Links & Briefs For June 30, 2015


Living in and extensively traveling throughout much of Europe for the great majority of the past 11 years I’ve watched the ideal of ‘Europe’ fade quickly over the last half-dozen of those. In this piece in Spiegel, Dirk Kurbjuweit calls it the un-Europe.

Europe promised political equality. The intention was for France and Germany to lead on the Continent, while at the same time taking into account the concerns of the smaller member states. But in the crisis, Germany has overtaken its partners and become the EU’s dominant power.

Europe promised a Europe of the people. Instead, it is those institutions that are farthest from the voters that wield the greatest power — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the executive. Parliaments, on the other hand, which have the greatest democratic legitimacy, are being forced to fast-track their approval of decisions made in Brussels.

Greece. No shortage of readings today in the run-up to Sunday’s referendum which will be in most probability a vote to either stay in or depart from the eurozone. Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian:

“The reason to watch Greece this week is because a population of 11 million will hold a contest that the rest of us may one day also get to stage: a fight between democracy, and a broken political and economic system.

That battle – between what people want and what their rulers force down their throats supposedly for their own good – can be glimpsed at every dramatic moment in Greece’s recent history.”

While plenty of voices are aligning themselves with the Greeks’ cause, the country is garnering little sympathy from leaders of its poorer EU colleagues. Andrew Higgins for the New York Times:

When Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, in an early round of negotiations in Brussels, complained that Greek pensions could not be cut any further, he was reminded bluntly by his colleague from Lithuania that pensioners there have survived on far less. Lithuania, according to the most recent figures issued by Eurostat, the European statistics agency, spends 472 euros, about $598, per capita on pensions, less than a third of the 1,625 euros spent by Greece. Bulgaria spends just 257 euros. This data refers to 2012 and Greek pensions have since been cut, but they still remain higher than those in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia and nearly all other states in eastern, central and southeastern Europe.

Strictly looking at the numbers that may be so, but even the Wall Street Journal reported in February that the Greek pension isn’t nearly as generous as it’s made out to be since 20% of the population is over 65, among the highest rates in the eurozone.

But beyond that, let’s hope that “Bulgarian retirees survive on less than 65 euros a week – Why shouldn’t everybody?” doesn’t become an argument for lowering pensions across the EU simply because others are forced to “survive on far less”.

Here’s Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz on why he’d vote ‘no’.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands.

We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece.

But, again, it’s not about the money. It’s about using “deadlines” to force Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable – not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies.

And concludes:

By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

Want to help?

There’s a crowd-funding appeal underway. Seriously. Started by a London shoe shop worker two days ago, €485,777 has been raised toward the €1.6 billion ((US$1.78 billion) goal by by 30,504 people (as of 21:15 US eastern time).

“€1.6bn is what the Greeks need,” the appeal reads. “It might seem like a lot but it’s only just over €3 from each European. That’s about the same as half a pint in London. Or everyone in the EU just having a Feta and Olive salad for lunch.”

The perks are fun. I chipped in €10 which includes a coupon for a bottle of ouzo. Potential donors: bear in mind that with the euro in such a crappy state at the moment your USD /CAD /AUD etc will go that much farther.


Colombia Reports summarizes an extensive poll conducted in key conflict areas to try “to paint a picture of the challenges a post-conflict Colombia would be facing”. Predictably, those would be numerous.

It’s an important reminder too of just how far-reaching the conflict has been. Nearly two-thirds of those polled have been victimized by the violence.

In the 44 polled municipalities; 63.1% of the interviewees said that at least one member of their immediate family had been victim either of homicide, displacement, kidnapping or forced displacement in the past.

The main culprits of this victimization are linked to either neo-paramilitary groups and rearmed paramilitary actors (43.7%), closely followed by leftist guerrilla groups FARC and ELN (39.9%). An additional 4.9% of the interviewed victims said their family had been the victim of crimes committed by security forces.

Among the questions: “Would you live next door to a decommissioned FARC Rebel?” 56.8% answered yes, but with several reservations.  Also among the findings is that while strong support exists for the ongoing peace negotiations expectations that anything significant or lasting will result are abysmally low.

And here on the Website

[Photo Walk] – Juice vendors, Wonder Woman and a butterfly shop in Cali’s Barrio San Vicente. Acquainting myself with my neighborhood for the month.

Today’s Tune du Jour: “Shégué” by Mbongwana Star. Barrier-busting sounds from the streets of Kinshasa fusing traditional Congolese sounds with electronica, psychedelia and post-punk. These guys are going to be big.


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