to dictate which political creeds are acceptable and which are not, you might one day find such power wielded against you as well as your opponents.

 

 

With the assistance of Europe’s increasingly state-loving left, the Greek authorities have achieved something remarkable: they’ve promoted the idea that GD is the most destabilising political force in modern Greece, and therefore the squishing of it is a good, even gallant thing. Neither of these things is true. The key problem in Greece today is not the existence of a mad far-right party whose level of public support is actually declining, but rather the role of the European Troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – in dictating Greece’s internal and budgetary affairs. This week, as the leftists lapped up the Greek authorities’ ‘democratic’ war on GD, the Troika was telling the Greek government that its latest budget is not up to scratch and it must rethink it if it wants to receive the next bailout tranche of one billion Euros in October. The left’s clueless celebration of the healthiness of democracy in GD-bashing Greece directly disguises the extraordinarily undemocratic nature of modern Greek politics under the diktats of the Troika. Indeed, in a depressing irony, while the Euro-left has welcomed Greece’s war on anti-immigrant GD, the Greek state has continued rounding up illegal immigrants.

 

Indeed, it seems Brussels is not only closely controlling Greece’s budgetary behaviour but also its political actions, including against GD. Earlier this year, a leaked Council of Europe report effectively implored the Greek authorities to ban GD. Unelected suits from the Council of Europe decreed that it would be legitimate and probably also desirable for Greece to close down GD. The report said that treaties such as the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the European Convention on Human Rights ‘give local authorities the right to curb or sanction individuals who support or engage in hate crimes’. Now it seems the Greek authorities have heeded this message from external meddlers into Greek affairs through launching a severe clampdown on GD – a party whose recent success was built largely on certain Greek constituencies’ loathing of the Euro and EU, which is a loathing that Brussels-based officials refuse to tolerate and long to see destroyed.

 

It may well be true that GD is becoming a criminal organisation; let’s hope the court cases decide that one way or another. It’s certainly true that GD is a vile racist group and that some of its supporters are violent-minded. Yet the Greek left’s response to that fact should have been to organise more effectively against GD, perhaps by setting up immigration-protection patrols in those parts of Greece with immigrant communities. Because the alternative route that the Greek and European left opted for – which was to demand and then cheer a state assault on GD – will prove disastrous. It is anti-democratic; it fundamentally disempowers the left and emboldens the state; and it disguises where the real threat to Greek politics and democracy is coming from today, which is Brussels not the alleged guns of the GD. What a terribly high price all of that is, just so that European leftists can indulge in the fantasy that they’re waging a war against ‘new Nazis’.

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