Greek Police, Military On High Alert Due To ‘Austerity’ Talks, Referendum

Riot police stand guard during a bailout protest in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Police leave has been cancelled and the army put on standby as the Greek authorities take steps to preserve order, writes The Times of London.

Security was increased at key locations including foreign embassies, utilities, and warehouses stocking goods that are in danger of running out, notably pharmaceuticals, Yiannis Panousis, the public order minister, said.

The country is approaching one of the most important votes in its modern history on Sunday — one that could redefine its place in Europe — yet many people acknowledge they barely have a clue as to what, exactly, they are voting on.

Erika Papamichalopoulou, 27, a resident of Athens, said “No one is saying what will happen to us if we say yes, or what will happen to us if we say no,” writes The New York Times.

Greece missed a debt payment to the International Monetary Fund, and without new financial aid it is likely to default on other debts this month. Most European nations are in no rush to help, and in fact seem content to watch the Greeks dangle for a bit.  Greek banks have shut down, according to The New York Times.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who called for the referendum, has vacillated from bitter confrontation with the country’s creditors and conciliatory outreach. Even as he signaled on Wednesday that he would accept many of the demands made by the creditors, he pressed ahead with the referendum urging Greeks to reject the proposal containing those demands.

The proposal that Greeks are voting on is no longer on the table, writes The New York Times, and was made around the framework of a bailout package that expired at midnight on Tuesday.

Mr. Tsipras’s unexpected decision to call the referendum was the equivalent of a frustrated chess player trying to break open a stalemated match with a daring last-minute move that his opponent considered to be against the rules.

The Greeks and their creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the other 18 eurozone countries — had spent months making moves and countermoves in largely fruitless negotiations over a deal that would unlock frozen funds for Greece in exchange for pension cuts, fiscal reforms and other measures demanded by creditors.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Tsipras then appeared on television early Saturday morning and announced that he would hold a national referendum five days after the Tuesday deadline for the debt payment to the I.M.F. and the extension of its existing bailout.

He said creditors were demanding more of the same austerity policies he and his party blame for wrecking the Greek economy since 2010. He said that his government had no mandate to approve such a deal but that he would let voters decide.

Analysts agree that a “yes” vote would mean the end for Mr. Tsipras. His government would likely step down next week, and the Greek president – a largely ceremonial figure, though not in moments of collapsing government – would need to assemble a “unity” government from different parties.

According to The Times of London, there is currently a movement towards a “yes” vote in Greece.

(Updated photo)

Republicans Can Still Go After Obamacare

According to Mother Jones, now that Republicans control Congress, they’re again threatening to end Obamacare. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to hold a repeal vote when Republicans take over the upper chamber in January, adding that GOPers “will go at that law…in every way that we can.”

Obamacare is not going anywhere as long as President Barack Obama is in office. But there is a sneakier way GOPers could deal a blow to the health care law in the next two years: They can make the law look more costly than it is, boosting the case for dismantling it.

In 2012, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)—which produces official budget projections—calculated that the combined effect of the tax increases and spending cuts in the Affordable Care Act will reduce the deficit by $109 billion over the next decade. (This is the CBO’s most recent estimate.)

Conservatives cried foul, saying that the CBO double-counted savings in the law and ignored billions in health care spending in order to make the economic effects of the law seem rosier than they were. They charged that Obamacare actually adds billions to the deficit.

But how does health care spending affect the deficit? Only the Medicaid expansion is government run insurance. The insurance on the exchanges is from private companies, so that wouldn’t affect the government budget.

The Bright Side: They Might Reduce The Deficit

During the last two years of the Clinton administration – when there was a Democratic President and Republican Congress – budget deficits were reduced, and (if the numbers are real), the federal government was actually running a surplus.

Wikipedia states: “The surplus in fiscal year 2000 was $237 billion—the third consecutive surplus and the largest surplus ever.”

Graph from Wikipedia.

According to Politico, in 2009, when the Barack Obama took office, the budget deficit was $1.4 trillion, and in 2015 it is projected to be $478 billion.

The Storied Met Opera Just Ended Its Season With A $22 Million Deficit


The Metropolitan Opera’s deficit rose $22 million last year, the company told The New York Times.

Weak contributions and ticket sales, combined with expenses related to the company’s labor talks, created its largest deficit since 1984.

News of financial problems surfaced during labor negotiations earlier this year. The company won concessions from its unions and agreed to make cuts of its own.

The deficit for the 2013-14 season was roughly eight times that of the previous season.

The 2013-14 season shortfall was almost 7 percent of its budget of $316 million, according to the Times.

Welfare Freeze Proposed In Britain?

GeorgeOsbourne1In the UK, George Osborne – a British Conservative Party politician – proposed a freeze on working-age welfare benefits if the Conservatives are elected in 2015.  But its effect may cause some to reflect.

The Chancellor calculates that it will save £3.2 billion over two years, 2016/17 and 2017/18. Treasury figures suggest the total welfare bill across those two years will be roughly £356 billion – so the saving would amount to about 0.9% of the total.

To put it another way, the freeze would not affect 99.1% of welfare spending. Nevertheless, £3 billion is not an insignificant sum and some will argue it would be an important contribution to cutting the deficit.

The question, however, is whether the real-terms cut targets the right people. Around two-thirds of those affected by the freeze are in working households.

Government figures show that some 67% of those receiving child or working tax credits are designated to be “in-work families”. Most of those in receipt of child benefit will also be working.

It will also hit some of the poorest families in Britain. Income Support, which is included in the freeze, is a benefit specifically targeted at the poor. Child benefit can be the difference between just getting by and going without the basics for some low-income families.