On taxes, public education, ‘Macedonia,’ the Siemens scandal, the debt crisis

An open letter to the prime minister


Dear Mr Papandreou

I can see an easy way for you to increase the State?s income whilst substantially increasing your popularity with most citizens of Greece. Simply replace the property tax with a wealth tax.

If the promised substantial increase in objective values is applied without any change to the property tax thresholds, then large numbers of ordinary people will become caught up in this tax. Pretty much the total wealth of many people is the house they live in, so it seems pretty certain that some will not even have sufficient financial resources to be able to pay the tax.

A tax limited to property assets is intrinsically unfair. There are very strong arguments that those with large amounts of cash, or stocks, shares and other investments should be taxed in exactly the same way as those with property.

The existing property tax provides a mechanism for a new wealth tax, a sliding scale that ensures no tax for the less well off, with the richest paying the highest percentage. Because the mechanism is established, presumably it is seen as being fair. Simply change the thresholds, introduce very severe penalties for failing to declare worldwide assets, and start collecting the cash.

The common view is that ordinary people are paying for all of the country?s financial problems whilst the wealthy escape with paying little or nothing, regardless as to whether or not they became wealthy legally. Can you see a better way to show your people that you really want everyone to contribute fairly?

Please don?t allow yourself to be put off the wealth tax idea by friends and parliamentary colleagues who may be hit hard. Please take these few simple steps to make the rich pay along with the rest of us.


A Typical Voter

Our children and their Greek education

Well, where to start? These recent letters on the Greek educational system have pushed me to eventually sit down and write.

We are a family of 5 with 3 girls aged between 12 and 18 years. Our eldest is in her final year of school and preparing for her final exams starting on the 12th of May.

It may shock you to read that she hasn’t had a full programme of school since the schools broke up on the 24th of March for the 25th March celebrations…

I was completely shocked and desperate when our daughter told us that there was no point in her attending school from now onwards as the teachers would only hold classes if 5 or more students turned up for classes. I could not accept this (coming from a very good Irish educational system myself), so I insisted she continued to attend school.

However, she was the ONLY student to attend school and she went to the head master to ask him what she should do… He took one look at her, asked her why she was in school and said that she may as well go home as the teachers would not take the lesson with only 1 student.

Now, what do you do as a parent in this case? Try to beat a system so corrupt and inbred and make yourself and your daughter ill in the process… After much deliberation we decided that we should ‘ride the system’ – i.e. she sat down and highlighted the lessons she felt were worth attending based on learning content and their benefit to her, she would do a ring around to ensure that 5 students were attending thus not wasting time travelling to and from school, half hour each way by bus, but bus times not always helping etc…

The big toss up is, is it worth her while travelling to school or would she be better off staying at home and studying for her ‘Private Lesson Programme’ which is every night and one day over the weekend? Now 90 percent of her class attend ‘Frontistirio’ — this is essential for any student who wishes to be prepared for the ‘Panellinies’, not just on an acedemic level but also emotionally.

Due to continuous breaks in the school year, strikes, meetings (held during school time), school ‘walk about’ days (as I call them). In my country you could call them ‘field trips’ but in Greece they consist of having a walk, a coffee and a general morning of dossing about the beach etc… the curriculum is far from covered throughout the year and so to ensure your child has some hope of passing, one has no other option but to sign up to the ‘Frontistirios’ .

Now, you can argue that it is the parents? fault that the system continues to be like this but I beg to differ. As parents we have given up everything and more to support our girls through an educational system which is failing in all aspects. I have spoken up over the years of schooling in this country only to be shot down time and time again. Until the government addresses the massive issues and failings of the ‘educational system’ in Greece, nothing can change.

Change will have to start at the root. Right back to the Kindergarten levels.

Teachers will have to be taught HOW to teach!

Assessments of all teachers should be part of the norm!

Parent/teacher meetings should be held outside school hours ensuring that working parents, like ourselves, can attend and have an ear, a voice, an opinion.

We now dread the thought of our youngest facing another 6 years of a ‘slog’ in secondary school from September. Maybe more to the point, I dread the thought of what it is going to mean for us, as dedicated, very hardworking parents to keep her motivated, on track and interested!

I shudder each time our 15 year old asks, «Do I really have to go into Lykeio»… she is bored of having to learn things off by heart, parrot fashion and being told daily, «You just have to know it, you don’t have to understand what you are saying !» …

My advise to any parent reading this is…. Get out while you can!

The regret and guilt of not doing what I wanted to do 15 years ago will stay with me forever. I am not proud that we decided to give our girls a ‘Greek Education’ — I feel sick to my stomach each time I allow myself to think about ….’what could have been’ for our lovely children.

Instead we have to continuously remind them that this is not normal. They need to learn how to act and conduct themselves in another country, they need to be prepared for a future outside Greece.

….The youth of today are the adults of the future ….

Watch out Greece, your problems have only just begun!



Ex-minister convicted over undeclared Siemens cash

Yet another Greek farce! Why are all the ******** getting a suspended jail sentence? Has any Greek polititian actually gone to prison? I suggest that Greece looks to England, where politicians have been sent to prison for much less serious offences. The 7,500-euro fine is also a joke.


Re ‘Macedonia’

The thing that disturbs me the most about this whole FYROM name issue is the extremist belief of a «United Macedonia» from members of the FYROM community. This is especially true with its fanatical diasporas abroad. You see it regularly on discussion forums and social media such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. There is also evidence that this concept is still widely taught in education institutions. Most disturbingly, you see it blatantly displayed in public as shown recently when demonstrating through the streets of Melbourne, banners with ?Solum will once again be the capital of Macedonia? were blatantly displayed. The FYROM government needs to demonstrate a bit of goodwill by taking steps to address these extremist irredentist views from within. Not by throwing petrol onto the flame by building statues based on dubious history. This will do them no favors in promoting positive dialogue moving forward on this very complex issue.



Response to Slobodan Kutlesovski

In today?s edition we find a stern rebuke from Paris Athan in response to a claim that was made by Slobodan Kutlesovski regarding the Macedonian name issue. As much as I can understand the discussion that goes on about the name issue, I take offense at the displayed bigotry by Mr Athan. I am sick and tired of seeing and hearing Greeks mouthing off about their «proud heritage;» meanwhile none of us hardly know more about our so called heritage then 3 generations back (I am supposedly from Epiros, but I have no idea where further generations [back] came from). I might as well be a Slav or from further afield. Furthermore, nobody can deny the tremendous importance of ancient Greece and its influence over Western culture and society, but yet again, let me just underscore that as much as we happen to accidentally walk in their footsteps by virtue of occupying the same space, our contribution as Greeks in the world is laughable. I know, just as the next man, the immense problems our small country has had post the fall of Constantinople and its modern struggles, but why do we always have to resort to chest beating and revoke Alexander the Great, Spartans or the great society of Athens every time we want to underscore something. The truth is that those times were truly miraculous but as modern Greeks of today we had absolutely nothing to do with it, and for us to bask in former glory of the ancients just underscores our pathetic inefficiencies in today’s Greece.


‘Ex-minister convicted…….,’ April 14, 2011

Let me get this straight: A former Transport Minister is ‘convicted’ by the Greek judicial system of accepting bribes from Siemens. As is always the case with Greek politicians, he receives the terrible punishment of a suspended sentence. And now Greece will sue Siemens for harming Greece? Harming what? Its reputation? Greece is beyond redemption… it is obvious that anyone who would want to do business, any business, in Greece must bribe the powers that be, such as they are.

It is called solicitation. It is called graft. The Greek judicial system, including law enforcement, is compromised and incapable of dealing with it.

And in the same edition, to add some humor to the situation, columnist Pantelis Boukalas states his opiniton that ‘polling stations are not courtrooms, voters are not juries…’ regarding the actions of yet another compromised politician. It seems to me that the polling station is the very last opportunity for the Greek citizen who is truly concerned about the state of his country to ‘convict and punish’ these thieving politicians.



More pundits see a Greek default

I do too, and I actually think it might be the best option — in the long term.

I would leave the technical details on the bonds issues and a possible Greek debt restructuring aside and focus on the core issue of Greece’s financial woes with the adage «If the government is not winning a war, it is losing it.» And that aphorism is not only for «armed conflict,» but also on economic strength. Greece may have been saved from bankruptcy with help from its European friends, but it has come to be nowadays in a stalemate of «financial uncertainty» with prospects of getting worse — not better! And that possible danger is a red flag to investors and bond holders at a time the Greek government itself seems to be unable to dig itself out of the financial hole Greece has fallen in the last decade.

Worse yet, there are no «good» solutions. The only «two» solutions available to Greece are «bad» and «worse!» Some even talk about a «catastrophic restructuring,» and I personally see that possibility as inevitable. I remember the former prime minister Costas Karamanlis telling Greeks during the beginning of the global economic crisis that «the Greek economy was «tethorakismeni» [impregnable], and that «they had nothing to fear from the global financial meltdown!» The fact was that Greece was heavily in debt, but it continued to «borrow and spend» freely because the euphoria looked good for the politicians — until the credit rating agencies downgraded its rating to «poor» and they were considering to change it to «junk» status, when finally the Greek government admitted it was in a deep financial hole.

The Greeks will just deceive themselves if they continue to patch the Greek economy with short term solutions that worsen that status of the economy in the long term. A restructuring will be a bold and painful solution, but the best long term option for a strong economy. And on any restructuring, the power of the Greek Unions should be reduced significantly, and the vast Greek government bureaucracy should also be trimmed substantially. Enough with Greece’s borrowing and spending foreign money above of what the Greek Gross National Product can generate. And unless the Greeks learn to live within the limits of the Greek economy, they will have to live with a constant nightmare of a financial ruin hovering in the horizon.


Ex-minister convicted over undeclared Siemens cash

Let me see if I get this right. Former Transport Minister Tasos Mantelis gets 200,000 euros in a bribe. He is part of a corrupt, incompetent elite that is largely responsible for Greece’s current crisis. And he pays a 7,500 euro fine and doesn’t spend a day in jail. Yep, that should be enough to set public officials in Greece on the right path. Heaven forbid the judges also wagged their finger at him. That would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.


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