Vowing to End ‘Neoliberal Experiment,’ Greek Left Rises as Snap Elections Called

Published on Monday, December 29, 2014 by Common Dreams

“The future has already begun.”

That’s what Alexis Tsipras, head of the leftwing Syriza Party in Greece, reportedly said on Monday after parliament failed in its third attempt to elect a new president and the scheduling of a popular general election was announced for next month.

Syriza, which is polling ahead of rival parties and boycotted the parliamentary elections in order to force a popular vote, has vowed to renegotiate regressive bailout conditions that the ruling government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras agreed to with European creditors, including the so-called “Troika”—the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission.

“With the will of our people, in a few days bailouts tied to austerity will be a thing of the past,” Tsipras said.

In an op-ed published on Sunday in the leftwing Avgi newspaper, Tsipras explained his party’s thinking in clear terms:

SYRIZA’s victory will be the start of a great national effort to save society and restore Greece – a national effort with international repercussions, since our historical responsibility is to pave the way for an alternative policy in Europe, turning a Eurozone country from a neoliberal experiment to a model of social protection and growth. […]

[W]e are coming to unite, not separate [Greece]– to build on the ruins of a looted society. That is why SYRIZA’s government will not be a single-party government, it will be the government of the people.

With rhetoric like that and Syriza’s victory in a popular election a very possible outcome, the financial markets in Europe are reportedly jittering about how an anti-austerity takeover of the Greek government will impact the Eurozone.

As Bloomberg reports:

Stocks and bonds plunged after the government defeat, recalling the height of the Greek financial crisis in 2012, with investors concerned a victory by the opposition Syriza party would jeopardize the terms of Greece’s rescue struck with the so-called troika of international creditors. Syriza, which opposes austerity measures imposed in return for outside aid, leads Samaras’s New Democracy movement in opinion polls.

“These elections will be a struggle between fear for euro exit and anger against austerity,” George Pagoulatos, professor of European politics and economy at the Athens University of Economics and Business, said by phone. “The government will be emphasizing the risks associated with Syriza’s anti-bailout stance and Syriza will try to convince voters that it can offer a viable alternative, without endangering the country’s euro membership.”

However, according to Reuters:

In a bid to reassure international partners, Tsipras has sounded a more moderate tone recently, promising to keep Greece in the euro and negotiate an end to the bailout agreement rather than scrap it unilaterally.

But he has stuck to his promise to reverse many of the tough austerity measures imposed during the crisis, reversing cuts to the minimum wage, freezing state layoffs and halting the sale of state assets.

As Channel 4‘s Paul Mason explains on his blog on Monday, “people all over Europe who’ve opposed austerity see [these developments in Greece] as a turning point” in the years-long fight against regressive cuts to public services, pensions, and the privatization of national assets across the continent.

Asking readers to understand the pervasive impact of austerity across Europe, Mason describes how the economic crisis in Greece—where youth unemployment is now 60 percent—has become emblematic for economic policies that have “destroyed the prospects for much of a generation.”

In an interview with the Guardian last week, John Milios, one of Syriza’s top economic advisers, gave a rounded view of his party’s economic agenda, which would include, according to the newspaper’s summary, “concerted efforts to help those hardest hit by the crisis – free electricity for Greeks who have had supplies cut off, food stamps distributed in schools, healthcare for those who need it, rents covered for the homeless, the restoration of the minimum wage to pre-crisis levels of €750 a month and a moratorium on private debt repayments to banks above 30% of disposable income.”

“The people created us,” Milios told the Guardian, explaining that Syriza’s commitment to the poor is absolute and that its economic agenda, though grounded in Marxism, is well-proven and not threatening in the ways powerful financial and political forces often describe it. “Alternative approaches to the economy and society have been excluded by the dominant narrative of neoliberalism,” he said.

A strong re-negotiation of its debt would not be unprecedented, Milios explained. “More than 50% of Greek debt needs to be written off,” Milios explained. “The solution [of debt forgiveness] that was given to Germany at the London conference in 1953 is what we must do for Greece.”

If elected, he explained, Syriza will have “no other option” but to “stay calm and deal with” the economic crisis that has come to permeate modern Greece. He rejected the idea that his party would push for an exit from the Eurozone, but equally rejected the idea that Greece should continue to be pushed around by those who have pushed austerity as the only solution.

“Greece, in its weakness,” argued Milios, “is actually very strong.”

US Corporations Top List of Those Living in ‘Magical Fairyland’ of Tax-Dodging

Published on Thursday, November 06, 2014 by Common Dreams

More than 300 global corporations and financial institutions—including well-known names like Pepsi Co., FedEx, JP Morgan Chase, and Amazon—have created complex tax avoidance schemes using the small European nation of Luxembourg to funnel billions of dollars of profits away from the countries where they actually do business, according to leaked documents obtained and analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

Luxembourg’s tax environment is like a “magical fairyland” for global corporations trying to avoid paying taxing.

As part of their reporting, ICIJ and its international media partners released a large cache of Luxembourg tax rulings—called comfort letters—which document the deals given to these transnational corporations in exchange for funneling their global profits through the country. The reporting details how the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was at the center of the deal-making, representing the corporate clients before the Luxembourg Ministry of Finance which governs the nation’s tax system.

According to the ICIJ’s extensive reporting:

These companies appear to have channeled hundreds of billions of dollars through Luxembourg and saved billions of dollars in taxes, according to a review of nearly 28,000 pages of confidential documents conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a team of more than 80 journalists from 26 countries.

Big companies can book big tax savings by creating complicated accounting and legal structures that move profits to low-tax Luxembourg from higher-tax countries where they’re headquartered or do lots of business. In some instances, the leaked records indicate, companies have enjoyed effective tax rates of less than 1 percent on the profits they’ve shuffled into Luxembourg.

The leaked documents reveal that U.S.- and U.K.-based companies were the most heavily represented, but these same kind of deals were also used by companies throughout Europe.

Tax havens like this are creating “a global race to the bottom, depleting the contributions of major corporations and leaving citizens to pick up the tab.”  

Citing the example of FedEx, the U.S. private package-delivery company based in Memphis, the company “set up two Luxembourg affiliates to shuffle earnings from its Mexican, French and Brazilian operations to FedEx affiliates in Hong Kong. Profits moved from Mexico to Luxembourg largely as tax-free dividends. Luxembourg agreed to tax only one quarter of 1 percent of FedEx’s non-dividend income flowing through this arrangement – leaving the remaining 99.75 percent tax-free.”

Quoted by ICIJ, Stephen E. Shay, a professor of international taxation at Harvard Law School and a former tax official in the U.S. Treasury Department, responded to the revelations by saying that Luxembourg’s tax environment is like a “magical fairyland” for global corporations trying to avoid paying taxing. Creating structures like this, he said, “is a way of stripping income from whatever country it comes from” by offering “enormous flexibility to set up tax reduction schemes, along with binding tax rulings that are unique.”

And as Richard Brooks, author of The Great Tax Robbery, explains in an op-ed on theGuardian, tax havens like this are creating “a global race to the bottom, depleting the contributions of major corporations and leaving citizens to pick up the tab.”

According to Reuters:

Luxembourg officials denied any “sweetheart deals” in its tax system.

“The Luxembourg system of taxation is competitive – there is nothing unfair or unethical about it,” ICIJ quoted Nicolas Mackel, chief executive of Luxembourg for Finance, as saying in an interview.

Pepsi, AIG and Deutsche Bank were not immediately available for comment.

What’s notable, according to the ICIJ, is that the documents reviewed are only a fraction of those processed by the finance ministry of Luxembourg and that most, if not all, of the companies involved use the nation as only one tool in their tax-avoidance arsenal.

‘Unprecedented Mobilization’: Hundred Thousand Rise Against Irish Water Tax

Published on Saturday, November 01, 2014 by Common Dreams

Update 2:20 EST:

Protest organizers Right 2 Water estimate that over 150,000 people came out to protest the water charge scheme. In a statement released Saturday afternoon, they wrote: “Despite torrential rain, our expectations have been massively exceeded, with well over 150,000 people coming out in every neighbourhood, town and village to send a clear message to the Government: water is a human right, and we demand the abolition of domestic water charges.”


Across Ireland, crowds of people took to the streets on Saturday in a mass mobilization against a government austerity scheme to charge residents for domestic water usage.

With over 70 demonstrations planned across the nation, organizers estimated as many as 100,000 Irish citizens are expected to take part in  the actions.

The demonstrations follow on the heels of 100,000-strong march in the nation’s capital to protest a recently enacted government plan to install water meters on homes and charge residents for private water usage. Angry residents have also begun blocking the water meter installations.

“From Ballyshannon in Donegal to Tralee in Kerry, we are witnessing an unprecedented popular mobilisation which started in Dublin on October 11th, and will only end when domestic water user charges are abolished,” said the group Right2Water in a press statement ahead of the Saturday actions. The group says that the historic showing reflects the “level of public anger surrounding the water charges.”

The Journal is maintaining a live blog of the day’s events while images of the dozens of protests are being shared on Twitter under the hashtag #Right2Water.

As part of their bailout deal made with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Irish government has attempted to enact reforms to privatize the nation’s water system. Under the Water Services Act 2013, the government set up a new semi-state company, Irish Water, which is gradually taking over all water provision services from the Republic’s 34 local authorities.

In the face of growing water crisis, fueled largely by climate change-driven drought effects, efforts to privatize water resources are springing up worldwide. Mitch Jones, Director of the Common Resources Program at Food & Water Watch, says that the concept of “water markets” is fraught. “A market can’t represent the common will of the people, because only those with the money to buy are allowed a voice,” Jones writes. “And it can’t express the value of water because the value of a life-giving substance like water is different than its cost. Water is vital for all of us. And, access to water cannot be for sale.”

According to the Irish Independent, a meeting between Irish Water officials and councillors from Cork, Kerry and Clare had to be abandoned on Friday after protesters gained access to a conference room.

In an expression of solidarity, residents of Detroit, Michigan—which has faced mass water shutoffs in the face of a similar water privatization effort—are marching on Saturday on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

“Detroiters stand in solidarity with the people of Ireland against water charges and the privatization of our public water systems,” wrote organizers with the group Detroit Water Brigade. “We are not strangers ourselves to the escalating attacks on the poorest members of society collectively known as ‘austerity.'”

Following the day of action, the Right2Water campaign will a national People’s Assemblyon International Human Rights Day, December 10, to “visibly and vocally celebrate and reinforce our human Right2Water.” A contingent from the Detroit Water Brigade is also expected to attend.

‘A Generation Cast Aside’: Child Poverty On Rise in World’s Richest Countries

Published on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 by Common Dreams

Children remain “the most enduring victims” of the recession in the world’s wealthiest nations, where 2.6 million children have fallen below the poverty line since 2008, a new report from UNICEF reveals.

The annual study, Children of the Recession: The impact of the economic crisis on child well-being in rich countries, was released Tuesday in Rome. It finds that in the 41 richest countries at least 76.5 million children live in poverty.

“Many affluent countries have suffered a ‘great leap backwards’ in terms of household income, and the impact on children will have long-lasting repercussions for them and their communities,” said Jeffrey O’Malley, UNICEF’s Head of Global Policy and Strategy.

In 23 of the 41 wealthy countries examined, the rate of child poverty has increased since 2008. In some countries, this rise was drastic: Ireland, Croatia, Latvia, Greece, and Iceland saw child poverty climb by more than 50 percent. The report notes that the young are hit harder than the elderly, and among children, the “poorest and most vulnerable… have suffered disproportionately.”

The recession has created “a generation cast aside,” where unemployment for people aged 15 to 24 has increased in 34 of the 41 countries, the report states.

The United States is no exception. In 2012, 24.2 million children were living in poverty in the U.S., an increase of 1.7 million since the 2008 recession. In 34 out of 50 states, child poverty has risen since 2008.

While the authors claimed the report was not intended as a “comment on austerity,” their analysis finds that the decimation of public services has fueled the crisis.

“Extreme child poverty in the United States increased more during the Great Recession than it did in the recession of 1982, suggesting that, for the very poorest, the safety net affords less protection now than it did three decades ago,” states the report.

“Governments that bolstered existing public institutions and programmes helped to buffer countless children from the crisis – a strategy that others may consider adopting,” the report notes.

The Top 1% Own… Half

Published on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 by Common Dreams

The top one percent of the wealthiest people on the planet own nearly fifty percent of the world’s assets while the bottom fifty percent of the global population combined own less than one percent of the world’s wealth.

“These figures give more evidence that inequality is extreme and growing, and that economic recovery following the financial crisis has been skewed in favour of the wealthiest. In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medicines.” —Emma Seery, Oxfam International

Those are the findings of an annual report by the investment firm Credit Suisse released Tuesday—the2014 Global Wealth Report (pdf)—which shows that global economic inequality has surged since the financial collapse of 2008.

According to the report, “global wealth has grown to a new record, rising by $20.1 trillion between mid-2013 and mid-2014, an increase of 8.3%, to reach $263 trillion – more than twice the $117 trillion recorded for the year 2000.”

Though the rate of this  wealth creation has been particularly fast over the last year—the fastest annual growth recorded since the pre-crisis year of 2007—the report notes that the benefits of this overall growth have flowed disproportionately to the already wealthy. And the report reveals that as of mid-2014, “the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets.”

Campaigners at Oxfam International, which earlier this put out their own report on global inequality (pdf), said the Credit Suisse report, though generally serving separate aims, confirms what they also found in terms of global inequality.

“These figures give more evidence that inequality is extreme and growing, and that economic recovery following the financial crisis has been skewed in favour of the wealthiest. In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medicines,” Oxfam’s head of inequality Emma Seery, told the Guardian in response to the latest study.

In addition to giving an overall view of trends in global wealth, the authors of the Credit Suisse  gave special attention to the issue of inequality in this year’s report, noting the increasing level of concern surrounding the topic. “The changing distribution of wealth is now one of the most widely discussed and controversial of topics,” they write, “Not least owing to [French economist] Thomas Piketty’s recent account of long-term trends around inequality. We are confident that the depth of our data will make a valuable contribution to the inequality debate.”

According to the report:

In almost all countries, the mean wealth of the top decile (i.e. the wealthiest 10% of adults) is more than ten times median wealth. For the top percentile (i.e. the wealthiest 1% of adults), mean wealth exceeds 100 times the median wealth in many countries and can approach 1000 times the median in the most unequal nations. This has been the case throughout most of human history, with wealth ownership often equating with land holdings, and wealth more often acquired via inheritance or conquest rather than talent or hard work. However, a combination of factors caused wealth inequality to trend downwards in high income countries during much of the 20th century, suggesting that a new era had emerged. That downward trend now appears to have stalled, and posssibly gone into reverse.




Water is a Human Right: Detroit Residents Seek U.N. Intervention as City Shuts Off Taps to Thousands

Activists in Detroit have appealed to the United Nations over the city’s move to shut off the water of thousands of residents. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says half of its 323,000 accounts are delinquent and has begun turning off the taps of those who do not pay bills that total above $150 or that are 60 days late. Since March, up to 3,000 account holders have had their water cut off every week. The Detroit water authority carries an estimated $5 billion in debt and has been the subject of privatization talks. In a submission to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, activists say Detroit is trying to push through a private takeover of its water system at the expense of basic rights. We speak to Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Meera Karunananthan, international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project.

© 2014 Democracy Now!

A Plan Only Banksters Will Love: WikiLeaks Reveals Trade Deal Pushing Global Financial Deregulation

The pro-transparency group WikiLeaks has released the secret draft text for the Trade in Services Agreement, TISA, a trade agreement covering 50 countries and more than 68 percent of world trade in service. Until now, the draft has been classified to keep it clandestine, not only during the negotiations, but also for five years post-enactment. According to the leaked text, TISA aims to cement the extreme deregulatory model of the 1990s by forbidding countries from improving financial regulation. The draft Financial Services Annex would also establish rules favorable to the expansion of financial multinationals into other nations by preventing regulatory obstacles. The draft text comes from the April 2014 negotiation round. We discuss the leaked text with Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and author of “The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority.”

The World Continues Its Seven-Year Tumble Downwards Towards Less Peace

– Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The world is continuing a seven-year trend towards a deterioration of peace, the Institute for Economics and Peace finds.

In its most recent annual Global Peace Index (pdf) released Wednesday, the think tank ranks 162 nations as measured by 22 specific factors which cover three themes: militarization, ongoing domestic and international conflict, and societal safety and security.

While 51 nations in the index were ranked as having an increase in peace in 2013, 111 of the 162 deteriorated, the analysis shows.

"Many macro factors have driven the deterioration in peace over the last seven years including the continued economic repercussions of the Global Financial Crisis, the reverberations of the Arab Spring, and the continued spread of terrorism," Steve Killelea, founder and Executive Chairman of the IEP, said in a media statement. "As these effects are likely to continue into the near future, a strong rebound in peace is unlikely."

The region topping the index with most peace is Europe. The top ten nations on the index are: Iceland, Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Japan, Belgium and Norway.

The US. ranks 101 on the list—just below Bangladesh, Haiti and Benin. The report states that North America's slight deterioration in peace on this year's ranking is based "mostly on account of a rise in terrorist activity in the US, related to the Boston-marathon attack in April 2013."

At the bottom of the list are Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.

This year's GPI shows Syria replacing Afghanistan for least peaceful country, and cites the war's "new heights of violence and bloodshed" over the past year as bringing further violence to the Middle East country.

The report also identified 10 countries most as risk of increased violence in the next two years: Zambia, Haiti, Argentina, Chad, Bosnia and Herzegovina , Nepal, Burundi, Georgia, Liberia and Qatar.

This worldwide lack of peace has an economic consequences as well, the index notes, and puts price tag on the violence as US$9.8 trillion—the equivalent to 11.3% of global GDP.

"This is a wakeup call to governments, development agencies, investors and the wider international community that building peace is the prerequisite for economic and social development," Killelea stated.

Food Industry Giants to Wage Legal Battle to Defeat Vermont’s Landmark GMO Labeling Law

Published on Friday, May 9, 2014 by Common Dreams

The GMA wasted no time in announcing its lawsuit to defeat the pro-labeling legislation

– Andrea Germanos, staff writer

As pro-labeling advocates were cheering Vermont's passage of a GMO labeling bill on Thursday, a powerful food industry lobbing group announced its plans to file a federal lawsuit to overturn the law.

Governor Peter Shumlin's signature yesterday marked a landmark moment as Vermont became the first state to enact a no-strings attached law mandating the labeling of genetically modified food and preventing GMO foods from being labeled as "natural."

In response, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food and beverage industry giants like Pepsico and Cargill and poured millions into defeating measures in California and Washington, said it would sue the state — likely an unsurprising development to Vermont, which has already set up a Food Fight Fund site to "mount a powerful defense" against legal battles.

The GMA issued a statement on Thursday cheering GMO crops as having "important benefits for people and our planet" and calling Vermont's law "critically flawed and not in the best interests of consumers."

The statement also included an announcement from the group that it would be starting a legal battle against Vermont, saying that government "has no compelling interest in warning consumers about foods containing GM ingredients, making this law’s legality suspect at best."

"In light of this fact, in the coming weeks GMA will file suit in federal court against the state of Vermont to overturn the law."

The GMA statement urges support instead for labeling legislation from Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, which has been dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act and criticized as a "Monsanto, Koch Brothers alliance."

The GMA is also investing current efforts to discredit the film Fed Up, which opens in theaters on Friday, and is described as "the film the food industry doesn’t want you to see."

According to reporting on Friday by Christina Wilkie in the Huffington Post:

Days before the film's release, a new website appeared that at first looks nearly identical to the official "Fed Up" site. But instead of featuring the movie trailer and showtimes, the site adopts the popular online quiz format, luring people in with a challenge: "Think you know the facts about 'Fed Up?' Take the quiz."

The "quiz," it turns out, is nine "true or false" questions. Six of them are statements made by doctors and food policy experts in "Fed Up," such as, "Food companies have caused the obesity rate to skyrocket." If you click "true," you'll get a big, fat "incorrect," and below that, some selectively edited figures about obesity rates. The other three questions are about the food industry, and the steps it claims to have taken to combat obesity. The correct answer for these is "true."

As for who is behind this propaganda page for the food processing industry, say hello to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the primary lobbying group for the nation's largest food and beverage companies.

The lobbying group launched the dummy website, called FedUpFacts.com, on Wednesday, the same day it purchased Google ads for search terms related to the documentary, including its title. The ads direct back to the quiz site, where there is a disclosure notice at the bottom of the page: "FedUpFacts is brought to you by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, representing the makers of the world's favorite food, beverage and consumer products."

The filmmakers, however, hope to put a spotlight on the fact that "far more of us are sick from what we are eating than anyone has ever realized," and to call out the "decades-long misinformation campaign orchestrated by Big Food and aided and abetted by the U.S. Government."

You can watch the trailer for the film below: