War on drugs : The collateral damage

Propaganda vs economic reality

Government propaganda from time to time feeds us figures on the war on drugs. We read of the biggest drug haul this year or ever. Just google “drug haul” to get a taste. We read the million dollar phantasy figures about the “street value” of confiscated drugs, which in themselves or in the wider context of the illegal drug economy make no sense. All to created an image of our totally non-sensical drug policy actually achieving something positive.

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Any economist will tell you that according to his/her textbook all you will achieve by reducing the supply is rising prices. This in turn will lead to more crime to pay for more expensive drugs to feed your habit or just to have a good time. The economists believing in market theory agree that you cannot solve any real or perceived drug problem by fiddling with the supply side. Nobel-Prize Winning Economists: The War On Drugs Is A Catastrophic ‘Billion-Dollar Failure’ reads the headline in Business Insider Australia. “The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global ‘war on drugs’ strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage.”

The human face of the collateral damage

Looking at this catastrophic big picture we tend to forget the human costs behind the figures. I just pick two recent examples.

One is the very unsettling case of a “Northland Local Hero” Kelly van Gaalen or as Jack Tame headlines it A sad case of unnatural justice.

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Arts and culture winner Kelly van Gaalen, of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council,
with Mayor Wayne Brown. Photo / Peter de Graaf

She’s a former member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board, the former chair of the Kaikohe Community Arts Council and the former promotions manager for the Kaikohe Business Association. Last December she was one of 15 recipients of Northland’s Local Hero medal, acknowledging her efforts in a community that has had more than its share of tough timesLast year her family was the victim of a home invasion. Three men broke in and beat up her husband. In the aftermath, police officers discovered a 684g  bag of dried marijuana in the van Gaalens’ homeThere were no incriminating texts on van Gaalen’s phone, no wads of cash under the floorboards and no sawn-off shotguns on the kitchen bench.
Did the police use discretion and destroy the drugs? Did the justice system allow her to stay home and raise her kids? Did the 32 character references provided in court allow for a discharge without conviction or a community sentence?
Nope. Despite her “extremely worthwhile contribution” to Kaikohe, in the words of the presiding judge, the 38-year-old’s plight ended in lunacy
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Van Gaalen, home invasion victim, mother of three, Local Hero medal recipient and general menace of Kaikohe, was sentenced to two years in prison.

You are lost for words if you hear of such crazy sentences as you like to think that this could only happen in crazy America and not sensible little New Zealand. However the word “sensible” has been sullied by a group of rednecks calling their pressure group the “Sensible Sentencing Trust” when it is anything but sensible.
How can this judge sleep at night ? How can he/she look in the mirror in the morning ?How can he/she live with the creature looking back being a nasty cruel sadist who probably started pulling off the wings of flies, graduation to blowing up frogs and now destroying the life of an obviously good women and damaging her children in the process.

The other example is a report in last month NZ Herald titled “At risk visitors barred from entering New Zealand“. It tells us that the total number of people who were refused entry stood at 1345, an increase by 319 when compared with 1026 the year before. The implication being that we can sleep tight at night in the knowledge that our vigilant immigration officers are keeping the badies out.

Unfortunately the truth can be quite different as one of these cases I was involved in demonstrates. She is an 18 year old European high-school graduate who had traveled through some Asian countries and wanted to visit a New Zealand schoolfriend. She was picked out at arrival from Bangkok and interrogated about drug use. She was honest enough to say that during her travels she once smoked pot and once had used ecstasy. She also admitted to have used cannabis 2 or 3 time a year before in her home country. Then the immigration officer went into her facebook page and took a screen shot of an old entry under the section
From:                              Lives in:                                  Studied at:
Worked in: My Deep Dark Basement Where I Grow My Weed And Store My Whores

I wonder how thick a person must be not to recognise this entry of a 15 year old girl on facebook to be a joke. However honesty together with an old joke on facebook were enough to refuse her entry because as her file states : “Section 16(1)(a)(i) – Drugs”
Section 16 of the Immigration Act says:
(1) No visa or entry permission may be granted to any person who—
(a) the Minister has reason to believe—
(i) is likely to commit an offence in New Zealand that is punishable by imprisonment

That is the legal part of it. The logic behind this decision is that we don’t want people who might smoke dope while visiting our country. If you would take that approach seriously you would for instance have to ban three quarters of all the overseas revellers having a good time at the Queenstown Winter Festival from ever entering the country.

The teenager after a night in a police cell being returned to Bangkok and consequently refused entry there and put on a flight back to Europe, which cost her thousands.  From now on if she would want to travel to a country where a visa is required she would need to tick the box [Have you ever been refused entry? YES/NO]. The consequences of which are obvious. Her travel will be greatly restricted. What crime did she commit to deserve such harsh punishment ? Being honest ? Any young kid denying the drug use question would in all likelihood be lying. This one was stupid enough to admit what is today considered as normal: Having experimented with dope.

The moral hazard

The message we are sending to our teenagers and to the ‘Northland local hero’ for that matter is to never tell the truth to authorities. This is exactly what I told the teenager  as her life lesson to take from her experience with NZ immigration. As a lawyer I always advised my clients to say nothing. Now I am free to advise to lie as the figures of authority lie to us all the time starting with our Prime Minister.

How stupid the hero was. Her explanation was she had two marijuana plants and one grew especially well. She had smoked the drug daily since her teens and shared her supply with as many as 20 friends. This honesty landed her in jail for no good reason whatsoever.

The collateral damage of the war on drugs are not only destroyed lives but the collapse of the moral fabric of our society.

 

PS:  What irony. Writing this blog I came across an item in the NZ Herald titled “To puff or not to puff, that is the question”.

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It reported that scientists have discovered that 400-year-old tobacco pipes excavated from the garden of William Shakespeare contained cannabis, suggesting the playwright might have written some of his famous works while high.
Try to imagine a judge saying to Mr Shakespeare: Despite your “extremely worthwhile contribution” to English literature I sentence you to 2 years imprisonment for possessing and smoking cannabis.

PPS: Recommended reading:  War on drugs is war on us  

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Lurch to the neoliberal right

I can’t help it to have the benefit of knowledge and experience, which only comes with age. Unlike everybody under 50 who grew up under the intense ‘greed is good’ indoctrination of the neoliberal Reagan/Thatcher/Rogernomics era I actually remember that – contrary to what we were told – there was and is an alternative.

Bryan Gould in an excellent piece tells the story I experienced since my arrival in New Zealand in 1984.
“Most of those of middle age or younger will have grown up in a world where it has been widely accepted that markets are more or less infallible, that government spending is inevitably wasteful and a drag on economic development, that running a country is just like running a business, that we all benefit if the rich get richer, and that private profit justifiably and inevitably overrides all other considerations.
One of the most significant consequences of this re-definition of the political landscape has been the acceptance that what would once have been regarded as at the extreme outer edge of what is politically possible is now the new centre ground. Any divergence from this central position is, by definition therefore, literally eccentric; and any move away from “free-market” orthodoxy is condemned as either a return to the past or an irrational lurch leftwards.”

We have forgotten how extreme by historical standards this new ‘centre’ ground really is.

I remember Berkley in 1969 when Ronald Reagan was governor of California. If we wanted a fun night out we went to the pictures to see old movies with B-list actor Reagan in it. They were screened just for us students to vent our anger at his defunding policies towards one of the world’s leading Universities. We always were armed with rattles and whistles and other noisy instruments to make a racket whenever Reagan appeared. If anybody would have told us that Reagan would within a decade become US president we would have declared the person insane.
He would not only become president but give a whole era his name. The ground had shifted.

Neoliberal juggernaut running out of steam

Today there are signs that people actually don’t believe the dogmatic neoliberal rhetoric anymore. After the global financial and economic crisis in 2007/8 people being at first dazed and confused now realise that they had witnessed the collapse of the edifice of neoliberal dogma. Capitalism had to be saved by socialism. The rich had pocketed the profits (and bonuses) and the losses had to be socialised by government bailouts paid for by the poor. You don’t find that recipe in any neoliberal economic textbook.

One of many examples around the world of people waking up to this reality just plays out in the UK where the Labour Party is holding its most democratic leadership contest ever and low and behold the ‘left wing’ candidate Jeremy Corbyn is leading the pack by a country mile.
Corbyn’s campaign has been unique in the Labour leadership campaign in actually offering coherent policies and a fleshed-out economic strategy: a radical housing programme; tax justice; democratic public ownership of utilities and services; a public investment bank to transform the economy; quantitative easing to invest in desperately needed infrastructure; a £10 minimum wage; a National Education Service; a costed abolition of tuition fees; women’s rights; and so on (Owen Jones in the Guardian).

These are policies the public actually agrees with.

Even a leading Tory minister said that Mr Corbyn’s populist left-wing policies could prove difficult to beat. 

Savage backlash from the right in politics and media

The proponents of neoliberal dogma in politics and corporate media are going ballistic. They are running scared that we, treated as and called children for so long, finally do the childish thing and point out that the neoliberal emperor wears no cloths.
The reaction of the right in Labour and the media was savage. Calling Corbyn supporters “morons” is par for the cause and Tony Blair topped it off by saying “that if your heart is telling you to vote for Corbyn, you need a heart transplant.”

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In little New Zealand our ‘little’ political commentators in the mainstream media are also living in a parallel world by accusing their opponent of living in a time warp.
Case in point John Armstrong in a recent opinion piece in the NZ Herald.
A party critical of current government policies is “marooned in a time bubble of the economic boom of the 1950s…. Its unwillingness to confront that myth of a better past will ultimately be the death of it…. The party seemed more intent on swimming against the prevailing political currents, seemingly as much for the sake of being seen to be different from its competitors as upholding its core principles… Times have moved on.”

For the neoliberal prophets events in the past like the crash in 1929 and the New Deal in the US to fix it and the post WWII economic policies leading to the boom of the 1950s are reduced to mere myths. Any evidence of the alternative must be wiped from our memory bank. Any political party’s unwillingness to confront that myth of a better past will ultimately be the death of it as those who lived through those times and who gain comforting reassurance from (it) pass away (Armstrong). It looks that he can’t wait for me/us to die as if the historic evidence would die with us.

For the proponents of the current economic system the global financial and economic crisis of 2007/8 and all crises preceding it seem also to be just myths not to worry about. That is the cloud cuckoo land they live in. Reality does not exist only ideology.

Back to Gould :
“That may be about to change. As the tide of ‘free market” orthodoxy has reached its high-water mark and appears to be receding (at least in most parts of the western world other than the euro zone), it is more and more likely to leave exposed to public view those new policy initiatives that seem to have little to do with common sense and practicality and to reflect much more clearly what are doctrinaire preoccupations.
Consider the following recent instances.
The government’s ideological preference for private over public provision has led them to engage Serco – an international firm already notorious for its failures in a range of countries – to run some of our prisons. The outcome? The shambles – and the unacceptable and damaging shambles at that – now revealed at Mt Eden prison. 
Charter schools? An idea that has already been shown in its country of origin, Sweden, to produce disastrous results in terms of educational standards, and is now in the process of proving that point all over again in New Zealand, at the expense of some of our most needy and disadvantaged children.
And what about the wacky idea of financing the delivery of social services to some of our most vulnerable citizens, including the mentally ill, by selling bonds to private investors who will then expect to make a profit from their “investment”?
The usual view of the left as doctrinaire and the right as pragmatic is changing. It is now the right that espouses the ideological approach and that will go on doing so for as long as it is not held to account and its bluff is not called.

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                                                                                         Guy Body / NZ Herald

The left has the opportunity to offer new alternatives to free-market orthodoxy that are not the product of doctrine, but are simply sensible and will produce better outcomes.” 

I couldn’t agree more. The pendulum had reached it’s furthest point and can go only one way, which is swing back.

by Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Don’t touch that sausage

Making laws and making sausages are very similar. The public will generally consume the final result, but you wouldn’t want them to watch exactly how they are made.”

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TPP minister Tim Grosser

The arrogance and contempt of this government has no bounds

This is a third term government and it knows that it is likely to be its last. They seem to have decided to go for broke. They are hellbent to push all sorts of policies through without any regard for the people of New Zealand. They have given up on us, the voter. Can you get any more patronising than Grosser talking about the secret negotiations of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) saying to Hilary Barry :

We need adults to do this not breathless children to run off at their mouths when the deal is not actually (cl)inched.”

This statement and the thinking and attitude behind it deserve a closer look. And we have to keep in mind that Grosser just represents ‘official’ government thinking and attitude.

Winston Peters in a radio live interview put it rather succinctly talking about Grosser’s arrogance :
Tim is the brightest trade minister the country ever had indeed the whole Commonwealth perhaps the whole world if you would listen to him.”

That Grosser and the government think they are the big know alls is only part of it. The other is the insult to the rest of us “breathless children” daring to ask questions or even question the whole deal and its secrecy.

We have to be thankful for this insult as it exactly describes how the government has been treating us. We cannot pretend any longer to be happy with anything going on with the TPPA if we – the voter, citizen, sovereign – are treated as children by our government. That cannot possibly be right. We should be owning the government not the other way round. So the theory of our democratic system goes.

Another word for how the government treats us citizens is the mushroom treatment, keeping us in the dark and feeding us (horse) shit.

The secrecy and lies around the TPP negotiations are unparalleled. We are told that these kind of agreement are always negotiated in secret, which is the first lie. It is not western  democratic tradition to negotiate deals affecting all of us immensely in total secrecy from the citizens. It is unheard off that just one interested side sits at the table writing the text. They are the international corporations like big pharma, big agri(cultural) business (Monsanto), big US entertainment industry (Hollywood), big food/sugar/fizzy drink drink industry, big tobacco, big alcohol. The other interested parties are totally shut out and kept in the dark. These are the doctors, unions, environmentalists and others representing us as citizens, consumers, patients, workers and just ordinary New Zealanders wanting to enjoy a clean environment and to be able to swim in our rivers as our parents did.

Governments and corporations resort to secrecy not to deliberately make us suspicious and angry.  They are forced to use this tactic as the only way to pass the deal in the hope that we are not looking.

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Our Prime Minister who has some experience in telling lies to the people of New Zealand has now has the unenviable task to own up to his lies about the TPPA. Examples :
Up till now – Concerns about Pharmac and the price of medicines just scaremongering.
Now – The price of medicine will go up. Nothing to worry as you will not pay higher prescription charges just higher taxes.
The biggest lie seems to be calling the TPPA a “trade” agreement when only a minuscule bit is about trade. Most of it is about intellectual property rights, investment rules, internet freedom or how to curtail it. The most hideous bit being the right of overseas corporations to sue New Zealand in private overseas Kangaroo courts if they don’t like any policies or legislation regarding work safety, consumer protection,  minimum wage, protection of the environment and the list goes on just by claiming that the legislation will negatively affect the bottom line of their investment.
We are sold this agreement with the promise of gains in (dairy) exports leading to the holy grail of all politicians “economic growth”, which turns out to be another lie.

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US Govt Dept of Agriculture did an analysis of the benefits of the TPP Agreement to all the participating countries, in the best case scenario where all agricultural tariffs and trade related quotas were abolished. The benefit to NZ in 2025 ? Just 0.01% increase in GDP. Worth trading our sovereignty for an extra 0.01% of GDP in 2025 ?

Who is the ‘double-agent’ selling our country to the Americans ?

 In his radio interview Winston went on to call Grosser “a double-agent against our interests – selling out our country to the Americans“. And Winston had some strong arguments for his strong words.
But who is the real ‘double agent’ betraying our country. Could it be the son of a refugee who doesn’t know New Zealand history (the country was colonised “peacefully”) ? He, who doesn’t remember his own position in our history (can’t remember which side he was on as a young student during the 1981 Springbok tour) ? He, who spend most of his working life overseas with one of the most odious gone bust banks on Wall Street ?

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He, who as a “non-politician” was parachuted from Wall Street into New Zealand’s parliament ? He, who tries to sell the country to his corporate mates ? He, who still holds a US green card and will bugger off to his home in Hawaii or back to Wall Street as soon as his mission here is accomplished ? He, who by pushing the TPPA and surrendering our sovereignty to overseas corporations shows that he has no loyalty or allegiance to New Zealand ?

Look Winston, what you have done with your “double-agent” remark. You made us remember, think and question.

Which brings us back to the sausage, which you wouldn’t eat if you knew what was in it. Which means that what’s in it must be really bad. Comparing the TPPA with that sausage our trade tzar Grosser surprised us with honesty. “You don’t want to know what is in the TPPA otherwise you wont swallow it”. And he is treating us accordingly by keeping things secret from us.

At least we now know :

Don’t touch that sausage !

PS :
While writing I got the good news that for now no agreement had been reached. This was not unexpected as one of the non-agreements was over dairy.
I can already tell you the spin you will hear from government.
“We fought valiantly for the best possible deal and in the end rather walked away from a bad deal.”
The truth is different. In the end there was no deal on offer we could have walked away from. Members of our team told us that New Zealand did and was prepared to even more “compromise“, read sell out. But there was nothing on the table to submit to.
Still the government and the media will celebrate our brave trade minister for protecting our interests by not signing a bad deal.

Exactly the opposite from what happened.

In politics what counts is not the truth but perception.

 by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

 

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Public bad Private good – A myth that won’t die

The Privatisation myth lives on

One of the cornerstones of neoliberal dogma is privatisation of public assets and services.
PRIVATISATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatisation has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.

The claim by the neoliberal zealots that privatisation leads to greater efficiency and cost savings is not supported by any evidence but just a matter of faith. No number of myth busters seems to be able to debunk it.

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The Truth is that there is no advantage of private over public whatsoever rather the opposite. Just take a glimpse at the New Zealand’s public health system in comparison with the US private healthcare system. For good measure throw in Cuba where I also marvelled at the American old-timer cars from the 1950-ies.

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The list of failings of private corporations is endless and still replenished every day. It is the public having to pick up the pieces. The latest headlines are about Serco. A company, which starts its website with the words:

With rising service expectations, finite resources and budget deficits find out how Serco helps governments across the world deliver better services for less.”

This sentence is a prime example of indoctrination and corporate spin and warrants a whole essay on its own. However I want to draw your attention just to the last four words.
This bit is classic alchemist stuff straight from the Middle Ages. Those days gullible people were relieved of their money by investing in some alchemist scheme with the promise to make gold out of (mostly) lead. Today the promise is the same impossibility to “deliver better services for less”. This has been a con-artist’s trick forever and greedy  people fall for the “more for less” trick every time.

Money for nothing

It is always the same sales pitch from the neoliberal prophets. We somehow will get something for nothing if only we privatise because public ownership makes a bad job of it and private corporations and the market will do better.
Remember the selling of our power companies and creation of an electricity “market” with the promise of lower power prices. The result was a disaster not only for the government’s coffers but for the power consumers who were meant to benefit.

The strategy is always the same :

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And even if things are still working and are the envy of the rest of the world like New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) the government tries to  undermine the organisation as it wants to privatise ACC. A crisis was invented to make the case for privatisation. A couple of years back our government tried to tell us that the ACC was broke by just changing the accounting rules for no other reason. Now after we dodged the bullet and the ACC is still ours the organisation recently had to lower its levies because it is swimming in cash.

Back to the money for nothing pitch in another example, public private partnership toll roads. They are sold to us with the same argument of getting something for nothing either cheaper or sooner. This is to be achieved only by involving the private sector and create a totally new industry in New Zealand: toll collectors.
What we are not told is that motorists end up paying for this extravagance. The costs are 40% to 50% higher compared to what it would cost being run by the Transport Agency itself and financed by a (regional) petrol tax increase of a couple of cents. This stems from the simple fact, acknowledged by the Land Transport Agency, that out of every dollar collected by toll only 60 cent go towards the road. The rest are collection costs (new industry). A petrol tax increase on the other hand comes without any extra costs.

The true cost of Privatisation

The true cost of most of the privatisation folly is however not even monetary. It is the hurt and suffering it inflicts on our fellow human beings.

In the case of the private prison company Serco it is the cost of live and limb. Inmates in their prisons are pushed of balconies or entertain themselves with organised fight clubs as they are bored stiff with little to no activities in understaffed prisons. Cutting costs and corners is their only way of making money. Their biggest cost are staff. So that is where the cuts are.

Serco as an international corporation has developed into a form of Über-government dealing with all the waste of our capitalist system from nuclear to human like refugees, prisoners and the mentally ill. Consequently they are in line for the next government privatisation project the so called “mental health bonds” (see my previous blog: Government experiment on the mentally ill without Ethics Committee approval). Imagine the damage they will do to the most vulnerable in society. The increase of suicides by people pushed of the benefit into inappropriate work just for the bonus Serco will be paid for doing the pushing.

Important to note that all over the neoliberal capitalist world governments have singled out the most vulnerable of society refugees, children, patients, prisoners, the mentally ill for the Serco treatment. These are the people who have no voice, no vote, no way to resist or fight back.

Just google Serco and find headlines like “Serco’s Fiona Stanley Hospital sterilisation contract terminated after failures” (ABC) or “Serco is failing, but is kept afloat thanks to Australia’s refugee policy” (Guardian) while in New Zealand you still see headlines like this “Anne Tolley still happy for Serco to run social services for children” (Stuff). or go to the Serco Watch facebook page to follow the international horror story, which is Serco.

The moral cost

Our capitalist model is of course amoral. It exists in an ethics free realm beyond any moral consideration and is ironically still believed to deliver positive results.

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However after 30 years of neoliberal rampage I am happy to report that there are still some moral people in New Zealand. To quote just one letter to yesterday’s NZ Herald :

To hand these people (prisoners) over to an overseas company whose sole aim is to make money out of them is an appalling denial of human rights and shows a lack of concern by the government for the welfare of those it locks up. It is both morally and socially indefensible. (thanks A.J.MacKenzie)

Even Finance Minister Bill English conceded in 2011 that prisons were a “moral and fiscal failure“. His morality however faded when it comes to letting overseas corporations make money from the most deprived in society. Then neoliberal dogma “greed is good” rules over any morals.

The myth of public bad vs private good does not want to die.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

PS. Sorry for all the memes being black today. Sadly the subject is black.

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War on drugs is war on us

Drug laws are based on racial discrimination against the Chinese.

This fact should get your attention in the current climate in New Zealand where everyone pretends to be so politically correct about racism against the ethnic Chinese.

Drug laws are still discriminating on the basis of race. They do only harm. They have no scientific justification whatsoever. Some are based on bigotry and xenophobia and were partly introduced for the commercial benefit of a couple of industrialists and as a make-work scheme for law enforcement.
The chances of catching up with the rest of the world on drug law reform are slim as large numbers of members of Parliament as of the general population consists of bigots and xenophobes as far as drugs are concerned.

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The facts

The prohibition of drugs (alcohol) occurred first under Islamic sharia law.

Britain fought three wars to force China to allow opium into their country. These so called opium wars have ever since been the cause for Chinese mistrust and resentment against the western powers.

The 1861-65  American Civil War led to great numbers of wounded veterans using opium products to relief their suffering. They lived out their lives without ill effect other than constipation. The use of the drug in all its forms was wide spread and legal.

The first US drug law was passed in San Francisco in 1875, banning the smoking of opium in opium dens. The reason cited was “many women and young girls, as well as young men of respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise.”
The distinction between its use by white Americans and Chinese immigrants was thus based on the form in which it was ingested: Chinese immigrants tended to smoke it, while it was often included in various kinds of generally liquid medicines often used by people of European descent. The laws targeted opium smoking, but not other methods of ingestion.
It went downhill from there till all forms of consuming opium and its derivates were criminalised together with ever more substances based on equally questionable grounds.

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Criminalisation of cannabis happened in earnest in the US in the 1920-ies and 1930-ies driven by rampant racist Harry J. Anslinger as a make-work scheme for his Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He was supported by two interests to destroy the hemp industry. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst’s empire of newspapers used his poublications to demonise the cannabis plant and spread a public perception that there were connections between cannabis and violent crime (reefer madness). The goal was to destroy the hemp industry, which posed a threat to Hearst’s wood pulp interests. The Du Pont family, which had patented synthetic fibre (Nylon) had the same interest to destroy the hemp industry as potential competition.

Racial discrimination is still part of today’s drug laws in the US and in effect in New Zealand.
For example in the US the penalties for possession of cocaine – the preferred drug of middle class white people – are substantially less than for crack cocaine mainly used by lower class black people even if the substance is chemically the same. In New Zealand the drug related incarceration for drug offences is also disproportionally higher for Maori.

Many people believe as they have been told that drugs lead to addiction. This claim is bogus as not only new research shows but as we all can observe in our daily lives.

Johann Hari debunks the addiction myth. “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think” is the title of his report in the Huffington Post.
The addiction myth was first established through rat experiments.
The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
But in the 1970s Professor of Psychology Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs.  So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want.
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling. 

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them.

Addiction can be summed up in one observation It’s not the drug it’s the cage.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.
It virtually never happens. Medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected. 

Racist make-work scheme for law enforcement.

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   Customs Manager Cargo Operations Bruce Berry with 500g
Methamphetamine concealed in a toy bus.
Photo / Jason Oxenham, NZ Herald this week

Law enforcement in New Zealand still parade their drug hauls as great victories while other civilised countries for example Portugal have moved towards enlightenment by successfully reforming their drug laws with stunning results.

When I watch the law enforcement PR campaign with photos like above I know who’s interests they serve. Instead of acknowledging that the The War on Drugs is ‘A Trillion-Dollar Failure’ (Rolling Stone Magazine) we are still made to believe that the person pictured is doing good. To be fair he does good to the private prison industry.

WaronDrugs

The US have more people in prison – mostly for non-violent low grade drug offences -than the Soviet Union under Stalin during the worst times of the gulag. Corporations like SERCO, which has been in the news lately for running New Zealand’s private prisons are rubbing their hands.

But it is not only the inmates who shouldn’t be there and are coming out of prison raped, battered and turned into criminals. Imagine what we could do with the millions of dollars misspend on the war on drugs. Thousands of children could be fed a meal every day at school, housed in insulated warm houses and clothed for the winter. No more waiting lists for elective surgery and the list goes on.

The war on drugs is truly a war on all of us in more than one sense.

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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From Greece to Germany. When will we focus on the elephant in the room ?

We are living in interesting times. The last few weeks were especially fascinating to watch. We are witnessing history in the making

First all eyes were on Greece. The narrative was all about the Greeks bringing their dire plight all upon themselves. They – we were told rightly or wrongly – are lazy and receive their pensions at 55 but refuse to pay taxes for their European first world education, health and social systems. All this being paid for by cheap loans from their European partners without any possibility to ever pay them back.
The culprit and disease were identified. The bitter pill austerity was administered over the last few years. Unfortunately the problem was not solved but made worse. The economy contracted by 25%. Unemployment especially for the young skyrocketed. Many were forced to leave their homeland to seek a future abroad. Many desperate victims of the situation killed themselves. Others died preventable death because of the collapsing health service. Even the IMF had to admit that their policies had made the situation worse not better.

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Blunder: The IMF has admitted mishandling the Greek debt crisis, leading to violent anti-austerity protests like this demonstration in Athens last November

Then just a couple of weeks ago the focus began to shift. The EU leaders went into one of their usual crisis- stop the clock at midnight- deadline- meetings to sort out Greece. Even if the Germans were not the only hardliners in the Euro zone it became very clear that chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble were leading the charge.
What the Greeks had not been able to do before by shining the torch on Nazi Germany’s occupation and atrocities in Greece during WWII and the fact the Greece was among the nations giving Germany debt relief in 1953

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the Germans with brutal efficiency managed over night. The focus shifted to Germany.

The New York Times under the headline “Germany Risks Its Reputation With Idea of Greece Exiting Eurozone” reported:
One could argue, as many have, about the correctness of the German prescription of austerity in a time of recession. But the brutality of the negotiations over Greece in Brussels has damaged Germany’s reputation inside the European Union, said François Heisbourg, a French analyst.
“I think the Germans have crossed a line,” he said, “and it will be very difficult for them to walk it back.”
Jürgen Habermas, a pro-European German intellectual, said that Ms. Merkel and her coalition government, including the center-left Social Democratic Party, “have gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century.

And it came thick and fast. In the UK Guardian under the headline “The euro ‘family’ has shown it is capable of real cruelty” we could read “This “bailout”, which will be sold as being a cruel-to-be-kind deal is nothing of the sort. It is simply being cruel to be cruel.”
The Huffington Post headline “Deutschland Deathgrip” lead to a Washington Post article with the following image:

Angela-Lecter
Even the German News Magazine Spiegel Online called the terms imposed on Greece “The Catalogue of Cruelty”.

And the Germans don’t understand what hit them. They feel the misunderstood victims. Everyone especially the English speaking world is picking on them. And they don’t like to be reminded of the past if it doesn’t fit their picture. With the European Union project the Germans are led to believe that they are just the paymasters for other mostly southern European countries’ frivolities. That they as the biggest economic power are also the greatest beneficiaries from the market of 500 million people is often forgotten. They just visit Spain and see a perfect roading infrastructure. They visit Lecce a beautiful restored Baroque town in Southern Italy. And they see the signs “Financed with the help of the EU” and feel that they personally paid for it.
If you remind them of the debt conference in London 1953, which made the German “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle) possible they either weren’t told or don’t want to know. Unlike the earlier Holocaust they accepted as drummed into them and accordingly still slip Israel little presents like nuclear capable submarines no mercy is shown to Greece, which years later had forgiven Germany’s debt.

Another problem is that many if not a majority of Germans see the problem in a moral dimension. It has something to do with the fact that the German language has the same word for debt and guilt. Debt has to be paid. Otherwise rules would be broken, which is another anathema to most Germans. Again conveniently forgetting that Germany also broke European rules even if not with the disastrous consequences as Greece.

It was interesting for me that some of my ex-German friends here even after more than 30 years in New Zealand were feeling the same as some friends in Germany. One wrote that Greece needs a Hercules to clean out the pigsty. Germany should be thanked for showing the wayward child the right (German) way of order and paying taxes.

Economic historian Jacob Soll a few weeks ago attended a conference on Greek sovereign debt in Munich. He describes his experience in the New York Times. After long scholarly discussions the mood changed.
When the German economists spoke at the final session, a completely different tone took over the room. Within the economic theories and numbers came a moral message: The Germans were honest dupes and the Greeks corrupt, unreliable and incompetent. Both parties were reduced to caricatures of themselves. We’ve heard this story throughout the negotiations, but in that room, it was clear how much resentment shapes the views of German economists.
When I noted that no matter how badly the Greeks had handled their economy, German demands and the possible chaos of a Grexit risked political populism, unrest and social misery, they were unmoved. Debtors who default, they explained, would simply have to suffer, no matter how rough and even unfair the terms of the loans. There were those who handled their economies well, and took their suffering silently, like Finland and Latvia, they said. In contrast, a country like Greece, where many people don’t pay their taxes, did not seem to merit empathy.

And here we come to the crux of the matter. The issue is not about lazy Greeks and angry Germans. It is not even about design faults of the Euro or the European Union. All these are sideshows. Nobody talks about the elephant in the room.

The elephant is the neoliberal capitalist system dominated by the finance industry. A system, which is built on debt. Private banks legally print money out of thin air to lend to governments for the taxpayer to pay interest. A system, which needs ever increasing debt to “grow” the economy, which in reality means grow the interest burden on the rest of us for the benefit of the private banks. A system, which inherently staggers from crisis to crisis. An economic dogma, which does not allow for empathy with the suffering of real people. Money over people. A dogma, which hates democracy. Remember the outrage of the European power brokers and international institutions, when Greece dared to have a referendum on austerity.

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The good thing is that the Greek suffering and struggle is becoming more and more visible beamed into our living rooms for everybody to see. I watched recent German TV reports from Greece. It reminds me of the Vietnam war. There TV footage of the reality of that war were broadcast into US living rooms and brought an end to it. The people couldn’t stomach it anymore.

I am not to hopeful that “The end of capitalism has begun” as the headline of a recent article in the UK Guardian suggests.

However looking at the misery not only in Greece but all around us even in little New Zealand I am hopeful that we at last will start to focus on the elephant in the room.

by Dr. Hans B. Grueber

PS: Recommended reading my previous blog about the Greek tragedy http://zealandiablog.net.nz/greek-tragedy-dont-piss-off-the-gods/

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Racism in Real Estate ?

First the facts :

1.     The Auckland housing market has gone crazy over the last few years making it all but impossible for first home buyers on average incomes to buy a house. The situation has become so bad that a piece by Peter Calder in yesterday’s NZ Herald was titled “House rage – we’re right to be angry“.

2.     As a result of the neoliberal reforms of the 1980-ies and 90-ies New Zealand has one of the most open (to foreign investors) real estate markets among civilised countries. Our government unlike overseas jurisdictions has steadfastly refused to gather specific data on overseas investors in the overheated Auckland housing market. As a result anybody interested in property in Auckland is making up his own mind from observations at auctions and other anecdotal evidence of what the reasons for the price explosion are.

3.     The Auckland housing crisis has become a major problem for the government. They are blaming everything and everybody else but themselves for the problem like their favourite for all things the Resource Management Act and of course the Auckland Council.

4.     In this situation the recent quarterly sales figures for Auckland residential property were leaked from a major real estate firm. The names of the buyers were correlated with the electoral role and analysed by statisticians. The indisputable result points to one ethnic group buying four times as many houses compared to their representation in the population of Auckland even if the average income of that ethnic group of Auckland residents is well below the overall average.

So far so good. Everyone can draw his own conclusion as the Labour Party did and the NZ Herald running the story, which is that the discrepancy can only be explained by non-resident overseas members of that ethnic group buying residential property in Auckland as investment.

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As I have so far not named the ethnic group nobody will call me racist (yet) for stating the above facts.

What am I going to do if I want to keep it that way ? Call the Chinese our tangata whenua, the ethnic group our own Maori people came from thousands of years ago according to DNA evidence. Winston Peters already years back defended himself this way against the accusations of racism when he pointed at the Chinese immigration, investment or in whatever context ?

winston-peters-at-sir-wilson-whineray-s-funeral-getty-images                                      Is Winston Peters allowed to say “I told you so”?

It was interesting to watch the reaction from certain quarters against Labour alerting us to the above facts. Not surprisingly “Racism” was the battle cry.

Also a lot of little straw-men were built to be beaten down. The fact that you cannot individually be sure that a Chinese sounding surname means Chinese ethnicity, which my wife of pure anglo-saxon-norman heritage can attest too having a Chinese sounding maiden name. Or the fact that Chinese ethnicity does not distinguish between Chinese New Zealanders living here for generations or recent immigrants and residents and overseas Chinese investors. The published data clearly acknowledged that problem without changing its conclusions. So there was nothing really to criticise.

The Racism outcry is nothing but a red herring or as it is often called “the dead cat trick” by its Crosby-Textor practitioners when you pull out a dead cat and put it on the table and everybody forgets the serious subject they were discussing and all are talking about the dead cat.

The serious issues we should keep discussing, of which the Auckland housing market is only a part is the neoliberal dogma of globalisation with its effects on our sovereignty, our economy, our environment and even our education and health services. Look out for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) currently negotiated in secret ! We should be discussing if our local consumers really want to compete with the prices of the Tokyo fish market for tuna or snapper or with the price for milk and cheese our producers get overseas. Or if our first home buyers in Auckland should compete with mainland Chinese who are looking for a safe haven for their abundant cash some of it even being laundered according to Chinese government concerns.

We also have to look at the usual suspects crying foul in this case “racism” when the failings of this National Party government’s policies to even collect reliable data come under attack.
We have the real estate industry, which of course thrives on the skyrocketing house prices.
We have Chinese community leaders who must by now own the National Party if the donation figures are anything to go by.
And we have the plainly ridiculous like
When asked about non-resident people from China buying houses her, Mr Li criticised New Zealanders’ spending habits.”Why do you spend $100 on beer while you can save it and spend it on your house one day?” Mr Li asked. According to the NZ Herald.
And we have the government and the National Party itself crying “Racism”. The same people who ran a recent election campaign like this :

billboard-beachesiwikiwi

Most disappointing is that some members of the “Liberal Intelligentsia” (Chris Trotter) have also fallen for the dead cat and chimed in. Bryce Edwards headlining his latest blog “Labour’s dangerous racial politics ” reporting that some old Labour Party members and staffers have resigned quoting one resignation letter :
In light of Labour’s calculated decision over the weekend to deploy racial profiling as a political tactic, I resign my membership of the party. I am stunned that Labour, as a matter of conscious political strategy, would trawl through a dubiously­ acquired list of property buyers to identify Chinese ­sounding names”. He adds, “I cannot, however, belong to an organization that considers racial profiling fair sport”.

Of course nothing is further from the truth as all the data showed and Labour pointed out was the huge discrepancy between the number of Chinese New Zealanders and residents in Auckland and house purchases. This leaves the most obvious conclusion that these houses are bought by overseas based (Chinese) investors/speculators. This is much needed information the government and the real estate industry do not want us to have.

The emphasis is on overseas investors/speculators who could come from any country. Russian oligarchs laundering their money would get the same attention if we had the numbers to prove that they might be distorting the Auckland housing market.

Chris Trotter in his blog on the subject “Perilous Whites: Labour, China and the Liberal Intelligentsia” writes :
If racism is at work in this matter, then it is not in the Labour Party. No, the racism at work here is born of the towering arrogance and ignorance of the Liberal Intelligentsia itself.

All this does not mean that there is no racism in New Zealand directed against the Chinese and any other ethnic minority even our own. Comedian Raybon Kan who also wrote an excellent piece used to make jokes out of it “You are Chinese wearing glasses, you must be good at math.” However this deserves another blog.

To answer the question if there is racism in real estate I would say yes if I heard from one vendor who wouldn’t accept an extra $100,000.- over the value of his house because the buyer is Chinese. Please let us all know if you find one !

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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David Attenborough: Don’t mention Climate Change

Like most I have been a admirer of David Attenborough ever since I first got to watch the BBC Our World series with my children who were as mesmerised as I to see the wonders of nature in our living room.

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You can imagine my excitement when TV One advertised the prime time screening of President Obama interviewing Attenborough on his 89th birthday in the White House, which was billed as “Barack Obama interviews David Attenborough on climate change …”

Just before the broadcast I rang a good friend of mine and environmental lawyer to alert him not to miss the programme. To my surprise he was a little bit dismissive saying that Attenborough doesn’t mention climate change. I could not believe this even if I didn’t immediately remember the BBC documentary “The Truth about Climate Change“. I had read an interview in the UK Independent titled “David Attenborough: Leaders are in denial about climate change where Attenborough said about the upcoming climate conference in Paris :
Never in the history of humanity in the last 10 million years have all human beings got together to face one danger that threatens us – never.”

Minutes later the “Obama interviews Attenborough” programme started and my wife and I were interested to see if our friend was right that Attenborough doesn’t mention climate change at least not in a BBC production.

A&O

Towards the end we were on edge as even if the subject was Climate Change Attenborough did not utter the words. It became almost painful to watch how he avoided the words. For instance when asked about changes to the Great Barrier Reef in the 60 years since he dived there first going back in a submersible recently he talked about acidification and warming of the ocean.

I couldn’t believe it and went back to again watch the interview on Youtube and counted how often climate change was mentioned. The voice over mentioned climate change and global warming. Obama said the words “Climate Change” five times and Attenborough not once over the 34 minute programme.

Which brings us to the question: Why ?
Why did Attenborough not utter the words “Climate Change” on that programme”? What is a possible or likely explanation ?

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am old enough to have seen most of my assertions of what some might have considered as conspiracy theories at the time being proved correct and true over the last 50 years. Why did the world’s most prominent environmentalist not speak the words “Climate Change” when with Obama ?

For me it looks like either deliberate clever editing or an obligation on the BBC’s  greatest star, who’s voice alone is worth millions of Pounds, on this occasion not to say the words “Climate Change”.

We know that the BBC is under increasing pressure from the Tory government. Probably most of their corporate backers don’t like to be reminded of what they are doing not to the planet but the human race.
Lets face it planet Earth couldn’t care less if the temperature on her surface rises by two, five or ten degrees. She will still be circling the Sun in another billion years when we humans – like some parasites on her skin – are long gone.

Nobody else might have noticed this conundrum and we wouldn’t have either if not alerted to look out for the words. We were left with suspicion.

However we hope that it isn’t true that David Attenborough is not allowed to mention Climate Change on BBC !

 


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Yanis Varoufakis – What a man !

Since my last post the Greek tragedy has entered its next act.
The referendum produced a surprisingly clear result on the bailout terms :
NO  –  61%
Yes  – 39%
As the play will have a few more acts to go and the tragic (or happy) ending is not decided yet I did not expect to write about the subject again so soon.

However two aspects of the referendum and its aftermath already deserve comment.

One is the fact that – as far as I can see – the Greek referendum was the first opportunity for any electorate anywhere in the world to give its democratic verdict on austerity as one of the cornerstones on the leading economic ideology of Neoliberalism.

The main points of neo-liberalism include:

THE RULE OF THE MARKET. Liberating “free” enterprise or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government (the state) no matter how much social damage this causes. Greater openness to international trade and investment, as in NAFTA. Reduce wages by de-unionising workers and eliminating workers’ rights that had been won over many years of struggle. No more price controls. All in all, total freedom of movement for capital, goods and services. To convince us this is good for us, they say “an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth, which will ultimately benefit everyone.” It’s like Reagan’s “supply-side” and “trickle-down” economics — but somehow the wealth didn’t trickle down very much.

CUTTING PUBLIC EXPENDITURE FOR SOCIAL SERVICES like education and health care. REDUCING THE SAFETY-NET FOR THE POOR, (Austerityand even maintenance of roads, bridges, water supply — again in the name of reducing government’s role. Of course, they don’t oppose government subsidies and tax benefits for business.

DEREGULATION. Reduce government regulation of everything that could diminish profits, including protecting the environment environment and safety on the job.

PRIVATISATION. Sell state-owned enterprises, goods and services to private investors. This includes banks, key industries, railroads, toll highways, electricity, schools, hospitals and even fresh water. Although usually done in the name of greater efficiency, which is often needed, privatisation has mainly had the effect of concentrating wealth even more in a few hands and making the public pay even more for its needs.

ELIMINATING THE CONCEPT OF “THE PUBLIC GOOD” or “COMMUNITY” and replacing it with “individual responsibility.” Pressuring the poorest people in a society to find solutions to their lack of health care, education and social security all by themselves — then blaming them, if they fail, as “lazy.” (What is Neoliberalism?)

Never before had the people a chance to say no this neoliberal gospel. And the people grabbed it with both hands delivering an almost 2:1 result against the ideology the world is enslaved to since Reagan, Thatcher and our own Rogernomics.

And it was not just extremists on the lefty or right of Greek politics but a vast majority of the Greek heartland, which voted no. Just watch Paul Mason on Channel 4 News.

The importance of the referendum is twofold. One that it happened at all. This is threatening to the ruling elites, which fear democracy as much as the heresy against their religion. They already are threatening savage retaliation in a new “Class War” (Chomsky).
The other is the resounding result. If the Greeks also manage to resist the other part of the poisoned chalice on offer: Privatisation it will cost a lot of banksters and hedge funds on Wall Street a lot of money. They have been betting heavily on Greece having to flog off their assets and will be losing big time missing out on a bargain.

The Greeks have given the world hope. We all collectively can say NO. Yes we can.

The greeks over the last five years were pushed too far. They were not only by these economically totally senseless policies driven to despair (GDP down 25%, more than 50% of the educated young forced to leave the country looking for a better future, suicide rate skyrocketing and more) but humiliated, called children and treated as such by their tormentors i.e. creditors. They were left with no other honourable choice than to vote NO.

The positive outcome so far is that the nastiness, ugliness, viciousness and general inhumanity of our neoliberal economic system is exposed for all willing to see.

The corporate media response was predictable. I couldn’t put it better than Chris Trotter:

“The global news media lost no time in launching vicious attacks against the Syriza leadership – especially Varoufakis – and redoubled their blatantly racist denigration of the Greek people as a whole. Cast as indolent Mediterranean grasshoppers (so unlike the hard-working Teutonic ants, whose borrowed Euros they had fecklessly frittered away) the Greek victims of neoliberal extremism were told that they had no one to blame but themselves.

Even New Zealand’s neoliberal journalists and commentators have been working hard to maintain the two central arguments for neoliberalism’s assault on Greece. That the Syriza Government’s position is economically untenable; and that, in any case, the Greek people had it coming and richly deserve everything they have got. To pull this off they have had to studiously ignore the highly critical contributions of leading economists, while attempting to preserve the fiction that Greece has no alternative except to swallow still more of the commitment to speak truth to power.

The most disturbing aspect of the mainstream news media’s adherence to the neoliberal line has been its willingness to go along with ethnic defamation. Just substitute the word “Maori” for “Greeks” in these neoliberal tirades and the full racist character of the attacks becomes clear. Newspapers and networks that would never allow contributors to get away with calling Maori lazy, good-for-nothing, ne’er-do-wells with no one to blame for their poverty but themselves, were quite happy to have it said of the Greeks.”

The other aspect is that after the for him triumphant referendum result Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has resigned.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis delivers a press conference in Athens on July 5, 2015, after early results showed those who rejected further austerity measures in a Greek crucial bailout referendum were poised to win. Over 61 percent of Greek voters on July 5 rejected fresh austerity demands by the country's EU-IMF creditors in a historic referendum, official results from 50 percent of polling stations showed. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

According to the report in the UK Independent he had said before that his greatest fear was that he “may turn into a politician“. “As an antidote to that virus I intend to write my resignation letter and keep it in my inside pocket, ready to submit it the moment I sense signs of losing the commitment to speak truth to power.”
He said Sunday’s referendum, where the Greek public voted overwhelming to reject a bailout deal proposed by the country’s creditors, would “stay in history as a unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt-bondage.”

He added that he would wear the creditors’ “loathing with pride.

What a man !

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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Greek Tragedy : Don’t piss off the Gods !

What is happening to Greece is a tragedy of epic proportions and it has all the qualities of the classical period. There are many parts where the old chorus has reason to wail and lament.

theatre

As I write we are of course in the middle of the play and there are still different outcomes possible. However I have been saying for some time that the prospect for economic and political sanity is slim.

The main point of contention between Greece and the international institutions like the European Union (EU), International Monetary Fund (IMF), central and private banks is the prescribed medicine of austerity.

Austerity has a human face we must not forget. In an article “WHERE IS MY EUROPEAN UNION?” Alex Andreou reports:
Last winter in Athens, I was approached by a well-dressed and immaculately groomed elderly lady. She asked me for a few euros because she was hungry. I took her to dinner and, in generous and unsolicited exchange, she told me her story.
Her name was Magda and she was in her mid-seventies. She had worked as a teacher all her life. Her husband had been a college professor and died “mercifully long before we were reduced to this state”, as she put it. They paid their tax, national insurance and pension contributions straight out of the salary, like most people. They never cheated the state. They never took risks. They saved. They lived modestly in a two bedroom flat.
In the first year of the crisis her widow’s pension top-up stopped. In the second and third her own pension was slashed in half. Downsizing was not an option – house prices had collapsed and there were no buyers. In the third year things got worse. “First, I sold my jewellery. Except this ring”, she said, stroking her wedding ring with her thumb. “Then, I sold the pictures and rugs. Then the good crockery and silver. Then most of the furniture. Now there is nothing left that anyone wants. Last month the super came and removed the radiators from my flat, because I hadn’t paid for communal fuel in so long. I feel so ashamed.

Austerity as part of the neoliberal gospel has been tried before in South America, Asia and now in Europe. It has been widely criticised by most leading economists like Nobel Prize winners Paul Krugman writing today in the New York Times and Joseph Stiglitz formerly chief economist of World Bank, a position he had to give up when challenging neoliberal orthodoxy, today in a piece titled “Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy”.

Krugman:
Most of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.
So why didn’t this (the crisis) happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.
Finally, acceding to the troika’s ultimatum would represent the final abandonment of any pretense of Greek independence. Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power.

Even one of the main proponents of austerity, the IMF, has itself admitted that austerity was a mistake and did rather harm than help the different patients it was tried on. Even in the case of Greece the IMF admitted this as the Guardian reported under the headline “IMF admits: we failed to realise the damage austerity would do to Greece“.

IMF-chief-Christine-Lagar-010
Still true to form the Gods of neoliberal capitalism still demand more of the failed policies hoping for a different outcome. The classic definition of insanity.

Don’t get me wrong. I am the first who noticed visiting Greece a couple of years ago that avoiding taxes appears to be a national pastime. I am all for a tax reform to make the rich, some of them billionaires, pay their fair share for the first time in their lives. I am all for frugality in government spending, which the Greeks did not exercise when they squandered billion on the 2004 Olympics to international applause. I understand that the Greek government at the time fiddled the books with the help of Wall Street banksters Goldman Sachs, to get into the Euro zone.

However it is not only morally wrong to punish the most vulnerable who bear the least responsibility for the mess, it is also economically totally counterproductive to try to squeeze blood out of a stone. There is no economist with half a brain who thinks Greece will be able to pay back the 240 billion dollars or so it owes. I have been keeping an eye on the international media over the last years of the unfolding crisis and noticed the difference between the political sections where you see the inflammatory stories about the Greeks being lazy and retiring at 55 and the business/economic sections where everyone agrees that Greece will not be able to pay its creditors and the sooner they accept the inevitable, bite the bullet, accept the ‘haircut’ and get on with it the better.

But that is not what it is about anymore. Since the election of the left wing Tsipras government in Greece

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there is much more at stake than the fallout from the global financial crisis like a 240 billion dollar debt, structural problems and economic recovery. In the past the international institutions had to deal with compliant right wing neoliberal governments in Greece with which they were doing deals to prolong the suffering without facing the reality.

This has all changed with the new left wing government elected on a anti-austerity platform with a brilliant and therefore often described as arrogant English university economics professor and finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis challenging neoliberal orthodoxy. To challenge austerity is sacrilege is blasphemy. No ideology or religion can let heretics get away with it. Greece must be punished and banished from the union of right thinking more or less neoliberal countries of Europe.

The irony is that in 20 years time Greece will be still there, while the same is now becoming more doubtful by the day for the Euro, the IMF and even the European Union.

The neoliberal gods in Washington, New York, Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin are seriously pissed off. They openly insult their Greek counterparts by calling them children and treating them like children who dare to ask quite legitimate questions like “Why do we need to do this ? Because we say so !”

This modern Greek tragedy has already claimed thousands of lives by suicide and reduction in medical care.

I am reminded of the ancient Greek mythology where lesser beings who defied the gods were severely punished. Prometheus springs to mind. He was punished by being chained to a rock for eternity to be attacked by an eagle every day picking out his liver, which regrew only to be picked again the next day. Among his ‘crimes’ was that he tricked Zeus into eternally claiming the inedible parts of cows and bulls for the sacrificial ceremonies of the gods, while conceding the nourishing parts to humans for the eternal benefit of humankind. He also stole fire from the olympus to give it to humanity. From the perspective of us humans not a reason for punishment, really.

The sad moral of the tragedy : When dealing with the gods – be it from the ancient Olympus or today’s neoliberal capitalist nirvana – if you don’t want to be severely punished whatever you do :

Don’t piss off the gods !

by  Dr. Hans B. Grueber

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