Merkel should feel very nervous -- she's turned herself into the most hated woman in Europe. The funny thing is, even the IMf (the FREAKING IMF!!!) calls for government stimulus instead of the extreme austerity demanded by Merkel, and warn of another global slowdown as the result of spending cuts:
POLICE have fired tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to storm a barricade near parliament as tens of thousands of Greeks massed in Athens in a show of anger against German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Vilified for Greece's punishing spending cuts, Mrs Merkel, the leader of Europe's paymaster, is on her first visit to the eurozone's most indebted nation since the debt crisis erupted almost three years ago.
As she met Greek Prime Minister Antonio Samaras, demonstrators gathered just a few blocks away, some brandishing banners reading "You are not welcome, Imperialisten Raus" (Imperialists out)" or "No to the Fourth Reich".
Two Nazi flags were draped on the steel fence near parliament and set on fire. Sporadic violence also broke out, with small gangs of masked youths throwing bottles at riot police.
Thousands of police were out on the streets and key parts of central Athens were closed off to create a large security zone for Mrs Merkel's meetings with Mr Samaras and President Carolos Papoulias.
Police said about 25,000 protesters had already streamed on to the central Syntagma Square, which lies outside the lockdown zone.
Three years of grinding austerity in exchange for foreign funding to pay back banks and meet expenses has seen Greece’s gross domestic product shrink 25 percent. Unemployment is now at 50 percent for young people and 24 percent overall. A series of governments has dramatically cut spending without improving the functioning of the state, resulting in cuts to essential services like hospitals.
“In three years they have destroyed a nation,” said Maria Choussakou, 59, a former high school ancient Greek teacher who said she had been forced into early retirement. “We were middle class, now we’re impoverished,” she added.
At the news conference, Ms. Merkel, looking tense, acknowledged the pain Greece was facing after massive spending cuts. But she encouraged the country to continue on its path of structural reforms. “Much has been achieved, much has been demanded of the Greek people, she said. “I am deeply convinced that it’s going to be worthwhile,” she added.
Worthwhile to pay off the banks while people pick through garbage looking for food? What a strange world these people live in.
"Smokestack Lightnin'," with Hubert Sumlin backing Howlin' Wolf in 1964
This is the time of year when we're reminded of all the famous people who died over the last twelve months, a list which includes two of my favorite guitar players (Hubert Sumlin and Cornell Dupree). But there were also some notable non-human deaths in 2011, especially in the world of economic policy.
One of those deaths should have completely altered the political debate in Washington. The name of the deceased was "Austerity Economics," and it was first glimpsed in a 1921 paper by conservative economist Frank Wright. Austerity died of natural causes brought on by prolonged exposure to reality.
But the debate in Washington didn't change nearly enough after its passing. In the nation's capital, dead things still rule the night.
"Austerity economics" backers claim that today's economic woes can only be fixed by dramatic reductions in government spending, which will lead to increased private-sector confidence and therefore to greater investment and growth.
But it's never worked. And if investors have lost confidence in the U.S. government's fiscal stability, they're sure not acting that way. There hasn't been this much demand for Treasury bonds since the government began tracking it twenty years ago, and they haven't performed as well since the go-go 1990s.
It's easy to understand austerity's attraction for power elites inside and outside of government. The people who suffer from austerity budgets aren't the kinds of people they know personally, since they're typically public employees like teachers, police, firefighters and the administrators of social programs; people who need government assistance, like the poor; and middle-class people with the temerity to either grow old or become disabled.
Austerity's attraction became even greater in the U.S. because once it became conventional wisdom that tax increases on the wealthy was "politically infeasible." That made it a program whose sole purpose was to cut government spending, lowering the pressure to increase taxes on the wealthy from today's historically low levels.
For a one-percenter, what's not to love?
Austerity Comes of Age
The idea's been around in one form or another since that 1921 paper, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had been imposing it on Third World nations for decades.
But 2009 was the year that austerity really came of age. That was the year that a wealthy stockbroker's son named David Cameron began campaigning for Prime Minister of Great Britain on an explicitly pro-austerity platform.
It was also the year that Cameron helped to form a group named European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) dedicated to electing like-minded politicians across Europe and helping them collaborate on ways to slash government spending. It was also the year that right-leaning Angela Merkel won reelection as the Chancellor of Germany with a stronger mandate than she'd been given in her first term.
With Nicolas Sarkozy as President of France, Great Britain was the only major European power not yet in the hands of the corporate-backed austerity crowd.
The Global Sado-Erotic Thrill Machine
That changed with Cameron's election as Prime Minister in May 2010, an event that threw pro-austerity Americans into throes of near-erotic ecstasy. And if that sounds like hyperbole, consider conservative Anne Appelbaum's reaction to Cameron's budget in September of 2010:
Vicious cuts." "Savage cuts." "Swingeing (sic) cuts." The language that the British use to describe their new government's spending-reduction policy is apocalyptic in the extreme. The ministers in charge of the country's finances are known as "axe-wielders" who will be "hacking" away at the budget. Articles about the nation's finances are filled with talk of blood, knives, and amputation.
And the British love it.
What can I say? There are people who collect serial-killer memorabilia, too. But Appelbaum wasn't just speaking for herself. It became unacceptable for any politician in Washington, Democrat or Republican, to advocate anything other than an austerity budget for the United States.
And it was more than an economic strategy to its backers. Austerity became a way to demonize those who had suffered most from the banking abuses and self-indulgences of the wealthy, a totemic "blame the victim" response that turned the political debate into a grotesque inversion of morality. Again, Appelbaum:
"Not only is austerity being touted as the solution to Britain's economic woes; it is also being described as the answer to the country's moral failings."
Bad Metaphors vs. Good Economists
The Democratic President of the United States, Barack Obama, jumped onto the bandwagon with both feet by repeatedly lecturing Americans on the need for government to stop "spending beyond its means." Obama recycled the popular conservative metaphor of a family that has to sit around the kitchen table and decide how much money it has to spend.
That's one of the worst metaphors in modern politics. Does a family establish its own currency -- especially one that has the unique position of the dollar? Can a family borrow money at rates so low they're effectively less than zero? Would a family let Grandma go hungry because Junior bought too many Porsches out of the family kitty and then gambled it away on lousy mortgage investments?
The world's top economists, those who had successfully predicted the crisis of 2008, tried telling the rest of the world what was wrong with the idea: Joblessness and consumer fears were killing any chance of real recovery. More short-term spending was needed to get the economy moving again. Austerity would make things worse, not better.
But nobody listened. Austerity's S&M-like attraction had the world's elites in its grip.
Death of a Delusion
And then something else came into the picture: Reality.
Cameron's austerity budget had a shattering effect on the already-struggling British economy. His government's financial stability was downgraded five times during his first year in power and retail sales had fallen 2.5 percent. Household income was projected to fall an additional 2 percent if his austerity plans were carried forward. Britain's modest employment gains were reversed, youth unemployment reached record levels, and income inequality was the worst it had been in more than half a century.
Anne Appelbaum's erotic dreams had become Great Britain's nightmare.
As Europe's ruling austerity class pushed forward with their plans, even the IMF tried to dissuade them. It was clear to anyone who wasn't blinded by ideology or political cynicism that austerity economics was a failed program. Even in countries like Greece, where government was far graver than elsewhere, the austerity programs imposed from outside threatened to destabilize society while other reasonable measures like improved tax collection were still not taken seriously enough.
And now the entire Eurozone hangs in the balance. Bankers became wealthy by treating governments as if they were mortgages, lending recklessly and pocketing their fees without considering the long-term reliability of their loans. European leaders insisted for months they were take the kind of sensible steps that should've been taken in the United States by requiring bankers to accept at least part of the losses for the bad loans they had issed.
That plan was quietly dropped last month. "Austerity economics" never calls for austerity from those who have gotten rich by being irresponsible, only from those who didn't benefit from it at all.
President Obama has dropped his austerity rhetoric, at least for the time being, but the Republicans have not. Listening to Mitt Romney discuss economics is like having a doctor wave a dead chicken over your head and saying he's decided to cast a spell on you rather than operate on that thing they found in your X-rays.
Aside from the bill introduced this month by the House Progressive Caucus to almost no media attention, there's no comprehensive plan for dropping this country's ineffective austerity strategy and replacing it with an agenda that works.
Rational solutions to our economic problems are being ignored. There won't be a real debate about alternatives to austerity until an entire political party, not just part of it, adopts this kind of program. Until then there will be chaos. And where there is chaos, austerity's powerful advocates can step in and take charge.
Austerity economics died in 2011 and is survived by the British, German, and French governments as well as the GOP and large portions of the Democratic Party. Instead of sending flowers, the family has asked the public to abandon all hopes of future economic growth.
In Berlin this week, Barack Obama capped his European tour with an address to an audience whose numbers reached tens of thousands. But while the media will focus on Obama's call to strengthen America's trans-Atlantic alliance with France and Germany, no doubt lost in the coverage will be John McCain's essential role in undermining it. As it turns out, back in 2003 John McCain stood shoulder to shoulder with the Berlin-bashers and Paris-hating purveyors of "freedom fries" and "old Europe."
As President Bush prepared to pull the trigger on the Iraq war in February 2003, John McCain was at the forefront of those browbeating the Chirac government for France's refusal to back the U.S. at the United Nations. On February 10, 2003, McCain declared on MSNBC's Hardball:
"Look, I don't mean to try to be snide, but the Lord said the poor will always be with us. The French will always be with us, too."
The next day on February 11, 2003, McCain co-sponsored a Senate resolution praising 18 European nations backing U.S. enforcement of UN demands for Saddam's disarmament. In his press release, McCain echoed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in thundering at the France and Germany of "old Europe:"
"The majority of Europe's democracies have spoken, and their message could not be clearer: France and Germany do not speak for Europe...most European governments behave like allies that are willing to meet their responsibilities to uphold international peace and security in defense of our common values. We thank this European majority for standing with us."
McCain's venom towards the French and Germans was on full display two days later during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The US is not happy about Germany going international with its hunt for the CIA agents responsible for kidnapping Khaled el-Masri. American diplomats vented their anger in meetings with German government officials.
The case of Khaled el-Masri has managed to drive a wedge between Washington and Berlin. The German investigation into what exactly happened to the German citizen Khaled el-Masri, and who was responsible, is becoming an increasingly prickly thorn in the side of Germany-US relations. Indeed, after a Munich court issued arrest warrants against 13 CIA agents at the end of January for complicity in his kidnapping and subsequent torture, high-ranking US diplomats sought to convince the German government not to expand the search for the perpetrators internationally, German government sources have told DER SPIEGEL.
Following the Jan. 31, 2007 issuing of the arrest warrants, US diplomats spoke with foreign policy advisors of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express Washington's displeasure that the case was being forwarded to Interpol, the international police organization that facilitates policing cooperation among 186 member countries -- including the US and Germany.
CIA counterterrorism officers have signed up in growing numbers for a government-reimbursed, private insurance plan that would pay their civil judgments and legal expenses if they are sued or charged with criminal wrongdoing, according to current and former intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the program.
The new enrollments reflect heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct, including wrongdoing related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They worry that they will not have Justice Department representation in court or congressional inquiries, the officials said.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted that Al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq were developing weapons of mass destruction prior to the ousting of Saddam Hussein.
Rice, giving a series of interviews ahead of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States, brushed aside a recently released US intelligence report saying there was no evidence Saddam's regime was helping Al-Qaeda obtain such arms.
"There were ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda," she said on Fox News Sunday.
The AP ran an item yesterday about the now-infamous massage Bush gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G8 Summit earlier this week. The AP didn't actually do a story about the incident; it did a story about blogs laughing at the incident.
An impromptu back rub that President George W. Bush gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now massaging millions of funnybones.
A 5-second video and series of photographs recently posted on YouTube.com and various blogs show Bush surprising Merkel at the G-8 Summit by quickly rubbing the back of her neck and shoulders. The chancellor immediately hunches her shoulders, throws her arms up and grimaces, though she appears to smile as Bush walks away.
The video has been one of the most popular clips on the Web and spawned countless remarks on the particulars of etiquette for world leaders.
In other words, the president's frat-boy tactics aren't necessarily enough to prompt a story in the Associated Press, but dissemination of the video of those tactics is.
This has been an awful trip for Bush to say the least on so many levels. Please list all the problems he has had in the comment section.
Taylor Marsh: This is why Iraq and the Middle East are in flames, and we have no credibility around the world. We have a prepubescent president in charge. It is an outrage.
Lindsay: Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts "casually" giving you a backrub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out. Like any practiced groper, Bush stares right past Merkel as she recoils from his touch.
He said the same thing about Putin in 2000. How has that worked out so far?
Update: "U.S. President George W. Bush told a German newspaper his best moment in more than five years in office was catching a big perch in his own lake. "You know, I've experienced many great moments and it's hard to name the best," Bush told weekly Bild am Sonntag when asked about his high point since becoming president in January 2001."I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5 pound (3.402 kilos) perch in my lake,"...read on"