Europe’s attack on Greek democracy

Joseph E. Stiglitz writes: The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Barack Obama interviews David Attenborough

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Five reasons why a deal with Iran would be good for the U.S.

Trita Parsi writes: The criticism of the pending nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is intensifying.

Opponents of the deal will spend millions of dollars on ads pushing the U.S. public and Congress to kill the deal in the next few days. But while a fortune already has been spent on nit-picking the ongoing talks, virtually nothing has been invested in developing an alternative, viable solution to limit Iran’s nuclear activities.

The reality is that the opponents of the deal don’t have a solution, they only have criticism. And for many, the real value of the nuclear deal has been lost amid the barrage of condemnation surrounding the talks.

It’s worthwhile to remind ourselves why this deal is so important — and why it would be a strategic mistake of Iraq War proportions to let this opportunity slip out of our hands. [Continue reading…]

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These lone wolf terrorists are not holy warriors

Nabila Ramdani writes: With a grotesque matter-of-factness, suspected “Islamic terrorist” Yassine Salhi blamed “problems at home and at work” for beheading his boss last Friday. Salhi used a knife in the attack at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier in eastern France, before driving his delivery van into chemical canisters in an unsuccessful bid to blow up a factory.

Seifeddine Rezgui, who gunned down at least 38 people on a tourist beach in Tunisia on the same day, managed to get hold of an automatic weapon, but his profile was similar to Salhi’s. Neither man had a criminal record, and each was described by friends and neighbours as “normal”. There is no evidence of either travelling abroad to train for combat, and both had provoked little interest from the security services. They were thought to be “self-radicalised”, rather than members of a wider cell.

Unlike Rezgui, Salhi survived and is said to be offering “personal reasons” as mitigation for his sadistic criminality. He has played down his links with global jihad, according to sources close to the case, instead suggesting that he simply did not like his victim. Yet, crucially, he has told interrogators that he was interested in provoking a “media coup”: making a name for himself in front of an audience of millions. [Continue reading…]

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France prepares sanctions against Israeli settlement policy

Uri Savir writes: Inside the European Union there is an ongoing debate regarding the desirability and scope of sanctions and punitive resources in relation to the Israeli government’s settlement policies. According to a senior source in the French Foreign Ministry who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, France is considering sharp economic measures against Israeli goods and businesses east of the Green Line. Settlements, the French official argued, are illegal according to international law and the EU should not apply its agreements with Israel to them. Sharp economic measures would translate into labeling of goods exported from the settlements as such (and not as ”made in Israel”), and excluding Israeli academic, research and development and cultural institutions that are active in the West Bank from any European funds or grants. Brussels, according to this source, has toughened its stance on implementing these policies following Israel’s March 17 elections.

The French, the official added, are considering taking even more severe measures if a peace process on the two-state solution is not launched by the end of 2015. France intends to coordinate these policies with other EU countries.

In the meantime, the French themselves intend to rigidly ensure that all exported Israeli goods emanating from Israeli settlements are indeed labeled accordingly, and that any EU funding to Israeli entities will be dependent on the submission of a declaration stating that the entity in question has no direct or indirect links to the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Concretely, the first to be hurt by these measures would probably be Israeli banks with branches east of the Green Line. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. to resume military aid to Bahrain despite human rights criticism

IB Times reports: The United States said on Monday that it would lift its ban on providing security and military aid to Bahrain, which was imposed after the Gulf state cracked down on Shia-led protests in 2011. U.S. officials said the decision was taken because Bahrain had made meaningful reforms since then.

However, Washington did not specify the weapons or military equipment that would be sent to the country.

Dozens of people died when the government clamped down on protesters in 2011, who were demanding that the ruling Sunni family end its discrimination against the country’s majority Shia population. [Continue reading…]

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Greek destiny, the future of the EU and of democracy is on the line

Costas Douzinas writes: A man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa. ‘Why do you want to leave Greece?’ asks the official. ‘I am worried that Greece will leave the euro’ answers the man. ‘Don’t worry’ responds the consul ‘I was talking to my German colleague yesterday who assured me that Greece will stay in the euro.’ ‘This is the second reason why I want to emigrate.’

The story expresses the impossible dilemma facing the Greeks. On one side, a continuation of the catastrophic austerity that has destroyed the country. On the other Grexit, a prospect that will further hit, for an unpredictably long period, the living standards of a people who have seen their income halved. Premier Alexis Tsipras’ announcement, early on Sunday, that the people will be asked to vote on the final proposals of the Europeans and the IMF is an attempt to divert this typical aporia (lack of passage) towards a more manageable question: Do the people back the government’s rejection of the worst effects of austerity while accepting its commitment to keep the country in the Eurozone? The stakes are high: besides the Greek destiny, the future of the European Union and of democracy is on the line.

The immediate context of the referendum is the behaviour of the European partners in the last few months. The Syriza government was elected with a clear mandate to put an end to austerity policies. These policies were carried out on two fronts, fiscal austerity and internal devaluation. Fiscal austerity was pursued through the reduction of public spending, the privatisation of key state assets and the increase of tax revenues. Large numbers of civil servants were dismissed, the social services were slashed with the health service in particular unable to meet basic needs. The humanitarian crisis that followed is well documented and there is no point in detailing it again. The creditors’ logic aimed to generate primary budget surpluses, which would not be used to restart the stalled economy but to repay the escalating debt. The previous governments had accepted the obligation to create annual surpluses of up to 5% of GDP in the next seven years, something that no government since Ceaușescu’s Romania has either attempted or achieved.

The internal devaluation was carried out through the repeated reduction of private sector wages and the abolition of the bulk of labour law protections, such a collective bargaining. At the same time, the repeated increase of taxes, including the regressive tax on real estate, meant that the bleeding of the economy reached unprecedented levels. The pauperisation of the working people, the IMF argument goes, would improve competitiveness and help economic growth. But the result was abject economic failure. The economy shrank by 26%, unemployment jumped to 27%, youth unemployment went up to 60% and more than 3 million people on or below the poverty line. The IMF admitted a couple of years ago that it had under-calculated the adverse effect of austerity on the economy – the so-called fiscal multiplier – by a factor of three.

It is against this background that the Greeks elected in January 2015 the Syriza government committed to reverse these policies. A period of negotiations followed. But these were not proper negotiations. The huge gap between the two parties in power resources and ideology made the talks brutally asymmetrical. I have called these ‘negotiations’ a European coup, an attempt at ‘regime change’ using banks and not tanks. The economic stakes for the lenders are relatively small – the Greek economy is only 2% of European GDP – and does not justify the risk of a breakdown in relations. The precautionary principle of risk theory, inscribed in the European DNA, demands that the unpredictable effects of Grexit on the European and world economy should be avoided. If the collapse of Lehman Brothers created such a huge crisis, even the consideration of Grexit is more dangerous. [Continue reading…]

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Bill Gates to invest $2bn in breakthrough renewable energy projects

The Guardian reports: Bill Gates has announced he will invest $2bn (£1.3bn) in renewable technologies initiatives, but rejected calls to divest from the fossil fuel companies that are burning carbon at a rate that ignores international agreements to limit global warming.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Gates said that he would double his current investments in renewables over the next five years in a bid to “bend the curve” on tackling climate change.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, lead by Gates and his wife, is the world’s largest charitable foundation. According to the charity’s most recent tax filings in 2013, it currently has $1.4bn invested in fossil fuel companies, including BP, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In March, the Guardian launched a campaign calling on the Gates’ Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from coal, oil and gas companies. More than 223,000 people have since signed up to the campaign.

Gates dismissed the calls of the fossil fuel divestment movement – which has already persuaded more than 220 institutions worldwide to divest – on the basis that it would have little impact.

Instead he said there was an urgent need for “high risk” investments in breakthrough technologies. He said that a “miracle” on the level of the invention of the automobile was necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe and that current renewables are not yet close to being able to meet projected energy needs by 2030.

Gates told the Financial Times that the only way current technology could reduce global emissions is at “a beyond astronomical cost” and that innovation is the only way to reach a positive scenario. [Continue reading…]

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Supreme Court: If it’s worth it for corporations, pollution may be okay

Jay Michaelson writes: While LGBTs and healthcare reformers are still nursing their celebratory hangovers, the final Supreme Court case of the 2014-15 term just junked twenty years of environmental regulations.

The case, Michigan v. EPA, specifically dealt with the EPA’s regulation of mercury emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act—a long, twenty-year process that has been opposed by industry at every turn, even as mercury air pollution from coal-fired power plants has ++irreparably poisoned the Great Lakes .

Today, the clock has been set back. In its third 5-4 decision of the day, with Justice Kennedy again providing the swing vote, industry has prevailed. Writing for the court, Justice Scalia held that the EPA had to factor in costs in deciding whether to regulate, not just how to regulate. [Continue reading…]

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Report indicates natural gas is no cleaner than coal

The Guardian reports: Natural gas has been touted as an environmentally friendly substitute to coal and oil production, but a new report estimates enough gas is leaking to negate most of the climate benefits of process.

The report, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International, estimated the amount of leaks from natural gas and oil production on federal and tribal land in the US. It also looked at venting and flaring, processes in which drilling sites purposefully let gas go into the atmosphere for a variety of reasons – usually for safety.

The claim that natural gas is environmentally friendly hinges on how much methane leaks into the atmosphere during the production process. But the EDF report adds weight to those who say methane leaks at natural gas sites can make the process nearly or as carbon-intensive as coal.

The EDF found that 65bn cubic feet of natural gas was released into the air on federal and tribal lands in 2013 – amounting to about $360m of lost gas. That, the EDF says, is not only an economic loss, but an environmental problem. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over short periods of time and 30 times more potent over the long term. [Continue reading…]

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UK prepares to blacklist non-violent extremists

The Guardian reports: David Cameron is to press ahead with Theresa May’s controversial counter-extremism strategy which includes blacklisting “extremists” from appearing on the airwaves and speaking at universities.

The home secretary’s plan will form part of the “full-spectrum response” Cameron promised after the terror attacks in Tunisia on Friday. “The whole strategy is currently being finalised,” a Whitehall source told the Guardian.

The prime minister told the BBC’s Today programme on Monday it was time to recognise that non-violent extremists could provide a “gateway” to terrorism and said it was time public bodies and civil society refused to engage with “anyone whose views condone the Islamist extremist narrative”. There had to be some basic rules over who was and was not beyond the pale.

“We have to deal with this appalling radical narrative that’s taking over the minds of young people in our country,” he said, drawing comparisons to the “battle against communism during the cold war”. The prime minister hinted that the first non-violent group to be banned could be Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was first targeted by Tony Blair in 2005.

The agreed definition of extremism, which the Home Office will use to decide who to blacklist, is this:

The vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.

Fears of a Tunisia-style attack in Britain were raised after a report by the National Crime Agency last week which reported evidence of an “increased threat” of Czech-made Skorpion submachine guns being imported by street gangs in London and the south-east. But police sources said there was no evidence such weapons had reached extremist groups.

Cameron’s intervention in the wake of the Tunisia attack shows that the prime minister is now prepared to press ahead with the counter-extremism strategy despite the fact that it led to objections from no fewer than seven Conservative cabinet ministers and their departments when May first proposed it in March. [Continue reading…]

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White supremacists in the U.S. military

Matt Kennard writes: After the horrific massacre at Charleston’s historic black church, Americans are slowly realizing the threat posed by white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements. But few know that their presence has grown within one of the most powerful institutions in America: the US military.

According to the FBI, there are hundreds of white supremacists in the US army or in the veteran community. Some analysts even estimate the number is in the thousands. In America, 203 white supremacist “extremist cases” investigated by the Bureau from 2001 to 2008 involved veterans. The problem hasn’t gone away. Neo-Nazi veteran Wade Michael Page attacked six worshippers at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012.

I spent a number of years investigating how neo-Nazis and white supremacists had infiltrated the US military, with very little push back from the Pentagon, which was desperate to keep the supply of troops flowing for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of my research, I spoke to veterans who had become white supremacists before service and joined to gain access to weapons and training, as well as veterans who had been radicalized after returning from the war.

Charles Wilson, spokesman for the National Socialist Movement, one of the top neo-Nazi groups in America, was frank about his attempts to populate the US armed forces with extremists: “We do encourage [our members] to sign up for the military. We can use the training to secure the resistance to our government. Every one of them takes a pact of secrecy … Our military doesn’t agree with our political beliefs, they are not supposed to be in the military, but they’re there, in ever greater numbers.” He claimed to have 190 members serving. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli navy intercepts ship in flotilla sailing toward Gaza Strip

The New York Times reports: Israeli Navy forces intercepted a ship that was sailing toward the Gaza Strip early Monday to protest a maritime blockade of the coastal enclave, military officials and activists said.

The ship was intercepted in international waters and was being led to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, a military statement said.

Pro-Palestinian activists have repeatedly sought to reach Gaza by sea, an action that Israel regards as highly provocative, to protest restrictions on the movement of both people and material in and out of the enclave. [Continue reading…]

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From Deep State to Islamic State by Jean-Pierre Filiu

Ian Black writes: “If you think you understand Lebanon, you haven’t been properly briefed”. Thus went the advice dispensed by the spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in the wild south of the country in the mid-1980s. The same worldly-wise adage applies these days to the entire Arab region, wracked by collapsing states, terrorism, sectarianism, proxy wars and alliances of the strangest bedfellows.

It takes patience, clarity and perspective to explain the whole grim picture and the links between its constituent parts. These qualities are on impressive display in an important new book by the French scholar Jean-Pierre Filiu. His particular skill is to describe the development, survival and resurgence of the Arab “deep state,” the security agencies that have kept it going and the “monster they helped create” – in its most extreme form the jihadis of the Islamic state (Isis).

Filiu traces how autocrats in Syria, Egypt and Yemen used their experience of managing internal dissent to unleash their own thugs – different names in different countries, same vicious methods – to enforce their will when the call went up to reform or change their regimes. Anyone who experienced the heady events of 2011 will recognise the bitter truth in his admission that the excitement of the Arab spring obscured the prospects of successful counter-revolution.

I thought I had seen it all from the Arab despots. Their perversity, their brutality, their voracity. But I was still underestimating their ferocity and their readiness to literally burn down their country in order to cling to absolute power.

Following the departure of Hosni Mubarak, counter-revolution triumphed in Egypt with the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood. The overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, compared with the success of Rachid Ghannouchi in Tunisia, provided an instructive lesson, Filiu argues: Islamists who succeed at the ballot box, in complex and volatile circumstances, must not take their electoral victories as a “blank cheque.” To ignore that is to invite the backlash that brought Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi to power and forged a reality even worse than under Mubarak. [Continue reading…]

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Greece woes show how the politics of debt failed Europe

By Theo Papadopoulos, University of Bath

In the world of brinkmanship, endgames and last minute concessions that have come to define Greece’s relationship with Europe, we can see the blueprint of an abusive relationship.

In his book Governing by Debt, Maurizio Lazzarato argues that the creditor-debtor centred politics of contemporary capitalism is substantially different from the capital-labour centred politics of post-war capitalism. In fact, to understand what is at stake in contemporary Europe we need to approach debt in its totality – government, corporate, financial and household debt. We have to recognise that the debt relationship is not merely an economic relationship of money owed and collected, but a deeply political relationship of power exercised by one person or institution over another.

Consider the following graph. It shows the total debt by sector in selected EU countries at the end of 2014.


Data from McKinseyGlobal Institute (2015)

A continent sinking under debt

When debt is seen in its totality a different picture emerges from the one usually portrayed by the media. The total debts of the Netherlands and Ireland are nearly seven times their GDP, Denmark’s is 5.5 times and the UK’s more than four times. How sustainable in the long run are the levels of non-government debt in these countries? Is the exceptionally low exposure of the Greek financial sector to debt an indicator that its liabilities have been disguised as Greek government debt? And how sustainable is household debt?

Years of austerity have resulted in European families sinking under debt while experiencing increasing job insecurity, reductions in pensions and the gradual privatisation of welfare services and education.

These different types of debt are not independent from one other. They are mutually constitutive. Behind them are numerous creditor-debtor relations between actors with often diametrically opposed interests and unequal power: states, corporations, banks, financial institutions, small businesses, voters.

This “system” of European debt interacts with a global financial architecture, dominated by the demands of the financial sector. Far from being prudent, this sector is itself exposed to colossal amounts of debt-related risk, endangering all other sectors.

[Read more…]

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Dalai Lama endorses the pope’s message on climate change

The Guardian reports: The Dalai Lama has endorsed the pope’s radical message on climate change and called on fellow religious leaders to “speak out about current affairs which affect the future of mankind”.

The spiritual Buddhist leader was speaking at Glastonbury festival on a panel discussing issues of global warming alongside Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor, and the Guardian columnist George Monbiot.

He praised the pope’s recent encyclical on climate change, which warned of the unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, adding that it was the duty of people to “say more – we have to make more of an effort, including demonstrations”.

The Dalai Lama, who will turn 80 next Monday, called for more pressure to be put on international governments to stop the burning of fossil fuels and mass deforestation and invest more in green energy sources. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis recruits Naomi Klein in climate change battle

The Guardian reports: She is one of the world’s most high-profile social activists and a ferocious critic of 21st-century capitalism. He is one of the pope’s most senior aides and a professor of climate change economics. But this week the secular radical will join forces with the Catholic cardinal in the latest move by Pope Francis to shift the debate on global warming.

Naomi Klein and Cardinal Peter Turkson are to lead a high-level conference on the environment, bringing together churchmen, scientists and activists to debate climate change action. Klein, who campaigns for an overhaul of the global financial system to tackle climate change, told the Observer she was surprised but delighted to receive the invitation from Turkson’s office.

“The fact that they invited me indicates they’re not backing down from the fight. A lot of people have patted the pope on the head, but said he’s wrong on the economics. I think he’s right on the economics,” she said, referring to Pope Francis’s recent publication of an encyclical on the environment. [Continue reading…]

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CIA photos of ‘black sites’ could complicate Gitmo trials

The Washington Post reports: Military prosecutors this year learned about a massive cache of CIA photographs of its former overseas “black sites” while reviewing material collected for the Senate investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, U.S. officials said.

The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand that all the images be turned over and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.

Defense attorneys said they have not yet been informed about the photographs and said it is unacceptable that they should come to light now, more than three years after the arraignment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [Continue reading…]

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