Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Notes from Greek Ground Zero -- and one way to help!

In  my previous post, I wrote: "Now already-slashed (some early, but NOT ill-got) pensions sustaining extended families will be cut back again in order to keep Greece in the Eurozone.  Is the price too steep?" Add to that: 25% unemployment (50% ages 25-34), more than 40% living below poverty level, and a very un-Greek uptick in suicides.

A few minutes ago, I received a message from one of my former students from the AFS Girls School (circa 1968-78), who is in her late 50's. I had complemented her political activism on Facebook, as I was always trying empower the girls one way or another when I was their teacher. Here was her response (translated from the Greek):

"As you can see, we are supporting ___, with the old time politicos we see no solution. We are suffering financially and don't know what else to do. We have no help from anywhere. They've cut my husband's pension quite a lot. None of our children have jobs. My daughter owes 2,700 EU to the electric company and 1 1/2 years rent. I don't know what to do. Hopefully something good will happen. Hugs." 
She proved my point, but broke my heart.
NOTE: You can help Greece by joining me in a contribution to  Kid & Family. ($50 will provide foodstuffs and personal essentials to a family of 4 for 1 week) -- or you can send $$ to your relatives wherever they are!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Your Greek-American legacy is at stake!

A nasty story came across the Internet on August 20th -- at once a cautionary tale and a call to action. Greek-Americans can no longer just sit back and wait to see how things will turn out in Greece like one those crazy TV series with a wild finale, that then comes back again and again with an ever-thickening plot that seems to have no end. It's Season 5 already of the Greek Financial Crisis...and now things are getting very personal!

24/7 media stakes stalk Greece
Growing poverty everywhere in Greece is now a bleak reality whether making the front pages or not, and with no end in sight. But what really hurts the Greek people -- yes, these are actual human beings we are talking about! -- is the accusation that they are all dishonest and lazy...a "parapono" (painful, personal complaint) I first heard from a neighbor in my other grandmother's hometown of Koroni  3 years agoand recently again when I spent 6 weeks in Greece. With all the misinformation, Greeks have found themselves personally condemned on top of everything else...and now a trickle down effect here in the U.S.A.

It was reported that a Philadelphia judge presiding over a child custody case asked the father whether he was of Greek descent, and when told yes, he said: "The Greeks never pay taxes..That's why the country is in bankruptcy." This brought the man's Greek mother to tears, prompting an apology from the judge. But it was obvious that many in the US have a very poor and unwarranted view of Greeks and Greece, like we have never been party to any financial fiascos.*

The posting on a HALC (Hellenic-American Leadership Council) blog went on to explain: "Tax evasion is a serious problem in Greece, one that been front and center during the debate on Greece’s bailout programs. What has been largely lost in the debate — and the reason why the 'none of them ever pay taxes' myth has taken hold so much — is that the bulk of Greece’s tax evasion is committed by a small percentage of people/companies...a mere 5 percent of tax dodgers owe 85 percent of the outstanding amount." Sound familiar? And while many individuals owe small amounts -- many because they simply can't afford to pay at this point  - many of those people who still have jobs are taxed at the source, meaning that they simply cannot avoid paying taxes.

The HALC posting goes on to say: "A broad brush has been used, however, since day one of this crisis, to paint all Greeks as the lazy, tax-evading leeches of Europe. It’s a cartoonish narrative, which is why it’s become so popular. The comments by Judge Coll are a reminder that it is our duty as members of the Hellenic diaspora to counter such stereotypes whenever we hear them, be it in a courthouse or a coffeehouse."  Or at the next church Greek Festival you attend (or organize).

Our legacies here and there are at stake!

* Let us remember that Stateside we acknowledged massive financial mistakes of our own in 2008, which included unpaid, fraudulent mortgages and massive credit card malfeasance by leading financial institutions that had been deregulated.  We had a Depression, and my hometown Stockton, California, was Ground Zero for people losing their homes...Fortunately, our economy was big enough to make things right eventually, but not without government intervention. Unfortunately, Greece's economy is tiny comparatively and tied to the Euro and all of its Germany-driven financial policies and rules/regulations. The IMF has now -- with pressure from the USA -- come to its senses with documentation that the Greek economy is not sustainable with without debt reduction/restructuring. Then again, who is Europe trying to save -- Greece or itself?

(Published in The Greek American Herald, October 2015)