Sunday, July 14, 2019

Visiting the Port of Los Angeles - A Video

I was with my wife in Los Angeles where I made this film about our visit to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. We are writing a book about world ports, maritime history, globalization and global warming.

Previous short films I made about ports include:

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Greeks losing their house, their hope and their life

Shocking news from Greece: 

Greece: Death by hanging

Α 56 year-old man has been found hanged in the yard of his home, at Isthmia, Korinthia, Greece.
The previous day the 56 year-old man had been notified officially that he is going to lose his house.
The man let a note in which he asked from his relatives to forgive him and explaining the reasons he was pushed to suicide.
The Finance Ministers of the Eurozone, under the leadership of the German government, the European Commission and the IMF, acting like a kind of Mafia operatives of the Bankers, are exercising now a maximum of pressure to the SYRIZA governement in order to alleviate any protection of houses from Banks demands.

The criminals of Eurogroup: They want Greeks out of their homes!!!

Eurogroup delays €1 bn disbursement to Greece

The finance ministers of the 19-member Eurozone have decided to postpone disbursing 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) to Greece.
The reason for postponing the payment is that Greece has not yet changed the provisions of a law protecting debtors’ main housing property from creditors to the EU’s satisfaction.
The disbursement will now be discussed at the next Eurogroup meeting, on April 5, provided Greece has made the necessary changes.
Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, had indicated earlier Monday, that he expects an agreement with Greece on the issue in the coming days.
Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commission Vice-Chairman for the Euro and Social Dialogue, and Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno, the Eurogroup President, echoed Moscovici’s views.

Greece, 10 Years Into Economic Crisis, Counts the Cost to Mental Health

Health workers during a general strike in Athens in 2017. Annual state spending on mental health was halved in 2012, and it has been trimmed further each year since then.CreditAris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The New York Times - Feb. 3, 2019
ATHENS — Greece’s decade-long economic crisis has taken a heavy toll: Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost, incomes were slashed and taxes were raised. Hopes for the future were dashed.
For Anna, 68, the crisis had particularly devastating consequences. Her husband, a retired bus driver, killed himself in a park two years ago at age 66 after a series of pension cuts deepened his despair.
“He kept saying, ‘I’ve worked so many years. What will I have to show for it? How are we going to live?’” said Anna, who asked that her full name not be published to protect her family’s privacy. After two years of therapy, she now volunteers to help others struggling with mental health issues.
Depression and suicide rates rose alarmingly during the Greek debt crisis, health experts and studies say, as the country’s creditors imposed strict austerity measures that cut wages, increased taxes and undermined the ability of health services to respond to a crisis within a crisis.
“Mental health has deteriorated significantly in Greece, with depression being particularly widespread, as a result of the economic crisis,” Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said in a November report. That has led to overcrowding at psychiatric hospitals and clinics and a 40 percent increase in suicides from 2010 to 2015, the report said.
For those fighting the problems on the ground, the trend does not seem to be abating. The mental health organization Klimaka reported a 30 percent rise in calls to its suicide hotline last year, and a comparable rise in visits to its day center.
“The financial crisis has increased people’s vulnerability to suicide,” said Kyriakos Katsadoros, Klimaka’s director. “Some even ask about euthanasia.”
Suicide rates in Greece remain relatively low for Europe, with five suicides per 100,000 people compared with a regionwide average of 15.4, according to World Health Organization data for 2016, the most recent available. The rate of increase is high, however. It spiked from 3.3 per 100,000 to 5 between 2010 to 2016.
The highest annual increase came in 2015, the year strikes and social upheaval reached a climax as Greece’s leftist-led government wrangled with the country’s international creditors over the terms of a third bailout.
The suicide rate then dropped in 2016 and 2017, police figures show, only to rise again in the first 10 months of 2018, according to police figures that also show that suicides among those ages 22 and under more than doubled.
Many suicides in Greece go unreported because of the Orthodox Church’s reluctance to provide burial services to those who take their own lives, although the church’s stance is changing, nongovernmental organizations say.
The Greek Health Ministry set up a committee of mental health experts in November to prepare awareness campaigns, as well as plans to train general practitioners to better detect depression and other mental health issues. In the meantime, the health system’s struggles to address the problem are evident.
At Evangelismos, one of the capital’s largest state hospitals, dozens of patients were being treated in the corridors of the psychiatric ward during a visit in April, “an unacceptable situation,” the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee said in a report published in June.
In the summer, the hospital’s workers’ union complained to a prosecutor that the clinic was accommodating twice the maximum capacity, with foldout beds set up in corridors and in doctors’ offices.
“It’s like a stable,” said Dr. Ilias Sioras, president of the union, adding that people in all states — “catatonic and psychotic” — were being treated in the same space.
Dromokaiteio Psychiatric Hospital in Athens is also overcrowded, with admissions up 12.3 percent in 2017 and staff members regularly staging strikes denouncing the conditions. And at Dafni, the Attica Psychiatric Hospital, which takes only very serious cases, “the impact of the economic crisis is reflected in the admissions,” said the director, Spiridoula Kalantzi, citing a 9.6 percent increase in 2017.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Andrew Sheng: "The free market is a destructive myth. Down with the free market"

Andrew Sheng
I got to know Andrew Sheng at an international conference my organisation, FONDAD, had organised in Kuala Lumpur in 2007. I was impressed by his sharp mind, his eloquence and his charm. Andrew appeared in this blog right at the start (see, for example, Explaining the crisis (3)), when I explored with part of the FONDAD Network how the global financial crisis of 2007-08 had come about and what we could do to prevent a new global financial crisis. 

Global crisis prevention had been one of the reasons for me to found FONDAD in 1986 and had become the main focus in FONDAD's activities since 1999 when a group of organisations decided to form an international programme on Global Financial Governance. Together with José Antonio Ocampo, then head of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, I chaired, as director of FONDAD, the group on Crisis Prevention.  

I have maintained contact with Andrew Sheng and I have continued to like his writings. Below I copy one of his latest columns, published by South China Morning Post on 2 February 2019

  • Andrew Sheng says the free market is a bad idea that probably belongs in the rubbish bin of history. A system where human beings and mother nature have been reduced to cogs and commodities has brought only misery, and climate change

Andrew Sheng
2 February 2019

In a time of the messy Brexit divorce and acrimonious US-China trade relations, there is angst over whether the world is entering a period of disorder. This month will witness whether these relationships can be saved. But it is already clear that Brexit will happen, deal or no deal, and that even if the United States-China tariff negotiations succeed in furthering detente, the damage to the bilateral relationship will take a long time to repair.

The current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine asks: “Who will run the world?” The US-sponsored liberal global order is in crisis, which means that “the future is up for grabs”, it notes.
The hard reality is that stability is no longer the dictate of a single hegemony, but the outcome of a geopolitical game of thrones, which is itself shaped and disrupted by technology, human migration, climate change, and competing ideologies amid worsening social inequality.
If you believe in astrology, even the blood moons and eclipses are signalling a change in the world order.
The person who predicted the demise of the self-regulating market order was Hungarian historian, sociologist and economist Karl Polanyi (1886-1964). His book, The Great Transformation, came out in 1944, the same year as The Road to Serfdom, by Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992).
Hayek founded the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, which had great success in pushing for neoliberalism around the world on the premise of free markets, free trade, free capital flows, rule of law, primacy of individual freedoms and electoral democracy. Hayek was the intellectual father of the current order.
Even though the socialist experiment in economics failed with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the neoliberal order has been shaky since the global financial crisis of 2008, and is beginning to crumble amid lost growth, widening inequality and populist sentiment against globalisation.
Polanyi presciently points out that “the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness”.
In short: “To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment … would result in the demolition of society.”
Polanyi’s thesis rests on four crucial insights. First, the economy is embedded in society, which is itself embedded in nature. But to claim the market is self-regulating dehumanises society: when the market is a mechanical system, human beings and mother nature are reduced to cogs and wheels.
And today, the populist revolt against the cruelties of the market and the revenge of nature (that is, climate change) suggest the human and natural worlds have had it with the free market, an idea that should be dumped in the rubbish bin of history.
Second, Polanyi argues that the commodification of land, labour and capital is fictitious: land is a natural resource, not something to be traded and valued. (It is ironic that land is a commodity, but that gross domestic product calculations do not measure the costs of ecological destruction and pollution.)
Human labour cannot be bought and sold as if people are slaves. Money is “merely a token of purchasing power which … comes into being through the mechanism of banking or state finance”. (And what is the true value of money, when central banks can engineer negative interest rates?)

Third, Polanyi says: “The social history of our time is the result of a double movement: the one is the principle of economic liberalism, aiming at the establishment of a self-regulating market; the other is the principle of social protection, aiming at the conservation of man and nature as productive organisation.” In other words, one movement generates the other.
Fourth, the gold standard was a key invention that anchored the idea of a self-regulating market. Gold imposed a “hard budget constraint”, forcing people and states to live within their means.
But it was precisely the pain of deflation, unemployment and social distress – caused by the misguided return to the gold standard – that created the conditions for the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
Modern central banking, on the other hand, is a “soft budget constraint”: when the market tries to impose pain on individuals, firms and states living beyond their means, central banks are asked to print more money.
The fact that the markets are up because the US Federal Reserve has promised to slow the rate-hiking cycle is evidence that people still believe in the “Greenspan put”. Every time the market wobbles, central banks are either lowering interest rates or increasing liquidity.
Free markets cannot exist in practice as long as central banks are around, injecting trillions into global markets and holding more than their fair share of sovereign debt, equity and even non-performing assets in the name of monetary and financial stability. Central bankers are no longer independent if they perceive their job as maintaining the stability of stock market indices.
We cannot talk of a new global order without a hard look at the world as a total, in human, political, financial, social and ecological terms. Economics can no longer be allowed to run riot, independent of politics, sociology and ecology. It just does not add up.
Polanyi was correct about a great transformation, which continues in the 21st century. But what we are facing now is a great destruction.
Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Europe lacks democracy - Women protest in France

A key problem of Europe is its lack of democracy. Sure, we have elections, but that's not democracy. Elections can be a means to prevent that the same party or the same coalition of parties rules all the time. But when parties have become (1) rather similar in their political views and ways of operating, and (2) are representing above all the interests of priviliged persons and groups, representative democracy does not deliver what it should deliver: decision-making power of the people.

What I like in the article below (published by Politika and translated from Spanish) is that Luis Casado points to this fundamental flaw in representative democracy in France, in Europe, and elsewhere. The other thing I like in his article is the way he describes the protest of women yellow vests in the eight mass demonstration (Act VIII) of the gilets jaunes in France. 

Act VIII. The yellow vests don’t give up. We’ll not move back a millimeter is their motto. They are refractory to empty speeches, to void promises and to smoke screens. Now, the women decided to go out on the street. Alone. Because it is not only necessary to feed the children, to earn the daily pot, to manage the home, to keep occupied the roundabouts ... but also show that theirs is the Quiet Force. The violent ones are in the government. Luis Casado tells it ... and it will not be the last episode ...

Luis Casado

"Seditious, factional, agitators, violent, 'casseurs' (destroyers) ..."

This is how Benjamin Grivaux, minister and spokesman of the government of Emmanuel Macron, refers to the yellow vests. A chorus of journalistic cockatoos repeat in the media: "Seditious, factional, agitators, violent, 'casseurs' ... Then, when the yellow vests denounce the infamous, manipulative and to-the-orders-of-power-eared journalism, the journalists lament as unstained vestals : "Yellow vests attack press freedom" ...

However, one of the most obvious characteristics of the yellow vest, together with its determination, its capacity for sacrifice, its generosity and its humanism, is its will to act peacefully. As if to prove it, today, Sunday, the eve of Epiphany, the women in yellow vests went out to the street. Facing a cohort of police armed to the teeth for the urban guerrilla, they shout in unison: "Kiss me!" "Kiss me!" (A bisous! A bisous!).

The armed messengers of peace and order don't react and turn to their commander: "What do we do, boss?"

Yesterday, Saturday, Act VIII of the movement that shakes France to its foundations, the number of protesters doubled in relation to the previous Saturday, denying the government and the media claim –against all evidence– that the movement loses strength.

The yellow vests are a revolutionary, exemplary and historical movement. They go out to the street, they socially meet again and they remake society ... The poor person usually becomes tiny, lowers his voice and his neck, he lives as if apologizing for being there, blamed for his poverty by the winners, the experts, the ones who know, the wealthy and his servants. The yellow vest understood that he’s the people, and he remembered what he was taught in the public, secular and free school: "The French Revolution eliminated forever the social inequalities before the Law, and made the people the only sovereign". The yellow vest is the people, ergo ... it's sovereign.

Faced with the crisis of the regime, two paths emerge: some, the democrats, demand to expand, extend citizen rights, practice direct democracy. The citizen initiative referendum (RIC) translates the will of the people to decide whatever concerns them. Others, the authoritarians, bet on the providential man / woman who, imposing another order, his, restores to France the order and tranquility that is the delight of big money.

In this bifurcation, in this alternative, arises again, as in September 1789, the difference between left and right: the left fights against privileges, opposes them, declares them inadmissible. The right protects privileges, lives thanks to them, and justifies them by being of 'divine origin' or the prize of accumulated wealth by stripping the people.

The installed political crust mourns the end of representative democracy. The yellow vests respond that the rules of representation must be defined by those represented. Not for the representatives. It is the people who must set the limits of the representation, the mission of the representative, and establish the control mechanisms that allow the representative to be revoked if he does not obey the mandate received from those who elected him.

Representative democracy? Yes, but as in the Athens of Pericles: brief mandate, non-renewable, revocable, controlled and without privileges.

The mass of servant journalists don’t understand. That's why they keep asking the yellow vests: "But ... what are your demands?"

Emmanuel Macron proposed "a great national debate". And he hastened to set the limits of the debate. "We can’t undo what we have already done," he declared, Jupiterian. Before insinuating the topics that in his opinion can be discussed.

The yellow vests, remembering once again the French Revolution, retort: "It is not the representative who sets the limits of the sovereignty of the represented. Why should our sovereignty be limited? With what legitimacy can someone limit the rights of citizens, who are, precisely, the source of legitimacy? "

"There are very technical issues", dares to argue some political scientist, a kind of sports commentator supplied with too many balls. The answer is immediate: "In politics there are no 'experts': we are all equal and we have all the right to a vote."

The deep thinking goes further: choosing is not voting. To elect means to designate a "deputy” who’s the one who votes everything in our name, regardless of our opinion. By electing him, we abdicate our own sovereignty for 4, 5 or 6 years.

The Constitution, which should protect the citizen, their freedoms and their rights, is actually a political prison that keeps us tied up. There is no article in the Constitution that openly denies the sovereignty of the people (excepted for the Chilean Constitution). But the Constitution states that the laws are voted by Parliament, not by citizens. The representatives, deputies and senators, vote laws that suit them and their bosses.

That fact, verified not only in France but throughout the world, is what leads the yellow vests to claim their right to control and to revoke the elected deputies. Because the deputies, the representatives, institute their own power, stripping the people of their sovereignty.

Étienne Chouard, a militant who thinks and makes you think, maintains that it is not a matter of going to the 6th Republic, but to the first democracy ... Until now the power of the oligarchy has prevailed, a privileged social sector that imposed suffrage as the best tool to preserve its power. For 25 centuries we have known that the tool of democracy is not the suffrage but the random draw*): Montesquieu, Rousseau and other great thinkers said it, before this great truth was conveniently hidden.

Étienne Chouard believes that this is not a democracy because, if one examines reality, the demos does not have the kratos.

In democracy, no financial power should own the media. In a democracy, the currency can’t be the private tool of big capital in the hands of a privatized Central Bank. Just as there is political sovereignty, there must be monetary sovereignty.

The citizen revolution of the yellow vests is not only alive, but also rests on a deep reflection about the type of society we should build.

What is no obstacle for the remote-controlled journalist to ask once again: "But ... what are your demands?"

The answer is simple. The yellow vests, that is to say the people, want to recover the kratos...

*) "Democracy’s not the vote but the random draw"

Donald Kagan, History teacher Yale University, wrote in his Pericles’s biography (Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, 1991) :

“In the years 450 bC, under the leadership of Pericles, the Athens Assembly voted a few Laws that made of their Constitution the most democratic tool of all times. That Constitution gave a direct and unquestionable power to the citizen’s constituency and to the popular Courts, whose decisions were adopted by simple majority. Most magistrates were designed by random draw, excepted for a few number of carefully selected people (specialist ones) that were designated by vote. All positions lasted for a short period of time, and every deputy was under a careful and rigorous public control.”