Addicting Info – U.S. Maternal Death Rate Now Highest In The Western World, Thanks To GOP War On Women

via Addicting Info – U.S. Maternal Death Rate Now Highest In The Western World, Thanks To GOP War On Women.


Worldwide, fewer and fewer women are dying during pregnancy or from complications related to childbirth. In fact, women living almost anywhere in the developed world are safer today, than they were in the year 2000. Here in the United States, however,women are twice as likely to die during or after pregnancy, than they were 15 years ago. Thanks to the regressive party, otherwise known as the GOP, the United States is moving backwards, not forwards, when it comes to women’s health.

According to the latest State of the World’s Mothers report, released in May, 2015, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal deathin any western nation. Women in the U.S. are ten times more likely to die from pregnancy as women living in Poland or Norway. Compared to women living in Belarus, the country with the lowest rate of maternal deaths, women in the U.S. are twenty times more likely to die before, during, or immediately after childbirth.

Globally, the rate of maternal deaths has been steadily declining over the past two decades. Around the world, the rate of maternal deaths has been reduced by 45 percent since the mid-1990’s. Meanwhile, a woman’s risk of death from pregnancy in the U.S. today is double what it was a decade and a half ago.

It gets worse, though. The rate of maternal deaths in the United States is calculated according to the number of deaths reported annually. According to a report published by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, at least 38 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are not reported as such in the United States. Research also estimates that at least half of all maternal deaths are not listed as “maternal deaths” on the death certificate in cases where the fetus was not delivered, when a woman died more than a week after delivery, or in cases where a woman died from a condition that existed before pregnancy, which was worsened because of pregnancy.

Disturbingly, there is no federal law that requires U.S. hospitals to keep records regarding maternal deaths. So while we know that the maternal death is climbing in the U.S., we don’t really know how many women are dying as a result of a pregnancy.

What we do know is that in spite of all the advances in medicine and technology, the risk of pregnancy-related death in the US is going up every year, not down.

The State of the World’s Mothers report, which is published yearly by the nonprofit Save The Children Foundation, ranks 179 nations on ‘the Mother’s Index,’ illustrating where in the world “women and children fare best.” The U.S. has been steadily falling in rank, since the year 2000, when the study first began.

In 2000 the U.S. ranked among the top ten countries in the world for women’s health and well-being. It was listed as the 4th best country on earth for mothers’ health on the Mother’s Index. Only Norway, Canada and Australia ranked higher.

In the 15 years since the first State of the World’s Mothers report was published, the U.S. has dropped to number 33 on theMother’s Index. America now ranks 61 in maternal health, falling behind every other Western nation when it comes to protecting the health of pregnant women. In the year 2000, a US woman’s risk of death from pregnancy-related causes was 1 in 3500. Today that risk has risen to 1 in 1800, according to this year’s annual report.

The republican War on Women is not just a catchphrase used by the left. Every war has casualties, and this one is no different. Government restrictions on reproductive rights have a direct impact on women’s health and well-being. While national statistics can be informational, it’s also important to understand that not all states are equal, when it comes to maternal deaths.

A 2014 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights shows that states that have the highest number of abortion restrictions, score lowest on women’s overall health. On the contrary, states with the least amount of restrictions on abortion are doing a much better job of protecting women’s health.

image credit: screen capture Center For Reproductive Rights & Ibis Reproductive Health, Evaluating Priorities, 2014 report

This chart shows how abortion restrictions impact women’s health in the states:

image credit: screen capture Center For Reproductive Rights & Ibis Reproductive Health, Evaluating Priorities, 2014 report

The state of Vermont, which does not place any restrictions on abortion, has the second lowest maternal mortality rate in the country, with just 2.6 deaths per 100,000 live births. At the other end of the spectrum, the rate of maternal deaths in Oklahoma, a state with 14 laws designed to restrict a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health, ranks 48th in the country. Oklahoma has a maternal death rate that is almost ten times higher than Vermont, at 20.1.

The state of Maine also places very few restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. As of January of 2015, the Guttenmacher Institute reports that the only restrictions in the state are in regards to the use of public funding to pay for abortion services. Maine has the distinction of being the state with the lowest rate of maternal deaths, at 1.2 per 100,000 live births.

In contrast, states that undermine women’s rights, including their right to decide when or if they will have a child, have maternal death rates that are as much as 20 times higher than those in Maine. Mississippi, which has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to women’s reproductive health, has a maternal death rate of 19.0. Other states with 11 or more restrictions on abortion access also have alarmingly high maternal death rates. Those states include Michigan, which has amaternal death rate of 21.0 per 100,000 live births, the highest among the 50 states. Georgia’s maternal death rate is 20.9. In Louisiana, the maternal death rate is 17.9.  Arkansas and Idaho have maternal death rates of 16.0 and 15.0, respectively, according to the most recent report on maternal deaths by state.

According to the research from the Center for Reproductive Rights, states that have six or fewer laws regarding abortion access rank highest in the country for women’s health, overall. States that have 11 or more laws restricting a woman’s right to control her own body, rank at the bottom of the country, when it comes to women’s health and well-being.

This data tells us that, while the maternal death rate is climbing in the United States, not all states are equally responsible for the increase. As a nation it’s time for us to come together to ensure that the health and well being of all women is protected, no matter where in the United States they choose to live.

The United States also needs to catch up to the rest of the civilized world when it comes to collecting complete and accurate information on maternal deaths. More than a decade ago, the United States set a goal of reducing the maternal death rate to 3.3 per 100,000, by 2010. If this had actually been a priority for state and federal representatives, then accurate data collection would also have been a priority. But that never happened.

The reality is that saving women’s lives is not a priority for too many U.S. representatives. Religious fanatics elected to office view women as baby-makers, nothing more, nothing less. The life a woman matters to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with a man’s right to procreate by using her body. That becomes all too clear when Republican politicians go to great lengths to protect rapistsand child molesters, or when they advocate for laws that would allow men to sue women for not giving birth to their fertilized sperm. In their warped minds, a woman’s body is not her own. A woman’s body only exists to be used by men, in an act of procreation. If the woman does not want to be impregnated, if she doesn’t want to birth a kid, as far as republicans are concerned, she can go ahead and die.

While the rest of the civilized world is working to protect women from the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth, regressive US republicans are working to ensure that women birth those babies, or die trying. As a nation we cannot accept these horrifying statistics. We can not accept Republican policies that fail to protect the lives of the women we love because of their religious devotion to the idea that someone that was never born is just as important as someone who is obviously born.

*Featured image credit:, creative commons license 3.0


Europe Didn’t Win

via Greece negotiations with EU: In Athens, Greeks distrust Syriza as much as the EU now..

Greece’s leaders appear to have folded. But the rift between its citizens and the rest of the continent won’t be so easily fixed.

By Alexander Clapp – JULY 10 2015


A referendum campaign poster for “Yes” (Nai) at a bus stop with a graffiti for “No” (Oxi) over it in Athens, Greece, on July 3, 2015. Photo by Christian Hartmann/Reuters

ATHENS, Greece—On Thursday the appliance stores in Kifissia, an upper-class suburb here, were packed with Greeks scrambling to buy expensive imports. They were doing so with cash; Greek-issued credit cards are no longer accepted within or outside of the country. The more dire-sounding residents I met claimed that, within months, Greece will no longer be importing iPhones; others just wanted to spend their money while they still have it. Elsewhere in Athens, lines were still forming outside of ATMs, many of which had run out of cash altogether.

The mood in Athens this week was at once embattled and proud, erratic and panicked. A wave of political resignations has swept Greece since Sunday’s referendum, in which Greeks were asked whether they agreed with the latest bailout terms offered by the country’s creditors. “No” won resoundingly in every province of the country. Antonis Samaras, the former prime minister, stepped down as head of the New Democracy Party that night; Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s finance minister, left his post the next day. There have been taunts of violence. Thanos Tzimeros, a former leader of the minor political party Recreate Greece, is under investigation for taking to social media and calling for a forceful overthrow of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “We are at war here,” Panos Kammenos, the defense minister and head of the Independent Greeks Party, declared after several of his associates threatened to vote “yes” in the referendum.

Tsipras’ Syriza Party ascended to office in January amid a stalemate between Greece’s two political machines, New Democracy and PASOK, which had swapped rule over the country for the past 40 years. It happened on the back of a fundamentally contradictory promise: Tsipras told Greeks he could end the austerity policies that have handicapped public services for the past six years, even while keeping Greece on the euro. In February, he was given a four-month extension by European leaders to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s debt. That extension ended on June 30. The next payment to the European Central Bank is due July 20.

Relations between Syriza and Greece’s European creditors have been disastrous since Tsipras took power. The conventional wisdom is that Syriza overplayed its hand and is now being put in its place by the Brussels bureaucracy. With Tsipras’ seeming capitulation Thursday in the form of a new bailout proposal that is fairly similar to the one voters rejected and includes major concessions, Europe’s leaders may appear to have finally won the standoff going into a possibly final summit Sunday. But they have done damage to the sanctity of the European project. And Syriza’s fortunes notwithstanding, Europe has failed to cow the Greek left.

Throughout the entire crisis, Europe has treated Greece in belittling, often outright infantilizing ways. The hostility toward Syriza has been astonishing for two reasons. As Varoufakis has argued repeatedly, Syriza remains France and Germany’s best chance at getting any of their money back. It has no incentive, and possibly ability, to give it back in the event of a Greek exit from the euro, which is likely if Greece defaults on its bailout obligations. It is important to remember Syriza’s promise to remain in the eurozone. Tsipras recognizes that his popular support would collapse should that change. For its part, Germany has failed to recognize that its intransigence has in fact given continued life to Syriza, currently the only game in town in Athens.

syriza 001European officials profess no trust in Syriza, but their picture of Syriza is highly deceptive: Attacks tend to psychologize the party for being reckless, or amateurish, or goaded by some sort of historical trauma or inferiority complex. If anything, the last two weeks have made it sufficiently clear how Europe, as an institution, has its own dissembling ways of operating. Until last week, EU officials had managed to block the release of a June International Monetary Fund report declaring that the only viable solution for Greece’s debt was to have most of it written off; in other words, the IMF vindicated much of what Syriza has been arguing for months now. Incidents of this sort have eroded the investment that many Greeks, regardless of political affiliation, have in the EU as a bureaucratic concept—if not their faith in the very idea of Europe. Historically speaking, the implementation of austerity has rarely resulted in renewed social trust, and the new, harsher rounds of austerity that Brussels has devised for a potential third Greek bailout package will likely only further polarize Greek society.

Three months ago, the lesson of Syriza’s struggle to extract a new deal may have been that the European technocracy can’t be ruffled by a pesky left-wing party on Europe’s fringe. Today, the lesson may be that the failure to create a political union on par with a monetary union not only affects the fortunes for democracy at the national level, but in Europe as a whole. Europe’s attempts to oust Syriza from power by flaunting its weaknesses lack even the semblance of discretion; the idea has been openly acknowledged by northern European leaders. In another context this might be called an attempted coup from afar.

The second reason why Europe’s intransigence toward Syriza is shocking is that Tsipras is not threatening the world of global capital or the structural integrity of the EU. He climbed to power on promises that, among other things, he would spearhead a revolution of working-class people against Europe’s political elite. But Tsipras has accomplished nothing of the sort. He no longer speaks about such things. His actual negotiating points with the EU for the past few months have been over relative trifles: reductions in the value-added tax percentages of certain Aegean Islands, changes in the retirement age of state-sector employees. These are largely symbolic fights—Tsipras needs to prove to his base that he’s tough enough to extract something from lenders—and winning them will no doubt afford certain financial relief to Greeks who have come to expect little from their politicians. But it can hardly be said that Tsipras is confronting the EU in ways that, say, PASOK would never have dreamed. He’s just doing it with a vast base of popular appeal, and with all eyes in Europe on him. This makes him an annoyance to European elites, but also a potentially useful paradigm: He may serve as a precedent for Spain and Portugal if he successfully renegotiates bailout terms, and he likewise becomes a warning to governments in those countries if he fails.

Syriza is by no means blameless in any of this. Its handling of negotiations and its exercise of power have been abysmal. Time and again Tsipras has misled his electorate. He claimed that a deal with creditors would be reached on Tuesday, when in fact he had no new terms to present to Brussels. He has made few of his tactics transparent to the Greek people. Few Greeks last Sunday knew exactly what they were actually voting on—problematic not least because Tsipras has said that he would never lead Greece out of the European Union without first consulting the Greek people. Last Sunday could be used as the “evidence” he needed that Greeks do want to leave. But the majority, according to opinion polls, still don’t.

syriza 002The deeper problem with Syriza is a kind of bravado fueled by populist tactics. The alliance it made with the far-right Independent Greeks in January now appears less a case of odd bedfellows and more like a perfectly natural partnership. There’s something pettily nationalistic in Syriza’s activation of Greek pride against the creditors. Of course this is now the strange position of the left across Europe, traditionally opposed to nationalism; patriotism has become a last plank of resistance against technocratic incursion. In Greece, right-wing elements—including the neo-Nazis—join the left in opposing this. There’s also something uncomfortably opportunistic about Syriza’s obsession with the German midcentury, be it the wartime loans forcefully extracted from Greece, or the forgiveness of German wartime debts in 1953.

There’s hope for the Greek left beyond Syriza. It partly derives from the methods Syriza used to rise to power. As early as 2008, when anti-austerity rallies and anti-fascist demonstrations began hitting Athens, Syriza deliberately refused to politicize them. Instead the rallies remained organic gatherings of citizens, who were taking to the streets voluntarily, not because their politicians were telling them to. Today, there’s a tremendous social base on the Greek left unconnected to Syriza that supports the party but is not wrapped up in its political fate. The vast majority of these people sit to the left of Syriza and would argue that Tsipras is not being nearly radical enough when it comes to reforming Greece’s place in the eurozone.

This social bloc, comprised primarily of the youth, now bears a heavy hand in the Greek political scene. Its capabilities were on full display on Friday night, at the final “no” rally in Syntagma Square—organized by Syriza, but not very well promoted by it. Those who spread the word about attending that demonstration were members of organizations like ANTARSYA, an anti-capitalist movement. They combed the streets, working-class neighborhoods, and the parks, explanatory pamphlets in hand; they spray-painted sidewalks and bed sheets with NO! and slung them across various symbols of Athens—Lycabettus Hill, different departments of Athens University. The opposing Yes! campaign was another thing altogether, waged predominately via crisp, professionally shot video ads that aired on YouTube and Greek TV.

The results were clear. One hundred thousand Athenians showed up to the “no” demonstration in Syntagma Square—by some accounts, the largest gathering of Greeks in a single place since the collapse of the Junta more than 40 years ago. Those supporting the “yes” vote in the Panathenaic Stadium numbered just 20,000.

What does this actually mean for Greece right now? Two things. First, the “no” victory in the referendum, while hardly deserving of the jubilation it received, at the very least showed that democracy, even if in the form of a plebiscite, is still alive in Greece on the ground. Second, if Syriza falls from power, the basis for its popular support—the movements, the social activism—still exists; Syriza, or at least the ideas behind it, won’t go the way of PASOK, the center-left party that imploded as soon as its political foothold vanished and its European cash flows dried up. Should Greece stay in the eurozone, Germany will still have to reckon with this element of Greek society, which is now enraged by Tsipras’ concessions.

That’s why Friday evening, tens of thousands of Greeks flocked to Syntagma Square—not only to protest Europe’s harsh yoke, but also what many consider their prime minister’s great betrayal. The majority of the protesters were from unions controlled by the Communist Party; a small portion were from the Greek far right. The police were out in full force, although Syriza had run on the promise that the presence of riot police would be tempered. Almost every protest that’s occurred while Syriza’s been in power has been pro-government. This was different. “It’s just like it was six months ago,” a teenager named Konstantinos told me. “The police are back, and so is the austerity.”

Germany Caused the Crisis, Germany Must Solve It – YouTube

via Germany Caused the Crisis, Germany Must Solve It – YouTube.


Published on 7 Jul 2015

Heiner Flassbeck, former director of UNCTAD, says German economic policy put Greece into crisis and progressive Germans must stop the irrational bleeding of the Greek people


What Really Caused The Puerto Rican Crisis | ThinkProgress

via What Really Caused The Puerto Rican Crisis | ThinkProgress.


After Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla (D) announced last week that the territory can no longer pay the $72 billion it owes, many started reaching for explanations for what got the island there in the first place. And given that a country with much lower per capita income than the mainland United States has followed the federal minimum wage since 1987, a large number of pundits pointed to an excessively high minimum wage as a big culprit.



Much of this hubbub stems from a report released last week from Anne O. Kreuger, Ranjit Teja, and Andrew Wolfe for the Padilla administration, which cited, among many other factors, the minimum wage as a reason the country’s economy has lost competitiveness. “Employers are disinclined to hire workers because…the US federal minimum wage is very high relative to the local average,” they write. It amounts to 77 percent of per capita income there, compared to 28 percent in the mainland U.S. It was also mentioned in a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2014.

But according to an economist who studied the impact of increasing the territory’s minimum wage to the mainland U.S. minimum, while it likely isn’t helping, it can’t be blamed as a core cause of the current crisis.



“The timing of their problems does not have to do with the minimum wage,” Richard Freeman, the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University, told ThinkProgress. “I don’t believe it’s done much positive but it certainly didn’t cause any of the current problems.” For example, its public debt has risen every year since 2000 and jumped from about 90 percent of GNP in 2010 to more than 100 percent in 2015. Yet the minimum wage hasn’t been increased since 2009.

Freeman and Alida J. Castillo-Freeman looked at the impact of Puerto Rico adopting the U.S. federal minimum wage in a study from 1992. “I thought that was going to be the great cause of massive job loss,” he said. Instead, they found that it reduced total employment on the island by 8 to 10 percent, mainly in low-wage jobs. That wasn’t as much as he had expected, and the losses were also concentrated in some industries that were already on the decline. “It’s dubious it would cause the problems today,” he said. An earlier paper from a different economist had found that the claim that the minimum wage increase had a big negative effect on employment “is surprisingly fragile.”

The biggest issue may be that Puerto Rico never really bounced back from the recession. “The island is one of the few places…that just has never recovered,” Freeman said. Its unemployment rate still stands above 12 percent. Its labor force fell significantly in the aftermath of the recession, while it has rebounded and continued to climb on the mainland. The job losses caused by the minimum wage increase, Freeman pointed out, “are nothing comparable to the job losses that they’ve had in this recession.”



The recession hit the country after it was already economically vulnerable. “The situation with Puerto Rico was the perfect storm,” said Maria Enchautegui, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “So many things happening at the same time.” One big factor that she pointed to was the termination of section 936 in the tax code, which allowed businesses operating on the island to go tax-free. It not only enticed many to relocate there and open up jobs, but it then became a core part of how the Puerto Rican economy functioned.



When it was finally phased out in 2006, “That had a domino effect that spread through the whole economy,” she said. Manufacturing jobs in particular have disappeared, falling nearly 34 percent since 2006.

The tax treatment gave the island “the pretense of a healthy economy,” Freeman said. “And then the crash came in 2008, but they probably never were healthy.”



The island has also been hemorrhaging population. While it grew steadily for nearly two centuries, it began to decline for the first time in 2006, falling 2.2 percent between 2000 and 2012. Today, more people of Puerto Rican descent live on the mainland than on the island itself.



The report from Kreuger, Teja, and Wolfe points to other factors as well: the doubling of oil prices between 2005 and 2012 that hurt an island that imports oil for nearly all of its power generation, transportation costs that are at least twice as high as for neighboring islands, high electricity costs, a welfare system that provides more generous benefits for some than minimum wage income, and other local laws and regulations.

Given that many feel the minimum wage played a large part, however, there has been an emphasis on the need for Puerto Rico to reduce it as part of its reforms. Enchautegui thinks the best course would be to allow the territory to dictate its own wages, as it did before. “From there maybe we can decide whether it should be the same [as mainland U.S.] or not,” she said.

Freeman doesn’t think lowering the wage will do much good. “If I were looking for solutions for getting the economy out of its trouble, I wouldn’t be pushing the minimum wage,” he said. “This is an economy that does need lots of jobs created. But if you lower the minimum wage…there’s a small number of jobs you might create, but that’s not going to deal with this depression that they have.”

Radical austerity’s brutal lies: How Krugman and Chomsky saw through dehumanizing neoliberal spin –

via Radical austerity’s brutal lies: How Krugman and Chomsky saw through dehumanizing neoliberal spin –


The battle in Greece is identical to the one we need to be waging right here for fairness over markets and banks


Radical austerity's brutal lies: How Krugman and Chomsky saw through dehumanizing neoliberal spin

Paul Krugman, Noam Chomsky (Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid/AP/Nader Daoud)

The referendum in Greece refuting the European Union’s unbending insistence on radical austerity as the medicine Greeks must continue to swallow is simply not to be missed for its multiple layers of significance. To put the core take-home first, we are all Greeks as they stand against the neoliberal orthodoxy. Their battle is perfectly of a piece with one that needs to be called by its name and waged in our great country.

The Greek crisis has given us an altogether exposing moment, to put the point another way. It is universal in all that it lays bare about the world’s political economy as it has come to be over the last, say, four decades.

Three understandings—recognitions, maybe—were immediately plain as the polling results came in Sunday evening. The Tsipras government, left social democratic in its thinking, won a triumphant 61 percent of the electorate’s support in its stand against the E.U.’s utterly irrational desire to impose more human suffering in the name of market principles. And the magnitude of the victory underscored the truths Greece just gave us:

• Greeks voted courage over fear. They insisted that there is a value higher than market value—this value being the commonweal, the well-being of a society and the people who comprise it. They asked, Does the polity serve the market, or does the market serve the polity? This is one of the essential questions of our time, however rarely it gets asked. Posing it is a very large deed in itself, a favor to all others, and the Greeks’ reply is larger still, of course.

• The European Union, with roots in the too-distant idealism of the early postwar years, has just destroyed any claim it had to stand among humanity’s higher aspirations. The E.U. will remain, obviously, but effectively in form only—a collection of powerful but hollow institutions that inspire little loyalty. Its nakedly corrupt use of power against Greek democracy devastates what may have remained of its original ambition. For now at least, there is no reason to do anything other than oppose it in the name of the very thing it was supposed to stand for: human freedom.

• “What’s going on with the austerity is really class war,” Noam Chomsky said in an interview with the estimable Amy Goodman on this site a few days ago. It is time we got used to this term, which requires that we discredit our densely layered mythologies to the effect that class conflict occurs elsewhere but never in our Providential land. Greeks ’r’ Us: In what they have just done we must see what must be done in America if this nation is to avoid letting the neoliberal order subvert it altogether.

Alexis Tsipras’ last speech on the eve of the referendum is a remarkable document. Unless you speak Greek, you have to read it in an English translation of the French translation, but it comes over clearly nonetheless. (And isn’t it interesting that the French would translate it but no one in the Anglo-American world would bother?)

Tsipras addressed “citizens of Athens, people of Greece,” sounding a little like a fifth century B.C. orator. He spoke of “mutual respect,” “solidarity,” “living with dignity in Europe,” “bravery,” “strength,” “democratic tradition.”

He spoke of the E.U.’s “rhetoric of terror,” which I find a perfectly defensible description of its disgraceful campaign to spread fear among Greek voters in the days prior to the vote. “We are giving democracy a chance to return,” Tsipras said. “To return to Europe, because we want Europe to return to its founding principles.”

Tsipras drew his best-known line, repeated on the wires quickly afterward, from a 19th century Greek poet. “Liberty demands virtue and courage,” he said, invoking the phrase several times before he finished. I had to remind myself as I read: This guy is 40 years old and already a master of his head, his heart and his principles.

We should think about this speech. What was Tsipras talking about? OK, he wanted to move his electorate, but what about the way he chose to do it? Why did he evoke the Greek past and the Greek character so fulsomely—“this passion, this anxious desire for life, this anxious desire for hope, this anxious desire for optimism”?

Start to finish, Tsipras had one thing on his mind: values. What are the values by which we should live? From what do we all derive our identities? These were his implicit questions, to which his answers could not have been clearer.

Among E.U. officials, Tsipras and his government have been dismissed since he took office in January as amateurs, irresponsible grandstanders, dreamers, dangers, neophytes, incompetents. The technocrats in Brussels and Frankfurt would never in a millennium take any interest in this kind of thinking, to say nothing of learning from it, and this is entirely natural: They do not respect any such values and do not think Europeans should live by them.

Gradually since the early 1970s, when American corporations and political elites began to consolidate the neoliberal order as we now have it, it has come to determine Europe’s direction, too. The Greek crisis, if we understand it as essentially political rather than financial or economic, was thus 40 years or so in the making. Sooner or later, neoliberalism was going to collide with someone or other’s democratic process.

Yanis Varoufakis, Tsipras’ now departed finance minister, sent out a superbly revealing tweet after the prime minister announced the referendum late last month and the E.U. started in on its campaign to subvert the Syriza government in favor of one more pliant. “Democracy deserves a boost in euro-related matters,” Varoufakis wrote. “We have just delivered it. Let the people decide. (Funny how radical this concept sounds.)”

Depends on what you mean by “funny.” I take the funny part to be a measure of just how far we have let our values slide in the face of neoliberalism’s 40-year advance toward cast-iron orthodoxy. You have to take a page from Elvis Costello at this point and ask, What’s so funny about human dignity, strength, virtue (in the sense of moral character and humane intent)?

Lionel Jospin, the Socialist premier of France on either side of the millennium, used to say, “Market economy, not market society.” Sensible and modest, you may think, but name a European leader who would touch such a thought with a pole these days. Another measure of how far and fast we have come (or gone).

I dwell on this question of values because the Greeks have just shown us something very vital. Neoliberalism, as it operates through corporations, political elites, and corrupted media striking poses of authority, does not degenerate only our towns, traditions, environments, local fabric, culture and so on. At bottom it is well along in destroying the values that give value, in turn, to all such things.

It is thus essential to understand values as the field of decisive battle. This lets us redraw all the lines in the right places—which is a good description of what Tsipras has persuaded Greeks to do. What is the goal, the purpose? What can be compromised and what is beyond compromise? These questions become easier to ask and answer—as we must require ourselves to do. Sacrifice is easier to accept.

When I look at the E.U. now I marvel at the power of neoliberal ideology. I say this because it is in the service of the ideology, plain and simple, that Europe’s technocratic class and many of its leaders have just destroyed the union itself in its most important dimension—as an idea, a source of identity, a form of human organization that could transcend the eternally warring nation-state.

It is gone, decimated in the six-month interim since Greeks voted Syriza into power, which makes this a moment of history, surely. This said, the moment was that 40 years mentioned above in the making.

It pains me to write this, honestly, as I had long bought into the ideal as articulated as early as 1946. A unified Europe was to be a peaceful, democratic, one-for-all entity.

Luisa Passerini, an interesting Italian scholar, traces the idea of Europe back to the 17th century and finds concrete proposals for a federated Europe as early as the 19th. Even more interesting, she finds in “Europe,” the notion, a long thread of emotional bonding: Greeks and Belgians would be Greek and Belgian but Europeans together.

Intellectual construct, political construct, psychological and even emotional construct: What of it is left now? Post-Greece, it is sheer illusion to pretend any longer that membership has anything to do with abstractions such as identity—or even the preservation of the democratic process, given Brussels and Berlin just tried to subvert Greece’s.

Varoufakis now likens the E.U. to a debtors’ prison. Who could have imagined such talk when the euro was launched in 1999? In his recent book, “The Global Minotaur: America, Europe, and the Future of the Global Economy,” he put it this way:

Europe is looking like a case of alchemy-in-reverse: for whereas the alchemist strove to turn lead into gold, Europe’s reverse alchemists began with gold (an integration project that was the pride of its elites) but will soon end up with the institutional equivalent of lead.

How to explain what the E.U. has just done? For months one has had to ask, Why does Europe insist on intensifying the very policies that measurably worsened Greece’s predicament, turning disaster into calamity?

There are a few answers.

One, the E.U. and Germany are ducking responsibility. So long as they insist on more austerity they do not have to acknowledge the strategy’s failure. As Paul Krugman has pointed out repeatedly in his New York Times columns, Greece has done nearly everything demanded in the two previous bailout plans only to find its circumstances worsened. Let Greeks suffer in the cause of our political reputations: This is in essence the position. Disgraceful, of course.

Two, the power of ideological belief and the out-of-hand rejection of all imaginative thinking both derive from the reality Chomsky named: Austerity and the neoliberal orthodoxy it manifests are at bottom forms of class war. When we recognize this, the mystery starts to evaporate.

Failed policies, malnourished Greeks, widespread homelessness, shuttered schools and hospitals—none of it counts as more than collateral damage in the campaign to turn Greece into a low-wage, low-cost, deregulated park wherein global corporations can do more or less what they like.

Third, it is time to put the E.U. in the file with all other supra-national institutions developed in the post-1945 period. The three I have in mind are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. Anyone who does not recognize these as instruments deployed in the West’s campaign to roll the neoliberal order across the globe like linoleum needs to look more objectively at events.

Back in the early 1970s, Shirley Hazzard, the Australian-cum-British-cum-American writer, published a scathing account of the U.N. called “Defeat of an Ideal,” and the title tells you the sad tale this book recounts. An institution founded on hope and aspiration ends up a gross betrayal of its own purpose—not least, in the U.N.’s case, because Washington insisted on waging the Cold War in its corridors.

Hazzard concluded that the U.N. should be dissolved so that the community of nations could begin again and retrieve the original principles written into the charter. I am not quite there yet with the E.U. Tsipras is right to try to keep his country in the eurozone, but I doubt he is looking for fraternal harmony.

I doubt he has any illusions, either, as to the long-term prospects of an enduring accommodation between a social democratic populace and a set of neoliberal institutions answerable to no electorate. Tsipras needs a deal to spare 11 million Greeks more suffering and chaos, full stop. I do not think we should look for more to come of this.

In the space of six months I have surrendered a lot of illusions—the illusions of an American, for I long (and naively) looked to Europe to evince some alternative to America’s military-centered assertion of its ambitions. It does, but the distinction is merely one of means, not ends: In the Greek case, Europe wanted regime change in Athens and probably still does. It prefers to do with bond debt what Washington likes to do with bombs.

Parenthetically, think about the Ukraine crisis in this light. The same very modest distinction applies. Washington and the Europeans continue to bicker about method—how to yank Ukraine westward, violently or otherwise—but no more.

The dream is over. What can I say?

Just one final point, actually.

The term “class war” is powerfully provocative in the American context. You do not use it unless you are willing to put up your dukes, for the myth of America as a middle-class nation with no contesting endowed and deprived extremes is a wide plank in the platform of our claim to exceptionalism. How many times have you heard the trusty, “We’re all in this together”—articulated most frequently when it is perilously obvious that we are not?

We Americans would do very well, then, to reflect on the Greeks’ predicaments for what we may learn about our own. In yet one more context, unless we overcome the exceptionalist narrative we stand little chance of understanding who we are, what is being done to us, and what we must do.

Last Sunday, Greeks told the rest of us they are perfectly clear on all three points. Are they not to be envied in this respect, even amid their sufferings and struggles.


Patrick Smith is Salon’s foreign affairs columnist. A longtime correspondent abroad, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker, he is also an essayist, critic and editor. His most recent books are “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale, 2013) and Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World (Pantheon, 2010). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is

Slavoj Žižek on Greece: This is a chance for Europe to awaken

via Slavoj Žižek on Greece: This is a chance for Europe to awaken.

The Greeks are correct: Brussels’ denial that this is an ideological question is ideology at its purest – and symptomatic of our whole political process.





The unexpectedly strong No in the Greek referendum was a historical vote, cast in a desperate situation. In my work I often use the well-known joke from the last decade of the Soviet Union about Rabinovitch, a Jew who wants to emigrate. The bureaucrat at the emigration office asks him why, and Rabinovitch answers: “There are two reasons why. The first is that I’m afraid that in the Soviet Union the Communists will lose power, and the new power will put all the blame for the Communist crimes on us, Jews – there will again be anti-Jewish pogroms . . .”

“But,” the bureaucrat interrupts him, “this is pure nonsense. Nothing can change in the Soviet Union! The power of the Communists will last for ever!”

“Well,” responds Rabinovitch calmly, “that’s my second reason.”

I was informed that a new version of this joke is now circulating in Athens. A young Greek man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa. “Why do you want to leave Greece?” asks the official.

“For two reasons,” replies the Greek. “First, I am worried that Greece will leave the EU, which will lead to new poverty and chaos in the country . . .”

“But,” interrupts the official, “this is pure nonsense: Greece will remain in the EU and submit to financial discipline!”

“Well,” responds the Greek calmly, “this is my second reason.”

Are then both choices worse, to paraphrase Stalin?

The moment has come to move beyond the irrelevant debates about the possible mistakes and misjudgements of the Greek government. The stakes are now much too high.

That a compromise formula always eludes at the last moment in the ongoing negotiations between Greece and the EU administrators is in itself deeply symptomatic, since it doesn’t really concern actual financial issues – at this level, the difference is minimal. The EU usually accuses Greeks of talking only in general terms, making vague promises without specific details, while Greeks accuse the EU of trying to control even the tiniest details and imposing on Greece conditions that are harsher than those imposed on the previous government. But what lurks behind these reproaches is another, much deeper conflict. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, recently remarked that if he were to meet alone with Angela Merkel for dinner, they would find a formula in two hours. His point was that he and Merkel, the two politicians, would treat the disagreement as a political one, in contrast to technocratic administrators such as the Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. If there is an emblematic bad guy in this whole story, it is Dijsselbloem, whose motto is: “If I get into the ideological side of things, I won’t achieve anything.”

This brings us to the crux of the matter: Tsipras and the former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned on 6 July, talk as if they are part of an open political process where decisions are ultimately “ideological” (based on normative preferences), while the EU technocrats talk as if it is all a matter of detailed regulatory measures. When the Greeks reject this approach and raise more fundamental political issues, they are accused of lying, of avoiding concrete solutions, and so on. It is clear that the truth here is on the Greek side: the denial of “the ideological side” advocated by Dijsselbloem is ideology at its purest. It masks (falsely presents) as purely expert regulatory measures that are effectively grounded in politico-ideological decisions.

On account of this asymmetry, the “dialogue” between Tsipras or Varoufakis and their EU partners often appears as a dialogue between a young student who wants a serious debate on basic issues and an arrogant professor who, in his answers, humiliatingly ignores the issue and scolds the student on technical points (“You didn’t formulate that correctly! You didn’t take into account that regulation!”). Or even as a dialogue between a rape victim who desperately reports what happened to her and a policeman who continuously interrupts her with requests for administrative details.

This passage from politics proper to neutral expert administration characterises our entire political process: strategic decisions based on power are more and more masked as administrative regulations based on neutral expert knowledge, and they are more and more negotiated in secrecy and enforced without democratic consultation. The struggle that goes on is the struggle for the European economic and political Leitkultur (the guiding culture). The EU powers stand for the technocratic status quo that has kept Europe in inertia for decades.

In his Notes Towards a Definition of Culture, the great conservative T S Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is the one between heresy and non-belief, ie, when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split from its main corpse. This is our position today with regard to Europe: only a new “heresy” (represented at this moment by Syriza) can save what is worth saving in European legacy: democracy, trust in people, egalitarian solidarity. The Europe that will win if Syriza is outmanoeuvred is a “Europe with Asian values” (which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia, but all with the clear and present tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy).


In western Europe we like to look on Greece as if we are detached observers who follow with compassion and sympathy the plight of the impoverished nation. Such a comfortable standpoint relies on a fateful illusion – what has been happening in Greece these past weeks concerns all of us; it is the future of Europe that is at stake. So when we read about Greece, we should always bear in mind that, as the old saying goes, de te fabula narrator (the name changed, the story applies to you).

An ideal is gradually emerging from the European establishment’s reaction to the Greek referendum, the ideal best rendered by the headline of a recent Gideon Rachman column in the Financial Times: “Eurozone’s weakest link is the voters”.

In this ideal world, Europe gets rid of this “weakest link” and experts gain the power to directly impose necessary economic measures – if elections take place at all, their function is just to confirm the consensus of experts. The problem is that this policy of experts is based on a fiction, the fiction of “extend and pretend” (extending the payback period, but pretending that all debts will eventually be paid).

Why is the fiction so stubborn? It is not only that this fiction makes debt extension more acceptable to German voters; it is also not only that the write-off of the Greek debt may trigger similar demands from Portugal, Ireland, Spain. It is that those in power do not really want the debt fully repaid. The debt providers and caretakers of debt accuse the indebted countries of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent. Their pressure fits perfectly what psychoanalysis calls “superego”: the paradox of the superego is that, as Freud saw it, the more we obey its demands, the more guilty we feel.

Imagine a vicious teacher who gives to his pupils impossible tasks, and then sadistically jeers when he sees their anxiety and panic. The true goal of lending money to the debtor is not to get the debt reimbursed with a profit, but the indefinite continuation of the debt, keeping the debtor in permanent dependency and subordination. For most of the debtors – for there are debtors and debtors. Not only Greece but also the US will not be able even theoretically to repay its debt, as is now publicly recognised. So there are debtors who can blackmail their creditors because they cannot be allowed to fail (big banks), debtors who can control the conditions of their repayment (the US government) and, finally, debtors who can be pushed around and humiliated (Greece).

The debt providers and caretakers of debt basically accuse the Syriza government of not feeling enough guilt – they are accused of feeling innocent. That’s what is so disturbing for the EU establishment about the Syriza government: that it admits debt, but without guilt. They got rid of the superego pressure. Varoufakis personified this stance in his dealings with Brussels: he fully acknowledged the weight of the debt, and he argued quite rationally that, since the EU policy obviously didn’t work, another option should be found.

Paradoxically, the point Varoufakis and Tsipras have made repeatedly is that the Syriza government is the only chance for the debt providers to get at least part of their money back. Varoufakis himself wonders about the enigma of why banks were pouring money into Greece and collaborating with a clientelist state while knowing very well how things stood – Greece would never have got so heavily indebted without the connivance of the western establishment. The Syriza government is well aware that the main threat does not come from Brussels – it resides in Greece itself, a clientelist, corrupted state if everthere was one. What the EU bureaucracy should be blamed for is that, while it criticised Greece for its corruption and inefficiency, it supported the very political force (the New Democracy party) that embodied this corruption and inefficiency.

The Syriza government aims precisely at breaking this deadlock – see Varoufakis’s programmatic declaration (published in the Guardian), which renders the ultimate strategic goal of the Syriza government:

A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone. I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s. If this means that it is we, the suitably erratic Marxists, who must try to save European capitalism from itself, so be it. Not out of love for European capitalism, for the eurozone, for Brussels, or for the European Central Bank, but just because we want to minimise the unnecessary human toll from this crisis.

The financial politics of the Syriza government closely followed these guidelines: no deficit, tight discipline, more money raised through taxes. Some German media recently characterised Varoufakis as a psychotic who lives in his own universe different from ours – but is he so radical?

What is so enervating about Varoufakis is not his radicalism but his rational pragmatic modesty – if one looks closely at the proposals offered by Syriza, one cannot help noticing that they were once part of the standard moderate social-democratic agenda (in Sweden of the 1960s, the programme of the government was much more radical). It is a sad sign of our times that today you have to belong to a “radical” left to advocate these same measures – a sign of dark times, but also a chance for the left to occupy the space which, decades ago, was that of the moderate centre left.

But, perhaps, the endlessly repeated point about how modest Syriza’s politics are, just good old social democracy, somehow misses its target – as if, if we repeat it often enough, the Eurocrats will finally realise we’re not really dangerous and will help us. Syriza effectively is dangerous; it does pose a threat to the present orientation of the EU – today’s global capitalism cannot afford a return to the old welfare state.

So there is something hypocritical in the reassurances about the modesty of what Syriza wants: in effect, it wants something that is not possible within the co-ordinates of the existing global system. A serious strategic choice will have to be made: what if the moment has come to drop the mask of modesty and openly advocate the much more radical change that is needed to secure even a modest gain?

Many critics of the Greek referendum claimed that it was a case of pure demagogic posturing, mockingly pointing out that it was not clear what the referendum was about. If anything, the referendum was not about the euro or the drachma, about Greece in the EU or outside it: the Greek government repeatedly emphasised its desire to remain in the EU and in the eurozone. Again, the critics automatically translated the key political question raised by the referendum into an administrative decision about particular economic measures.


In an interview with Bloomberg on 2 July, Varoufakis made clear the true stakes of the referendum. The choice was between the continuation of the EU politics of the past years that brought Greece to the edge of ruin – the fiction of “extend and pretend” (extending the payback period, but pretending that all debts will eventually be paid) – and a new, realist beginning that would no longer rely on such fictions, and would provide a concrete plan for how to start the actual recovery of the Greek economy.

Without such a plan, the crisis would just reproduce itself again and again. On the same day, even the IMF conceded that Greece needs large-scale debt relief to create “a breathing space” and get the economy moving (it proposes a 20-year moratorium on debt payments).

The No in the Greek referendum was thus much more than a simple choice between two different approaches to economic crisis. The Greek people have heroically resisted the despicable campaign of fear that mobilised the lowest instincts of self-preservation. They have seen through the brutal manipulation of their opponents, who falsely presented the referendum as a choice between euro and drachma, between Greece in Europe and “Grexit”.

Their No was a No to the Eurocrats who prove daily that they are unable to drag Europe out of its inertia. It was a No to the continuation of business as usual; a desperate cry telling us all that things cannot go on the usual way. It was a decision for authentic political vision against the strange combination of cold technocracy and hot racist clichés about lazy, free-spending Greeks. It was a rare victory for principle against egotist and ultimately self-destructive opportunism. The No that won was a Yes to full awareness of the crisis in Europe; a Yes to the need to enact a new beginning.

It is now up to the EU to act. Will it be able to awaken from its self-satisfied inertia and understand the sign of hope delivered by the Greek people? Or will it unleash its wrath on Greece in order to be able to continue its dogmatic dream?

Slavoj Žižek’s is a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and international director at Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. His latest book is “Trouble in Paradise: from the End of History to the End of Capitalism” (Allen Lane)


California Tax Auditors Yank Blue Shield’s Non-Profit Status | Crooks and Liars

via California Tax Auditors Yank Blue Shield’s Non-Profit Status | Crooks and Liars.

California Tax Auditors Yank Blue Shield’s Non-Profit Status

California Tax Auditors Yank Blue Shield's Non-Profit Status


I know here in Pennsylvania, our Blues hide the for-profit subsidiaries in a vast array of “independent” spin-offs. I’m sure the same thing is going on in every state, not just California:

In a scathing audit, state tax officials slammed nonprofit health insurer Blue Shield of California for stockpiling “extraordinarily high surpluses” — more than $4 billion —and for failing to offer more affordable coverage or other public benefits.

The California Franchise Tax Board cited those reasons, among others, for revoking Blue Shield’s state tax exemption last year, according to documents related to the audit that were reviewed by The Times. These details have remained secret until now because the insurer and tax board have refused to make public the audit and related records.


Continue reading