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Begging for bread: A Greek family under austerity

Like 20 percent of Greeks, Iliodoros and Ioanna Filios cannot find work in the country’s austerity-ravaged economy.

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Originally appeared on Al jazeera

Piraeus, Greece – When Iliodoros Filios first ventured to a soup kitchen in 2012, he was consumed with shame. He waited idly outside while his wife and children went in to gather their portions.

With time, he says, their needs eclipsed grief. Within a year, the 52-year-old jobless painter was making the rounds each evening at bakeries, begging for stale leftovers: meat pies, pastries and an occasional loaf of bread.

Later, Filios and his 48-year-old wife, Ioanna, found help in vegetable markets, where they were able to get a handful of tomatoes, onions and cucumbers twice a week.

Without these handouts, the family wouldn’t be able to bear the crushing weight of Greece’s austerity-ravaged economy.
“Lately, they say they don’t have any more to give,” Ioanna explains. “They say they already gave to the orphanage or the church. But the rubbish cans are full of food at the end of the day.”

With two daughters, the couple struggles to make ends meet each month on a 466-euro welfare cheque.
The family’s hardships are common. They were among the 20 percent of Greeks who were without work in December.
Although joblessness is down from the nearly 28 percent it hit in 2014, it still towers over the EU’s 8.7 percent unemployment recorded by Eurostat at the end of last year.

‘Only enough for the basics’

Inside their two-bedroom flat, where a local church organisation has set them up, books, suitcases and stuffed animals cramp the living room.
A photo of the Last Supper, which depicts a host of robed disciples flanking Jesus Christ at a long dinner table, is fastened on the wall.
After they received a larger welfare cheque for the holiday season, Filios bought a small plastic Christmas tree. Weeks later, the multi-coloured lights still blink in the living room corner as he speaks.
Christina, his 15-year-old daughter, sits on a small wooden box next to her father and listens, an austere expression on her face.

Wrapped in blankets, she rubs her gloved hands on her legs. They cannot afford heating, even in winter.
“We’ve never even turned on that heater,” says Ioanna, pointing to an electricity-powered radiator.
While the church pays their rent, the family is responsible for utilities, food and other expenses.
“We only have enough money for the basics,” says Filios.
They could not survive on welfare cheques alone, without the help of friends, neighbours and the church, he explains.

‘The structure is still falling’

For the Filios family, promises of politicians and policymakers ring hollow.
In January 2015, Syriza, a left-wing party, came to power after vowing to support the downtrodden and poor. Yet, with Greece teetering under the weight of debt, austerity only deepened.
Over the last three years, the once defiant leftist government has largely accepted creditors’ demands, including budget cuts and economic reforms.
The initially fierce disputes with Germany, which has overseen Greece’s bailout, have given way to quiet acquiescence in Athens.
Crisis has led to turbulence on the streets, with strikes, protests and riots taking place to resist austerity.
In January, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addressed the Hellenic Parliament after legislators approved new austerity measures.
Outside, tens of thousands protested. Just days before the 1,500-page bill was passed, riot police fired tear gas at angry demonstrators in Athens, the capital.

He proclaimed that Greece was “a breath away from the end of the programme”, adding: “This gives hope and courage to millions of our citizens, who all these years have made large sacrifices and now finally see light and a way out.”
Filios says he has yet to catch a glimpse of that light.
“Despite the fact that Tsipras has almost destroyed the country, the government has helped people in need,” he argues, “but the structure is still falling.”
Against this backdrop, his days are dotted with what feel like pointless job applications and cold calls.
When he tells potential employers his age, they respond that the vacancies have been filled.
He is far from alone.
More than half of Greeks endured financial hardship in December 2017, according to a study published by the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki.
That study found that less than seven percent of the respondents had experienced “no financial problems” that month.
Giorgos Kiritsis, a parliamentarian and Syriza member, defended the austerity measures, such as home auctions.
“It was crucial for keeping the banks afloat,” he tells Al Jazeera, insisting that the government has done its best to protect workers and the poor.
Meanwhile, frustration over the government’s policies has come from across the political spectrum.
From the right, parties such as New Democracy have accused the Syriza-led coalition of worsening poverty.
Last month, New Democracy chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greeks no longer “trust the prime minister to solve the financial problems we face”.
“He promised to put an end to austerity and the old [establishment],” he said in a video message. “Instead he brought more poverty, the dissolution of the middle class and heavy taxation. He cut wages and pensions.”
On the left, parties and critics have blasted the government for what they see as capitulating to the EU at the expense of Greece’s struggling workers and pensioners, among other charges.
Greece’s ongoing economic crisis has seeped into every crevice of society, penetrated every sector of the economy and affected almost every field of work.
Although economic growth has ticked up, high unemployment, crippling austerity measures and a lack of hope continue to stymy any benefits of that growth for most Greeks. The country’s bailout programme is slated to conclude in 2018.

‘Panic attacks’

The Filios family’s journey has been a long one, sprinkled along the way with bursts of hope and periods of distress, temporary moments of improvement giving way to what feels like epochs of stress.
Work has never been stable for the married couple.
However, back in Gargaliani, the southern town where they met and wed after Filios put out a “love wanted” ad in a local newspaper, they were able to get by with freelance jobs and short-term contracts.

Things took a turn for the worse in 2008, when jobs dried up as the global economic crisis loomed. With fewer people renovating and making repairs to their homes, Filios couldn’t find painting gigs.
In 2009, unable to afford renovations to their crumbling home, they sold the property, which Ioanna had inherited from her family.
With no options left, they packed their bags in their sedan and headed for Kalamata, the second-most populous city in Greece’s Peloponnese region.
For Filios, the new home’s spacious balcony was symbolic of the hope the family harboured for the move.
“We had only had a very small balcony in Gargaliani,” he recalls.
“I looked forward to us all spending time on the new balcony, which was much bigger.”
But the years that followed were especially trying, as Filios realised he was the victim of a long-term crisis.
“That’s when the panic attacks started,” he recalls.
“That’s when I realised it; we didn’t have food, we didn’t have food and I didn’t know what to do. If you don’t have a stable job to know you’ll make money every month. I realised that going to a bigger city and not finding a job meant there was a big problem.”
Once more unable to afford the repairs to their home, they were forced to move out and search for another alternative.
In the years that followed came a failed attempt at launching a mini-market business, eviction from one home to the next, and hundreds of unanswered job applications.
They eventually landed in Piraeus, the port city next to Athens, where the local Greek Orthodox church put them up in a flat.
Stung by luckless attempts to land a job, Ioanna has enrolled in night courses at the same school her daughter attends.
“When we first got married, we had big dreams and hopes for our family and our future. We still have dreams, but …” says Ioanna, trailing off.
Filios picks up where she left off.
“But in the three years we’ve been here [in Piraeus], nothing has changed in Greece’s reality. You’re not able to find a job. As more time passes, I am still trying; but I just can’t find work.”
Ioanna wraps herself tightly in a blanket.
“We never imagined it would be long term,” she says.
“We didn’t want to still be begging at bakeries and markets all these years later.”
By Patrick Strickland

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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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It’s Back to the Iran-Contra Days Under Trump

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Wayne Madsen, via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Showing that he is adopting the neoconservative playbook every day he remains in office, Donald Trump handed the neocons a major win when he appointed Iran-contra scandal felon Elliott Abrams as his special envoy on Venezuela. Abrams pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of withholding information on the secret sale of US weapons for cash to help illegally supply weapons to the Nicaraguan right-wing contras, who were battling against the government of President Daniel Ortega. Abrams would have headed to a federal prison, but President George H. W. Bush, an unindicted co-conspirator in the scandal, issued pardons to Abrams and his five fellow conspirators – former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, and former Central Intelligence Agency officials Alan Fiers, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, and Clair George – on Christmas Eve 1991, during the final weeks of Bush’s lame duck administration.

Abrams escaped being charged with more serious crimes by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh because he cut a last-minute deal with federal prosecutors. Trump, who has made no secret of his disdain for cooperating federal witnesses, would have normally called Abrams a “rat,” a gangster term meaning informant. The man who helped engineer the pardons for Abrams and his five convicted friends was none other than Bush’s Attorney General, William Barr, who has just been sworn in as Trump’s Attorney General. Trump, who is always decrying the presence of the “deep state” that thwarts his very move, has become the chief guardian of that entity.

During a recent hearing of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, newly-minted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, reminded her colleagues and the world about the sordid background of Abrams.

Omar zeroed in on Abrams’s criminal history:

“Mr. Abrams, in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony you give today to be truthful.”

Abrams, as is the nature of neocons, refused to respond to Omar and cited her comments as “personal attacks.”

Abrams’s and his fellow criminals’ use of mercenaries and “death squads” to conduct secret wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s has made a re-entrance under Trump. Abrams was brought on board by neocons like National Security Adviser John Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to oversee a US military build-up in Colombia, said to be 5000 US troops, to support Venezuelan paramilitary and military efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro. Abrams and Bolton are also believed to have retained the services of another unindicted conspirator in the Iran-contra affair, Michael Ledeen, a colleague of the disgraced and convicted former Trump National Security Adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Ledeen and Flynn co-authored a book titled, “The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies.” The book contains nothing more than the standard neocon tripe one might expect from the likes of Ledeen.

An official investigation of the Iran-contra scandal by the late Republican Senator John Tower of Texas concluded that Abrams’s and Ledeen’s friend, Iranian-Jewish middleman Manucher Ghorbanifar, a long-time Mossad asset and well-known prevaricator, was extremely instrumental in establishing the back-channel arms deals with Iran. Ghorbanifar has long been on the CIA “burn list” as an untrustworthy charlatan, along with others in the Middle East of similar sketchy credentials, including the Iraq’s Ahmad Chalabi, Syria’s Farid “Frank” Ghadry, and Lebanon’s Samir “Sami” Geagea. These individuals, however, were warmly embraced by neocons like Abrams and his associates.

Abrams, whose links with Israeli intelligence has always been a point of consternation with US counter-intelligence officials, is part of an old cabal of right-wing anti-Soviet Democrats who coalesced around Senator Henry Jackson in the 1970s. Along with Abrams, this group of war hawks included Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol, Douglas Feith, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later, this group would have its fingerprints on major US foreign policy debacles, ranging from Nicaragua and Grenada to Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya. Later, in December 2000, these neocons managed to convince president-elect George W. Bush of the need to “democratize” the Middle East. That policy would later bring not democracy but disaster to the Arab Middle East and North Africa.

Abrams and his cronies will not stop with Venezuela. They have old scores to settle with Nicaraguan President Ortega. The initiation of “regime change” operations in Nicaragua, supported by the CIA and the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami, have been ongoing for more than a year.

The Trump administration has already achieved a regime change victory of sorts in El Salvador. Nayib Bukele, the former mayor of San Salvador, who was expelled from the formerly-ruling left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party and joined the right-wing GANA party, was recently elected president of El Salvador. Bukele has quickly re-aligned his country’s policies with those of the Trump administration. Bukele has referred to President Maduro of Venezuela as a “dictator.” He has also criticized the former FMLN government’s recognition of China and severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan. It will be interesting to see how a sycophant like Bukele will politically survive as Trump continues to call hapless asylum-seeking migrants from his country, who seek residency in the United States, “rapists, gang monsters, murderers, and drug smugglers.”

Another country heading for a US-installed “banana republic” dictator is Haiti. President Jovenal Moise has seen rioting in the streets of Port-au-Prince as the US State Department removed all “non-essential” personnel from the country. Moise, whose country has received $2 billion in oil relief from Venezuela, to help offset rising fuel prices, has continued to support the Maduro government. However, at the US-run and neo-colonial artifice, the Organization of American States (OAS), Moise’s envoys have been under tremendous pressure to cut ties with Venezuela and recognize the US puppet Juan Guaido as Venezuelan president. Moise’s refusal to do so resulted in armed gangs hitting the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding Moise’s resignation. It is the same neocon “regime change” playbook being used in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

There will be similar attempts to replace pro-Maduro governments in his remaining allies in the region. These include Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Abrams was also brought in as an adviser on Middle East policy in the George W. Bush administration. The carnage of Iraq is a stark testament to his record. In 2005, it was reported that two key Bush White House officials – Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams – gave a “wink and a nod” for the assassinations by Israeli-paid operatives of three key Lebanese political figures seeking a rapprochement with Syria and Lebanese Hezbollah – Member of Parliament Elie Hobeika, former Lebanese Communist Party chief George Hawi, and former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In 2008, a United Nations panel headed by former Canadian prosecutor Daniel Bellemare later concluded Hariri was assassinated by a “criminal network” and not by either Syrian and Lebanese intelligence or Lebanese Hezbollah as proffered by Abrams and his friends in Washington.

Representative Omar was spot on in questioning why Abrams, whose name is as disgraced as his two fellow conspirators – Oliver North and John Poindexter – whose criminal convictions were overturned on appeal, is working for the Trump administration on Venezuela. The answer is that the neocons, who can sense, like raptors, Trump’s political weakness, have filled the vacuum left by top-level vacancies in the administration.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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