Sunday, July 05, 2015
Greek corruption behind Greek collapse
Is there such a thing as an honest Greek?
Greece in teetering on the brink of ruin - and it is hard not to feel sympathy for the pensioners crying in the street and the mothers facing empty supermarket shelves.
Yet those reading a new book may find themselves feeling a little less compassionate towards the Greeks. It reveals an eye-popping catalogue of benefits scams and tax avoidance schemes that have robbed the public purse.
James Angelos' The Full Catastrophe: Travels among the New Greek Ruins lays bare the corruption which filtered through all levels of society - from the islanders who pretended to be blind, to the families who forgot to register their parents' death and the doctors who 'earn' just €12,000 a year - yet live in Athens' most exclusive neighbourhood.
It was the rumours of an 'island of the blind' which first bought Angelos, a journalist, to Greece in 2011. He had heard that on Zakynthos, something like two per cent of the population were registered blind.
All was not quite how it seemed, however, and it transpired that 61 of the 680 'blind' residents were quite happily driving around the island.
In fact, an astonishing 498 of those 680 were not blind at all - or even partially sighted. But being 'blind' had its advantages - in particular, the €724 paid in benefits once every two months, and a reduction in utility bills.
It was a scam which could be traced back to one ophthalmologist and one official, which was estimated to have cost the country €9 million.
And, as Angelos discovered, it was only the tip of the iceberg. How big is the problem of disability benefits fraud, Angelos asked the then-deputy health minister Markos Bolaris. 'Very big,' came the accurate, but short, reply.
Indeed, when those claiming disabilities were asked to present themselves at government offices so records could be updated, 36,000 failed to do so. That translated to an immediate saving for the government of €100m a year.
But the fraud was certainly not confined to just disability benefits. When the government chose to take a closer look at who they were paying pensions to, they found a slightly suspicious 8,500 pensioners had surpassed the milestone age of 100.
An even closer look revealed, 40,000 pension claims were fraudulent. It seems people were forgetting to register their loved ones' deaths.
It's not that these scams were not known about before, of course.
A Daily Mail investigation in 2011 revealed the subway system was essentially free for the five million residents of Athens - because, with no barriers, it relied on an honesty system which few were honest enough to use.
It described street after street of opulent mansions and villas, surrounded by high walls and with their own pools, which, on paper, were the homes of virtual paupers.
They were all allowed to declare their own income for tax purposes - and officially, they were only earning €12,000 - or a paltry £8,500 - a year, below the tax threshold.
Apparently, only 5,000 people admitted to earning more than £90,000 a year - prompting one economist to describe Greece as a ‘poor country full of rich people’.
The lengths these doctors, lawyers and businessmen would go to to hide their wealth from the government was, it has to be said, impressive.
According to official records, just over 300 homes in Athens' most exclusive neighbourhood had swimming pools, and had paid the resulting tax for such a luxury.
But when the government decided to have a look on Google Earth, it became clear these residents hadn't been totally honest. The real figure for swimming pools in the area is believed to be closer to 20,000.
But instead of coming clean, there was a boom in sales of camouflage tarpaulins to conceal their existence from the tax inspectors flying over the gardens.
And then there are the tales which seem to be more down to incompetence, rather than actual fraud.
In particular, there is the tale of treasury employee Savvas Saltouridis, who used an Uzi submachine gun to murder the mayor of his Greek mountain town in 2009, who remained on the municipal payroll for years afterwards - even though he was languishing in jail. He was taking advantage of the complex disciplinary system
But what do when so many are cheating the system? It is estimated tax evasion alone might be costing the country as much as €20billion a year in lost revenue, while years of benefit fraud will certainly have added up.
But when Angelos suggested punishing those who tried to play the system, he was given a straight forward - if depressing - answer. 'If you start putting people in jail, maybe you'll have to put half of Greece in jail,' an official said.
Cantuar rebukes U.S. Anglicans for recognising same-sex marriages and referring to God in ‘gender-neutral’ language
The Archbishop of Canterbury has rebuked American Anglicans for recognising same-sex marriages and referring to God in ‘gender-neutral’ language.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby told leaders of the Church of England’s US sister church that it was the wrong time for a row over gay rights and sexism in services.
He told the bishops of the Episcopal Church that they should be ‘looking outwards’ to mourn for the victims of Islamist terror attacks instead of returning to the Anglicans’ decades old disputes over sex.
And the Archbishop pointedly drew their attention to the need to take notice of the racially-inspired massacre of black American churchgoers in Charleston.
Archbishop Welby told the Americans that their radical reforms would cause distress among Anglicans and the faithful of other Christian churches.
The campaign by the liberal bishops of the US church to promote gay rights has led to a deep divide in the 70 million-strong Anglican Communion, the network of churches around the world that were set up on the model of the Church of England and which look to Lambeth Palace for leadership.
Its latest move came at its general convention in Salt Lake City, which agreed to remove from its liturgy any references to marriage being between a man and a woman, and to replace references to God as ‘He’ with language that does not specify sex.
Services in the new form are likely to be in use in states that approve them by Christmas.
Archbishop Welby’s disapproval was set out in a statement from Lambeth Palace.
‘The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed deep concern about the stress for the Anglican Communion following the US Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ resolution to change the definition of marriage in the canons so that any reference to marriage as between a man and a woman is removed,’ it said.
‘While recognising the prerogative of the Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context, Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.’
The statement added: ‘At a time of such suffering around the world, he stated that this was a moment for the church to be looking outwards. We continue to mourn with all those who are grieving loved ones and caring for the injured from the terrorist attacks in Sousse, Kuwait and Lyon, and from the racist attacks in Charleston.’
We won't hound fox hunters anymore says RSPCA -- unless ...
The RSPCA has announced it will no longer chase fox hunters through the courts. The animal welfare charity’s u-turn came after it was accused of wasting members’ funds prosecuting hunters for political reasons.
A review by Stephen Wooler, former chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, recommended the RSPCA no longer prosecute in hunting cases last October.
Now the organisation’s trustees have decided to pass cases involving ‘traditional hunts’ to the police and CPS, after an initial investigation to determine the quality of evidence.
The trustees will, however, reserve the right to proceed if the police or CPS decline to take action. The RSPCA, which relies on donations, has faced criticism for the high cost of its prosecutions, some in cases with little chance of success.
A case against the Cattistock Hunt in Dorset was withdrawn in March when the RSPCA accepted it had no chance of conviction. In 2012, it successfully prosecuted the Heythrop Hunt in David Cameron’s constituency, but was accused of a political vendetta. The magistrate in the case described the £327,000 costs run up by the charity as ‘staggering’.
David Bowles, of the RSPCA, said yesterday: ‘We have listened to Stephen Wooler and have acted on his recommendation to adopt a clear policy on how we deal with cases specifically against traditional hunts. We will still look into allegations involving traditional hunts, before passing the evidence to the police, who will be invited to complete the investigation before handing the case to the CPS.
‘If the police decline to conclude an investigation, the RSPCA reserves the right to complete the investigation, and deal with any prosecution required, itself. We will still investigate other individuals for alleged breaches of the Hunting Act.’
Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance, said the RSPCA had made a ‘sensible decision’, adding: ‘The RSPCA is in an extremely difficult position as a political campaigning organisation and as a prosecutor. ‘We have long argued it makes it almost impossible for them to make objective decisions on prosecutions.’
The Prime Minister has promised MPs a free vote on repealing the hunt ban introduced by Labour in 2004, although it was not in this year’s Queen’s Speech.
Critics of the RSPCA claim it became more political under former chief executive Gavin Grant, whose vocal opposition to the badger cull and hunting led to accusations that the charity’s focus had switched to animal rights from animal welfare.
A leaked internal memo two years ago from RSPCA deputy chairman Paul Draycott revealed there were also concerns within the charity that it was becoming ‘too political’ and likened its pursuit of hunting to ‘the charge of the Light Brigade’.
Mr Grant quit last year and a successor has yet to be named.
Marriage Battle Picks Up Steam in Australia: ‘No Parliament or Court has the Authority to Repeal Biology’
“No parliament or court has the authority to repeal biology,” an Australian pro-family campaigner said at the weekend as the ripple effects of the U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling lent additional momentum to a growing campaign to redefine marriage in Australia.
Australian Marriage Forum president David van Gend said decisions like the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage is a right was a reflection of “the moral dementia of the West.”
Describing the court decision as an “historic act of social self-mutilation” akin to Roe vs. Wade, van Gend warned it will lead to “a new era of civil discord.”
“We must not let that happen here.”
“If same-sex couples cannot marry, that is because they do not meet nature’s job description for marriage and family: marriage and childbearing is a specifically male-female phenomenon in nature, and no parliament or court has the authority to repeal biology,” he said.
In the wake of the Supreme Court decision America’s biggest LGBT civil rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), is throwing its backing behind the Australian campaign.
The HRC expressed support for the activist group Australian Marriage Equality, whose national convenor Rodney Croome says his country is “now the only developed, English-speaking country that doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry.”
“We welcome the Human Rights Campaign’s support for the Australian campaign because it will muster support across the world and highlight how far Australia is falling behind,” said Croome.
“Now marriage equality has been achieved in the U.S., all eyes will be on Australia with the hope we are next.”
The leader of Australia’s official opposition Labor Party, Bill Shorten, recently introduced a bill that would alter the definition of who can be legally married by replacing the words “man and women” with “two people.”
“Those eight words [‘the union of a man and a woman’] maintain a fiction that any other relationship is somehow inferior,” Shorten said when introducing the bill on June 1.
The issue was thrust into the political spotlight a decade ago, when Australians who had solemnized same-sex marriages in Canada tried to get courts in their own country to declare those unions to be valid and legal.
In response, the federal parliament in 2004 defined marriage explicitly as a union between a man and a woman.
The next skirmish occurred in 2013, when the federal parliament defeated a bill that would have allowed homosexuals and lesbians to marry. At that time both the then-Labor prime minister, Julia Gillard, and center-right opposition leader Tony Abbott opposed the bill, and it was voted down 98-42.
That same year the legislature of the Australian Capital Territory, which comprises Canberra and the surrounding area, passed the nation’s first same-sex marriage legislation. It was challenged by the federal government, and just five days after it came into effect in December 2013 the High Court overturned it, declaring it “a matter for the federal parliament.”
In the face of the new parliamentary push, Abbott – now prime minister – remains opposed to same-sex marriage.
“What happens in the United States is obviously a matter for the United States, just as what happened in Ireland a few weeks ago is a matter for the Irish,” he said in Melbourne on Saturday, referring to the Supreme Court decision and to Ireland’s May 22 referendum legalizing same-sex marriage.
“As for our own country, obviously there is a community debate going on,” Abbott said. “I have views on this subject which are pretty well known and they haven’t changed.”
‘The dominos are falling around the world’
Parliament is expected to take up Shorten’s bill when it resumes after the current winter recess.
“This is a joyous day in America,” Shorten said in response to the Supreme Court decision. “In Australia, let us make it a call to action.”
It was the Irish referendum that prompted Shorten to introduce the measure. He told reporters on Saturday that if a “famously religious society” like Ireland could take the step, “why couldn’t we in Australia?”
“America is another society which is very influential in Australia from its media, its culture, to its system of government in many ways,” Shorten added. “So now America too has moved on the path of marriage equality.”
“The dominos are falling around the world at an ever increasing rate, and it’s well beyond time that Australia caught up,” said Nick McKim, a lawmaker with the Australian Green Party.
“Marriage in Australia is a civil institution that belongs to our people, not to the churches which continue to oppose marriage equality,” he added.
But the Australian Christian Lobby slammed the decision by “five unelected judges,” charging that the necessary flow-on effect of making marriage available to same-sex couples is to deny a child either its mother or its father.
“The five judges overturned the democratic votes of more than 50 million Americans in 31 states which have voted to keep marriage as between one man and one woman,” said ACL managing director Lyle Shelton.
“Only 11 states [10 states and DC] permitted same-sex marriage through legislative or voter action. Everywhere else, judges have made the decision for the people on behalf of the homosexual lobby.
“America, the land that gave us ‘we the people,’ has ceded its democracy to ‘you the judges.’”
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.