Greece the poor, Iran the rich, and the puppet masters in-between

15 May 2012

hello Marilu

back to base and time to answer your mail about Belgistan where it says Muslim minorities will soon take over the country [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbMnA3uO9As&feature=related]

I have a starting point, yesterday on the Internet – a fair barometer of contemporary mediocrity, especially the annoying slide-show on top of the Yahoo page, such as today’s: Rihanna shares racy topless photos, Kristen Stewart’s risky ‘skeleton’ gown, Usain Bolt dumps girlfriend for big reason (I don’t know any of these names), Big drawback to popular new mattresses, or its endless “Must-See Videos” of cats and babies, or, What makes a $1,500 hot dog so special?

so, yesterday popped up a more interesting piece – at least at first appearance – Europe Is NOT About to Implode, Ian Bremmer Says: Paul Krugman Is Being “Disingenuous”

[http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/europe-not-implode-ian-bremmer-says-paul-krugman-154110344.html], didn’t know that name either, I mean Bremmer, checked on Wikipedia (at least one helpful Internet feature), the guy is a political scientist, author, entrepreneur, PhD from Stanford, professor at Columbia, president and founder of Eurasia Group, “a leading global political risk research and consulting firm”, writing in the Financial Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Harvard Business Review, and Foreign Affairs, called the “rising guru” in the field by the Economist, etc etc etc, and only 42, I thought, gosh, what have I been doing all these years?

a) then I listened to the video on Greece, where the multi-degree guy simply said that all this hoopla about the country exiting the Euro is political propaganda (with Krugman chipping in), period

this morning, the Euro ministers repeated the same, no need to be a big head to see what those in power want you to do, quite the opposite, big degrees obscure your judgment by imposing their propaganda

while away with a birding group I had gotten a more original view from Giorgos Delastik, a journalist at the Ethnos newspaper in Athens, a video showed how he is respected as, rare for a Greek TV debate, they let him speak uninterrupted… as has been clear for a long time now, the target is the people and rolling back the gains the workers won in the last decades, so Delastik said that the Greek public debt is but a big myth – Andreas Papandreou left in 1989 with a debt equivalent to 70% of the Greek GDP, Konstantinos Mitsotakis left in 1993 with a debt equivalent to 113% of the GDP, from 1993 to 2009 (a whole 16-year stretch) the Greek debt oscillated between 100 et 110% of the GDP, and suddenly in 2009, they said, because of that big debt you will go bankrupt [Enikos.gr, Megales Alitheies, Big Truths, 1 Apr 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pX4LpU7FKY&feature=related]

b) then I read some of Bremmer’s pieces, including Five myths about America’s decline (4 May 2012), [http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-americas-decline/2012/05/03/gIQAvlnvzT_story.html] with platitudes such as, the United States is still a superpower and can project military power in every region of the globe (!), its economic future is bright, its higher education system is unparalleled, if there is a crisis politicians will rise to the task, etc

(but he did say one (enraging) truth, “After the nation’s credit rating was downgraded, markets flocked to the U.S. dollar and Treasury bills, confirming America’s role as the world’s true safe haven — even if the crisis was caused by America itself [my emphasis]. Economic uncertainty seems to only strengthen the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency” – not for much longer…)

even good ol’ Robert Kaplan, surely not a dove (former consultant of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, the United States Marines, and the United States Air Force, and named in 2011 by the Foreign Policy magazine one of the world’s “top 100 global thinkers”) begs to differ as he talks about “an effort to slow America’s decline in a post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan world”, about “our distracting land wars in the Middle East” while China moves not only in the Asia basin but also in Africa and Latin America, about an “Iranian influence stretching from Lebanon to western Afghanistan”, and of course about “a newly Islamic, and no longer pro-Western, Turkey rising as a balancing power” [Where’s the American empire when we need it? December 3, 2010 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/03/AR2010120303448.html]

I would add more substantial elements

– world power is definitely shifting to medium-size countries

so-called emerging markets like China, Brazil and Russia are demanding greater voting power in the IMF as the West begs them for more money to help… Europe and the U.S.! [IMF funds drive caught in global power shift, Lesley Wroughton, Washington, Reuters – April 14, 2012], Turkey is definitely in, and not only as a regional power-broker, a Turkish tourism partner of mine has seen his business treble since 2008, good destinations (beaches, ancient ruins, culture), good service, good prices, good-humored (as opposed to sulking, and now depressed Greeks), very hard-working (unlike Greeks and Belgians!)

– U.S. client states are rebelling as its power fades

the final Summit of the Americas declaration stalled over the issue of Cuba, with 32 nations, in a rare display of unity among both leftist and conservative-run nations in Latin America, supporting its inclusion in the next Summit, but the United States vetoing that, of course Obama was busy covering his Secret Service cowboys, themselves busy with prostitutes, attracting all the mediocre media’s (and officials’) attention and undermining their boss’ “charm offensive” to Latin America [Scandal mars Obama’s wooing of Latin America, Andrew Cawthorne and Brian Ellsworth, Cartagena, Reuters – April 15, 2012]

– the coming end of the US Dollar as world reserve currency, in the official sense (hence the war against rival Euro) and in practice

countries are sidestepping the U.S. dollar, using bartering to avoid being bullied by the international cops, such as India paying crude oil imports from Iran in Indian Rupees and Iran using the Rupee payments for buying Indian products like machinery, metals, food etc, “Essentially what this does is that it takes the US Dollar away from being the sole medium of international exchange and instead, two countries can trade on one national currency and the nation receiving the currency can use the same for purchasing goods from the other country”

“With dissent in the international community growing, the US dollar faces the threat of extinction in the future. Especially if the US demands other countries to act according to its desires. And even though the India-Iran deal may just be a small step, it also gives us a peek into the future- a future where countries can engage in free trade without its interests being held hostage by the demands of any country” [Barter system and the new bi-lateral trade currency, Deepak Rangan, February 9, 2012

http://www.commodityonline.com/news/barter-system-and-the-new-bi-lateral-trade-currency-3-45906.html]

– greed won’t stop by itself (being understood that Washington DC and Wall Street work hand in hand)

the latest JPMorgan fiasco proved (once more) that “big banks still do not understand the threats posed by their own speculation. ‘It just shows they can’t manage risk — and if JPMorgan can’t, no one can,” said Simon Johnson, the former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund” [Calls to toughen regulation follow JPMorgan loss, Daniel Wagner, Washington, Associated Press – May 12, 2012]

c) no wonder then that Bremmer’s definition of an emerging market, “a country where politics matters at least as much as economics to the market” (as superficial as it is inaccurate – in every and any social system politics govern economics), became a “standard reference in the political risk field” (!), “bringing political science as a discipline to the financial markets”, and in 2001, Bremmer created Wall Street’s first global political risk index, now the GPRI (Global Political Risk Index) —a joint venture with investment bank Citigroup…

it is not difficult at all to impress business(wo)men who have no clue beyond making (cheap) money, although with JP Morgan even this seems beyond their means

nothing new, the 2008 financial debacle had already shown that  “the people who ran [the big Wall Street firms] did not understand their own business, and their regulators obviously knew even less”, as Michael Lewis wrote [The Big Short – Inside the Doomsday Machine, p244]

that “a Wall Street CEO had no real ability to keep track of the frantic innovation [i.e. new gambling games] occurring inside his firm (“I didn’t understand all the product lines and they don’t either”) […] further, that the CEO of the Wall Street investment bank had shockingly little control over his subordinates (“They’re buttering you up and then doing whatever the fuck they want to do”)”

Lewis’ conclusion, “The line between gambling and investing is artificial and thin” [p256]

“The CEOs of every major Wall Street firm were on the wrong end of the gamble. All of them, without exception [my emphasis], either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich too”

Lewis talked about the regulators too – “The people in a position to resolve the financial crisis were, of course, the very same people who had failed to foresee it: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, future Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, and so on […] They had proven far less capable of grasping basic truths in the heart of the U.S. financial system than a one-eyed money manager with Asperger’s syndrome” [p260], a reference to Michael Burry, one of the few who made tens of millions of dollars in 2008 by betting on the right side of the gamble, simply by being clear-sighted

so much for PhDs, big titles, big corporations, big media, all a comedy, hearing each other talk for the credulous public

***

so, how could Greek peasants have any chance of winning at this game?! they are instead called first, being the weakest, to pay the piper for the real greedy – commenting on the article “Five hundred years of foreign rule, followed by a century of war and atrocities… is it any surprise that the Greek economy today is in crisis?” by Michael Hanlon, a woman called Annie wrote, “I have lived in Greece for 35 years and slowly watched the corruption spread throughout the public system. […] the sudden easy made and uncontrolled wealth changed the lives of Greeks radically which took three generations in Northern Europe (I came to Greece in the early 60’s and they were simple peasants). This was too much for an uneducated nation” [Annie, Athens, 21 June 2011 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2005883/Greek-debt-Is-surprise-Greeces-economy-today-crisis.html]

you don’t have to be uneducated or a peasant to fall prey to the sharks, in this case Goldman Sachs who struck the fateful debt deal with the Greek government in 2001, “Like the municipalities, Greece is just another example of a poorly governed client that got taken apart,” Satyajit Das, a risk consultant and author of “Extreme Money: Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk,” said in a phone interview. “These trades are structured not to be unwound, and Goldman is ruthless about ensuring that its interests aren’t compromised [my emphasis] — it’s part of the DNA of that organization.”

[…] “Goldman Sachs’s instant gain on the transaction illustrates the dangers to clients who engage in complex, tailored trades that lack comparable market prices and whose fees aren’t disclosed. Harvard University, Alabama’s Jefferson County and the German city of Pforzheim all have found themselves on the losing end of the one-of-a-kind private deals typically pitched to them by securities firms as means to improve their finances.”

Spyros Papanicolaou, who took over Greece’s debt-management agency in 2005, “and his predecessor, Christoforos Sardelis, revealing details for the first time of a contract that helped Greece mask its growing sovereign debt to meet European Union requirements, said the country didn’t understand what it was buying and was ill-equipped to judge the risks or costs [my emphasis]” [Goldman Secret Greece Loan Shows Two Sinners as Client Unravels, Nicholas Dunbar and Elisa Martinuzzi – Mar 6, 2012 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-06/goldman-secret-greece-loan-shows-two-sinners-as-client-unravels.html]

the Wall Street Journal called this a “devil-may-care attitude toward fiscal responsibility” [Addy Loudiadis: The woman behind Greece’s debt deal, The Wall Street Journal, 22 Feb 2010, http://www.efinancialnews.com/story/2010-02-22/loudiadis-greece-debt-deal], I would say Greeks have the same rebellious attitude towards any rules, lately the smoking ban in public places has been swiftly cast to the wind, after briefly complying, virtually every restaurant or bar or public performance space now abundantly supplies its customers with ashtrays, and the vast majority of Greeks are chain-smoking in those closed areas – to my protest, I once heard a Greek boasts, This is the Balkans!

more generally Greeks have always been koutoponiroi, which the dictionary translates as cunning or sly, but we should not forget the kouto part, which means foolish or plainly stupid, i.e. seeking immediate (usually petty) profits without caring about a future downfall – Addy (Antigone) Loudiadis, the Oxford-educated (!) Goldman Sachs manager who crafted the deal, surely knew well how her fellow-countrypeople were, while they thought they could cheat the European authorities she managed to reap 220 million Euros for the trade, and lock the whole country in a hellish debt spiral

at independence, Athens was a village like Delphi or ours, barely 4,000 souls huddled below the Acropolis, it was still under a million when I grew up there, now it is 5.5 million with the sprawling suburbs, more than half of the country – during the half-millennium Ottoman occupation the educated elite was in Constantinople, around the Greek neighborhood of Fanari (the lighthouse), outside what is now modern Greece

I just came back from Delphi, or Delfi, or Delphes, and was under shock, in May, with a beautiful weather and Greece’s most outstanding ruins apart from the Acropolis, the place was deserted, empty, streets empty, stores empty, restaurants empty, hotels empty, foreign tourists are shunning Greece, the country has been getting such a self-inflicted bad image in the media, my Dutch group was canceled, only three people registered, all went to Portugal instead

the wheel of History, another frequent visitor, French writer and social observer Jacques Lacarriere, writes, “Delphes etait vide, abandonne, livre a tous les fantomes de l’histoire” [L’ete grec – recit d’une passion grecque], this was in… 1947, while Communist rebels roamed mount Parnassos, we too roamed it 65 years later in search of the Rock Partridge, the Wryneck, the Sombre Tit, the tens of housing developments that started a decade ago on the plateau below the ski slopes are half unsold, some are even half built, who is going to buy? everybody is selling since a new law brought previously non-existent real estate taxes as in the West, even Greek expatriates are selling [To keep or sell property in Greece: a personal dilemma for some Canadians, Myles Dolphin, The Canadian Press, Montreal, Associated Press – May 12, 2012]

from boom to gloom – the Delphi museum shows several statues with a sad face, our delightful bi-ethnic guide with the British accent told us it was the result of the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BC), “The economic costs of the war were felt all across Greece; poverty became widespread in the Peloponnese, while Athens found itself completely devastated, and never regained its pre-war prosperity” [references in Wikipedia]

same sadness 2.5 millennia later, after we dropped the clients at the Athens Airport Sofitel, we had coffee on the Galatsi hill overlooking the Greek capital with one of our driver’s Athenian friends, friendly Giannis has been without a job since last summer, and so are his colleagues, all drivers of tourism buses, he is regretfully departing on the 30th for faraway Australia, leaving his wife behind, I see a new wave of Greek emigrating in search of jobs like in the 1950s and 60s, needless to say many of our Albanians have left our fishing village and gone back to their country, where they say they can eat more than here with the same money

I don’t remember if I told you about the guesthouse of the Dadia Raptors Reserve on the Turkish border, it is, sorry was, run by the local community and the best case of a public nature center in Greece (of course serving more coffee than informing visitors about the raptors), one reason is they got help from the World Wildlife Fund which is very active in that area, the only place in Europe, apart from Spain, where you can find breeding Black Vultures, these huge birds, up to 3-meter wing span and weighing 8 kilos! well, I have been going there with birding groups for the past 15 years, we always book one year ahead, last year, in an exact replica of the political irresponsibility and incompetence you find at the national level, the mayor closed it down two days before I arrived with a group, we were left on our own to find another accommodation in that rarefied area

this year it was the not far away Evros delta anapsyktirio – a refectory with a nice wooden terrace right by the canals – which was closed down by the mayor of Alexandroupolis, the last town before the Turkish border, like the Dadia guesthouse the place is abandoned and empty but they properly threw us out us when we attempted to set our picnic under the gazebo, it didn’t matter I told them they were North Americans, we had to eat standing, by the bus, any wonder Delphi was deserted? any wonder Greece is dying? tourism is what is left for that wretched place to survive and they don’t do a thing for it

a few days later we arrived at the very pretty Vergina museum with the famous Royal Macedonian tombs, I had called them in advance as we had bad experiences in the past – like never knowing if Monday was open or not, or finding in 2005 the archaeological area closed without warning, to this date it has not opened, with no end in sight – they had told me they didn’t know if they would be open on Monday as they still had no second shift (no money), so we rescheduled for Sunday, well, this became Election Day and the ministry of culture decided one day before to close its museums… tens of tourist cars were rolling in and out of town in disappointment, decent and conscientious people would have either stayed open – big deal to go vote one by one in this village – or opened on the next day, Monday, in Delphi they also closed at 3 p.m. instead of 8 for lack of a second shift, the ministry of culture works under the same… culture as the other public services…

“This is Africa!” Cagan Hakki Sekercioglu fumed, “It’s worse than Africa”, said the ornithologist and conservation biologist in charge of KuzeyDoga Society [www.kuzeydoga.org] which promotes biodiversity in north-eastern Turkey, this time he was incensed by Prime Minister Erdogan’s intention “to dig a forty-mile canal linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, destroying acres of forestland and transforming European Istanbul into an island” [Letter from Turkey – Natural History, A Journey in the Shadow of Ararat, Elif Batuman, New Yorker, 24 October 2011, pp57-65]

how many times have I not said the same about Greece?! yesterday they cut the water from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. without any warning, they keep digging ditches in our village streets to put new, plastic water pipes, but they do a bad job, so in several places they have reopened it up to three times

Lacarriere (the Frenchman who visited Delphi in 1947) too reminds us that, “en tant que nation hellenique et Etat souverain, la Grece est l’un des plus jeunes pays d’Europe” [p201], they don’t have any more a tradition of running a country than the newly independent African states

talking about biodiversity and the WWF, this organization just published a report (today!) called Global Biodiversity Down 30 Percent in 40 Years [By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer | LiveScience.com – May 14, 2012], the whole world is Africa

I always wonder, how come we never hear about some African country debt? just Greece, Greece, Greece, for the past three years, I guess these African governments don’t have money either but they don’t engage in extravagant projects beyond filling their leaders’ pockets, Greeks tried to live beyond their means, to bridge at once the gap with Western Europe, a half a millennium gap – since they entered the EU they fast raised salaries, pensions, medical coverage, credits, without the equivalent work, without any tradition either, as I said earlier, in any field, recently too they found out (a EU study) that one in two Greek children are too fat, 20% being obese, just go to any beach and you’ll see this disgrace, in Norway total is less than a fifth of the kids, unsurprisingly Belgian kids sleep the longest… [Record of obesity for Greek children, news247.gr, April 28, 2012 http://news247.gr/eidiseis/koinonia/ygeia/rekor_paxysarkias_gia_ta_ellhnopoyla.1750825.html],

a bit like Yucatan, enriched by mass tourism, money pouring in, no tradition of healthy eating, I have never seen so many obese Mexicans

(ironically, this article about Greek obesity was next to one about 4,000 Greeks being destitute and hungry [Giannis Gounaris, News247 – 28 April 2012

http://news247.gr/eidiseis/koinonia/sthn_peina_kai_th_dystyxia_panw_apo_4_000_sympolites_mas.1751692.html])

the crisis is not preventing the West to lure Greeks further along this new stage, mortgages, credit cards, malls, consumerism, consumerism, consumerism, like they did in the late 90s when a majority of Greek so-called investors got burned, now they try through the internet, every day I get ads like this one, Gine ependytis!, Become an investor! i.e. a gambler, without saying that about 8 out of ten stock market players lose their pants

Greek officials don’t even know how to control their numerous forest fires (a lot the work of arsonists and housing developers), the firefighting has just been awarded to a Turkish company [Turks will put down fires in Greece! Newsit.gr, NewsIT – May 16, 2012]

former enemies, Germany and Turkey, who could not master the country militarily, are now successfully invading it economically, a much more thorough (and longer) occupation! and the Greeks are as divided as ever, as in Antiquity when city-states fought each other (see the Peloponnesian wars above), as during their 19th century rebellion against the Ottomans (“Tous se battent contre les Turcs, mais pour quelle Grece?” wonders Lacarriere [p203]), as during the post-WWII civil war, as now against the EU

you know that these past elections did not bring any new government, divisions overwhelmed wisdom – we missed the Vergina museum for naught – and they are going at it again in a month, right into the tourism period ! I spoke with my friend Charalambos this morning, he mentioned that one solution would be Greece to be run by Europeans, a point I too have made

I am finally coming to another fire and another occupation, Islam in Belgistan, the piece you sent me before my group three weeks ago, tell your “very disturbed” and fearful neighbor Europe (and the U.S.) are sinking faster than they could be rescued by Islamists! and I bet anything that in ten to twenty years Iran (which I know best) will be richer and faster developing than most European countries, they have the resources, they have the youth, they have the keen thirst for material goods, and they are not afraid of working, Westerners will want to emigrate there and elsewhere in Asia, leaving behind the poor Muslim minorities in Western Europe, just like it happened in Greece… in the past

BTW listen to this, another recent news, in the middle of an enhanced embargo (pierced anyway) and an economic crisis, Maserati is opening its own Tehran showroom within weeks… seeing that, according to official customs data, Hafte-Sobh, “some 563 different Porsche models were sold in the last Iranian year (to March 2012),” worth a total $50 million before a hefty 100-percent import tax, people buying cash $360,000 or so high-end autos, cost two to three times more than abroad due to hefty taxes (like in Greece before, I mean the import taxes, not the Porsches! They “only” have Mercedes and BMWs)

now, “Porsche’s goal is to sell 800 of its cars in the Islamic republic this current Iranian year, a niche market previously dominated by the more discreet offerings from rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz” [Wealthy Iranians spur luxury car boom, AFP Relax News – Mon, Apr 23, 2012]

hug

Alexander

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

marta May 29, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Dear Alexandre,
My name is Marta Collini and I am working about an exhibition about a studio photographer in the suburbs of Baghdad.
One of my colleagues has accidentally found your post titled Around the Mediterranean http://www.travelwithalexander.com/travel-photos/around-the-mediterranean/ and we were wondering if you have other pictures of that photo studio, for us it would be interesting to see how other studios looked like and as you may well know is hard to find images from that period.
Thank you very much,
All the best
Marta
martaorc@gmail.com (I tried to find your email but the one you have on the website is not working)

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