This World, Michael Portillo’s Great Euro Crisis 2012

No hyperbole, no hysteria, just a balanced discussion from all sides, albeit from a huge Euroskeptic Michael Portillo. But if you’ve got the time, worth-watching

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The Greek Crisis: What You Need to Know About the State of Europe Right Now.

Guess I’m not done discussing this topic by a long shot! I thought this time, I’d at least spend a bit more time giving a detailed analysis of my personal opinion and understanding of the crisis.

The reason I guess is because I just have a hard time finding anyone one out there, who I feel has a good grasp of the issue and doesn’t paint a picture of the Greeks being morally useless, or of them being totally innocent bystanders of the crisis. And the solution is either a catastrophe, Greece is going to hell in a hand-basket, the apocalypse is coming when the switch to the drachma, a la Paul Krugman and the NYT, or a la Frau Merkel, save and cut until blood runs in the street and families starve. So I figured if I thought I should put my money where my mouth is and elaborate for esp, the Americans who get very little coverage of this issue and when they do, it’s just dire predictions, that don’t help to enlighten the viewer.

I do encourage debate though and am more than interested in what other have to say about this matter, as long as they can bring something more than moral posturing to the table.

Here’s an example from John Stewart. You need to go to the website, but trust me, it’s worth it, in the very least for his shock that Greeks through yogurt as a sign of protest! Also it’s a telling comparison between the US/Greece deficit. Grecian Crisis on John Stewart The only difference of course is, that the US Federal Reserve (and our Chinese Frenemies) guarantee the value of the dollar, and therefore our deficit, is less of a risk, than that of Greece, where precisely the opposite is the problem. Who will underwrite and guarantee the value of European currency when bad bonds have been passed around (thanks to US style unregulated banking practices, a la Goldman Sachs)? See this NTY article if you want to understand more.

That’s why we are back to our discussion of Eurobonds! First off, will Greece leave the Eurozone. I’m going to put myself out there and say NO WAY. Most Americans will disagree, and even England apparently has little confidence. Thanks guys. But here’s what the European Central Bank seems to think about that.

The ECB’s “preference is that Greece remains in the eurozone. That’s the Plan A, that’s what we’re working on,” executive board member Jörg Asmussen told a conference in the German capital. Asked whether the central bank also had a “Plan B”, Asmussen replied: “There’s already been criticism that there is none. But as soon as you start talking about ‘plan B’ or ‘plan C’ then
‘plan A’ is automatically thrown out of the window.”

Then there’s this from ekathemerini.com comparing Greece to the Argentina and Asia rebound:

Economists doubt Greece could recreate their successes. Argentina and the Asian nations could rely on an otherwise relatively robust global economy, a luxury not afforded to Greece. Argentina benefited from a commodity boom in 2003-2004. “Greece’s exit could itself do such damage that its export markets would suffer,» said ABN AMRO’s Kounis, referring to other eurozone nations which could be hit by a contagion effect from a Greek euro departure.

From other sources I’ve read, another problem that would prevent Greece from recovering quickly if they exit the Euro, is that Greece’s workforce, remains highly mobile, and with such a crisis and the ease of movement in Europe, the very justified brain-drain, would delay improvement for years.

I don’t think this is in the cards. Not in the least because Merkel is a career politician, narrowly focused on local elections, and too worried about the impact of her legacy to go down as the chancellor who let the Euro fail! Although just as I mentioned in my last post, and cited in Spiegel and other Greek sources, now she’s denying suggesting such a referendum to the Greeks about whether they wanted to stay in or not.

Although I am not fond of the party, I completely agree with the quote from Nea Demokratia’s Party leader:

“The Greek people have no need for a referendum to demonstrate their choice for the euro, they have already made enough costly sacrifices to show that,” said Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party which won inconclusive May 6 polls. Merkel’s suggestion, “above all coming in the run-up to the election, is regrettable and unacceptable,” Samaras said in a statement. “The Greek people have the right to respect from its (European) partners.”

As a historian, think Merkel, as a woman and East-German is an important milestone in German re-unification history. But is that enough to justify her receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom? (For that matter, when my Greek kids asked me recently, what Pres. Obama had done to win the Nobel Peace Prize, I shrugged my shoulders and said maybe the committee had turned it into a popularity contest that year.) Nevermind, it seems though that every politician dealing with this Euro crisis is too concerned with their own elections to have a vision for a unified European future. And Merkel with Sarkozy, have led Europe in completely the wrong direction.

I think Merkel will be gone in the next elections. I can’t blame her for wanting a bit of security for Germany, and German industry and German credit, but she was so heavy-handed and preachy. In Germany, when something goes wrong, you say don’t say, oh I’m so sorry, how awful for you, you say pech i.e. bad luck for you, perhaps even sucks to be you. This is how it seems to me that Merkel has reacted to the harsh restrictions the rescue package has put on the Greek people. Not with compassion, but by telling them to suck it up and they had it coming.

Here’s a story: bf’s father went to school til he was 11, then he left for Athens, on his own to meet extended family to work until he could pay for all of his sisters to get married. Once he had done that, he left for Germany to become a guest worker in a factory. Over the years, he supported a family and little by little began to build a house back in the village he came from. This guy does everything by the books. He refuses to bribe construction workers to move up the list, and as such if has taken over 20 years and spades of money to get just now, barely completed. He has recently retired. A few years before the crisis, my bf told him to give up the dream of moving back to Greece and at least sell the house and make a profit. He refused, and now he has a house, he’ll probably never move to, which every year will cost him increasingly more taxes.  Tell me Merkel, did he deserve this bad luck?

Hollande? In a few years he’ll probably be just as corrupt as the rest of them, but meanwhile he got his boys out of Afghanistan. And that takes Cojones. And at least he’s getting the topic turned back to Euro Bonds. What I still find really hard to understand is why all of Europe thinks Alexis Tsipras and his party if elected to the majority, would mean that Greece will automatically exit the Euro-zone. Look what the Guardian had to say about these two:

Snubbing fellow EU politicians has become a bit of a trend lately.

President François Hollande of France, already seeking to set the European agenda, was being refused entry into polite governing company in London, Berlin, Warsaw, and Rome only a few weeks ago. Now the peers and rivals are queueing up to bond with the new French leader.

Tsipras, the moral victor of the Greek election earlier this month, is also being given the cold shoulder by policymakers in France and Germany, restricted to meeting with like-minded comrades on the outside left of politics who are having zero impact on the crisis management in Germany and minimal influence in post-election France.

Here’s something I’ve learned since living in Europe: If you get your news from just one country you have no real understanding of the situation. I read the news from the USA, Britain, Germany, Greece, and beyond, and I’ll read it in whatever language I have to. And only after I’ve seen every angle, will I decide what the heck is going on. What I like most about living in Germany is that they have beautiful in-depth coverage that tries to really get to the truth of the matter, no matter how dryly presented, nor how long it takes. If you understand German look here: DWyoutube

What I hate the most about American journalism is that they try to simplify complicated issues into black and white arguments. If they are confronted with a complicated issue, American readers get bored and start moralizing.

The UK likes to beat up on the Eurozone members, esp. Germany to make them feel better about their own deficit issues, and distract voters from their own ineffective austerity measures.

Whereas the Greek press likes to point the finger at anyone but itself and presents itself as the martyr or distracts its citizens by political infighting that have nothing to do with the bigger issues.

Here’s what the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had to say:

Those who vote for people’s hero Tsipras are voting for the exit from the currency union. Full stop! The leader of the radical left wants to continue the policy that led the country to ruin. He even thinks he can blackmail Athens’ partners. If he gets the approval of voters for that, it’s their decision. But others shouldn’t be made to pay for it. This fiasco must have an end.”

(If you want the full-range of fear-mongering check it out here.)

I gotta say, I love how he responded:

Syriza’s opposition to the terms of Greece’s financial-aid program doesn’t mean the country would have to abandon the euro if the party forms a government after June 17 elections, party leader Alexis Tsipras said. Presenting the elections as a choice between Greece’s memorandum with international lenders to stay in the euro and leaving the single currency is “alarmist,” represents a “vulgar propaganda campaign” against Syriza and is an attempt to “terrorize the Greek people” with a false dilemma

And this at the Paris press conference about the austerity program:

This has driven my country to an unprecedented crisis and a humanitarian crisis. If this experiment is successful in Greece it will be exported to other European countries…. The war we are fighting in Europe is not between people or nations, it is between the forces of work and the invisible forces of finance and banks.

Perhaps the German newspapers should actually read what he says. He actually wants and encourages the Greek people to take action into their own hands.

 I don’t believe there are heroes or saviours in politics. I don’t feel like a saviour: salvation can only be found by people en masse when they understand they have power in their hands. I totally disagree with the notion of a nation looking for heroes and saviours, especially a nation that needs a saviour. Whenever I am in contact with people who tell me of their woes and say “Save us”, I always say that we are the only people who can save ourselves, altogether, when we realise the power that we have in our hands. It is a mistake to put salvation in the hands of individuals.

Right now, I represent a political party that works collectively, and which represents the struggle and anguish of a great part of the Greek people. Someone else could easily represent it. Since I am in this position, I will try to do my best but I know that my power is not dependent on my own capabilities or strengths but on the trust and strength that people will give us through their vote.

For that matter, Obama fans in America could do to read this interview.

I can’t say exactly I’m a fan of his, but I respect him for trying to turn Europe on its head. All this moral posturing is a ridiculous distraction. Listen to the ideas of others. I think someone needs to stand up to the bullies in Europe and demand dignity for the Greek people, so that a solution can be found that doesn’t punish citizens to starvation for the sins of big business and corrupt politicians.

I see my kids every day and when they tell me they want to live in Greece later and have the nerve to hope for a happy future, I tell them not to give up, but keep dreaming of returning, bring some German organization they’ve soaked in here, pay those taxes, invest in solar energy(so you don’t have to import all of yours anymore), protect and cherish your land, your biggest natural resource. Politicians may try to kill their hope, but to me dreams are invaluable compared to money and my pupils deserve to have theirs.

Defending the Greeks

Why am I always the one defending the Greeks?!?!

Last Wednesday I nearly got in verbal sparring match with my old German senior, who is convinced that Alexis Tsipras from the Syriza party is a hard-line communist.

No my friend, that would the KKE who have said, that if they get the majority in parliament, there would never be any more elections! Yes, Tsipras is radically left, but I was personally surprised that my senior was more concerned about him, than the fact that the neo-nazis (Golden Dawn) had gotten seats in parliament this election!

Here’s a quote from the NYT.

On the spectrum, Syriza falls between the Greek Communist Party, which never broke with Moscow during the cold war and rejects the euro and the European Union, and the Socialist Party, known as Pasok, which is seen as more of a patronage network than an ideology. Syriza is an umbrella of leftist parties ranging from softer-line communists to Marxists to social democrats. The “radical” in its Greek name translates more accurately as “nontraditional.”

But that’s fine. Greek politics are mind-boggling complicated. But what I tried to explain to him, was that if you have politicians who are also the wealthy members of society and practice an advanced form of nepotism, where they appoint friends and family into office just so they can qualify for the sweet retirement package and if you consider that the position of Prime Minister is practically handed down to the children of the major political families, as in the case of Papandreou, whose father and grandfather were both prime ministers, well, it’s easy to see how corrupt the politics in Greece are.

At any rate I was flabbergasted because, at this point look, I understand, Germany doesn’t want to be hated for giving Greece money. And sure you could argue that they still owe Greece money from the war, but as the US also still owes France money from the Revolutionary War, (or is it vice versa?) what does that really mean anymore. What’s more morally wrong is the history of the rest of Europe’s financially predatory money lending to Greece in every time of crisis, from the Greek War for Independence, til rebuilding after the war.

As I said it’s long and complicated and I’m currently re-reading “A Concise History of Greece” by Richard Clogg so that I can really understand the politics.

I think Europe has done massively wrong by Greece in terms of finances and continues to do so. Good. Most people won’t agree with me. Even people in Greece like to tell me and honestly believe, that it’s a bunch of Jews in NYC trying to steal the “money” from their country. Great whatever guys, blame the Jews. Yeah these bonds are garbage and they came from Goldman Sachs. But they weren’t the ones buying homes sold at an artificially listed price because the real value with inflation would have meant higher taxes. Not to mention that they were even built upon land that was burnt by arsonist. It goes on and on.

Back to my German senior, my point was only that you cannot shake your finger at Greece for corruption and then when the people finally vote these decrepit parties out of power, stamp your feet and say “we don’t like that either”. You’re not the boss of Greece. And if you fail to understand that the Greek are supremely proud of their country and don’t want help from the “nazis” who marched through it, still in living memory, then I just can’t help you.

It’d be great if they sent tax people from Europe to Greece, but that isn’t going to happen if the effort is spearheaded by the Germans. It’s unfortunate, but true: a little bit of this conflict is made worse, by the part of Germany’s history, that they’d very much like to have behind them now. What Europe needs is a better way of organizing responsibility for the Euro, i.e. European tax collection agencies, that is truly multi-national. With all the bureaucracy of Europe, it’s hard to say, go on give us some more, but I think it’s clear now that Germany isn’t effective, trying to take on this responsibility alone.

Merkel btw the way is becoming more and more ridiculous. She just suggested creating a referendum for the Greeks about whether they wanted to stay in the Euro zone. Wait a second Frau Merkel, didn’t Papandreou suggest something similar before you flipped out at him for his cheek? Have you read any of the opinion polls coming from Greece? No one wants to leave! But you can’t raise taxes, fire people, cut salaries by half, and demand full taxes from normal citizens for the first time in who knows how long, all at the same time! Greece didn’t demand to be in the Euro zone, they were invited! There would be the same reaction in Germany. You are kidding yourself. Not to mention everyone here is taking simplistic moral arguments, instead of bothering to learn further details about the crisis. How dare the Greeks stand up for themselves! How dare they decide not to let people starve because of a banking crisis! The nerve of people not to fall in line and do precisely what Germany dictates! How dare Hollande suggest growth instead of austerity!

Here’s the latest news about the changing opinion of our dear chancellor.

Don’t believe everything you read in American newspapers. I’m confronted by so much schadenfreude when I read the drivel that is printed there. We’d just love it if the Euro failed, huh? Then it would just prove that the dollar is the best and “socialism” is worthless. Puh-lease.

Excuse me for my rant, but I’m tired of people not really understanding what’s going on and calling all Greeks lazy good for nothings. Did anyone catch the Bild list of top ten European countries who work the most? Germany didn’t make it, but Greece did.

Everyone needs to take a bit of responsibility here and do a little less finger-pointing.

Btw if I have children and the US continues to tax based on citizenship, there’s a good chance they will be only Greek citizens, so I suppose it’s only fair I start defending them now! Haha.

Here’s a brilliant Youtube video. It’s not perfect, but it makes a good argument.

Reasons it’s entertaining being an Ami abroad.

I think it’s a really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone living abroad is something doing something more glamorous, than those at “home”. I think it’s an obvious conclusion to come to, seeing as those who have never lived abroad (really, moved even) can’t understand perhaps the unique challenges and rewards. I think this is true regardless of which country you come from. It’s true for my European friends, as it’s true for me, and even though Germans may not express scorn in public that so many of their compatriots lead lives outside Germany, behind closed doors, I think they are just as skeptical about why someone really wants to leave Germany.

Perhaps the key misinterpretation is that the whole endeavor revolves around leaving and not expanding your horizons

That being said, these last few months have been busy, stressful and full of lots of uncertainty about what the future holds. I’ve had no choice but to make commitments to things before I even know if everything will work out. Every time I think I’ve finally completely taken care of something and cross it off my list, something pops up and it feels like I’m just treading water here and not making any progress.

So I thought instead of focusing on my frustration for once, I’d make a list of all the little things, which are so easy to overlook, but really add up to the reasons I love living abroad.

When I’m stressed I take the scenic Medieval route home. This bridge and tree make every walk home special.

1. The architecture: plain and simple. Nothing beats walking to work surrounded by 1000 years of artistic creations and styles. Or taking a weekend trip and feeling like you’ve suddenly woken up in the 18th century, then going to the next town and seeing only modern creations. I think that’s why I love London and Berlin so much. It’s just centuries and centuries of history existing side by side. One of my favorite shows in Germany is called Rent, Buy, Live. (can’t embed a video here, so you can look at the videos on the station’s website). The real estate agents are sometimes super annoying, but the apartments they show are divine. For a few short weeks I seriously thought, screw languages, I’m gonna study architecture, until I realized I can’t draw and don’t really love math. And I don’t really want to knock America, but with the exception of (by no means small) cities, most of it is really just suburbia, and I never realized how boring it was til I saw the contrast myself.

2. Coffee and cake. Yeah we got muffins and cookies, and pies and donuts America.  Trust me, I love those too! And I must add, my own baking skills are far superior to my European counterparts, simply from my upbringing. We Americans dominate baked goods. In fact now my bf’s family expects me to bring goodies to every holiday get-together. BUT we sometimes just snack mindlessly, cause it’s all around. Here if I want coffee and cake, I go to a restaurant or a bakery and take my time, sit down, talk linger, people-watch, enjoy the little moment and the little luxury. I love the whole afternoon custom and it only costs a few Euros. Unless you are in Switzerland, like my coffee and apple cakes here, in which case tack on another 10.

3. Europe is the best place to be (young and) in love. So I haven’t been to any continents outside North America and Europe, so please take this comment with a (huge) grain of salt. I’ll spare you my opinions of prude Ami-land, and instead share some amusing anecdotes on my “europa-zation” here over the years. When I studied here and left for train trips early in the morning, I’d very often be waiting on the platform surrounded by couples just out of their beds, making out. Usually I’d drift farther and farther away from where I started, not wanting to listen/hear/ see such a spectacle close-up. Fast forward a few years, on the beach in Greece with the bf, a couple not 2 meters away straddling each other, etc etc I start getting really put out. The bf hasn’t noticed a thing, I lean in and in German, try to translate can’t they get a room. Bf, clueless, looks over, what are you talking about? Who needs a room? When I finally point out to him what I meant, he thinks it’s the funniest thing he’s heard in ages. The rest of the trip he peppers me with question if perhaps this couple needs a room, or if that couple over there are still allowed to be out in the open and in love by the grace of miss ami here.

Who says you have to be young? Rocking the PDA in the city!

He also now knows what PDA and TMI stand for and his favorite joke when we are walking around town is to find an American tour group, get in their line of vision, and start making out. It’s very romantic, esp when he’s got one eye open looking around for the looks of disgust! It’s amusing cause when we’re around his family, he is reluctant to be too affectionate, and only now around his friends is he a bit more relaxed about PDA. But before we headed off to America I gave him the whole  list of things to avoid and esp pointed out that an Americans personal bubble is very large, so err on the side of caution. Sometimes my German friends get too romantic too close to me, and it’s still very awkward for me.

But really it’s fantastic being in love in Europe. We can sit next to each other in a restaurant instead of across, rudely ignoring the waitress, we can stay in a cafe for hours staring deeply at each other and sighing, we can go for walks in the city, holding hands or arms interlaced, we can go round Greece together taking pics of us in the beautiful places, and just be another couple in love, with no one getting disgusted or angry. It’s very very beautiful. Even though he’s a Greek man and definitely macho, he writes me poems and can be romantic while still being a man. I’d take it over backward compliments and kindergarten punches that seemed to comprise Ami men’s entire repertoire any day. I guess it’s a stupid cliché, but it’s true and the only thing in my life that sometimes is as glamorous as it seems.

4. Being American and light years ahead of European race ideas. I just read and article from slate predicting how right extremism is taking over Europe. Look it’s not. It’s just a typical article (from both side of the ocean) wishing the worst for the other to feel better about their poor state of affairs. I try to take it all with a sense of humor. The kids come in and ask me questions like I am the ultimate source of Afro-Americans. I can’t get mad, but tell me how you would react when teenage girls want to know, why all black men only like fat woman? Dude I know I am guilty of a few generalizations or too, but I don’t think, because all the other Germans are too racist to date them, so they have to hook up with poor white women, who get pregnant to get more money from the city and to make sure they permanently tie down the man they are currently sleeping with is the answer that they are looking for. They’d like me to confirm all the racist ideas they get from others, not tell them that they are the racist ones. Or I also love when my seniors tell me, the worst American soldiers in the war were black. Someone I knew saw a man gunning down people from an airplane and he was definitely black. My God. What can I say? Nothing, I just look appalled until she starts backtracking. Or here about a Dutch newspaper publishing an article calling Rihanna the N word. Or my boyfriend saying he thinks all Indians are unattractive. I call him out for it, saying I had numerous crushes on men I’ve met, and find Indian women esp. beautiful for their eyes. But he failed to see how this could be the tiniest bit racist, or how this could harm children growing up in a world, where only the Western standard of beauty is valued.

Only in Germany would a restaurant name their beer this, and not be afraid of a lawsuit.

I could go on and on. My favorite German let’s be oblivious to racism bit, are Asian restaurants. I call it the let’s all stand around a wok and look Asian bit. The owner is not from Asia, but he hires only Asian waitstaff so it looks authentic. I would love for American lawyers to sink their teeth into this lawsuit waiting to happen. As an expat it’s easy to get caught up in the world of generalizations, Germans this and Amis that. I am more than guilty, but I swear it’s no longer amusing to explain to my kids that saying the n word is just never ok in America, despite what gangsta rappers say. And that even though Europe seizes on every news story as proof that Americans have huge race problems still, I know that in America a black man getting on the subway will more often than not, not be stared at intensely as an oddity, nor would a court of law be so quick to uphold the police’s right to ask for the ID of every black passenger travelling on the German train, nor do we need to ask such stupid questions, like my kids do. We’ve had those discussions, we are better for it and it’s interesting living abroad and being able to appreciate just how much the struggles of people before me have done to improve intercultural understanding.

There are more, but these have been on my mind for a while and felt deserved their own post.