The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

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Developed World Propaganda Ability Is Breaking Down

How negative was the UK press about Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour Leader, who believes in post-war socialist/liberal policies and is genuinely anti-war?

The Media Reform Coalition analysed nearly 500 pieces across eight national newspapers, including The Sun, The Times, Guardian and Daily Mail, and found 60% of their articles were ‘negative’, meaning they were openly hostile or expressed animosity or ridicule.

Out of the 494 articles across the papers during Corbyn’s first seven days at leader, 60% (296 articles) were negative, with only 13% positive stories (65 articles) and 27% taking a “neutral” stance (133 articles), the report says.

If you’ve read the UK press, you know this understates the situation, if anything. Ridicule hardly covers the general slant of the press.

And yet, Corbyn is the least unpopular of the UK’s leaders. He has negative ratings, yes, but they are the least negative.

The actively hostile press in Greece could not stop Syriza, nor could they stop the population from voting NO in the austerity referendum. Of course, Syriza decided to continue with austerity anyway, but the media failed.

In the US we have the media openly calling Trump a fascist, and that hasn’t slowed him down a bit. (I’m anti-Trump, as it happens, lest anyone think I approve of him.) To be sure, they keep giving him massive amounts of oxygen, by reporting on everything he says, because he knows how to be newsworthy, but their ridicule has not slowed him down.

One suspects, indeed, that it has made him stronger. Those who support Trump distrust the media. That the media is against Trump is a positive to them. This certainly isn’t an insane metric; for decades, the media has pushed mainstream candidates who have not improved Trump supporters’ lives one bit, after all.

Regardless, the ideological mechanism of control through the press is failing. In France, LePen rises. In Britain, Corbyn. In the US, Trump and, to a lesser extent, Sanders (who is bad on Imperialism, but good on many domestic issues). This trend continues elsewhere, such as in Spain and Portugal.

This isn’t entirely a good thing, as I presume is evident. It is just a thing, good or bad. The establishment is losing control.

It is, however, an opportunity. If you’re someone whose ideas were considered non-mainstream, you finally have your chance. Whether those ideas are good or bad, well, that’s another matter.

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Syriza Wins in Greece: What It Must Do

(Given the way Greek financial negotiations have played out, I think my first take is timely/relevant, and have restored it to the top. Originally published in January. -Ian)

It would have been better if they won last time, Greece is pretty fully looted now. But Greeks thought they were Europeans, and didn’t realize the contempt that French and Germans had for them, nor how willing they were to kill and impoverish large numbers of them.

There is a great deal of hand-wringing in conventional circles over the Syriza win. They are worried about the Greeks exiting the Euro (Grexit) and defaulting on their debt.

Greece should do both of these things, or something close to it. (Rolling the debt over into 100 year bonds at 1 percent, for example.) Greek debt is at a level which is effectively impossible to pay off and has been made much, much worse by all the “aid packages” and “bailouts” given by their “fellow” Europeans. (a.k.a., they should have defaulted years ago.)

As for the Euro, Greece can’t print it, and Greece will need to print money.

I worry that Syriza is serious about negotiating on the debt. There is essentially no chance the Troika (well, really, Germany) will give them acceptable terms on a write-down. Negotiations should be intended only to go on long enough to demonstrate that a good deal is not possible. While they are ongoing, the Greeks should be preparing for Grexit and repatriating all the resources they can. Since Greek debt is under foreign law, debt vultures will go to the courts to seize all foreign Greek assets once Greece does default or restructure its debt.

Greece needs to recognize that it will effectively be a financial pariah, unable to access Western money markets. It will have almost no hard currency, and no ability to buy goods which require hard currency.

This is a huge problem for Greece because it has neither oil nor the ability to feed itself. Syriza MUST have a plan to deal with both these problems. Neither is insurmountable.

For oil, Greece will simply have to make a deal with Russia, Venezuela and/or Iran. Greece will be a pariah state just like them, and they have oil. What does Greece have to offer? Well, sub voce, access to Greece. Greece will be out of the Euro, but it will still have borders with Europe. Once whatever you want into Europe is in Greece, it’s easy enough to get it into Europe. And anything those countries want from Europe, the Greeks can obtain and ship to them. Grey market, baby, and grey market finance, as well.

In terms of food, a deal must be made with a food surplus nation. I would suggest Argentina, which has plenty of food. (This is incorrect, Greece can feed itself, Greeks will just have to eat less imported foods.-Ian)

Remember that Greece has one of the largest merchant marines in the world. It has that to trade, and it has access to Europe to trade.

In addition, currency controls must be put on immediately and the borders must be secured against those trying to move goods out of the country (a.k.a., Greece’s useless rich).

Given that all this will cause Greece to be completely loathed in Washington, London, Berlin, and Paris, they may also wish to consider seizing much of whatever means of production remain in the country. If they want a reason, simply use the Lagarde list of Greek oligarchs who haven’t paid their taxes, and seize their back taxes—with plenty of interest.

The media is playing this as an anti-austerity vote, and it is. But voting anti-austerity for a country like Greece, which can’t feed itself, has no oil, and doesn’t have a lot of industry, is one thing, not being austere is another. If the Greeks want a decent life again, they will have to take on some of the most powerful nations in the world and at least fight to a draw.

Many nations are in the same boat as Greece: Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Argentina. Greece needs to make the necessary alliances with such countries and it needs to align with the rising Chinese block.

Doing this requires a psychological step that many Greeks may be unwilling to take: A recognition that their interests do not lie with Europe and an understanding that Europeans are willing to see them impoverished, homeless and dead. Greeks who are living in the past and think the EU is about prosperity for everyone in the EU need to learn otherwise.

If the Greeks are unwilling to be coldly pragmatic and give up their illusions about who they are, what their fellow Europeans are willing to do to them, and what their actual assets are, then Syriza will fail, and Greece will continue on their path of impoverishment.

I wish the Greeks all the best.

(26/01/15 – There is some dispute over whether the Greeks can leave the Euro and not the EU.  See this paper for a discussion — pp 26-29.)

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Greek Talks Continue

Basically the Greeks offered the EU everything they had asked for before and then some, but the EU won’t take it, they want their pound of flesh for being embarrassed by the referendum.

I get that Syriza and some Greeks don’t want Grexit, and will do virtually anything to avoid it, but I’m hoping (probably vainly) that there might be some depths to which they will not sink, some abasement they will not endure, some calamity they will not inflict upon the weakest and poorest in their own society.

Probably not. Not quite sure why I still have faith in humanity to ever do the right thing when any other option exists.

“OK, now that you’re crawling, down on your belly!”


Feel free to use this thread for talk about Greece.

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Greek Bailout Offer Passes


the Greek bailout offer passed 250 Yes, 32 No. But from 162 govt MPs, 8 abstentions, 7 absent, 2 no.

I’ve said my piece on this. To be crude, Tsipras and his party have been: stupid through all this, not understanding what they were up against; cowards, in not standing  up, and; fools, in not making any contingency plans.

This is emotive, judgmental language, but this is a big mistake, with wide reaching consequences.

There are still some possibilities of this turning out well (unlikely for Greece), but for Spain, Italy, and so on, if their left-wingers learn the correct lessons from this and figure out how to gird their loins. There will be no meaningful negotiation. If they get into power, they must be prepared to take unilateral action.

If the left continues to blink, the people who don’t blink will be the far right.

We are in a pre-war, pre-revolutionary world, and we are coming up on a century which will see far more death and suffering than did the 20th century. Far, far more. Continued gutlessness by those who would claim to be trying to stop such things is making the baselines scenario worse and worse and worse.

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What Does Syriza Have a Mandate to Do?

Syriza’s mandate, given twice, is as follows:

End austerity without leaving the Euro.

This mandate cannot be executed. Without leaving the Euro they can cannot reduce their debt sufficiently, nor avoid imposed austerity from their creditors.

Does that mean they must accept any deal?

If they do, they have violated their mandate as well. They have not left the Euro, sure, but they also haven’t ended austerity.

So, they are forced to choose between two parts of a mandate. They may end austerity. Or they may leave the Euro.

I will suggest that since the austerity is what is killing and impoverishing Greeks that, given a choice between these two opposed goals, they should leave the Euro.

The counter-argument is that leaving the Euro will make things even worse.

This is true. But there is a very strong argument that it will do so only for two to three years and that after that Greece would be better off than it would be still in the Euro, and therefore, still in austerity.

It is insane to say, “This mandate has two parts, we cannot do both, and therefore we must choose the one which will lead to suffering for which we can see no end-date, rather than taking a chance will likely end the suffering sooner, and in the forseeable future.”

Greece did have its own currency, you know. And the economy was better then. It is not like no one still alive remembers a Greek economy outside of the Euro. Acting as if the world will end if it goes back to the Drachma is deranged.

That is all.

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Do Tsipras and Syriza want to resist Austerity?

By Mark From Ireland (Elevated from the comments)

(In response to my article on whether Syriza got owned, Mark writes):

Did Syriza get owned?

Yes and No. Syriza is a coalition between a variety of factions ranging from PASOK lookalikes to people with genuinely socialist principles. I’ll be interested to see how Alekos Flambouraris for example will react, will he help “sell” this within the Syriza coalition?

If the currently dominant faction (who have always wanted to work within the Euro framework and are very pro-EU) are to succeed in getting Syriza to accept this capitulation they’re going to have to override internal resistance. From whom? My guess would be that the resistance will centre around Panagiotis Lafazanis and the “Left Current/Left platform” grouping. The “Left Current/Left platform” are, I believe, fairly well organised and they do have a consistent critique not only the current state of affairs but also of capitalism per se. Lafazanis and his comrades can truthfully say that in attacking the capitulation to the troika that they are merely defending the platform upon which Syriza stood and that anybody who wants to vary or overturn that platform has to provide cogent and compelling reasons as to why. But the problem that Lafazanis and his comrades face is both one of policy and of internal organisational strenght. Principles are all very well but if you don’t control the party structure you’re going to lose every time. I said above that they’re “fairly well organised” but are they as well organised as Tsipras and his supporters?

Tsipras’ opponents to the left face a very real problem and one which reminds me in a way of the problem faced by the British Labour left when confronted with Tony Blair. Like Blair Tsipras has a substantial personal mandate and like Blair he’s got a record of going over the heads of his critics to party congress (he’s already successfully done this over candidate lists) and also like Blair he’s got a record of successfully campaigning alone – of very pointedly not campaigning alongside the left-wingers. Just like Blair he can say that Syriza’s victory is a personal victory brought about by him. (He’s also tried Blair’s strategy of giving difficult posts to left-wingers* how that will work out is something that will tell us a lot. Blair successfully marginalised his internal opposition using it whether Tsipras can do the same I just don’t know as the Blair/Tsipras analogy can only go so far).

So the question in a way isn’t so much one of whether or not Syriza got owned as one of whether Syriza is a coherent and viable movement without Tsipras and his followers. I have my doubts.

I hope that Greece manages to resist but I doubt they’ll resist if Tsipras remains at the helm as he never wanted to resist in the first place.

*What for purposes of shorthand I’ll call the Bennite and Militant tendencies

Did Syriza get owned?

The details of the Syriza request to the Troika are here, for those who want to read the actual list. The public statement is here.

The best analysis I’ve read of the deal, as compared to Syriza promises, is by Stathis Kouvelakis, in the Jacobin Magazine.

Kouvelakis makes the case, convincingly to me, that Syriza caved, and got virtually nothing of what it wanted.  Here is a summary of what Syriza wanted:

Not consenting to any supervisory or assessment procedures, it requested a four-month transitional “bridge program,” without austerity measures, to secure liquidity and implement at least part of its program within balanced budgets. It also asked that lenders recognize the non-viability of the debt and the need for an immediate new round of across-the-board negotiations.

But the final agreement amounts to a point-by-point rejection of all these demands.


In the Eurogroup’s Friday statement, the existing program is referred to as an “arrangement,” but this changes absolutely nothing essential. The “extension” that the Greek side is now requesting (under the “Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement”) is to be enacted “in the framework of the existing arrangement” and aims at “successful completion of the review on the basis of the conditions in the current arrangement.”

Kouvelakis goes through the agreement point by point, and backs up his argument.  You should read the entire piece.  More important than proving the obvious (that Syriza got virtually nothing) is why.

The question that emerges, of course, is how we landed in this quandary. How is it possible that, only a few weeks after the historic result of January 25, we have this countermanding of the popular mandate for the overthrow of the memorandum?

The answer is simple: what collapsed in the last two weeks is a specific strategic option that has underlaid the entire approach of SYRIZA, particularly after 2012: the strategy that excluded “unilateral moves” such as suspension of payments…

Kouvelakis calls part of this the “good euro” strategy—the supposition that anyone in power in the Euro area wanted Syriza and Greece to get real debt relief and exist austerity.  This, as I have argued in the past, is delusion:

The key here is psychological. Greeks need to admit that their fellow Europeans do not care how badly they suffer; need to acknowledge that they are not seen as Europeans by their fellow Europeans, and need to look East and South for their survival and future prosperity.

Until Greeks get through their heads, and hearts, that the other European countries are not their friends, they will continue to suffer.

Unilateral is the key word.  Greece cannot depend on any other nation in Europe to look after its interests, let alone Germany (the very idea that the German government cares one whit how much Greeks suffer is so laughable as to move beyond fantasy into insanity).

Greece must do what it can it unilaterally.  This doesn’t mean no negotiation, but that negotiation will not be with Europe or Germany or the ECB, it will be with other countries who need what Greece has to offer enough to make a deal.

Read the Jacobin article.  And understand what just happened, because as Kouvelakis notes the only thing worse than defeat is pretending it was victory.

None of this means that victory is not still possible.  But it is only possible if Syriza spends the next few months planning moves which do not require Europe’s approval.

I genuinely hope they do.  The sooner they do, the sooner Greeks will be better off (though yes, the transition will be painful), and the sooner the current European and World system, which is causing so much unnecessary suffering, will end.

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Syriza and Greece Seem to Have Been Owned

So, the Greeks have an understanding for an extension of the loan agreement.  On Monday they have to present the “reforms” they will be undertaking in exchange for it.

I don’t know what those reforms will be, but I know that the agreement still gives the Troika (now called “institutions”) veto power over Greek policy.  The key text in the mealy-mouthed statement is this one:

The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.

The Greeks also promised to pay back everything.

Yeah, Tsipras may be attempting to portray this as a victory, but it’s not.

The bottom line here is that Syriza weren’t really willing to default or Grexit.  One can note that they campaigned on ending austerity, but staying in the Euro.

That was always problematic: yes, that’s what many Greeks want, so it was a political winner, but if they were serious (and it appears they were) it left them without the ability to actually negotiate a better deal.

Much has been made of the fact that Greek Finance Minister Varoufkis is an academic specialist in game theory.  In the the early days he seemed serious about being willing to default.  It appears he wasn’t, it was a bluff.

I’m not an expert on game theory, but I do know something about it, and about negotiation and I’ll tell you this, for threats to work they must be credible, and to be credible you must be willing to actually go through with them.  Faking is never as good as sincerity.  Having campaigned on “have your cake and eat it too”, Syriza was in a bad position to negotiate with Europe.

I had hoped they were negotiating to show the Greeks that no good deal was possible, then would be willing to say to Greeks “only default and Grexit is viable.”  So far, it appears not.

It’s worth noting that reports are that Southern politicians in places like Portugal, Spain and Italy were pushing for no debt forgiveness.  For their own political futures, they need to be able to say “there was no alternative”.  But, of course, debt forgiveness would be good for all of those countries, meaning politicians pushing against it for Greece (setting a precedent allowing it for them) are acting  against the best interests of their own countries.  There is a word for such people, and it starts with “T”.

The Greek Communist party refused to join with Syriza in a coalition government because they expected this to happen, they have been proved correct.  If Syriza does not get a very good deal, or spend the next few months making the case to Greeks for default; in other words, if they don’t turn this around, then they will have their one term and the Greeks will turn to someone else.  Golden Dawn, the fascist party, came in third, but Syriza voters, being left-wing, might prefer the Communist party.  We will see.  Syriza, after all, is not very left wing at all.

It should be noted that we don’t know what threats were made behind closed doors. My guess is that they were very harsh: Greece cannot feed itself, it cannot fuel itself, it has very little to offer in exchange for the foreign currency it requires to buy what it needs.  A default and a Grexit where the Troika and other European countries were not trying to punish it could be managed.  But one where they did seek to punish it would be difficult.  Syriza may not have properly gamed out how to survive in that scenario, and may have been surprised by how punitive the Troika intended to be in the case of default and Grexit.

If so, that is political incompetence (and game theory incompetence).  One should always know what one’s best alternative to a negotiated settlement is.

I’ve written in the past how Greece could handle such a scenario.  (Here and here.)  It’s not an insoluble problem, but it does require being willing to backhand Europe as hard as they have backhanded Greece and then to get even nastier.  Greece has a lot to offer Russia, for example, and Russia can take care of Greece’s fuel needs easily in exchange for Greek bases and so on, which essentially cost Greece nothing.

The key here is psychological. Greeks need to admit that their fellow Europeans do not care how badly they suffer; need to acknowledge that they are not seen as Europeans by their fellow Europeans, and need to look East and South for their survival and future prosperity.

Until Greeks get through their heads, and hearts, that the other European countries are not their friends, they will continue to suffer.  Until they are willing to take the losses that Grexit and default will impose, things will continue to get worse.  (Being genuinely willing to take those losses is also the only way they might be avoided.)

I note also that sheer idiotic incompetence of Syriza in not putting in place currency controls to prevent capital flight during the negotiation period.  This is virtually an own-goal it is so stupid, and should bring into question just how smart Varoufkis is (or Tsipras, if he over-ruled Varoufkis.)

I wish the Greeks the best. But as with all those who have been horribly damaged by neo-liberalism and austerity, they need to get through their heads that those in charge of the policy have no fellow feeling for them; that people like Merkel, Shauble and the Germans who support them are enemies, not friends, let alone family members in some big European family which cares about all Europeans.

This is economic war, with the casualties that implies.  The Germans and the ECB are treating it as such; the collaborators in Italy, Portugal and Spain are treating it as such. Until ordinary people, and the representatives they put their faith in start treating it as such, they will continue to lose.

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