Friday, January 30, 2015

Jim Webb and Andrew Jackson

I've explained in various ways at various times that the reason I picked a blog title using the symbol of Andrew Jackson is because he represented and basically progressive, democratic vision and political program for his time. And because even that cutting-edge democratic program had deep contradictions and flaws.

I wish Hegel had lived long enough to write about Old Hickory and his relationship to the World Spirit. But he didn't.

Jackson was a wealthy, slave-owning planter who politically became a champion of working people, opposing the power of concentrated wealth in the form of the Bank of the United States and winning the support of the early labor union organizations of his time. Although a slaveowner, in the confrontation with John Calhoun and South Carolina over nullification, he clearly came down on the side of democracy and national patriotism, clearly recognizing the danger that the fire-breathers' pro-slavery extremism presented for democracy.

His Indian removal policy was just plain bad. And there was an opposition that made valid points against it in real time. I've discussed his Indian policy more than once here, which presents its own contradictions and dilemmas on both sides, without defending it. It was plainly a wrong policy.

Jim Webb's recent invocations of Andrew Jackson reflect the contradictions of Jacksonian democracy in an interesting way. The Jacksonian movement developed in various directions, some pro-slavery Southerners managing to consider themselves Jacksonians, as did grassroots democratic movements including Indian rights and women's rights activists. That's true as well of Abolitionists, although in the politics of the days they tended not to identify with a Democratic Party symbol like Jackson.

Dan Merica reports in Jim Webb: Democrats need to focus more on 'white, working people' CNN 01/30/2015:

Webb, the former Democratic senator from Virginia who is entertaining a run 2016 presidential nomination, told NPR Friday morning that his party has not focused enough on white, working class voters in the past elections. In order to be successful in the future, Webb said, that will need to change.

"I think they could do better with white, working people and I think this last election showed that," Webb said, referencing the 2014 midterms where Republicans took control of the Senate and added more power in the House. "The Democratic Party could do very well to return to its Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Andrew Jackson roots where the focus of the party was making sure that all people who lack a voice in the corridors of power could have one through the elected represented." [my emphasis]
This could be taken as the progressive, democratic side of the Jacksonian legacy.

Susie Madrick chooses to spin it that way (Jim Webb: Dems Need White Working People To Win C&L 01/30/2015): "pretty much every progressive organizer and campaign operative I know agrees with his main point. We can win the White House, but we will never get a lasting majority and get to accomplish our agenda without reclaiming the white working class demographic."

But a "demographic" is not a policy. And policies that actually win more votes from one demographic can have contrary effects on others.

The nature of the policy depends on which part of that demographic description is emphasized: white working class, or white working class?

Sadly, Webb's pitch sounds like it's putting the emphasis on the white part, the regressive side of historical Jacksonianism:

Looking ahead to a 2016 race that he may run in, Webb added: "You are not going to have a situation again where you have 96% of the African American vote turning out for one presidential candidate. ... We need to get back to the principles of the Democratic Party that we are going to give everyone who needs access to the corridors of power that access regardless of any of your antecedents. I think that is a fair concept."

In 2012, the last presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney won nearly 60% of all white voters, compared to Obama's 40%. That difference is an increased split from 2008, when Obama won 43% of the white vote and Republican John McCain won 55%.
The Democrats have never quite gotten over their post-1968 obsession with trying to carry Southern states, which meant in practice trying to find some ways not to scare off too many Southern white voters who really, really don't like black people.

Whatever practical sense that may have made in 1969 - I tend to thing the Dems' understanding of it was wrong-headed even then - that ship has long since sailed. The core constituency of today's Republican Party is southern white evangelicals. The Deep South that was once a Solid South for the Democratic Party that accepted segregation is now a Solid South for the Republican Party that is working hard to restore segregation, above all with the voter-suppression laws.

The Democratic base is relatively more heavily concentrated in non-Southern African-American and Latino voters, white women of all classes and working-class men of all races. Part of the trick in considering this issue is that there is no standard understanding of who the "working class" is. Journalists tend to use non-college-educated adults as a working definition of "working class," which is likely to be very misleading.

Advocates of concentrating on winning white voters for Democratic candidates tend to assume that making appeals targeted to racially-prejudiced whites will not deter black, Latino or female voters from supporting Democrats. Taking the base for granted this way is foolhardy, as we saw in the 2014 election. Last year, the Democrats tailored their national efforts toward appealing to swing voters, when there are few actual swing voters in midterm elections. The Republicans concentrated on turning out their base by campaigning on positions their base liked.

The results are well known.

This report by Alistair Bell, Why tensions in Ferguson may help Republican in a local vote Reuters/Yahoo! News 11/03/2015, points out that if black voters start deciding that the Democratic Party is not interested in representing their interests, some of them may well decide to vote Republicans instead, apart from those who sit out the election altogether.

We saw that to some extent in Sen. Thad Cochran's successful primary race against a Tea Party challenger in Mississippi last year. For the second round of the primary, Cochran actively courted African-American voters to vote in the Republican primary. In a heavily Republican state like Mississippi, it's entirely thinkable that some black voters may decide that since Republicans are going to win their district in general elections anyway, they may as well vote in Republican primaries to have some voice. This would be a kind of mirror image of the days in which the Democratic primary in Mississippi was the only election that really counted. And if African-American voters start getting actively involved in Republican primary campaigns, it's likely that some of that party loyalty would carry over into general elections.

The Democrats can't afford to be fools about this.

The appeal-to-whites-as-such strategy may also suffer from bad algebra. As an example, take a state or district that is 45% black, 55% white. Assume equal turnout for each party's base. Also assume that African-American voters go 95% for Democrats, whites 95% for Republicans, a somewhat higher percentage on the white side than that typical in hardcore Republicans states like Mississippi and Alabama. That percentage would produced a result of 54% for Republicans, 46% for Democrats.

Drop the white Republicans percentage to 85%, and the election result becomes 51% Democratic, 49% Republican. That represents a shift of 10% of white voters to the Democratic column.

In other words, to shift that percentage, Democrats don't need to get half of white voters, or even 75%. Where they are getting 5% in the first example, they need to start getting 85% (rounding involved). The right way to do that for the Democrats would be to concentrate on measures that look good to working class voters of all races. Not by trying to invoke white identity politics that will alienate Democratic base voters, and which the Republicans will easily be able to counter with intensified appeals their well-develop, segregationist, white identity politics.

It's what Andrew Jackson would do.

Jonathan Chait whines about "political correctness"

Jonathan Chait rolled out the old reliable whine about Political Correctness a few days ago in Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say New York 01/27/2015.

There have been numerous worthwhile responses, including:

Digby, From blogofascism to PC Police. It's always something. Hullabaloo 01/28/2015. She writes that Chait "deserves a trolling bonus. Nobody does it better." She a bit of recent historical context, noting, "Chait is making about the PC Left today are the same arguments he made about the Netroots Left a few years ago." She concludes, in a tone of slightly weary sacrcasm, "Liberalism will survive the social justice warriors just as it survived the blogofascists. We'll all live to see another day."

She links to an older post by Henry Ferrell, Chait on the netroots Crooked Timber 05/04/2007. Chait has been at the liberal trolling game for a while.

Joan Walsh, When “political correctness” hurts: Understanding the micro-aggressions that trigger Jonathan Chait Salon 01/27/2015:

It’s almost exclusively women of color being called out in this [Chait's] piece. On behalf of white liberal women who’ve had our feelings hurt on social media over the years, I feel like I’m supposed to thank Chait for coming to our defense. Because that’s how much of it reads: as an attack on women of color for saying some not-nice things to white progressive women. It’s chivalrous, almost; and chauvinistic, too, as though we can’t speak up for ourselves.
Amanda Marcotte, P.C. Policeman Jonathan Chait Can Dish It Out, But He Can't Take It TPM 01/27/2015: "The list of ideas and articles Chait thinks should disappear is dizzying."

Glenn Greenwald, The Petulant Entitlement Syndrome of Journalists Intercept 01/28/2015:

Being aggressively, even unfairly, criticized isn’t remotely tantamount to being silenced. People with large and influential platforms have a particular need for aggressive scrutiny and vibrant critique. The world would be vastly improved if we were never again subjected to the self-victimizing whining of highly compensated and empowered journalists about how upset they are that people say mean things online about them and their lovely and talented friends.
Matt Ylesias in All politics is identity politics Vox 01/30/2015 calls attention to the fact that Chait is complaining mainly about identity politics among women and people of color, and notes on a currently prominent discrimination question:

... not addressing a racially discriminatory status quo in policing is itself a choice. Indeed, it's a kind of identity group appeal — to white people, whose preferred means of striking the balance between liberty and security, in many contexts, is that security should be achieved by depriving other people of their civil liberties.

This is where the at-times tiresome concept of privilege becomes very useful. The truth is that almost all politics is, on some level, about identity. But those with the right identities have the privilege of simply calling it politics while labeling other people's agendas "identity."

Denial of this reality, it seems to me, is actually a key failing of a certain brand of American liberalism. Conservatives may join some white male liberals in decrying "identity politics," but nobody knows better than conservatives the power and importance of identities like Christian, American, traditional family, etc., in shaping thinking and giving meaning to political engagement.
Between various kinds of political involvement and decades of corporate and public bureaucratic office politics, I don't think I would start trembling in fear of expressing my opinions just because somebody scolded me for not using "cis-gendered" in the proper place. And I generally assume anonymous online commenters aren't worth taking much notice of.

If you don't know what cisgendered is, its a counterpart to transgendered. As in, "How do you identify? Why, I'm cisgendered, thank you very much for asking." Get with the 21st century, people!

The term "political correctness" has always been hard for me to navigate, too. Not least because I'm around a fair number of people for whom English is not their first language, and it's kind of hard to explain that when Americans says something is "politically correct," they mean they think something is politically INcorrect from their viewpoint.

My problem with Chait's piece is that he takes mostly examples from academia and online journalism and blows them into a big ole problem of Mean Libruls hurting his feelings.

Exotic literary theories have no doubt produced some questionable scholarship and possibly some bad hiring decisions on university campuses. I was very impressed by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s book from the height of the "PC" bickering circa 1990, The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1992)." He even gives credit to some of Dinesh D'Sousa's complaints; this was before D'Sousa had become a complete crank and crook.

Julian Sanchez, Chait Speech 01/27/2015:

The mockery [of the kind of which Chait complains] makes a certain amount of sense if you read Chait’s essay as a straight white male’s “help, I’m being oppressed!”—a reading for which Chait, alas, provides some textual support whether or not it’s what he intended. For people accustomed to seeing their opinions greeted with everything from dismissive condescension to harassment and death threats, a successful writer complaining from a perch at New York magazine about his friends being “bludgeoned... into despondent silence” - because people are mean on social media — simply sounded whiny. Chait also moves a bit too seamlessly from real, honest-to-God censorship by public institutions to more informal social pressure in a way that makes it sound like he’s conflating them - claiming that criticism is somehow tantamount to censorship or repression.
Sanchez goes on with some general thoughts about the dangers of groupthink, though he doesn't use that term.

Scott Lemieux, Jon Chait’s Political Correctness LGM 01/27/2015:

Obviously, vandalism as a response to speech is illiberal and indefensible, but these isolated cases aren’t representative or defended by liberals of any influence or significance. His examples of behavior that’s more common, on the other hand, tend to be self-refuting calls for less or different speech. People expressing disagreement with who gets chosen to receive a hefty check to express platitudes before a captive audience, for example, are not actually attacking on free speech; they are engaging in it.
Belle Waring at Crooked Timber has a couple of posts on the Chait/PC issue, Jonathan Chait: Political Correctness Gone Mad OMG I’m Scared 01/29/2015 and But Wait ... There’s More! In the first, she comments, "98% of what people angrily claim is 'Political Correctness' is just manners. Politeness."

In the second, she notes that Chait and those who make similar complaints about the terrors of PC "think the fact that people can tweet snarky single-sentence takedowns of them is a bad development, and it was better for everyone when we would have had to wait till the next issue and see who made it into the Letters to the Editor."

Steve M, On "Political Correctness" and Kicking the Dog No More Mister Nice Blog 01/27/2015.

Political Correctness Is Not What You Think It Is The Rude Pundit 01/27/2015: "The Rude Pundit believes that you are not allowed to go through this life without being offended, probably on a daily basis." Also: "Chait locates much of the debate over political correctness on college campuses (although we don't really use the term 'politically correct' much anymore). And while the Rude Pundit agrees that many of the examples he cites are frustrating and, perhaps, oppressive, often the whole story has a great deal more to it."

As The Rude Pundit says, Jonathan Chait's kind of whines about PC-ism in academia and also primary public schools need to be viewed carefully.

Christian Right lawyers bring cases all the time against public schools about borderline cases where some school principal went overboard in banning students from wearing "I Love Jesus" buttons or something. Sometimes they have merit. Sometimes the ACLU joins in. But the fundis then try to turn those examples into evidence of their imaginary War On Christianity and their laughable claim that Christians are being systematically persecuted in the United States.

Academic disputes like those Chait references can also make interesting ACLU cases. But in terms of actual threats to free speech, a lot of those are very much gray areas, as well. Most colleges today wouldn't think of completely prohibiting any kind of political campaigning on campus. (The immediate issue that sparked the famous Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the 1960s.)

And most campuses wouldn't regard protesters coming into a classroom and shouting down the lecturer so that class couldn't take place as an acceptable exercise of free speech. Nor would they allow people to shout racial insults at each other during business hours, either in classes or offices . Between those extremes, gray areas happen. Is is a violation of a commencement speaker's rights if students complain that they would prefer that particular speaker not to be there? Especially given the kind of tuition and fees even students at public universities have to pay these days? I'm inclined to think not. But I haven't parsed all the relevant Supreme Court cases, either.

For Chait to try to blow this up into some kind of general complaint that the Mean Libruls have achieved such a stranglehold on every aspect of American culture that poor, shy reporters like Jonathan Chait are afraid to speak their minds is just too much to swallow. Here in the real world, Rush has been bellowing about the oppression he suffers from Political Correctness and feminazis for a quarter century now and making a lot of money doing so. And nobody has dropped a bag over his head and shipped him off to Guantanamo. The iron rule of the feminazis evidently isn't 100% in force yet.

This comment from Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber (Rules for Contrarians: 1. Don’t whine. That is all 10/22/2009) is also relevant to the discussion:

The whole idea of contrarianism is that you’re “attacking the conventional wisdom”, you’re “telling people that their most cherished beliefs are wrong”, you’re “turning the world upside down”. In other words, you’re setting out to annoy people. Now opinions may differ on whether this is a laudable thing to do – I think it’s fantastic – but if annoying people is what you’re trying to do, then you can hardly complain when annoying people is what you actually do. If you start a fight, you can hardly be surprised that you’re in a fight. It’s the definition of passive-aggression and really quite unseemly, to set out to provoke people, and then when they react passionately and defensively, to criticise them for not holding to your standards of a calm and rational debate. [my emphasis]

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The AMIA/Nisman issue in Argentina continues

Meir Margalit has a take on the role of conservative Jews in the current dispute over the AMIA case in Argentina and the suicide of prosecutor Alberto Nisman in Argentina’s Jews are serving the far right’s silent revolution Haaretz 01/27/2015:

About a week ago I wrote in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition that the murder of prosecutor Alberto Nisman reeked of a well-timed right-wing conspiracy, in cahoots with former police and army officials, to overthrow the government and destroy Argentina’s democracy, still weak after 30 years.

Indeed, as information leaks out, the conclusion that Argentina is undergoing an attempted revolution strengthens. This is an elegant, sophisticated and refined revolution. It’s being carried out not by tanks or attacks on the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s White House, but by stoking the kind of social and economic chaos that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973, which Naomi Klein described so well in her book “The Shock Doctrine.”

And here, amid all the commotion, smoke and disinformation, surfaces the Jewish connection — mainly because the affair revolves around the 1994 terror attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires — and the 85 victims who were buried underneath. Second, the journalist Damián Pachter who broke the news of Nisman’s death received death threats and fled to Israel, leaving behind a trail of speculation on his motives.

Worse still is the role the Jewish community is unwittingly playing in this despicable affair as it protests the deal Argentina signed with Iran in the attempt to absolve Tehran of responsibility for the terror attack. This deal is controversial and problematic no doubt, but it does not measure up to Israel’s arms deals with Argentina’s junta during the dictatorship launched in 1976. In the 1970s, the number of Jews murdered by the junta by Israeli-made arms was several times greater than the number of Jews later murdered by Tehran’s minions in Buenos Aires.

And the community doesn’t notice that the far right is latching onto the legitimate protest and building the revolution's foundations based on its criticism. Not only does this attempt not serve the Jews, but you don’t have to be a historian to know that it will target them sooner or later.

Nisman, who was murdered a week ago, is an example of the Jewish drama in Argentina. He was infected by the obsession with Iran that infected the entire community. He was nourished by materials that Israel gave him (according to the local media), and was used by the right wing to promote a revolution he probably never wanted. In the end, he paid with his life. [my emphasis]
I hadn't seen the reference to "materials that Israel gave him." I'm going to reserve judgment on that part until I see more.

In a recent statement on Nisman's case, the prosecutor investigating it, Viviana Fein, says that he did not suddenly cut his Madrid vacation to come back to Argentina to file his already-discredited report accusing President Cristina Fernández of trying to shield Iranian suspects in the Iranian case. (Fein: Nisman did not bring forward his return to Buenos Aires Buenos Aires Herald 01/28/2015):

Nisman interrupted the sweet fifteen celebration of one of his daughters in Europe and came back to Buenos Aires on January 12, in order to file his controversial accusation over a supposed impunity cover-up in the AMIA case.

“As regards whether Dr Nisman returned suddenly [to Argentina] buying a ticket form Madrid: no, Dr Nisman bought his return ticket from Buenos Aires on December 31. He did not change his ticket from Madrid,” State Prosecutor Fein told reporters today.
If this is the case, it removes one of the mysteries about Nisman's death.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

EU neoliberals bracing for a confrontation with pragmatic Keynesian economics

SYRIZA, the name of Greece's now-ruling party, is an abbreviation for "Coalition of the Radical Left." The most immediate kind of "radicalism" they are proposing has the EU's One Percent seriously worried: it's called basic Keynesian countercyclical policy, New Deal economics that in at least a mild form was accepted and practiced even by the Nixon Administration.

Compared to Angela Merkel's dominant Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning policies, it is radical. New Keynesian Paul Krugman even says, "If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough. Debt relief and an easing of austerity would reduce the economic pain, but it’s doubtful whether they are sufficient to produce a strong recovery. On the other hand, it’s not clear what more any Greek government can do unless it’s prepared to abandon the euro, and the Greek public isn’t ready for that." (Ending Greece’s Nightmare New York Times 01/25/2015)

A sign of where Tsipras intends to go is his appointment of economist Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister. He has been making his views of Greece's economy and the EU's policy well known for years, including at his own blog: And in a post today, he says he will keep blogging there occasionally, "even though it is normally considered irresponsible for a Finance Minister to indulge in such crass forms of communication." He is the author of the excellent book, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy (2013, 2nd edition) and co-author of the textbook, Modern Political Economics: Making Sense of the Post-2008 World (2011). It's reasonable to guess that Angela Merkel is not happy about this development. Not like the good old days of 2011 where she could just install her own government in Greece.

Euronews reports, New Greek government unveiled with radical economists in top posts 01/27/2015:

That report ends with a comment about "who will blink first," which sounds like the kind of metaphorical framing for a negotiation that our American Pod Pundits love. And, of course, it turns a complicated process into cheap personal melodrama.

Obviously, Merkel and other supporters of Hoover/Brüning economics hope that Alexis Tsipras' new government will just knuckle under to Merkel's orders. Christos Katsioulis in Ein demokratischer Weckruf für Europa Die Zeit 26.01.2015 phrases this hope as calming advice to the Hoover/Brüning dogmatists:

Alexis Tsipras wäre nicht der erste Politiker, der eine Wahl mit großen Versprechen gewinnt und danach erst prüft, welche davon er einhalten kann: Ein ausgeglichener Haushalt und gleichzeitig ein effektives Sozialprogramm für die Ärmsten des Landes? Das Ende der Zusammenarbeit mit der Troika und gleichzeitig der Verbleib Griechenlands in der Eurozone? Eine substanzielle Reduktion des griechischen Schuldenberges, ohne dass dabei den anderen Euro-Staaten, die 80 Prozent davon halten, Verluste entstehen?

[Alexis Tsipras would not be the first politician who won an election with big promises and only afterwards considers which of them he can fulfill: A balanced budget and at the same time and effective social program for the poorest of the country? The end of working with the Troika and at the same time Greece remaining in the eurozone? A substantial reduction of Greece's mountain of debt, without other euro states, who hold 80% of it, to take losses?]

Presumably we readers are supposed to cynically smirk at the impossibility of it all. It should be a clue about to whom he's pitching this when he describes critical measures to combat a devastating depression as a "social program for the poorest of the country." A good conservative will read that as "welfare for undeserving lazy people."

But the questions themselves make SYRIZA's program look ridiculous only if the reader ignores basic macroeconomics. There's no good reason that Greece should be running with a balanced budget, much less the primary surplus that they currently have, during the severe depression that has been going on there for years. On the contrary, it's a sign of how irresponsible the Merkel/Hoover/Brüning policies have been. Oh, and they've caused the country's GDP to keep shrinking rather than produce the recovery their advocates claimed they would. If anything, it was the advocates of Angie-nomics that were coldly cynical about those claims.

As the Shrill One (Krugman) points out in Greece: Think Flows, Not Stocks 01/26/2015, what Greece itself needs is not deficit spending as such, but the ability to use their primary surplus for economic stimulus instead of transferring it to creditors. It's the eurozone as a whole, especially Germany, that should be running national budget deficits to provide stimulus to the eurozone economy.

As Krugman puts it, "issues of debt relief" in the case of Greece right now "are in large part arguments about accounting fiction, the question of how large a primary surplus Greece runs is real and has powerful implications for the economic outlook. Keep your eyes on that ball."

Greece can certainly remain in the eurozone and work with the Troika (EU, ECB, IMF) if the Troika agrees to reasonable policies that don't condemn Greece (and, not incidentally, the eurozone as a whole) to depression and deflation indefinitely. And this is actually a major element in Greece's bargaining power. They are not trying to leave the eurozone. And if Merkel winds up in the position of forcing them out, the eurozone and the EU could fall apart quickly. Merkel's supporters and the Angiebots of the German press like to picture here as ruling with calm and prudence. But she has really been running high-risk policies that have Germany riding a tiger. It's a testimony to the power of the appeal of "Europe" and to the brutally constraining effects of a common currency in a poorly-constructed currency zone that she's been able to pull it off for this long.

And whoever suggested that Greece could achieve the kind of debt haircut required without other public holders of Greek bonds (which includes the ECB) without other states and/or the ECB taking losses? Certainly not SYRIZA. On the contrary, Tsipras has suggested that the ECB should take the bulk of the losses.

Florian Diekmann spins out a version of this hope in Griechenland und der Euro: Tsipras und die drei Szenarien Spiegel Online 26.01.2015. He sees one option, that Tsipras' plans go well, as "extrem unwahrscheinlich" ("extermely unlikely"). Apparently because an economist from Barenberg Bank told him so. Awesome.

Diekmann regards a "Grexit" (Greek exit out of the eurozone) as a "horror scenario." He sees it as mainly a problem for Greece, which it would no doubt be in the short run. He does note, though, that Germany could be on the hook in losing €65 billion on Greek bonds it holds.

Diekmann sees further muddling along, i.e., Greece continuing with the austericide policies, as the most likely option. It will be too bad for Tsipras, he notes, but what can they do? The implication is that Merkel has Greece trapped and they have no choice but to do what Merkel dictates.

Severin Weiland, apparently doing simple stenography for Merkel's government, writes in Nach Griechenland-Wahl: Neuer Schuldenschnitt? Nicht mit Merkel Spiegel Online 27.01.2015, "Athen hat keine wirklichen Druckmittel" ("Athens has no real means of pressure") to bring against Merkel (bold in original). This is negotiating bluff. According to Weiland's stenography, Merkel will not allow a further debt haircut. Not least of the reasons, is that pro-austerity governments are up for election this year in Portugal and Spain. Frau Fritz doesn't want those silly voters in Portugal and Spain to get the idea they can defy her mighty will. And, as he notes, her loyal junior coalition partners in the SPD are backing her up. Vice Chancellor and SPD leader Sigmar "Sigi Pop" Gabriel says Greece has to stick with its debt and with the austericide program. (Syriza-Sieg: Eurostaaten warnen Griechenland Spiegel Online 26.01.2015)

Since I'm quoting so much from Spiegel Online here, I might as well throw in that their regular conservative-twit columnist Jan Fleischhauer sniffs that Greece is obviously a big Kindergarten, because their voters foolishly defied Frau Fritz and the mighty Germans last Sunday. They live in a "childish imaginary world" with "imaginary friends and enemies." He dismisses the new Greek government as Communist, apparently not having checked the news in Spiegel that the Communist Party is not part of the government. But he means Communist as in FOXSpeak, where it simply means "something we don't like." SYRIZA is just a bunch of "Trotzkisten, orthodoxen Stalinisten und versprengten Anarchisten" ("Trotskyists, orthodox Stalinists and scattered anarchists").

That is how basic, bonehead Keynesian macroeconomics looks to a professional German conservative twit. Going to Dr. Krugman again (The Greek Stand-By Arrangement 01/25/2015):

In the spring of 2010 both the ECB and the European Commission bought fully into expansionary austerity; slashing spending wasn’t going to hurt the Greek economy, because the confidence fairy would come to the rescue. The IMF never went all the way there, but it used an unrealistically low multiplier, which it arrived at by looking at historical examples of austerity while ignoring the difference in monetary conditions.

The thing is, we now have essentially the same people who so totally misjudged the impacts of austerity lecturing the Greeks on the need to be realistic.
But Jänchen Fleischhauer thinks it's the people trying to apply basic depression macroeconomics, as opposed to the demonstrably failed Merkel/Hoover/Brüning approach.

Monday, January 26, 2015

IMF chief Legarde takes a hard line publicly on Greek debt

The IMF's Managing Director Christine Lagarde recentlyt took a public stance against a debt conference over the Greek debt (Simon Carswell, Christine Lagarde gives cool response to EU debt summit idea Irish Times 01/19/2015:

“As a principle, collective endeavours are welcome but at the same time a debt is a debt and it is a contract,” she told The Irish Times. “Defaulting, restructuring, changing the terms has consequences on the signature and the confidence in the signature.” ...

“As a principle, collective endeavours are welcome but at the same time a debt is a debt and it is a contract,” she told The Irish Times.

“Defaulting, restructuring, changing the terms has consequences on the signature and the confidence in the signature.”
The accompanying video shows her talking about the need for "infrastructure" spending in the EU. But she clearly still worships at the altar of neoliberal "structural reforms."

Cristina's cleaning house at the intelligence services

The latest in the chain of events that begin with a preposterous charge by prosecutor Alberto Nisman against Argentine President Cristina Fernández and continued with the apparent suicide of Nisman is now continuing with Cristina (CFK) atempting a drastic reorganization of the intelligence service: Cristina anunció la disolución de la Secretaría de Inteligencia, ex SIDE, y el envío de un proyecto de ley de creación de una nueva Agencia Federal de Inteligencia, que se tratará en sesiones extraordinarias Página/12 26.01.2015.

Short version: CFK has had it with the intelligence services who have kept people in positions of authority who have been around since the military dictatorship of 1976-83 and whose commitment to democracy and the rule of law are questionable.

In particular, she expects to get some definitive answers on the AMIA terrorism case in 1994.

The Buenos Aires Herald reports in CFK announces plan to dissolve SI intelligence service 01/26/2015:

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has announced that a bill will be sent to Congress ordering the dissolution of the Intelligence Secretariat (SI), calling both parliamentary chambers to special sessions on February 1 to discuss the proposal.

In its place, CFK asserted, a new Federal Intelligence Agency would be created. In the new structure, both the director and deputy director would have to be designated and passed by the Senate, she explained in a television broadcast transmitted across the nation this evening. ...

The head of state asserted that from the moment the [2013] Memorandum of Understanding with Iran over the AMIA bombings in 1994 was signed, "you could see that the agreement was being bombarded from the SIDE [intelligence service]".

"From there even the most unlikely accusations against this President were intensified. They started to occur at a dizzying pace," she added, stating that the manoeuvre included "groups of prosecutors, groups of judges, anonymous accusers and journalists who spread them."

"This led me to the decision to remove agents that had been there since before the coming of democracy." [my emphasis]
She presented the proposal in an address to the nation, her first since the death of Nisman, 26 de ENE. Envio al Congreso Ley de creación de Agencia Federal de Inteligencia. Cristina Kirchner. Casa Rosada 26.01.2015:

Federico Poore also writes about the proposed intelligence reforms in Long-overdue reform faces key obstacles Buenos Aires Herald 01/27/2015:

It was Juan Domingo Perón who created the relatively small State Intelligence Coordination (CIDE), but dictators Pedro Aramburu — head of the “Revolución Libertadora,” the military government that overthrew Perón in 1955 — and Juan Carlos Onganía expanded its objectives and personnel, renaming it the State Intelligence Secretariat (creating the now-famous acronym SIDE), a structure that lasted until 2001.

Canelo, one of the country’s foremost experts on military issues, said the turning point was the 1976 coup d’état, after which the spy agency became one of the major limbs of the repressive regime led by Jorge Rafael Videla.

When democracy returned to the country and Raúl Alfonsín took office in 1983 there was an authoritarian character to much of the intelligence arm of the government.
Poore also takes note of the ugly role at least part of the intelligence service played in the AMIA case:

The intelligence system during the conservative government of Peronist leader Carlos Menem was further damaged by the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre as the SIDE played a major role in the cover-up of the case, said Paula Litvachky, director of the justice and security area of the CELS human rights organization.

Former car dealer Carlos Telleldín was illegally paid US$400,000 by former federal judge Juan José Galeano to provide a false statement to implicate Buenos Aires province policemen in the attack — money that came directly from the SIDE coffers.

“In the AMIA case this was pretty clear, when we note the relationship between special prosecutor Alberto Nisman and some areas of the Intelligence Secretariat. The very Judge (Rodolfo) Canicoba Corral talked about these ties,” Litvachky added.
Poore also comments on divisions within the Argentine intelligence community that have been very much a part of the public discussion the last two weeks since Nisman's charges against CFK:

The ADC expert [Ramiro Álvarez Ugarte of the Association for Civil Rights] brought up the issue of the internal intelligence rift, that not only includes veteran spy Antonio “Jaime” Stiusso, a high-ranking intelligence official who has outlasted all the administrations since the early 1970s — including 12 years of Kirchnerite governments.

This battle also involves Army Chief César Milani, a former head of military intelligence, who’s reportedly more trusted by the president than the SI itself. It may also explain the intelligence shake-up of last December, when SI’s chief Héctor Icazuriaga and his number two, Francisco Larcher lost their positions.
Cristina is a fighter. Faced with a major smear campaign that she believes, obviously with good reason, is being conducted with significant participation from rogue intelligence officials (and possibly former officials), she has counterattacked with a new proposal to clean up the Intelligence Secretariat (SI).

SYRIZA makes a governing coalition in Greece/Alexis Tsipras sworn in as Prime Minister

Alexis Tsipras is the new Prime Minister of Greece in a coalition with the Greek Independents (ANEL), which has taken "rightwing populist" positions which on some issues are very distinct from those of SYRIZA.

Tsipras doesn't wear a tie in his public appearances, even at his searing-in as Prime Minister. It's not because he's a hippie throwback. It's because he's pledged not to wear a tie until Greece has achieved a reduction in its sovereign debt. (Sebastian Gierke, "O Alexis" - Ein Revoluzzer triumphiert Süddeutsche Zeitung 26.01.2015) It's kind of like Johnny Cash dressing in black.

This is a Euronews report on SYRIZA's win, Greece's Syriza juggling the promises it made 01/26/2015:

Spiegel Online describes the junior coalition party, ANEL, this way (Parlamentswahl in Griechenland: Die Ergebnisse im Überblick 25.11.2015):

Die Führung der rechtspopulistischen Partei, einer Abspaltung der konservativen Nea Dimokratia, sieht das Land "besetzt" von den Geldgebern. Daher müsse Griechenland "befreit" werden. Athen sollte keine Schulden zurückzahlen.

[The leadership of the rightwing populist party, a split from the conservative New Democracy {ND had the outgoing Prime Minister}, sees the country "occupied" by the money lenders. Greece has to be "liberated" from them. Athens shouldn't pay back any of its debts.]
To be clear: this is not the more-or-less overtly neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn that we've heard so much about in the press. Golden Dawn came in third on Sunday with 6% of the vote but lost a Parliamentary seat and about half a percentage point from the 2012 election. (For the vote and Parliamentary seat percentages, I'm relying here on the Spiegel article just linked from around 9:00PM on Sunday.)

Parliament has 300 seats and SYRIZA fell two seats short of a majority with 149. ANEL brings 13 seats, so they will be very much a junior coalition partner.

It's not surprising that SYRIZA would not form a coalition with either of the two parties that formed the outgoing government: New Democracy (conservative; 76 seats) and PASOK (social democratic; 13 seats). Golden Dawn (17 seats) was out of the question because of their anti-democracy politics. To Potami (17 seats), a party with a reputation as pro-European technocrats and the Communist Party (KKE; 15 seats) were the only two other possible coalition partners.

Eleni Chrepa in Greece’s Political Parties: a Brief Guide to Who’s Who Yahoo! Finance/Bloomberg News 01/24/2015 describes Potami this way:

Founded in February 2014, To Potami illustrates the fracturing of the Greek political landscape that has accompanied the upheaval in society caused by economic recession and record unemployment. Led by Stavros Theodorakis, a former journalist born in 1963, To Potami, or "The River," has a shot at power less than a year after its formation. Theodorakis has pledged to focus on social policy and relief for those on lower incomes and to keep the country within the euro area. To Potami says it would cooperate with either Syriza or New Democracy to form a coalition government and secure stability for the country.
Chrepa's description for the KKE:

Led by Dimitris Koutsoubas, 59, who replaced Aleka Papariga in 2013, KKE is the oldest political party in Greece, founded in 1918. KKE is opposed to the austerity measures and bailout terms. It wants Greece to leave the euro area, the EU and other international institutions. Koutsoubas, whose party took 4.5 percent of the vote in the June 2012 elections, has ruled out participating in a coalition with any of the parties.
I'm guessing that the fact that Potami was a new party combined with their expressed willingness to make a coalition with the leading pro-austerity party, New Democracy, largely ruled them out for a coalition that will have to confront heavy-handed German pressure from Day 1.

The KKE seems to be in a sectarian mode and they were flatly ruling out a coalition. That pretty much left ANEL, whose priorities seem very similar to SYRIZA's on staying in the EU and the eurozone while renegotiating the debt. The fact that ANEL was calling for 100% debt relief may strenthen Tsipras' hand in the negotiations. Chrepa desribes ANEL this way: "Led by Panos Kammenos, 49, Independent Greeks is an anti-bailout party created in 2012. The party has said Greece should renounce its debt and tear up the bailout agreement, all while staying within the euro area. Kammenos, a former New Democracy lawmaker, has said he is willing to cooperate with Syriza to form a coalition government."

With 13 seats to SYRIZA's 149, ANEL will be very much a junior partner. As David Böcking und Giorgos Christides explain in Neue Regierung in Griechenland: Ein schräges Paar Spiegel Online 26.01.2015, SYRIZA and ANEL have very different positions on immigration, the establishment of religion (SYRIZA wants to reduce the formal role of the Greek Orthodox Church), tax policy and their general expressed attitudes toward the One Percent. ANEL leader Kammenos is a former Deputy Minister of Shipping who is presumed to be friendly toward the shipping industry.

Joe Stiglitz talked about Greece's situation on Monday on CNBC: Matthew Belvedere, Nobel winner: Germany's the problem, not Greece 01/26/2015. Joe Stiglitz on Greece's situation. This is from CNBC, and It was kind of an unusual moment for CNBC. Of the three interviewers quizzing Stiglitz, only two seem to be clueless on the subject they are discussing.

Another Nobel laureate economist and public intellectual, Paul Krugman, also looks at Greece today and compares it's actual economic performance under austerity to that predicted by the Troika that imposed it in 2010. In Ending Greece’s Nightmare New York Times 01/25/2015, he writes:

So now that Mr. Tsipras has won, and won big, European officials would be well advised to skip the lectures calling on him to act responsibly and to go along with their program. The fact is they have no credibility; the program they imposed on Greece never made sense. It had no chance of working.

If anything, the problem with Syriza’s plans may be that they’re not radical enough. Debt relief and an easing of austerity would reduce the economic pain, but it’s doubtful whether they are sufficient to produce a strong recovery. On the other hand, it’s not clear what more any Greek government can do unless it’s prepared to abandon the euro, and the Greek public isn’t ready for that.
The last comment indicates to me that Krugman may not have a good understanding of SYRIZA's position on renegotiating its agreements with the Troika. Greece's negotiating strength is based on the fact that they can put Merkel and Germany in the position of forcing their exit rather than triggering it themselves. They have good reason to believe, and this is their public position, that Greece is better off in the eurozone and the EU than outside. If they can't reach an agreement with Germany, and Germany convinces the EU to expel Greece, and a precedent for a country exiting the euro will be set. In itself, that won't force any other countries to leave. But Merkel has to fear that it will create a rush for the exit among other periphery countries.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

SYRIZA wins Greek election

The pro-EU, anti-austerity SYRIZA party headed by Alexis Tsipras won the Greek election on Sunday.

The Greek Parliament has 300 seats, so a majority of at least 151 is needed to form a government. As of this writing, SYRIZA has 149 seats. (Parlamentswahl in Griechenland: Die Ergebnisse im Überblick Spiegel Online 25.01.2015)

Angela Merkel had a very, very bad day on Sunday.

Tony Barber and Kerin Hope report for the Financial Times (Syriza win throws down challenge to Europe 01/25/2015):

With 80 per cent of votes counted, Syriza led New Democrcy [sic], the ruling centre-right party, by 36.2 per cent to 28.0 per cent, giving Syriza a projected 149 seats — two short of an absolute majority. The far-right Golden Dawn party was third with 6.3 per cent, and the centre-left To Potami (“The River”) fourth with 6 per cent.

A Syriza government free of the need for coalition allies would strengthen the leverage of the party’s militant far-left wing — and see the eurozone’s most explicitly anti-austerity government in power since the financial crisis erupted in 2008. Led by Alexis Tsipras, the party’s 40-year-old leader, it would also give Greece one of the most leftwing governments seen in a European democracy since the second world war.

The Syriza leader said on Sunday evening: “Greece is turning a page, it’s leaving behind five years of humiliation and misery … We are putting together a government of social deliverance to carry out our programme and negotiate with Europe.”
Their first task will be to form a government. Their first major challenge is expected to be renegotiating their financial agreements with the Troika (EU, ECB IMF) - or, in short, Angela Merkel.

The left parties in Spain, of which the biggest in terms of public support in opinion polls at the moment is Podemos, are celebrating SYRIZA' win. Podemos' Secretary General Pablo Iglesias, Prime Minister candidate Alberto Garzón of Izquierda Unida (IU) and National Coordinator Joan Herrera of Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (ICV) all applauded the victory of Tsipras and SYRIZA in Greece. (La izquierda espera la derrota de la troika también en España tras el giro en Grecia Público 26.01.2015)

Spain has a series of municipal, autonomous and national parliamentary elections, though the latter could be postponed until January of 2016. (El calendario electoral de 2015 El Mundo 15.01.2015) One of the most interesting developments to watch in Spanish politics is whether the social-democratic party, the PSOE, will abandon austerity policies and position itself as a potential junior partner to Podemos.

Economist Yanis Varoufakis, who is presumably now a Member of the Greek Parliament on the SYRIZA ticket and possibly a senior economic official in a new government, discusses one of the negotiating points for the upcoming diplomatic battle with Merkel and Germany: a never-repaid loan the German occupation authorities took from the Greek central bank during the Second World War. He explains in Biblical economics leave everybody blind and toothless – Interviewed by Johanna Jaufer 01/25/2015 (interviewer questions in bold as in original):

Something that has been brought up quite a few times in Germany and in Austria as well, is the thing about the reparation payments – because Germany had been chickening out of paying proper reparations after World War 2 – how, in your opinion, did that happen? Was it because they said „oh, Germany is split, we will wait until it will be reunited again“, or was it also the Americans saying „ah, now we need Germany to build our military bases as well, so we will let you off the hook“ – or was it a combination?

It was a combination. Back in the 1940s, the Allies had decided to turn Germany into a peasant country again. They were about to dismantle 700 industrial plants and it was the Americans who stopped that plan – so, they did destroy 700, but then they changed their mind. They changed their mind for reasons that had to do with the way that the United States was designing global capitalism and they needed a strong currency in Europe and a strong currency in Asia – it was going to be the Deutsche Mark and the Yen – and the whole of the European union project was built around that plan. We in Europe like to think that the European union was our own creation. It wasn’t. It was an American design which then we adopted and which of course was consistent with what we wanted, our aspirations. Part of that design meant bolstering the German economy, bringing it out of depression, bringing it out of the mire in which it found itself in the 40s, and, as always, one important component of such an attempt to revive an economy includes debt relief, a serious haircut of debt, debt write off. So in 1953 there was the debt conference in London which savagely cut the debt of Germany to many nations including Greece. But Greece is a special case, because there was another debt that Germany didn’t have to any other country, because in 1943, the Kommandantur here in Athens imposed upon the Bank of Greece a deal according to which the Bank of Greece will print a lot of Drachmes – war time Drachmes – and provide them to the German authorities so the German authorities could buy materials and finance their war efforts and stock up on agricultural goods for the Wehrmacht and so on. But interestingly, the German authorities wrote a contract up. So they actually wrote down the sum of money that they borrowed. They promised to pay interest. So it was a formal loan. The document exists until this day in the (Central) Bank of Greece. That never happened with any other country. So, this is like an official debt, like in a bond, of the wartime German Nazi state towards Greece.

You can really trace it down to exact numbers?

Exact numbers. Of course, the difficulty is to translate that wartime currency which became absolutely inflationary very soon because so many Drachmes were printed. So, effectively, the German authorities, buy accepting that loan from the Bank of Greece, debased the currency, and that had secondary huge social costs throughout Greece. So, it is very difficult to compute exactly what this loan means in today’s terms, how do you compound the interest, how do you convert, how do you count the cost of the hyper-inflation that was created. I mean, supposedly, our German friends are very sensitive to hyper-inflation, so they should understand that their own authorities created one in Greece as a result of that debt. My view is that we are partners, we should stop moralizing, we should stop pointing fingers at each other. Biblical economics, „an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth“, leave everybody blind and toothless. We should simply sit down in exact the same spirit as the United States sat down in 1953 and didn’t ask the question, „do the Germans deserve to be punished?“, „is it guilt or is it sin?“, whereas debt, I know that in German there is a conflation of these words – it’s the same word, sin and debt – as opposed to credit, for instance. We should just ask the very simple question, „how can we render the Greek social economy sustainable again so that the costs to the average German, to the average Austrian, to the average European, of the Greek crisis are minimized. [my emphasis in italics]
This is going to be an exceptionally interesting week in European politics.

Merkel can bring a lot of pressure to bear against Greece. But at the same time, she's walking a tightrope. And Greece has plenty of leverage if they are willing to insist on their position. In political terms, Merkel has far more to lose than Tsipras and SYRIZA.

SYRIZA's election victory in itself is blow against neoliberalism and specifically against Merkel's cruel and destructive Herber Hoover/Heinrich Brüning version of it. The coming weeks and months will determine how effective a challenge it is.

Chief editor Michael Bröcker of the Rheinische Post writes about the challenge facing Merkel in Wahlerfolg von Syriza: Wir müssen sparen für Griechenland 25.01.2015. He recognizes that Greece has disproportionate bargaining power in this situation. But he doesn't seem to be so happy about it: "Deutschland sollte anfangen, Geld für die Griechenland-Rettung auf die Seite zu legen. Viel Geld." ("Germany will have to start putting aside money for the Greek rescue. A lot of money.")

A lot of Europeans in the eurozone periphery countries would no doubt feel a lot like this hearing Bröcker's lament:

The Guardian headlined their story by Ian Traynor on the election results, Syriza’s historic win puts Greece on collision course with Europe 01/25/2015:

The damning popular verdict on Europe’s response to financial meltdown is a haunting outcome for the EU’s political elite. For the first time, power has been handed to populist outsiders deeply opposed to Brussels and Berlin, albeit not anti-European, unlike their counterparts on the far right across the EU. For the first time a child of the European crisis, an explicitly anti-austerity party, will take office in the EU. ...

The result throws into question whether Greece will remain in the eurozone and the union overall, sets a precedent for anti-austerity insurgents elsewhere in Europe – notably in Spain, which will hold elections this year – and underlines public rejection of the policies prescribed mainly if not exclusively by Berlin in recent years.

Tsipras now holds Greece’s European fate in his hands. ...

Neither side wants Greece to crash out of the currency. But positions are very far apart, and currently unbridgeable. While the German central bank promptly declared that Greece needed more loans but only on eurozone terms, senior Syriza figures announced that the bailout diktat was “dead”.

“Grexit is unthinkable,” said a second senior Brussels policymaker involved in the negotiations. “It would be extremely bad. Europe is about irreversibility. If you start doubting that, you start pricing in the risk of fragmentation and soon you have no monetary union. The only chance of Grexit is if Greece defaults on its payments. Morally, that would be saying they want to leave.” A default would trigger a run on the banks, capital flight and capital controls. [my emphasis]
That calculation about "irreversibility" and what a default would trigger are what gives Greece such outsized bargaining power in this situation.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dramatic Political Intrigue in Argentina

This story involves a crime of more than 20 years ago, the still-unsolved bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, has spawned a present-day death that is maybe suicide, maybe murder and a big national political scandal. It's like a "Mission Impossible" plot with a dose of Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe thrown in.

It's also shown again that the reporting spirit of Jeff Gerth and Judith Miller hasn't been exorcised from the New York Times yet, where they've covered it with this-side-says, the-other-side-says stenography.

Alberto Nisman had been the lead prosecutor working on the AMIA case since 2004. Last week, he broke off an overseas family vacation early to rush back to Buenos Aires and file a 290-page report with the judge in the case accusing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK for short) and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of having conducted a "criminal plan" to cover up the culpability of Iranian citizens suspected of being involved in the deadly AMIA bombing. The full report is available online.

Nisman was set to testify about his charges on Monday to a group of opposition Members of the Argentine Congress.

On Sunday night, he turned up dead in his apartment. (One report said his body was found early Monday; in a case like this, people obsess over details.)

It initially looked like a suicide. He was in his own apartment that was guarded by high security measures, both electronic and human. He had asked an associate the day before to bring him a .22 pistol, which he appears to have used to shoot himself in the head. No suicide note found so far. No powder residue on his trigger hand in the first forensic test. Argentine journalist and human rights activist Horacio Verbitsky noted that on its face, the death was reminiscent of the plot in Poe's 1841 story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." (La dudosa muerte del fiscal Página/12 20.01.2015)

One plausible motive for suicide might be that Nisman's case was visibly coming apart almost as soon as he filed it with the judge, who noted that it was unusual for a prosecutor to file such a document without supporting documentary evidence. The key element of the alleged "criminal plan" was that CFK and Timerman supposedly pressed Interpol to drop the "red alerts" it had out for several of the Iranian suspects. But there was the inconvenient fact that the red alerts are still in place.

When you go after a country's President on a criminal charge, it's generally advisable to have your ducks lined up and a plausible case to present. Somebody clearly didn't do their homework on this one. Ronald Noble, the American who was Secretary General of Interpol from 2000-2014, which included the time in question, flatly rejected Nisman's charges in public last week, saying the prosecutor's charges were false, that CFK's government had not asked for the red alerts to be dropped. Other parts of the Nisman's case in his report seem to be falling apart by the day still. (Raúl Kollmann, “Lo que dice Nisman es falso” Página/12 18.01.2015) So on Sunday, Nisman surely knew that he could be looking at a major career setback, and maybe even criminal charges for abuse of office.

Cristina suggested in an official statement Tuesday that the death may have been a suicide. (AMIA. Otra vez: tragedia, confusión, mentira e interrogantes. 19.01.2015) This may seem to be unusual for a President to comment on an unsolved case. But when a prosecutor is going after the President, clearly actively supported by opposition politics parties and the press (particularly Clarín and La Nación), everything gets political. Opposition politicians and demonstrators were suggesting right away that CFK had him murdered. So her supporters were careful to point out the possible reasons for suicide. Although, as Verbitsky noted in his article and a TV appearance Tuesday, there have been other cases, not just in detective fiction, when what initially looked like suicide clearly turned out to be something else.

The larger background includes the fact that CFK has recently been making high-level changes in the national security service, the Secretaría de Inteligencia (SI; formerly SIDE). There are still holdovers in the SI from the days of the brutal military dictatorship of 1976-83. It has been a hallmark of CFK's administration since she took office in 2007, and of that of her predecessor and late husband Néstor Kirchner who was elected President in 2003, to prosecute officials high and from the dictatorship who broke the law by torturing and murdering people during their rule. Yes, in a "backward Third World" country like Argentina, they actually prosecute public officials who commit violent felonies during their service.

So for anyone, in the SI or elsewhere, who remembers the days of 1973-86 fondly or who still has dirty laundry from that period they want to keep hidden, they have no love for CFK. She was a human rights attorney who represented victims of repression during the dictatorship. Néstor was thrown in prison during that time. Her political career actually preceded his, and she is the first elected female President in South America. Néstor was the one who appointed Nisman to be the lead prosecutor in the AMIA case in 2004.

Then there's the AMIA case itself. Whenever it's referred to in the US press, it's typically mentioned as an unquestioned case of Iran showing its capability of committing major terrorist acts far away from Iran. But the case has never actually been solved. That hasn't stopped people from become committed to the notion of Iran's culpability. However, Nisman himself had brought a case that is scheduled to come to trial soon against former President Carlos Menem and two officials from his government at the time of the attack on charges of obstructing justice in the case to protect some of their cronies. One of the Wikileaks revelations showed that in 2008, the American Embassy pressured CFK's government and Nisman's office, unsuccessfully, to not bring those charges. Presumably because the Bush-Cheney Administration didn't want to dilute the notion that Iran was definitely behind the AMIA attack. (BTW, if we're picking conspiracy theories, I would nominate Dick Cheney as the chief culprit in Nisman's death!)

The obstruction case against Menem also suggests a possible Syrian connection. And maybe even local complicity, as in SIDE officials who may have known of the attack but decided to let it proceed, for whatever reason. Money can always be a motive in these things. But the military dictatorship also promoted some pretty rancid anti-Semitic ideology, so that could theoretically have been a motive for domestic Argentine participation.

Long experience has shown that official secrecy is typically used to cover incompetence. But there is also reason to believe that current and former SI officials may still have things they want to cover up in the AMIA case and its aftermath. it doesn't hurt CFK's effort to reform the SI if old officials wind up looking bad, or downright criminal, in the AMIA case. Nisman's formal accusation against her last week claimed that she was trying to cover for Iranian suspects and falsely point the finger at domestic Argentine suspects. Which, if you are an SI person with something to hide, would be helpful for the public to believe.

So this plot has been thickening for over 20 years now. Against that background, it makes sense that CFK's supporters and some journalists have been saying that Nisman's report reeked of something cooked up by anti-CFK SI types who have been on the losing side of recent changes.

It looks entirely plausible to me at this point that what happened was that some combination of opposition officials persuaded Nisman to put out this report. Anyone familiar with the history of the infamous American special prosecutor Kenn Starr and his collaboration with Republican smear artists in Whitewater investigation against the Clintons will find it easy to picture how this might work. Also in this scenario, Nisman's rushing back from vacation seems significant. The opposition was denouncing CFK, not unlike FOX News was attacking President Obama, for somehow not expressing sufficient outrage over the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris. The now bitterly oppositional Clarín claimed that CFK had ordered Timerman not to participate in the famous Paris solidarity demonstration.

The timing of the Nisman report fit nicely in this timeline, because the day after that claim, "Clarín" could head the charges that CFK and Timerman would allegedly covering for Iranian terrorist in the AMIA case. Cristina took the unusual step of showing three successive days of "Clarín" front pages in her first formal statement after Nisman's death to illustrate that point.

Now, she is publicly saying she thinks Nisman was murdered. Again, it's unusual. But her opposition has been playing a high-stakes game the last several days. And Cristina's not one to imagine that she can easily convince people who hate her guts to be "bipartisan." She's a very experienced politician and a fighter.

Meanwhile, at the US Paper of Record, the New York Times, the editorial board has been conjuring the journalistic spirits of Jeff Gerth and Judith Miller, writing (Suspicious Death in Argentina 01/21/2015):

Ms. Kirchner, a pugnacious stateswoman who has been vindictive toward enemies in the press and politics, weighed in on the case in a lengthy, rambling statement posted on her personal website late Monday. ... Missing from her note was a message of condolence for Mr. Nisman’s family. But the most glaring omission is the fact that the manner of death is far from a settled question.
Jonathan Gilbert and Rick Gladstone, communing with the same specters, uncritcally passed on sleazy opposition speculation (In a Reversal, Argentine President Says Prosecutor’s Death Was Not a Suicide 01/22/2015):

News of his death, just hours before that widely anticipated testimony, stunned Argentina and immediately raised suspicions of a political cover-up to protect the president.

Thousands of Argentines took to the streets after Mr. Nisman’s death was announced, not only to show their anger at the unsolved bombing, which is widely considered a national disgrace, but to demand a full and transparent investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death.
As the columnist Charlie Pierce sometimes says: Honky, please.

CFK has good points and bad points, like any politician. And like any politician, her supporters would describe those differently than her opponents.

But these credulous NYT articles don't explain they key fact that she's been in office since 2007 and has served as a national senator for much longer. There has been no evidence, none, zero, zip, nada, that she's been running a death squad whacking her opponents. The bodies of her critics have not been turning up on the side of the road dispatched by persons unknown. So far as I know, Nisman's death is the first such occurrence that the opposition has even tried to spin into such a thing, again with no evidence at all. Even if you try to frame the circumstances of Nisman's death as a motive for CFK, it still doesn't make any sense. The guy was facing public disgrace, his charges were disintegrating in front of his eyes, it was shaping up to be a career- and life-ruining experience for him and a huge black eye for the opposition. Even if you imagine CFK to be José Lopez Rega in drag (he was a notorious Argentine death squad commander decades ago), why would she have a guy whacked who was doing more to discredit the opposition than she could do herself?

It looks to me that there is way more circumstantial evidence of Dick Cheney being being Nisman's death. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

More on Alberto Nisman's death

The death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman in an apparent suicide will, among other things, bring new focus to the AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing case from 1994.

It's still early in the investigation of Nisman's death on Sunday. The indications available in the public record at this point strongly indicate suicide. As of the last report I saw, there has been no suicide note or message found.

This is a guide to recent events in the Nisman case, Five key days: from accusations to tragedy Buenos Aires Herald 01/20/2015

Horacio Verbitsky discusses various aspects of the case here, La dudosa muerte del fiscal Página/12 20.01.2015.

He also appeared on TV Pública argentina to discuss Nisman's death, Visión 7-Verbitsky: "Hay una relación promiscua entre jueces y servicios de inteligencia" 19.01.2015:

And a second piece with Verbitsky, Visión 7 - Horacio Verbitsky sobre la muerte de Nisman 20.01.2015

Verbitsky cautions against jumping to quick conclusions about whether this was a suicide or not.

The Centro de Información Judicial (CIJ) has made Nisman's report with his accusations against President Cristina Fernández, her Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and three other politicians associated with Cristina's Peronist party available for download: Denuncia completa (75812.02 Kb.).

Greek elections coming up

The Greek election is this Sunday, January 25. This could be what Joe Biden would call a big [bleeping] deal.

It's amazing that Greek voters have put up with the draconian austerity so long.

We may soon see how flexible a leader Angela Merkel really is. Since the SPD isn't acting in any sense as an opposition party, Merkel and her press admirers have created a conventional wisdom in Germany, that George Packer's profile in the New Yorker last year passed on mostly undiluted (The Quiet German: The astonishing rise of Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world; 12/01/2014 issue; accessed 11/25/2014), that she is successfully providing quiet stability to German voters and is some kind of political genius in doing so.

She's actually playing a very high-stakes, ride-the-tiger game with her austerity policy. And she's doubled-down with the economic sanctions against Russia. But it can very visibly go to pieces very quickly. Next weekend's Greek elections will be another significant inflection point.

Karl-Peter Schwarz recently described the breakup of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic from Slovakia in the early nineties in "Unterschiedliche Transformation in Tschechien und der Slowakei" Europäische Rundschau 4/2014. They tried to maintain a common currency after splitting up. And what happened sounds like an accelerated version of what's been happening in the eurozone. Slovakia didn't have their own currency that could be devalued. They suffered major capital flight and a brutal "real devaluation," i.e., wages and salaries plunged.

Myrto Tsakatika looks at the Greek political situation in Why Are European Leaders So Afraid of Greece’s Syriza Party? ISN Blog 01/20/2015:

According to the Thessaloniki programme that lies at the heart of Syriza’s election pledges, the party is committed to renegotiating Greece’s colossal debt. Despite five years of extreme austerity, this still exceeds 170% of GDP. Syriza wants a 50% debt write-off as part of a wider European Debt Conference along the lines of the German debt write-off of 1953.

The programme also includes a promise to replace the 2010 bail-out agreement signed with the Europe with a long-term national plan aimed at the reconstruction of the Greek economy.

Syriza will also put in place a set of emergency measures meant to alleviate what it calls the “humanitarian crisis” caused by austerity. Minimum wages and public investments will be increased to trigger consumer demand, create jobs and kickstart growth. Only then, Syriza argues, will the country be able to repay its debt. Exhaustive negotiations will be conducted with creditors and European partners but Greece will remain in the eurozone.

The reforms envisaged involve the democratic refoundation of the Greek state. This means unsettling decades of collusion between big business, media groups and political parties. Syriza may indeed be well placed to make such a radical change work since it has not been a party of government and has not been involved in such practices.
Sounds good to me!

Her conclusion seems out of sync with her analysis, though: "But this is not the social democratic left. It is a radical new experiment. It is perhaps this, and not the potential for economic turmoil under a Syriza government that scares European leaders the most." It's not the program of the current European social-democratic parties, for sure. Because they've adopted Angela Merkel's Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dramatic death in Argentina with political repercussions

You know that Argentine prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, that I've been blogging about who last week accused President Cristina Fernández of trying to block investigation of Iranian suspects in the 1994 AMIA Jewish Community Center bombing in Buenos Aires? He was scheduled to present evidence on Tuesday Monday to a group of opposition Members of Congress.

Late Sunday night he turned up dead.

I'll bet somebody in Argentina is working on a novel or movie plot based on this right now. It even has a weird connection to the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders. Basically, Nisman, who had been working for years on the AMIA case made an accusation charge that sound something close to groundless to me, so far.

From the early reports, the indications are that it was a suicide. He was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment, which was protected with high security, with a gun in the room. The Buenos Aires Herald reports (Prosecutor Fein: No third party in death of Nisman, 'forced suicide' not ruled out 01/19/2015):

Prosecutor Viviana Fein has confirmed that there was no sign of a third-party being involved in the death of AMIA investigator Alberto Nisman, who was found this morning with a gunshot to the head. The official, however, refused to rule out the possibility that the deceased was obliged to take his own life by some as yet unknown factor.

Today or tomorrow the prosecutor is expected to receive results from the microscopic search carried out electronically on samples taken from Nisman's hands. This will determine whether or not gunpowder residues were present on the prosecutor's person.

The autopsy on the body of the AMIA special prosecutor earlier confirmed that he died from a gunshot to the head, two centimeters below the right ear, sources from the investigation reported.

The preliminary report delivered by the forensic investigators to prosecutor Viviana Fein stated that the body has a bullet hole on the right parietal with loss of encephalic mass.

The bullet was removed from Nisman’s head by forensic surgeons. Its analysis confirmed that it belonged to the .22 caliber Bersa gun that was found next to the body.
His apartment was protected by high security measures, including 10 Federal Police. (Berni: "Hay que ser prudente y responsable" Página/12 20.01.2015)

Nisman's accusation this past week was that President Cristina Fernández was trying to interfere with the AMIA investigation because she wanted to cover up for Iranian suspects. He was scheduled to testify tomorrow before an Argentine Congressional panel composed only of opposition members on his charges. But on Monday he turned up dead. Yo!

The specific charge he was making look preposterous to me. He specifically was saying that Cristina (CFK for short) pressed Interpol to drop their Red Alert status on at least one of the official Iranian suspects. But a recent head of Interpol who had been very involved in this issue wrote a letter saying that the Red Alert status was still on for all the suspects and that CFK's government had never pressured Interpol to drop it. It would also be very much in contradiction to her very public position on the AMIA case, which involves diplomatically pressuring Iran to assist more in the investigation. She specifically raised the issue on this 20+-year old case in a speech at the UN last year.

Politics was involved in this, of course. Cristina's (CFK for short) rightwing opposition griped that she didn't express sympathy loudly enough for the murdered French cartoonists because her party supports terrorist and loves Iran, or something. And then Nisman came out with this charge.

The AMIA case is routinely referred to in the American press when it's mentioned at all as an example of Iran having the capability to project very deadly terrorist attacks into the Western Hemisphere. And that is still Argentina's official theory of the case. But it's never actually been solved. One twist is that Nisman himself several years ago was pushing to bring charges against former President Carlos Menem and three other former officials for impeding investigation of someone with connections to Menem's family, for their possible role in the attack. One of the Wikileaks documents showed that in 2008, the Cheney Administration pressured Argentina not to pursue that case against Menem. Presumably because they didn't want anything to get in the way of the narrative that Iran did the deed. So, if (when) the conspiracy theories start flying over Nisman's death, I nominate Dick Cheney as the chief suspect!

Also, BTW, if CFK has been running her own death squad to knock off political opponents, there's no evidence of such a thing in the public record that I've ever heard of. And that is several times less likely than Nisman's accusation against her.

Cristina issued a statement after Nisman's death, which not only seems to express doubt about the official theory of the AMIA case. (AMIA. Otra vez: tragedia, confusión, mentira e interrogantes. 19.01.2015) She also harshes on the paper Clarín, using images of three of its front covers to illustrate questions about Nisman's charges. It recounts various details of the now long history of the AMIA case and appears to be a document that was mainly prepared to answer Nisman's accusation from last week. But the statement starts off recognizing the tragedy of Nisman's death.

Her statement mentions that Nisman cut short a family vacation to come back to Argentina and present his surprising claim against Cristina last week. Her statement points to the likely political cooperation between Nisman and the opposition. This early return from his vacation may or may not turn out to be related to his death, at least in terms of theories about what appears at this writing to have been a suicide. I'm going to try hard not to speculate ahead of the facts becoming public.

Here are several reports from TV Pública argentina on Nisman's death:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (2) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (3) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (4) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (5) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (6) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (7) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (8) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (9) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (10) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (11) 19.01.2015:

Visión 7 - Hallaron muerto al fiscal Nisman (12) 19.01.2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The new political clash over the AMIA case in Argentina

This is a set of further reports from TV Pública argentina on the more than dubious allegation made by Alberto Nisman, prosecutor in the still unsolved AMIA bombing case from 1994, that Argentine President Cristina Fernández is deliberately covering up for Iranian perpetrators. Nisman made the accusation and it was picked up by opposition politicians and media (especial Clarín and La Natión) in the context

678 - La Justicia corporativa y la utilización del atentado a la AMIA - 15-01-15 (1 de 3) 16.01.2015:

678 - La Justicia corporativa y la utilización del atentado a la AMIA - 15-01-15 (2 de 3) 16.01.2015

This third one focuses more on the repercussions of the Paris terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical paper, which is the context in which Nisman and the opposition are making their AMIA case accusations against Cristina: 678 - Las reflexiones del Papa y de Barenboim sobre el atentado en París - 15-01-15 (3 de 3) 16.01.2015

The commentators worry that Nisman's play in this case may be part of pressure supported by the United States. They don't claim to have any documented evidence for it. But because of assumed Iranian involvement in the case, it is a case in which the US has taken a significant interest. The Obama Administration has not been overtly hostile to Cristina's government. On the other hand, it's down near Venezuela on Washington's list of favorite Latin American governments.

In any case, Nisman's claim against Cristina seems preposterous.

Robert Parry has a recent article on American foreign policy trends in which he discusses the operative template for US-backed "regime change" (Neocons: The ‘Anti-Realists’ Consortium News 01/17/2015):

In those “regime change” cases, there is also a consensus on how to handle the targeted countries: start with “soft power” – from anti-regime propaganda to funding internal opposition groups to economic sanctions to political destabilization campaigns – and, then if operationally necessary and politically feasible, move to overt military interventions, applying America’s extraordinary military clout.
Again, I don't see Argentina as the target of any kind of serious regime change operation, though I have no doubt that the US government, business lobbies with an interest in Argentina, Paul Singer and the "vulture funds" and probably both parties would prefer to have an Argentine government that was more responsive to American demands.

On the other hand, Cristina does seem to think that the pressure is more serious than just grumpy financial lobbyists: Argentina says will use anti-terror law against U.S. printing firm Reuters 08/14/2014; Daniel Merolla, US could topple my government, kill me: Argentina's Kirchner AFP 10/01/2014)

The Buenos Aires Herald reports in Ex Interpol head Roland Noble: What prosecutor Nisman says is false 01/18/2015:

Former Secretary General of the Interpol Roland Noble said special prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s accusations against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration over the 1994 AMIA Jewish centre bombing are “false” and he confirmed that “no member of the Argentine government” has ever asked Interpol to revoke the Red Notices against Iranian officials, as Nisman denounced.

“What prosecutor (Alberto) Nisman says is false. No member of the Argentine government has ever asked us to revoke the Red Notices against the Iranian officials,” Noble said, categorically, to Pagina/12 newspaper.
In Kirchnerites want Nisman to show evidence, the Herald reports:

Kirchnerites will insist tomorrow in Congress that special prosecutor Alberto Nisman lacks evidence to charge President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with the coverup of the AMIA Jewish community centre bombing that killed 85 people in 1994.

For his part, Nisman — the prosecutor appointed ten years ago by the president’s late husband, Néstor Kirchner — revealed to some opposition media that he will appear at the hearing summoned by PRO lawmaker Patricia Bullrich, who heads the Criminal Legislation Committee, with more documents to back his allegations.

Fernández de Kirchner’s Chief-of-Staff Aníbal Fernández yesterday reactivated his defence of the president, who on Wednesday was accused of having ordered to negotiate impunity for the Iranian suspects in the AMIA attack in order to fuel trade relations with Tehran. According to Nisman, Argentina needed oil and wanted to sponsor the grain exports to the Persian country. Former Foreign minister Jorge Taiana yesterday revealed that it was Iran that wanted to stop the commercial exchange with Argentina when the country issued the arrest warrants against eight Iranian officials — who were reportedly implicated in the worst-ever terrorist attack the country suffered.

Fernández repeated that the accusations against the president were “ridiculous” but he preferred not to mention the situation of Luis D’Elía, a former Kirchnerite official who was forced to step down in 2006 after defending Iran in the AMIA case. It was then when Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Co-rral defined the AMIA attack as a crime against humanity and ordered to arrest eight Iranian suspects and a Libanese one.