George Monbiot writes: Greece may be financially bankrupt, but the troika is politically bankrupt. Those who persecute this nation wield illegitimate, undemocratic powers, powers of the kind now afflicting us all. Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes.
The IMF is controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and all the means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.
The same programme is imposed regardless of circumstance: every country the IMF colonises must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise its banking system; reduce government spending on everything bar debt repayments; and privatise assets that can be sold to foreign investors.
Using the threat of its self-fulfilling prophecy (it warns the financial markets that countries that don’t submit to its demands are doomed), it has forced governments to abandon progressive policies. Almost single-handedly, it engineered the 1997 Asian financial crisis: by forcing governments to remove capital controls, it opened currencies to attack by financial speculators. Only countries such as Malaysia and China, which refused to cave in, escaped. [Continue reading…]
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes: Like a tragedy from Euripides, the long struggle between Greece and Europe’s creditor powers is reaching a cataclysmic end that nobody planned, nobody seems able to escape, and that threatens to shatter the greater European order in the process.
Greek premier Alexis Tsipras never expected to win Sunday’s referendum on EMU bail-out terms, let alone to preside over a blazing national revolt against foreign control.
He called the snap vote with the expectation – and intention – of losing it. The plan was to put up a good fight, accept honourable defeat, and hand over the keys of the Maximos Mansion, leaving it to others to implement the June 25 “ultimatum” and suffer the opprobrium.
This ultimatum came as a shock to the Greek cabinet. They thought they were on the cusp of a deal, bad though it was. Mr Tsipras had already made the decision to acquiesce to austerity demands, recognizing that Syriza had failed to bring about a debtors’ cartel of southern EMU states and had seriously misjudged the mood across the eurozone.
Instead they were confronted with a text from the creditors that upped the ante, demanding a rise in VAT on tourist hotels from 7pc (de facto) to 23pc at a single stroke.
Creditors insisted on further pension cuts of 1pc of GDP by next year and a phase out of welfare assistance (EKAS) for poorer pensioners, even though pensions have already been cut by 44pc. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Frustrated European leaders gave Greece until Sunday to reach an agreement to save its collapsing economy from catastrophe after an emergency summit meeting here on Tuesday ended without the Athens government offering a substantive new proposal to resolve its debt crisis.
“The situation is really critical and unfortunately we can’t exclude the black scenarios of no agreement,” said Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, warning that those possibilities included “the bankruptcy of Greece and the insolvency of its banking system” and great pain for the Greek people. Also looming ever larger was the prospect of Greece leaving the European currency union.
Mr. Tusk said that the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had until Thursday to deliver a new plan to Greece’s creditors.
“Until now I have avoided talking about deadlines,” Mr. Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, told reporters after a day of fruitless meetings. “But tonight I have to say it loud and clear — the final deadline ends this week.” [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: Yemen has now been added to the United Nations’ list of most severe humanitarian emergencies, along with South Sudan, Syria and Iraq. It is a tragic distinction, highlighting the peril to 80 percent of the country’s 25 million citizens. The international community, including the United States, is not doing enough to push for an immediate cease-fire in the war that is ravaging the country to make it possible to deliver aid.
Yemen, a poor country, was deeply unstable even before a coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States, started bombing the Houthi rebel movement in late March. Last week, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, declared the situation a “catastrophe.”
The coalition is seeking to reinstate the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is now in exile in Riyadh. Mr. Hadi was ousted by the Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group allied with Iran. Most Yemenis are Sunnis, and Saudi Arabia, a leading Sunni country, has feared that a Houthi takeover would extend the influence of Iran, its regional rival.
The statistics are staggering. Over the past three months, the conflict has forced over a million Yemenis to flee their homes, and 21 million are in need of immediate help. Close to 13 million people are hungry and nearly half the provinces are “one step away” from famine, the United Nations said. Some 15 million people have no health care, and outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria are raging unchecked, in part because a fuel shortage has cut the electricity that keeps water pumps functioning. [Continue reading…]
Cori E. Dauber and Mark Robinson write: The slick production techniques ISIS uses in its propaganda are the reason people have written about their videos as “Hollywood quality” or “like Hollywood movies.” Obviously this is not, strictly speaking, true. When people write about ISIS videos being like “Hollywood action films,” they don’t mean that in a literal sense – Hollywood blockbusters, after all, cost on average several hundreds of millions of dollars to produce. But that doesn’t mean people saying that aren’t onto something. They’re seeing something in ISIS videos that is reminiscent of Hollywood films that they don’t see in the videos of other groups. Yes, ISIS videos are of far higher quality than are those of other groups – we would say they are, technically, a generation ahead of most others. But there’s something else going on here that people are cueing on. We would argue that, visually, ISIS videos mimic what could be called a “Hollywood visual style.” And this is being done so systematically and carefully that, while its entirely possible that it’s accidental, we find that very unlikely.
While there has been a great deal of work done on the way ISIS uses Social Media to distribute their materials, our focus is on the content of their output, specifically, on their visual material. We believe this focus is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the enormous amount of empirical research that argues that visual material, in many contexts, can actually be more powerful than textual. That is to say, the image can trump the word: it more effectively draws the viewer’s attention, it is remembered more accurately and for a longer period of time.
That’s all well and good, but what specifically does it mean to say that ISIS material is sophisticated in visual terms, or that their videos are done in a “Hollywood visual style?” While that’s a complicated question to get after, one can start by breaking it down in terms of the way ISIS makes use of some of the compositional elements of production to contribute to the persuasive power of their materials, in a way that other groups either cannot or simply do not. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Bearded and wearing bright blue bandanas, the Islamic State group’s “special forces” unit gathered around their commander just before they attacked the central Syrian town of al-Sukhna. “Victory or martyrdom,” they screamed, pledging their allegiance to God and vowing never to retreat.
The IS calls them “Inghemasiyoun,” Arabic for “those who immerse themselves.” The elite shock troops are possibly the deadliest weapon in the extremist group’s arsenal: Fanatical and disciplined, they infiltrate their targets, unleash mayhem and fight to the death, wearing explosives belts to blow themselves up among their opponents if they face defeat. They are credited with many of the group’s stunning battlefield successes — including the capture of al-Sukhna in May after the scene shown in an online video released by the group.
“They cause chaos and then their main ground offensive begins,” said Redur Khalil, spokesman of the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which have taken the lead in a string of military successes against the IS in Syria. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: The United States said on Tuesday it was falling far behind plans to build a Syrian opposition force to battle Islamic State, disclosing that just 60 fighters were in training after U.S. vetting thinned the number of recruits.
The U.S. military launched its program in May to train up to 5,400 fighters a year in what was seen as a test of President Barack Obama’s strategy of getting local partners to combat extremists and keep U.S. troops off the front lines.
The training program has been challenged from the start, with many candidates being declared ineligible and some even dropping out. Obama’s requirement that they target militants from Islamic State has sidelined huge segments of the Syrian opposition focused instead on battling Syrian government forces. [Continue reading…]
Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece, writes: In the past two years, the debate in Europe has focused exclusively on issues that sound technical and minor: will there be “conditionality” attached to the purchases of Italian and Spanish bonds by the European Central Bank? Will the ECB supervise all of Europe’s banks, or just the “systemic” ones?
These are questions that ought to be of no genuine interest to anyone other than those with a morbid interest in the interface between public finance and monetary policy. And yet these questions (and the manner in which they will be answered) will probably prove as important for the future of Europe as the treaties of Westphalia, Versailles or even Rome. For these are the issues that will determine whether Europe holds together or succumbs to the vicious centrifugal forces that were unleashed by the crash of 2008.
Even so, they are not issues that are worth expounding upon here. All they do is to reflect a tragic, underlying reality that can be described in simple lay terms without the use of any jargon whatsoever: Europe is disintegrating because its architecture was simply not sound enough to sustain the shockwaves caused by the death throes of what I call the Global Minotaur: the system of neoliberal capitalism centred on Wall Street, extracting tribute from the world after 1971.
It is quite obvious that the insolvency of Madrid and Rome had nothing to do with fiscal profligacy (recall that Spain had a lower debt than Germany in 2008 and Italy has consistently smaller budget deficits) and everything to do with the way in which the eurozone’s macroeconomy relied significantly for the demand of its net exports on the Global Minotaur. Once the latter keeled over in 2008, and Wall Street’s private cash disappeared, two effects brought Europe to its knees. [Continue reading…]
Nick Dearden wrote: Sixty years ago today [February 27, 2013], an agreement was reached in London to cancel half of postwar Germany’s debt. That cancellation, and the way it was done, was vital to the reconstruction of Europe from war. It stands in marked contrast to the suffering being inflicted on European people today in the name of debt.
Germany emerged from the second world war still owing debt that originated with the first world war: the reparations imposed on the country following the Versailles peace conference in 1919. Many, including John Maynard Keynes, argued that these unpayable debts and the economic policies they entailed led to the rise of the Nazis and the second world war.
By 1953, Germany also had debts based on reconstruction loans made immediately after the end of the second world war. Germany’s creditors included Greece and Spain, Pakistan and Egypt, as well as the US, UK and France. [Continue reading…]
The issue of liquidity in Greek banks is one of the most pressing now that the referendum is over. As widely reported, Greek banks are running out of reserves – even with capital controls in place since June 28 putting a €60 cap on the amount Greeks can withdraw from their accounts. There are a number of pressing issues that, if not resolved, could lead to a Grexit.
With a freeze on the amount of emergency assistance being provided by the European Central Bank (ECB), Greek banks remain unable to reopen. A short-term solution would be for the banks to issue IOUs backed by the Bank of Greece. This, however, would effectively be a parallel currency and would be the first stage of reintroducing the drachma. It would also be a big step toward leaving the eurozone.
The ECB is withholding the amount of emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) it is providing Greece in lieu of a bailout deal that will guarantee (in their eyes) Greek solvency. Pending the ECB stepping in to stabilise banks with more ELA, Greek banks will remain shut – and their reserves will quickly diminish.
The clear and present danger is that Greece’s creditors will maintain an attitude of “euro-hubris”. This attitude is displayed in an inflexible commitment to obeying fiscal rules irrespective of their socio-economic outcomes. Consequently, the ultimate price to pay for the Greek No will be a Grexit.
The Washington Post reports: The unexpected rout of Islamic State forces across a wide arc of territory in their northeastern Syria heartland has exposed vulnerabilities in the ranks of the militants — and also the limits of the U.S.-led strategy devised to confront them.
Islamic State fighters have been driven out of a third of their flagship province of Raqqa in recent weeks by a Kurdish-led force that has emerged as one of the most effective American partners in the war. The offensive, backed by U.S. airstrikes, has deprived the militants of control of their most important border crossing with Turkey and forced them onto the defensive in their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa city, something that would have been unthinkable as recently as a month ago.
The advance has shifted the focus of the fight from Iraq to Syria for the first time in months. A blitz of 18 coalition airstrikes against Raqqa over the weekend took out bridges and roads used by the Islamic State to move supplies to battlefronts elsewhere. The air attack was one of the most intense in Syria, according to a Pentagon statement and activists in Raqqa.
On Monday, President Obama cited the recent gains in Syria as evidence of progress. “When we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back,” he said in Washington after the Pentagon briefed him on the status of the war.
“ISIL’s strategic weaknesses are real,” he added, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
But the absence of reliable local forces to press the fight deeper into the Islamic State’s home turf has revealed the weakness of the U.S. strategy, analysts say. And rising tensions between Arabs in the area and their purported Kurdish liberators risk jeopardizing the gains.
The offensive is taking Kurdish forces far beyond traditionally Kurdish territory and into areas where Syrian Arabs are in the majority, drawing allegations from Syrians and also the Turkish government that the Kurds are taking advantage of the U.S.-led air war to carve out a Kurdish state.
The Syrian opposition has accused the Kurds of driving Arabs from their villages to consolidate their control. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast reports: Christians whose roots go back many centuries in Iraq are risking everything today, braving snipers and mortar fire, to bring their dead back from asylum abroad and bury them in villages previously abandoned to the jihadis of the so-called Islamic State.
Many of those making these hasty pilgrimages fear that otherwise the age of Christians in Mesopotamia is coming to an end. Their dead, they say, may be their only lasting legacy.
On the morning of June 26, a white pickup speeds out of a church in the Kurdish-controlled Assyrian Catholic town of Alqush. Its cargo is a simple wooden coffin holding the body of Tawetha Batrus Ngara. She was in her 70s, and had moved to Lebanon with her adult son four months ago. But today she is to be buried in her birthplace: the Iraqi Christian ghost town of Telaskof, 25 miles north of the ISIS stronghold Mosul.
ISIS overran Telaskof on August 6, 2014. It was retaken by Kurdish Peshmerga shortly after, but its 7,000 or so residents have yet to return for fear of future attacks. ISIS assaults on the town are still frequent. As craters in its streets can attest, Telaskof is still within rocket and mortar range of militant positions on the Nineveh Plain to the south. [Continue reading…]
By Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, July 2, 2015
This story was co-published with The Daily Beast.
Hollywood’s efforts to win political clout have always stretched across the country, from glitzy campaign fundraisers in Beverly Hills to cocktail parties with power brokers in Washington.
Last year, the film industry staked out another zone of influence: U.S. embassies. Its lobbying arm paid to renovate screening rooms in at least four overseas outposts, hoping the new theaters would help ambassadors and their foreign guests “keep U.S. cultural interests top of mind,” according to an internal email.
That was the same year that the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the six biggest studios, reported it was lobbying the State Department on issues including piracy and online content distribution. Hollywood’s interests 2013 including its push for tougher copyright rules in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact 2013 often put the industry at odds with Silicon Valley.
“They finally shot the nigger!” the sparrow-slight soldier whooped. Nicknamed “Georgia” for the obvious reason, that’s what he apparently ran around shouting once word of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination wound its way out into the electric-green paddy fields of South Vietnam. I was told the story more than once by a member of his unit and often imagined what it must have been like, especially for his black brothers-in-arms, to be smacked with that news and that epithet all at once. Yet, on some level, it wasn’t the least bit shocking. Labeled a “total racist” by a fellow member of his unit, Georgia was one of many white soldiers hailing from the former Confederate States of America whose bigotry was on full display during the Vietnam War.
As “soul brothers” and “bloods” across South Vietnam embraced emerging ideas about black consciousness, black pride, and black power, racist white troops responded by donning Ku Klux Klan robes, burning crosses, and embracing other symbols of white supremacy. Reflecting on his decision to join the militant Black Panthers after returning from Vietnam, Reginald Edwards, who served as a rifleman with the Marines, recalled: “We had already fought for the white man in Vietnam. It was clearly his war. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t have seen as many Confederate flags as you saw.” Dwyte Brown, who served in the Navy, told journalist Wallace Terry that, in the barracks at the U.S. base in Cam Ranh Bay, “there would be nothing but Confederate flags all over the place.”
In the midst of the recent Confederate flag fallout following the massacre in Charleston, TomDispatch regular Greg Grandin revisits this much-neglected history and so much else that came before and after. Tracing the sordid story of the Old South’s battle flag, that symbol of bitter-end racism, from its raising by Marines on Okinawa during the Second World War to more recent appearances in Iraq and Afghanistan, Grandin shines a light on a larger and more troubling military embrace of the Confederacy — something the Pentagon would, no doubt, rather keep hidden from view.
Georgia, the soldier who cheered King’s 1968 murder, seemingly conformed to all the stereotypes you might imagine. “He had a little tape player. And all he had was one tape of every Hank Williams song there ever was and he played them constantly whenever we were in base camp,” I was told. But what he did out in the field — where the stifling heat of the day gave way to dank nights in cool, clammy foxholes — shocked me. “Georgia was this little white racist and Mitchell was this great big black guy, and when it would rain and get cold, they’d get in and sleep together to stay warm,” a fellow unit member told me. Perhaps racists are like atheists and can’t be found in foxholes. Or perhaps Georgia’s and Mitchell’s bunker brotherhood is a reminder that there’s always reason for hope.
The Pentagon now stands where South Carolina did just weeks ago. With a groundswell of grassroots activism, the U.S. military’s long-cherished symbols of racism and Confederacy-veneration might also be brought to the brink of welcome exile, if not banishment to history’s dustbin. If that ever comes to pass, one person we’ll have to thank is Greg Grandin, author of the much-anticipated Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman. Nick Turse
The Confederate flag at war
(But not the Civil War)
By Greg Grandin
The Pentagon just can’t let go. In the wake of the Charleston Massacre, Amazon and Walmart have announced that they will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise. Ebay says it will stop offering Confederate items for electronic auction. The Republican governor of Mississippi calls his state flag, which includes the Stars and Bars in the top left corner, “a point of offense that needs to be removed.” Even Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, agrees that a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in his state’s capitol building belongs in a museum.
Yet the Department of Defense says it isn’t even “reviewing” the possibility of a ban on the flag, deciding instead to leave any such move to the various service branches, while military bases named after Confederate officers will remain so. One factor in this decision: the South provides more than 40% of all military recruits, many of them white; only 15% are from the Northeast.
Paul Krugman writes: Europe dodged a bullet on Sunday. Confounding many predictions, Greek voters strongly supported their government’s rejection of creditor demands. And even the most ardent supporters of European union should be breathing a sigh of relief.
Of course, that’s not the way the creditors would have you see it. Their story, echoed by many in the business press, is that the failure of their attempt to bully Greece into acquiescence was a triumph of irrationality and irresponsibility over sound technocratic advice.
But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.
What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. [Continue reading…]
Yanis Varoufakis writes: The referendum of 5th July will stay in history as a unique moment when a small European nation rose up against debt-bondage.
Like all struggles for democratic rights, so too this historic rejection of the Eurogroup’s 25th June ultimatum comes with a large price tag attached. It is, therefore, essential that the great capital bestowed upon our government by the splendid NO vote be invested immediately into a YES to a proper resolution – to an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms.
Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my… ‘absence’ from its meetings; an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today.
I consider it my duty to help Alexis Tsipras exploit, as he sees fit, the capital that the Greek people granted us through yesterday’s referendum.
And I shall wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.
We of the Left know how to act collectively with no care for the privileges of office. I shall support fully Prime Minister Tsipras, the new Minister of Finance, and our government.
The superhuman effort to honour the brave people of Greece, and the famous OXI (NO) that they granted to democrats the world over, is just beginning.
By Costas Milas, University of Liverpool; George Kyris, University of Birmingham; James Arvanitakis, University of Western Sydney; Marianna Fotaki, University of Warwick; Nikos Papastergiadis, University of Melbourne; Remy Davison, Monash University; Richard Holden, UNSW Australia; Ross Buckley, UNSW Australia, and Sofia Vasilopoulou, University of York
The Greek people have voted, saying a resounding No to the terms of the bailout deal offered by their international creditors. What will this mean for Greece, the euro and the future of the EU? Our experts explain what happens next.
Costas Milas, Professor of Finance, University of Liverpool
Greek voters have confirmed their support for their prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who now has the extremely challenging task of renegotiating a “better” deal for his country.
Nevertheless, time is very short. Greece’s economic situation is critical. On July 2, Greek banks reportedly had only €500m in cash reserves. This buffer is not even 0.5% of the €120 billion deposits that Greek citizens have to their names. It is only capital controls preventing Greek banks from collapsing under the strain of withdrawal.
Basic mathematical calculations reveal how desperate the situation is. There are roughly 9.9m registered Greek voters. Assume that – irrespective of whether they voted Yes or No – some 2.8m voters (that is, a very modest 28.2% of the total number of registered voters) decide to withdraw their daily limit of €60 from cash machines on Monday morning. Following this pattern, banks will run out of cash in three days and therefore collapse (note: 3 x 2.8m x 60 ≈ 500m).
There is therefore very little time for the Greek government to strike the deal with their creditors that will instantaneously give the ECB the “green light” to inject additional Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to Greek banks to support their cash buffer and save them from collapse. In other words, Greece does not have the luxury of playing “hard ball” with its creditors. An agreement has to be imminent.
Financial markets, expected to start very nervously on Monday morning, will probably stay relatively calm as the reality of the economic situation spelled out above is more likely than not to lead to some sort of agreement (provided, of course, that Greece’s creditors will listen to Tsipras). Whether this agreement is good for the Greeks, this is an entirely different story.
John Quiggin writes: Lots of people have raised the suggestion of applying game theory to the the Greek debt crisis. I haven’t attempted this, reflecting my general scepticism about game theory in the absence of a well-defined strategy space.
But now the Greek government and public have made what is, in effect, a final move.
In view of the No vote, Syriza can’t accept a deal that doesn’t include an explicit debt write-off, or one that obviously crosses its stated red lines. Within those parameters, it’s clearly eager for a face-saving compromise.
For the other side (effectively the Troika and the German government), since Syriza’s move has already been made, the problem has now been reduced to one of decision under uncertainty, which is something I am comfortable with.
More precisely, it’s a choice between a “safe” option, with an outcome that is fairly predictable, and a “risky” option where the outcome is uncertain.
The safe option for the European institutions is to back down, write off lots of debt and lose a lot of face. [Continue reading…]