The next Greek tragedy


GREECE’S unsustainable debt of over 171 per cent of GDP is a self-inflicted crisis caused by the absence of fiscal probity and fiscal management.

The debt situation was contributed to by careless risk lending and investing. aggravated by the fallout from the global financial crisis and further compounded by the austerity policies which were used to bring the debt and fiscal deficit under control.

None of this was helped by the attitude of the political leadership in Greece which was unwilling to meet the conditions of repayment agreed to, albeit under duress.

By early 2010 managing the sovereign debt crisis of Greece was an urgent item of interest for the European Union because a default by Greece could trigger a financial crisis that would seriously impair the banking system throughout Europe, leading to the collapse of the euro.

This prompted the European Central Bank, with the support of the International Monetary Fund and solvent European countries, to collaborate in designing and financing a rescue package. In May 2010, this troika launched a ¤110-billion loan to bail out Greece from impending default on sovereign debt and assist in meeting its anticipated financial needs until June 2013.

The accompanying austerity measures caused social unrest and political upheaval, leading to the demise of a government that was doing its best to honour the conditions imposed by its creditors.

An unsustainable debt situation inevitably means that borrowing is no longer possible and substantial fiscal cutbacks including reduction in government social services, increased taxation, termination of subsidies, sale of government assets and privatisation have to be implemented. The result is sudden and sharp deflation of the economy.

The ultimate solution to debt and deflation is economic growth, but the fundamental dilemma is that austerity cannot produce economic growth, so the pain and social sacrifice are in vain. If this goes on long enough it mutates to social and political turmoil.

There has never been political revolution in which the economic hardship of the masses was not a decisive factor; therefore, the inevitable austerity must be well-timed and socially feasible. If not it leads to political chaos and then political extremism.

In his The Economic Consequences of The Peace published in 1919, Maynard Keynes predicted that the excessive debt payments imposed on Germany by the victors in World War I would lead to austerity and depression, not economic recovery. The economic hardships caused by the reparations was instrumental in causing what the Reich called the “the mass psychology of fascism” which was receptive to the emergence of Hitler and Nazism in Germany.

It is amazing that Germany, after such a bitter experience, should now be insisting on austerity measures in Greece, rather than supporting a restructured package to alleviate the stifling debt.

The victors in World War II did not repeat their mistake of World War I. Germany never had to pay even a small part of the imposed war reparations. These debts were cancelled and instead the United States mounted the Marshall Plan to ensure its economic recovery.

The US did it for self-interest to prevent the takeover of Western Europe by communism. Germany needs to realise that it is in its self-interest to support, by financial means if necessary, the economic recovery of Greece.

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Putin’s ‘little green men’ aiding Ukrainian separatists, says Biden


Russia is using “little green men without patches” to help separatists destabilize Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin redraw the map of eastern Europe, Vice President Joe Biden said Friday, as the leaders of France and Germany headed to Moscow to make a last-ditch bid for peace in the troubled region.

Biden spoke in Brussels, where he met with European Union officials as part of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to stem Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Some 5,300 people have been killed in fighting that began in April, mostly in the eastern portion of the country that borders Russia. Although Putin has insisted he has not sent troops to help pro-Russian separatists fight Kiev’s forces, Biden said the Russian leader has been aiding the independence movement since annexing Crimea in March, 2014.

“Ukraine is fighting for their very survival right now,” Biden said. “Russia continues to escalate the conflict by sending mercenaries and tanks we euphemistically [call] “little green men without patches,” in who are very sophisticated special operations soldiers,” Biden said.

Russian forces are suspected by the west of helping separatists down a Malaysian Airlines commercial plane carrying 298 people over Ukraine near the Russian border last July in what may have been a mistake. Kiev released intercepted phone conversations, purportedly between separatists and Russian military officials, and the missile that downed the plane was Russian-made. Ukraine has alleged that Russian troops became emboldened following the incident, sending non-uniformed troops across the border to aid in fighting in rebel strongholds such as Donetsk.

Although German Chancelor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were to meet with Putin in Moscow to press him for peace, suspicions were growing in Europe that the powerful Russian leader has designs on more than just Ukraine.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Britain’s Daily Telegraph Thursday that Putin’s goal was to reassert Russian dominance of Eastern Europe by testing, and ultimately fracturing the West’s bedrock Cold War alliance.

“There is a high probability that he will intervene in the Baltics to test NATO’s Article 5,” Rasmussen said, referring to the section of NATO’s charter mandating that other member states come to the defense of a fellow member under armed attack. “Putin knows that if he crosses the red line and attacks a NATO ally, he will be defeated. Let us be quite clear about that. But he is a specialist in hybrid warfare.”

All three of the so-called Baltic republics — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — were part of the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. All three joined NATO in 2004. All three also have sizable minority populations of ethnic Russians, as does eastern Ukraine, where Putin is accused of whipping up secession sentiment. Rasmussen says his fear is that Moscow will generate a conflict that gives him a pretext to destabilize those nations. It is not clear what would happen if a NATO member claimed Article 5 protection, but was turned down by the NATO council.

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Biden offered little hope that Putin could be taken at his word, and said the U.S. and Europe must stand together to support cash-strapped Ukraine.

“President Putin continues to call for new peace plans as his troops roll through the Ukrainian countryside and he absolutely ignores every agreement that his country has signed in the past and he has signed recently,” Biden said. “We, the United States, and Europe as a whole, have to stand with Ukraine at this moment. Ukraine needs our financial assistance and support as it pursues reforms and even in the face, in the face of this military onslaught.”

Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, the rebels reached an agreement Friday with government forces on a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from the epicenter of fighting on Friday. Rebel leaders said the agreement would allow the evacuation of civilians from Debaltseve, a key railway hub that has become the focus of fighting in recent weeks because of its strategic location. It wasn’t immediately clear where the evacuees would go.

The cease-fire around Debaltseve held Friday as a convoy of several dozen buses drove from nearby Vuhelhirsk toward Debaltsevo, where a shrinking population has been trapped in cross-fire and left without power, heating and running water for almost two weeks. Halfway to Debaltsevo, the convoy’s movement was stopped by concrete blocks, apparently intended to block military vehicles from using the road.

Merkel and Hollande are set to hold talks with Putin in the Kremlin a day after discussing their proposals with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. In a sign of the importance of the initiative, this will be Merkel’s first trip to Moscow since Ukraine’s conflict broke out last year.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russia-backed separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces has intensified sharply over the past two weeks. Russia vehemently denies that it is backing the insurgency with troops and weapons, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rejected that denial on Thursday’s visit to Kiev.

British tribunal rules intelligence-sharing with US was unlawful


The regime that governs the sharing between Britain and the US of electronic communications intercepted in bulk was unlawful until last year, a secretive UK tribunal has ruled.
Aspects of intelligence-sharing between security agencies in Britain and the United States were unlawful until December 2014, a secretive UK tribunal ruled today.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) declared regulations covering access by Britain’s GCHQ to emails and phone records intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) breached human rights law.

Advocacy groups said the decision raised questions about the legality of intelligence-sharing operations between the UK and the US. The ruling appears to suggest that aspects of the operations were illegal for at least seven years – between 2007, when the Prism intercept programme was introduced, and 2014.
The critical judgment marks the first time since the IPT was established in 2000 that it has upheld a complaint relating to any of the UK’s intelligence agencies. It said that the government’s regulations were illegal because the public were unaware of safeguards that were in place. Details of those safeguards were only revealed during the legal challenge at the IPT.
An “order” posted on the IPT’s website early on Friday declared: “The regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities … contravened Articles 8 or 10” of the European convention on human rights.
Article 8 relates to the right to private and family life; article 10 refers to freedom of expression.
The decision, in effect, refines an earlier judgment issued by the tribunal in December, when it ruled that Britain’s current legal regime governing data collection through the internet by intelligence agencies – which has been recently updated to ensure compliance – did not violate the human rights of people in the UK.

The challenges were brought by Liberty, Privacy International and other civil liberties groups who claimed that GCHQ’s receipt of private communications intercepted by the NSA through its “mass surveillance” programmes Prism and Upstream was illegal.
The existence of Prism and Upstream was revealed by the Guardian from documents provided by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The case brought by Liberty and Privacy International was the first in the UK to challenge GCHQ’s participation in these programmes. Lawyers argued that receiving information about people in Britain from the NSA sidestepped protections provided by the UK legal system.
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said: “For far too long, intelligence agencies like GCHQ and NSA have acted like they are above the law. Today’s decision confirms to the public what many have said all along – over the past decade, GCHQ and the NSA have been engaged in an illegal mass surveillance sharing programme that has affected millions of people around the world.
“We must not allow agencies to continue justifying mass surveillance programmes using secret interpretations of secret laws. The world owes Edward Snowden a great debt for blowing the whistle, and today’s decision is a vindication of his actions.
“But more work needs to be done. The only reason why the NSA-GCHQ sharing relationship is still legal today is because of a last-minute clean-up effort by the government to release previously secret ‘arrangements’.
“That is plainly not enough to fix what remains a massive loophole in the law, and we hope that the European court decides to rule in favour of privacy rather than unchecked state power.”
James Welch, legal director for Liberty, said: “We now know that, by keeping the public in the dark about their secret dealings with the NSA, GCHQ acted unlawfully and violated our rights. That their activities are now deemed lawful is thanks only to the degree of disclosure Liberty and the other claimants were able to force from our secrecy-obsessed government.
“But the intelligence services retain a largely unfettered power to rifle through millions of people’s private communications – and the tribunal believes the limited safeguards revealed during last year’s legal proceedings are an adequate protection of our privacy. We disagree, and will be taking our fight to the European court of human rights.”
However, a GCHQ spokesperson contested the significance of the latest ruling, saying: “We are pleased that the court has once again ruled that the UK’s bulk interception regime is fully lawful. It follows the court’s clear rejection of accusations of ‘mass surveillance’ in their December judgment.”
The agencies make a distinction between intrusive “mass surveillance”, which they insist they do not undertake, and “bulk interception” of electronic communications, which they say is necessary in order to carry out targeted searches of data in pursuit of terrorist or criminal activity.
The GCHQ statement continued: “Today’s IPT ruling reaffirms that the processes and safeguards within the intelligence-sharing regime were fully adequate at all times – it is simply about the amount of detail about those processes and safeguards that needed to be in the public domain. We welcome the important role the IPT has played in ensuring that the public regime is sufficiently detailed.
GCHQ’s work must remain secret
“By its nature, much of GCHQ’s work must remain secret. But we are working with the rest of government to improve public understanding about what we do and the strong legal and policy framework that underpins all our work. We continue to do what we can to place information safely into the public domain that can help to achieve this.”
The UK government issued a robust defence of GCHQ on Friday and said the judgment would not alter in any way the work of the monitoring agency. The prime minister’s spokeswoman said: “Overall, the judgment this morning is that the UK’s interception regime is fully lawful. That follows on from the courts clear rejection of accusations of mass surveillance in their December judgment and we welcome that.
“Because of the nature of their work, we are unable to express gratitude to them [the security services] and we should make sure they continue to have the powers they need to keep us safe.
“What they [the tribunal] said was that there should be more about the rules [governing surveillance] that should be disclosed publicly … They are not questioning in this judgment that the safeguarding of privacy was in any way jeopardised and the judgment will not require GCHQ to change in anyway what it does,” she said.
During hearings at the IPT last year, Matthew Ryder QC, for Liberty, had alleged that the intelligence services were constructing vast databases out of accumulated interceptions of emails.
Ben Jaffey, for Privacy International, had claimed that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) was no longer providing the significant safeguards it once guaranteed against interception of communications without an individual warrant.
The legal challenge was the first of dozens of GCHQ-related claims to be examined in detail by the IPT, which hears complaints against British intelligence agencies and government bodies that carry out surveillance under Ripa. Some of the most sensitive evidence about interceptions was heard in private sessions from which the rights groups were excluded.
In defence documents that were released, the government’s most senior security official, Charles Farr, explained how searches on Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as emails to or from non-British citizens abroad, could be monitored legally by the security services without obtaining an individual warrant because they were deemed to be external communications.
Farr said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of Tempora, another interception programme revealed by the Guardian from the Snowden documents, although he did acknowledge that Prism exists “because it has been expressly avowed by the executive branch of the US government”.
Much of the tribunal’s deliberations therefore proceeded on the basis of agreed hypothetical facts, such as the assumption that Tempora exists. Lawyers for the government refused again, during a short hearing after the judgment, to say whether Tempora exists.

Hunt for Russian sub may have caused spate of whale and dolphin deaths


The secretive hunt for a suspected Russian submarine of the Scottish coast may have led to a spate of whale and dolphin deaths, conservationists have alleged.
Dozens of whales and dolphins have been washed up dead on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland in the past two months, and their deaths may be linked to military sonar used in the search, a protection group has said.
Warships, patrol planes and submarines are all believed to have joined the search, which continued into January.
Fifteen Cuvier’s beaked whales, which dive deeply and are known to be affected by sonar, are among the mammals washed up over the same period. Common dolphins, a minke whale, a sperm whale, pilot whales, a fin whale, and harbour porpoises have also washed up.
Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), said the mass stranding “could be linked to a reported search by British navy warships for a suspected Russian submarine.”
It said: “Investigations following Britain’s largest mass dolphin stranding in 2008 concluded that the only realistic cause was military exercises taking place in the area at the time.”
However one Naval source said the link was “pretty tenuous” because the search had not involved active sonar.
He said: “We have not been pumping sound out into the ocean. This was a much broader game of cat and mouse using sonars that just listen.”

Two Royal Navy warships towing sonar sensors were joined by four maritime patrol planes from America, France and Canada.
Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, said WDC had asked the MoD for details of it operations to try to work out if there is a link.
He said: “They want to know what military activity was taking place in the area at the time. It is possible that these standings are linked to certain military activity. It is something we are looking at. But the animals were so badly decomposed we shall probably never know the answer,” he said.

Peter Evans, a whale expert at from the SeaWatch Foundation, said active sonar had been shown to affect whales and change their diving patterns, but it was very difficult to get evidence for individual cases.
He said: “Although people do tend to point the finger at sonar, and sometimes they might be right, you can’t be certain of what it is.”
Cuvier’s beaked whales have been found down the west coast between Scotland and Ireland including two on Mull, South Uist, Benbecula, Tiree and Kintyre.
Conor Ryan, of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust said in a typical year the trust would expect to see one or two of the whales stranded.
He said the numbers this year were “very unusual”, but there was no evidence the Navy was involved. The carcasses had been too badly decomposed for tests to be carried out.
A Royal Navy spokesman said: “The Royal Navy works very closely with organisations such as the Cetacean Stranding Information Programme on all matters of this nature.
“We have not been approached on this particular circumstance but we are ready to contribute fully to any investigation if required.”