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Greece riots a poor response

When attempting to make your case on a political issue, wanton destruction is a poor argument.

On Monday, Greek authorities were trying to recover from weekend destruction and pillaging sparked by protesters who were unhappy with austerity measures the Greek government is contemplating to stave off bankruptcy.

Among the measures that were approved by the Greek Parliament Sunday were reducing the civil service work force by 20 percent and trimming the country's minimum wage also by 20 percent.

That proposal led to a protest march before the vote that involved about 100,000 angry Greeks, upset about the changes that were required in order for the country to obtain $172 billion in rescue loans from the European Union. Before that money comes, however, Greece has to finalize the legislation and convince bankers -- many of whom are no doubt very skeptical -- that the Greek government has the will and ability to live up to the austerity measures. It's easy to promise to go on a fiscal "diet." It's much harder to actually push back from the table. Germany and the other nations poised to bail out Greece want a commitment in writing that the country's government will enforce the agreement after April elections.

While the measures are harsh to Greek citizens, something drastic has to be done to keep the country from plunging the Eurozone -- and likely the world -- into a deep new recession. If Greece defaults, bankers will start looking more nervously at other European nations with high debt, which will lead to tighter credit, more financial stress and a downward cycle that would cross the ocean to our shores.

So, how did these protesters react to the bad news? Well, quite a few of them turned into destructive criminals, looting downtown Athens and setting fire and damaging more than 110 buildings. Fifty of those buildings were burned, and at least nine were national heritage buildings.

Losing what they considered their entitlements, they lashed out by destroying Athens' heritage. In some cases, firefighters had to get police escorts to do their jobs after cowardly protesters hiding their identities with masks and hoods kept the firefighters from accessing burning buildings. There were also reports of businessmen being held up for protection money so the "protesters" wouldn't torch their businesses.

The latest reports we saw had 170 people injured in riots in Athens and other Greek cities; 109 injured police officers; at least four injured firefighters; 79 arrests, and 92 detainees.

When unemployment is already at 20 percent and the 2007 recession unbroken there for a fifth straight year, it's understandable that many Greeks would be unhappy with the prospects of more austerity measures. But destroying historic buildings, burning and looting businesses, and injuring people are poor ways to make an argument. Instead, the protesters come across as common criminals who have undermined their position and forfeited any sympathy they might have elicited.

By building its debt to an unmanagable level, Greece has forfeited some of its sovereignty to its rescuers. That's a lesson we in America should take to heart before it's too late here.