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“”It is well enough that the people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system for, if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
-Henry Ford

This quote, attributed to Ford by Charles Binderup, reveals the most fundamental fact of life in the modern world. That it is governed by an economic system that is in no way fair to all parties involved. In fact, it is actually exploiting the majority of the population for the benefit of the few.

That, of course, has been the state of human affairs for most of our known history. However, it was thought that the abolition of monarchy and oligarchy in most modern states of the world, and the gradual adoption of democracy during the previous two centuries, would result in the diminishing of social and financial inequalities.

The struggle for human rights during the 20th century, particularly in its second half, made great progress on every level. Working conditions improved, gender and race discrimination was considerably reduced, freedom of expression and speech was solidified and the future seemed brighter. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, everyone in the developed world believed that we were heading towards a new, more enlightened age of peace and growth.

As we now know, that was very far from the truth. The truth is that while the economy has been globalized to an unprecedented extent, a number of political, legal, national, cultural and religious boundaries and differences have made a comparable progress impossible on an administrative level.

Take the EU for example. The monetary union was achieved before any kind of meaningful consensus could be reached on how the European Union could ever become a single entity politically, socially and, to an extent, culturally.

And since, as we all know, money makes the world go round, there are people and corporations now with the means of small countries who can move freely on a financial level with very little control.

Think of it this way: if the people play the role of a King, then banks, corporations and the rich are the barons. And these barons can now act as they please without really being accountable to the Crown. Because the King depends on them to keep his treasury running and because he has no effective way to control them.

If a King has no real power, then we are no longer talking about a monarchy. And if the “King” is actually the people and the people have no real power, then we are no longer talking about a democracy.

The dawn of the 21st century brought with it the promise of growth, equal opportunities for all, and a wealth of goods and services, all courtesy of the “free market”. Unfortunately, these hopes were quickly dashed by the spectre of a financial crisis with no apparent end.

In fact there is no crisis. Or rather, there would be no crisis if the global financial system was equipped with the proper safeguards against fraud, misuse and exploitation. Or, quite simply, if it was fair and sustainable. But that would entail more governmental control and that term alone is enough to send any economic liberalist screaming.

Because the “free market can regulate itself”. Only that it can’t. It is like thinking that you can put two death row prisoners in a cage to fight for their lives and expect them to play fair. They won’t. They will use any trick in their disposal to beat their opposition, no matter the cost.

Likewise, a corporation will do anything it can get away with in order to increase its advantage over the competition. If its customers or employees are hurt in the process, it’s fine as long as it is never proven or detected. Substandard equipment, processes and materials, abominable working conditions and practices, legal loopholes and tricks, literally anything will be employed in the fight.

Not all of them do it, but when most “players” do, then their competitive advantage either drives the rest out of business or into the same game.

Banks are no exception to this rule. Once considered one of the main structural pillars of any economy, they now operate solely and openly for their own profit, with any thought of promoting sustainable growth taking a back seat or getting kicked out of the car altogether.

If a prosperous country like Iceland can be effectively ruined financially by its own banks, then one easily understands how this could happen to any country in the world. All this happened with the government and the central bank of Iceland turning a blind eye to the incredibly irresponsible dealings of a handful of people.

Nevertheless, the first order of the day was not to arrest the persons responsible, but to hand the bill to the people of Iceland, as if they were somehow accountable for this mess.

The exact same thing is happening in most countries of the developed world right now. The people are asked to take the brunt of the cost for gross mismanagement on the part of bankers and corrupt politicians, even from other countries, all in the name of avoiding the deepening of a crisis which, by all accounts, is a bottomless pit.

The crisis will never end because we are trying to treat the symptoms, while the root causes remain unaddressed. The majority of people will see their incomes steadily decreasing, there will be steadily fewer and fewer jobs; work rights, which have been paid for in blood, will vanish.

This has been happening for two and a half years in Greece and in the poorer countries of Europe. Greece is on the verge of total collapse, socially and financially, the neo-Nazi party is on a meteoric rise and the troika is still demanding for more cuts and “reforms” which will be nothing short of disastrous.

But it will not end with Greece.

This system which kicks people out of their homes, jobs and deprives them of a future, which sends young people abroad as immigrants and which has replaced constitutional rights with violently enforced austerity measures will spread. Once the people of Greece and the other “PIGS” countries have been forced to work for wages comparable to those of China or starve, where do you think that most major corporations in Europe will move their manufacturing to?

And what will happen to their own workforce at home?

Fascism now wears a respectable face, a suit and carries a tablet. You may call it “austerity”, “reform”, “free market”, “economic rationalization” or however else you wish. I call it Finanscism.

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I’m waiting. The clock ticks the seconds away. Ruthlessly. Ceaselessly. Relentlessly. I’m still waiting. What should I write about? About our hospitalized government? About the troika, lurking around the corner like a predator? Days passed in the green. We kept ourselves busy with the Euro Championship and not the euro currency. A bad thing? Not necessarily so. An essential thing? Definitely not. However the Euro Championship will continue to be after the year is through. I wouldn’t bet my life on the euro achieving the same feat, though.

Weeks pass like a river flowing into the sea. The sea that carries monstrous carrier ships. Towards faraway Syria. Perhaps not far enough from us here in Greece. The West is knocking on the gates of Persia and those gates lie in the land which Assad has been painting red. For months. But he is not the only one. Nor the first to do so. The difference between a dictatorship and a “legitimate government” in “these” countries lies in the colour of the ruling dictator’s underwear. If it bears the stars and stripes, then it’s fine.

Unless, of course, politicians and their puppeteers decide otherwise.

I read about horrifying things in the news. Robberies, murders, suicides. Infanticides. Cannibalism. Like a daily, macabre litany. In the sidebars I can see the windy upskirts, the failed plastic surgeries and the wet bathing suits of the famous. The contrast  is surreal, hideous. Inexplicable.

I read everything. Financial analyses. Political analyses. Social analyses. Football analyses. I even read about prophecies from holy men. Unserious, one would say. Droll, even. However, I just can’t shake the impression that some of them are beginning to look dangerously plausible. Even more than all these analyses.

The days have turned from football green to sandy gold and sea blue. For some. For a little while. Most of us, however, will just go back to gray. Others, many more than normally acceptable (?) never left the black. Nor will they, unless they shut the door behind them. But I hope they won’t. Perhaps things will change. Perhaps we will hit rock bottom before starting to climb again. But those who “leave” will never find out.

Please don’t shut the door.

Chaos? War? Some mock the Mayas and their prophecies. Forget about meteors, sun flares, earthquakes and volcanoes. We are safe from those, as a race. But do not forget man. He is the worst threat of all. The Mayas did not foresee disaster. They implied that the end of an era will come, a great change of some kind. Such things rarely come peacefully, however.

And everything seems so peaceful right now. Like the quiet before the  storm. In Greece and abroad. Unpredictable. Torrential. Unending scenarios. No certainty at all.

Months pass slowly. Falling, like rain drops. Blood or oil. Or, perhaps, both. I don’t know what to write about. I’m waiting. I am no prophet.

 Intermission #14

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

This is a world steeped in lies. Lies permeate every aspect of human life, from the moment they become self-aware (what a lovely child!) to the moment of their death. Even then, if they could, they would still hear lies uttered above their coffin (he was such a good man…).

There are lies and then there are lies. Some are spoken out of courtesy, some out of selfishness. And some, the worst kind, are used with malicious intent. These lies are like pests thriving on the soil prepared by the other, more “innocent” kinds.

Small, white lies are the ones that cannot be realistically avoided, at least if we care to live as harmoniously as possible in the company of others. Selfish lies stem out of our inability to admit the truth, especially to ourselves, and are very hard to avoid. Even though they harm us and everyone around us much more than we realize.

Those selfish lies are the ones which better condition us, so that we can accept the big lies, the ones that become an art and a profession in their own right.

The greatest liars of all, without doubt, are the politicians. They do not simply lie the most, but also speak the worst and most dangerous lies. Lies that start wars, that convince the people to vote for them, even against their own interests. Lies which grant them power.

The grandest liar of all time was the one whose most important contribution to modern civilization was the use of misinformation on a massive scale: propaganda. Adolf Hitler managed to lead an entire people, well-known for being level-headed and practical, into believing the most outrageous things.

He persuaded the Germans that they were racially superior to the rest of humanity, that the ones responsible for Germany’s inevitable deterioration after their defeat in WWI were in fact the Jews and that the destiny of the German people was to dominate the world.

All this with the help of the full resources of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, at the head of which was the infamous Joseph Goebbels. Today, this role is played by the mass media.

The media achieve this goal not only by what is said by anchormen and written by journalists, but also what is implied and by what is never mentioned at all. Gradually, methodically they can convince people about almost anything. If it were not for the effect of the media, the masks of the politicians would crumble in an instant.

Let us take Greece in particular. I am often asked by foreign friends (and thinking Greeks wonder themselves) how it is possible for our politicians to lie so outrageously to our faces and yet manage to still be taken seriously? It is all a trick of the media. For years they’ve been going back and forth between the two major parties, gauging public opinion in order to strike at the most unpopular of the two at any given time.

The less unpopular party is given a reprieve, while the scandals of the other (usually the ruling one) were given plenty of air time, without ever leading to real investigations. Eventually the older scandals would be overshadowed by the new, and the previous party would slowly be promoted by denouncing the corruption of their opponents.

Even before the media reigned, however, the Greek people seemed eager to trust in a “saviour”. Thus, the “socialist” PASOK party won the 1981 elections by a great margin, using “EU and NATO are the same syndicate” as its central slogan. And also “out with the bases of death” referring to the US military bases in Greek territory.

31 years later, our politicians speak of the possibility of Greece outside of the EU as a terrible eventuality and leaving NATO was never even remotely considered. Any reduction of the number of US military bases in Greece came solely as a result of the need of the Pentagon to cut its costs.

Whether leaving these international organizations would actually benefit Greece is beside the point here. The point is that these claims were proven false, but this did not stop PASOK from being reelected in 1985. In other words, Greeks swallowed the lie without thinking. And that was not the end of it. Lies form a chain, one link at a time, with each lie supporting the next one in line. And we bound ourselves tightly with this chain until any hope of escape seemed impossible.

This chain of lies led us to the execution of one of the greatest international cons of all time. Greece, with the “kind” help of Goldman-Sachs, managed to fool the entire European Union into accepting us into the Euro zone in 2001.

This gargantuan lie could have been turned to the benefit of Greece; it could have become a white lie.  If our governments truly strove to restructure our economy gradually and put European funds and subsidies to good use by promoting growth. If they truly had the better interests of our country in mind.

Any such illusions had been dispelled two years earlier, when the Greek Stock Exchange bubble burst violently, marking the end of the false prosperity of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The total lack of state control as to the actual assets of companies entering the market, combined with the shameless advertizing of the Greek Stock Exchange by government officials, including the Prime Minister himself, led to a catastrophic free fall.

Market analysts looking at the big picture would tell you that the financial disaster was not so serious, however this event initiated a great redistribution of wealth in Greece, which continues to this day. Those Greeks who didn’t lose their life savings in the Stock Exchange certainly know someone who did.

The chain of lies continued with the Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens. Besides the obvious fact that the modern Games have become an impressive show for the benefit of multinational corporations and TV consumption, the Greek government used them as an excuse to indulge in an orgy of overspending. It is painfully obvious today that the billions of Euros which went into the Olympic Games of 2004 (and into various bank accounts) were money we could not afford to spend.

Most of the public infrastructure which was marketed as the legacy of the Olympic Games for the Greek people (such as freeways and the Athens Metro) was planned years before our bid for the Olympics was accepted. The lucrative delays were cut short so that everything would be ready in the nick of time and at several times the normal cost.

The two major parties alternated in the government, but their promises were never kept. Perhaps the low-point in these 30 years of history was the infamous slogan “Lefta iparhoun” (there are enough money) of our former Prime Minister, George Papandreou, together with his firm declaration that we did not need the help of the IMF.

By blindly accepting their lies at face value for an entire generation, we have nurtured our politicians’ arrogance to the point that some have openly admitted the obvious: that their promises before the elections should not be taken seriously. And despite everything, we keep on voting for them, ensuring that the chain of lies which binds us will eventually strangle us and keep our children bound for ever.

The shadow play has become so obvious that not even the pretenses are kept anymore. Lies which would be forgotten in the span of a full 4-year government term are now exposed within months, weeks or even days!

The new leader of PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos declared on June 2011 that the electric utility bills could not possibly be used as a means of tax collection, because electricity is a “social good”. A mere three months later, it ceased being so.

The leader of the “opposition” (now that’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one!) a few weeks before forcing all the members of Parliament of his party to approve the new memorandum agreement, had accused it of being “catastrophic”. One of his party’s newest acquisitions from the extreme right party of LAOS, Adonis Georgiadis, just one day before the CDS were triggered claimed that this would not happen “if the PSI was successful”. Which it was. Or so they tell us.

The lies of our politicians have now a minimal “half-life”, like unstable nuclear isotopes which vanish within minutes and are forgotten. But the damage that they cause remains. And there is very little time left to undo it. Perhaps none at all.

A Greek woman during an interview to BBC a few months ago described the Greek debt crisis using a very simple, yet extremely lucid metaphor. She likened our politicians to an abusive husband, who cheated on his wife and abandoned her with a huge debt to her name.

I partly agree. Our “husband” has not abandoned us, but keeps on lying to us incessantly, he abuses us and forces us on his creditors to pay his debts. And he keeps us “in line” by persuading us that only he can keep the banks from taking our house and that we are also to blame for not keeping our home’s finances in order.

Indeed, we are to blame because we kept believing him for 30 years and didn’t kick him out of our home, as we should have done. We are even more to blame now, because even though we’ve finally realized the truth, we are still too afraid and ashamed to kick him out. Much like an abused woman.

How can we blame women like that for being weak and not taking control of their lives, while we as a nation react in pretty much the same manner?

Isn’t it time to put an end to the lies?

Intermission #7

Cover versions which are equal to or even better than the original version of a song are rare. Especially so for translated songs. Greek composer and singer Dionysis Savvopoulos translated and covered Bob Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” in his album “Vromiko psomi” (Dirty bread) in 1972 under the title “Angelos Exangelos”.  In my opinion, his translation added a lot to the original and the arrangement is also remarkable. This is an attempt at re-translation of his lyrics:

A messenger, a crier, he came from afar,

leaning on a crutch so battered,

he did not know how to speak at all,

for his tongue it could not speak, but only flatter.

 _

The news that he brought us, they were all a lie,

yet sounded pleasing to our ears,

for his every falsehood sounded like a truth

and so freed our souls from all our fears.

 _

He made his bed behind the agora,

and spent his time jesting in the tavern,

he wandered jovially in barbeshops and baths,

and idly gazed at fish inside the cistern.

 _

The winter passed, and summer came

and then again came another winter,

until one night, what came over him,

he started yelling in a wild temper.

 _

The soles of my feet, I feel their burns,

in this wilderness where night alternates with night,

the news I brought may have pleased your ears,

but are a far cry from being right.

 _

We knew at once what he was saying,

and numbly bid him go away.

If ye have no good news to give

then don’t give any.