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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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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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