Brazil: Nationwide Strikes Crippling Nation

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Protest over President Michel Temer’s austerity measures are crippling public transport in several major cities, and many factories, businesses and schools are closed, including in major tourist areas.

Police have barricaded protesters from entering airports (some flights were delayed and cancelled earlier) and are trying to clear up roadways.

Brazil has not had a nationwide strike in over 20 years. The current protests are not yet at the ‘nationwide strike’ level, but threaten to get there, according to union leaders.

Temer assumed power after former President Dilma Rousseff was ousted. Temer was then vice president.

The cause of the protests: Brazil’s lower house passed a labor reform bill many see as undermining workers’ rights by eliminating payment for their commute from their contractors, reducing compensation for employer abuse, and allowing reduction of salaries and increasing hours.

Trump: Historic Travel Expenses

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The new president has so far racked up a travel bill of $20m.

The rate, accumulated over Trump’s first 100 days, if continued would cost $294 million after 4 years, or over half a billion after 8.

One of the top destinations for the president is his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which he calls the “Winter White House.”

For comparison, Obama spent $97m in 8 years.

Chinese Tech No Longer Just Copycat, Industry Expert Says

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“If you study Chinese products, you can get inspiration,” according to a woman who works for technology investment firm Andreessen Horowitz.

She also works helping U.S. startups learn from Chinese tech.

Connie Chan says Chinese tech is ahead of U.S. tech in everything from livestreaming (worth $5b) to messaging. For example, while Americans almost all use messaging apps daily to communicate, in China they use similar apps (such as WeChat) to pay utilities and traffic tickets, order medications to their door, and get marriage licences.

“I spend so much time teaching people what they can’t see,” she told Wired recently. “It won’t stay invisible for long.”

The idea that Chinese tech is just a copycat of other countries’ is now obsolete, she said.

The Real Reason For China’s Slowdown

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Central Banks manipulate the price of money using several different tactics for controlling interest rates. One of those mechanisms is buying assets like bonds. The last easing program that the Federal Reserve conducted ended in Oct. of 2014. Even though interest rates are still at a record low in the United States, the effects of ending Quantitative Easing have been felt across the globe. Namely with our largest trading partners. Europe, Canada and China have all faced slowing economies since the end of the program. In Europe, the ECB is combating the problem with a record asset buying program. And so far it has kept Europe afloat.

The largest effect of this asset buying program, has been the devaluation of the Euro, to close to parity with the US dollar. The idea behind this is easing is to strengthen exports and create inflation with the intention of spurring growth.  When central bankers devalue their currencies, each major bank gets to ease its currency when its economy is most in need. After QE3, the Japanese and European economies were slowing at a rapid pace. The burden of US easing could no longer be put on their shoulders, and the ECB soon began to cheapen its currency. As an effect of this, the US dollar index started to rise precipitously in July of 2014. The index’s rise was further strengthened with the possibility of a US Interest Rate hike being brought into focus by Chair Yellen. As a result the US economy began to face more economic pressure, and it started to show in the data.

One may ask how any of the above is critical to understanding why China’s economy is slowing, or why the People’s Bank of China devalued the Yuan by 2%, but it is the key foundation for accurate analysis.

The Yuan is directly pegged to the Dollar. If the dollar becomes more valuable then the yuan does likewise. This may seem trivial but it is absolutely essential to realize. US Central Bank policy that effects the value of the dollar, will also heavily effect the Yuan. Since the dollar has been rising in value against the Euro and the Yen, so has the Yuan.

One of the largest effects of a strong currency is stong cheap imports and weak expensive exports. This explains part of the large inventory buildup seen in the US. China is heavily dependent on its exports. The lower demand for higher priced Chinese exports dragged on the sector and has contributed to their slowing economy.

Rather than breaking their peg with the US Dollar the PBOC decided to directly devalue their currency against the dollar to provide stimulus for their economy and relief to their export industries.  Despite this small devaluation China will continue to face pressure as long as the dollar remains strong, and Central Banks continue their manipulation of interest rates.

The amount of malinvestment in China and economies around the world will continue to make global markets unstable in the years to come. But instead of blaming the Chinese for their slowdown, one must really look at the underlying reasons why systemically that slowdown is inevitable. In the meantime we will continue to hear the word “China” blasted three hundred times per day from every news network, financial channel, and every Donald Trump interview.

By Andrew Gehrig

Humanitarian crisis in Greece with closure of ERT news organization and mass layoffs

Humanitarian crisis in Greece with closure of ERT news organization and mass layoffs
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THESSALONIKI, Greece — Over the past weeks, many hours of airtime and many inches of newspaper columns have been dedicated to the controversy of Greek national debt. The “modest proposal” presented by the Greek Government for debt renegotiations has drawn the attention of media across Europe.

The Greek side of the debate has voiced great concern about the austerity policies applied with bailout packages by the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank. Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, has urged for time to deal with the furthering humanitarian crisis taking place within the country.

Recent reforms forced by the current Greek Government since 2011 include cuts to salaries, pensions, jobs in the public services and increased taxation have helped feed an unprecedented financial crisis which has eventually turned into a social one.

Employment statistics provide testimony to the above; Greece is on the top of Eurostat’s unemployment rates table for December, 2014, with 25.8 percent unemployed. In other words, approximately 1.5 million people are jobless.

2,656 jobless in one night

The instance of the Hellenic Public Broadcasting Corporation in Radio and Television (ERT) is a symbolic act reflecting the brutal austerity policies adopted in Greece. On June 11, 2013, the spokesman of the then Greek Government, Simos Kedikoglou, issued a statement announcing that ERT had been a corrupt and expensive organization encumbering on tax payers’ money and should stop broadcasting. A legislative act was issued by Greece’s Conservative-led coalition government the same day of Kedikoglou’s statement.

“ERT is a case of an exceptional lack of transparency and incredible extravagance. This ends now,” Kedikoglou claimed. The operations of the historic worldwide network went off air overnight. Police troops cleared the headquarters of ERT in Agia Paraskevi, Athens, cutting off the power and seizing all equipment the day after.

Outrage over the event of the “black” monitors — as people widely referred to the ERT’s shutdown – was massive. Within the night, more than 2,600 workers across ERT’s Radio, TV and Arts departments were dismissed. According to reports, a large number of them have not yet received salaries for the last months before the closure, nor their legally-entitled redundancy payments.

Almost 2 years since then, the heart of ERT is still beating, 300 kilometers away from Athens in the Greek vice-capital, Thessaloniki. Christina Siganidou, an active journalist and anchorwoman for ERT for the past 19 years, is among the last 60 people remaining in service in the newsroom of the ERT online broadcasting from Stratou Avenue, Thessaloniki.

(Photo; Konstantinos Koulocheris)

“The overall experience has been amazing so far,” she said. “We have became a solid team working voluntarily with the assistance of a few members of the technical staff trade union of ERT.”

Critics and political circles claimed that the corporation was one of the most expensive state-owned broadcasters in Europe, with a 328 million euros funding per year, but nevertheless ERT was profitable considering the vastness of its coverage, not only nation-wide but also globally with its own satellite service.

The experienced anchorwoman then referred to the political interests that have been largely involved with the hiring policies of the corporation over the past decades. When asked about issues of opacity and extravagance within ERT practices, Siganidou admitted that indeed “there were scandals in the operation of ERT, but the responsibility for these is not the staff, but those who forced the ‘black.'”

Siganidou also referred to the closure of ERT as a dreadful act of censorship of the Media, placing further blame on the management of the public broadcaster during past years.

The prospect of cathartic reforms of ERT’s structure and practice has been the topic of a major debate between the staff trade union, POSPERT, and the State. Most of the proposals involved strict fiscal and hiring regulations, but the talks have not brought any definite results.

Sissy Gerogianni had been in the newsroom for 18 consecutive days by the day we talked. She joined ERT in 2000 as a staff secretary. “We will remain here for as long as we have to, she told me. “If someone would have told us that we would stay on here for 20 months as unpaid volunteers, we wouldn’t have believed them.”

On the day of the “black,” Gerogianni explained, “police troops didn’t try to re-occupy the offices because they used us as an alibi to provoke further social unrest.” Referring to the future, Gerogianni declared that everyone at the office had expectations about the new elected government. “We never accepted our dismissals, and this is why we are still here.”

Christos Avramidis is another member of the ERT’s newsroom for the past 12 years who remains in his position despite the closure of the organisation.

On the occupation of the facilities in Thessaloniki and the fact that police troops didn’t try to “clean-up” and seize the building as they did in ERT’s headquarters in Athens the day of the “black,” Avramidis claimed that “they wouldn’t get in while they were passing anti-social laws through heavy taxation of the working class at the time.”

He also  noted that,  “this was a victory for the workers’ movement not only here, but wider, across the whole country.”

New broadcaster in the post-ERT era


In the aftermath of the closure of ERT, the Greek government announced the establishment of a new low-cost public broadcaster with Radio, TV and Internet departments to fill the gap left by ERT. New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television (NERIT) broadcasted nationwide less than one year after ERT’s closure, on the May, 4, 2014. ERT employers still are not acknowledging the existence of the newly-formed public broadcaster.

A few blocks away from ERT’s newsroom, at Aggelaki street in the Greek vice-capital, is the NERIT office. Xanthos Chitas, a former ERT news director since 1992 is now working for the organization.

“The effort to make a new public broadcaster in the post-ERT era was the right thing to do,” Chitas remarked as our interview began. “I don’t know and I don’t think that ERT was indeed an expensive operator. I have no evidence for it — and it would be wise for anyone with evidence to speak when it comes to blaming such an institution as ERT was.”

Chitas is not an advocate of the decision to close ERT. “I am against the ‘black signal.’ I don’t think that anyone agreed to what happened. It was unacceptable,” he argued. “It was censorship of freedom of speech in the media. ERT had the biggest geographical and population coverage. It was unacceptable to close it the way they did it, especially for the staff — both journalists and technicians. Those who are still there deserve more than just credit.”

In a review of the facts since the “black” of ERT, many have linked the government’s call to shut down the public broadcaster to private corporations’ convenience. In this regard the former journalist of ERT, and now member of NERIT’s crew, claimed that “this act had nothing to do with austerity, as many said, nor opacity within ERT. It was an act that privileged the private digital network operators that provide a digital terrestrial television transmission network in Greece — something that ERT was doing by 2013.”

At the time of writing, ERT employees are still on service, operating an online TV program from Thessaloniki available online as well as across 17 local radio stations in the Greek countryside, as wekk as a news’ portal. Their demonstrations have been supported by the majority of the labour population in Greece and European media corporations. The new-elected coalition government of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks political parties has promised to reopen the public broadcaster in the near future.

The instance of ERT is not the only instance of controversy in the regard of labour rights in Greece. Similar cases in both private and public sectors mirror the negative employment landscape, such as mass dismissals from Hellenic Coca-Cola by 3E Limited and school teachers’ and janitors’ dismissals reflect a crucial part of Greece’s dire job market. The redundancies account for more than 18,000 jobs within in one year.

Analysis by Konstantinos Koulocheris