Travel Postcard: 48 Hours in idyllic Paros and Santorini

Reuters

4:12 a.m. CDT, June 29, 2012


One Year Suspension For Greece Bus Bullies – WKBW

June 29, 2012

Updated Jun 29, 2012 at 5:01 PM EDT

Greece, N.Y. –( 13WHAM.com ) The Greece Central School District announced on Friday that four students involved in bullying a bus monitor will be suspended from school and regular bus transportation for one year.

The district is legally required to provide the students with an education.

This means the students will be transferred to the district Reengagement Center. This program keeps middle school students on track academically.

It also requires them to complete community service.

Each student will be required to complete 50 hours of community service with senior citizens and will complete a formal program in bullying prevention.

Here is the statement from the Greece Central School District:

Greece Central School District Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams today announced that the due process requirements have been met and the district is able to release the result of their investigation and the assignment of disciplinary consequences for the four Athena Middle School students involved in the mistreatment of their bus monitor.

Following individual meetings this week with school and district administrators, each family waived their right to a hearing and agreed to one-year suspensions from school and regular bus transportation. The Greece Central School District is legally required to provide all students ages 5 to 16 with an education, therefore, during the 2012-13 school year, the students who have been suspended will be transferred to the district Reengagement Center, located in a non-school facility. This alternative education program keeps middle school students on track academically while providing a structured opportunity for students to take responsibility for their actions by completing community service hours and receiving formal instruction related to conduct and behavior that prepares them for a productive future. The program includes a strong parent involvement component.

Each student will be required to complete 50 hours of community service with senior citizens and will complete a formal program in bullying prevention, respect and responsibility. In accordance with district policy, if at 30 weeks into the school year the students have completed the conditions of their discipline and are in good standing at the Reengagement Center, they can apply for early readmission to Athena Middle School.

Rarely are school districts able to announce the exact discipline students receive for violations of the Code of Conduct. It was possible in this case because each of the students involved admitted to wrongdoing, accepted the recommended consequences and agreed to permit the district to publicly release the terms of their disciplinary action. The parents and students in this case cooperated fully with our investigation and with the Greece Police investigation, which helped to expedite this process and resolve this matter quickly. We thank the Greece Police Department for their continued partnership and guidance, as well as the many Greece Central School District staff members and school leaders who have worked to resolve this matter.

This summer, Greece Central School District staff, including transportation employees, will continue to take part in previously scheduled bullying prevention trainings. The trainings will include information on New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act, requiring schools to provide a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property, on school buses and at school functions.

Greece Central School District remains committed to bullying prevention efforts through full implementation of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in all schools and the Olweus Bullying Prevention model. In 2011, the district established, and posted on the district website, a clear bullying reporting process that identifies trained staff in each school for parents and students to work with to address bullying and harassment if it occurs. This process will be more highly publicized throughout the district.

The district is currently completing an internal review of policies, training, reporting and appeals protocols to ensure clear steps that employees and students can take to combat bullying and behavior that cultivates a negative environment of disrespect. This incident does not reflect the majority of Greece students but nonetheless we are committed to full implementation of our discipline policies and Code of Conduct. Those wishing to anonymously report bullying can do so by calling our Safe School Helpline at 1-800-418-6423, extension 359.


'Patched-up' Greece pleads for more bailout time

“Margaret! Even if you don’t come for work, come for a holiday! Because Greece is wonderful again! There aren’t any people.”

That was my Greek translator last week when I called to say I was coming for a checkup on Greece after the recent elections and ahead of Thursday’s big European Union summit in Brussels on the continent’s growing debt problems.

By “people” he meant tourists. And his comments, of course, were delivered with a certain irony.

Humour is a rarity in Athens these days and Greek tourism has indeed taken a hit.

Receipts are down by 15 per cent since the start of the year, according to official statistics and that likely has just as much to do with Greeks no longer being able to afford even local holidays as it does with jittery foreigners.

As a result, there are plenty of seats on the little trains carrying tourists from Syntagma Square and the Greek Parliament over to that ancient symbol of democracy, the Acropolis.

Yesterday the trains even had drivers. It was hotel staff and catering workers who were on strike this time, protesting proposed wage cuts by hotel owners.

The call of the bullhorn and roving protests in the middle of Athens are just routine business now in these days of austerity.

The hotel protest took place across the street from a burned-out building that had been torched by anarchists two years ago after a nation-wide strike against an initial round of spending cuts. Three people died in that incident.

The burned-out building is a reminder of how long Greeks have been living with this sense of chaos and financial uncertainty.

The teeter-totter election that brought about a new government on June 17, one that pledged to meet Greece’s bail-out commitments while also lobbying Brussels for more time to repay, hasn’t changed anything.

Bread queues in the centre of Athens are getting longer; illegal immigrants and a growing Greek underclass compete for aid as the country’s social security system feels the strain. The mood here is pessimistic and cynical.

“We expect things to get worse,” Nikos Papgeorgiou, one of the local hotel union leaders, told me when I asked him what he expected out of today’s summit. “We know what kind of government it is.”

That cynicism also forms the backdrop for the Greek delegation that is to meet with its European partners in Brussels.

It is a delegation without the new prime minister, Antonis Samaras, unable to travel due to an eye operation. His new finance minister, a prominent banker, fell ill, too, quickly resigned because of health concerns and was replaced by an affable economist, Yannis Stournaras.

But at Brussels, it will be Greece’s former finance minister, Giorgos Zannias, whose government was turfed from power back in May in the first of two elections, who will be carrying the country’s brief, along with Greek President Karolos Papoulias.

A patchwork effort perhaps, but the demands will be the same: more time, please, to meet the terms of the 130-billion euro bailout agreement.

Many here think that’s possible, including Euclid Tsakalotos, an economics professor and MP for SYRIZA, the relatively new and popular left-wing opposition party that wants to tear up the deal altogether.

“I think they [the EU] will give more time,” he said in an interview from his office in central Athens.

“Unfortunately, giving more time isn’t any long-term solution.

“If you’ve been given poison and you decide that the dose of the poison is going to be reduced a bit it isn’t a solution. The problem is the direction of the policy of austerity, not the dose.”

Moving away from austerity is not an argument that Germany, effectively Europe’s banker, has so far been inclined to accept.

What’s more, this Brussels summit is more likely to be more focussed on big-picture issues for the bloc’s 17 eurozone members, including proposals for a central EU body with the power to veto national budgets that don’t stay within proscribed limits.

Here in Greece, people will be wanting their new government, or at least its envoys, to return with a sign that there will be some relief from the spending cuts that have cost tens of thousands of jobs and produced lineups at food banks and the like.

Analyst Ioannis Nomikos warns that without at least some relief, Antonis Samaras’ government will be short-lived.

“He has four to five months to show hope and a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Nomikos, “otherwise this coalition government is not going to last.”


Greece’s political crisis persists

Meanwhile, the excruciating squeeze on the oversize Greek budget continues, producing strikes, angry speeches and dramatic headlines. Greece’s recession deepens and tax revenue continues to fall. In the coming months, the new government must decide how to cut 150,000 jobs by 2015 instead of creating more, and to reduce government spending by billions if it wants to stay solvent. This would be asking a lot of a popular, respected government. For a government disliked and distrusted by much of the population — and apparently plagued with dramatic health and personal finance problems — it may prove impossible.

In truth, a good solution to Greece’s problems can’t be found in left, right, conservative, liberal or any other kind of politics, because Greece’s problems don’t have an ideological solution. Greece’s problems are about simple math: The Greek government is bankrupt. If it wants to spend more, it needs to borrow money. Nobody wants to lend Greece money unconditionally, however, because Greece is unlikely to pay it back. Whether Greece is in or out of the euro, and whether the rest of Europe does or doesn’t offer to help, Greece will face this problem for a very long time.

Although there aren’t any other good options, Syriza continues to speak for those who think that there are. Syriza continues to promise an alternative: No austerity, more spending, more government jobs. Reject the conditions that Europe demands in exchange for sending good money after bad. Reject what many Greeks perceive as a foreign, German-led attempt to undermine their nation. Wave a magic wand, and let money pour into the economy. Never mind that it can’t be done: If Greece breaks its budgetary promises, Europe will stop lending, Greek banks will fail and the country will be forced into a rapid exit from the euro. In the long term, this outcome might well be better for Greece. In the short term, there would be massive chaos.

Syriza doesn’t put it quite like this, of course, because the party doesn’t have to. Its politicians are still out of government and do not have to choose between the hardships of austerity and the chaos of exiting the euro. But until they are forced to confront that challenge — until Greeks are persuaded that there are no good alternatives, no magic wands — Greek politics will be chronically unstable. Expect more emergencies, more resignations, maybe even more attacks on corporate headquarters. Until the Greeks are convinced that austerity is the right policy — or until they are determined to take the consequences of leaving the euro — the crisis has not been averted but merely postponed.

Anne Applebaum is director of political studies at the London-based Legatum Institute and writes a bi-weekly column for The Post. Her e-mail address is [email protected]


Greek president to fly economy class to Brussels


ATHENS |
Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:04am EDT

ATHENS (Reuters) – The president of debt-laden Greece will travel economy class to a European Union summit this week, his office said on Wednesday.

Leaders of the 27-nation EU meet in Brussels on Thursday for a two-day summit to be dominated by the euro zone’s debt crisis.

A source familiar with the travel plans of the Greek delegation, led by 83-year-old President Karolos Papoulias, said they would travel economy on a regular Aegean Airlines flight to Brussels.

The show of frugality follows a 30-percent pay cut for ministers in the new ruling coalition – a response to public anger over government waste and privilege as ordinary Greeks bear the brunt of punishing cuts demanded by the EU and International Monetary Fund in exchange for a rescue.

The president has already given up his 280,000 euro salary.

“He’s flying Aegean Airways, economy class, to set an example,” a presidential aide told Reuters.

Papoulias, whose post is mainly ceremonial, is going to Brussels only because the new Greek government was struck by two medical emergencies shortly after it was formed last week. Papoulias will stand in for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, 22 years his junior, who is recovering from eye surgery.

Samaras’s first choice for finance minister, Vassilis Rapanos, resigned within days of his appointment after being taken to hospital with abdominal pain, nausea and dizziness. Outgoing Finance Minister George Zanias will be part of the delegation with Papoulias.

A former resistance fighter against the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, Papoulias said in February he was giving up his salary in solidarity with the Greek people as lawmakers voted deep cuts to wages, pensions and jobs as the price of a bailout worth 130 billion euros.

Papoulias has held the ceremonial position of president since 2005, on a salary just less than the $400,000 earned by U.S. President Barack Obama. (Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Barry Moody)


Tourism Spending in Greece Fell Through April on Fewer Visitors

Spending by visitors to Greece fell
12.2 percent in the first four months of the year compared with
a year ago as fewer tourists visited the country.

Tourism receipts in the first quarter declined to 719
million euros ($894 million) from 820 million euros in the first
four months of 2011, according to an e-mailed statement from the
Bank of Greece. Visitor arrivals to Greece decreased 9.8 percent
in the January through April period, the central bank said in
the statement.

Tourism accounts for about 16 percent of Greece’s gross
domestic product, according to the London-based World Travel and
Tourism Council.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Marcus Bensasson in Athens at
[email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Craig Stirling at
[email protected]


Simon Calder: Cheap but cheerful? Or a summer of discontent for tourists in Greece?

The Greek tourism alphabet, which begins with the Acropolis and the Aegean, has helped holidaymakers to write millions of travel tales over the years. But looking at the official warnings from foreign governments, you could fret that a summer of discontent awaits you in Greece.

Canada has raised its overall advice from green to amber: “Exercise a high degree of caution,” one step short of “Avoid non-essential travel”. And who would want to go to a place where “Rioting can break out with little warning,” as Australia warns its citizens? Well, perhaps the ever-stoical British holidaymaker. As UK travellers have proved time after time, the best time to visit a destination is when the rest of the world mistakenly believes that it is risky/closed/desolate. Empty seats – on planes, around hotel swimming pools and at harbourside bars – are perishable resources that the owners are selling off right now.

Cheap, certainly – but cheerful? To find out, I flew to Athens, armed only with a camera, a laptop and low-denomination euro notes.

Aboard a Ukrainian hydrofoil that skimmed across the sea like an overweight waterskier, I reached the island of Poros on the dot of 6pm, less than eight hours after leaving Gatwick, I had flown across most of Europe, zig-zagged around greater Athens and barrelled across the Saronic Gulf.

Gratification is rarely so instant. By 6.03pm, I was sitting in a café with a bottle of Mythos, a bowl of olives and a grin. Gazing at the yachts bobbing by the quayside, listening to the chatter of locals and visitors, and sensing the serenity that isolation can achieve, I wondered: is this really a nation on the edge of a financial breakdown?

Poros, if you have not had the pleasure to visit yet, has the usual attributes of a small Greek island: a clutter of cottages rising steeply from the quayside to a pretty white church, and a hilly hinterland draped in pine. The beaches are above average, with strands and coves to suit every need on the continuum from sociability to seclusion. But Poros has a couple of extra attributes. One is a fully fledged monastery in a heavenly location, floating above a deep gorge with views across to the Pelopponese. On Sunday mornings the chapel is crowded with worshippers, with tourists welcomed in.

After the service I met Nikis, who works at the New Aegli Hotel: “The season is shrinking. We used to have package tourists from Britain from May to September, but they left when other islands got airports. Now we’re busy in July and August, but for the rest of the summer we mostly get weekend visitors from Athens.” Beautiful Mediterranean views are going begging.

Rather more strange is the Russian supply base in a bay on the western side of the island: during Greece’s struggle for independence, Russia – sharing the Orthodox faith – offered help against the Turks in return for a provisioning depot for its Mediterranean fleet. These days the Russians are coming once more, but in big, shiny yachts.

No yacht needed if you want to seek some antiquity. Poros has a crumbling hilltop shrine to Poseidon. Down by the harbour, the archaeological museum contains a fairly random repertoire of relics. But the mainland, in the sinuous shape of the Pelopponese, is a 10-minute boat ride away, with the ruins of Epidavros not far beyond.

Or seek out a sun-dried Bohemia. Before Leonard Cohen took Manhattan and then Berlin, the Canadian poet-turned-musician took up residence on the island of Hydra. Hydrofoils, pleasingly, get here in half-an-hour from Poros. Cohen began “Bird on a Wire” here (you realise the local cats would be far too drowsy to target such a creature). He reputedly finished the song in a Sunset Boulevard motel in 1969, and the following year performed it at an Isle of Wight festival that was, miraculously, free of traffic jams.

Hydra, too, has no traffic problems, due to having no roads. Instead, people and cargo-carrying donkeys thread through the intricate alleyways of the town, and along the lanes that lace the island. It remains a cosmopolitan location. If you have previous experience of the Greek islands, you may not be surprised to learn that they are getting on quietly with providing a great escape for tourists. But what about the capital, where all the stresses and anxieties of the crisis are concentrated?

Athens was just as choked and sclerotic as I have known it since I first hitch-hiked to Greece three decades ago. As best they could, taxis hurried, while waiters scurried to serve the crowds at pavement cafes. But the Olympian improvements for the 2004 Games have delivered handsome dividends: Athens is a city on a human scale.

I sat in Syntagma Square, refreshingly free of tear gas despite the various official warnings, and hooked up to the free Wi-Fi that the city provides.

My browsing took me no further than the Facebook page for the US Embassy. The American diplomats use this site to warn about impending trouble. But judging from this example, under the heading “Today’s Demonstration”, Athens remains several notches short of civil insurrection:

“18.00: Indignant Motorcyclists of Greece will sponsor a gathering outside the “Peace and Friendship” stadium. A mechanized march will follow to Syntagma Square.”

The protest by indignant bikers against austerity passed, predictably, peaceably. The 21st-century mythology about Greece is about as compelling as the ancient stories – and, in my experience, about as accurate.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Simon Calder paid £193 return for a Gatwick-Athens return on easyJet. Athens is also served from the UK by British Airways and Aegean Airlines. EasyJet, Jet2, Monarch and Ryanair, also serve a range of Greek destinations. Packages are available from tour operators such as Thomson, Thomas Cook, Sunvil and Olympic Holidays.

Staying there

If you are organising your own accommodation, negotiate for a good deal. The Athens Cypria, a comfortable and modern location is open to deals: while the prices at athenscypria.com are good, you may well be able to improve by calling 00 30 210 323 8034.

More Information

Official advice is available at fco.gov.uk/travel, and through the websites of other governments. For the US Embassy Facebook page, visit on.fb.me/USEmbAth. For tourist information, see visitgreece.gr.


Microsoft’s headquarters in Greece firebombed by gunmen

Click photo to enlarge

ATHENS — Gunmen driving a van packed with gas canisters firebombed the Athens headquarters of Microsoft on Wednesday, underscoring the threat of instability as Greece asks for more time and less hardship in cutting its crippling debt.

Fire gutted the ground floor of the blue four-storey HQ of the U.S. software giant, blackening its walls with flames, on the eve of yet another European summit seeking a solution to a regional debt crisis first unleashed by Greece.

At least two attackers were involved in the sophisticated assault at 4.45 a.m. in Maroussi, a northern suburb of the sprawling Greek capital, police said.

Brandishing pistols and an automatic rifle, they kept security guards at bay and set fire to the van carrying three gas canisters and five cans of gasoline. No one was hurt in the early morning assault.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and police said it was too early to say who was to blame. Suspicion, however, fell on left-wing militants, who have a long and violent history in Greece. Anti-terrorist units were investigating the incident.

Since the end of a military dictatorship in 1974, Greece has been scarred by political violence and assassination, much of it carried out by the militant November 17 group, named after a student uprising which was bloodily suppressed by the army.

Authorities have dismantled the group, whose victims included the CIA station chief in Athens, but splinter organisations

committed to the same radical left-wing or anarchist ideals remain active.

Social tensions are rising in Greece over the harsh terms of an international bailout saving the country from bankruptcy but only at the cost of deep economic suffering.

Branches of Macdonald’s, Citi and Starbucks in Athens have been set on fire by protesters and militants in the past using petrol bombs or gas canisters.

The attacks usually take place at night and there have rarely been injuries, but three bank staff suffocated in May 2010 when protesters set their branch on fire during a protest march in central Athens.

The assault on Microsoft is a new headache for big multi-nationals in Athens already considering quitting the debt-ridden country because of unpaid bills, falling revenues and the prospect that Greece might be forced to leave the euro.

“They entered the office in a van … in an effort to burn the whole place down,” Ernst-Jan Stigter, general manager of Microsoft’s Greek unit, told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re grateful there were no injuries and all our crew is safe.”

The fire department estimated the damage at about 60,000 euros ($75,000). Staff were told not to come to work.

Contacted by Reuters, Citibank, Coca-Cola and pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline said they had no immediate plans to step up security, which has already been tightened after violent protests seen previously in Athens.

The Greek government is unlikely to win any immediate respite from the bailout conditions at a two-day summit of EU leaders starting on Thursday whose chances of making a decisive response to the debt crisis are rated as low.

The harsh conditions attached to a $162.12 billion lifeline from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, on top of 110 billion in 2010, have helped condemn Greece to five years of record-breaking recession that have enraged the population.

Greeks argue that the cuts in jobs, wages and pensions demanded by lenders have spared a corrupt, tax-evading elite and heaped an unfair burden on the poorest sections of society.

The streets of Athens are scarred by repeated bouts of violent protest. Banks, fast-food chains and government ministries have been targeted in arson or bomb attacks.

Responding to huge public pressure after a June 17 election, conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has called for tax cuts, extra help for the poor and jobless, a freeze on public sector lay-offs and two more years to bring Greece’s deficit under control.

He will miss the two-day EU summit after undergoing eye surgery on Saturday. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the prime minister would send a letter to EU leaders calling for “a different approach”.

“It will assure them that we will honour our commitments and that we want to meet the fiscal consolidation targets, a balanced budget and other targets included in the accord with our European partners,” Kedikoglou told 9.84 radio.

But, he added, “Our experience over the past two years shows that the recipe has brought a rapid rise in unemployment and a deepening recession. Accordingly, they have to let us try a different approach. We are seeking room for growth.”

Fast losing patience with the slow pace of reform and a litany of broken promises, the country’s euro zone partners, led by paymaster Germany, are reluctant to give more leeway.

The Greek wish-list goes far beyond the “adjustments” offered by euro zone partners to make up for weeks of paralysis during two elections since May and a deeper than expected recession.

All sides have played down prospects for any meaningful progress on Greece at the summit, and Athens says it will take its case to European capitals and Washington once Samaras has recovered from surgery to repair a damaged retina.

Greece’s delegation to the summit will be led by 83-year-old President Karolos Papoulias. An aide, who declined to be named, said the president would fly economy class.


Supreme Court contempt

People at the counter in a branch of the Banque de France in Paris on February 16, 2012 to convert French old banknotes in francs to euros

People at the counter in a branch of the Banque de France in Paris on February 16, 2012 to convert French old banknotes in francs to euros
(Thomas Samson, AFP/Getty Images / June 26, 2012)


Greece Appoints New Finance Minister

ATHENS—The Greek government named a new finance minister on Tuesday after its previous nominee bowed out because of health problems, appointing a 55-year-old professor of economics to a job that comes with a tight deadline for the country to jump-start its lagging reform program.

A veteran technocrat who has served in previous government posts, Yannis Stournaras is known for his no-nonsense views and has been a frequent proponent of neo-liberal policies to shake up Greece’s overregulated and hidebound economy. He will have the tough job of leading talks to ease the terms of the country’s European-led bailout program. He must …