Thursday, October 18, 2018

Twitter, the Atlantic Council and its elusive Iranian "troll farms"

The Persians are coming!
The former free speech wing of the free speech party and now serial social media censor, Twitter, has dumped some large chunk of data on us, as part of its supposed campaign to
"...improve public understanding of alleged foreign influence campaigns... making publicly available archives of Tweets and media that we believe resulted from potentially state-backed information operations on our service..."
What’s worse, the Atlantic Council, a NATO-related think-tank, sponsored by the UAE and Saudi billionaires, among others, hand-picked by fb to run their g̶l̶o̶b̶a̶l̶ ̶c̶e̶n̶s̶o̶r̶s̶h̶i̶p̶ ̶c̶a̶m̶p̶a̶i̶g̶n̶ monitoring for misinformation and foreign interference... Its board members include notorious war criminal Henry Kissinger, former CIA chiefs Michael Hayden and Mike Morell, and Bush-era head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.
These folks through their Digital Forensic Research Lab analyzed the Twitter data and came to conclusions regarding Russian and Iranian digital efforts at subversion in the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the world at large. In four parts:
  1. Part One — Seven key take aways from a comprehensive archive of known Russian and Iranian troll operations
  2. Part Two — How the Internet Research Agency regenerated on Twitter after its accounts were suspended
  3. Part Three — Assessing an covert Iranian social media influence campaign
  4. Part Four — Expanding on key conclusions from the Russian and Iranian troll farms
I have skipped the Russian parts for the moment, because this is already part and parcel of the liberal American mythology and the new “blame Russia for everything” systemic narrative strategy. Thus I assume it would need even less evidence for extravagant claims.But I'll check.
I read part 3, though, the Iranian summary. And this is what I’d say about it:
It would be funny if it weren't so breathtakingly bereft of significance.
  • First of all any "troll farm" that attacks the barbarian Saudi regime is in my book on the side of the angels. I mean, do they really think that "Posts on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia... were routinely hostile and accused the kingdom of terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes" is a false accusation and a bad thing?
  • A second point is that I wouldn't trust a NATO and UAE (not to mention Hariri) funded Council, with criminals against humanity on its board of directors, to tell me the time of day, much less what a "healthy public conversation" is. To make these sort of institutions arbiters of what is allowed on social media, is what is truly frightening to me.
  • Thirdly they are accused of retweeting mostly true information, such as "U.S. has wiped Raqqah off the face of earth", "Trump Is Insane" etc. So they are banned for making (and reproducing) valid statements and (in my book again) largely benign, opinions. This should be contrasted with POTUS being allowed to lie and maliciously slander people through the same platform.

Evil Russian or Iranian, (who knows!), propaganda stating a true fact

  • Fourth. and most importantly, the report actually goes out of its way to not identify this activity as government-run. Which raises the question of "why ban them?", unless they plan to go after all of marketing / political / government accounts [in which case see last point]:
The campaign has not been fully attributed. FireEye tracked it to email addresses and phone numbers in Tehran, but did not identify the organization controlling it. @DFRLab’s own research showed that it consistently shared regime messaging, notably from Ayatollah Khamenei. We refer to it as “Iranian” on the basis of its geography and content; this should not be taken to mean “government run.”
While these posts clearly amplified Iranian positions, it is questionable whether they should be viewed as a trolling campaign, in the sense of using social media to engage personally with other users. The overwhelming bulk of these posts served as advertising, aimed at drawing users towards articles on websites associated with the broader messaging campaign. While they targeted individual users, the posts did not seek to engage with them in meaningful discussion. The purpose appears to have been to draw those users’ attention to pro-Iranian websites.
and most damningly:
One issue on which the Iranian accounts might have been expected to go into overdrive was Trump’s decision to decertify, and then abandon, the Iran nuclear agreement, known as JCPOA. Surprisingly, the Iranian accounts were relatively quiet.
This is, of course, surprising only if one pre-assumes this "troll network" is indeed some purely state-backed spy / troll network, and not (as seems more likely) mostly Iranian English language publications' marketing campaigns, along with genuine pro-government (remember, the "reformer" - meaning in Westernese: the most pro-western electable candidate - and not the "hardliner" won in the last Iranian elections) local and diaspora views of citizens and citizen- or media- sponsored patriotic propaganda.
  • Fifth. It seems that the "Iranian trolls" were actively campaigning against Trump at the same time that the alleged Sinister Tentacled Russian Bot Thing was campaigning against Clinton. Indeed it apparently called them on it in clearly clintonite terms...

...which is strange given that Russia is Iran's best bet to avoid some US-induced Iraqi-style apocalypse. Those damn trolls can't even coordinate properly. Although Iranian "trolls" do seem to be consistently progressive and anti-Trump (a fact that the Idiot in Chief will no doubt use at some point, perhaps as a pretext to invade Iran).

Finally: the 400 pound gorilla in the Middle East government-run bots, trolls and government coordinated social media accounts is Israel (extending beyond the Middle East). Which somehow is never part of any study on coordinated influence campaigns, which are now universally part of western government propaganda. The 10 tonne Elephant, and all time champion in the sport, remains the US, but I'm not holding my breath on a similar "analysis" by the Atlantic Council on the US influence networks on Twitter and FB, anytime soon.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

JEFTA vs Trumpism: Between two evils

This is completely depressing. 1. So the answer to Trumpism apparently according to the Guardian (of all media) is the sort of business as usual that made Trumpism a thing in the first place. In order to stave off protectionism and "populism" it is now apparently some sort of common media wisdom that the sort of mega-regional trade deals that have consistently and forcefully in the neoliberal era, aimed and succeeded to remove democratic control and accountability as obstacles to free trade, are the "enlightened answer" to Trump. This is the sort of deal that initiated the backlash against the neoliberal order, and the anti-globalisation movement starting in Seattle in 1999. Until recently these were criticized by a broad spectrum of political and social forces and this criticism of the WTO, TTIP, NAFTA, CETA, CAFTA etc was ubiquitous and visible even in mainstream media. Now a cursory search of mainstream media articles even mildly critical of the deal turned up no results. Democracy today around the world is apparently being squashed to extermination, between a delirious Trumpist American supremacy and the technocratic / corporate negation of democracy that these sort of deals represent. 2. According to the article, "Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and the EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker sought to establish themselves as the flag-bearers of the free world". There is however no metric of authoritarianism today that wouldn't place (imperial nostalgist, media censor, extreme traditionalist) Abe to the right of Trump or Orban. And if the free-world's flag is being carried by the same Eurocrats that imposed neverending austerity and turned Greece into a protectorate, this is really a very, ehm, tainted concept of freedom... 3. Tusk has stated that this deal shows that the EU and Japan are coming "to the defence of a world order based on rules, freedom and transparency and common sense". Yet, these mega deal processes are among the most unaccountable and untransparent imaginable. This is also not a bug from the point of view of the Corporate - Eurocrat lobby and the 1% in both areas whose interests are served by the sort of trade deal that is JEFTA. This is a feature. 4. "Asked how he would respond to concerns that free trade could threaten jobs, Tusk responded: “Political uncertainty, tariff wars, excessive rhetoric, unpredictability, irresponsibility; they are a real risks for our businesses, not trade agreements.”" He is asked about jobs. He answers about businesses. Enough said. 5. Here is criticism of the deal from the European parliament's United Left group (GUE/NGL) group, which seems to be a mong the few still be paying attention to all this:
"“I doubt Council is taking a long-term perspective with their decision tomorrow when they sneak through the free trade agreement with Japan. If you were concerned about CETA, you should be worried about JEFTA. The Commission considers it a CETA+ agreement. It transfers decisions on regulatory reform from parliament to working groups of civil servants that take advice from businesses, industry and financial stakeholders.”
“The agreement exposes Japanese farmers to the competition of highly-subsidised products from Europe. It is not an exaggeration to say that centuries-old traditions in Japanese rural areas will be endangered.”...
“Furthermore, the agreement exposes European car workers to competition from the exploitative Japanese labour market, where unpaid over-time hours is the norm, where death by exhaustion (Karoshi) is commonplace. The labour rights chapter of the agreement is weak and lacks any enforcement. Our demand for a binding dispute settlement tool in the Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD) chapter has been ignored.
Scholz also questioned the undemocratic way in which the agreement came about:
“How many national parliaments have been consulted before taking this decision? Has there been a transparent public debate in the national or even regional parliaments? Without debate and democratic accountability in member states, citizens will become alienated from the EU´s trade policy. This will lead to further weakening of trust in the EU.”
"In JEFTA, the so-called compromises are at the expense of consumers, small producers, and companies," Scholz criticized. "Much is clear from the fine print". However, JEFTA's main problem remains that the agreement "deprives parliaments in both Europe and Japan of regulatory control, and establishes an economic partnership that goes far beyond trade". The now-negotiated adequacy decision on data protection and data trade, for example, could bring lower data protection for European consumers. "People are increasingly losing control over what companies do with their personal information. I would like to remind the Commission and Council that data protection is a fundamental right in the EU. You have no right to make our data a commodity!"
For Japanese small farmers, the complete lifting of tariffs threatens their very existence "if they are fully exposed to the competition of cheap food from Europe," says Scholz. “Two-thirds of Japanese farmers are over 60 years old and farm very small plots. Their traditions will now end."
"The contractual provisions make it possible for JEFTA, under the pretext of reducing trade and investment barriers, to level down consumer and environmental protection standards as well. Japan has already had to abolish two long lists of provisions, as a precondition for our EU to accept to sit down at the negotiating table. This also applies to key aspects of today's social and economic development, such as environmental and social sustainability and labour standards."
Completely inadequate responses were made to concerns, particularly from development organizations, that JEFTA promoted the trafficking of illegally-harvested timber. Hardly controlled in Japan so far, the tropical wood could now reach the European market through this back door.
"With the vote in the European Parliament still scheduled for the coming months and before ratification in Council, MEPs must show the red card to the governments and reject the agreement. Everything else would mean ignoring the concerns of people in Europe and Japan once again."
6. See also this article from Marija Bartl and a consistent Social Democratic angle, on these regional mega trade deals generally:
"If it continues on this course, EU trade policy will further alienate EU citizens. Not only do the mega-regional trade agreements now pursued leave aside many important issues on which they have substantial impact – such as climate, migration or tax – but they also internally project an alienating picture.
These agreements seem to endorse a particular imaginary of the future – the EU as a high tech, cosmopolitan, transnational society, full of mobile actors, with excellent language skills, flexible worldviews and good education. And this image certainly fits the self-understanding of the elites participating in the negotiation of these agreements.
Yet, such a vision of globalization does not leave enough space for the population that has great trouble in imagining itself as part of these promised futures. Trump on the one hand, and Brexit on the other, along with the rise of far right all across Europe, attest to an important sense of exclusion that the current political economy produces."

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Iran's public opinion on JCPOA deal and other matters

Given the orange idiot's anouncement yesterday of USA's exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran, and because in his speech he referred to the "Iranian regime" and to "dictators, while implying that the people of Iran do not back their government's stance on the issue, let's see what the actual polls of actual;iranians opinions tell us: Opinion poll in Iran, January 2018 / Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) & IranPoll. Some selected stats:
- Iran’s political system needs to undergo fundamental change. 16,4 strongly/somwhat agree, 76,7% strongly/somewhat disagree
- Iran’s current level of involvement in Iraq and Syria is not in Iran’s national interests: S/s agree: 32,6% S/s Disagree: 61,2%
- In your opinion, how important is it for our country to develop its nuclear program? Very/somewhat: 85,8%, Not important: 9,6%
- In July 2015, Iran and the P5+1 countries reached a comprehensive agreement in regard to Iran’s nuclear program, which is also known as the JCPOA. In general
and based on what you know about the JCPOA, to what degree do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?

S/S Approve: 55,1% S/S disapprove: 33,8%
- How confident are you that the United States will live up to its obligations toward the nuclear agreement? V/S confident 11,6%, Not confident 86,4%
- How would you rate American President Donald Trump’s policies toward Iran on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means completely hostile, 5 means nether hostile nor friendly, and 10 means completely friendly? 0-3: 82,9%, 4-6 13,8% 7-10: 1,2%
- If the United States takes measures against Iran that are in violation of the JCPOA agreement, do you think:
  • Iran should retaliate by restarting the aspects of its nuclear program that it has agreed to suspend under the JCPOA: 58.7%
  • Iran should continue to live by the JCPOA agreement and should seek to resolve the issue by taking its complaints to the UN: 37,7%
- If the United States decides to withdraw from the JCPOA agreement and reimpose sanctions on Iran, but other P5+1 countries remain committed to the agreement and do not reimpose sanctions, what do you think Iran should do?
  • Iran should withdraw from the JCPOA 52.8%  
  • Iran should remain committed to the JCPOA 39.0%  
 - What do you think should be Iran’s response if Trump threatens to re-impose U.S. sanctions lifted under the JCPOA unless Iran agrees to increase the duration of the nuclear limits it has accepted under the JCPOA?
  • Iran should accept Donald Trump’s demand 1,4%
  • Iran should agree to renegotiate the JCPOA but only accept increasing the duration of the nuclear limits it has accepted under the JCPOA as part of a deal that includes the US lifting more sanctions on Iran 27,2%
  • Iran should not agree to increase the duration of the limits it has accepted under the JCPOA under any circumstances. 64,4% 
- Thinking about how the JCPOA has worked out so far, which view is closer to yours? 
  • The JCPOA experience shows that it is worthwhile for Iran to make concessions because through compromise Iran can negotiate mutually beneficial agreements with world powers. 21.9% 
  • The JCPOA experience shows that it is not worthwhile for Iran to make concessions, because Iran cannot have confidence that if it makes a concession world powers will honor their side of an agreement. 67.4 
- In your opinion, how important is it for our country to develop missiles?
v/s important: 94,9%, not important: 4%

-  As a general rule, what do you think is the better approach for Iran to pursue in trying to solve the problems it is facing in the region:
  • Seeking to become the most powerful country in the region 46.2%
  • Seeking to find mutually acceptable solutions with other countries through negotiations 49.4% 
- In your opinion should Iran increase its support of groups fighting terrorist groups like ISIS, decrease it, or maintain it at the current level?

  • Increase 54,8%
  • Decrease: 10,2%
  • Maintain it at the current level 31,7%

Some people say that going forward, Bashar Assad should not be allowed to remain President of Syria because he is an incompetent leader who used excessive force against Syrian civilians and let ISIS gain control of territory. Others say that Bashar Assad did what was necessary to keep Syria together and whether he remains the president of Syria should be decided by the Syrian people. Which view is closer to your perspective?

  • Bashar Assad should not be allowed to remain President of Syria 9.2%
  • Syrian people should decide whether Bashar Assad remains as President of Syria 84.0   
-  Which of these is closer to your view about the situation in Yemen?
  • Iran should help the Houthis defeat their opponents 46.7%  
  • Iran should not get involved in Yemen’s domestic conflict 41.2 %
Which position is closer to yours? 1. Islamic and Western religious and social traditions are incompatible with each other and conflict between the two is inevitable; or 2. Most people in the West and the Islamic world have similar needs and wants, so it is possible to find common ground for peaceful coexistence?
  • Conflict is inevitable 35,2%
  • Common ground possible 58,1%
-  In your opinion, to what degree should our country's policymakers take religious teachings into account when they make decisions?
  • A lot/somewhat: 77%
  • Not a lot / Not at all: 20,8%
Thinking about how much political freedom people in Iran have, do you think they have too much, too little, or just about the right amount of political freedom?
  • Too much 9.2%
  • Too little 30.4 
  • Just about the right amount 56.2 
- Do you think the government tries to exercise too much control over people’s personal lives, not enough control, or about the right amount of control?     
  • Too much 17.6%
  • Too little 17.9 
  • Just about the right amount 57.7     
In your view, is global climate change a very serious problem, somewhat serious, not too serious or not a problem?
v/s serious 94,3%
not serious / not a problem: 3,8%

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Society of Social Media

Literary Experiment: Take the first 9 theses of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle (1967), and replace the word "spectacle" with "social media". Fix the syntax. The result is, well, interesting:

1. The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of social media. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.
2. Images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images-of-the-world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. Social media in their generality are a concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.
3. Social media appears at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated - and precisely for that reason -this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness; the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation.
4. Social media are not a collection of images; rather, they are a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.
5. Social media cannot be understood either as a deliberate distortion of the visual world or as a product of the technology of the mass dissemination of images. It is far better viewed as a weltanschauung that has been actualized, translated into the material realm - a world view transformed into an objective force.
6. Understood in their totality, social media are both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not something added to the real world - not a decorative element, so to speak. On the contrary, it is the very heart of society's real unreality. In all their specific manifestations - news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment - social media epitomize the prevailing model of social life. They are the omnipresent celebration of a choice already made in the sphere of production, and the consummate result of that choice. In form as in content social media serve as total justification for the conditions and aims of the existing system. They further ensure the permanent presence of that justification, for they govern almost all time spent outside the production process itself.
7. The phenomenon of separation is part and parcel of the unity of the world, of a global social praxis that has split up into reality on the one hand and image on the other. Social practice, which social media's autonomy challenges, is also the real totality to which the social media is subordinate. So deep is the rift in this totality, however, that social media are able to emerge as its apparent goal. The language of the social media is composed of signs of the dominant organization of production - signs which are at the same time the ultimate end-products of that organization.
8. Social media cannot be set in abstract opposition to concrete social activity, for the dichotomy between reality and image will survive on either side of any such distinction. Thus social media, though they turn reality on its head, are themselves a product of real activity. Likewise, lived reality suffers the material assaults of social media's mechanisms of contemplation, incorporating the socialmediatic order and lending that order positive support. Each side therefore has its share of objective reality. And every concept, as it takes its place on one side or the other, has no foundation apart from its transformation into its opposite: reality erupts within the social media, and the social media is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and underpinning of society as it exists.
9. In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Poul Thomsen and the IMF's "pro growth" policies for Greece

The IMF's Poul (the Ghoul) Thomsen has written about taxes and pensions in Greece in the context of the Fund's contribution in assisting to "Make the Greek Budget More Growth Friendly". This is part of the IMF's newly discovered anti-austerity mission for Greece. Although seemingly relatively sane compared to the rest of Greece's EU "partners'" demands - and especially our colonial overlords in Berlin - of 3,5% budget surpluses for as far in the future as anyone can see, the Fund is in fact helping drive the ongoing negotiations to the rocks. This because in order for the IMF to concede the fiscally obvious regarding surpluses, it demands in return draconian measures against sections of the poor and a further dismantling of labor relations, which is considered, rightly, politically unfeasible, impossible for the current government to even contemplate. (I should note however that as recently as two years ago the IMF was skeptical but approving of 4% + fiscal surpluses for Greece (p.10 and fwd), every year, all the way to the mid 20s)

Simply put, PT's report consists of fallacies, half-truths and misrepresentations piled one on top of the other, the sort of which, when this Austerity Disaster first started, I delighted in shredding apart point by point. As it seems increasingly pointless I'll stick to some basic highlights.

1. IMF as a growth friendly institution: this is the baseline by which all numbers provided by the IMF should be measured.

2. Average salary / tax burden on average salary in Greece (p.9)

3. Disposable income collapsed as a result of the policies that the IMF led the pack of "lenders" in inflicting. So now the IMF laments the "steadily declining tax collections", as if they didn't cause this income collapse, and as if the GDP (as shown in 1, above) didn't plummet at rates reminiscent of wartime. Similarly, as incomes and revenues collapsed and taxes rose, "accumulating tax and social security debt to the state" was a natural consequence, again, of the IMF's own prescriptions

4. I'm not sure how Chart 2, on declining tax collection rate in Greece, jibes with Eurostat statistics showing total tax revenue almost monotonically increasing during the same period

5. Also interesting to note that Greece will have beat the fiscal bailout targets for two consecutive years, basically by improving the collection rate, through, among other factors, exactly the sort of installment and deferral schemes the PT is lamenting. 

6. Public healthcare is in a disastrous condition in Greece, although public expenditure in healthcare has been more or less stable across the past two budgets. However the murderous initial reduction in healthcare spending imposed by the IMF and the EU between 2010 and 2014, is not even mentioned. These reductions were dictated by the troika. PT sounds like he just heard of all this.

7. Greek pensions, the true story. This is from last year, public contributions have since been slashed by 1% GDP, so assume things are worse, and already over 50% of Greek pensioners are around the poverty line

8. The IMF wants to further "liberalize" mass layoffs, in a society that is straining under a 23% unemployment rate, and the Ghoul actually makes the case for this by pointing out that if we dropped even more pensioners below the poverty threshold, then the Greek state could afford better unemployment benefits - and thus I assume it would be cool with the laid off to lose their jobs. Order of magnitude calculations, combined with the dismal - in both remuneration and duration - existing unemployment benefits (i.e Unemployment Benefit Replacement Rates 5y), show that this would offer negligible improvement, provided mass pensioner euthanasia wasn't a prerequisite. How easing layoff laws can possibly help lower the unemployment rate, is one of those things only the IMF executive and similar neoliberal market faith-healers understand, and certainly the IMF's own research teams reject.

9. The Ghoul also fails to mention that the new, improved IMF anti-austerity platform includes refusing to reinstate collective bargaining agreements, which were discontinued originally at the IMF's insistence earlier during this crisis. It also wants to make going on strike more difficult, further hamper unions' already severely diminished capabilities, and allow employer lockouts. This is surely not a step in making anything more fair.

10, Poul Thomsen: "Greece pays an average nominal public pension similar to Germany’s". This is an updated version of an obsession of his.
Wikipedia: The average pension in 2012 [in Germany] €1263.15 per month
Eurostat: Pensioners in Greece receive an average 882 euros per month, 713 euros from basic pension and 169 euros from supplementary pensions (2013). 
Eurostat II: Expenditure on pensions in Greece was lower as % GDP than Germany's until 2007. Then the crisis came and all periphery countries saw the expenditure percentage of pensions explode proportionally to the degree of damage austerity (did I say IMF imposed austerity?) inflicted on their economies.

11. Chart 6, makes little sense until you realize that poverty rates are at 60% of median income, and median income has plummeted in Greece as we saw. So despite the fact that all pensioners in Greece are significantly poorer than what they were in 2007, they haven't lost as much as the economy on average. That's why the working poor in Greece appear by that graph to have increased over the period by just 1%. As pointed out:
The risk-of-poverty rate is even higher when current income is compared to the poverty threshold set in 2005. When measured that way, the deterioration of living standards is startling as 42.2 percent of Greeks have dropped below the poverty threshold of 2005, from just 16.3 percent in 2010. That amounts to an almost threefold increase in just five years.

But finally, as I reconfirm my utter contempt for the IMF and its Murder of Ghouls and Minions, I have in all fairness to point out that compared to the German government they are outright enlightened.
Which is why Europe is doomed.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The IMF's selective "mea culpa" on Greece (and a repost from 2010)

So the Independent Evaluation Office of the IMF has issued a mea culpa on the handling of the euro crisis. The sub-report on Greece in particular admits to very serious errors in handling the crisis, although it falls short of claiming at least partial ownership of the social and humanitarian disaster inflicted on the mass of the population in Greece. Apparently, and tellingly, it considers its programs in Spain, Portugal and Ireland as various shades of quasi-successful, as far as the IMF goals are concerned, which is probably true, but says more about the nature of IMF goals and what they do not include, given the various levels of social dislocation, hardship, increased suicide rates, increased inequality and migration rates in these austerityland countries. It focuses (rightly) on the lack of serious debt restructuring efforts early on in the crisis (due as we know, and the reports admit, to EU-level political reaction to any such plan), admits to a lack of understanding of the intricacies of the Greek economy (such that it was) and on pre-crisis assessments of it, and recognizes that the "burden-sharing" of the adjustment in Greece was very lopsided. Also and importantly it points out that:
If preventing international contagion was an essential concern, the cost of its prevention should have been borne – at least in part – by the international community as the prime beneficiary
At the same time it ignores the social catastrophe that was produced by its "structural adjustment" pre-conditions in:

  • labor deregulation (in an economy with inter alia disaster-area unemployment rates, a war-time level of GDP reduction, and a massive brain-drain as educated young people left and are still leaving the country to escape a prospect of life-long poverty wages), 
  • privatizations (which they admit had highly inflated revenue goals, but have no problem with the fire-sale of state assets that they contributed in imposing) 
  • the "opening of professions" (which is leading either to a proletarianision of professionals - contributing to the aforementioned brain-drain and the creation of ever-tightening, usually foreign-owned oligopolies), 
  • or most of the rest of the other half-baked neoliberal snake oil they peddle (such as the "liberalization" of market opening hours). 

Interestingly the report focuses on the issue of a more just burden-sharing mostly because the authors apparently imagine that if this "adjustment" was more fair - in terms of taxing the rich a bit more - then the population would have fallen behind and accepted the IMF programme. But although such a redistribution of tax burden and legal proceedings against tax-evaders would admittedly create less rage against the program, it would have marginal at best success in increasing revenues. As the current government, after the July 2015 coup in which the IMF participated, is now focusing on exactly this redistribution and does go after (many) tax-evaders (certainly to a degree not seen in Greece since practically forever), tax arrears keep piling up because what is (or was) the middle class has been taxed out of its safety nets already, property taxes are at an unbelievably high rate (and since something like 80% of Greeks own their homes this affects even people who are truly struggling), small businesses have collapsed and those that survive are mostly fighting for their lives. and troika imposed VAT hikes are hitting everyone and affecting the tourist industry. You cannot receive from those who have nothing left to give. For probably most households and small businesses piling up arrears and tax-evading is a question of economic survival and sustaining a very modest living standard. No amount of fairness can erase this simple fact, which somehow escaped the grasp of the IMF as it still assumes that the increase in arrears is a question of reluctance not inability.

As these reports are published, the IMF is still involved in Greece and is pushing hard for further labor market deregulation, further reductions in the minimum wage and even laxer mass layoff laws. The current Greek government is insisting that not only will it not accept these terms, but will push for restoration of some form of collective bargaining. So this is heading for a multiple stand-off this coming autumn, pitting the IMF against the rest of the lenders on debt reduction and the IMF against the Greek government in terms of labor reforms. It is questionable whether these recent reports will have any effect on IMF policy within the troika, especially since the IMF research teams and various committees have continuously offered critiques of IMF policy in Greece and were practically ignored by its executive.

Still, things are in motion, especially after BRexit and the Spain and Portugal amnesty decisions on their "excessive deficit" that were driven by it, as well as the looming Italian (european?) banking crash / rule bending. This report adds to the argument that turning a blind eye on debt sustainability is a can that can be kicked along no further, a position already gaining ground inside the organization itself and supported apparently by the US government.

As a refresher on the IMF's blunders and misinformation in Greece I am republishing below a diary I posted in the European Tribune in May 25, 2010, titled "Some somewhat more coherent notes on the Greek crisis: debunking IMF propaganda (2)" with updated links, minor edits and restored graphs (part 1 was here), based on an IMF FAQ on the Greek crisis, and its Frequently Wrong Answers:

Some somewhat more coherent notes on the Greek crisis: debunking IMF propaganda (2010, edited and restored, 2016)

I was thinking about how to structure the second installment of the saga of this unfolding disaster (part 1 here) that has been inflicted on the Greek working population, part of the development of the Great Crash of 08. There is a lot to be highlighted, especially bogus data and statistics circulating among world media and organizations, that are then used to "explain" the inevitability of the neoliberal shock therapy which Greece is being subjected to (and which is I am afraid a first test for far wider application of similar shocks throughout the continent ).
The IMF fortunately, I see, has helped me out a bit on this, by issuing a compilation of bad statistical urban legends and hearsay on the Greek crisis and endorsing it as policy background. In its web-site, the Fund has thus created an FAQ section on the Greek crisis. This is a document riddled with outright lies and strategically propagated half-truths and obfuscations, along with wishful thinking and hand-waving serious questions aside, to an extent impressive for an official document, coming from one of the pillars of the world economy. It is the ideal place to start to tackle the (already dwindling in the face of the globalisation of the Euro crisis) moralizing and the lies that have been used to "explain" why working Greeks should suffer the economic equivalent of a nuclear attack. Let's check out some of the claims made to see how credible the IMF's analysis of the statistical and factual reality in Greece is...

1. Right off the bat the IMF starts with a much-repeated, yet misleading, claim:
"Greece is highly indebted and lost about 25 percent of its competitiveness since Euro adoption".
It is far from obvious how the IMF measures competitiveness. The FAQ section is not referenced at all, and it's not clear how this quantification arises or what it means. Erik Jones, writing in Euro Intelligence, was already debunking part of the competitiveness mythology, as pertains to labor costs, in March:
...What matters in terms of a head-to-head competition is how Greece and Germany compare in the cost of labor per unit of output and not the real compensation of employees.  Moreover, we should look at their performance across the European marketplace as a whole.  By that measure, if we set the year 2000 equal to 100, then by 2009 Greece was at 98 while Germany was at 95.  Germany is still doing better than Greece, but only by a little and both have improved against the rest of Europe.
...Using national accounts data for relative real unit labor costs in manufacturing, Greece goes from 100 in the year 2000 to 87 in 2008.  Over the same period, Germany goes from 100 to 90.  It is hard to see how Germany comes off better in the comparison.
...Even if Greece is not suffering in terms of manufacturing, the high real incomes that Greek employers are doling out must surely be hitting the bottom line in the service sector, shouldn't they?  Again, that's hard to see in the data. Total compensation per employee was 53.8 percent in Greece and 57 per cent in Germany...
Furthermore the "since Euro adoption" part is misleading. Greek productivity was surging until 2007. After that year, influenced of course by the global crisis, and affected by real fiscal imbalances (about which more later) productivity (and competitiveness, however defined) fell faster than the Dow Jones average after a computer glitch, but that was surely not a uniquely Greek phenomenon.
In fact Greece was receiving praise by the IMF itself for its improved competitiveness, singled out as the most successful economy in Southern Europe.

"Only Greece has experienced robust per capita growth underpinned by commensurable productivity gains"

Source: IMF
So, much of the decline, in many areas, was a result of Greece not responding successfully to the global crisis. The "joining the Euro" part is thus, I repeat, misleading. And the whole story is repeated elsewhere in the document.
2. Under the same question the IMF then makes a flatly false statement:
In past years, Greece's public sector spending grew, while revenue fell. Then the global recession hit and economic activity slowed and unemployment rose. This exacerbated the fiscal situation.
Well no. The evolution of Greek public sector spending was not growth followed by a dip as the Greek economy was hit by the global recession. In fact between 2002 and 2006 public expenditure shrank and started rising precipitously, only after the global recession hit... but then so it did almost everywhere...

Greece / OECD public revenues as % of GDP. Source: OECD

Greece / Eurozone public expenditure as % of GDP. Source: 

Revenue was pretty much stable at rather low levels until just last year (2009) when indeed, it did drop.

3. Fluffy nonsense:
A significant fiscal adjustment is needed in Greece. The program is designed so that the burden of adjustment is shared across all levels of society, while protecting the most vulnerable groups.
Bollocks. According to most reports in the Greek press, the lower pensions are being lowered still and will then  remain steady (or decline) at below poverty levels for the next few years. The minimum wage is effectively being driven down.  So are disability pensions. At the same time while tax-evasion is being targeted, employers are receiving new-found "freedom" from labor costs.
The government's program also includes pro-growth policies to reform such crucial sectors as tax administration, the labor market, the health sector, and the management of public finances.
None of these is strictly speaking a pro-growth policy. They are trying to clean up parts of the tax collecting system (although with limited resources, a diminishing budget - due to the cuts - no possibility of hiring tax inspectors and public service auditors etc.). The labor market is the one area they have been "pro-growth": its being third-worldized.
These measures will open up the economy to opportunity and make the economy more competitive, transparent, and efficient. This in turn will help restore confidence of investors and the markets. The ultimate goal is more dynamic and durable growth.
... many years from now, by which time the basic salary will be around 100 Euros or so. Hurray! Although it is probably true that investors and markets, will really like the new Greece.
4. And we thus move on to yet another falsehood:
The fiscal measures include: a reduction of public sector wages and pensions--something which is unavoidable given that these two elements alone constitute some 75 percent of total (non-interest) public spending in Greece.
The 75% figure is completely false AFAICS and we've seen why here: These are the Eurostat numbers (p. 15), and this is the Greek Ministry's of Finance planned 2010 budget [in Greek, see p.11, budgetary expenditure]. At most these add up to 45% of total (non-interest) public spending in Greece. So maybe this wasn't really "unavoidable".
5. The response to the "but isn't this the bad ol' IMF doing its destructive work again":
Q. Is the range of conditionality in the Greek program a return to the more traditional IMF "austerity" measures of the past?
No. There are three key differences:
  • This program is focused on Greece' two key problems: high debt and a lack of competitiveness. Conditionality is very much focused on these issues.
  • The Greek authorities have strong ownership and leadership and it is their program.
  • The program includes measures to protect the most vulnerable, which are a critical component to effective implementation.
  1. The Greek authorities claim that they have no such ownership and that they cannot draw "lines in the sand", except with great difficulty, where the measures are concerned. In fact according to the media, the Greek government is under enormous pressure from the IMF/EU Commission to further transform the pensions' system. One party is lying.
  1. I have not noticed any of these "protective" measures being reported. What, they'll bring in UNICEF when child mortality rises?
6. The IMF insists that debt restructuring is not in Greece's interest, and that it will not help "Greece's capacity to grow". I wonder how mass migration of the young and talented will help "Greece's capacity to grow", a trend that existed already but now seems on the verge of reaching tragic proportions, or how is the deepest recession since Nazi occupation, conductive to "Greece's capacity to grow", unless they mean reaching such depths of poverty that Greece can compete with Vietnam in real wages, and Foxconn finds it profitable to move its factories and labor practices from mainland China to Greece. How will deep cuts in education help "Greece's capacity to grow"? How will an organized restructuring not help Greece's capacity to grow, if the alternative is an economic collapse and a recovery prospect based on wishful thinking and a best case scenario regarding world growth? How deep will the recession have to be this year (let alone the next and the one after that) before the IMF "revises" its outlook? Because we certainly are not heading toward a 4% of GDP recession: "market sources", are already whispering double digits.
7. Regarding tax revenues the IMF states that:
Additional specified tax measures amount to about 4 percent of GDP. The government is proposing measures to overhaul the tax system, including a progressive tax scale for all sources of income, taxing luxury goods, higher taxes for the wealthy, and higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
That's all fine and well, but we're already seeing the failure of this policy to raise indirect taxes. Consumption has already dropped so much that the new taxes on cigarettes are not expected to raise revenues at all, while enriching cigarette smugglers. The five point increase in the VAT tax will mean less revenue for the government if, as it seems certain, consumption drops by more than 8% this year.  Anyway it seems ironic that the IMF under its explanation for the increase in VAT mentions that "The government has proposed a range of tax measures with the aim of spreading the burden of adjustment more fairly". Obviously huge increases in indirect taxation, do not help in tax fairness, eh? 
8. The IMF explains that the wage and pension cuts the government is proposing
...will bring Greece in line with other, more competitive, economies. The extra two months salaries--the so-called "13th and 14th" payments--are unsustainable and do not exist in many other countries. Nor is the low retirement age that begins around 50 for some groups in line with life expectancy.
This is highly misleading to the point of dishonesty:
  • The 13th and 14th payments are just a particular way to temporarily distribute annual income. The only measure of wages that is meaningful is on a yearly basis. According to the European Economy Statistical Annex of 2007, Greece was second from the bottom in average wage purchasing power in the EU-15.

  • Some people do retire early, as early as 41. These are few. Very few. Mostly in the Armed Forces (where they can retire and then get another job legally, meaning they continue contributing to the system) and the police. Also until recently women working in the public sector with underage children qualified for early retirement at 50+. But the average retirement age in the economy as a whole is 61 years. These reforms pretty much push full retirement for many people at around 67. Mentioning that some retire as early as 50 and stopping at that, is monstrously misleading. This piece of misinformation has been repeated ad nauseam around the global media (i.e.). And it is actually repeated again in the document:

  • The pensionable retirement age for some groups beginning at around 50 is out of line with life expectancy in Greece--and out of line with the rest of the Euro zone countries. Given the aging of the population, such a low age for pensions, coupled with generous coverage ratios to last earned income, has put far too much strain on Greece's public finances.
This in a country where 28% of the over 65-year-olds are living under the official poverty line...

9. The IMF claims that:
The authorities recognize that the public sector in Greece has become too large and costly for the economy. In fact, there is no clear data on exactly how many people are working in the public sector
This is again not really true. The public sector amounts to 40% of GDP, according to the CIA factbook (I couldn't find directly comparable numbers for the rest of the EU), while "The share of public sector GDP in total GDP is about 43 percent in the UK and about 54 percent in France".
The data on how many people work in the Public sector exactly might not be all in, but we do have a rather good ballpark estimate. It is 14% of the workforce, "very close to the OECD average" as the OECD itself notes. The OECD is not including non-permanent seasonal and temporary employees which are between 300.000-500.000 in a given year (mostly underpaid and underinsured), and together both categories add up to something close to 20% of workforce (which is around 5 million). This is hardly a bloated public sector. It is inefficient, corrupt and poorly organized, yet surely its reduction (which is also a Greek government/IMF project), as opposed to its reinvention, reorganization, repair etc will only have the effect of ruining the few crumbs of a social safety net that do exist. That both the IMF and the Papandreou government see this as something desirable, speaks volumes about their ideology. 
10. Handwaving on the most crucial question, is not a good sign that the Fund is seriously concerned about the future of the Greek economy or Greeks in general:
Q. With lower revenue and a stagnating economy, how will Greece begin to grow again?
The government's program recognizes, and takes into consideration, that the difficult fiscal adjustment will initially have a negative effect on growth.
But with effective implementation of the fiscal and structural policies and the support of the Greek people, the economy will be far better placed to generate higher growth and employment than in the past.
Meaning: We know the effect on growth will be somewhere from horrible to catastrophic, yet if we all get together and engage in wishful thinking we will do what has never been done before and get Greece to the neolib fantasy of prosperity, with third world wages and most of its trained youth living somewhere far away. This is based on pretty much the sort of magical thinking that has made the IMF synonymous with disaster. So if our best case scenario regarding the world economy holds up, and if Greece is very, very lucky, it might return to 2009 levels of GDP by 2025 or so. Impressive. 
11. As final proof that the people who wrote the FAQ are kidding, you have their take on unemployment:
Because of the crisis, employment is already high at about 10-11 percent. Initially, there will be an increase in unemployment and the next two years will be difficult - unemployment could rise to about 15 percent. However, as strong medium-term fiscal measures and productivity-boosting reforms kick in, the economy will become more competitive, transparent, and efficient. With confidence returning, Greece will emerge from this experience in better shape than before, growth will return and employment will pick-up.
This 15 percent is utter fiction. The labor minister even before the IMF/Commission demolition combo landed in Athens was projecting unemployment rates around 17% by the end of the year. 15% is laughably low. Already in May unemployment had reached 12,1 percent up from 9,1 last May, and on a steep slope towards the stars. And this is pretty much before the austerity measures kicked in. I'm willing to bet that we will be lucky to have 15% unemployment by the end of this year. Next year we will most probably reach 20% or more. Among young people 18-24 unemployment is already at a staggering 34% this month. 
12. Final question:
Q. Has any country undertaken this level of fiscal adjustment before?
It is an unprecedented adjustment, but it is feasible, and the government is committed to getting the job done.
Feasible if one believes this absolutely speculative and factually false account given by the IMF. But anyway, this is an admission that Greece is the first guinea pig, an experiment to see if any First World country can survive the IMF treatment without joining the Third World. 
Greece in particular will end up having transitioned from a hell of an inefficient and corrupt social model to no social model at all...
The fact that the IMF has been so clumsy in its description of the Greek situation (and so unrealistic on the effects the policies it is imposing will have, or are having), either reveals the quality of the analysis of the Greek economy that has driven the IMF's/EU advice - a bad sign surely, or demonstrates that the IMF is barely covering up for decisions of which it is only an implementation instrument. Alternatively they don't care enough to be serious...

Saturday, November 1, 2014

33 Reasons Why Athens (and Greece) is still in deep depression

...So I came upon this article last night, and it really annoyed me. It claimed to present "33 Reasons Why Athens Is The Next Big Thing". Some of these "reasons" are pre-existing and/or permanent (the food, the views etc), some are questionable (Athens is cheap? Not for the majority of its inhabitants: it is probably the most expensive city in Europe by average purchasing power). Some are misleading and dated (Athens is far less busy at night now than I ever remember it). Some are false (Athens is not laid back anymore except if you are unemployed or rich. Everybody in between is literally running for their lives). 
This is PR, par for the course, possibly part of some marketing strategy. But it isn't harmless and it is creating a false image of success that is 100% non-existent. People outside the country might be led to believe that all is well, that austerity turned out alright. It didn't: things still need to change drastically, and not only in Greece...
What I as an Athenian really resent, is this BS that's being projected by our (far-right, super-corrupt) government, of a city and a country that is "coming out of the crisis", a country that "has pulled itself together and its capital [that] has never been more lively". It hasn't pulled itself together, things are probably the worse they have ever been for a majority of working and unemployed Greeks and Athens is a city in deep depression (compared to its past almost manic vivacity). The only people who can possibly see Athens through such rose-tinted glasses are either detached foreign visitors, assuming they avoid the nastier parts and sides of the city and have no previous experience of Athens; and well-to-do Greeks, the "winners" of this crisis, the ones that project their own personal comfort to the city at large. These are exactly the sort of people, the 1% of the true victors and the 10-30% of "crisis survivors" that form the backbone of the "pro-austerity" parties. They have become fascinatingly adept in turning a blind eye to the persistent humanitarian crisis that the country and the city is suffering, cynically indifferent to the mass of "losers", inhuman in their disdain of the common people. The last image of the article, of a woman in Kifissia, one of the poshest suburbs in Athens, is indicative. The inhabitants of Kifissia are indeed well-placed in not noticing the disaster that has befallen, and is still enveloping the country. The Athens described, is their Athens.

So let me present below 33 reasons why all this hype is plain orwellian...

(1) Projecting the poverty numbers in Greece as a whole to Athens, assuming a population of 4 million people, we can estimate that the city has approximately a million people, below poverty, including (2) a record number of children - more than in any other OECD country. By a similar projection (3) another million and a half are in danger of poverty, as 2/3 of the country in total are near or below the poverty line.
(4) Homelessness is ubiquitous in a city that practically was a stranger to the phenomenon until 2010
(5) Hundreds of thousands are denied even basic health-care and insurance as (6) the national health system crumbles under the burden of austerity.
(7) Around a million Athenians are jobless, (and (8) youth unemployment in the country is at 50%+). (9) Unemployment benefits are meager, last a year and after that, people are (10) pretty much left to fend for themselves.
For those who do work, wages (especially for the young but generally for all) have (11) been dropping continuously and precipitously, often below subsistence levels. In fact most of the jobs that do exist are in the kinds of bars mentioned in the article, and in low-skilled menial work, paying 200-500 Euros, usually uninsured. Greeks are on average 40% poorer than when the crisis began, and falling... This of course leads (12) to levels of inequality (showcased in Athens magnificently if one wants to drive around a bit) not seen in the country since the 1950s (if then), high enough that even the bleeding IMF thinks something should be done about it. The disaster has affected (13) gender equality which is also rapidly declining.
At the same time that incomes are collapsing, (14) Greeks (especially lower and middle class Greeks) are the most heavily taxed citizens in Europe. Often Greeks are literally dying to pay their taxes.... It is small wonder then that (15) Greece comes last in EU Social Justice rankings
(16) A massive migration exodus of the best and brightest has occurred, reducing the size of the Athenian ((17) naturally declining) youth population...
(18) The police presence in Athens is so thick, it is reminiscent of a military dictatorship, while at the same time these same police officers - around (19) half of which vote for the Nazi Golden Dawn Party - are (20) infiltrated by nazis and in (21) collusion with them, have (22) repeatedly attacked any person (tourists included) who looks "suspiciously foreign", or doesn't wear proper clothes, or (23) is fighting the Nazis. Actual undocumented immigrants are (24) treated worse than animals. Police brutality is so out of control, that a majority of Greeks fear they might be tortured in police custody. The Nazis (and 16% of the voters in the municipality of Athens voted for the Nazi candidate) are (25) still a threat, despite the fact that their leadership is now on trial, since they are pretty much given an implicit OK by the police to attack whoever they like, and that includes, say, gay couples (in a series of attacks this summer) and religious minorities. Police too, are often blatantly homophobic.
In line with the authoritarian governing style a couple of years ago, the ministry of health (26) published pictures, personal data and names of 31 HIV-positive women who lived in Athens, accused of prostitution.
(27) A drug epidemic featuring, among other substances, a locally brewed version of crystal meth, is also in full swing. Also of course, (28) prostitution is booming.
Greeks in general are so happy that they (29) are killing themselves in unprecedented numbers, for a country with traditionally low suicide rates. The broader Athens area is leading the country in this tragic statistic. Similarly for (30) mental illness which has increased rapidly these past few years, while at the same time (31) the psychiatric infrastructure of the country is collapsing. This is evident by now in the streets of Athens.
Athenians, as all Greeks are thus (32) deeply pessimistic about the future. And they also have (33) the OECD's lowest life satisfaction score.

The list can actually go well beyond 33. The only way for Athens to return to any kind of European normal is for its citizens to revolt against the criminal austerity policies that are killing it. Otherwise the new normal will be that of a demoralized Third World city.

Monday, October 7, 2013

German election post-mortem: European Love and Harmony; Exhibit I

In June I attended my children's elementary school end-of-the-year feast, a pleasant event with plays, dances and songs, along with displays of the kids' projects and art. Among the exhibitions was one of (selected?) drawings and images, from all grades. The pictures included, apart from the usual children's themes, a not-really-unexpected dose of social and political subjects: the crisis affects and often devastates all families and children are exposed to the worries and discussions of their kin. Most were implicitly political but a few were overtly so. Among them was this:

At the top the drawing reads "Greece will be saved if we could just kill Merkel". Underneath, intended as a title probably: "The Godmother". Angela Merkel's picture (from a magazine obviously) has horns and a Hitleresque mustache, and there is a speech bubble filled with Euro signs. The legend below the image reads: "Merkel revealed ("under the light") [to be] Hitler's granddaughter". It shocked no-one.

This is not something that is significantly divergent from the general zeitgeist concerning the German government in Greece: my 9 year old son informed me one day, that 'Merkel' is used as an insult in his football practice.Which sort of ties in with the fact that last April Angela Merkel's negative ratings in Greece were at 87% (vs 11% positive) up from 64% and 25% respectively, in March 2010.

A wide majority of Greeks has been disenchanted with Germany. Last year Germany's unfavorable rating in Greece was (uniquely in the EU) at 78% negative. But the disenchantment is broader: The latest poll numbers are dismal regarding what used to be a solid backing for the European project:

(blue = positive, red = negative opinion, left slide regarding the EU, right, the Euro)

The general trend has been similar:


The remembrance of past evils

The reality of being a debt colony, in which Merkel's "reforms" are a vehicle for large scale societal destruction, is not conducive to creating an atmosphere of cooperation and unity in the EU. The historical burden of a murderous Nazi occupation adds to the mix the aura of deja-vu. The misunderstanding regarding Merkel and her government being called Nazis in the popular / populist press, derives from this. In Greece the Nazis are first and foremost associated in popular memory (indeed living memory, still) not firstly with the Holocaust, but with famine: The last famine in Europe, created by the occupation, which killed perhaps 300.000 out of a total population of 7 million people. My mother in law remembers her grandmother starving to death to give her meager portions of food to her grandchildren and then being thrown into a cart (like the one pictured below) to be buried with nameless others into mass graves. (The irony of a Nazi party rising up in this context is biting...)

So when starvation rears its ugly head again, this time as well under "German orders", the fact that there is anti-German sentiment in the streets is hardly a surprise. It is indeed surprising that it has not gone overboard yet... Merkel's recent triumph is seen by many in Greece as a popular affirmation of homicidal policies. But of course this is short-sighted: In fact it is a test for the generalized dismantling of the whole European Social contract, which the Dutch King officially announced a few weeks ago...

[I wrote a first quick commentary on the Nazi murder over at the European Tribune. A more complete account is pending - which I will post here as well]