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Tipsheet

Tantrums, I Mean, Protests, Paralyze Athens

This does not bode well.

Greece ground to a halt Tuesday as angry workers launched a 48-hour general strike against an austerity drive ordered by its bankruptcy-threatened government in exchange for a European bailout.

Crowds converged early on Syntagma Square, where parliament will vote on sweeping spending cuts as planes, ships and most public transport came to a halt.

Europe's economic tsar Olli Rehn in Brussels warned that Greece faced "a critical juncture" and the austerity programme was the "only way to avoid immediate default."

But that view was not shared by protestors, determined to block passage of the package. ...

 

The number of police in the centre of the capital rose to 4,000, according to the authorities, with traffic unable to circulate in central Athens.

Public transport was halted in Athens for the fourth general strike called this year by the country's two biggest unions, with the exception of the metro whose drivers decided not to strike so as to allow Athenians to swell protest numbers. ...

A string of rallies got under way, led by a 4,000-strong Communist march to the parliament square -- a magnet for tens of thousands of protesters and an 'indignants' camp where some of thousands involved said they have clocked up 38 straight days.

"We're like the donkey -- the more you hit it, the more determined it gets," one of those who keeps coming back to the square, Omiros (Homer), 29, told AFP.

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As you sow, so shall you reap - and the Greek government has been sowing recklessly unsustainable entitlement programs for years, while the public sector employees reaped the wildly hedonistic benefits. The public sector accounts for 40% of the steadily-declining Greek GDP, and one-in-three Greek citizens is a civil servant. Instead of meeting this fiscal crisis with maturity and fortitude, its seems that they have collectively adopted an I'm-going-to-get-mine policy and decided to throw a national hissyfit. Economic reality does not seem to hold a lot of sway over the protesters.

While it is true that endemic cultural problems (tax avoidance, rampant corruption) played a role in Greece's present calamity, there is no doubt that runaway entitlement spending drove the Greeks to this precipice. Their fiscal situation is a telling reminder of the catastrophe that can ensue when short-term political goals replace long-term economic sanity, and an indicator of what's to come if we don't radically rein in our own entitlement programs (which, hopefully, we can accomplish with a bit more poise). Not to mention, it's more than a little nettlesome that any amount of our hard-earned money is being gifted to the lavish retirement packages of government-coddled workers.

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