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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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Theresa May survives another week in ongoing Brexit fiasco (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 153.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit survival, as the UK Prime Ministers appears to be heading to Brussels so she can coordinate with EU technocrats in order to meet a November deadline to move the unpopular agreement through all channels of British government.

It is still a very fluid situation. May has made it through a tough weekend where support to oust her never materialized, but the week ahead is anything but certain. For now May’s Brexit position looks secure.

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“Brexit. A Deal That Pleases No One,” authored by Daniel Lacalle via dlacalle.com…

The agreement announced between the British government and the European Union has been received in the United Kingdom with criticism from all sides. The defenders of staying in the European Union consider it very negative, of course. However, and this is the most important part, it is unlikely that the conservative party itself will support this agreement in parliament. Jacob Rees-Mogg has called the agreement “a failure of the negotiators and a failure to deliver Brexit.” Boris Johnson has said that it turns the United Kingdom into a “vassal state” and Nigel Farage has described it as “the worst agreement in history”.

Including the entire United Kingdom in the customs union and maintaining the payment of 10 billion pounds a year to give the European Union veto rights to the most important decisions is something that most conservative members of parliament will reject and that does not satisfy the Labor Party – which is also not pro-EU, let’s be clear – nor the liberal-democrats.

That is the great problem facing the government of Theresa May. That not even the government as a whole supports this agreement. The resignations that have been registered prove it. Even if the rest of the government decides to accept this agreement as a lesser evil, it is very difficult for the parliament to approve it.

At the centre of the controversy is a negotiating process that the European Union has left as a United Kingdom issue. But by letting the United Kingdom deal with its own divisions and problems, the EU also lost the perfect opportunity to offer British citizens and the rest of Europe a refreshing, leading and exciting project. And that is the big problem. That Brexit has been seen in many circles in Brussels as an opportunity to advance in the political and interventionist project, instead of moving towards a union in freedom for global, economic and political leadership.

The problem of the UK government is that it is led by a person, Theresa May, who must present a proposal to leave the EU when she has always been an advocate of remaining (Theresa May initially campaigned for the “Remain”). Thus, it is not surprising that the parliament arithmetics in favor of this agreement is not at all clear.

The British Parliament has more members in favor of Brexit than against, but it cannot be THIS Brexit.

Boris Johnson and the pro-Brexit hardliners may see an opportunity to weaken Theresa May and force a change of leadership that will bring a new leader more committed to a better deal.

Moderate Labour, who have been terrified for months with the radical drift of the Corbyn team, may also see an opportunity to weaken the leader who tries to take Labour to the far left.

My perception is that if there were a second referendum the result would probably be the same. In the United Kingdom there are no voices with political weight and real popular support to defend the European Union project. In the United Kingdom, the debate is either seeing the European Union as an annoying partner or as an impossible danger to solve.

Citizens in Europe see Brexit with sadness, logically. In the United Kingdom, news arriving from the European Union do not encourage a remain stance. High unemployment, unresolved immigration problems, lack of global leadership, high taxes, the specter of a new debt crisis in Italy and other risks. Pro-Europe UK leaders offer no other argument to citizens than the so-called Project Fear, a massive economic risk. However, British citizens see UK unemployment at 75-year lows, while in Europe they see the slowdown of the eurozone and the budget crisis of other countries, and do not find an unquestionable reason to stay in the club.

The UK citizen who votes for Brexit does not seem convinced that the only solution is to belong to a union that demands more control but offers less growth and employment.

The reactions to the agreement have not been very euphoric in any case. It seems something that was presented to fail. The pound and stock market did not react as the EU negotiators would think once the deal was seen as unlikely to pass parliament. In the bond market, Gilts strengthened as UK bond spreads fell while eurozone peripheral yields soared. The opposite of what would be seen as an EU victory.

Reaching an agreement that benefits everyone is difficult, but not impossible

The problem in the United Kingdom is that the agreement that would satisfy the pro-Brexit is impossible, and that the agreement that would please the pro-EU is impractical. That the message of economic ruin is not bought by Brexiters and not even the Remainers see the marvels of the EU membership.

Economically, it has been a mistake to present British citizens with the idea of “either the EU or the chaos”, because it does not work when there is not a clear, exciting and global leadership project.

The United Kingdom, one of the voices that defended economic freedom and open markets in an increasingly bureaucratic European Union is an essential partner to advance in Europe. Reaching an agreement that benefits everyone is difficult, but not impossible.

I have never bought the “EU or chaos” argument. I believe that both parts can benefit from a mutually beneficial deal. I am convinced that, even if this agreement is not approved, the British government will reconsider and present a solid plan for its citizens.

 

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Rise of the Western Dissidents

The only reason Assange is being targeted is that he tangled with the highest levels of the western establishment. He is far from alone.

The Duran

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Authored by Allum Bokhari via Breitbart:


We’re used to Russian dissidents, Chinese dissidents, Iranian dissidents, and Saudi Arabian dissidents. But those who rightly believe the west is superior to authoritarian regimes must now contend with a troubling trend — the rise of the western dissident.

Chief among them is Julian Assange, who for a half-decade has been forced to live in the tiny Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has claimed political asylum since 2011. Assange claimed that he would be extradited to the U.S. to face charges over his work at WikiLeaks if he left the embassy, and was routinely mocked as paranoid for doing so.

This week, we learned that Assange was right and his critics were wrong. Thanks to a clerical error by the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, reporters were able to confirm the existence of sealed criminal charges against the WikiLeaks founder.

Because the charges are sealed and the evidence is unknown, it’s impossible to say if the case has merit. But it likely relates to WikiLeaks’ release of unredacted diplomatic cables in 2011, which forced the U.S. to relocate several of its foreign sources.

Some allegations are more serious. While he was alive, neoconservative Senator John McCain maintained that leaks provided to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, which included the diplomatic cables, caused U.S sources to be murdered.

Those who see Assange as a villain will end the story here. What is typically left out is that WikiLeaks originally released the diplomatic cables in piecemeal form, with names redacted to prevent loss of life and minimize harm.

It was only after a Guardian journalist’s error led to the full unredacted cables leaking to third parties on the web that WikiLeaks published them as well — and not before Assange attempted to warn the office of Hillary Clinton, then U.S. Secretary of State.

In other words, WikiLeaks behaved precisely as any responsible publisher handling sensitive material should, redacting information that could cause harm. The redactions only stopped when they became pointless. Assange is unlikely to have won more than a dozen journalism awards if he were completely reckless in his publications.

The Pentagon later admitted under oath that they could not find any instances of individuals being killed as a result of being named in Manning’s leaks to WikiLeaks, contradicting Sen. McCain’s allegations.

At worst, Assange and WikiLeaks can be accused of negligence, not deliberate recklessness, in the way it handled sensitive material. But as Breitbart Tech reporter Lucas Nolan points out, a far stronger case can be made against Hillary Clinton for the way she handled State Department emails — yet we see no criminal charges against her.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the only reason Assange is being targeted is that he tangled with the highest levels of the western establishment. In that, he is far from alone.

In the late 2000s to early 2010s, western governments targeted all manner of individuals associated with Assange and the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, including Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda, and The Guardian newspaper.

This was the early growth period of the internet, when the web had become a truly popular medium but had yet to be censored by pliant social media corporations. It was a time of profound unease at the power of the internet to undermine authority, both through the dissemination of information as in the case of WikiLeaks and Snowden, and in the new mobilization of political forces, as in the case of Occupy Wall Street and the SOPA/PIPA protests. Heavy-handed crackdowns against individuals and groups that were seen, rightly or wrongly, as symbols of the web’s early anarchic tendencies, like Kim DotcomAaron SwartzAnonymous, and LulzSec, were not uncommon.

These days, however, a new class of western dissident has emerged — the populist dissident.

Populist Dissidents

Who would have thought that the highest court in Europe, home of the enlightenment, would uphold a case in which a woman was prosecuted for blasphemy against Islam?

Who would have thought that Britain, the birthplace of liberalism and the free press, would ban an independent journalist from its shores for satirizing the same religion?

Who would have thought that Germany, whose living memory of the totalitarian Stasi is just three decades old, would put its largest opposition party under surveillance?

Just a few years ago, all three would sound far-fetched. But cases like these have become common as elites in virtually every western country mount a panicked attempt to contain the rise of populism (the goal, in the words of a Google executive, is to render it a “hiccup”in history’s march towards progress).

Look at the case of Tommy Robinson, the British critic of Islam who was dragged through Britain’s courts on fuzzy contempt-of-court charges. Sentenced to an astonishing thirteen-month imprisonment, Robinson was eventually freed after a successful appeal and now awaits a final trial before Britain’s Attorney General. Shaky charges that have been successfully appealed were exploited to persecute a British citizen who was inconvenient to the establishment. And there’s still a further trial to come.

Then again, Britain is a country that routinely bans foreign politicians and media figures from the country for being too right-wing. Michael SavageGeert WildersLauren SouthernPamela Geller, and Robert Spencer all enjoy this dubious distinction. Theresa May, who was responsible for internal affairs and immigration when Spencer and Geller were banned, is now the Prime Minister.

But it’s not just Britain. Not only has Trump’s White House, supposedly an ally of populists, failed to publicly intervene on behalf of the American citizens banned from the U.K. for expressing populist viewpoints, but it hasn’t even investigated allegations that far-left Antifa activists were able to stop conservative Rebel Media personality Jack Buckbyfrom entering the country by spreading false criminal allegations.

Julian Assange, a left-libertarian may share little ideological ground with right-wing critics of Islam. But they all share at least one thing: persecution by western states coupled with anti-establishment political speech or activities. They are also targets of the security establishment — Assange because of leaks that have exposed their secrets, and the populists because they refuse to censor themselves to avoid angering Muslims. (The UK justified its attempted ban of Geert Wilders by arguing that his presence in the country could lead to “inter-faith violence.”)

We also see attacks on free speech, with governments and politicians across the west pressuring Silicon Valley to suppress its critics. An unaccountable, unelected elite can sweep away a person’s livelihood in minutes, and cut their political message off from millions of American citizens. As I wrote in my column two weeks ago, the overarching trend is the gradual destruction or delegitimization of every tool, digital or otherwise, that non-elites use to express their preferences. Does that sound like a free society, or a controlled one?

You don’t have to agree with any of the individuals or groups listed above to see that surveilling political parties, blocking journalists from entering countries, jailing critics of religion, upholding blasphemy laws and censoring the net is the behavior of authoritarian nations, not liberal democracies. Yet this is the disturbing pattern we now see in the west.

Worse, foreign authoritarian regimes now provide safe harbor for western dissidents, in the same way that the west does for foreign dissidents. Edward Snowden, accused of violating the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917 for blowing the whistle on the NSA’s mass surveillance of Americans, has for years resided safely in Russia, a country that persecutes and even kills its own journalists. Before that, he sought refuge in Hong Kong, a “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic of China, an even more terrifyingly totalitarian state.

Will there now be a quid pro quo, with Russia and other authoritarian regimes protecting our dissidents while the west protects theirs? Or will western countries remain true to their liberal traditions, and stop its alarming attempts to surveil, suppress, and persecute a growing number of its own citizens? On present trends, a dark and dystopian future seems to loom on the horizon.

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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Zuckerberg’s “War Face” Has Driven Key Executives Away, Stoked Tension With Sandberg

About a dozen senior or highly visible executives disclosed their resignations or left Facebook in 2018.

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Via Zerohedge


Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gathered around 50 of his key executives and told them that the company was at war – more specifically, under siege from lawmakers, investors and angry users over the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal and Russian influence on the platform.

Zuckerberg, according to the Wall Street Journal, told his top lieutenants during that June meeting that while executives can move more slowly and methodically on key decisions during “peacetime,” he would be acting more decisively going forward, said people familiar with the remarks.

The result? Tension which has boiled over to the point where several key executives have left the country – as well as friction between Zuckerberg and longtime COO, Sheryl Sandberg.

The 34-year-old CEO believes Facebook didn’t move quickly enough at key moments this year and increasingly is pressing senior executives to “make progress faster” on resolving problems such as slowing user growth and securing the platform, said people familiar with the matter. Mr. Zuckerberg also at times has expressed frustration at how the company managed the waves of criticism it faced this year.

On Friday, that tension was on display when, during a question-and-answer session with employees at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., he blasted a fresh round of critical news coverage as “bullshit,” according to the people familiar with the remarks. –WSJ

One Facebook employee at the Friday session asked if the company could mitigate leaks by publishing internal reports on how frequently offenders are found and fired. While Zuckerberg said that Facebook does fire leakers, the root cause is “bad morale” thanks to negative press coverage.

And while the WSJ notes Zuckerberg has taken on ambitious annual goals, such as learning Mandarin and reading 25 books, this year his biggest challenge is fixing Facebook through his tougher management style, according to a person familiar with his thinking (so says the WSJ). Perhaps the Facebook CEO hired a drill sergeant to coach him on bringing out his inner-Alpha?

According to the Journal, Zuckerberg and Sandberg have had confrontations over his new management style, after she had long been afforded considerable autonomy over the company’s teams which handle communications and policy.

This spring, Mr. Zuckerberg told Ms. Sandberg, 49, that he blamed her and her teams for the public fallout over Cambridge Analytica, the research firm that inappropriately accessed private data on Facebook users and used it for political research, according to people familiar with the exchange.

Ms. Sandberg later confided in friends that the exchange rattled her, and she wondered if she should be worried about her job.

Mr. Zuckerberg also has told Ms. Sandberg she should have been more aggressive in allocating resources to review troublesome content on the site, said one person familiar with the matter, a problem that the company still struggles to fix. –WSJ

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg seems to be pleased of late with internal improvements, telling reporters last week that Sandberg is a “very important partner to me, and continues to be, and will continue to be.”

Privately, Zuckerberg has told executives that some of the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal was just “hysteria,” to which Facebook simply didn’t mount an effective response.

Clash of the tech titans

Zuckerberg famously has butted heads with the co-founders of photo-sharing app Instagram, over his desire to share user location data on the main Facebook platform in order to help better target ads. The now-resigned Instagram founders strongly opposed the idea, and abruptly left the company in September.

The founders of WhatsApp similarly bailed on Facebook after disagreements over how to best extract revenue from the messaging service, according to people familiar with the matter.

And most recently, was the departure of Oculus VR co-founder Brendan Iribe, who was forced out by Zuckerberg in part due to a disagreement over the future of the virtual-reality handset, the people said. The decision to leave was reportedly “mutual.”

All told, about a dozen senior or highly visible executives disclosed their resignations or left Facebook in 2018. In May, Facebook announced a major reshuffling of top product executives in a way that helped free up Mr. Zuckerberg to oversee a broader portfolio within the company.

This turmoil at the top of Facebook has made it difficult for the company to execute on some product decisions and shore up employee morale, which has been sinking over the last year along with the stock price, which has fallen 36% since its peak. Many employees are frustrated by the bad press and constant reorganizations, including of the security team, which can disrupt their work, according to current and former employees. –WSJ

Doing whatever it takes

Facebook has come under fire recently – most notably after a New York Times report that the company used GOP operatives to smear the company’s detractors and promote negative news about competitors Google and Apple.

When the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal broke – the resultant rebukes from Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google executives sent Zuckerberg ballistic. The Facebook CEO “later ordered his management team to use only Android phones —arguing that the operating system had far more users than Apple’s,” according to the Times.

Facebook then went on the offensive against the fellow tech giants.

On the advice of Joel Kaplan – a well-connected Republican friend, Bush administration official, and former Harvard classmate of Sandberg, Facebook began to go after Google and Apple.

Mr. Kaplan prevailed on Ms. Sandberg to promote Kevin Martin, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and fellow Bush administration veteran, to lead the company’s American lobbying efforts. Facebook also expanded its work with Definers.

On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook.

The rash of news coverage was no accident: NTK is an affiliate of Definers, sharing offices and staff with the public relations firm in Arlington, Va. Many NTK Network stories are written by staff members at Definers or America Rising, the company’s political opposition-research arm, to attack their clients’ enemies. –NYT

Facebook has responded, initially saying they didn’t put out “fake news” against their competitors, and they had no idea what their marketing department was doing. On Friday, however, Sandberg said she took full responsibility for the actions of the communications team.

Facebook has tried to move forward following its various scandals; spearheading efforts to reign in data harvesting, and looking for someone to oversee its corporate, external and legal affairs.

Hopefully whoever is ultimately in charge of oversight won’t be scared away by Zuckerberg’s war face.

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