Greece | Korea | Ukraine | Thailand | Israel

Yanis Varoufakis: No Time for Games in Europe (New York Times, also via Google News)

The great difference between this government and previous Greek governments is twofold: We are determined to clash with mighty vested interests in order to reboot Greece and gain our partners’ trust. We are also determined not to be treated as a debt colony that should suffer what it must. The principle of the greatest austerity for the most depressed economy would be quaint if it did not cause so much unnecessary suffering.
I am often asked: What if the only way you can secure funding is to cross your red lines and accept measures that you consider to be part of the problem, rather than of its solution? Faithful to the principle that I have no right to bluff, my answer is: The lines that we have presented as red will not be crossed. Otherwise, they would not be truly red, but merely a bluff…
We shall desist, whatever the consequences, from deals that are wrong for Greece and wrong for Europe. The “extend and pretend” game that began after Greece’s public debt became unserviceable in 2010 will end. No more loans — not until we have a credible plan for growing the economy in order to repay those loans, help the middle class get back on its feet and address the hideous humanitarian crisis. No more “reform” programs that target poor pensioners and family-owned pharmacies while leaving large-scale corruption untouched.

Helena Smith: Tsipras favours Greek jobless over creditors in defiant policy speech (Guardian)

The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has announced his anti-austerity government programme in a defiant address that prioritised the jobless and destitute over international creditors who have lent the country more than $300bn (£200bn).

Paul Mason: Germany v Greece is a fight to the death, a cultural and economic clash of wills (Guardian)

Germany’s unwillingness to lead Europe is the old problem. The new problem is Germany’s demonstrable willingness to break up Europe. Pleas for the continent’s largest economy to expand state spending are met with the schwarze null policy: 0% budget deficits, imposed by law. Brazen acts of proxy warfare by the Kremlin are met with diplomatic dithering. The sight, on top of that, of large anti-Muslim demonstrations in this, the richest and most politically stable country in Europe, is now reviving hostility towards Germany way beyond Greece.

Jennifer Rankin, Larry Elliott: Greece bailout talks break down after Athens rejects ‘unacceptable’ eurozone demands (Guardian)

Talks between Greece and its eurozone creditors collapsed in disarray on Monday night, heightening concerns that the country is edging closer to a disruptive exit from the single currency…
Effectively presenting Greece with an ultimatum, the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers said Athens had until Friday to agree to maintain the current bailout under the auspices of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – something that Greece has said is unacceptable.

Would Park be President, had the election not been rigged? (Hankyoreh)

An appeals court’s ruling about election interference by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) provides judicial confirmation that there is a major problem with Park Geun-hye legitimacy as president of South Korea. This makes it clear that the 2012 presidential election was a rigged game and that Park was the greatest beneficiary…
Any politician – not to mention the leader of a country – must take responsibility for his or her words. Park should begin by apologizing for remarks she has made, such as when she belittled the case as a plot by the political opposition and denied that she had received any help from the NIS.
But Park’s remarks are not the only mistake that she made. The current administration pulled out all the stops to cover up the NIS’s assault on the constitution and to block all attempts to investigate that assault.

Kim Seon-sik: Former NIS director sentenced to prison for 2012 political interference (Hankyoreh)

Former National Intelligence Service director Won Sei-hoon, 64, was taken into court custody after an appeals ruling found him guilty of violating the Public Official Election Act by ordering agents from the psychological warfare division to carry out organized interference in the 2012 presidential election.
The court’s decision, which acknowledges Won’s enlistment of the NIS to influence the election results, is expected to have major political repercussions.

Michael Hudson: Ukraine Denouement (CounterPunch)

The fate of Ukraine is now shifting from the military battlefield back to the arena that counts most: that of international finance. Kiev is broke, having depleted its foreign reserves on waging war that has destroyed its industrial export and coal mining capacity in the Donbass (especially vis-à-vis Russia, which normally has bought 38 percent of Ukraine’s exports). Deeply in debt (with €3 billion falling due on December 20 to Russia), Ukraine faces insolvency if the IMF and Europe do not release new loans next month to pay for new imports as well as Russian and foreign bondholders.
Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko announced on Friday that she hopes to see the money begin to flow in by early March. But Ukraine must meet conditions that seem almost impossible: It must implement an honest budget and start reforming its corrupt oligarchs (who dominate in the Rada and control the bureaucracy), implement more austerity, abolish its environmental protection, and make its industry “attractive” to foreign investors to buy Ukraine’s land, natural resources, monopolies and other assets, presumably at distress prices in view of the country’s recent devastation.

Matthew Weaver, Alec Luhn: Ukraine ceasefire deal agreed at Minsk talks (Guardian)

Russian president Vladimir Putin was the first to announce the deal, saying: “We have agreed on a ceasefire from midnight 15 February.”
Putin added: “There is also the political settlement. The first thing is constitutional reform that should take into consideration the legitimate rights of people who live in Donbass. There are also border issues. Finally there are a whole range of economic and humanitarian issues.”

Simon Tisdall: Ukraine peace deal looks fragile in the extreme (Guardian)

Poroshenko insisted the accord did not grant autonomy to the rebel-held areas. The vexed questions of the extent of a demilitarised zone around the current and September frontlines, and the withdrawal of foreign (ie Russian) forces, were also apparently still up in the air. Nor did the Ukraine leader confirm Putin’s claim that Kiev had agreed to end its economic blockade of the Donbas region…
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Minsk announcements coincided with news that the IMF has agreed to help bail out almost bankrupt Ukraine to the tune of $17.5bn, part of an even bigger $40bn, four-year rescue package. Christine Lagarde, IMF chief, said the idea was to try and stabilise Kiev’s finances after nearly a year of war.

Freudian slip? CNN says Obama considers arming pro-US troops…in Ukraine (RT)

Social media is abuzz after CNN labeled Ukrainian forces involved in Kiev’s deadly military operation in the country’s southeast as “pro-US troops.” Online comments are calling it a Freudian slip, claiming it unmasks the true agenda behind the conflict.

Reuters: Thailand’s students defy military junta and call for return to democracy (Guardian)

Thai student protesters billing themselves as the “last group standing” in seeking to end military rule say they will openly defy what one leader called a tyrannical regime nine months after the army seized power.
Members of the Thai Student Centre for Democracy (TSCD), who come from different political and socio-economic backgrounds, present a quandary for the junta, which has branded public protests illegal but wants to maintain its core support, including from Bangkok’s middle class and business elite.
Some of the students support the “red shirt” grassroots movement of ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, but others sympathise with the establishment that makes up the bulk of the junta’s support.

Student group condemns junta for trying student activist in military court (Prachatai)
AP: Thailand’s military junta forces cancellation of press freedom conference (Guardian)

The Zionist Union is the poor man’s Likud (Haaretz)

Anyone wishing to replace this government must first of all take a strong stand against the transformation of Israel into an apartheid state.
The election campaign waged by the Zionist Union belies the declarations of its leaders, Yitzhak Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who state their wish to replace the current government. The slogan “It’s us or him” was recently changed to “Only a sucker would vote for Netanyahu,” but the essential message remains unchanged: the problem with the Likud government lies in Benjamin Netanyahu’s personality, not in his destructive policies.
Livni and Herzog are marketing themselves as people who will do a better job than Netanyahu in carrying out the foreign and defense policies of the Likud, covered in a patina of empty promises such as “we’ll return money to the public” or “free land for an apartment of your own.”

Israel’s ban of Arab lawmaker from election is unjust / ההבדל בין זועבי למרזל (Haaretz, Hebrew version also via Google News)

Zoabi’s disqualification lacks all foundation. An Arab MK has fallen victim to a clause permitting the banning of a candidate or party expressing support for an enemy state or a terror group’s armed struggle. Actually, the clause was inserted to persecute Arab elected officials who express support for the Palestinian struggle against the occupation.
It’s no coincidence that the clause does not permit the disqualification of someone who has expressed support for other types of violence; for example, terror against Arabs. Regarding Zoabi’s infuriating remarks, even in the interview in which she refused to call the kidnappers of three Jewish teens terrorists, Zoabi noted that she did not support their actions. And she has expanded on her position many times since.

Gideon Levy: The most heinous crime in Israel is anti-Zionism / פשע ושמו אנטי־ציונות (Haaretz; Hebrew version also via Google News)

In today’s Israel, in which “leftist” is among the worst things to call someone, “non-Zionist” is entirely beyond the pale. Not that anyone knows what Zionism is today, but to say non-Zionist is to say treason. A land-stealing, field-burning settler is a Zionist, no question; one of the best. Even if he commits one of the most serious sins and calls for draft-dodging, he is still a Zionist.
Knesset member Haneen Zoabi (Balad) is a traitor, because she does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (The rightists who don’t recognize Israel as a democratic state are, of course, Zionist and therefore legitimate.) Israelis who are not willing to be part of that Zionism and are courageous enough to call themselves anti-Zionists are considered heretics, with everything that implies. They have horns. It as if saying no to that Zionism – to think that it constitutes ultranationalism and even racism; that it plunders, conquers and is hurtling toward apartheid – is an immoral, intolerable position to take.
The brainwashing has reached the point that anyone with the disease is thought not only to oppose the very existence of the state, but even to be calling for its destruction.

Blake Alcott: Why Jonathan Freedland Isn’t Fit to be the New Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian (CounterPunch)

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