Saturday, June 09, 2012

Right-Wing Politician Beats Up Two Women On TV-- How Will That Go Over In The Election?


In Europe the financial focus has shifted to the impending meltdown in Spain while Greece prepares to vote for a national government again on June 17 (which may or may not be derailed by a strike of municipal workers). The May 6th results were inconclusive and no one was able to form a national government. Voters punished the two main parties primarily because they want to continue the hated Austerity programs being shoved down Greece's throat by the German banksters. Antonis Samaras' center right New Democracy took 18.85% of the vote, a drop of 14.2% from 2009. The center-left party, PASOK, led by corporate shill Evangelos Venizelos did even worse. Their 13.18% share was the result of losing 30.74% from 2009. And that was largely because of defections to a more representative/less corporatist, anti-bailout coalition led by Alexis Tsipras (Syriza) which made the biggest gains of any party. They came in in second place with 16.78%, an increase of 12.18% from 2009. Also gaining were the Communists (8.48% of the vote, up almost a percentage point) and the Nazi Party (Nikolaos Michaloliakos' Golden Dawn) which won 6.97% of the vote, their first time over the 3% minimum needed to win seats in Parliament. They won 21 seats, making them the 7th biggest bloc of votes in the 300 member body. They're basically the Greek version of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. The new elections are taking place in the context of growing social unrest throughout the country, a deteriorating economic situation for most Greeks and, now, a rash of escalating violence.

And that brings us to the sensationalize video clip above. It shows Nazi Party member (and weightlifter) Ilias Kasidiaris assaulting two female politicians (one from Syriza and one from the Communist Party) on a popular Athens morning show. An arrest warrant has been issued for Kasidiaris, now a far right icon all over Europe, but he's in hiding.
Greek talk shows are by nature combustible affairs. But rarely have they witnessed anything quite as shocking as the moment when a leading member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party launched a physical assault on two female politicians.

Ten days before the debt-stricken nation goes to the polls in an election that will not only decide Greece's fate but quite possibly the course of Europe too, the attack, captured on live TV, involved Ilias Kasidiaris, a high profile member of Golden Dawn, lashing out at two prominent leftwing MPs-- all part of a seven-strong panel attending the popular Good Morning Greece TV show.

...Kasidiaris, the party's 31-year-old spokesman, first turned on Dourou, hurling a glass of water into her face, for daring to suggest that Golden Dawn "would take the country back 500 years" if they were elected.

He then turned his fists on Kanelli when the communist MP stood up in protest. Within minutes of the talk show's presenter, Giorgos Papadakis, intervening to break up the brawl, the MP had fled.

Across Greece's deeply divisive political landscape there was agreement that the extraordinary incident, replayed on TV channels throughout the day, had unmasked Golden Dawn for what it really is: a group of intolerant extremists who resort to violence to make their point.

Across the political spectrum, politicians said that the party, voted into parliament in last month's inconclusive poll for the first time since the collapse of military rule, had revealed its true colours. From garnering a mere 0.46% three years ago, the extreme rightwing party captured 7% of the vote in what was widely interpreted as a protest against mainstream parties enforcing unpopular austerity measures in return for EU-IMF funds keeping the moribund Greek economy afloat.

"Now that they have seen what this party is really about, Greeks will have no alibi to vote for them again," said Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a former conservative New Democracy minister who also participated in the talk show. "I, personally, will never take part in a debate with a member of Golden Dawn again."

Several hours after the incident, with the group still resolutely refusing to apologise, two MPs with the socialist Pasok party were attacked by Golden Dawn supporters as they campaigned in northern Greece.

In a statement KKE, the communist party of Greece, appealed to "workers, young people and pensioners" who voted for Golden Dawn to abandon the extremists. A spokesman said the stridently xenophobic group had used its anti-immigrant, anti-bailout platform to hoodwink Greeks into voting for it.

Led by Nikos Michaloliakos, and attracting an eclectic mix of soldiers, shepherds, workers and low-income professionals, Golden Dawn has fiercely denied any association with neo-Nazism-- despite its embrace of Third Reich paraphernalia and its symbol bearing an uncanny resemblance to the swastika.

In recent months, and especially in the weeks that have elapsed between Greece's two ballots, the party has been linked to a number of attacks on migrants, liberals, human rights activists and journalists, particularly women.

Michaloliakos, an open sympathiser of the 1967-74 colonels' regime, says such accusations are part of a conspiracy conducted by the "filthy media" against a political force that is intent on breaking with the corrupt and crooked policies of the past and bringing a "new golden dawn" to Greece.

With Golden Dawn's ratings dropping to under 5%, none have been more vociferous in their denial of the party's links with fascist elements than Kasidiaris, a weightlifting enthusiast who served in the Greek military's special forces before joining the party.

The MP stands accused of participating in an armed robbery that saw a Greek postgraduate student being fatally stabbed in 2007. Mention of his alleged complicity appears to have set off Kasidiaris during the talk show appearance that has highlighted Greece's teetering position on the edge of dysfunction and despair.

Greece's huge immigrant population has borne the brunt of the tidal wave of anger and despair that last month catapulted Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) into parliament. A surge of recent attacks in recent weeks on migrants, particularly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, has been blamed squarely on the neo-fascist party. Immigrants have been assaulted in their homes, on the streets, on trains and buses in and outside city centres with most requiring intensive hospital care.

Last week, far rightists were accused of an arson attack on a migrants' hostel in Athens. Ourania Michaloliakou, the daughter of Chrysi Avgi's leader, was among six masked party cadres charged with conducting a motorcycle raid against Pakistani migrants although they were later released. The party's motto is that Greece should "rid itself of such filth." Immigrant organisations say the rise in attacks has prompted a growing number of migrants to voluntarily return to their homelands.

Regarded as the most extreme of Europe's rightwing parties, Chrysi Avgi denies accusations of neo-Nazism. But Nikos Michaloliakos, the party's leader has publicly questioned the veracity of Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps and Chyrsi Avgi symbols have been found on vandalised memorials commemorating Greek Jewry. Over the past year the group has been blamed for a rash of arson attacks on cemeteries and synagogues in Athens, Salonika and Crete. Gay clubs in Athens have also been attacked.

Well, who could have guessed? A right-wing political party gains power by exploiting fear of immigrants among low-info voters (and bigots) and quickly turns violent, targeting women, Jews and gays. If that doesn't sound familiar, maybe you weren't paying attention in high school history class. Or maybe you were the victim of home schooling. Late Thursday evening I introduced Jonathan Haidt into the conversation after he was a guest on Bill Moyers show. I wasn't aware at the time but he was penning an article for The Guardian at the same time, Why Working-Class People Vote Conservative and he goes beyond just pointing out that they're morons and bigots and have malfunctioning brains to his whole very controversial-- some say naïve-- Moral Foundations Theory. His article is more geared towards the U.S. but it could certainly be extrapolated for people trying to understand how 440,896 Greeks, mostly poor, wound up voting for the Nazi Party there.
Many commentators on the left have embraced some version of the duping hypothesis: the Republican party dupes people into voting against their economic interests by triggering outrage on cultural issues. "Vote for us and we'll protect the American flag!" say the Republicans. "We'll make English the official language of the United States! And most importantly, we'll prevent gay people from threatening your marriage when they … marry! Along the way we'll cut taxes on the rich, cut benefits for the poor, and allow industries to dump their waste into your drinking water, but never mind that. Only we can protect you from gay, Spanish-speaking flag-burners!"

One of the most robust findings in social psychology is that people find ways to believe whatever they want to believe. And the left really want to believe the duping hypothesis. It absolves them from blame and protects them from the need to look in the mirror or figure out what they stand for in the 21st century.

Here's a more painful but ultimately constructive diagnosis, from the point of view of moral psychology: politics at the national level is more like religion than it is like shopping. It's more about a moral vision that unifies a nation and calls it to greatness than it is about self-interest or specific policies. In most countries, the right tends to see that more clearly than the left. In America the Republicans did the hard work of drafting their moral vision in the 1970s, and Ronald Reagan was their eloquent spokesman. Patriotism, social order, strong families, personal responsibility (not government safety nets) and free enterprise. Those are values, not government programmes.

The Democrats, in contrast, have tried to win voters' hearts by promising to protect or expand programmes for elderly people, young people, students, poor people and the middle class. Vote for us and we'll use government to take care of everyone! But most Americans don't want to live in a nation based primarily on caring. That's what families are for.

One reason the left has such difficulty forging a lasting connection with voters is that the right has a built-in advantage-- conservatives have a broader moral palate than the liberals (as we call leftists in the US). Think about it this way: our tongues have taste buds that are responsive to five classes of chemicals, which we perceive as sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savoury. Sweetness is generally the most appealing of the five tastes, but when it comes to a serious meal, most people want more than that.

In the same way, you can think of the moral mind as being like a tongue that is sensitive to a variety of moral flavours. In my research with colleagues at, we have identified six moral concerns as the best candidates for being the innate "taste buds" of the moral sense: care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Across many kinds of surveys, in the UK as well as in the USA, we find that people who self-identify as being on the left score higher on questions about care/harm. For example, how much would someone have to pay you to kick a dog in the head? Nobody wants to do this, but liberals say they would require more money than conservatives to cause harm to an innocent creature.

But on matters relating to group loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity (treating things as sacred and untouchable, not only in the context of religion), it sometimes seems that liberals lack the moral taste buds, or at least, their moral "cuisine" makes less use of them. For example, according to our data, if you want to hire someone to criticise your nation on a radio show in another nation (loyalty), give the finger to his boss (authority), or sign a piece of paper stating one's willingness to sell his soul (sanctity), you can save a lot of money by posting a sign: "Conservatives need not apply."

In America, it is these three moral foundations that underlie most of the "cultural" issues that, according to duping theorists, are used to distract voters from their self-interest. But are voters really voting against their self-interest when they vote for candidates who share their values? Loyalty, respect for authority and some degree of sanctification create a more binding social order that places some limits on individualism and egoism. As marriage rates plummet, and globalisation and rising diversity erodes the sense of common heritage within each nation, a lot of voters in many western nations find themselves hungering for conservative moral cuisine.

Despite being in the wake of a financial crisis that-- if the duping theorists were correct-- should have buried the cultural issues and pulled most voters to the left, we are finding in America and many European nations a stronger shift to the right. When people fear the collapse of their society, they want order and national greatness, not a more nurturing government.

Even on the two moral taste buds that both sides claim-- fairness and liberty-- the right can often outcook the left. The left typically thinks of equality as being central to fairness, and leftists are extremely sensitive about gross inequalities of outcome-- particularly when they correspond along racial or ethnic lines. But the broader meaning of fairness is really proportionality – are people getting rewarded in proportion to the work they put into a common project? Equality of outcomes is only seen as fair by most people in the special case in which everyone has made equal contributions. The conservative media (such as the Daily Mail, or Fox News in the US) is much more sensitive to the presence of slackers and benefit cheats. They are very effective at stirring up outrage at the government for condoning cheating.

Similarly for liberty. Americans and Britons all love liberty, yet when liberty and care conflict, the left is more likely to choose care. This is the crux of the US's monumental battle over Obama's healthcare plan. Can the federal government compel some people to buy a product (health insurance) in order to make a plan work that extends care to 30 million other people? The derogatory term "nanny state" is rarely used against the right (pastygate being perhaps an exception). Conservatives are more cautious about infringing on individual liberties (eg of gun owners in the US and small businessmen) in order to protect vulnerable populations (such as children, animals and immigrants).

In sum, the left has a tendency to place caring for the weak, sick and vulnerable above all other moral concerns. It is admirable and necessary that some political party stands up for victims of injustice, racism or bad luck. But in focusing so much on the needy, the left often fails to address-- and sometimes violates-- other moral needs, hopes and concerns. When working-class people vote conservative, as most do in the US, they are not voting against their self-interest; they are voting for their moral interest. They are voting for the party that serves to them a more satisfying moral cuisine. The left in the UK and USA should think hard about their recipe for success in the 21st century.

Alexis & Barack-- only one of these leaders represents actual Hope & Change

Yesterday President Obama said that Greece needs to recognize that “hardships will likely be worse” if it leaves eurozone, presumably an anti-Syriza remark. I'm guessing Georgia Logothetis, Managing Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, has a better understanding of the Greek situation than Obama's advisors (whose main worries are domestic ramifications for the U.S. election anyway). Georgia did a post last week worth reading, Greece And The Great Shell Game, which explains why Greece is in worse shape now than before the European bailout. Short version: virtually all the bailout funds for Greece go not to Greece but to German and French banks.
The bailout of Greece by European players worked.

Yes, despite implementing draconian austerity measures, Greece is still neck-deep in a years-long recession. Yes, unemployment among youth is over 50%, and 1 in 5 young Greeks plan to flee the barren wasteland that is the current Greek employment landscape. Yes, families are expected to live on just hundreds of euros a month. And yes, standards of living have plummeted while the cost of living skyrockets. The rate of suicides is alarming, homeless shelters are overcrowded, the Greek government is in tatters, tourism is down and extremism is rising.

Yes, Greece has been beaten down into a bloody heap of a broken society crumbled at the bottom of what Germany has affectionately labeled a “bottomless pit.”

But saving Greece wasn’t the goal of “aiding Greece.” Containing her was, and the news over the last few weeks demonstrates that in that respect-- when the austerity-only bailout program is viewed not as a lifesaver but as a European tourniquet to isolate a wounded sovereign appendage-- the bailout program was a wild success.

One need not look any further than the fact that talk of a Greek exit from the eurozone was taboo just two years ago. Now, diplomats and eurozone leaders are publicly strategizing about how to handle a Greek exit. Others are speculating about kicking Greece out of the European Union all together. Many European leaders are even going so far as to proclaim Greece’s upcoming elections as a referendum on eurozone participation. What was once taboo has now become the talk of the town now that European banks and bondholders have been sufficiently protected from Greece’s internal nightmare.

UPDATE: The Nazi Says He's Suing His Victims

Kasidiaris, still in hiding, is now threatening to sue the two women he assaulted... for provoking him. He claims it was a conspiracy to make the Nazi Party look bad before the election.
The party's image has been severely dented by continuous replays of footage of the 31-year-old Kasidiaris, a former army commando, striking the middle-aged Communist party deputy Liana Kannelli three times.

Not quite 70 years since Hitler killed himself on the ashes of his devastated country and nothing much has changed in terms of the quality of people attracted to right-wing political parties.

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At 9:22 AM, Anonymous me said...

the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party

I hate to have to break it to you, but the teabaggers are no longer a wing. They're nearly half, and still growing.


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