Idiocracy and twitter


What do you call it when the Prime Minister tweets questionable messages to a fellow PM while visiting their country for an international summit?

Lets have a look at the exchange and judge for ourselves.

Tsipras, the Greek PM, tweeted from his personal account in Greek the following:


And then through his English language account, with the help of Google translate it seems, he posted this:

tsipras ENG

Then, surprise surprise the Turkish PM responded:


The ‘managers’ of Tsipras accounts then proceeded to remove the English post, left the Greek one and posted on the Government account this:


What have we learned from this exchange? First, it seems that Tsipra’s accounts are run by monkeys, or perhaps a couple of IT savvy goats.

Secondly we learned that the Aegean is an issue to discuss with Turkey. Ever since the Lausanne Treaty that ended the Turkish-Greek war in 1923, Greece has refused to discuss the Aegean arguing that there is no problem to discuss. It has been a cornerstone of Greek foreign policy that there is no territorial dispute in the Aegean for almost 100 years. Yet yesterday Mr Tsipras told us there is something to discuss.


Here are the BBC and Guardian accounts of this event.

How do you feel?



Syria: Why Cameron and Corbyn are both wrong


How do you bomb back to the stone age people who already live in the stone age (with Toyotas of course)?

This week a great debate has taken place in the UK, as to whether Britain should join with France, the US, Russia (and everyone else for that matter) in bombing Syria. The UK is already involved in military action against Daesh, but they have been attacking targets in Iraq, not within Syria.

Cameron, the PM, in Parliament has argued for authorisation to expand a bombing campaign to include targets within Syria, trying to convince MPs that this is necessary in order to safeguard national interests.

Corbyn, the new leader of (old, so very old) Labour has failed to fall in line and back the plan. He argues that the PM has not made a convincing case on how a Syria expedition will help make the UK safer, and also complains that there is no plan for Syrian reconstruction after the (hoped) defeat of Daesh.

They are both wrong. Cameron in fact has made no convincing case that bombing Daesh will make the UK safer, at least in the short to medium term. He also has no idea what to do about Syria (no-one does). British action against Daesh directly will probably increase the chances of a retaliatory attack in the UK (Paris style perhaps).

Corbyn is wrong in saying that a comprehensive plan is needed before engaging Daesh directly. He is also wrong on the security issue in the long run. Britain will not be safer if Daesh establishes a long lasting caliphate.

Should the UK then join in the Syria fight?

I think bombing alone (never-mind with or without Britain) will not defeat Daesh. Everyone is doing it already, with gusto after the Paris attacks. More bombing is likely to be of little strategic value.

I also think bombing will increase the security threat to the UK. To make matters worse, we do not know what to do about Syria and while we are trying to work something out, bombing in itself does not offer a path to a solution.

Nonetheless, I think Britain should join in.

A united western front against Daesh is important in terms of symbolism. Joint action may lead to a ground assault where everyone collaborates to defeat Daesh on the ground. Turkey’s actions last week (downing the Russian jet) makes this more difficult, but everything is possible.

Britain is a key component of NATO, a key European defense partner. It is not possible that it passes on the war on Daesh. Parliament should vote to authorise action, despite the numerous problems with that choice.

Does this sound too George Bush? Too War on Terror? It probably does. Maybe we are beginning to see things like the Americans did after 9/11. There is a difference though, Daesh claimed the Paris attacks as many others. It has a geographical presence and a territory under its control we can wage war against. This is not another Iraq invasion.

Will innocent people die? Yes, inevitably. Is this blood on our hands? Yes, probably. Why am I proposing that we do it then?

Let me ask you this, firstly, if Cameron does not act and there is another attack in the UK, wouldn’t you immediately advocate action against Daesh? Do we need to wait for them to attack us in order to act?

Secondly, if democratic states run by legitimate governments do not react to significant threats like Daesh now, who do you think will be calling the shots after the next election? Hollande is doing everything he can think of both due to the threat that Daesh represents for France and Europe and because of the threat of Le Pen winning the presidency.

Corbyn’s pacifism is great and principled, but if the public feel threatened they will vote for those who promise security, and they may well be fascists. We do not have FN in the UK, but we could, and if this keeps up, we will. Do you think that if Le Pen replaces Hollande, she will worry about collateral losses?

Am I sure about this? No, I am not sure about anything. Neither is Cameron, Corbyn, Hollande, anyone.

Britain needs to join the fight and do it now.


We are where we are, but one needs to act


Europe is Kaput


Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Europe is Kaput event at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Srecko Horvat chaired a discussion with Yanis Varoufakis, Slavoj Žižek and (surprise guest, via video-link of course) Julian Assange.

Search on twitter for #europeiskaput for pictures and tweets from the event (despite the lack of mobile/Wi-Fi signal, we managed).

The one point from the discussion I would like to draw out specifically is the position of the left vis-a-vis the Brexit referendum. Yanis, being (surprisingly) pro-European would like to see Britain as part of the EU. Yanis believes that Europe can and has to reform and that Britain should be within and not without this process. I totally agree with him, but I still have a problem. My problem is that Yanis’ presentation is entirely prospective, about how the EU could become once again an institution that serves its people, more democratic, transparent, responsive. As to what Europe represents now, there is little positive to say. We will have to fight the Referendum campaign before the EU has had the chance to reform (on Yanis, or Cameron’s terms). We are still looking for a positive message as to what the EU is about now that we can put forward to the public. There is little of that in sight still.

Slavoj is not pro-European Union so he would not help us with the above problem. He likened pro-Europeans (in the sense of the EU in its current capitalist incarnation) with Communist apologists who were arguing that the USSR was fine overall, just had a democratic deficit. In his view the EU is not fine overall, it has problems wider than the democratic deficit. I am guessing he would see Brexit more positively than Yani.

Srecko who I talked to over a cigarette break (his, not mine) seems in favour of Britain in the EU, but also seems to think that Corbyn has better chances than I calculate. He did not think that the left will vote for Brexit. I hope he is right.

Finally, I have to note that Yanis, Srecko and a number of people went to eat dinner at the cafe across the hall (nothing fancy). Yanis was very nice when we went to talk to him despite a little provocation on my part (I accused him of calling me “internal-Troika” once). I wish most well known professors were as approachable.

I am hoping Yanis, and his cross-European movement (in development) will help us convince the left here to support Britain in the EU.


In defence of the Republic


As every thinking person in the world I am disgusted by what happened in Paris yesterday. France is my country as London is my home and Greece my origin. I cannot do anything to help with what is happening, so I will just share some thoughts on this blog.

The despicable attacks in Paris raise a number of key issues.

Firstly, Europe has a problem in Syria. ISIS is claiming this attack, as many others. We knew for years now that Syria would be a problem, policy makers knew, everyone knew, yet nothing happened to help resolve the conflict. Now everyone is involved in the war in Syria, and France will be more active for certain. President Holland called the attacks an act of war, so retaliation is a given. Syria has been the spawn of the medieval murderous theocracy that is ISIS and has sparked an unprecedented humanitarian and refugee crisis that again Europe does not know how to deal with.

ISIS needs to be defeated militarily and the situation in the middle east needs to be brought under control. I guess the majority of my readers will agree with this.

Secondly, Europe has a security problem. While one can fight the enemy (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq and wherever they crop up, one cannot address the internal security problem effectively. Israel is the proof of this. The more repressive a state becomes, the more widespread the threat becomes. Islamic terrorism is a monster that cannot be defeated by internal security.

Paris had already combat-ready troops in the streets. I went to visit the centre last month and around all tourist attractions were groups of 4-5 soldiers with automatic weapons. Same in the metro, same at railway terminals. The attacks still happen. If you place a soldier on every street corner, the attacks will still happen. In Israel, in an environment of almost total security lockdown, you have attacks carried out with knives, people driving trucks onto bus-stops.

The way to minimise the chance of attacks is to create a total surveillance and total security state that is totalitarian, nazi like. This is not a compromise most people are willing to make. This is a compromise people should not consider making.

The values of the Republic need to be preserved against this threat. Abandoning human rights and personal liberty is no win over extremism.

Thirdly, Europe (and the world) has a problem with Islam. Yes other religions have conducted atrocities, yes atheist regimes have committed crimes, yes everyone has their hands dirty. Islam has its hands dirty today, now. Islam in its current expression, interpretation and practice has managed to generate the kind of blind fanaticism that has people shooting innocent civilians point-blank, throwing bombs on unarmed crowds and think it just.

I am not suggesting here that Islam has to be supressed. I am suggesting however that Muslims worldwide need to mobilise to purge their ranks of these murderers and fanatics. Islam in its current incarnation is not a religion of peace. Christianity was not a religion of peace, but it became one. Atheism was not consistent with peace, but it strives to be. Muslims need to act now, do more, save their religion from the medieval fanatics that have come to define it.

Fourthly, the injustice, inequality and marginalisation that have become the hallmarks of financialised capitalism are feeding fanaticism. The ruling class needs to comprehend that the young men who join medieval factions like ISIS would not do so if they had a future in a capitalist liberal world. Europe needs to rethink its social contract to re-absorb the ‘losers’ of the system in society. Nothing can be solved at home if this is not addressed, and fast.

We need therefore to defeat ISIS in its homelands, preserve the values of the Republic in France and in Europe, help Islam purge itself of the fanatics and ameliorate the excesses of capitalism. If we do this, we will have a future of security. If not, the public will turn to the fascists in a desperate effort to protect itself. Do not kid yourselves, Le Pen as president would make everything worse.



The #TEF fantasy land


The government is obsessed with the quality of higher education provision. It is so obsessed, because it figured that any further increases in fees will not be accepted without sugar-coating them in the language of ‘excellence’.

Little is said however about the working conditions of the teaching staff themselves. We want the best experience for our students (as a sector) yet we subcontract huge proportions of our teaching to PhD students and casualised staff on zero-hours contracts. The logic is to look fancy, pay the big professors enough to have a lifestyle akin to that of their richest friends, bill students through the nose for everything, while those at the bottom (of the pay scale and of respect) actually do the work.

In a way, it has always been like this, but the TEF elevates these trends to really abhorrent levels. Here is what Sally Hunt, UCU president had to say about it:

The government’s higher education green paper which was published last week. A green paper is usually a consultative document issued prior to legislation. In this case however, there is little doubt that the government has already made up their mind on the central idea in the green paper which is the creation of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The stated aim of the ‘TEF’ is to measure the quality of teaching and allow any institution whose overall teaching quality is found to meet or exceed the set standards to increase their tuition fees incrementally each year above and beyond the current cap. The ‘TEF’ will apply to any publicly funded higher education whether it takes place in universities or in a further education institution.

Initially the government proposes to use such measures as National Student Survey (NSS) data, graduate employment figures, and information on student retention to determine whether institutions have done well enough to be allowed to charge higher fees. Ultimately, by linking the quality of teaching to tuition fees, the government hopes to create a competitive environment in which universities compete for students based on their TEF scores.

There is plenty wrong with trying to adopt this market-based approach within education but what exercises me most is the almost complete absence from the debate around teaching quality of the teacher themselves and the conditions in which they work. Higher education is essentially a human endeavour and the working conditions of staff are by definition also the conditions that the students learn in. Who, in that context, could argue that teaching quality is not important? But in truth the only sustainable way to address the issue is to radically change the employment model which universities and colleges use to provide teaching under which more than 40% of all teachers are on one form of temporary contract or another.

I made this point forcefully to the minister Jo Johnson on UCU’s behalf when I met him before the green paper was published and it is worth noting that in response the government is now suggesting that one future measure of quality might be the proportion of staff on permanent terms and conditions. For me, how an institution treats its staff is the test of whether it is committed to enhancing the experience of its students and I will continue to press this point with politicians, employers and civil servants alike on your behalf.

There is plenty more in the green paper, including dangerous proposals to allow private providers to get even easier access to public funds and I wrote to members of parliament and peers this week to brief them on our concerns. You can read what the union said in our message to politicians here.


#PanousisGate and the circus


As you know already, Greece is a complicated and strange place. It is getting stranger under the proud guidance of Syriza.

A report from Vatican Radio (of all places), summarises the latest debacle nicely. The Greek former interior security minister says members of the ruling leftwing Syriza party maintain ties to convicted terrorists, and have threatened his life if he reveals them. Yannis Panousis (half of us are called Yannis, but there is disagreement as to the appropriate number of ‘n’s), Greece’s Public Order minister until two months ago, said he decided to go public despite the threats, and has testified before a prosecutor.  He says he knows of at least two serving parliamentary deputies of Syriza who maintain contacts with jailed terrorists. The allegations reopen old claims that Syriza has links with far-left anarchist groups, some of which have staged bloody attacks on police and kidnapped business figures.

According to the Greek Reporter, Panousis claims that a member of SYRIZA and advisor to the justice ministry Panayiotis Lamprou had close talks with a jailed member of the guerilla group Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire (left wing terrorists have a knack for complicated names). Panousis has presented as evidence a conversation inside a prison cell recorded by a bug placed by the National Intelligence Service. During the conversation Lamprou allegedly promises the imprisoned terrorist that a new bill to be signed by the justice ministry will include the release of certain terrorists and an easing on jail terms on convicts.

The government has responded with lawsuits. Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos and Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas filed a complaint against everyone responsible for circulating allegations by Panousis (just in case you are wondering, this post is offering commentary on news reports, it is not circulating allegations). The two ministers reportedly asked the Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court to investigate possible criminal responsibilities and those who leaked the documents as well as the mass media that circulated Panousis’ allegations. Regarding the report, Paraskevopoulos said “it contains dialogues that are made public and we don’t know if they are real, but they seem to come from agencies that safeguard secrecy. These published texts generate concern and insecurity.” According to reports, the two ministers asked the prosecution to investigate offenses, such as privacy violation, stealing state documents, and violation of state secrets.

The anti-Syriza media (almost all of them) are making a big deal out of this. The reason is that Syriza has a lot of members who were involved in human and civil rights work. This work brought them into contact with convicts and people accused of common and terrorism related crimes. Defending the accused is an unpleasant job but someone has to do it. Nothing wrong with it. Ensuring that prisoners’ rights are respected is also an unpleasant job, but vital in a democracy.

Whether people on the fringe left had sympathies for left wing terrorist groups is another matter. We are not yet in a situation where people are convicted of impure thoughts.

Is it possible that Syriza members were colluding with convicted terrorists and considered Panousis enough of an impediment to their plans to threaten his life? This is implausible, but assessing whether it is true is now the job of prosecutors.

What is interesting is the (as usual) shambolic and incompetent reaction of the government. Even if Panousis violated the Greek version of the Official Secrets Act, having the Minister of Justice running to the prosecutor to open a case against a recent former minister of the same party seems rash. Various Syriza spokespeople yelling on TV studios about democracy and attempts to discredit the government and coups is silly.

Things are bad enough without constant new acts in this circus.