Frank’s Unskewed Score: USA and Japan Tie

Soccer - USA vs JapanLast night, I sent an email to my cousin, “Are you a soccer fan? Looking forward to the big game tomorrow? I figure since we have 2.5 times the population of Japan, we should have to win by 2.5 times as many points.” Well, by that standard, today’s game was a tie. I discussed this last year, You Don’t Care about World Football. At that time, I scoffed at the fact that Americans were excited by the fact that we beat Ghana, which has a population just 8% of ours. So go ahead and feel good about the game. That’s fine. But it really isn’t that big a deal.

And I was rooting for Japan. Because I’m just like that.

Democracy Wins in Greece

Greek ReferendumGreek voted no to the austerity plan that the Troika was forcing on it. I’m a little surprised that it went down to such a stunning defeat, “Greeks voted by more than 60% to 40% in support of the prime minister.” This is much different from what the polls showed, which was that it was a tight race and that the margin would be razor thin. I’m thinking that the polling was skewed toward the rich. But it hardly matters. This is a good result, even for those who thought Greek should agree to decades more of crushing austerity. At least the current Greek government has a mandate.

Of course, I’m glad for the no vote because I think it was the right decision on the merits. I discussed this earlier today, The Shortsighted Viciousness of the Greek Haters. And it is the right decision in so many ways. But I think the most important way is that the no vote was a vote for democracy. If the Greeks had voted yes, they would have been admitting that democracy doesn’t exist. Or at least that democracy doesn’t exist if the Troika doesn’t like the government. Of course, this isn’t over. And the Troika will now do everything it can to make the Greek people regret this vote.

But we should be clear about what cannot be done. On Friday, James Galbraith wrote, Nine Myths About the Greek Crisis. His first myth was, “The referendum is about the Euro.” He noted that a lot of people had been talking about how a yes vote would make Greece exit the euro and the EU. Syriza — the Greek government — has always maintained that it is committed to both. It has been those who want to control Greece that have made claims otherwise. As Galbraith noted, “And legally, according to the treaties, Greece cannot be expelled from either.”

That doesn’t mean that the Troika won’t do everything it can to push Greece out of the euro. The European Central Bank (ECB) has already pursued policies designed to bully the country. In February, it stopped direct funding of Greek banks, only providing so called emergency liquidity — which was very expensive. And then a couple weeks ago — after Syriza backed out the negotiations and called for a referendum — the ECB capped support causing a bank run requiring the initiation of capital controls. It’s only going to get worse.

I must admit to being confused as to where things go from here. What I assume will happen is that the Troika — and really, pretty much all of Europe — will see this referendum as just another example of how terrible Greece is. And this will lead to the Troika doing everything in its power to harm the country. And it may just get to the point where Greece has no practical alternative to leaving the euro. I certainly think that’s the best thing for Greece in the long run. But it’s going to be very difficult — and dangerous — in the short term. I wish them the best. And I certainly hope that the Troika comes to be seen widely for the brutal and incompetent minions of the power elite that they have shown themselves to be over the last five years.

History of Today’s Referendum in Greece

GreeceFive months ago, the deal reached between the Syriza-led government and the Troika boiled down to this: the creditors could fix broad objectives, from tight fiscal policy to privatizations, but the Greek government would have the margin for maneuver to choose the policy mix with which to achieve these goals. Obviously this was a major climb-down for a party whose political purpose was opposing austerity. But lacking leverage, the Tsipras government took this medium-term deal in the hopes that it could at least consolidate its political support by making austerity less regressive and structural reforms less transparently plutocratic.

What we’ve just seen is this uneasy truce being shattered by the creditors. With a slow-motion bank run taking place in Greece, the creditors took the chance to take the hardest of lines in the most recent negotiations. And Syriza essentially folded. Their most recent proposals acceded to a severely intensified austerity, with no commitment by creditors to debt relief. The only caveat demanded was that the lowest pensions would not be cut and that the tax burden would be increased in a not-entirely-regressive manner: a mix of heavy VAT increases (with carve-outs for medicine, food, and electricity) and taxes on the middle class and corporations.

The government’s proposal for austerity with a human face was already a huge stretch: denounced by Syriza’s left and by angry pensioners in the streets, it would very likely have led to the party’s split. But even this plan was rejected by the IMF, who, without a hint of irony, suggested that taxes on business profits would be recessionary, and that the vast majority of the package should thus be spending cuts, rather than taxes.

It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the creditors’ latest proposals were about regime change more than economics. The creditors had won a total victory, but were unsatisfied with a solution which didn’t eliminate even the fig-leaf with which the Syriza-led government would defend its political credibility. The last fragile pretense of sovereignty was repudiated: not only would its creditors set the objectives of Greek policy, but they would decide in detail the policies themselves. This was a bridge too far, and Tsipras pulled out of negotiations suddenly and declared a referendum on the Troika’s latest proposals, set for Sunday.

—David Attewell
Putting the Greek Referendum in Context

Finessing God With Same Sex Marriage Bigotry

Bigot Pride MarchMark Joseph Stern made an excellent point over at Slate, Two Clerks Resigned to Avoid Issuing Gay Marriage Licenses. Good for Them! His point is that there are all kinds of homophobic bureaucrats who want the special right to not do their jobs. At least the two clerks who he talks about in the article showed integrity: they saw that their personal feelings stopped them from doing their jobs, so they quit. Although I think they are wrong about their positions on same sex marriage (so does Stern), I respect people who are willing to suffer a loss for it rather than just whine, which is the normal reaction.

But I’m struck by the fact that Christians seem to think that God cares about same sex marriage. If one is not a literalist, there is no problem at all. The discussions of homosexuality in the New Testament is mostly indirect, and when it is direct can be interpreted as discussing homosexual lust — and the whole Bible is down on lust as a general matter. Most of the Biblical arguments that people make against same sex marriage are based upon passages that actually just talk about procreation and opposite sex marriage — there is nothing explicit about same sex marriage. And if these passages mean that God doesn’t like same sex marriage they also mean that he doesn’t like marriages between old people.

But I’m more interested in the Biblical literalists. Leviticus 20:13 says, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.” This is awkward syntax, but the point is that the men shall be put to death, not something like, “Well don’t be shocked in God strikes them dead!” The New Living Translation, for example, translates the passage, “They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates it, “They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.” The International Standard Version provides, “They are certainly to be put to death.”

So God wants homosexuals put to death long before they start marrying. Yet everywhere you go in America, you find Christian literalists — lots of them — who are not putting Neil Patrick Harris to death. In fact, they are not even calling for his death. I think these people lack integrity. But I understand. It really does go against natural human impulses to kill other people, even if your holy book says you should do it. But why is it okay to be wishy-washy about something God told you to do (killing the gays) and not about something that he was at best unclear about (stopping the gays from marrying).

According to Gallup, roughly 30% of Americans think, “The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” This must be the group that is so concerned that giving out marriage licenses to same sex couples will cause them to burn in hell. But I just don’t see God saying to these people, “Well, you didn’t do what I explicitly told you to do. You just brushed that aside because it was hard to do. But you did make a big deal about giving out marriage licenses to the people I told you to kill. I guess that’s good enough, welcome to heaven!” I don’t see it happening that way. But for all the literalists’ claims, they seem to think that they can finesse God. And that, beyond anything else, is offensive.

The Shortsighted Viciousness of the Greek Haters

SyrizaToday is the Greek referendum. Will the people be so afraid of the oligarchs that they will vote to accept savage austerity, aimed at the bottom of their economy? In a fundamental sense, it doesn’t matter. Even if the people vote “no” — as I think they should — it will not be an overwhelming victory. As in the United States, apparently, half the people in Greece still think the best thing is to allow the power elite to bash in their heads with ball-peen hammers. And as I’ve noted many times before, people are very risk adverse. Doing what all the “smart” powerful people want them to do is a natural response, even if the last five years of failure of the “smart” people ought to give cause for reflection.

But I don’t blame the Greek people. And I’m not really very interested in talking about them. I am interested in talking about the German people — and more specifically, the power elite who have caused the German people (and many others besides) to think of Greece as a badly behaving child. It reminds me of something that Paul Krugman used to say all the time, “Economics is not a morality play.” It doesn’t matter what Greece did in the past, there is a situation today. And regardless of how badly Greece behaved in the past, even if you did think that it needed to be punished, wouldn’t the last five years have been enough? Isn’t it time to move on?

Of course, the issue isn’t about “morality” for the power elite. That’s just what they use to make the German people puff themselves up as the paragons of virtue while looking down at naughty Greece. The power elite are involved in economic engineering. They are trying to turn Greece into the kind of “free market” dystopia that will allow them to take an ever larger fraction of the European economy. And that makes them just like the power elite here at home.

Right now, Syriza controls the government in Greece. The Troika and the power elite that it represents, could have decided to make the best of that situation. But instead, it set about destroying the government — even going to the extent of not allowing Syriza to save face after it had given in to every conceivable demand — totally repudiating everything it was elected to do. And let’s suppose that the power elite get what they want. Suppose that the Greek people vote for the austerity. It will be the end of the current Greek government. And it will send a powerful message to people in struggling euro countries.

But what will that message be? The power elite think that message will be that that their will is supreme and that the people should never forget that democracy is a myth and that the power elite will crush them should they ever vote to do what the people actually want. That might be the immediate effect. But in a year, a month, even a day, people are going to start thinking differently. People are going to conclude that they can’t depend upon those nice people on the left, so maybe they should give those strong people on the right a look.

A big part of the EU project was to eliminate the possibility of another world war. But I guess no one thought that whole thing through. The EU has provide the main belligerent of both the world wars — Germany — with unrivaled political power due to its economic power. I’ve watched in amazement over the last five years as Germany has abused its power. If Greece turns into a fascist state — or just a failed state — it will be because of the power elite of Europe. But the German people are not worried about the shortsighted greed of the power elite; they are worried about teaching the Greek people a lesson.

Regardless of what happens, it is going to be a bumpy ride. Greece should have left the euro zone five years ago. The Germans — and to be honest, the whole of Europe — was never going to allow the Greek economy to heal.

Morning Music: Renaud

Mistral Gagnant - RenaudAfter the Fourth of July, I think we could use a little French music. So I offer up to you Renaud — a French singer-songwriter so popular, he actually has an English language Wikipedia page. We are going to listen to a very sweet song, “Mistral Gagnant” off his most successful album, 1985’s Mistral Gagnant. The title refers to a kind of candy, apparently. The song is sung to Renaud’s daughter and reflects on his own childhood, including stealing candy from the store.

People know that I’m fond of French film and music. But that’s not exactly true. I do tend to like things more if I know that they are French. I like some idea I have about the French. And the one time I was there, I liked it very much. But it is rather that I like certain kinds of French films and music. I’m sure that France produces all the same dreck that America does. But thankfully, I’m spared that. Also: I’m very fond of wine and cognac.

Anniversary Post: Bloody Thursday

Mission and SteuartBloody Thursday occurred on this day in 1934. It was part of the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike. The result of that strike was good: it caused all of the west coast ports to become unionized. But Bloody Thursday was typical of the kind of thing that workers have had to live through in order to organize unions. Historically, the levers of official government power have been used to stop unions — most especially the courts. But on the front lines, it has been police departments.

On the day after the Fourth of July, the Industrial Association tried to get the San Francisco port working more despite the strike. And who was there to help them? Why the police department, of course. As will happen whenever the police get a tiny bit scared, officers eventually started firing into crowds of workers, killing two men. Afterward, workers put out flowers on the corner of Mission and Steuart. And the police came by and removed them. The workers put more flowers there. Eventually, police started firing into the International Longshoremen’s Association hall, but no one was killed.

The state sent in the National Guard. And federal troops were at the ready. Bloody Thursday resulted in a general strike — you know, the kind of thing that is now illegal in the “freedom loving” United States. And there was a good overall result for the workers. But I’m always struck by the fact that most people associate labor unions with violence. Well, yeah. But why is that?! The labor movement has been consistently attacked both politically and physically. So yeah, sometimes things get violent like when those heartless workers got in the way of those police bullets.

I’m afraid those days are coming back. The rich have been too greedy. Increasingly, workers have nothing to lose. And the rights that workers gained during the first half of the 20th century are being chipped away. They will have to be fought for all over again. And the rich really should hope that we succeed. Because America is doomed if we don’t.

We mark Bloody Thursday on this day 81 years ago.