Saturday, July 18, 2015

View from the grandstands

Well, after a couple of weeks watching the drama in the battle between Greece and the EU, all I could think of was the classic Abbott and Costello, "Who's on First".  The plethora of Presidents of Here, There, Everywhere, E I E I O were all speaking on behalf of the Institutions of the EU as if each was the final word on the subject, while various and sundry Finance Ministers and leaders of various nations were also presenting themselves as the voice of power.  What was even more surprising to me, was when the PM of Greece called for a Referendum, not only did all the Grand Pubahs challenge his right to give The People a voice in their national affairs, they publicly told the people how to vote, most typically by making threats, either veiled or overt.

So, it led me to take a closer look at this thing called the EU and the Euro Zone, and to be frank, it is quite the interesting and opaque monster.  Yes, monster.  Delegates to the various councils and commissions, be they elected or appointed, are often required to vote by secret ballot.  Many institutions do not keep minutes of their proceedings.  The Euro Group is chartered by the Treaty of Lisbon soley as an informal body of the Finance Ministers of the nations using the Euro for dialog on their national concerns.  That's it, boys and girls, the group that has had a strangle hold on the negotiations has been delegated, by TREATY, absolutely no power to decide anything.  And, of course, it is one of the many institutions of the EU that has no published rules nor keeps minutes of its meetings.

Never, once in all the blathering by the EU's officials was there a reference to "people" having any legitimacy.  In fact, in off the cuff remarks following the overwhelming "OXI" vote by the Greek people, Martin Shulz, President of the European Parliament said that while he respected the right of the Greek people to vote, anything that the Greek government brought forward as a result of that vote would need to be convincing to the other 18 governments in the Euro Zone.  In effect, people exist by the consent of governments.  Of course, as it turns out, Shulz was dead wrong, as all of the Institutions, Commissions and whatever were cast aside for the heads of the 28 member states to make the decision, and then, get their governments to approve it.  So who was "in charge", never did figure that out.

Of course, there was serious outside interference in the January election that brought Syriza to power.  Threats and the like from our so called European "partners".  More than a few people that we know, that wouldn't have voted on a bet for a far left party, were motivated by this to do so.  And once Syriza was in power, the clear attempts to topple the government only rallied more and more Greeks to support them.  Unlike their northern neighbors, Greeks do not see democracy as being rooted in obedience.

One might be tempted to say that I had a front row seat to history.  Actually, what I witnessed in terms of history was a continuing rewrite of history.  Seems that once Syriza was elected, some IMF officials had a pang of conscience and released minutes of meeting as far back as 2010, showing that the bailout was primarily a rescue of private banks from overzealous investments in risky securities.

But, the key thing in the IMF fessing up to a bank rescue was how to explain that they violated their own charter to do so.  Well, a Greek default would have spread across Europe.  Thus their involvement in the "Bailout", and the involvement of not only European taxpayer money in bailing our banks, but the tax dollars of some 170 other nations outside the EU.   Pretty slick, wasn't it.

Of course, the threats against Greece included assurances by some EU players that the "Institutions" have built adequate safeguards against contagion from a "Grexit", something that the IMF said was not the case, as there were far too many unknowns.  Little did the Grand Poohbahs realize that by refuting the IMF on contagion, they ruled out any further IMF involvement.  The cover story was gone.  So slowly, the truth changed.

At one point, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, in a fit of pique, made another of his false claims saying that "We have a detailed plan".  Funny that the heads of state, as the final hour came close, openly said they would need a summit to figure out what to do if the "negotiations broke down".

And the history of the impact of austerity was rewritten on the fly.  At fist, it was claimed by all the Grand Poobahs that the "Program" was working, and the Greek economy was "turning around" until the 25 January election of Syriza.  Also, they claimed that the Greek debt was definitely sustainable under the austerity measure that were to be imposed.  Then, along comes that pesky IMF ready to release a report three days before the referendum, saying the debt wasn't sustainable and that economic conditions in Greece over "the past year" had exacerbated it.  The reps of the EU countries in the IMF tried to suppress the report until after the referendum.  Of course, the EU Grand Poohbahs refuted the report for a few days, and then released their own report that the debt might not be sustainable, but the forecast wasn't as bleak as that of the IMF.   Oh, and did I mention that the final Euro Summit document also said, "past year". OOOPPPS, any admission of the debt being non-sustainable means no IMF support.  Gotta keep track of your lies.

Following the referendum, the IMF further refined their report, giving three acceptable approaches to debt restructuring, and saying quite clearly, that without same, they could not participate, as so dearly desired by the EU Grand Poohbahs, in any further programs.  One by one, once the draconian "Agreement" was made, more and more Poohbahs came to Jesus and began saying that a debt restructuring was indeed something that should be addressed, and a couple tried to make it look as if it was their own idea.

And then the intellectually insulting double talk.  The "Program" did not cause a "humanitarian crisis" as Syriza claimed, said the Poohbahs.  However, as early as March, "pledges" of billions in humanitarian aid were being made.  So one head of the Hydra is demanding that the pensions of the very poorest be cut, while another is pledging humanitarian aid for these people.  It's interesting that the EU Charter for Human Rights calls for the poorest among us to be cared for, while the Euro Zone can impose deeper poverty at will upon the people of any member state if they are in debt.

Some of the demands are just trivial, yet were treated as "deal breakers".  For example, Greek law defines a bakery as a business that purchases the raw materials, mixes them, forms them and bakes them into a final product.  The lenders say that this is a restraint of the market, and that anybody with an oven on the premises should be allowed to call themselves a "bakery", regardless of where the dough comes from.  Since they don't see how people can tell the difference in taste between baking frozen dough from a wholesaler and fresh dough made on the premises, the shops using frozen dough shouldn't be penalized.  How this will invigorate the economy and help the country pay its debt could not be offered.  So now the Parliament must come up with new definitions of stores that trade in baked goods.

I am hopeful that the Greek people will allow the Syriza government to remain in office for their full term, as a final declaration of whatever sovereignty they have left.  IMHO, far too many EU and member state officials crossed the line in attempting to influence the January elections, destabilize the resulting government and influence the Referendum.  And I am hopeful that the economic hegemony that took place will have a positive impact on the people of Spain, France and Portugal, rather than cow them.

Where we go from here is anybody's guess.  What has happened, is that confidence in the EU has taken a beating and the Euro-skeptics' case has been strengthened.  I think it was Sam Rayburn that said, "The key to success in politics is to pick your lie and then stick by it."  Well, from what I have seen over the past five month, no attempt has been made to do that. They narrative simply changes to support the status quo, without regard for the truth.

Now, one can debate the economics of the situation until the cows come home.  What is pathetic about the whole deal is that in the final analysis, the key players in the EU played fast and loose with the truth, attempted to influence voters in a sovereign state and tried to topple a duly elected government.  I know that my country has done some very dumb things.  But, resorting to secret votes, no minutes, etc, etc is not one of them.  When we fuck up, the public record documents the deliberations hearings and votes clearly.  Not so the EU.  I am very pessimistic about the future of the EU.  It may be pleasing to the power brokers and the peoples of their states, but it is in no way operating on democratic nor humanitarian principles, no matter what their advertizing says.