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German election's message to Greece: looks like Grexit is coming

Election result calls into question prospect of future Greek bailouts paving way for Grexit.

Alexander Mercouris

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One little debated consequence of Sunday’s German election is that it significantly increases the prospect of Grexit, i.e. of Greece leaving the eurozone.
The last bailout of Greece in 2015 was not uncontroversial.  The IMF bureaucracy has never made any secret of its doubts about it.  Some of the other creditor states of the EU – for example Slovakia and Finland – are known to have been unhappy, whilst economists in the US and Britain were outspoken in their opposition.
However the bailout agreement was in the end railroaded through because it had the backing of Germany, by far the strongest state in the EU.
The bailout agreement was however also controversial in Germany itself.  The Finance Ministry and the Bundesbank are known to have had their doubts, as did many members of Chancellor Merkel’s CDU party.
The best known skeptic was however Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who proposed at the height of the bailout crisis that Greece leave the eurozone “temporarily” in return for a haircut of its debt.  Unofficially it is reported that he also proposed that Greece be given a 50 billion euro parting gift to tide it over the inevitable turbulence that would follow in the aftermath of its leaving the eurozone.
Chancellor Merkel is known to have given serious thought to Schäuble’s proposal, and he at least seems to have thought for a short time that it had her backing.
However in the end the proposal was ditched in favour of another bailout of Greece following strong objections to Schäuble’s proposal from France and Italy (who were worried for the future of the eurozone if one of its member states left) and above all from the US, which saw Greece’s continued membership of the eurozone and of the EU as vitally necessary for NATO’s continued presence in the eastern Mediterranean  It was in fact apparently a telephone call from US President Obama that finally persuaded Chancellor Merkel to drop Schäuble’s proposal and give instead the proposed bailout of Greece her backing.
Though there was some unhappiness in Germany that the country had again been pushed into bailing out Greece, in the absence of any parties in the Bundestag opposed to the bailout Merkel had no difficulty getting it through.
That position has however now changed.
The AfD was originally set up to oppose bailouts by Germany of the eurozone’s weakest states, and it is a certainty that if any further bailouts are ever proposed whether of Greece or of any other of the eurozone’s weaker states it will vehemently oppose them.  That means that unlike in 2015 if any further bailout of Greece is proposed in future, unlike in 2015 there will be a party in the Bundestag which is guaranteed to oppose it.
However of even greater importance than the opposition of the AfD is that the FDP – Merkel’s all but certain future coalition partner – has also clearly signalled its strong opposition to any future bailouts, whether of Greece or of anyone else.  In the words of the FDP’s leader Christian Lindner during the election campaign

If there was a debt cut for Greece, as the International Monetary Fund suggests, then we should be open-minded to finally solving the problem.  Greece gets a debt cut, the money is gone, but for that Greece has to leave the euro zone, gets a new currency of its own which it can devalue and increase its competitiveness in tourism

In other comments Lindner is also reported to have said that Greece should be given a payoff to help it through the expected turbulence it will suffer once it leaves the eurozone.
What Lindner is proposing is of course the same as what Wolfgang Schäuble proposed in 2015.  Moreover it appears that Lindner is angling to replace Schäuble as Finance Minister.
Here it is necessary to make a number of points.
Firstly, it is a certainty that sooner or later Greece will need a further bailout if it is to remain in the eurozone.
At the present time the official view in Greece is that the worst of the crisis has passed, and that the country is recovering.
I do not know anyone in Greece who shares that view.
What is for the moment sustaining Greece’s economy is a temporary revival of the eurozone economy caused by the European Central Bank’s bond buying and quantitative easing programme.
However it is debatable whether the European Central Bank will be able to continue with this programme for much longer.  Not only is opposition to the programme in Germany since the election certain to grow, but the general global tightening of monetary conditions as a result of the US Federal Reserve Board’s unwinding of its quantitative easing programme appears to make the European Central Bank’s own bond buying and quantitative easing programme unsustainable.
All it will take is a dip in the economy of the eurozone for Greece to fall back into crisis, and with the European Central Bank’s bond buying and quantitative easing programme certain to end before long I know scarcely anyone in Greece who is properly informed about the situation who doubts that sooner or later this is what will happen.
When it does Greece will need another bailout if it is to stay in the eurozone.
Secondly, though Lindner’s statements and those of the FDP could not be more emphatic, it is likely that if a further Greek bailout situation arises he and the FDP will come under strong pressure to reverse their stance.  The same economic and geopolitical factors that lay behind the 2015 Greek bailout will still be there, making it a certainty that Lindner and the FDP will face demands from the EU bureaucracy, from the European Central Bank, from the Atlanticist wing of the German establishment and from the US to soften their stance.
However it is doubtful they will do so.  The FDP lost its position in the Bundestag following the previous parliamentary elections of 2013 in part because as Chancellor Merkel’s junior coalition partner it went along with all her orthodoxies.  The FDP will not want to be put in the same position again.
Given the strong position against further a bailout that Lindner and the FDP have taken, and the likely popularity within Germany of that stance, there will be strong opposition within the FDP if Lindner shows any inclination to reverse it, and it must be unlikely he will do so.
The odds must therefore be that when the next demand from Greece for another bailout comes the FDP will oppose it, in which case Merkel will risk the future of her coalition if she insists on it.  Moreover she will do so in support of a policy which is unpopular, and which will be opposed in the Bundestag and in the country by the AfD, leading to a high probability that opposition to a further bailout within the CDU will also crystallise.
Indeed it is likely that as the crisis within Greece resumes – as sooner or later it will – the knowledge of the opposition to a further bailout in Germany will have a chilling effect, and will harden opposition to the bailout in other countries in the eurozone which would have to agree to it, like Slovakia and Finland.
In that case it becomes extremely difficult to see how a further bailout could take place, in which case despite the opposition of France, Italy, the EU bureaucracy, the US and the Greek elite, a Grexit (ie. Greece’s exit from the eurozone) will finally have to take place.
Whilst it is too soon at the moment to say that the German election has definitely paved the way for a Grexit, realistically that looks like the most likely outcome.
There is a commonly expressed view that if a Grexit takes place and Greece finally leaves the eurozone, the eurozone itself will unravel as it is exposed as nothing more than a currency union rather than a true single currency
I have never shared this view.  On the contrary I believe that the eurozone will continue better without Greece, which will remain in all other respects a member state of the EU.
Following the German election it now looks as if before long this opinion will be put to the test.

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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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