Extremist political leaders prey on understandable public anger. Violent protests plague Greek cities. Terrorist threats, made in the name of economic justice and national identity, are daily fare. Old-line communists, still active in Greek labor unions, have made political gains. Greece now sports its own neo-Nazi party. Greek Nazis advocate socialist economic populism and Greek ultra-nationalism -- in other words, national socialism. The Nazis took power in Depression-ridden Germany. Unlike Wimpy, they weren't conning diners for hamburger money.
The Greek people, however, also bear the major burden of responsibility for their ongoing tragedy. Greek governments, repeatedly, cooked the books when they reported their annual deficits to fellow Eurozone members. Greek governments repeatedly violated fiscal agreements and borrowed money they could not repay. In other words, they flat lied. Greek voters elected the governments and, like Wimpy, enjoyed the immediate benefits. Basic math, and time, has exposed the lies as the hot air they were.
Main Street knows the truth: Greek debt is unsustainable. Based on gross domestic product, resources and work ethic, America isn't as deeply in debt as Greece. However, America's own structural debt is the biggest strategic threat the U.S. faces. It is already eroding America's military power. Soft power advocates had better pay attention. The debt is also eroding America's economic, diplomatic and cultural power to influence and persuade.
Last week, Standard and Poor's credit analysts raised Greece's debt rating to a B-minus. S&P concluded that the latest restructuring effort, combined with more budget cuts (austerity) and the arrival of about $49 billion euros in credit, meant that Greece was no longer in "selective default." At least for a while.
The Greek government touted the ratings boost as an encouraging sign. And it is -- at least, until next Tuesday.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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