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El Pais interview, Varoufakis reveals how EU used “asphyxiation” strategy to bring Greece to its knees

Yanis Varoufakis in El Pais interview: “Fiscal waterboarding: I am very proud of this term. It is a precise, an accurate description of what has been happening for years now.”

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge:

…with the ECB using the Greek bank run nuclear option, the Syriza government did indeed undestand that the Troika “has all the leverage.” and today, Yanis Varoufakis – who is now embroiled in a national scandal which may see him charged with treason for daring to contemplate and implement a Plan B which saw the return of Greece to the Drachma, presented the full transcript of his interview with El Pais conducted last week, in which he put in his own words just what this battle of leverage which we first laid out in January, would be:

“Think of it as a ‘demonstration effect’: this is what will happen to you if you don’t fully submit to the Troika. What happened in Greece was definitely a coup. The asphyxiation of the Government through the liquidity squeeze, a series of denials of any serious debt restructuring… What was astonishing is that we kept coming to them with proposals which they refused seriously to discuss, they were insisting that we do not make them public and, at the same time, they leaked that we had no proposals. Any independent observer watching this would agree that they were never interested in a mutually beneficial agreement. By imposing the liquidity squeeze, they forced the economy to shrink so as to blame it on us… We had constantly to make payments to the IMF which where scheduled along with disbursements which never came through. So they kept doing this, delaying any agreement, until we run out of liquidity. Then they gave us an ultimatum under the further threat of bank closure. This was nothing but a coup. In 1967 there were the tanks and in 2015 there were the banks. But the result is the same in the sense of having overthrown the Government or having forced it to overthrow itself.”

Here is the full, unedited transcript of the interview with Claudi Perez from Varoufakis’ blog:

Why do all the interviews of you I have read begin with a question about how are you if it is clear, as I see, that you are really ok?

I suspect journalists assume that I am somehow downhearted now that I am not in the ministry. But I didn’t enter politics as a career. I entered politics to try to change things. There is a price to pay if one tries to change things.

What is the price?

The disdain of the establishment. The deep feelings of loathing by the vested interests one must dislodge to make a difference. They felt threatened. If you enter politics with an uncompromising position, you cop it.

You say that you have to change things. In these 6 months, do you have the feeling that you did?

Absolutely. Why are you here? You are here because something changed. There was a government that was elected to negotiate hard on the basis of a line of argument that wasn’t considered acceptable in the eurozone. At the same time, history necessitated it. So you have an unstoppable force striking an immovable object. The immovable logic is the irrationality of the Eurogroup and the unstoppable force is history. The result is a great deal of heat and noise… Hopefully there will be some light too.

I was reading your book, about your daughter… And then I was doing some numbers. The bailout will finish in 2018. Then the supervision will be there until Greece pays back the majority of its loans: the average maturity is 32 years. So the ex troika, now quadriga, and the men in black, will be here in Athens till your grandchildren will be adults. How do you deal with this?

Let’s not call them the ex troika anymore. It’s the troika again. We gave them the chance to become “the institutions”, to legitimize them. But they insisted in behaving like the illegitimate troika of the past five years.

Didn’t you kill the troika?

Well, we got rid of them here in Athens. Now they are back: the troika is back. They could have acted as legitimate institutions. But they seem to have a clear preference to act as the troika of lenders. It’s their choice.

But they’ll be here until 2050, when your grandchildren will be adults.

No, they won’t. Because this agreement doesn’t have a future. It is continuing the extending and pretending charade: extending the crisis with new unsustainable loans, and pretending that this solves the problem… It can’t go on forever. You can fool the people and the markets for a short period of time, but in the end you can’t fool them for fifty years. Either Europe changes, and this process is replaced by something more democratic, and durable, manageable, humanistic. Or Europe will no longer exist as a Monetary Union.

What do you expect for the next 6 months? We expect a 3rd bailout agreement in mid-August.

This is a program designed to fail. And so it will fail. It’s not easy for an architect to build a solid building, but it’s easy for him or her to construct a building that will collapse. Anyone can do it. It was planned to fail, because, let’s face it: Wolfgang Schauble is not interested in an agreement that works. He categorically stated that he wanted to redesign the eurozone and part of that redesign is that Greece should be thrown out of the eurozone. I think that he is completely mistaken but nevertheless this is his plan and he is a very powerful player. One of the great fallacies at the moment is to present the deal imposed on our government on 12th July as an alternative to Schauble’s plan. I see things differently: This deal is a part of the Schauble plan. Of course, this is not the conventional wisdom.

So do you expect a Grexit?

I hope not. But what I expect is a lot of noise, as I said: delays, failure to meet unreachable targets, more recession, political dead ends. And then things will come to head and Europe will have to decide whether to go ahead with Schauble’s plan or not.

But which is your central scenario? Is Schauble condemning Greece to go out?

You can see that there is a plan being implemented and which is in progress. Today we have read that Schauble wants to sideline the Commission and to create something like a Budget commissioner who oversees the ‘rules’ that strike down national budgets, even if a country is not under a program. In other words: to turn every country into a program country! One of the great successes of Spain in the middle of the crisis was that you avoided a full MoU (and only had a limited one stemming from the bank recapitalization program). Schauble’s plan is to put the troika everywhere, in Madrid too, but especially in… Paris!

So Paris is the final game.

Paris is the larger prize. It’s the final destination of the troika. Grexit is used to create the fear necessary to force Paris, Rome and Madrid to acquiesce.

Is it to sacrifice Greece for saving Europe?

Think of it as a ‘demonstration effect’: this is what will happen to you if you don’t fully submit to the Troika. What happened in Greece was definitely a coup. The asphyxiation of the Government through the liquidity squeeze, a series of denials of any serious debt restructuring… What was astonishing is that we kept coming to them with proposals which they refused seriously to discuss, they were insisting that we do not make them public and, at the same time, they leaked that we had no proposals. Any independent observer watching this would agree that they were never interested in a mutually beneficial agreement. By imposing the liquidity squeeze, they forced the economy to shrink so as to blame it on us… We had constantly to make payments to the IMF which where scheduled along with disbursements which never came through. So they kept doing this, delaying any agreement, until we run out of liquidity. Then they gave us an ultimatum under the further threat of bank closure. This was nothing but a coup. In 1967 there were the tanks and in 2015 there were the banks. But the result is the same in the sense of having overthrown the Government or having forced it to overthrow itself.

And for Europe as a whole?

Nobody can be free even if one person is a slave. That is Hegel’s well known master-slave paradox. Europe has to pay serious attention to it. Spain cannot prosper, or be free, or sovereign or democratic if its prosperity hinges on another member state being denied growth, prosperity or democracy.

Rajoy has said that if Spaniards vote for parties like Podemos, we will be like Greece in the coming months.

I remind you that Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign in 2012 was run also on the basis of that ‘if Obama wins, the US will become like Greece’. So Greece has become a football on the feet of politicians of the right who try to scare their population. This is the great utility of Greece for the Grexit policy of Dr Schauble.

Do you think that Podemos could have damaged Greece because the fear of the political contagion?

I would never say that Podemos is a problem for us. Even if Podemos didn’t exist, the forces of regression in Europe would have used fear because, let’s face it: whenever a province of an empire rebels, the emperor and his minions feel obliged to make an example of those who make a dash for liberty. Maybe Podemos intensified this process but, in reality, we had no alternative: we had an economy caught in a large deflation spiral, no credit even for profitable businesses, no investment except for some speculation.

The previous government was adopting increasing degrees of authoritarianism, shutting down the state’s own radio and television stations. This self-defeating austerity drive, which leads to further losses in income, further debt in order to keep fueling this beast of austerity, can only be kept going by curtailing democracy. So what alternative did we have?

The Greeks voted for us not because they didn’t know we would be treated in a hostile way, but because they had had enough. Whatever happens in Spain, in France, in the Baltics, in Portugal, we had a duty to our people to say: We believe in Europe and we’re going to say to Europeans that we owe them money, we want to repay, but we cannot repay from incomes that keep shrinking. “If you keep squeezing us in this inhuman, irrational manner, you will lose your money and we will lose our country.”

Now, there comes a time when you simply need to say and do what is right, and if Europe as a whole chooses to punish us for it, because it is not ready to accept the truth, then we have no alternative but to say to them: “We are doing our best and we hope you find it in yourselves to do your best too!”

I think that is a uncontroversial: your ideas about austerity and debt relief, everybody says you are right.

If you were talking to me in January it would not have been so. The only reason why now this is not controversial anymore is because we struggled for six months. For those who say to me we failed, these six months were in vain, I say “No we did not fail”. Now we have a debate in Europe which it’s not just about Greece, it’s about the continent. A debate we would have not had otherwise. A debate which is worth Greece’s, our continent’s, weight in gold.

But politics is about results. You called the first and second bailout like the Versailles Treaty. How would you define the third?

The Eurozone began life in 2000. It was badly designed and we realized that, or we should have realized that, in 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed. From 2009-2010 we have been in complete denial as official Europe has been doing precisely the wrong thing. This is a European phenomenon, it is an Europe-wide problem. Little Greece, 2% of Eurozone’s GDP, elected a government that raised issues crucial for all of Europe.  After 6 months of struggles we had a major setback, we lost the battle. But we won the war of changing the debate. And this is a result!

The debate is the result?

Certainly! I cannot quantify this result for you. I cannot tell you how many billons it is worth. But some things are not measured in terms of prices but in terms of their value.

You had a plan B, with a parallel currency, but Tsipras didn’t want to press the button, to summarize the story.

He is the prime minister, it was his call. My job, as his financial minister, was to provide the best tools I could and it was his decision whether he chose to use them or not. That is what matters. There were good arguments to utilize these tools and there were arguments for not pressing the button.

When you closed the banks, did you think at that moment that you must press the button?

I clearly thought that we should have reacted in kind when the Eurogroup closed the Greek banks and I have stated this for the record. But this is what collective decision making is all about. It means you have an inner cabinet that decides. I tabled my recommendation but I was in a minority. I respected the decision of the majority and acted according to it, as a team player ought to. This is how democracy and governments work and I fully accept it.

But can this plan B still being implemented?

Let’s separate two things. There was a Plan B, which, in fact, we called Plan X, in contrast to the ECB’s 2012 Plan Z, as reported in the Financial Times some time ago. Plan X was a contingency plan for responding to aggressive acts by the ECB, the Eurogroup and so on. Then there was a quite separate design for a new payments system using the tax office’s interface. This system, as I explained in a recent article in the Financial Times, is something that should have been implemented anyway. I think Spain might benefit from implementing it to, or Italy for example. Countries lacking a central bank can potentially benefit from this efficient way of creating more liquidity, and more effectively dealing with multilateral extinguishment of arrears between the state and its citizens, but also among citizens.

So, let’s keep these two ‘plans’ separate. The payment system could, and should, be implemented tomorrow. Plan X is now, I think, part of history because it was intended as a response to aggressive acts that would have as their objective to make us surrender during the negotiations. Now that we have surrendered, it has become part of economic history.

Tsipras said in the parliament before the vote, after the referendum, that there was no alternative to the packages, but I think with this plan you are saying to the people that there is an alternative to the package.

My political thinking, from a very young age, was shaped by a principled, intellectual opposition to TINA – to the neoliberal logic that There Is No Alternative. This opposition shaped me from the time I lived in Britain under Margaret Thatcher who launched TINA. My political thinking was always directed at countering… TINA. I even concocted an alternative, saying that I believe not in TINA but in TATIANA: That Astonishingly There Is AN Alternative! So I would never accept the view that there was no alternative. I would accept that a prime minister, considering all the alternatives, opts for the least bad alternative. We can have a debate on whether his was the least bad, or optimal, alternative. But the proposition that there exists no alternative is constitutionally alien to every fibre of my body and mind.

Let me ask you about your rhetoric: mafia, criminals…

I never used the word Mafia

Terrorism, fiscal waterboarding…

Fiscal waterboarding: I am very proud of this term. It is a precise, an accurate description of what has been happening for years now. What is waterboarding? You take a subject, you push his head in the water until he suffocates but, at some point, before death comes you stop. You pull the head out just in time, before asphyxiation is complete, you allow the subject to take a few deep breaths, and then you push the head again in the water. You repeat until he… confesses. Fiscal waterboarding, on the other hand, is obviously not physical, it’s fiscal. But the idea is the same and it is exactly what happened to successive Greek governments since 2010. Instead of air, Greek governments nursing unsustainable debts were starved of liquidity. Facing payments to their creditors, or meeting its obligations, they were denied liquidity till the very last moment just before formal bankruptcy, until they ‘confessed’’; until they signed on agreements they knew to add new impetus on the real economy’s crisis. At that moment, the troika would provide enough liquidity, like they did now with the 7 billion the Greek government received in order to repay the… ECB and the IMF. Just like waterboarding, this liquidity, or ‘oxygen’, is calculated to be barely enough to keep the ‘subject’ going, without defaulting formally, but never more than that. And so the torture continues with the effect that the government remains completely under the troika’s control. This is how fiscal waterboarding functions and I cannot imagine a better and more accurate term to describe what has been going on.

On my use of the word ‘terror’, take the case of the referendum. On the 25th of June we were presented with a comprehensive proposal by the troika. We studied it with an open mind and concluded that it was a non-viable proposal. If we signed it, we would have definitely failed within 4-5 months and then Dr. Schäuble would say “See, you accepted conditions you could not fulfill”. The Greek government cannot afford to do this anymore. We need to reclaim our credibility by only signing agreements we can fulfill. So I said to my colleagues in the Eurogroup, on the 27th, that our team convened and decided that we could not accept this proposal, because it wouldn’t work. But at the same time, we are Europeanists and we don’t have a mandate, nor the will or interest, to clash with Europe. So we decided to put their proposal to the Greek people to decide.

And what did the Eurogroup do? It refused us an extension of a few weeks in order to hold this referendum in peace and instead they closed down our banks. Closing down the banks of a monetized economy is the worst form of monetary terrorism. It instills fear in people. Imagine if in Spain tomorrow morning the banks didn’t open because of a Eurogroup decision with which to force your government to agree to something untenable. Spaniards would be caught up in a vortex of monetary terror. What is terrorism? Terrorism is to pursue a political agenda through the spread of generalized fear. That is what they did. Meanwhile the Greek systemic media were terrorizing people to think that, if they voted No in the referendum, Armageddon would come. This was also a fear-based campaign. And this is what I said. Maybe people in Brussels don’t like it to hear the truth. If they refrained from trying to scare the Greek, then I would have refrained from using this term.

My point is the rhetoric calling criminals to IMF, as Tsipras did, is not good for the results of the negotiation. And with this rhetoric it is difficult.

He didn’t call the IMF criminal. Let’s be precise. He talked about a criminally negligent program that imposed upon Greeks a monumental crisis, including a humanitarian emergency. Which is exactly what the Greek ‘programs’ fo 2010 and 2012 were. But let me add an important point here: We did not turn up the ‘sharpness’ of our rhetoric (e.g. Tsipras’ remark) until late June. From 25th of January until late June we had been negotiating in good faith while the troika was not. We had been exceptionally mild and polite, in the face of incredible hostility and denigration. We went into each Eurogroup meeting with good proposals, suggesting to them that we should all agree on two or three major reforms immediately (e.g. tax evasion and corruption, a new tax authority independent of politics but also of the oligarchy). They rejected our overtures and they threatened us with cessation of the negotiations if we dared make our proposals public, while they were leaking at the same time to the Financial Times that we had no proposals. They insisted on a denigrating, endless round of ‘technical’ discussions while asphyxiating our economy. They behaved abominably while we continued to respond with solid arguments and in a highly civilized fashion.

And we sat there and took it, month after month. We never stopped compromising. By late June, our Prime Minister had met them 9/10ths of the way. And what did they do? They backtracked even from their own positions, insisting on 25th June, for example, that VAT on hotels should rise to 23%! This was an act of aggression. At that point we decided, very reasonably, to tell the truth, to talk about their program’s criminal negligence, to allude to their fiscal waterboarding. At some point the truth needs to be told. Europeans are losing trust in the EU because of their wall of lies and propaganda which presents itself in the form of nuanced terminology, when in reality what is happening is a complete violation of the basic rules of logic, of the EU Treaties, of polite behaviour and of democracy.

But then why did Tsipras accept it?

You should interview him if you wish to put questions to him. It is not right that I should answer on anyone else’s behalf, especially my Prime Minister.

In the Eurogroup, some ministers portrayed you like difficult to predict, luxurious way of life, many photos… What do you think when you hear this type of portrait?

It is not true. Nobody said anything like that in the Eurogroup. They may very well have said such things outside the Eurogroup, I would neither know nor care. Everybody, in the end, gets judged by the quality of their public narratives. I will leave you and your readers to pass judgment on their demeanour. We all need to be judged by our voters, by the people of Europe. In my case, I have a clear conscience. After the third Eurogroup I posted on my website my interventions in all three meetings. Read them and tell me if I was unpredictable, impolite, whatever. In my estimation, my interventions were clear, economically beyond reproach, and constructive. Readers can read them and judge.

Do people understand your pictures on Paris Match for example? Do you think that people that have voted Syriza, which is a left party, understand this type of pictures?

Well, you want to walk around with me on the streets of Athens and see what people say to me about all this? Our people are not bothered by any of this, even though I said it clearly that the Paris Match aesthetic was terrible and I regret accepting to do the photoshoot. You may not believe me but, when I accepted, I didn’t know what Paris Match was – it is not the kind of press I ever knew much about. I asked to see the article’s text before agreeing to do the photoshoot. The text was fine and so I made the mistake to agree to the photoshoot. I rushed home for it and only had 15 minutes to spare. Danae, my wife, told me it felt like a bad idea but I was already committed and so I decided to do it quickly, rushing from one ‘set’ to the next before leaving for a meeting with the Prime Minister. It was my mistake to have accepted it and I have apologized for it. But all this talk about Paris Match and its photoshoot had one purpose: to ensure that my message, especially the rational criticisms of Europe’s ways, gets drowned in ugly pictures and toxic noise.

What are you going to do about your political career?

Politics should not be a career. I am a member of the Parliament and extremely honored by the trust vested in me by voters. My commitment to them when I entered politics last January was that I will stand my ground and fight along their side for democracy and prosperity in Greece but also throughout Eyrope. I’m here for the course, I´m not going anywhere.

You are an academic, a professor and author of really good books like the Minotaur. Did you like the politics, what you saw in Brussels?

I certainly didn’t like what I saw in Brussels and I don’t think any European would like it if they had the chance to see it for themselves. But this is what we have, that is the EU we have, and we have to fix it. The worst enemy of democracy is citizens who say this is a terrible system but I’m not prepared to do anything to change it.

Why don’t you have allies in the Eurogroup? I mean, nor France, nor Italy, Spain, Ireland… Countries that at the beginning, with Syriza, had positive thinkings and at the end there were 18 against 1.

What you have to understand is that this 18-1 balance in the Eurogroup is an illusion. The 18 are divided very significantly in three groups. The very tiny, tiny minority who believe in austerity. The largest group of countries don’t believe in austerity but imposed austerity on their own people. And then there is another group of countries that neither believe in austerity nor practise it – e.g. France. But they fear that if they support us openly then austerity and the troika will come their way.

What is your relationship with Schäuble, de Guindos and maybe Dijsselbloem?

No relationship could have existed with Dijsselbloem. This is not just because he is so intellectually lightweight but, primarily, because he is untrustworthy. For example, he chose to lie to me in my first Eurogroup about procedure. It is one thing to disagree with the Eurogroup President. It is quite another thing to have him lie to you about gravely important procedures. On the other hand, Schäuble and de Guindos are two colleagues that I very much enjoy talking to, at a personal level. Our conversations were often tough but they were also interesting exchanges. As an academic, there is nothing more interesting than interesting exchanges. Our disagreements were serious but, at personal level, there was mutual respect and a useful exchange of ideas was had. The problem is that when you put all these people together in the Eurogroup, because of the catastrophically bad institutional design of the Eurogroup, you end up with governance failure that damages Europe. So, in a different context, institutional framework, I am sure that with colleagues like de Guindos and Schäuble our working relationship would have ended up producing tastier fruits.

Coming back to the question about Spain. What are the lessons of Greece for Spain? The Spanish government has said that if people vote for Podemos, problems will come and Spain will become Greece after a few months.

I think that the people of Spain need to look at the economic and social situation in Spain and base the judgment on what their society needs, independently of what is happening in Greece, France… The danger of becoming Greece is always there and will materialize if you keep repeating the same mistakes that were imposed on Greece. Punishing one proud nation in order to put fear in another is not what Europe should be about. It is not the Europe we signed up for, not the Europe that González had signed for or Papandreou, or Giscard d’Estaing, or Helmut Schmidt etc. We need to recover the sense of being Europeans and finding ways of recreating the dream of shared prosperity with democracy. The idea that fear and loathing are going to be the creators of the new Europe is an idea that is going to lead us headlong to a postmodern 1930s. I believe that the people of Spain and of Greece know exactly what the 1930s did to them.

You said once that the legacy of Thatcher was financialization, malls and Tony Blair. And I ask you, what is the legacy of Merkel, of her leadership?

Europe is in the process of turning from a realm of shared prosperity, which is how we imagined it, into an iron cage for our peoples. I hope that Mrs Merkel decides that this is not a legacy she wants to leave behind.

References:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-08-02/varoufakis-1967-there-were-tanks-and-2015-there-were-banks

http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2015/08/02/in-conversation-with-el-pais-claudi-perez-the-complete-long-transcript/

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Final Steps in Syria’s Successful Struggle for Peace and Sovereignty

The war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The situation in Syria evolves daily and sees two situations very closely linked to each other, with the US withdrawal from Syria and the consequent expansionist ambitions of Erdogan in Syria and the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) takeover in Idlib that frees the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian aviation to liberate the de-escalation zone.

Trump has promised to destroy Turkey economically if he attacks the Kurds, reinforcing his claim that Erdogan will not target the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) once the US withdraws from the area. One of the strongest accusations made against Trump’s withdrawal by his opponents is that no Middle Eastern force will ever trust the US again if they abandon the SDF to its fate, that is, to its annihilation at the hands of the Turkish army and its FSA proxies. This, however, is not possible; not so much because of Trump’s economic threats, but because of Damascus and Moscow being strongly opposed to any Turkish military action in the northeast of Syria.

This is a red line drawn by Putin and Assad, and the Turkish president likely understands the consequences of any wrong moves. It is no coincidence that he stated several times that he had no problems with the “Syrians or Syrian-Kurdish brothers”, and repeated that if the area under the SDF were to come under the control of Damascus, Turkey would have no need to intervene in Syria. Trump’s request that Ankara have a buffer zone of 20 kilometers separating the Kurdish and Turkish forces seems to complement the desire of Damascus and Moscow to avoid a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and the SDF.

The only party that seems to be secretly encouraging a clash between the SDF and Turkish forces is Israel, criticizing Ankara and singing the praises of the SDF, in order to try and accentuate the tensions between the two sides, though naturally without success. Israel’s continued raids in Syria, though almost constantly failing due to Syrian air defense, and the divide-and-rule policy used against Turkey and the SDF, show that Tel Aviv is now weakened and mostly irrelevant in the Syrian conflict.

In Idlib, the situation seems to be becoming less complicated and difficult to decipher. Russia, Iran and Syria had asked Erdogan to take control of the province through its “moderate jihadists”, sit down at the negotiating table, and resolve the matter through a diplomatic solution. Exactly the opposite happened. The HTS (formerly al-Nusra/al-Qaeda in Syria) has in recent weeks conquered practically the whole province of Idlib, with numerous forces linked to Turkey (Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din al-Zenki) dissolving and merging into HTS. This development puts even more pressure on Erdogan, who is likely to see his influence in Idlib fade away permanently. Moreover, this evolution represents a unique opportunity for Damascus and Moscow to start operations in Idlib with the genuine justification of combating terrorism. It is a repeat of what happened in other de-escalation areas. Moscow and Damascus have repeatedly requested the moderates be separated from the terrorists, so as to approach the situation with a diplomatic negotiation.

In the absence of an effective division of combatants, all are considered terrorists, with the military option replacing the diplomatic. This remains the only feasible option to free the area from terrorists who are not willing to give back territory to the legitimate government in Damascus and are keeping civilians hostages. The Idlib province seems to have experienced the same playbook applied in other de-escalation zones, this time with a clear contrast between Turkey and Saudi Arabia that shows how the struggle between the two countries is much deeper than it appears. The reasons behind the Khashoggi case and the diplomatic confrontation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were laid bare in the actions of the HTS in Idlib, which has taken control of all the areas previously held by Ankara’s proxies.

It remains to be seen whether Moscow and Damascus would like to encourage Erdogan to recover Idlib through its proxies, trying to encourage jihadists to fight each other as much as possible in order to lighten the task of the SAA, or whether they would prefer to press the advantage themselves and attack while the terrorist front is experiencing internal confusion.

In terms of occupied territory and accounts to be settled, two areas of great importance for the future of Syria remain unresolved, namely al-Tanf, occupied by US forces on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and the area in the north of Syria occupied by Turkish forces and their FSA proxies. It is too early to approach a solution militarily, it being easier for Damascus and Moscow to complete the work to free Syria from the remaining terrorists. Once this has been done, the presence of US or Turkish forces in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would become all the more difficult to justify. Driving away the US and, above all, Turkey from Syrian territory will be the natural next step in the Syrian conflict.

This is an unequivocal sign that the war of aggression against Syria is winding up, and this can be observed by the opening of a series of new embassies in Damascus. Several countries — including Italy in the near future — will reopen their embassies in Syria to demonstrate that the war, even if not completely over, is effectively won by Damascus and her allies.

For this reason, several countries that were previously opposed to Damascus, like the United Arab Emirates, are understood to have some kind of contact with the government of Damascus. If they intend to become involved in the reconstruction process and any future investment, they will quite naturally need to re-establish diplomatic relations with Damascus. The Arab League is also looking to welcome Syria back into the fold.

Such are signs that Syria is returning to normality, without forgetting which and how many countries have conspired and acted directly against the Syrians for over seven years. An invitation to the Arab League or some embassy being reopened will not be enough to compensate for the damage done over years, but Assad does not preclude any option, and is in the meantime demonstrating to the Israelis, Saudis and the US Deep State that their war has failed and that even their most loyal allies are resuming diplomatic relations with Damascus, a double whammy against the neocons, Wahhabis and Zionists.

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Google Manipulated YouTube Search Results for Abortion, Maxine Waters, David Hogg

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News.

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Via Breitbart


In sworn testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress last month that his company does not “manually intervene” on any particular search result. Yet an internal discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News reveals Google regularly intervenes in search results on its YouTube video platform – including a recent intervention that pushed pro-life videos out of the top ten search results for “abortion.”

The term “abortion” was added to a “blacklist” file for “controversial YouTube queries,” which contains a list of search terms that the company considers sensitive. According to the leak, these include some of these search terms related to: abortion, abortions, the Irish abortion referendum, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News by a source inside the company who wishes to remain anonymous. A partial list of blacklisted terms was also leaked to Breitbart by another Google source.

In the leaked discussion thread, a Google site reliability engineer hinted at the existence of more search blacklists, according to the source.

“We have tons of white- and blacklists that humans manually curate,” said the employee. “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.”

Others were more concerned about the presence of the blacklist. According to the source, the software engineer who started the discussion called the manipulation of search results related to abortion a “smoking gun.”

The software engineer noted that the change had occurred following an inquiry from a left-wing Slate journalist about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube, and that pro-life videos were replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results for the search terms following Google’s manual intervention.

“The Slate writer said she had complained last Friday and then saw different search results before YouTube responded to her on Monday,” wrote the employee. “And lo and behold, the [changelog] was submitted on Friday, December 14 at 3:17 PM.”

The manually downranked items included several videos from Dr. Antony Levatino, a former abortion doctor who is now a pro-life activist. Another video in the top ten featured a woman’s personal story of being pressured to have an abortion, while another featured pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro. The Slate journalist who complained to Google reported that these videos previously featured in the top ten, describing them in her story as “dangerous misinformation.”

Since the Slate journalist’s inquiry and Google’s subsequent intervention, the top search results now feature pro-abortion content from left-wing sources like BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. In her report, the Slate journalist acknowledged that the search results changed shortly after she contacted Google.

The manual adjustment of search results by a Google-owned platform contradicts a key claim made under oath by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his congressional testimony earlier this month: that his company does not “manually intervene on any search result.”

A Google employee in the discussion thread drew attention to Pichai’s claim, noting that it “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists.”

One of the posts in the discussion also noted that the blacklist had previously been edited to include the search term “Maxine Waters” after a single Google employee complained the top YouTube search result for Maxine Waters was “very low quality.”

Google’s alleged intervention on behalf of a Democratic congresswoman would be further evidence of the tech giant using its resources to prop up the left. Breitbart News previously reported on leaked emails revealing the company targeted pro-Democrat demographics in its get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016.

According to the source, a software engineer in the thread also noted that “a bunch of terms related to the abortion referendum in Ireland” had been added to the blacklist – another change with potentially dramatic consequences on the national policies of a western democracy.

youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

At least one post in the discussion thread revealed the existence of a file called “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” which contains a list of YouTube search terms that Google manually curates. In addition to the terms “abortion,” “abortions,” “Maxine Waters,” and search terms related to the Irish abortion referendum, a Google software engineer noted that the blacklist includes search terms related to terrorist attacks. (the posts specifically mentions that the “Strasbourg terrorist attack” as being on the list).

“If you look at the other entries recently added to the youtube_controversial_query_blacklist(e.g., entries related to the Strasbourg terrorist attack), the addition of abortion seems…out-of-place,” wrote the software engineer, according to the source.

After learning of the existence of the blacklist, Breitbart News obtained a partial screenshot of the full blacklist file from a source within Google. It reveals that the blacklist includes search terms related to both mass shootings and the progressive anti-second amendment activist David Hogg.

This suggests Google has followed the lead of Democrat politicians, who have repeatedly pushed tech companies to censor content related to the Parkland school shooting and the Parkland anti-gun activists. It’s part of a popular new line of thought in the political-media establishment, which views the public as too stupid to question conspiracy theories for themselves.

Here is the partial blacklist leaked to Breitbart:

2117 plane crash Russian

2118 plane crash

2119 an-148

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

2121 florida shooting crisis actors

2122 florida conspiracy

2123 florida false flag shooting

2124 florida false flag

2125 fake florida school shooting

2126 david hogg hoax

2127 david hogg fake

2128 david hogg crisis actor

2129 david hogg forgets lines

2130 david hogg forgets his lines

2131 david hogg cant remember his lines

2132 david hogg actor

2133 david hogg cant remember

2134 david hogg conspiracy

2135 david hogg exposed

2136 david hogg lines

2137 david hogg rehearsing

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

The full internal filepath of the blacklist, according to another source, is:

//depot/google3/googledata/superroot/youtube/youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

Contradictions

Responding to a request for comment, a YouTube spokeswoman said the company wants to promote “authoritative” sources in its search results, but maintained that YouTube is a “platform for free speech” that “allow[s]” both pro-life and pro-abortion content.

YouTube’s full comment:

YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which prohibit things like inciting violence and pornography. We apply these policies impartially and we allow both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Over the last year we’ve described how we are working to better surface news sources across our site for news-related searches and topical information. We’ve improved our search and discovery algorithms, built new features that clearly label and prominently surface news sources on our homepage and search pages, and introduced information panels to help give users more authoritative sources where they can fact check information for themselves.

In the case of the “abortion” search results, YouTube’s intervention to insert “authoritative” content resulted in the downranking of pro-life videos and the elevation of pro-abortion ones.

A Google spokesperson took a tougher line than its YouTube subsidiary, stating that “Google has never manipulated or modified the search results or content in any of its products to promote a particular political ideology.”

However, in the leaked discussion thread, a member of Google’s “trust & safety” team, Daniel Aaronson, admitted that the company maintains “huge teams” that work to adjust search results for subjects that are “prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content” – all subjective terms that are frequently used to suppress right-leaning sources.

He also admitted that the interventions weren’t confined to YouTube – they included search results delivered via Google Assistant, Google Home, and in rare cases Google ’s organic search results.

In the thread, Aaronson attempted to explain how search blacklisting worked. He claimed that highly specific searches would generate non-blacklisted results, even controversial ones. But the inclusion of highly specific terms in the YouTube blacklist, like “David Hogg cant remember his lines” – the name of an actual viral video – seems to contradict this.

Aaronson’s full post is copied below:

I work in Trust and Safety and while I have no particular input as to exactly what’s happening for YT I can try to explain why you’d have this kind of list and why people are finding lists like these on Code Search.

When dealing with abuse/controversial content on various mediums you have several levers to deal with problems. Two prominent levers are “Proactive” and “Reactive”:

  • Proactive: Usually refers to some type of algorithm/scalable solution to a general problem
    • E.g.: We don’t allow straight up porn on YouTube so we create a classifier that detects porn and automatically remove or flag for review the videos the porn classifier is most certain of
  • Reactive: Usually refers to a manual fix to something that has been brought to our attention that our proactive solutions don’t/didn’t work on and something that is clearly in the realm of bad enough to warrant a quick targeted solution (determined by pages and pages of policies worked on over many years and many teams to be fair and cover necessary scope)
    • E,g.: A website that used to be a good blog had it’s domain expire and was purchased/repurposed to spam Search results with autogenerated pages full of gibberish text, scraped images, and links to boost traffic to other spammy sites. It is manually actioned for violating policy

These Organic Search policies and the consequences to violating them are public

Manually reacting to things is not very scalable, and is not an ideal solution to most problems, so the proactive lever is really the one we all like to lean on. Ideally, our classifiers/algorithm are good at providing useful and rich results to our users while ignoring things at are not useful or not relevant. But we all know, this isn’t exactly the case all the time (especially on YouTube).

From a user perspective, there are subjects that are prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content. Now, these words are highly subjective and no one denies that. But we can all agree generally, lines exist in many cultures about what is clearly okay vs. what is not okay. E.g. a video of a puppy playing with a toy is probably okay in almost every culture or context, even if it’s not relevant to the query. But a video of someone committing suicide and begging others to follow in his/her footsteps is probably on the other side of the line for many folks.

While my second example is technically relevant to the generic query of “suicide”, that doesn’t mean that this is a very useful or good video to promote on the top of results for that query. So imagine a classifier that says, for any queries on a particular text file, let’s pull videos using signals that we historically understand to be strong indicators of quality (I won’t go into specifics here, but those signals do exist). We’re not manually curating these results, we’re just saying “hey, be extra careful with results for this query because many times really bad stuff can appear and lead to a bad experience for most users”. Ideally the proactive lever did this for us, but in extreme cases where we need to act quickly on something that is so obviously not okay, the reactive/manual approach is sometimes necessary. And also keep in mind, that this is different for every product. The bar for changing classifiers or manual actions on span in organic search is extremely high. However, the bar for things we let our Google Assistant say out loud might be a lot lower. If I search for “Jews run the banks” – I’ll likely find anti-semitic stuff in organic search. As a Jew, I might find some of these results offensive, but they are there for people to research and view, and I understand that this is not a reflection of Google feels about this issue. But if I ask Google assistant “Why do Jews run the banks” we wouldn’t be similarly accepting if it repeated and promoted conspiracy theories that likely pop up in organic search in her smoothing voice.

Whether we agree or not, user perception of our responses, results, and answers of different products and mediums can change. And I think many people are used to the fact that organic search is a place where content should be accessible no matter how offensive it might be, however, the expectation is very different on a Google Home, a Knowledge Panel, or even YouTube.

These lines are very difficult and can be very blurry, we are all well aware of this. So we’ve got huge teams that stay cognizant of these facts when we’re crafting policies considering classifier changes, or reacting with manual actions – these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but admittedly are also not made in a highly public forum like TGIF or IndustryInfo (as you can imagine, decisions/agreement would be hard to get in such a wide list – image if all your CL’s were reviewed by every engineer across Google all the time). I hope that answers some questions and gives a better layer of transparency without going into details about our “Pepsi formula”.

Best,

Daniel

The fact that Google manually curates politically contentious search results fits in with a wider pattern of political activity on the part of the tech giant.

In 2018, Breitbart News exclusively published a leaked video from the company that showed senior management in dismay at Trump’s election victory, and pledging to use the company’s power to make his populist movement a “hiccup” in history.

Breitbart also leaked “The Good Censor,” an internal research document from Google that admits the tech giant is engaged in the censorship of its own products, partly in response to political events.

Another leak revealed that employees within the company, including Google’s current director of Trust and Safety, tried to kick Breitbart News off Google’s market-dominating online ad platforms.

Yet another showed Google engaged in targeted turnout operations aimed to boost voter participation in pro-Democrat demographics in “key states” ahead of the 2016 election. The effort was dubbed a “silent donation” by a top Google employee.

Evidence for Google’s partisan activities is now overwhelming. President Trump has previously warned Google, as well as other Silicon Valley giants, not to engage in censorship or partisan activities. Google continues to defy him.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to [email protected].

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Are You Suffering From Toxic Masculinity? Know The Warning Signs

Are you or a loved one suffering from toxic masculinity? Know the warning signs so you can seek help.

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Via BabylonBee.com:


More than 40% of men today suffer from it—and their loved ones pay the price.

It’s called “toxic masculinity,” and it’s the latest disease to plague the nation. It can affect every aspect of a toxic man’s life. Worst of all, toxic masculinity is contagious, so if you’re infected, you need to know right away so you can avoid spreading it to your friends and family.

Are you or a loved one suffering from toxic masculinity? Know the warning signs so you can seek help:

  • Even the faintest whisper of facial hair – If you have a mustache, schedule a check-up. If you find a goatee on your face, consider going into the emergency room. If you have a full-grown beard, well, it’s probably too late for you.
  • A belief that men and women are at least a little bit different – Should you be infected with the cancerous idea that men and women are even the slightest bit different from one another, you could have toxic masculinity. If you’re a woman who believes this, then you suffer from an even worse disease called internalized misogyny.
  • Throwing a professional wrestler off a steel cage right through the announcer’s table – Men who suddenly look around and find that they’re tossing a professional wrestler off a steel cage to plummet right through the announcer’s table are at high risk of developing toxic masculinity. If a man in your life is suffering from this symptom, encourage him to stop wrestling in the WWE immediately.
  • Eating meat on occasion – A disease like toxic masculinity can quickly change your diet. If you find yourself leaving your vegan avocado quinoa toast smoothies untouched in favor of wolfing down some bacon-wrapped bacon, you might have toxic masculinity.
  • Holding the door open for a woman once in a while – It looks innocent enough: a woman approaches, and you hold the door so she doesn’t have to open it again. Seems like common courtesy, right? WRONG. It’s one of the first warning signs of toxic masculinity, and you need to do better if you’re going to beat this thing. One way to reduce your toxic masculinity is to slam the door right in a woman’s face and scream, “EQUALITY!!!” through the glass when she glares at you.
  • Yelling stuff about freedom and charging into battle wearing blue face paint – If you find yourself charging into battle against the English wearing blue face paint in the 14th century, you might be beyond medical help. Do all of society a favor and get yourself drawn and quartered so no one else catches this contagious illness.
  • Being a man who doesn’t hate himself – This is the most telling sign. If you’re a biological male and you don’t hate yourself, toxic masculinity is already coursing through your veins. If there’s going to be any hope of recovery, you need to begin hating yourself today.

If you or your man are showing one or more of these symptoms, contact your medical professional today. Get help, before it’s too late.

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