Letter From Athens
An overlooked little nugget of news that slipped by the media traffic controllers when it should have set off alarm bells was that Poul Thomsen – the cold-blooded Danish economist who makes a good living flitting from country to country like George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air, ordering the mass firings of human beings – was that he had some even stonier advice for Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on coming foreclosures: ready some refugee-like camp plans.
Thomsen, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) envoy in Athens, where he lives in five-star hotels paid with the wages of fear from Greeks who’ve suffered big pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions, is the hatchetman behind austerity that has created record unemployment and poverty in Greece.
That was imposed by successive governments in return for $325 billion in two bailout loans, which is running out fast and will end in 2014, leaving Greece either to seek another one from the Troika of the European Union-IMF-European Central Bank or try to convince investors they won’t get stiffed again.
Greeks lost some 46.8 percent of their disposable income because neither former Premier George Papandreou, the disgraced former PASOK Anti-Socialist leader, nor current Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who heads the New Democracy Uber-Capitalists, had the testicular fortitude to fire boatloads of the people their parties had hired in the public sector for generations in return for votes.
So now the snakes in sharkskin suits, who’ve never missed a meal or flown coach, put on their Simon Legree coats fit for the bankers they serve, and ordered Samaras to end a ban on foreclosures when it expires on Dec. 31. That’s so the banks could start confiscating homes of people who couldn’t pay because of the harsh terms put on them – by the government.
The government broke its contract with workers, decimating their pay, ending their bonuses, wiping out retirement lump sums earned over a lifetime of working, slashing pensions and protecting their rich buddies and shipping magnates from taxes. So why can’t people break their contracts with banks?
Samaras and his resident pit bull, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, tried to make us believe they will protect the most vulnerable from losing their homes. If you believe that, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.
Ostensibly, the lifting of the mortgage ban, which Samaras couldn’t wait to do, will exempt people whose homes have a value of under 200,000 euros ($270,000) and if they have an income under 35,000 euros ($47,867.) That’s for one year only when it likely will be lifted as well.
The problem with the a priori argument Samaras and Stournaras used was that they had to lift the ban to help Greek banks who had been brought to the edge of insolvency – when then-finance minister Evangelos Venizelos hit investors with 74 percent losses, wiping out the Cypriot banking industry and a lot of suckers in the Diaspora who invested in their heartless homeland.
Venizelos, the leader of a PASOK party that is irrelevant with 5 percent support after winning 44 percent in 2009, is now Deputy Premier/Foreign Minister because he sold out his party too, agreeing to the firing of all 2,653 workers at the former national broadcaster ERT that Samaras shut down.
The banks have since been recapitalized with 50 billion euros ($68.37 billion – as in BILLION) in money diverted from the bailouts that should have gone to insure pensioners didn’t have to eat dog food, but that’s how politics works: bankers give politicians free slush fund loans and the government pays them off big time.
Don’t believe it? Ask Greek banks why they aren’t chasing PASOK and New Democracy for 250 million euros ($341.88 million) in bad loans the parties aren’t repaying. The Mafia should learn from this: get back 200 times what you loaned out.
Venizelos – whose party put the ban in place but now has sold out again – first said people who genuinely couldn’t afford to pay would be protected from exploiters. That would 85 to 90 percent of them, which really wouldn’t help the bank balance sheets, so the new “protections” were diluted.
There are an estimated 230,000 households in Greece who can’t pay their mortgages – none of them politicians, bankers or the rich – so exactly where will those who are tossed into the street go?
Samaras set aside a bill earlier this year that would have provided relief for indebted households but instead of requiring the banks to restructure so honest people could repay them he’s opted for the cruel way out. It’s pretty simple really: pay cuts and tax hikes took half your money? Pay the bank half what you owe.
Even that is 100 times more than what PASOK and New Democracy are doing, and to make sure they wouldn’t have to pay, they gave immunity to the loan officers who handed out the cash without collateral.
You can tell all you need to know about a government by how it treats its society’s most vulnerable and powerless, so now you know all you need to know about New Democracy and PASOK.
It’s beyond despicable to put people in a position where they can’t pay their mortgage and then let them lose their house. But maybe Stournaras can call the UN and see how much refugee camps cost.