Saturday, February 28, 2015

Snowden Documentary by Laura Poitras wins best documentary award at Oscars

Los Angeles - "CitizenFour" is a documentary based on the revelations of Edward Snowden about NSA spying. The title refers to the pseudonym that Snowden used when he first contacted Laura Poitras, the director of the film.

The film, edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy and produced by Dirk Wilutzky, won the Oscar for best documentary. In collecting the award Poitras, with journalist and collaborator Glenn Greenwald at her side, said:“The disclosures of Edward Snowden don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself. When the decisions that rule us are taken in secret we lose the power to control and govern ourselves. I share this award with Glenn Greenwald and the many other journalists who are taking risks to expose the truth.”Also on stage was Snowden's girlfriend Lindsay Mills. Host of the Oscars, Neil Patrick Harris, could not pass up a chance to add his own commentary as the winners left the stage: As the filmmaker and her collaborators walked offstage on Sunday night, Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris couldn't help quipping: "The subject of 'CitizenFour,' Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason."Snowden is in Russia and no doubt would be arrested should he set foot on U.S. soil.
Snowden wrote in response to the news:“When Laura Poitras asked me if she could film our encounters, I was extremely reluctant. I’m grateful that I allowed her to persuade me. The result is a brave and brilliant film that deserves the honour and recognition it has received. My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”Ewen MacAskill, one of the stars in the film, congratulated Poitras for her work. He said he was very surprised at the professionalism and scope of the film when he saw it. He thought she had filmed Snowden, Greenwald and himself in Hong Kong simply to have a record of events or to create a low-budget film to use in a privacy campaign.
The documentary is the story of revelations by Snowden, a former NSA contractor, of the extensive spying by NSA and others unknown to the public. The Guardian and Washington Post newspapers began publication of the classified information in June of 2013. Both won a Pulitzer prize for Public Service Journalism the following year. The documentary had already won several awards in the last few months and was widely favored to win the Academy award for best documentary. Poitras is not new to film making. Her film My Country, My Country, whose subject was Iraqis who were living under the US-led occupation, was nominated for an Oscar as well. Poitras edited CitizenFour in Berlin for fear the FBI might seize the footage.
In a recent interview, Poitras was asked what has been learned from Snowden's revelations about how the world works. She replied: The most striking thing Snowden has revealed is the depth of what the NSA and the Five Eyes countries [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain and the US] are doing, their hunger for all data, for total bulk dragnet surveillance where they try to collect all communications and do it all sorts of different ways. Their ethos is “collect it all".
The Five Eyesrefers to an intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. Snowden described the Five Eyes as a "supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn't answer to the known laws of its own countries." Documents Snowden leaked show that the group spied on each others' citizens and then shared the information in order to get around restrictions placed upon them that prohibited collecting such information on their own citizens.

Syriza government in Greece tries to sell sell out as a success

Athens - After presenting proposals for a debt deal that reneged upon most of Syriza's campaign promises that were rejected by Germany, the Syriza Greek government claims it won the battle for the debt deal.
In actuality, with Germany taking the lead, Greece was forced to accept extension of the original bailout deal that includes all the bailout conditions of the original memorandum of agreement. It did not receive a six-month loan period as it wanted but only four months. The loan period could not expire at a worse time since large debt repayments will be due shortly after. This will provide leverage for EU officials to press even more demands on the beleaguered Greek government. The Syriza government had insisted that it did not want an extension of the existing bailout agreement nor would it deal with the Troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank or the International Monetary Fund. It has agreed to an extension of the original bailout and supervision by the Troika but under a new name. They are now called simply "institutions." There will be no debt write off, one of Syriza's key campaign promises. Greece agrees to honor all its debt obligations.
In spite of all this Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, said in a TV interview: "Yesterday we took a decisive step, leaving austerity, the bailouts and the troika behind." Tsipras is wrong on every point. Even Reuters notes the discrepancy between what Tsipras claims and the reality:Tsipras declared Greece was "leaving austerity, the bailouts and the troika behind". Nevertheless, government plans must still be approved by the re-named troika, although Tsipras won election last month on a pledge to end the humiliation of foreigners dictating Greek economic policy.
The new loan is in effect a tranch of the old bailout and he has to present reforms the Greek government intends to implement — and these must be approved by his EU partners and the IMF, in effect the old Troika under a new description: Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the reform promises would be ready on Sunday and submitted to Greece's EU and IMF partners in good time. "We are very confident that the list is going to be approved by the institutions and therefore we are embarking upon a new phase of stabilization and growth,"
It will be interesting to see what these new reforms will be. I expect that some will deal with fighting corruption but there will also probably be tax reform of some sort. Greece has always had trouble with tax collection and both the government and the EU would like to see tax revenues increase. One thing is certain the type of reforms that Syriz demanded in its campaign for the recent elections will not be on the table. Only reforms acceptable to the Troika — sorry I meant "institutions" — will be on the table. These will not include rehiring laid off public workers, increasing minimum wages, or stopping key privatizations. Even Tsipras remarked: "We won a battle, not the war.The difficulties, the real difficulties...are ahead of us."
The Irish finance minister, Michael Noonan, noted that the deal simply gives the Greek government a short reprieve even after reversing their electoral position and gaining virtually nothing from the EU in return. However, it did avoid bankruptcy and having to leave the euro zone.
One promise that Tsipras and his finance minister Vourafakis did keep and that was to do whatever was necessary to achieve a deal. Even though Tsipras kept abandoning campaign promises during negotiations he at the same along with his finance minister often spouted radical rhetoric completely at odds with what he was doing. About 80 percent of Greeks supported the tactics used by their government negotiators.
The vast majority of Greeks do not want to leave the euro zone and no doubt are relieved that at least a deal has been made to keep them in the zone for now. Tsipras said:"I want to say a heartfelt thanks to the majority of Greeks who stood by the Greek government ... That was our most powerful negotiating weapon. Greece achieved an important negotiating success in Europe.".One veteran leftist, Manolis Glezos, was critical of the deal. Glezos is a Syriza member of the European parliament. On his blog he wrote: "I apologize to the Greek people because I took part in this illusion. Syriza's friends and supporters ... should decide if they accept this situation."In contrast, Finance Minister Varoufakis was confident even about the reforms he was forced to submit on Monday: "We are very confident that the list is going to be approved by the institutions and therefore we are embarking upon a new phase of stabilization and growth." An anonymous official said that the reforms included a crackdown on tax evasion and corruption. There is no mention of reforming austerity conditions since the Greek government has already agreed those will continue for at least four months. After the four months many predict that Greece will need another rescue program. As the Irish Finance Minister Noonan put it: "Once you get them into the safe space for the next four months, there'll be another set of discussions which will effectively involve the negotiation of a third program for Greece."
Costa Panagopoulos, head of the polling firm Alco, said that the initial reaction to the deal was relief that Greece would remain in the euro zone. He thought that Greeks might even accept Tsipras' claim that the Troika was no more. After all, the term does not appear in documents. The appended video demonstrates Varoufakis' skill in portraying the reality as something completely different. Perhaps, Varoufakis could be featured in a new Monty Python comedy skit.

Friday, February 27, 2015

US troops may take part in planned attack to retake Mosul in Iraq

Mosul - The US has been hyping a spring offensive against the Islamic State to retake the city of Mosul, the largest city held by the rebels.
The Islamic State has held Mosul since last summer giving it time to build up formidable defenses. However, the offensive will involve five brigades or about 25,000 troops against a mere one to two thousand IS fighters although reinforcements may be brought in prior to the offensive. Even with those lopsided numbers and help from the Kurdish peshmerga, US officials, and even some within the Iraqi military hierarchy, think that direct intervention by US troops will be needed. The last thing that the west wants is another rout such as happened when Mosul was taken in the first place by IS with many advanced weapons being captured.
There will also be heavy air support from the US-led coalition. US officials are already saying that US ground troops will be brought in "if necessary". The US has already been massing combat troops in neighboring Kuwait who may very well be used in a ground war in Iraq that Obama has continually stressed will not happen. The timing of the offensive is not certain but will probably be some time in April or May. A Kurdish commander was skeptical about any early offensive claiming that the Iraqi army "is not ready for the fight".
New Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi was more upbeat. The Iraqi forces have had additional training some of it conducted by the US and some territory has been retaken. Al-Abadi said:"We are now planning an offensive on Mosul in the coming few months. We have to prepare for it carefully, because the only choice we have in Mosul (is to win). We have to win in Mosul to keep (ISIS) out."Count Barzani, a senior commander of the Kurdish peshmerga militia was quite sceptical. The planned Kurdish role is to provide support for the operation outside the city but not enter the city itself. While the Iraqi government claims there will be close coordination with the Kurds Barzani said:"I don't think it's realistic, and I don't have any idea about a plan. And if it involves the Iraqi army only, it's not going to work. The Iraqi army is not ready for the fight."
A Central Command official claimed the operation would begin in April or May but also said that a final decision on the operation was still a long way from being finalized. The official said that giving the details of the operation would demonstrate that Iraq was committed to taking back Mosul. At this stage the involvement of US combat troops is downplayed. General Austin, head of Central Command, and General Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have suggested that a small number of US troops could be deployed to call in airstrikes. A Central Command(CENTCOM) official said that US ground forces could also be involved as well. President Obama said that he would authorize the limited use of ground forces if necessary.
The revelation of the planned offensive angered some US politicians:Republican U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a letter to President Barack Obama, “Never in our memory can we recall an instance in which our military has knowingly briefed our own war plans to our enemies.”To add to the confusion an officer of the Iraqi Defense Ministry claimed that it would take until at least August to train and arm Iraqi forces but also to work out differences both with Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militia.
Several officials, spoke anonymously about the reasons for revealing details of the mission to recapture Mosul. One explanation is that the announcement is to reinforce the impression that the IS has lost the initiative in Iraq and is on the defensive. Another reason is to assure that citizens of Iraq that help is soon on the way. The aim may also be to prod the Iraqi government into action and encourage it to form alliances with tribes around Mosul.

US and UK reject lifting Libyan arms embargo until unity government formed

As the Islamic State draws attention to itself in Libya, Egypt is pushing for a UN resolution to lift the embargo on arms shipments to Libya. The US and UK have urged that the embargo remain until a unity government is formed.
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The UN has been holding peace talks and a dialogue between the competing governments and main competing militias in Libya.The internationally recognized government is located in the eastern city of Tobruk and is supported by the militia of Khalifa Haftar and his allies the Zintan brigades. The prime minister is Abdullah al-Thinni, the same prime minister who presided over the transitional government of the General National Council when Haftar's allies burned down the parliament as part of his Operation Dignity. A warrant was issued for his arrest at the time. Al-Thinni condemned Haftar's actions then. Now he applauds Operation Dignity and pledges government support for his actions.The alternative government is in Tripoli with the main umbrella group of militias Libya Dawn providing the main support. The prime minister of the Tripoli government is Omar al-Hassi, appointed by the reconvened General National Council.
Neither government recognizes the other and there have been numerous clashes between the competing militias.On November 6th last year, the Libyan Supreme Court declared the elections in June of last year that chose the representatives for the House of Representatives of the Tobruk government were unconstitutional and that parliament should be dissolved. The international community virtually ignored the decision and the Tobruk government claimed the decision was made under threat and was not valid. Al Thinni the Tobruk prime minister praised the same court when it invalidated the election of a pro-Islamist as prime minister of an earlier government and left Al Thinni as the prime minister.
The UN has brokered a series of talks in an attempt to find a political solution through setting up a unity government. After the first talks, which neither representatives of the Tripoli government nor Libya Dawn attended, the Libya Dawn militia nevertheless declared a ceasefire. Later, the Tobruk government also declared a ceasefire but Haftar still continued his offensive to take Benghazi. He said that the ceasefire did not include pursuing attacks against terrorists. Haftar typically considers all his enemies as Islamist terrorists. While the ceasefire has been broken by both sides, the level of conflict appears much less. However the Islamic State has stepped up its activities.
The Islamic State is a master at perpetrating gruesome deeds such as beheadings that it then publicizes gaining world wide publicity for what are minor events especially considering the larger picture of what is happening in Libya. Nevertheless they capture world-wide press attention and are able to create a situation where most discussion of Libya is framed in terms of them and the threat they pose to Libya and even to Italy and other parts of Europe. In Libya there have been several key actions. The beheading of 21 captured Coptic Christians provoking air attacks by Egypt on bases in Derna but killing civilians at the same time. In retaliation for the bombings IS carried out several suicide bombings in Qubbah a small town near Derna. The attacks killed over 40 people. Earlier the group attacked the luxury Corinthian hotel in Tripoli.
These attacks have encouraged Egypt and Libya to ask the UN to remove the embargo on supplying arms to Libya. The foreign minister of Libya Mohammed al Dairi said: "If we fail to have arms provided to us, this can only play into the hands of extremists". Press reports describe the situation as if there is just one government. Al Dairi is from the Tobruk government. The US and UK know full well that any arms provided to the Tobruk government would be used by Khalifa Haftar, whose militia are now merged with the Libyan armed forces, against the rival militias of the Tripoli government..
The US and UK no doubt have two concerns. The weapons would encourage the Tobruk government and Haftar to try to take over areas controlled by the Tripoli government using their superior forces rather than continuing to try to find a political solution through the UN-brokered peace talks. Both also fear no doubt that weapons could be seized by the Islamic State. The UK and the US both have veto power in the UN Security Council. As British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, put the issue:"The problem is that there isn't a government in Libya that is effective and in control of its territory. There isn't a Libyan military which the international community can effectively support.But simply pouring weapons into one faction or the other, which is essentially what has been proposed, is not to bring us to a resolution to the crisis in Libya, and is not going to make Europe safer, is going to make it more at risk."
The embargo has been in place since 2011 when Gadaffi was overthrown. Arms still flow into the country arming both sides. Egypt has been a strong supporter of the Tobruk government and Haftar even facilitating, if not carrying out, earlier bombing raids on Tripoli. The US and UK may be wary of supporting Haftar or Egypt fearing that to do so would spark an even wider civil war within Libya.
Areas under the control of both sides have been subject to IS action. Aside from the attack on the luxury hotel in Tripoli, the Tripoli government has seen IS virtually take control of the city of Sirte, the home town of Gadaffi. Derna in the area controlled by the Tobruk government has long been a hotbed of radicalism since the time of Gadaffi. It now receives attention because some jihadists there have declared allegiance to the Islamic State and launched dramatic actions that have caused western media to take note. Instead of analysis the western media is an entertainment medium reacting to events in the real world that imitate violent action movies. Usually the media falls to sleep when it comes to Libya. Only scattered coverage is given of the peace talks that could be vital to any political solution to Libya's conflict. If a unity government were formed the Islamic State could be brought under control much more effectively.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Houthi rebels try to extend their control while UN tries to broker political deal in Yemen

Houthi rebels who have taken control of the government in Yemen have extended their control into areas where they now face resistance from well-armed Sunni tribesmen as well as the Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). Nadwa Dawsari, a researcher on Yemeni tribe, said of the Houthis who have expanded their influence from their base in North Yemen east to the Red Sea and south to capture the capital Sanaa and even south into territory where Sunnis dominate:" "Traditional Yemeni political actors used to find middle ground and didn't let their clashes lead to a full-blown civil war. The Houthis don't seem to be interested in compromising. They mix a lack of experience in politics with, as their own leader has said, limitless ambitions. The fact that Iran is involved aggravates things and brings in a regional dimension that makes a conflict harder to avoid.""

While there may not have been a full-blown civil war in Yemen for some time there was an extended conflict in which radical jihadist groups were dislodged from areas they controlled. This conflict continues as AQAP and other jihadist groups use guerrilla tactics against the government. In some areas AQAP appears to be joining up with local Sunni tribes against the Shia Houthis. This can only strengthen AQAP. Dawsari rightly notes that intermittent government attacks in the past on areas of Houthi control in the north destroyed whole villages. Ironically, the former president Saleh, who attacked the Houthis while in power, now appears to be allied with them. He still has considerable influence in the army. The Houthis were able to take control in Sanaa, the capital, without much resistance from Yemeni armed forces.

 The Houthis would like to extend their control to areas that have resources that could provide revenue to operate the government. The Houthi leader, Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, warned leaders in areas not under Houthi control: "If people try to play games which affect the economy, the people will resist them. The revolution, the people, the army and the security forces will stand against them." Saudi Arabia withdrew all aid from Yemen late last year. The High Revolutionary Council which at present is running the government is busy trying for create state institutions that confirm to the Constitutional Declaration as well as "drawing up the conditions and standards as well as mechanisms to select members of the National Council."The Council is the group that will form a transitional government before new elections.

As well as facing opposition from Sunni tribes in the south, the Houthi government faces a problem of finance to pay public salaries and grow the economy. They need control of areas such as Marib province that contains not only oil but generating plants for electricity. The Houthis may face fierce resistance by Sunnis who are well armed with Grad and Katyusha rockets and anti-aircraft missiles. Sheikh Hamad Wuhayt leader of a group of Sunni fighters in Marib said: "We'll blow up the oil and gas wells if the Houthis use planes after the air force fell into their control, and we'll cut off the road to the capital." Tribal leaders claim that Saudi Arabia continues to pay them cash allowances even though aid has been cut off to the Yemen government. They deny that Saudi Arabia provides them arms. Saudi Arabia may worry that as Sunni tribes forge alliances with AQAP that some arms provided to Sunni tribes could end up with AQAP. Already AQAP over ran a military base in the south capturing many weapons as the Yemen forces who manned the base put up little resistance as they did not want troops supporting the Houthi government to take it over.

The UN has opposed the Houthi coup:"The United Nations Security Council on Sunday unanimously adopted a resolution demanding that Shiite rebels immediately relinquish control of Yemen’s government in a crisis that has pushed the Arab world’s poorest country near collapse." The resolution is not under Chapter 7 of the UN charter allowing military enforcement of the resolution. The resolution condemns what it calls the group's illegitimate seizure of power. Actually the Houthis were hoping that the UN talks would produce a government that they could accept but they made little progress. The U.S.-allied president Hadi and his whole cabinet resigned after they were unable to produce a solution acceptable to the Houthis. The Houthis realize that they are a minority in Yemen and would like to control the makeup of the government rather than rule themselves. Only when the UN talks appeared not to be able to work out a political solution did they step in and take power. They probably realize that they will need allies in areas where they lack control. The group even sacked one of its top military commanders who failed to reach a settlement with other political factions.

The southern secessionist movement, Al-Hirak, has offered to work with the Shiite Houthi movement to ease the political crisis. The group may see the Houthi power grab as an opportunity bargain for more autonomy for the south. Both the Houthis and southern secessionists rejected the division of Yemen into six federal areas. Mohamed Helboub, a senior member of Al-Hirak, claims "“The Houthis are not ready or capable of carrying out the task they have taken up, particularly as they did not think they would reach this position so quickly. They have now crossed a line and they will find it very difficult to go back..[However], as the Houthis are part of Yemen’s political makeup, we are ready to work with them to find a way out of this quagmire."" Al-Hirak has been pushing for a possible complete separation and the formation of an independent state in the south such as existed previously before unification. Helboub went on: "We are looking for a comprehensive national solution, and if this solution is incumbent on Yemen to be split into two separate states, then that is what we will do." The Houthis may see granting considerable autonomy or even independence might be preferable to trying to rule in an area quite hostile to them.

 The increasing unrest in Yemen has led to the US evacuating their embassy personnel and also for the Philippines to order an evacuation of all Filipino nationals from Yemen. Recently, there are reports, as exemplified by the appended video, that UN-sponsored talks have brought the parties close to a political deal. It remains to be seen whether the Houthis will accept or respect any such deal.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Syriza throws in the towel and stocks soar as deal on Greek bailout reached

Brussels - Even the proposals presented earlier that Germany rejected were a sell out of most of the campaign promises made by Syriza including the demand for writing off some debt and for a new agreement rather than an extension of the existing bailout.

The new agreement makes it even clearer that Syriza is definitely committed to repudiating those promises, but goes much further. During the four-month extension period of the present bailout, Greece will be subject to exactly the same austerity conditions that were agreed to in the original memorandum of agreement(MofA). The sellout set forth in the original Greek proposals did not satisfy Germany, which wanted even more ironclad guarantees that Greece would keep to the original terms of the agreement. In return Greece managed to convince the EU finance ministers that its target surplus should be tied to its economic situation in 2015. Germany wanted not just a Greek sellout but a super sellout, and got it. The full text of the agreement can be found here. 
 In this article I will analyze specific parts of the deal that show how Syriza has repudiated its campaign promises and agreed to do nothing that would be inconsistent with what the Eurogroup or even the old Troika think is inconsistent with obligations in the original bailout agreement. 
The agreement notes that the extension of the loan(MFFA) is within the framework of the existing arrangement. There is no new deal. The old bailout is back with a vengeance. So is the review "on the basis of conditions in the current arrangement": The Eurogroup notes, in the framework of the existing arrangement, the request from the Greek authorities for an extension of the Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement (MFFA), which is underpinned by a set of commitments. The purpose of the extension is the successful completion of the review on the basis of the conditions in the current arrangement, making best use of the given flexibility which will be considered jointly with the Greek authorities and the institutions.  
 The Greek government must present a list of reform measures "based on the current arrangement." This means "reforms" consistent with the austerity policies that are part of the current arrangement. Syriza can forget about raising wages, rehiring workers, or any roll back of privatization. There may be some reform measures the Greek government could provide agreeable to the Eurogroup such as improving tax collection that would be consistent with campaign promises but certainly most of the reforms Syriza supported would be opposed to the "current arrangements". The document goes on: The institutions will provide a first view whether this is sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting point for a successful conclusion of the review. This list will be further specified and then agreed with the institutions by the end of April. This is a huge semantic victory. Instead of the Troika we now have " the institutions." Under the "current arrangements" the Troika are the "institutions." This renaming goes on throughout the document: Only approval of the conclusion of the review of the extended arrangement by the institutions in turn will allow for any disbursement of the outstanding tranche of the current EFSF programme and the transfer of the 2014 SMP profits. Both are again subject to approval by the Eurogroup. The Troika(institutions) must approve of the conclusions of the review to ascertain whether Greece is meeting the conditions of the bailout. The Eurogroup must also approve.
 The Syriza government faces many hoops to jump through before it gets any money. If it fails to adequately pursue the very austerity policies it campaigned against, it will not get a cent. Contrast what the Greek government agreed to with what Finance Minister Varoufakis said at the end of January: Varoufakis said Greece had no intention of cooperating with a mission from the lending "troika" of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which had been due to return to Athens. He said Greece would not seek an extension to a Feb. 28 deadline with euro zone lenders. 
 Now as part of the deal to get a loan, the government commits itself to working again with all three but consistent with the tacit agreement not to call a spade a spade, the Troika are no longer mentioned: In this light, we welcome the commitment by the Greek authorities to work in close agreement with European and international institutions and partners. Against this background we recall the independence of the European Central Bank. We also agreed that the IMF would continue to play its role.  
Although Syriza and Finance Minister Varoufakis several times indicated that they would honour their financial obligations rather than seek a debt write off, the document emphasizes the point: The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely. During the four-month extension of the loan, the Greek government cannot hope to enact any policies that the "institutions" think would negatively impact what they see as the policies and structural reforms in the original bail out agreement. Forget trying to roll back austerity policies, privatizations, or layoffs:The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions. 
 Varoufakis promised that he would do whatever was necessary to forge a deal that would keep Greece in the euro zone. His government kept that promise. Keeping it pleased the stock markets with the Dow reaching new highs after the announcement of the deal. The crisis is not over yet however. You might say the deal has kicked the crisis can down the road four months. The deal runs out just before a number of Greek debt repayments are due. Syriza will then play Super Sellout Part II. 
There is a slim chance that Syriza might have a surprise Monday. It could present as reforms all the policies it campaigned on. The Eurogroup would be outraged and the stage would be set for a Grexit. That is what Greece should have done long ago but there is no sign of any planning for that step by the Syriza government.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Germany rejects Greek loan extension proposals sabotaging a deal for now

Moments after the European Commission had called the Greek proposals "positive" Germany rejected the proposal. Greece was requesting a six-month extension of its loan program. The complete text of the letter sent to the Eurogroup finance ministers can be found here. A spokesperson for the German finance ministry complained that the Greek proposals were attempting to obtain "bridge financing, without meeting the requirements of the programme. The letter does not meet the criteria agreed upon in the Eurogroup on Monday." The spokesperson also said that the suggestions were "not a substantial proposal for a solution". In the BBC article, at least, the spokesperson does not say exactly why the proposal is not a substantial proposal for a solution nor how exactly the proposals fail to meet the requirements of the program.

Syriza has caved on almost every demand including the demand that there be a new agreement and not an extension of the original agreement. The Greek proposals show Syriza has caved on debt reduction and in effect accepted the bailout terms:"The Greek authorities honour Greece's financial obligations to all its creditors as well as state our intention to cooperate with our partners in order to avert technical impediments in the context of the Master Facility Agreement which we recognise as binding vis-a-vis its financial and procedural content."

 As this Wall Street Journal article explains Greek officials think that they can sign on to an extension of the terms of the loan agreement under the Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement (MFAFA) without signing on to the bailout austerity conditions in the MoU or original memorandum of agreement. There is only one problem with that position and that is that getting a loan under the MFAFA is part and parcel of the MoU. You cannot get a loan without signing on to the austerity conditions of the MoU. "The availability and the provision of Financial Assistance under this Agreement... shall be conditional upon (i) the Beneficiary Member State’s compliance with the measures set out in the MoU and (ii) the Guarantors deciding favourably, on the basis of the findings of the regular assessments carried out by the Commission in liaison with the ECB ... that the economic policy of the Beneficiary Member State accords with the adjustment programme and with the conditions laid down by the Council in the Decision and any other conditions laid down by the Council or in the MoU. " I have omitted some of the legalese in this quote. For the entire quote in its original form see the article.

Another section of the Greek proposals accepts the supervision of the Troika without using that term:" f) To agree on supervision under the EU and ECB framework and, in the same spirit, with the International Monetary Fund for the duration of the extended Agreement. " So Syriza will not negotiate with the Troika but agrees to their supervision.

Some of the proposals do suggest that the Greek government should reverse some of the austerity measures: "The Greek government expresses its determination to cooperate closely with the European Union's institutions and with the International Monetary Fund in order: (a) to attain fiscal and financial stability and (b) to enable the Greek government to introduce the substantive, far-reaching reforms that are needed to restore the living standards of millions of Greek citizens through sustainable economic growth, gainful employment and social cohesion. " Some of the reforms mentioned in b) would no doubt be inconsistent with present austerity policies tied to the bailout program.

 Mark Lowen of the BBC suggests that there is a rift at the highest level between authorities in Brussels and Berlin. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker took the Greek proposals as a positive sign that could pave the way for a reasonable compromise. Any vote on the Greek proposals must be unanimous so Germany can determine the outcome. A Greek government source said after the German rejection of its proposals: "Tomorrow's Eurogroup has just two choices. To accept or reject the Greek request. We will now discover who wants to find a solution, and who does not". Perhaps Germany wants Greece to  exit the euro zone and get rid of what it no doubt considers a trouble maker with uncivilized official who do not wear ties.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Al Qaeda group takes over army base in South Yemen as US and UK close embassies

Both the US and UK close their embassies in Yemen as security deteriorates after Houthi rebels took over government. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) took control of an army base in the south.

Only four Yemeni soldiers and one AQAP fighter were killed in the raid. Members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, took control of the base, a garrison for the Yemeni army’s 19th brigade, then freed some 60 captured soldiers, according to government officials and a media liaison for AQAP. The attackers seized many weapons and even off road vehicles. The base is in the southern province of Shabwa. AQAP has had repeated clashes with the forces of the Houthi rebels who recently took power in Yemen after the failure of a political compromise. This is AQAP's biggest success on the battlefield since the Houthis took power. The US has closed it embassy in Yemen temporarily. A statement from the embassy in the capital Sanaa said: "Recent unilateral actions disrupted the political transition process in Yemen, creating the risk that renewed violence would threaten Yemenis and the diplomatic community in Sana’a,"

Reports say that US vehicles were seized at the airport as embassy staff were evacuated. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the vehicles had been confiscated. Hower, Hussein Ezzi, a Houthi spokesperson, said that 30 US vehicles that were at the airport would be handed over to the UN and that the whole affair was a misunderstanding. Only a few moments later the UK embassy also announced it was evacuating its staff as well and closing: "The security situation in Yemen has continued to deteriorate over recent days. Regrettably we now judge that our embassy staff and premises are at increased risk. We have therefore decided to withdraw diplomatic staff and temporarily suspend the operations of the British Embassy in Sana'a." France, Germany, and Italy also closed their embassies citing the security situation.

The move may be a prelude to cutting aid to the Houthi government after it forced the resignation of US and western ally former president Mansour Hadi before finally taking power themselves. The UN special envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar in an interview said: “We believe the situation is very dangerous. Yemen is on the brink of civil war”. While the Houthi are bitter enemies of AQAP, they are also anti-American and opposed to drone strikes. The former government cooperated closely with US operations in Yemen.

 Although the Yemen embassy may be closed, drone operations could very well continue and there are also special forces in Yemen who may remain. Presence of US forces was confirmed as long ago as 2012. While US operations against terrorism in Yemen will continue, they may not have the support of the Houthi government even though AQAP is a common enemy. Apparently, many of the army brigades in the south are opposed to the Houthi rule. This might explain why the battle for the base appears to have been brief with few casualties. It would also explain why the captured soldiers were released by AQAP. AQAP may be taking advantage of splits within the armed forces that are now under the control of a Supreme Security Council dominated by Houthi members. AQAP attacked the base after learning that the base was to be handed over to Houthi forces. The base would provide a staging area that the Houthis could use for attacks on adjacent Sunni dominated areas in Marib and Shabwa provinces. Some Sunni tribes are becoming allies of AQAP in battling the advance of Houthis into Sunni areas.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Alan Greenspan, former head of the US Federal Reserve, on the Greek crisis

The former head of the U.S. Federal Reserve, conservative economist Alan Greenspan argues, that the only way for Greece to get out of the present bailout terms is a Grexit — to exit the euro zone.
Greenspan, was Chair of the US Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. He was a champion of free market capitalism and was part of the the inner circle of Ayn Rand and a supporter of the philosophy of Objectivism. After he became head of the Federal Reserve some objectivists criticized him for abandoning free market principles.Democrats often criticized him as having politicized his position as head of the Reserve. Greenspan argued strenuously for the privatization of social security. Although a Republican, Greenspan strongly supported President Bill Clinton in 1993 when Clinton introduced a deficit reduction plan that included tax increases and budget cuts. Greenspan's policies that shunned regulations are regarded by some as partly responsible for the recent recession. In a Congressional hearing n October of 2008, Greenspan admitted that his free-market ideology that led him not to adopt some types of regulation had been mistaken.
Greenspan has long been critical of the euro zone single currency. He believes that only a political union creates the conditions that can support a single currency. You need something like a United States of Europe. At this time, Greenspan claims the 19 sovereign countries of the euro zone are unwilling to create such an entity and hence the euro zone is doomed.
Greenspan believes that the EU will not be willing to put up even more loans that are necessary to bolster the Greek economy. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble claims that the Greek bailout conditions were very generous and he saw no justification for relaxing them further. While Greek finance minister Yanis Vourafakis believes that he can negotiate a new deal that will allow Greek to escape from its debt trap, grow the economy, and spend on social programs, Greenspan thinks that the only way that Greece can resolve its situation is through a Grexit, or exiting the euro zone altogether. Greenspan says: "I believe [Greece] will eventually leave. I don't think it helps them or the rest of the eurozone - it is just a matter of time before everyone recognises that parting is the best strategy...The problem is that there there is no way that I can conceive of the euro of continuing, unless and until all of the members of eurozone become politically integrated - actually even just fiscally integrated won't do it."As for Varoufakis and Tsipras being able to negotiate a new deal, Greenspan claims that it is the euro zone officials who hold all the cards.
While Greece will be forced to leave the euro zone according to Greenspan, this will leave the euro intact. He agrees that the zone is readier now than earlier to survive the Grexit. However, the attempt to hold the euro zone together is putting strains on other countries as well such as Italy, Portugal, Spain, and even France. Greenspan thinks that in time other southern European countries may also choose to exit the zone.
Greenspan has been wrong in the past, particularly with respect to the ability of markets to act rationally without regulation and avoid a crash. In 2008 the financial crisis, many believe, prove Greenspan wrong and he himself appears to admit this. Nevertheless, Greenspan's analysis of the situation in Europe is well worth considering and may prove correct.

Yanis Vourafakis, the Greek finance minister, continues to insist that there is no plan for a Grexit and that any such move would bring down the entire euro zone "house of cards" :“Exit from the euro does not even enter into our plans, quite simply because the euro is fragile. It is like a house of cards. If you pull away the Greek card, they all come down. Do we really want Europe to break apart? Anybody who is tempted to think it possible to amputate Greece strategically from Europe should be careful. It is very dangerous. Who would be hit after us? Portugal? What would happen to Italy when it discovers that it is impossible to stay within the austerity straight-jacket?”
Euro zone officials believe that the zone can easily withstand a Grexit. They may be correct, but in the longer run, as Greenspan points out, the pressures will grow in several southern European countries and others will leave the zone.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

CIA-linked General Haftar is the power behind the Libyan Tobruk government

Tripoli - CIA-linked General Haftar has upgraded his status from failed coup leader with a warrant out for his arrest to the de facto head of the Libyan army whose Operation Dignity has the support of the internationally recognized government in Tobruk.

The rise of Haftar is detailed in this article. Haftar is no longer a retired or renegade Libyan general as some sources still describe him. In fact he along with many other Gadaffi era military personnel have been recalled to active duty. Haftar's militia and the official Libyan army are now supposedly merged. Back on January 19th, Reuters reported that Haftar along with many other Gadaffi era army officers had been reactivated: A copy of an official decree obtained by Reuters recalled Haftar and 108 other former Gaddafi-era army officers for active army duty...Senior officers linked to Haftar have also been given top posts in the recall. The decree had been issued weeks before but only revealed later.

 Earlier, in December, there were reports that Haftar was to be made commander-in-chief of Libya's armed forces. However, there apparently is some opposition to this. According to this source, Ageila Saleh, Libyan Parliamentary Speaker is acting defense minister but the chain of command is not clear. Statements from the Tobruk government describe Haftar as commander of the Libyan National Army: The commander of the Libyan National Army, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, is operating on the authority of the internationally recognized Libyan government based out of Tobruk, Libyan authorities confirmed this week. Apparently, there are divisions within the Tobruk government over Haftar's role. The Tobruk government is more dependent on Haftar and his militia than the other way around. According to Al Jazeera Haftar gave the Tobruk government of Abdullah al-Thinni 24 hours to set up a supreme military council with himself as head: This Al Jazeera video was published on You Tube February 4th. I can find no followup accounts of what has happened since. A search reveals only duplicates of the Al Jazeera video as here. Why cannot Al Jazeera follow up and inform us what happened if anything as a consequence of the ultimatum? Why do none of the big news gathering agencies Reuters, AFP, etc, even report on this event?

 The Al Jazeera video report is not the only sign of conflict between Haftar and the Al-Thinni government. The prime minister recently visited troops battling Islamist militia in Benghazil. He held a cabinet meeting in Benghazi after visiting military commanders. However, according to Interior Minister Omar al-Zanki: "When Thinni's plane was approaching Benghazi an officer came and said permission to land had been denied," The plane did eventually land. Another incident happened when a convoy of Tobruk officials were stopped by an armed group of 70 soldiers as it tried to leave the city of Marj near Benghazi. Spokesperson for Haftar Mohamed El Hejazi accused Thinni of having visited Benghazi without permission:"We are unhappy with Thinni's visit to Benghazi because he didn't ask for a permission from the army commander and chief of staff. His meeting with the commanders of the frontline was not his business as he doesn't even hold a military command to meet them." The prime minister should realize who is the real boss.

A new dialogue and peace talks are supposed to take place somewhere in Libya next Tuesday. The Tobruk government has always participated in the talks even as their military commander Khalifa continues to fight on the grounds he is simply pursuing terrorists. At least one critic suggests that Haftar's action are jeopardizing the success of the peace talks and that the west should be more careful in choosing its allies.

Houthi rebels take control in Yemen

Yemen's Houthi rebels announced that they had taken over the government on Friday. Several cities saw rallies opposing the decision. The Houthis are a Shiite group while the majority of Yemenis are Sunni.

The conflict in Yemen and the growth in Houthi power has been accompanied by the strengthening of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) who not only oppose the Houthis but have gained allies among some Sunni tribes to help stop the advance of the Houthis into Sunni majority territory. The Houthis also are hostile to the US and to the Saudis a well. The group is supported by Iran, a fact that further complicates the politics of the situation. In spite of all the unrest the US has continued its drone program. Eric Schultz said it was " deeply concerned with this unilateral step" but would continue with its counter-terrorism efforts. Al Qaeda has admitted one of its leaders was killed in a strike and there have been several drone strikes of late. However another report says that some counter-terrorist operations have been hurt by recent political developments. 
While there were demonstrations against the Houthi move, supporters also filled the central square in Sanaa where they celebrated the coup. The celebrants set off fireworks and waved banners that said: "Death to America, death to Israel, a curse on the Jews and victory to Islam." The Houthis moved beyond their base in the north and by last September had advanced to the west and to the south to take the capital Sanaa. Many believe that the Houthis are aided by former president Saleh who still has considerable influence in the armed forces. The Houthis often advance without facing significant armed resistance. However, recently there have been fierce clashes between Sunni tribes in some areas where the tribes have sometimes allied with AQAP to confront the Houthi advance. In January, the Houthis raided the presidential palace in Sanaa and have surrounded the house of President Mansour Hadi who resigned on January 22 after being unable to form a government that would be approved by the Houthis. He is still under house arrest it seems. 
The Houthis have mounted the coup after political factions were unable to reach an agreement on the composition of an interim government. The Houthis set a deadline of last Wednesday for the factions to agree on a new government. Al Arabiya News reported that the factions had agreed to resume talks on Saturday. The Houthis were unwilling to wait that long. The talks had been overseen by United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar. The Houthis had acted so far as if they wanted to remain key power brokers in a political solution that would see a government formed that fitted in with their interests. The Houthis are a minority and are unlikely to be able to rule without the support of the Sunni majority and tribes from the south. 

The Houthi move may encourage southern separatists to break off entirely from the rest of Yemen and form their own country of South Yemen as existed before May 1990. A civil war was fought not long after unification in which the south lost its attempt to secede from the union. Already prominent secessionist Saleh Said, announced that he wants an independent state in the south again. Several southern cities have already said they would refuse orders from Sanaa. The 15 member UN Security Council reacted negatively to the Houthi move: "The members of the Security Council declare their readiness to take further steps if U.N.-led negotiations are not immediately resumed." The Council also demanded that Yemen's president, prime minister and cabinet be released from house arrest. The acting authority in Yemen has been declared to be the Revolutionary Committee lead by Mohammed al-Houthi. More details of what the Houthis have planned can be found here: 
 The declaration dissolves parliament and forms a transitional national council consisting of 551 members that will replace parliament and include elements not represented in it. The national council elects a presidential council consisting of five members who will take over the president’s powers, to be confirmed by the Revolutionary Committee headed by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi. The national council will also form a transitional government of national competencies. Furthermore, subsidiary revolutionary committees will be formed for all Yemeni governorates. It is not clear how exactly these 551 members are to be chosen. Perhaps they are to be appointed by the ruling Revolutionary Council. 
The different possible scenarios following the Houthi move are outlined in this article ranging from an accommodation with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council and relative peace to outright civil war. The Houthis were participants in the 2011 Yemeni Revolution against former President Saleh. They also participated in the National Dialogue Conference.The Dialogue was part of the deal reached with former president Saleh to resign in return for immunity. The Dialogue was designed to allow the various parties to plan for a transition to democracy in Yemen. The Dialogue extended from March of 2013 to January of 2014. While the Houthis did not accept the terms of the agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council in November 2011 that granted Saleh and his cronies immunity for any crimes they committed during the 2011 Revolution, they did participate in the Dialogue at first but withdrew after two of their delegates were assassinated. They rejected the results also especially the decision to divide Yemen into six federal areas. 
Southern separatists also rejected that division. Ironically, Saleh is now allied with the Houthis and although the southern separatists agree with the Houthis about the federal divisions envisioned in the dialogue, they reject Houthi rule in Sanaa. Yemen politics is consistently contradictory. Whatever his faults Saleh has a keen understanding of the difficulties of ruling Yemen, which he describes as "like dancing on the heads of snakes".

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In spite of cease fire in Libya conflict continues in several areas

Clashes took place in Benghazi where pro-government forces led by CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar have been trying to retake the city from an umbrella group of Islamist militias opposed to the Tobruk governent.
After recent peace talks brokered by the UN, Libya Dawn, the main militia associated with the Tripoli-based government, declared a ceasefire. A few days later, the internationally recognized government in the eastern city of Tobruk also declared a ceasefire. However, the government said that it would continue to pursue terrorists. As a result, there has seemingly been no ceasefire at all in Benghazi, where Haftar continues his attempt to retake the city from the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries who captured most of the city last July.

Haftar began the present campaign against Islamists back in February last year culminating in his Operation Dignity launched last May. Up until now, he has lost the two major cities, Tripoli and Benghazi, to the opposition but appears to have retaken at least some of Benghazi. The latest clashes come as he tries to take the port area. Haftar tends to view all his enemies as "terrorists." He probably hopes to concentrate attacks on key areas such as Benghazi, while due to the ceasefire other fronts will be quiet. It is not working out that way as the other side has launched an attack on an oil port.

  In the battle for the Benghazi port area, seven soldiers are reported killed. Soldiers took over several government buildings including a passport office and a state bank that had been damaged in earlier fighting. Army sources said 25 soldiers were wounded. A military commander reported the the road to the port was under pro-government forces' control.

  A militia group allied to the Tripoli government is carrying out Operation Shorouq designed to capture the key oil ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanauf from forces loyal to the Tobruk government. A commander of the militia Mussab Bala said: "Thank God there is a dialogue. But they say they support the dialogue and then bomb us with war planes.They target civilian facilities."

The UN for its part does not mention government attacks on these militia but singles the militia out for condemnation for breaking the ceasefire agreement. There is no specific mention of Haftar's campaign in Benghazi. The UN is probably under pressure to take sides. The UN has been careful not to refer to any governments in its releases but just to participants in the peace talks. This is probably a wise tactic. The Libyan Supreme Court on November 6 last year ruled that the elections establishing the Tobruk government last June were unconstitutional and that the Tobruk House of Representatives should be dissolved. Neither government recognizes the legitimacy of the other.

Both sides are united against some of the more radical Islamic jihadist groups operating in Libya. The Tripoli government suffered an attack on its territory. The Islamic State attacked the luxury Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli causing a number of casualties including several foreigners, among them an American. More recently, an attack on the al-Mabrouk oil field about 100 miles south of city of Sirte was also attributed to a group loyal to the Islamic State by a representative of the guards protecting the facility. Nine guards and one employee from Niger were reported killed. The attackers abducted seven foreigners including three Filipinos.

 More dialogue and peace talks are proposed for the future. In earlier talks neither the Tripoli government nor its militia representatives participated. The next talks are to take place in Libya and Tripoli may participate but given the continuing clashes on the ground it is not clear when, where, or even if new talks will take place.

The appended video reports a stunning development that seems not to be on western news media radar. After launching a successful coup against the former government that was also led by present prime minister of the Tobruk government, Abdullah al-Thinni, Haftar is not satisfied that the new government is following his line sufficiently. He now wants to form a military council with himself as head and has given the Tobruk government a deadline to do his bidding. Where are UN or western statements about this development?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Talks between Greek and German finance ministers go nowhere

Talks Thursday between German Finance Minister Wofgang Schaeuble and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis appeared to achieve little or nothing with the German side simply repeating its hard line on Greek debt reduction
German Finance Minister Schaeuble has been consistent in making it clear that he is completely against any "haircut" or writing off any Greek debt. At the same time, Schaeuble said that Greece belonged in the euro zone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also made it clear that she is against any reduction of Greek debt. Surprisingly, Schaeuble said that although the two had agreed to disagree on renegotiating the terms of Greek debt repayment outside of the Troika process, the talks had "come much further than anyone had expected". Perhaps, Schaeuble was alluding to the fact that Varoufakis has already caved on the debt reduction issue by suggesting that present debt obligations could be met by a debt swap plan that would involve debt payments being tied to Greece's economic growth.

Varoufakis was even less upbeat about the meeting with Schaeuble: "As Mr Schaeuble said, we didn't reach an agreement. It was never on the cards. We didn't even agree to disagree, from where I'm standing." Greece's bailout loan amounts to $270 billion US. The economy has shrunk 25 percent since the bailout began. Unemployment in general is 25 percent with youth unemployment twice that. The debt as a ratio to GDP has increased to 175 percent of GDP now. Many liberal economists have agreed with Varoufakis that the present debt load is unsustainable and that austerity policies have made the situation worse. Varoufakis said that the situation in Greece was comparable to that in Germany after the First World War. The massive debts crippled the economy and helped the rise of the Nazis. In Greece, the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi movement is growing in popularity because of conditions imposed upon Greece. The group came third in recent elections even though many of its members are in jail. The leader and 72 others linked to Golden Dawn face a number of charges including murder.

 As mentioned in an earlier article, the ECB will soon refuse to accept Greek sovereign debt as collateral for loans. This will force the Greek central bank to provide emergency funds. The move caused Greek borrowing costs to increase and Greek bank shares to fall: The Athens Stock Exchange FTSE Banks Index .FTATBNK plunged 22.6 percent initially and ended 10 percent down. Three-year government borrowing costs leapt to nearly 20 percent, leaving Greece utterly shut out of the capital markets. Schaeuble, claimed that he had told Varoufakis that it was not realistic to make electoral promises that would burden other countries. Schaeuble also insisted that while he respected the choice made by Greek voters it was essential that the Syriza government keep to agreements reached by the previous government and work with the Troika. How can Schaeuble respect the Greek choice while not respecting the fact that they reject the previous agreement and the austerity conditions? Schaeuble has indicated how much he actually respects democracy when he said that elections change nothing.

The whole idea of the Troika with its conditions is to circumvent democratic choice. While Varoufakis has caved on the idea of a debt write off, the new government has claimed that it will halt some privatizations, raise the minimum wage, rehire some public sector workers, and restore a bonus to poor pensioners. All this is anathema to those holding Greek debt who want all those funds to be used to repay debt. Reuters describes a policy paper circulated by Germany to EU officials:In a policy paper circulated to EU officials and seen by Reuters, Germany said Greece had to stick to the terms of the 240 billion euro bailout negotiated by the previous government, and not roll back planned privatizations and cuts in the minimum wage, pensions and the public sector workforce. To sum it up, Germany is not prepared to grant any of the demands that Syriza campaigned on.

 Tsipras thought he had the support of French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Renzi but both agreed with the ECB decision to no longer allow Greece to use sovereign debt as collateral. They both say this move makes a quick agreement more likely. Varoufakis had pleaded with ECB President Draghi to maintain normal funding for the banks, using sovereign debt as collateral, until a debt deal had been reached.

 A statement from the Greek Finance Ministry said that the government remained committed to its goal of social salvation and to “coming up with a European policy that will definitively put an end to the now self-perpetuating crisis of the Greek social economy.” Greece will be able to carry on for a while using emergency funding through the Bank of Greece. Even this credit line could be stopped if a two-thirds majority of the ECB Governing Council voted to do so. This would likely lead to the collapse of Greece's financial system and for now will probably remain only as another threat. The EC vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said that Athens must extend the current bailout program in order to gain time to negotiate a longer-term agreement. This is precisely what Varoufakis vowed not to do.

 Tsipras and Varoufakis, as the saying goes, appear to be going nowhere fast. Some leftist groups such as the Communist Party of Greece claim that Syriza was a sell out party long before it even came to power: SYRIZA is an opportunist party which very rapidly is developing into a modern social-democratic party and is fostering illusions amongst the people that there can be a better form of management for the people, despite the dominance of the monopolies. It plays with the pain of the people, with the pressure for immediate solutions without radical changes.

 Support from other EU countries appears mostly rhetorical with clear indications given in the case of France that they actually support the EU and existing rules or as French President Hollande put it: “Dialog between Greece and its European partners must go forward so as to reach agreement,” he said, adding that Athens should “respect European rules which apply to all, France included, and engagements that were taken on debts that are of importance to governments.” So far the Troika far from being kicked out of the game have not given an inch whereas after a great deal of radical rhetoric Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and his finance minister Varoufakis have achieved almost nothing. They may not even establish a new dress code except among Syriza officials.

Perhaps, it is too early to know if the final result will be some sort of sell out agreement with a few cosmetic changes to save face. It may be that Varoufakis intends to show Greeks that it is impossible to negotiate a way out of the debt trap and relief from austerity provisions through EU institutions. Having shown that a way out through such negotiations is impossible he could then sell his electorate the idea of exiting the euro zone. One group within Syriza wants to leave the door open to exiting the euro zone, the Left Platform. The group has its own website. About 75 percent of Greeks want to remain in the euro zone. However, if remaining in the euro zone entails a continuation of EU austerity conditions and crippling debt repayments, then Syriza might very well be able to convince that the only way to retain any Greek dignity and sovereignty is to repudiate its debt and leave the euro zone.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Egyptian counter-terror violence in Sinai generates more terrorist violence

Egyptian President Abdul el-Sissi has used ever more violent means to try and counter the violence in the Sinai Peninsula. In spite of concerted efforts to stop the insurgents there was a devastating series of attacks on January 29.
One source put the casualties from the attack at 31 people and another source at least 26. The Egyptian army had begun to feel confident that a strong military response to earlier attacks had decisively weakened the insurgency. Last October, the group then called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis launched an attack on a military checkpoint that killed 31 and wounded many more. The Egyptian government blamed "foreigners" for the attack. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, originally inspired by Al Qaeda, has recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and rebranded itself as the Sinai Province of the Islamic State. Egyptian president Abdel el-Sissi also blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the recent attack, claiming it had a role in the operation. Since overthrowing the former president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood, el-Sissi has constantly blamed the group for terrorist activity. The Brotherhood is now designated a terrorist organization in Egypt. 
El-Sissi has used Sinai terrorist activity as an excuse to crack down on dissent elsewhere in Egypt. The Egyptian government responded to the October attacks by violence against Sinai inhabitants, all in the name of fighting terror. In order to create a buffer zone between Egypt and the Gaza Strip border, the Egyptian government simply ejected thousands of residents from their homes and blew them up. One resident of the Sinai, Abu Musallam, vented his anger: "We are staying here. They bomb the house; we build a hut. They burn the hut; we build another hut. They kill; we give birth. I urge the army to treat us like we treated them in 1967. We gave them our clothes to hide them from the Israelis. We serviced them. We respected them, and we helped them flee. Is this how they pay us back?" 
 Aaron Reese, of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, said that the Egyptian Army was not about to engage in urban warfare with insurgents. They prefer to use tanks and helicopter gunships against targets even though individual militants blend in with the local population. Egyptian security and social policies in the Sinai see the area as a threat rather than as an opportunity to develop the area and gain the support of the local population. Residents are seen as potential informants, terrorists, spies, or smugglers. Egyptian policies have turned many exactly in those directions making it possible for militants to survive in spite of the constant attacks of the Egyptian military: Those policies were formulated and executed by security and military bureaucracies - principally the State Security Investigations (SSI, now renamed the National Security Apparatus), the General Intelligence Apparatus (GIA) and the Military Intelligence Apparatus (MIS) - without any review or oversight from elected or judicial bodies or independent experts. 
In 2012 even el-Sissi, then defense minister, warned his officers against these policies since they would "create an internal enemy with a vendetta against us". Perhaps now he is president he finds the violence useful as a justification for his repressive policies against any and all opponents. Continued insurgent violence shows a strong government supported by a strong military is necessary in Egypt. As long as Egypt fights the war on terror, helps control Hamas, and keeps the peace with Israel, the west will continue to send billions in military aid.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

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