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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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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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Bercow blocks Brexit vote, May turns to EU for lifeline (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 112.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s latest Brexit dilemma, as House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, shocked the world by citing a 1604 precedent that now effectively blocks May’s third go around at trying to pass her treacherous Brexit deal through the parliament.

All power now rests with the Brussels, as to how, if and when the UK will be allowed to leave the European Union.

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Via Bloomberg


Theresa May claims Brexit is about taking back control. Ten days before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, it looks like anything but.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s intervention, citing precedent dating back to 1604, to rule out a repeat vote on May’s already defeated departure deal leaves the prime minister exposed ahead of Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels.

Bercow, whose cries of “Orrdurrr! Orrdurrr!’’ to calm rowdy lawmakers have gained him a devoted international following, is now the pivotal figure in the Brexit battle. May’s team privately accuse him of trying to frustrate the U.K.’s exit from the EU, while the speaker’s admirers say he’s standing up for the rights of parliament against the executive.

If just one of the 27 other states declines May’s summit appeal to extend the divorce timetable, then the no-deal cliff edge looms for Britain’s departure on March 29. If they consent, it’s unclear how May can meet Bercow’s test that only a substantially different Brexit agreement merits another vote in parliament, since the EU insists it won’t reopen negotiations.

Caught between Bercow and Brussels, May’s room for maneuver is shrinking. Amid rumblings that their patience with the U.K. is near exhaustion, EU leaders are girding for the worst.

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President Putin signs law blocking fake news, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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