Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Understanding the Greek Economic Crisis…or is it Chicago?

July 24, 2015

Don’t gloat.   Coming to a town hear YOU! You think malfeasance  isn’t happening where YOU live?

https://www.google.com/#q=California+Town+bankrupted+by+corrupt+officials. This is about Vernon California. apparently, their neighbors saw these guys getting away with  this, so: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Bell_scandal.  This is about Bell, California, where the town rulers, elected officials, bankrupted the town before the feds could save it.  You have to remember that lots of  actions are legal if they are not illegal. While we  are supportive of laws chasing drug dealers and addicts around,prosecuting welfare and food stamp fraud…. keeping lawyers employed—we are ignoring the important stuff …because it is boring until WE  get pummeled.

I was listening to an economics professor on the radio talk about what the problem is in Greece.  He said the Greek people aren’t lazy, but their  socio/political system is so inefficient, most Greeks work  2 jobs. He also  claimed that it wasn’t because  Greeks didn’t pay taxes—as the wealthy in all countries get away with not paying taxes.  However, in the USA & much of Europe, there has been a huge middle class that pays property taxes.  This is not the case in Greece, or many countries (it was not the case in Malawi when I was an urban planner in Blantyre in  the early 1990s, nor was it in Egypt—where  people were allowed to occupy unfinished buildings and not apply for  occupancy permits…so not be on the tax rolls).

The economics professor claimed Greece was in trouble because the European (etc) investors continued to  prop up banks making bad loans.  Bingo!

Sound familiar?  Did any bankers go to jail when they did that to  the USA in  2008 at the end of Dubyas years? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_Job_(2010_film)  Charles Ferguson’s  2010 documentary reminds us that—no—we Americans footed the bill.  Puerto Rico is going through the same thing (albeit partly because of being overly generous to her citizens)., but I live in Chicago, where our aldermen and state senators ‘borrowed’ from public employees  pension funds ( http://catalyst-chicago.org/2015/07/roots-of-the-chicago-teacher-pension-crisis/) for fripparies:  rodeos,  chandeliers, offices, statues, junkets….and never paid it back— or never put the $$$ in in the first place—taxes we paid!!! & we  stupid citizens not only have to pay AGAIN—but the assholes who did this are now receiving pensions themselves!  Here is the  right  wing take on our situation:http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2015/07/how_democrats_pillaged_chicago_toward_bankruptcy.html  It’s not just the patronage army, it’s our politicians.

In the past…before the internet…when things got so dire…there were revolutions.  This is how the socialists came to power in many places.  This may seem far afield, but Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren  keep calling for reforms.  The only way to  fight the  malfeasance is un-elect the  rascals and get ourselves a new set of rascals…and as citizens…support the government watchdog agencies and cut politicians pensions.

Book Review: Travel as a Politcal Act, by Rick Steves

July 12, 2012

In 2005, I took a ‘package tour’ to Morocco with a company I had used before, to travel to Thailand. The Thai trip was the best vacation I ever had, because they guides were phenomenal.  So, based on that experience, I booked this particular tour.  Well, while the guide as  ok, he really discouraged  the participants from checking things out on our own.  I wanted to  visit a small market outside a bazaar, and he would not let me. Not only that, he  steered us to some less than ethical carpet and leather  dealers.  I was very discouraged.  Why didn’t I just  go out on my own instead of booking a tour?  I didn’t have that much time, and the travel arrangements  in country can be daunting.

Not all ‘package tours’ are like this. You can now check Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor and get good information.  Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw.

If you haven’t heard of Rick Steves, you don’t watch public television, nor are you interested in travel.  The guy is a genius. He turned his love of travel into  a great business, informing people, mostly interested in Europe, about how to find not just cheap places to stay and  interesting things to see and do, but how to really get the most out of their travel experience.

Published in 2009, with what I think of as a somewhat controversial title, I was immediately intrigues because….I don’t think of Rick Steves as the type to court controversy.  He doesn’t want to scare people.  He wants them to be adventurous.

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, myself, I feel travel is a political act if  you really try to take advantage of every opportunity.    I am recomending this book because  it’s a little class in  what kinds of things you should consider about your own values, and the  cultures you will experience while traveling. There are 9 chapters, and all are about places and issues that  are ‘oblique’ or ‘counter’ to  our  national mindset…particular his chapter on how Europeans  deal with drug abuse.

One thing that most Americans don’t understand is how heavily influenced our government policies are NOT by  us citizens, but by  organizations with an economic interest.

I also know that the economic interests use media in a more sophisticated manner than most people  realize.  We are   so subtly influenced about what is right and what is fair than we care to admit.

This book would be a great gift for anyone contemplating travel. It is  well written, easy to understand, has great photos, and gives great information in a very compact place.

To my Friends in the Southern Hemisphere….

March 25, 2012

Life had gotten so unusual here in Chicago (in the Northern Hemisphere).

Part of what  motivates me to  address this is that I have been reading a lot of history lately.  I read an autobiography of William O. Douglass, the Supreme Court Justice, who was a hero of mine when I was a teenager in the late 1960’s…. & Sarah Vowell’s  Assassination Vacation, about the assassinations or our presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley—and the dynamics surrounding those killings.

We have (sort of) an odd dynamics going on now:  extremely, unseasonably warm weather, and a primary election which decides our canditates for the Fall elections.

1st, let me address the weather.  We didn’t have much of a winter.  We will usually have at least a week of below freezing temperatures—our cold weather usually lasts from November through March—in Winter.  Usually it’s several weeks at a time, or at least only a few days of above freezing, and then back to freezing (so the ground stays frozen) but this didn’t happen last Winter season. We had very few freezing days.  Almost no snow, so no Spring floods.  Lots of tornado activity (very sudden, dangerous storms)  We would be overjoyed (many people are), except—this is not right.  We didn’t have a proper dormant period for  perennial plants;   no ‘hibernation’ for those animals that generally do.  We have—essentially—a drought. Then BOOM!!! Summer weather…for the past 2 weeks. No gradual warming—& this has affected all the plants, & I am sure  bird migration patterns as well.

Several years ago, we lost a lot of wild birds to West Nile Virus. You’d find dead birds all over.  This might do them all in. No birds means a lot of flying bugs, & bugs on food crops.

Usually, the weather temperature is in the 50s—60s (Farenheit). We went immediately to 70—80s.  No rain for 3 weeks. Is there any doubt there is GLOBAL WARMING?  Yet, we call it Climate Change’ now.  & we still have a huge  segment of adults who believe God causes weather —it has nothing to do with science (& they are voting for Rick Santorum to be the Republican presidentail candidate).

We do a terrible  job making science education important in the USA. Just goes to  show you you can be rich & mighty without being smart. We are the new Russians—-without science literacy.

I wrote my master’s thesis on this in 1992—-& at that time, we had known since the 1950s that  due to political dynamics (politicians claimed the teachers unions prevented  science teachers from being paid more than  liberal arts teachers) we  import our scientists from other countries.  No joke!

So nobody believes that the inefficient use of fossil fuels, which we still depend on—-is causing CLIMATE CHANGE

The general  consensus is that if the Chinese can waste fossil fuel, why should we be more conservative or look for alternatives?  About 15 years ago, we had a horribly hot (90s—100s) summer with a drought, and many old and infirm people died. Thinning the herd.

So, what does this have to do with our election?

Fact of the matter is…some things have changed for the better under Obama’s leadership, but, due to a Republican legislature, so subtly you would not notice unless you were hoping.

The extremely rich have gotten richer, and have not been regulated or prevented from gaming the system or using their influence—& were, in fact, bailed out as  too important to lose.  Didn’t matter whether you were a Republican or Democrat. Rich is Rich–& that is why  nothing changed.  Obamacare (health care reform) changed NOTHING. ZIP—ZERO. Yet the Republicans running for president vow to get rid of it. Go right ahead.  My health insurance premium went up over 10% ( with no inflation otherwise). That should not have happened.

Meanwhile—& I have blogged about this before—so much of our economy was invested in real estate, where the vast middle class had our wealth—and the decline in value is up to 60% in many areas, with foreclosures  25—40% of all  residential homes….property tax revenues are down.  Big time. Foreclosures are no longer on the tax rolls. But the politicians still pay themselves as though the revenue is still coming in—& have funded the pensions of government workers  as though this money is still rolling in.

Michael Lewis, the writer who wrote The Big Short, and Moneyball, wrote about this several months ago in Vanity Fair magazine–how communities are laying off service workers—police, firemen, other maintenance—but the politicians are still on the tax rolls.  Now, they get their income from property taxes…but the Feds—they get  $$$ from income taxes (& fines, or permits…but taxes)—& they  don’t remember the Reagan years, where Trickle down did not work. The rich who did not pay taxes did not employ more people or make more investments in the USA—they expatriated their $$$ & bought baubles & art.

There are many frustrated people who don’t understand why  the economy remains messed up. Bush  put our whole surplus into the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, we are still  in Afghanistan—which never made any sense & still doesn’t.  You have the asshole Taliban—who seem to have a lot of integrity, & the corrupt Karzai people with none, & none of them are going to treat woman any better, so there are no good guys and we are not protecting ourselves from anything expect economic vitality.  How else can you understand that we burned Korans when it was socilly unacceptable, or that our soldiers go berserk & kill civilians—after over 10 years of this?  You can’t…& it doesn’t matter whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power.  Who benefits? Those  who make weapons.

So, we had a primary election.  We know who the Democratic nominee is:  Obama. Let me tell you about the  Republicans running for president:

All claim to be socially conservative…& are to varying degrees.

1. They wall want to ban abortion & are not opposed to making birth control impossible to get—even for married people…at the same time talking about getting government out of our lives…no joke;

2. They all want all environmental laws scrapped.

3. Businesses should not have to pay taxes at all.

4. Neither should citizens…but where the  money to run the government & pay their own salaries will come from—they seem to have no clue….or think their will be enough if there is no social  security (old age pension—which working people pay into).

5. They haven’t mentioned drugs, but all think that everyone should be jailed for using—except alcohol (& except Ron Paul—who leaves all decisions up to the states…he also believes in a smaller military, as a Libertarian…& doesn’t stand a chance;

6. Homosexuals should have no rights at all.

Foreign policy?  Believe me , they could not find your countries on a map even if they were pointed out.  Romney was a missionary in France, so he knows where that is, but Santorum was shocked to learn that Puerto Ricans (our territory) speak  Spanish.  He thinks they want to be a state, & he would make them all speak English. Fact is, they don’t want to be a state—they want to be their own country.

Climate change? They believe it is God punishing us for our godless ways…and has nothing to do with science.

Many of us know we will have to expatriate ourselves…why?

Property taxes to support local government functions are down because so many  properties are foreclosed & off the tax roles.    That means the banks took them back—& they don’t have to pay taxes on them. What a system .No money to even support the pensions of government workers, let alone ourselves, but the politicians haven’t voted themselves a pay cut.

We are beginning to look like  both Egypt and Greece, but won’t admit it.

Had I not been so overly optimistic about the economy 12 years ago—during the Clinton era—my mortgage would have been paid off, but I was encouraged to take a calculated risk.  Whatever. That was then, this is now. There is no longer a middle class in America. It is an illusion you see in the movies or on TV.

Is Greece a Failed State? Transparency International! Hello!

November 10, 2011

A few years ago, I  visited Egypt.  Amazing  country.  Thousands of miles of absolutely nothing, punctuated by  areas of intense beuaty, and a  long  area along the Nile of human history.  Incredible.

One thing I noticed, as we drove along, was the  many unfinished buildings. In fact, one of the hotels we stayed in (in Luxor) had a totally unfinished floor.

I asked the guide about this, and he told me that you don’t have to pay property taxes until the building is finished. You can occupy the building, but you don’t have tyo pay taxes.

Ah, yes.  This is how it is in much of the developing world.  That’s the law.  & so their infrastructure crumbles.  You wonder, “How do they exist?’  Foreign Aid.   The Europeans, the  Americans. even the Chinese.  It’s a way to build relationships.a  But it’s also a way to keep the corrupt in power, and the irony is that this foreign  aid is supposed to benefit  the citizenry.  The stand off is, it benefits the politicians, & the  citizenry don’t have to be mature and pay  for what they need.

Granted, a lot of the citizenry won’t be home owners, they will be renters, and they could not afford an abrupt change —because  their landlords will pass on the increase to the renters.  Many will either  take in  ‘roommates’ & over populate the property, or become homeless.

I saw this in Malawi, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer.    I saw it in India, where the homeless/landless canp out  in front of the gates of the wealthy.  We are seeing it in Greece.

I have a friend whose father is Greek, and she has spent  a lot of time in Greece.  She rolls her eyes when you ask about  why you can’t get someone evicted for nonpayement of rent (possession is 9/10ths of the law…& squatters pay off  the people  who would evict them).

Many Greeks go to other countries, make a lot of money, & return to Greece to retire, as the pensions are so favorable….for Greek nationals.

The fact is, the only difference between the Greeks & the Africans is, the Greeks are  mostly cuacasian.

So,  even though the rest of Europe, the EEU, knew that was how the Greeks operated,they welcomed them into their economic community. It made no sense, unless you  would be funding them with other peoples money & making a commission.

I remember when  Transparency International sent  representatives to the African Studies Association conference. The officials, formerly of the ‘World Bank‘   told us how they were going to work with  developing governments to  bring good governance and respect for ‘rule of law’, so they could borrow more money after they had squandered ( and because they were tricked, in many cases—-I refer you to Naomi Klein’s  excellent book,Shock Doctrine:  the Rise of Disaster Capitalism) what they had already gotten.

I recently read a review Adam Gopnick, the New Yorker writer, wrote on The Wealth of Nations.  He highlighted  the notion that it benefitted buyers and sellers to act with integrity.  it was part of the deal…yet the people in charge of doling out money for investment seem to be…unclear on the concept.

Before I went to Egypt, I traveled in Malaysia.  Malaysia is an amazing country.  Very high rate of literacy,   excellent health care system (hey. compared to the USA…) modern infrastructure.  It seems that these people have a different view of transparency and capitalism than the Europeans & Americans.  This country is what America would be like if we hadn’t invested in wars instead of ourselves.

In the next few weeks, a super committee will present to the Congress of the United States  a way to close our bazillion dollar deficit. They are going to raise the eligibility age for  social securlty and medicare, and most likely eliminate the tax deduction for home mortgage ingerest and  real estate taxes.  They will NOT—you wait & see—lower their own salaries or pensions, nor will they  eliminate foreign aid or cut military spending.  We will still have a department of education that  realy  doesn’t do too much to improve the quality of lives in America.  In fact, we will still have all the government departments that repackage our tax dollars & send it out.   Very high income people—the 1%—will not be asked to pay more for anything.

& we will still have people like Cain, Bachman, & Perry having a degree of  credibility becaus they are not Obama, and because most Americans are  exhuaseted, frightened, and innumerate.  I don’t know hwat the solution is.  You can’t  undo  what all those who didn’t have integrity  did to create this mess.