Blog Archives

Will you feel better if your safety net is a pretty color?

“If you see yourself in an emergency situation, call us for a safety net.

It comes in three colors,” Eurozone.

On the Road to Destruction? Athens, Greece during time of financial crisis.


Athens, Greece Injured from fire-bombed back

Commentary from May 6, 2010

Can a society self-destruct? Yes, it most definitely can and the way Greece is headed right now it is a very real possibility that it will.

Here we have a state and a society that allow a handful of nihilistic hooligans to torch the city and cause the deaths of three citizens.

We have the leadership of the country’s second biggest political party opting for a populist line of rhetoric and failing to answer a simple question on whether or not it will support the government’s economic recovery plan.

We see a society that is mad, and justifiably so, and we see it going down an ill-advised path.

Then we see the government, caught in the grips of panic, contributing to the populist fever and pouring more oil over the fire.

Greece is at the most crucial point of its post-1974 history and whether we destroy ourselves or not, whether we go bankrupt or not, depends not just on our political leadership, but also on every single one of us individually and collectively.

Thoughts from Vicki

I wanted to share the above commentary from the English language portion of the Greek newspaper, (Kathimerini), because of the drama with which it is written as well as some of the cultural points it brings up which we can explore together.

15 hooligans who label themselves anarchists in order to give themselves feelings of justification for their acts of vandalism . . . and now murder.  . . were filmed by security cameras attacking a bank.

In the USA, citizens have shown up at talks given by President Obama with guns casually slung over their shoulders.  In the streets of Athens during times of protest the unions of public worker unions find themselves next to a few young men and women with kerchief-covered faces and backpacks stuffed with Molotov cocktail ingredients.

A CNN International reporter interviewed different segments of the protestors on the street but avoided the self-proclaimed anarchists.  I’m sure they seem quite threatening particularly to Americans.  Unfortunately, when questioned, the “anarchists” are not able to speak logically about their “movement” or what they are trying to accomplish by their actions.  There seems to be an attitude that protest is the means and the end.

The police are in the same position as others in dealing with the austerity measures yet they are they receive the primary attacks from the anarchists.

ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) at banks are the second favorite target.  I have a personal experience in wanting to pay the mother of one of the vandals of bank ATMs.  She was quite anxious to have some money from me, and I would have helped her out . . . but the ATMs at the banks had been destroyed.  It was the weekend and I was unable to give her the cash she wanted.  Whether it registered to her 20-something son that he was hurting his own family by he and his friends’ actions was not clear.  Another of their contradictory acts is to protest that they want jobs yet these hooligans don their kerchiefs and backpacks to protest against private universities that could give them and college graduates of their generation very good jobs at home in Greece.

And the group that was caught by the cameras tossing firebombs into the bank have used this same method before targeting banks.

20,000 to 40,000 citizens on the streets during a demonstration is few for Athens where strikes by labor unions of both working class and professional groups are quite common.  A handful of the ragtag vandals following behind the legitimate protestors have been given credit by much of the foreign news media for causing a panic on Wall Street; exactly the wrong kind of social reinforcement needed by this immature group.

PASOK is the name of the party which won the recent elections and inherited all many shocking surprises of a country badly in debt.   They won against the second large political party in Greece, the New Democracy Party, and the party which Barnaby Phillips, the AJE Athens correspondent, rightly reported has almost thoroughly discredited itself with the populace.

Although the majority of the citizens understand that the austerity measures are the only choice and support Prime Minister Papandreou and the PASOK party; New Democracy is playing along with the foreign media and voting against the austerity plan. Or is it possibly the speculators who gave loans and have been betting for a Greek default who are being supported?

The commentary from ekathimerini was written after three innocent people died in a bankwhenr a fire bomb came crashing through the office window.  They died of asphyxiation.

I don’t agree that the government has been in a panic.  The Prime Minister and the Ministers of Economy and Finance have been articulate and soft spoken each time they’ve been questioned on the decisions they have been making.

Will the Greek society self-destruct? An unlikely scenario given the history of Greek survival against all odds.

Will the Greek government go bankrupt?  The European Union is young and a mechanism has not been established for members of the European Union to go bankrupt (The Brief, CNNI).

The modern democracy of Greece is young and far more inclusive than the ancient Greek democracy.  (Perhaps you recall the USA government/Kissinger-backed dictators who ruled Greece in the early 1970’s?)

I do agree with the last sentence of the commentary which is the reality we face in Greece.  “Greece is at the most crucial point of its post-1974 history and whether we destroy ourselves or not,  . . . depends not just on our political leadership, but also on every single one of us individually and collectively.”

Photometria ~ Ioannina Photo Festival

Enter the Photometria Exhibition ~ Ioannina Photo Festival. VOTE for your favorite photograph! Photo by George Papadakis


George Papandreou: “We Defend Our National Interests”

Friday, 16 April 2010 14:10

papandreou_vouli645Addressing the House on Friday, the Prime Minister touched on national affairs. Georg-e Papandreou underlined that the only dispute with Ankara to be resolved is the continental self. Communist leader Aleka Papariga expressed her concerns over Greece’s national affairs, arguing that after the Imia incidence, NATO ratifies the disputes raised by Turkey.

“Figments of Imagination”

“You are nourishing worries and associate everything in a manner befitting a conspiracy-like reasoning, and of course, these are the stereotypes you usually employ when dealing with national affairsG. Papandreou “Press reports referring to the division of the Aegean at the 25th meridian or to Greece’s commitment to support Kosovo’s independence and the use of FYROM as a US protectorate are nothing by figments of imagination,” Papandreou replied to Aleka Papariga.”If you wish to believe them, you are building your policy upon false information,” added he.

In her question, Aleka Papariga cited press reports on the division of the Aegean. She also cited a document issued by the US chief of the NATO air base in Izmir, whereby the Aegean is a grey zone. She then referred to positions that believe that the talks on the Greek-Turkish disputes include more than the issue of the continental shelf.


Papariga expressed her party’s concern, arguing that the press reports were not all wrong.

“Ever since 1996, our national sovereign rights have been under dispute. The EU does not associate our rights and the Aegean border with Turkey’s EU bid. There is the deal brokered because Simitis and Demirel. We know that Turkey believe that some Greek islands are not covered by the continental shelf and NATO keeps excluding those islands from its drills,” commented Papariga.

“You are trying to cover up the issue by dividing the Aegean, something that will have an adverse effect on the islands’ defence. We do not suggest a war, problems can be resolved. However, the acute rivalry in the area and the fact that NATO recognizes the grey zones that Turkey recognizes make us feel concerned. There are no agreements in the modern worlds that do not lead to new rounds of wars,” noted the Greek Communist leader.

In response, George Papandreou said: “You have adopted a position whereby the Imia isle is officially disputed for petty party expediencies. There is no such a thing. Greece does not recognize that. Imia is a Greek isle. Of course, various issues are referred to the Hague and that’s why we suggest referring to the Hague,” and urged Papariga to cease nourishing phobias and concerns based on false and groundless information.

The Prime Minister also said that his government requested the US chief of the NATO air base in Izmir to recall the document regarding the Aegean which he finally did. He then went on to add that Greece is working on to have Europe pledge to accept the Balkan nations in the EU in 2014.

“With regard to the FYROM name dispute and the Cyprus issue, we have set the red lines and we ought to promote the said issues to all the nations and to our bilateral talks. In every trip and meeting, we promote the above positions and despite the tough financial conditions, we know how to defend our national interests,” stressed George Papandreou.

Source: NET, NET 105.8, ANA/MPA

Eurogroup: “Ready if Necessary”

Friday, 16 April 2010 15:54

giounker_trise_mLegal processes for approving aid to Greece, should it be needed, are progressing satisfactorily in all eurozone member states, Eurogroup President and Luxembourg Finance Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday.
Eurozone ministers Sunday made an offer of up to E30 billion in bilateral loans to heavily-indebted Greece, which will be combined with extra loans from the International Monetary Fund.

But the markets have continued to pressure Greece because of concerns that legal proceedings in some countries could hinder the ability of the Eurozone countries to give aid.

“Almost all has been said,” on Greece, Juncker told reporters in Madrid after a meeting of finance ministers here Friday. But he stressed that Greece has not asked for aid yet.

Juncker said legal proceedings in all of the Eurozone countries are “proceeding satisfactorily.”


Athens senses name solution – FYROM – Former Yugoslovian Republic of Macedonia

The words “Northern Macedonia” could be the key to solving a longstanding bilateral dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s official name but Skopje will have to meet Athens halfway in approving a settlement, Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said at the weekend.

“The name ‘Northern Macedonia’ fits with the framework for a settlement that we have set out,” Droutsas told Real News in an interview published on Saturday, referring to what is rumored to be the latest proposal by a United Nations mediator appointed to break the deadlock. According to Droutsas, a rejection of UN envoy Matthew Nimetz’s proposal would not bode well for Skopje’s bid to join the European Union. “He will have to explain to his people why he is depriving them of their European prospects,” Droutsas said of FYROM’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. “Skopje must demonstrate its political will,” he said.

Greece thrown lifeline by Eurozone

Greece thrown lifeline by Eurozone

Alan Fisher in Brussels, AJE

Greece is given the support of Eurozone countries.  Prime Minister Papandreiou notes that this is not only a challenge for Greece but also a challenge for European Union to demonstrate its cohesion and ability to work problems out together.

What economic crisis? Greece focuses on porn movie by pop star Julia Alexandratou.

By Iason Athanasiadis — Special to GlobalPost

Published: March 19, 2010 06:31 ET
Greek porn sensation Julia Alexandratou at a nightspot in Athens, March 2010. (Iason Athanasiadis/GlobalPost)

ATHENS, Greece — A peroxided blonde mounted on high heels stalks into an uptown bar in northern Athens, turning every customer’s head.

Swathed in a leopard-print fur, she is instantly recognizable as Greece’s scandalous new “it girl.”

Julia Alexandratou, a 23-year-old minor Greek-British celebrity, attained Paris Hilton-esque infamy overnight when a controversial porn film starring her went on sale across Greece this month.

In the bar, she sat down with me. Beside her was her ever-present, chain-smoking metrosexual manager, Menior Fourthiotis. Alexandratou had agreed to give her first interview since triggering a nationwide sensation with her porn performance. All eyes in the bar were on our table.

The controversy even reached the hallowed debating chamber of the Greek Parliament when far-right wing politician George Karatzaferis pointed out that “3,500 people came out to protest the harsh and cruel measures of the prime minister while 150,000 sped to buy the DVD of Julia Alexandratou.”

The publicity-hungry starlet has titillated the nation’s males for years with provocative appearances in fashionable nightspots and naked photo shoots for Greek magazines.
Her anthemic 2007 single, “The Target is Cash,” defined gold-digging during the freespending, credit-fuelled first decade of the 21st century. It features her writhing over an overweight, cigar-puffing man against a succession of exotic backdrops.

Sitting with Alexandratou is an unsettling experience. Her seemingly airbrushed face is sprinkled with glitter, frizzled blonde hair hangs over high cheekbones, framing vacant green eyes and supersized lips. Her leopard-print coat does little to hide her curves.

When I photograph her, she picks up a chess piece from the table, turns it over in her hands then nuzzles it against her lips. All the while she eyes the lens with the hollow seductiveness of a professional poser. I resist the temptation to suggest a game of chess.

Alexandratou’s video was released around the same time that Prime Minister George Papandreou announced harsh new measures aimed at cutting back on state expenditures. Some Greeks are divining a conspiracy aimed at distracting the people from the country’s financial woes.

“Can it be a coincidence that this film was released on the same day as the most important policy speech of our financial holocaust so far?” asked Savvas Karavidas, an unemployed engineer who started driving a taxi a month ago to make ends meet.

At times Alexandratou plays up her notoriety. “It wasn’t just the bedroom, it was the bathroom, the living room, the floor,” she was reported telling the Greek media about the locations of her acting debut.

But then a penitent Alexandratou issued a statement requesting that the Greek media “desist from reproducing science fiction scenarios around my stolen private moments that were partly shot with my knowledge but circulated without it.”

Plagued by allegations of substance abuse and extensive plastic surgery, Alexandratou seems more tragic personae than diva. Her naked shenanigans captured the national

imagination by breaking a long-standing taboo in which mainstream celebrities would balk at performing in anything spicier than a Penthouse centerfold. In a belt-tightening era for Greeks, Alexandratou single-handedly created a mini consumer boom as stocks of her porn flick sold out.

“Despite her youth, Miss Alexandratou plays an entire society on her dextrous fingers,” noted the venerable To Vima newspaper, in a reference to the star’s sexual manipulation of a champagne bottle, one of the video’s most notable moments.

Suddenly our interview is interrupted as television lights flood the scene. A camera crew from Star TV, a Greek celebrity channel, has been tipped off by Alexandratou’s manager that “foreign journalists” have traveled to Greece to do a cover story about her. When they discover I am Greek and am not planning a cover story, they are livid with Fourthiotis, describing him as a “nothing.”

Alexandratou is still being watched by the entire room, but she appears to inhabit another sphere. Glued to her mobile phone, she ignores everyone, even me when I ask her questions. Her answers are slow in coming but, when they do, they seem guileless.

In the 30-minute video, Alexandratou pairs up with an anonymous priapic male torso, variously said to belong to a French boyfriend or a Paris-based porn star.

“I met a French guy without knowing who he really is and we met at a club and went out to eat a few times,” said Alexandratou. “We had a nice time together and of course we ended up in a hotel,” she added laughing, then said coyly, “I can’t say anything else, you understand, aside from that we decided to video it.”

“You’re saying too much,” interjected manager Fourthiotis, removing the microphone and taking over.
 “My lawyer is the largest and best in Greece and knows very well the moves needed to be taken to recover the injury done to my reputation,” he continued, cutting off Alexandratou. “The people are supporting me, they love me, and they are always next to me.”

Later Alexandratou said, “I never thought that this guy would put out all his personal things to earn money. He took advantage of the situation. I tried to find him but failed.”

Alexandratou has continued exhibiting her talent for self-promotion. Just as her story was disappearing from the front pages, her manager announced that she will be wedding a mystery businessman who “loves, respects and has supported her.” The groom’s identity? It won’t be revealed until the carefully selected guests are standing inside the church on the day of the wedding.

As our interview comes to an end, Alexandratou lifts her head from the screen of her phone to deny the rumor that there is a sequel in the works.

“I’ve learned my lesson and won’t do it again,” she said, and let out a short toneless chuckle.,0

Greece and Goldman Sachs

February 26, 2010

In Greece’s Crisis, Fed Studies Wall St.’s Activities

Greece’s problems deepened on both sides of the Atlantic as the Federal Reserve disclosed it was investigating Goldman Sachs and other banks that helped the country mask its debts, and investors grew increasingly leery of lending any more money to a nation flirting with default.

Wall Street’s role in the run-up to the debt crisis has generated criticism and calls for an inquiry from European leaders. The Fed examination is the first time American regulators will examine the highly profitable if little-known business of supplying custom-made financial instruments to strapped countries on the Continent.

While Greece’s economic troubles have transfixed world markets for weeks, its problems have snowballed in recent days as workers went to the picket lines to protest budget cuts and the government struggled to raise cash to cover what is Europe’s largest budget deficit. Last year, Greece’s deficit equaled 12.7 percent of gross domestic product.

On Thursday, the Moody’s ratings agency joined Standard & Poor’s in warning that it might downgrade Greek government bonds, a move that would increase the premium Athens must pay to borrow. The move comes at a precarious time for Greece, which must raise 25 billion euros ($34 billion) over the next few months to avoid a sovereign default that officials fear could cause the finances of other weak European economies to collapse.

Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press

Greece’s economic troubles have transfixed markets for weeks, and recently, workers there went on strike to protest budget cuts.

In a sign of the challenges their nation faces, Greek officials also called off a planned trip to the United States and Asia aimed at interesting new investors in its bonds because of a lack of demand, according to an investment banker who was briefed on the government’s fund-raising strategy.

The European Union has said it would come to Greece’s aid only if it develops a plan to reduce its deficit by March 16, further ratcheting up the pressure.

“Even if they bring the deficit to zero, with interest rates at 6.5 percent and a growth rate of zero at best, Greece’s debt ratio remains on an explosive path,” said Miranda Xafa, a former executive board member at the International Monetary Fund. “I just don’t think they can raise funds from the market now.”

Greece has suffered from large deficits for years, and until now it seemed as if big banks would always be there to bail it out. As far back as 2000 and 2001, Goldman helped Athens quietly borrow billions to mask its poor finances by creating derivatives that essentially transformed loans into currency trades that Greece did not have to disclose under European rules.

Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, told Congress Thursday that the Fed was “looking into a number of questions relating to Goldman Sachs and other companies and their derivatives arrangements with Greece.”

Mr. Bernanke said the Securities and Exchange Commission was also concerned about how derivatives — financial instruments that are largely unregulated and do not trade on public exchanges — have contributed to Greece’s problems. “Obviously, using these instruments in a way that intentionally destabilizes a company or a country is counterproductive,” he said.

The S.E.C., in a statement, said that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation,” but added that it was cooperating with United States and international regulators in examining “potential abuses and destabilizing effects related to the use of credit-default swaps and other opaque financial products and practices.”

Goldman declined to comment, citing its policy of not addressing legal or regulatory matters. But in a Feb. 21 presentation, Goldman said, “The Greek government has stated (and we agree) that these transactions were consistent with the Eurostat principles governing their use and application at the time.” Eurostat is the European Union’s statistics agency.

Goldman is not the only bank that supplied derivatives designed to lower deficits. In the late 1990s, JPMorgan Chase helped Italy reduce its budget gap by swapping currency at a favorable exchange rate. In return, Italy committed to future payments that were not booked as liabilities.

A spokeswoman for JPMorgan said that Italy disclosed all of the deals to Eurostat.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, also took aim at credit-default swaps, which allow banks and hedge funds to wager on whether a company or country might default.

Critics say the swaps have contributed to Greece’s problems and increased the odds of a financial collapse.

“We have a situation in which major financial institutions are amplifying a public crisis for private gain,” he said.

The Fed inquiry was begun about three weeks ago, according to an official involved in the investigation who was not authorized to comment publicly. Fed examiners are focusing on whether Goldman and other banks complied with guidance the Fed issued in 2007 outlining how to manage the risk of complex financial vehicles. The investigation is still in its early stages, he added, as officials sift through records detailing how the derivatives were created, what compliance procedures were followed and what internal analysis was performed. The Fed is also looking at whether Wall Street made additional financial arrangements for Greece that have not been disclosed.

Growing concern over these transactions have made investors more doubtful than ever about the government’s ability to quickly secure tens of billions of euros in new financing it needs to avert default. Greece faces a critical test next week, when it will try to raise about 3 billion euros ($4 billion), through an issue of 10-year bonds.

But with threats of a downgrade to its sovereign debt looming, investors say Greece would need to pay a whopping 7 percent interest rate just to get people to buy. That is almost a percentage point more than the rate investors received in the previous Greek bond sale, in January, and a full 3 percentage points more than Greece’s borrowing cost before the current crisis.

A spokeswoman for the Greek Finance Ministry did not respond to a request for a comment.

The rise in investor skepticism has led Greece to adopt a new financing strategy. Instead of selling debt through public auctions, where the danger of a failed offering could further unnerve markets, it has gone directly to institutional investors, sounding them out in one-on-one meetings, mostly in London.

Bankers and analysts in Athens say there is a debate within the Finance Ministry as to whether the government should go to the market now, or wait until a new menu of changes — like more taxes and further public sector wage cuts — is announced, in the hope that such measures will result in lower financing costs.

But a more dire view is already taking hold, according to some bankers, as investors fret that Greece may simply not be able to cover 20 billion euros of debt coming due in April and May, and 53 billion euros for all of the year. It seems unlikely that such a quantity can be raised from investors — many of them conservative pension funds and insurance companies that are already nursing losses from the 8-billion-euro Greek bond issue in January that was hit by the recent market downturn.

Landon Thomas Jr. contributed reporting.