Πέμπτη, 29 Νοεμβρίου 2012

marilena: A donkey's burden

marilena: A donkey's burden: http://www.reuters.com/news/pictures/slideshow?articleId=USRTR3AZ5I reuters

A donkey's burden

marilena: Sex for tuition fees anyone? Students being offere...

marilena: Sex for tuition fees anyone? Students being offere...: Undercover investigation reveals shocking ‘sponsorship’ deals being offered to cash-strapped students http://bcove.me/fypbnz05 Student...

Sex for tuition fees anyone? Students being offered up to £15,000 a year to cover cost of studies, in exchange for having sex with strangers

Undercover investigation reveals shocking ‘sponsorship’ deals being offered to cash-strapped students

Students are being offered up to £15,000 a year to cover their university studies in exchange for having sex with a stranger, an undercover investigation by The Independent has revealed.
The website SponsorAScholar.co.uk claims to have arranged for 1,400 women aged between 17 and 24 to be funded through their studies by wealthy businessmen seeking “discreet adventures”.
But in a secretly filmed encounter with anIndependent reporter posing as a student, a male “assessor” from the website asked that she undertake a “practical assessment” with him at a nearby flat to prove “the level of intimacy” she was prepared to give before being permitted to find a sponsor online.
He said this was required for “quality control”. He told her that the more she was prepared to do, the more money she would get.
The website’s claims to have a roster of hundreds of students could not be verified. The reporter asked for evidence that scholarships had been awarded and was told that she would have to come back to the flat with the man.
But the requirement for potential “scholars” to submit to a “practical assessment” raises fears that young women students may have been exploited.
The elaborately constructed site gives the appearance of operating in the grey area in Britain’s sex laws which allow escort agencies to function legitimately by offering introductions between clients and sex workers.
Young women facing financial hardship brought on by the rise in the cost of studying were urged tonight not to be tempted into using the website.
Rachel Griffin, director of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which promotes personal safety, said: “Meeting a complete stranger in private could be highly dangerous at any time but when it is in connection with a scheme like this, the risks are sky-high.” The National Union of Students accused those behind the website of seeking to “capitalise on the poverty and financial hardship of women students”.
SponsorAScholar.co.uk offers young women “up to 100% of your Tuition Fees” in return for two-hour sessions with men in hotel rooms or private flats up to four times per term.
“Because of the considerable sums of money our sponsors are offering in scholarship, they tell us that they have expectations of a high level of sexual intimacy with their chosen student,” the website says.
During the meeting between the “assessor” and our reporter – which our reporter insisted must begin in a public place, choosing a fast food restaurant in south London – the man said: “The more you’re prepared to do, the more interest you're going to get, obviously the more sponsorship amount you’re going to get for that.”
SponsorAScholar.co.uk uses a false company and VAT number belonging to the legitimate dating site Match.com. A spokesman for the company said: “The website is not affiliated with Match.com in any way and we are in the process of contacting them to legally require that all references to Match.com are removed immediately.”
SponsorAScholar.co.uk purports to be registered at the former address of a senior academic from a leading British university, and the man claiming to be the assessor used the lecturer’s name in the encounter with the reporter – as well as in email correspondence and on his answerphone message.
The academic, approached by The Independent last Friday, said he had no idea that the website had been registered to his name and former address. He did not recognise the man in our undercover footage. Yesterday he added that he had now contacted the police to report the matter.
The meeting took place at the Powis Street branch of McDonalds in Woolwich, south London, last Thursday at 6.45pm.
As other diners tucked into burgers, the “assessor”, who said he lived near Leicester, bought the reporter coffee and sought to reassure her that the prospective “sponsors” had been vetted and were safe to meet.
Our reporter asked the “assessor” whether the “sponsors” have health checks. He answered: “We do invite them to do that, not all of them choose to do that but you can choose to have protection or not have protection on that basis.”
He described the need for her to first of all have the “practical assessment” with him as like “quality control for us”, adding: “Whatever you put on your sheet what level of intimacy you’re prepared to go into, you and I will go through that today. We’ve got a questionnaire we’ll go through, your likes and dislikes and the kind of thing you’re comfortable doing.”
He added: “We have to do that, to make sure when we put you in front of your sponsor you’re confident in doing the things you said you would do.”
The man added: “You see what you’re trying to do is attract a certain level of sponsorship, you don’t want to go up there saying you know you’re not even going to hold hands type of thing… cause you’re not going to attract any interest at all.”
After the initial 10-minute meeting – which our reporter ended by saying that she would like to reconsider his proposal rather than immediately follow him to the nearby flat for the “practical” – the man walked back to a large block of flats around the corner where he said he was staying on the fifth floor.
SponsorAScholar.co.uk claims to have been operating since 2006, but the website was registered earlier this year.
The site claims to charge “sponsors” a £100 fee and to take three per cent commission from the final “scholarship” total.
When a male reporter approached the site as a potential sponsor, however, he was told there was a “waiting list” and would be contacted in the new year. By contrast the meeting with the woman reporter posing as the female student was immediately arranged.
The “assessor” said our reporter’s decision not to go back to the flat with him was “ok”, adding: “I’ve got other candidates I need to see this evening”, before asking again if she wanted to “do the questionnaire or stop now”.
After being told stop, he suggested meeting on 13 December in Stratford, south-east London: “If we don’t do it tonight I can’t fit you in until then.”
Attempts to confirm the true identity of the “assessor” have since proved unsuccessful.
The man was today no longer returning repeated telephone calls, emails or text messages from The Independent.
Kelley Temple, NUS Women’s Officer, said: “It appears to be… exploiting the fact that women students are in dire financial situations in pursuit of an education.”
SponsorAScholar.co.uk had been changed  tonight to say simply: “Sorry website unavailable for maintenance”.


marilena: New scheme means music will play on for Greece's b...

marilena: New scheme means music will play on for Greece's b...: 29 November 2012   Last updated at  16:50 GMT Help With arts funding slashed as a result of the country's austerity measures, many bal...

New scheme means music will play on for Greece's ballet dancers

With arts funding slashed as a result of the country's austerity measures, many ballet dancers in Greece are struggling to find places on training courses and employment within dance companies.
But a new initiative launched by the Greek National Opera, called The Dancebox Project, hopes to give 11 young dancers the experience and exposure they need to secure jobs by letting them train at the opera house for free for two years.
Tom Santorelli reports.
Ballet dancers practicing

Αντώνης Σαμαράς "Η Ελλάδα τώρα ξεκινάει..."

Τετάρτη, 28 Νοεμβρίου 2012


marilena: EMAIL TURNS 50, COMES FULL-CIRCLE FROM PENTAGON OR...: The first Interface Message Processor that transmitted a message on the Internet - (FastLizard4) By Eva Sudholt DIE WELT /Worldcrunch B...


Email Turns 50, Comes Full-Circle From Pentagon Origins To Petraeus

The first Interface Message Processor that transmitted a message on the Internet - (FastLizard4)
By Eva Sudholt
DIE WELT/Worldcrunch
BERLIN - A so-called flame mail (critical or abusive email) is probably what ex-CIA director David Petraeus’ ex-mistress Paula Broadwell sent in a fit of anger (about exactly what remains unclear) to Jill Kelley, a socialite with ties to the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Of course saying Broadwell “sent” mail to Jill Kelley isn’t quite correct since we’re talking about electronic mail here. But what is true is that we often write and send emails in the heat of the moment instead of cooling down and thinking things through.
The missives – or at least this is what Kelley told General John Allen, with whom she exchanged an impressive volume of emails – were unwelcome and inappropriate. You could say that is the case with the vast majority of the 300 billion emails sent worldwide every day, except that these are mainlyadvertising, not private, messages. But they are no less pushy and annoying than the constant repetition of the word spam in the famous Monty Python sketch that ended up giving such messages their name.
If private emails represent a tiny fraction of all emails sent today, they originally weren’t meant to exist at all. Email was developed 50 years ago – in 1962 – so that universities doing research for the U.S. Department of Defense could exchange information. A U.S. research group came up with the Internet’s predecessor – the ARPANET, standing for Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The system made it possible to send small packets of information by phone. For research purposes only, of course.
However, the fact that Broadwell’s nasty message campaign came to light shortly before the medium’s 50th birthday has definite timeliness. It didn’t only open up the whole Petraeus/Broadwell affair and Kelly/Allen entanglement up to public view – it turned out to be a Pandora’s box about email, its uses, and security, and offers a marked contrast between what the medium was originally intended for and what it has become.
Staying serious and professional
The iconic @ sign didn’t come along until 1972, when ARPANET programmer Ray Tomlinson implemented an email system. Such were things at the time that when a group of science fiction-loving researchers created a group they dubbed "SF LOVERS" to exchange information, it was frowned on by ARPA as lacking the requisite seriousness and professional nature.
But there was ultimately no way of stopping the burgeoning force of email, even if for a long time it stayed among academics. The first email to Germany was sent in 1984 on August 2, arriving on August 3, from CSNET to the University of Karlsruhe. It was addressed to Internet pioneer Michael Rotert (rotert@germany) and read: "Michael, this is your official welcome to CSNET."
Thirty years later, Petraeus’ hundreds of considerably wordier emails to Broadwell show that the medium has evolved among other things into a universal tool initiating, carrying on, and ending relationships. Even for CIA directors – begging the question as to where high-ranking men with a lot of responsibility find the time for all this, not to mention their blatant ignorance about just how traceable all emails are.
Unfortunately, none of Petraeus’ words have made their way (yet) into the public arena. Nor have any of the 10 million words Allen and Kelley exchanged over a two-year period. Although the Kelly/Allen relationship was supposedly platonic, and the tone of the mails just friendly, the sheer volume of things they had to say to each does suggest some sort of erotic twist.
A final note: The expression flame mail – like nastygram – meaning “ugly messages,” never really caught on. Today any net attack is likely to be referred to as a shitstorm: The expression was originally used to describe exchanges among officials in the Kremlin and the White House – non-private ones, needless to say, and in an on-going Cold War, anything but hot.

marilena: 'Europe Hasn't Learned Lessons from Greece Crisis"...

marilena: 'Europe Hasn't Learned Lessons from Greece Crisis"...: Europe bought more time.  But was that the right move? For the third time, European finance ministers this week have put together a pa...

'Europe Hasn't Learned Lessons from Greece Crisis"

Europe bought more time.  But was that the right move?
Europe bought more time. But was that the right move?

For the third time, European finance ministers this week have put together a package of aid measures for Greece and assured Europeans that the country is now back on track to financial health. But is it really? German commentators certainly don't think so.

Hedge fund managers, at least, are pleased. The deal struck late on Monday nightbetween euro-zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund to reduce Greece's overall debt load includes a measure stipulating an Athens buyback of its own debt. Investors that bought Greek bonds for as low as 17 cents on the euro can now expect to sell them back to Athens for around 35 cents on the euro -- a tidy little profit.

Elsewhere, however, investors would appear to be unimpressed by the deal. Markets across the world were down on Wednesday and the euro lost value early against the dollar, with Greece cited -- along with US debt troubles -- as one of the reasons for the uncertainty. Investors, it would seem, see the Greece deal as yet another attempt by European leaders to muddle through the crisis rather than take steps toward a lasting solution.
"There remains the potential for this deal to fall apart in the medium term as there are a lot of moving parts and it is a long way away from the permanent fix that the IMF had been insisting upon," Gary Jenkins, managing director of Swordfish Research, which focuses on international bond markets, told the Associated Press. "It is just one more big kick of the can down the road."
The deal envisions reducing Greece debt load from the 190 percent of gross domestic product it is expected to peak at next year to 124 percent of GDP by 2020. In 2022, it is hoped that it will drop down to 110 percent. The International Monetary Fund had been demanding a partial Greek default that would have slashed the country's debt faster and, ultimately, further. But such a measure proved politically unpalatable in Germany and other euro-zone capitals.
Instead, euro-zone finance ministers and the IMF came up with a package of measures including interest rate reductions on aid loans, an extension of payback periods and a return of profits earned by national banks on Greek bond buys via the European Central Bank. In addition, Greece is to buy back some of its debt for well below face value, assuming that private investors are willing to sell.
The deal also, for the first time, will cost Germany real money. Next year alone, in fact, it will result in a revenue shortfall of some €730 million ($944 million).
German commentators on Wednesday are unconvinced that the measures will really put Greece back on the path to solvency. Indeed, say most, it is a blatant move to simply buy more time.
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"It is difficult to take seriously this newly found compromise between euro-zone member states and the International Monetary Fund…. Hardly anyone doubts any longer that in the long term Greece will require a debt cut and will remain cut off from capital markets and dependent on the international community for aid. It is a realization that European citizens should be made aware of. Such a result from the euro zone-IMF negotiations would have been a long overdue act of political integrity."
"A long-range framework for the reduction of Greek debt? Forget about it. Instead, particularly in Germany, the illusion is being maintained that the whole thing won't really cost taxpayers much."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"In the third year of the Greece crisis, one should be able to expect from Europe a clear, coherent and lasting strategy. But the plan that the Euro Group presented on Tuesday is neither clear nor coherent, never mind lasting."
"Europe can't do it; that is the inkling that is slowly spreading following the nth crisis summit in Brussels. Whereas Greece has to keep suffering, other countries that suffered immensely, like Iceland, have gotten back on their feet. Indeed, the debt crisis in Iceland was even worse, and the Reykjavik government had to solve it all by itself."
"Three years since the beginning of the crisis, Europe still hasn't learned any lessons, even though it has long been clear what has to be done. A debt cut is necessary, and not just for Greece. Austerity has to be suspended wherever such measures are hurting the economy. And Southern Europe needs an economic stimulus program worthy of the name."
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Little Greece is in the eye of the euro-crisis storm. All hopes that one could simply isolate and ignore the country have been in vain. If Europe wants to hold onto the euro, it must also hold onto Greece. And if it holds on to Greece, it must also be prepared for aggravation and costs. Because that is the price for putting the common currency back on a path of stability."
"Time offers the last hope, which is why it is almost negligent to accuse Germany and other creditor countries of procrastinating Greek insolvency. Those who argue for an immediate insolvency or debt cut must explain why it would be better for Germany to start anew."
"No, time has become the ersatz currency in this crisis. Buying time was the only way to put together the aid packages, the fiscal pact, the first Greek debt haircut and the packages to bail out Portugal and Ireland. Only time can give us hope that other crisis-stricken countries will be able to reform themselves and become competitive enough to help finance Greece many years into the future. Germany cannot do it on its own."
"Accusations that the German government is juggling with interest rates so as to avoid a debt cut prior to general elections are an insult to German voters. Most will have long since understood that Greece will end up costing German taxpayers a bundle."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The fact that the German parliament has the last word has nobody in Southern Europe concerned. The Bundestag will approve the deal in the name of European solidarity. The fact that it includes measures that will for the first time carry real costs apparently doesn't bother anyone. It has long been clear that taxpayers would eventually be asked to foot the bill. The costs of turning the euro zone into a transfer union, however, are still being played down. The finance minister, in any case, is still acting as though Greece will one day be able to pay back its debts. But it is a red line that will have to be crossed in the not-too-distant future."
Business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"The package agreed to by the euro group on Monday night … is exactly the mix that Schäuble's and Merkel's economic advisor Lars-Hendrik Röller has been supporting from the very beginning. And they are also measures that are intended to avoid a debt cut. But has the problem now been solved? Not even close. Schäuble and Merkel are taking a major risk. The compromise will carry Merkel's government just far enough to reach election day in the fall of 2013. But it remains unclear if it can carry Greece beyond that. Since the very beginning of the Greece crisis, the chancellor and her finance minister have been forced to regularly retreat from positions held, and they have had to pay a high price for doing so. Their political and moral credibility are at stake."
-- Charles Hawley


Τρίτη, 27 Νοεμβρίου 2012

Hamlet rewritten as choose-your-own-adventure game book

Graphic story offers chance to explore the 'fun, crazy' plot choices Shakespeare rejected

To Be Or Not To Be

A choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet featuring jokes, ghosts and the previously unseen pirate fight scene, has raised more than six times its goal on Kickstarter in less than a week.
Ryan North, a Canadian comic book writer, launched his appeal on 21 November. In three-and-a-half hours it had raised its goal of $20,000 (£12,500), and today is at almost $150,000 and counting. His version of Hamlet will be called To Be Or Not To Be, and will be an illustrated, chooseable-path adventure story.
Readers will be able to opt to Hamlet ("an emo teen in his early 30s"), Ophelia ("She's got a +1 science stat, but she's also got a -1 weakness against water") or the King, Hamlet's father, "who (SURPRISE) dies on the first page and becomes a ghost. And then we make fun of you for dying on the first page, but you can become a ghost and must INVESTIGATE YOUR OWN MURDER that you TOTALLY SLEPT THROUGH because you got SLEEPY IN AN ORCHARD. ("Shakespeare wrote this part," said North.)
Readers can opt to follow the same choices as Shakespeare's characters, with "little Yorick skulls beside the 'canonical' choices", but North points out that "Shakespeare's choices didn't lead to the best ending for the characters. Not by a long shot." And although the story is told in modern language, there is the option to see the "big speeches" in Shakespeare's "original beautiful and fancy language".
"I've used the story of Hamlet as a starting point, but a) that's already a great story because it ends with pretty much everyone in it getting stabbed in the body and b) the story can go in all sorts of fun, crazy directions when you make a choice that Shakespeare didn't," said North. "Also unlike Shakespeare I didn't skip over the pirate scene in Hamlet. You get to fight PIRATES. With SWORDS. And yes OF COURSE you can choose which body part you cut off. Why would you write a book where you can't do that is my question."
The more money that is raised on Kickstarter by the appeal's end-date of 21 December, the more North will add to the book, including new illustrations by a range of artists – "the more money we raise, the more deaths get illustrated, until we have all 110 deaths done" – and a mini prequel adventure called Poor Yorick. The book will be published with Breadpig, which will donate 100% of its share of profits to the Canadian Cancer Society (North's wife was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier this year).
"While we've been lucky enough to have a cancer that's been responding to treatment, cancer is still a terrible, terrible disease. By supporting this book, you're also supporting research for a cure. That is really cool," said North. "But all that aside, I've worked to include every amazing thing possible in a book like this. There's loops, alternate endings, secret paths and things that I'm pretty sure haven't even been done before in the medium."
As of Tuesday morning, 4,353 readers had pledged money to find out more.

marilena: Sydney's beaches closed as algae turns the sea blo...

marilena: Sydney's beaches closed as algae turns the sea blo...:   Algae   are photosynthetic organisms found in the water requiring warmth, sunlight and nutrients to grow and reproduce. dai...

Sydney's beaches closed as algae turns the sea blood red

A mother and her daughter check out the red algal bloom in the water at Clovelly Beach in Sydney

A girl checks out the red algal bloom in the water at Clovelly Beach in Sydney

A seagull searches for a meal in the algal bloom which has killed many fish in the water off the coast of Sydney

A man swims in a rock pool as red algal bloom fills the sea at Clovelly beach

A boy walks past a red algae bloom discolouring the water at Sydney's Clovelly Beach

While the red algae, known as Noctiluca scintillans or sea sparkle, has no toxic effects, people are still advised to avoid swimming in areas with discoloured water because the algae, which can be high in ammonia, can cause skin irritation

 Algae are photosynthetic organisms found in the water requiring warmth, sunlight and nutrients to grow and reproduce.

daily telegraph

Δευτέρα, 26 Νοεμβρίου 2012

marilena: Germany's Ongoing Refusal to Forgive Greek Debt

marilena: Germany's Ongoing Refusal to Forgive Greek Debt: Denying Reality The International Monetary Fund believes that the only way to reduce Greek debt to a sustainable level is by way of a d...

Germany's Ongoing Refusal to Forgive Greek Debt

Denying Reality

A man cleaning graffiti off of the Bank of Greece in central Athens on Monday....

The International Monetary Fund believes that the only way to reduce Greek debt to a sustainable level is by way of a debt haircut involving the country's government creditors. But with an election approaching, Germany has refused to consider the proposal. Reality is on the IMF's side. By SPIEGEL Staff

An elegant appearance is important to Christine Lagarde. The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wears her short hair carefully coiffed, and diamonds glitter on her manicured fingers. When she talks about global financial issues, she hardly ever raises her voice. Her colleagues at the Washington-based financial authority call her "Ms. Perfect."

But last Tuesday Lagarde, who was once French finance minister, was having trouble keeping her composure. She had hurried back to Europe from Asia to attend the latest in a series of Euro Group crisis meetings on Greece. And even though she had a fever and felt weak from the flu, she began to raise her voice as she spoke.For Greece to recover, she insisted, creditor countries would have to forgive the government in Athens a large share of its debt. "Nothing else will work," Lagarde said.
But the group, most notably Germany's impassive Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU),refused to budge. The meeting ended unsuccessfully at around 5 a.m. and was adjourned until this Monday.
It is something of a paradox. Originally, Germany was the primary backer of IMF involvement in efforts to save the euro, primarily because of the group's experience, as Merkel repeatedly emphasized. Schäuble, for his part, said at the time: "There is no institution worldwide that has a comparable level of expertise."
Now, however, it is Berlin that has shown the greatest resistance to Lagarde's approach to the crisis. The reason is simple: If the Greek government were in fact forgiven a portion of its debt, Germany would have to write off billions in aid loans. It would mark the first time that Greece's crisis actually cost German taxpayers money, a novelty that Merkel and Schäuble would like to avoid on the eve of an election year.
Graphic: Greece's substantial debt load.

Refuses to Change Approach
As such, their resistance to Lagarde's proposal runs deep. For the IMF it is a question of truthfulness and economic good sense, for Germany's current leadership, the coming campaign takes priority.
In the private economy, it's considered a crime to delay an unavoidable bankruptcy. Merkel and Schäuble, however, are determined to do just that, adopting a stance that could have drastic consequences for the Greek government and its economy. With the country's mountain of debt remaining unsustainably high, the government has been forced into intensifying its austerity policies. Meanwhile, the situation in Greece is scaring away private investors. But instead of providing Athens with the perspective of economic improvement in the foreseeable future, the Euro Group refuses to change its approach.
Not surprisingly, relationships are beginning to sour. Last week, Lagarde -- who was once among Schäuble's favorite colleagues -- lectured the German finance minister in no uncertain terms. If you want to keep Greece in the euro zone, Lagarde said, you have to be prepared to pay the price.
The numbers at the group's disposal were hardly ambiguous. The Germans want to address Greece's dismal debt situation with a number of accounting tricks and lower interest rates in an effort to find the €32 billion in funding necessary between 2014 and 2016 now that Athens has been given an extra two years to meet its budgetary targets. But even should all of the proposed measures be implemented, the shortfall could not be offset, according to Euro Group meeting documents. Furthermore, the package of mini-measures would not even come close to the target of reducing Greece's sovereign debt load to 120 percent of gross domestic product by 2020.
The Euro Group has proposed granting Greece extra time to hit the sovereign debt target as well. But Lagarde has refused to budge, saying that IMF statutes would prohibit further aid were the target to be watered down. As such, given that Greece will be unable to reach the target on its own, European creditors have little choice but to forgive a portion of the debt they hold, Lagarde insists. She reminded the group of ministers that it was not the IMF that had defined the goal and timing of the rescue program, but rather the leaders of euro-zone member states. "We can't delay everything at our convenience," she said.
Lagarde was particularly upset with Schäuble, whom she had addressed as "my friend Wolfgang" at his 70th birthday party in September -- because he, of all people, had left her high and dry.
A Surprise from Schäuble
A day earlier, on Monday of last week, Lagarde met with the key players in the Greek bailout in Paris. The French finance minister hosted the meeting, which also included Lagarde and the finance ministers of Italy, Spain and Germany. Experts from the European Commission, the European Council and the European Central Bank (ECB) were also present.
Lagarde said that she would be willing to give Greece more time to service its debt, as requested by Germany and other countries. In return, she demanded a drastic cut in the interest rates collected by the euro countries for their bilateral loans to Athens. According to several meeting participants, Schäuble agreed to go along with such a cut.
This could reduce the Greek debt burden by 6 percent over the next 10 years, a real improvement from the standpoint of the IMF. When the meeting ended, participants felt they had worked out a concrete proposal for the meeting with other euro-zone finance ministers set for the next day.
But when the meeting of the Euro Group began last Tuesday at 5 p.m., the ministers were in for a surprise. Suddenly Schäuble was only willing to agree to a moderate reduction in the rates on bilateral loans to Athens. In the meantime, he had spoken with Merkel, who was worried about those in her coalition government who are skeptical of the Greek bailout. Schäuble's change of position meant that the debt target that was so important to the IMF was up in the air once again. The Germans are becoming unreliable, one minister moaned.
The unpleasant haggling that ensued was something even long-serving Brussels officials had rarely experienced. Whenever an idea was proposed, the representative of one country or another had an objection. The Dutch minister rejected a proposal to buy back Greek bonds, and the Slovenians bridled at longer terms and interest rate reductions for loans from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). ECB President Mario Draghi said he was opposing to buying any more short-term government bonds from Greek banks.
Late in the evening, Lagarde finally put her foot down. "I have rules that I must adhere to," she said, and threatened that the IMF would withdraw from the Greek rescue effort, if necessary. "If you want the IMF to remain part of this, you'll have to do something."
'A Disaster on Our Hands'
The meeting was adjourned once again. European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn, Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker and his most important official, Thomas Wieser, from Austria, tried to convince Schäuble to change his mind. "If Germany doesn't move, the meeting will be a failure," one of them warned. "We'll have a disaster on our hands!" said another.
Now it's up to Commissioner Rehn to find a compromise as quickly as possible. He is appealing to leaders of euro-zone member states, Germany in particular, to fulfill their pledge to rescue Greece. "Everybody must reconsider his red lines," says Rehn.
Most economists feel that forgiving the ailing country at least a portion of its debt is unavoidable given the extreme interest rate costs associated with that debt. Even if Athens were to achieve the targeted debt level of 120 percent by 2020, the country would still have difficulties financing itself.
Denying Athens a partial default, on the other hand, would essentially condemn the country to further austerity measures. Already, however, Greece has slashed its budget to a degree never before seen in an industrialized country. The consequence is an ongoing recession that results in an ever growing pile of sovereign debt. Further cuts would only accelerate this vicious cycle.
Finding foreign investment in such a climate is almost impossible. Instead of creating the basis for a new beginning, the current bailout policy is achieving the opposite effect: eroding the country's economic base.
Schäuble knows this. Nevertheless, he is resisting the unavoidable and has been hiding behind specious explanations for several weeks. A lawyer by profession, Schäuble likes to point out that forgiving Greek debt is legally impossible. According to Schäuble, the federal government's budget rules require that new loans can only be issued if payback is realistic. He argues that, should Greek default on a portion of its debt, it would make it impossible to issue new loans to the country.
Unrealistic Calculations
It sounds logical enough, and yet it has little to do with the economic and political reality. After all, if a country's debt load exceeds a sustainable level, payback becomes even more unrealistic. The German government has long recognized the conundrum in the context of its development policy. Indeed, Berlin periodically forgives some of the loans made to highly indebted countries if they introduce reforms. In return, they receive fresh funds to pay for a new beginning.
This could also work in Greece, but Germany isn't interested. Instead, they come up with bizarre calculations. At Germany's request, for instance, the troika -- made up of the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank -- is to assume in its current report that Greece will achieve a so-called primary surplus of at least 5 percent as of 2016. This key number indicates the size of the budget surplus prior to interest payments. Experience shows that a value of 4.5 percent is more than optimistic, and IMF experts see anything higher than that as wishful thinking.
The troika calculations already seem completely unrealistic. In estimating the ability to carry debt, the experts assume that the Greek economy will return to annual growth of 4 to 5 percent after 2014 should all reforms be implemented.
Germany has become used to getting its way among euro-zone leaders. But it now faces growing resistance. Senior troika representatives, including ECB Executive Board member Jörg Asmussen, Thomas Wieser, the president of the Euro Working Group, and IMF representative Paul Thompson, are campaigning for a debt haircut, especially among smaller member states. Their goal is to reduce Greece's 2020 debt level from the 144 percent of GDP that it would likely be without any kind of debt forgiveness, to just 70 percent. To achieve the latter number, creditor countries would have to waive half of their claims.
Such a step would relieve Greece from its burdens and give it the ability to refinance itself on its own once again. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the Brussels illusionists will recognize this reality on Monday. Once again, the real numbers aren't likely to make an appearance at the table.
The Search for Sustainability
Much will depend on how IMF Managing Director Lagarde behaves. Only a few days ago, on her trip through Asia, she made it clear that she isn't interested in a quick but rather a "sustainable solution" to the Greece problem. "For one, I would like to give my blessing to a program for Greece that isn't based on wishful thinking. Second, I want to preserve the integrity, credibility and quality of out advisory activity."
Nevertheless, Lagarde has already made it clear that the IMF will not leave the negotiating table. A balance of terror is in place. If the IMF were to exit, the entire euro rescue would be a failure, because it would mean that other players, like the ECB, would also have to get out. And because everyone knows this, it won't happen.
But whatever the Euro Group decides to do now, it will not last until the German parliamentary election in September 2013, as Merkel and Schäuble would like. One senior official involved in the talks ventured a sober prognosis: "In the spring, we'll have to revisit this junk again."