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The UN is tired of the war in Ukraine and Liz Cheney is tired of Trump

17-8-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

Politico: Greece emerges from economic stagnation

On August 20, Athens officially winds down the enhanced surveillance regime that followed its three back-to-back bailouts from 2010 to 2018.

The move sends "a message to investors and markets that Greece is out of the woods [and] a step closer to investment grade," according to George Pagoulatos, head of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy think tank in Athens.

“After 12 years … a difficult chapter for our country comes to a close,” Greece's Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said in a statement last week, adding that this will allow the country greater freedom in making economic policy.

The European Commission welcomed Greece's achievements and its commitment to continue carrying out reforms beyond the end of enhanced surveillance.

But the headlines obscure the fact that Greece is still struggling with many of the weaknesses that have weighed on growth for decades, analysts say. And they make the economy particularly vulnerable to the fresh shocks from the Ukraine war, the energy crisis and stagflation risk that are looming over the eurozone.

"Inflation is at the highest level in 29 years [while] wages are still very low," points out Wolfango Piccoli, a co-president at consultancy Teneo. "There are new economic challenges that completely sideline this moment. The focus for voters is on the real economy, rather than on technical issues."

Greece's economy has rebounded since the crisis era. The unemployment rate, which during the crisis reached a staggering 28 percent, is now at 12.5 percent. Its gross domestic product grew by 8.3 percent in 2021 and the Commission expects it to grow by 4 percent in 2022 and 2.4 percent in 2023.

However, inflation stands at 11.5 percent, making the cost of living almost unbearable for many Greeks. Greece also lags behind most advanced economies in offering well-paid jobs, according to the OECD.

Moreover, despite the reforms that Athens had to push through under the bailout deals, it wasn't able to chip away at some of the biggest structural challenges. Those include a massive bureaucracy, especially in the legal system, and chronic tax evasion.

Rather than diversifying its economy, Greece remains hugely dependent on tourism. And the vast majority of businesses — typically small enterprises — are considered insolvent.

Meanwhile, Greece still bears the dubious distinction as the only eurozone member whose sovereign debt has junk rating — even though Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis claims that the country could achieve investment grade status in the first half of 2023.

Against this backdrop, Greek sovereign debt remains among the most expensive in the eurozone — reflecting investor sentiment that there's still a hefty premium needed to hold its government bonds.

As of Tuesday, the yield on its 10-year bond was 3.26 percent, compared to 3.07 percent for Italy, which has been beset with political turmoil. That's well above the ultra-safe German bund at 0.94 percent.

On the domestic front, Athens has implemented numerous reforms, including in the welfare system, the labor market and tax governance. Some long-planned measures remain pending, but they are extended to October, including, among others, progress in a number of privatizations, clearance of pensions backlog and putting the tax office system into full operation.

Greece is also among the biggest beneficiaries through the EU's pandemic recovery fund, and is in line to receive up to €17.8 billion in grants and €12.7 billion in loans. The country's RRF program sets out that 37.5 percent of the plan will support green investments and 23.3 percent will be directed toward the digital transition.

Despite all the progress, many economists now say that the long-term cost of the bailouts — which channeled some €290 billion of loans from the Commission, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund — inflicted pain that's still being felt today. The austerity measures imposed by creditors, mainly in the form of steep cuts to public services and crushing taxes, amounted to €72 billion.

“The EU learned a lot in the 'workshop' of the Greek crisis and this allowed it to react faster and more effectively to future challenges,” said Evangelos Venizelos, who held senior roles in the Greek government between 2011 and 2015, including as deputy prime minister, during the bailout crisis.

Greece has made tremendous progress, argued Alvaro Santos Pereira, the OECD's director of country studies, but still has a lot to do to catch up with its peers.

Reuters: War Fatigue - Is the UN ready to soften Russia's isolation?

On a June night under the chandeliers of Russia's United Nations mission in New York, dozens of U.N. ambassadors from Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia attended a reception to mark the country's national day - less than four months after its forces invaded neighboring Ukraine.

"We thank all of you for your support and your principled position against the so-called anti-Russian crusade," Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told them, after accusing countries he did not name of trying to "cancel" Russia and its culture.

The crowd of ambassadors illustrated the difficulties facing Western diplomats in trying to sustain international resolve to isolate Russia diplomatically after an initial flurry of U.N. denunciations for attacking Ukraine.

Wary of frustration and concern among some countries that the war is consuming too much global attention nearly six months in with no prospect of the United Nations being able to end it, Western diplomats acknowledge they are limited in how they can significantly further target Russia beyond having meetings.

"As the war has dragged on, it has become harder to find meaningful ways to penalize Russia," said Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the independent International Crisis Group.

In some cases, Western countries are shying away from some specific moves, fearing tepid support, as rising vote abstentions have signaled a growing unwillingness to publicly oppose Moscow, diplomats and observers said.

The European Union mulled a plan in June to appoint a U.N. expert to investigate human rights violations in Russia, according to diplomats, but it shelved the idea over fears nearly half the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva might oppose it.

"Countries are asking: 'Is it really so wise to be among those who beat down Russia?'," said Olaf Wientzek, director of the Geneva office of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

The Russian mission to the United Nations in Geneva said Western states "know all too well that it's impossible to isolate Russia since it's a global power."

Diplomatic isolation did not extend to a secret ballot in Geneva to decide the best "national dress" at a reception in June. A Russian diplomat won and video showed her being awarded a box of chocolates. Ukraine's delegation walked out.

As a veto power on the 15-member U.N. Security Council Russia can shield itself from substantial action like sanctions, but it has also campaigned to blunt support for Western diplomatic moves elsewhere.

Ahead of a vote by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly in April to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, Moscow warned countries that a yes vote or abstention would be viewed as "unfriendly" with consequences for their relations.

The U.S.-led move succeeded, garnering 93 votes in favor, 24 votes against and 58 abstentions.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Russia has been able to sway some countries with a "false narrative" that Western sanctions are to blame for a global food crisis stoked by Moscow's war, but argued that it had not translated into greater support for Russia.

"More than 17 African countries abstained for fear of Russian intimidation tactics against them. So we have to be conscious of that," she told the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in July.

"Support will wane because the March resolutions represent a high water mark; and there is no appetite for further action unless red lines are crossed," a senior Asian diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some diplomats have suggested such red lines could be a nuclear or chemical weapons attack, large-scale civilian deaths or annexation of Ukrainian territory.

"Most puzzling to us is the idea that a conflict like this is in essence being encouraged to continue indefinitely," said a senior African diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing Western weapons supplies to Ukraine and a lack of real talks to peacefully end the conflict.

Ukraine has appealed for Russia to be expelled from the United Nations. But making the unprecedented move requires a Security Council recommendation - that can be blocked by Russia - and then a General Assembly vote.

Another option could be to revoke the credentials of Russian President Vladimir Putin's representatives but that would need at least majority support of the General Assembly. Will it be available any time soon? That is really a big question.

CNN: Liz Cheney - lose to win

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who since the insurrection at the Capitol has become the Republican Party's most forceful critic of former President Donald Trump, was ousted from her House seat by Trump-backed Harriet Hageman.

In Alaska, voters were casting ballots in another race the former President is focused on, with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski squaring off in the first of what's likely to be two rounds against the Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin, meanwhile, is attempting a political comeback in a special election for the state's lone House seat.

Political analysts have already drawn preliminary conclusions on Trump's alarming political activism - and they certainly sound scary.

Trump caps his purge of intra-party rivals.

Trump and his allies have spent the spring and summer turning Republican primaries across the political map into bitter fights in which loyalty to the former President was the central factor.

He lost some high-profile battles, including in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger held off Trump-back challengers. But in most open-seat races, Trump's candidates triumphed. And on Tuesday in Wyoming, Trump, who had endorsed Hageman on the day she entered the race against Cheney, claimed his biggest victory yet.

Cheney is now the eighth of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump following the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol to exit the House. Four have opted not to seek reelection, and three more have lost GOP primaries.

Liz Cheney
Photo: Getty Images

In the lead-up to Tuesday's primary, Cheney insisted she was trying to win.

But her strategy -- attempting to convince the Republican electorate in a state the former President won by a margin of 43 percentage points in 2020 to turn on him -- suggests she'd made a different choice: to go down swinging.

She infuriated Republicans by urging Wyoming Democrats and unaffiliated voters to switch their party registration and vote in Tuesday's GOP primary.

Surrounded by US Capitol Police officers on the campaign trail, Cheney opted for small, private events over rallies. She lambasted Trump in television interviews.

Her campaign's closing message was a TV ad featuring her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, calling Trump a "coward" who lies to his supporters and "tried to steal the last election" using violence.

Her election night event, on a ranch in Jackson Hole with the sun setting over the Grand Tetons in the background, didn't feature any television screens for supporters to watch results tabulated in a race Cheney was all but certain to lose.

She told supporters that she could have cozied up to Trump and did what she'd done in the primary two years earlier: win with 73% of the vote.

"That was a path I could not and would not take," Cheney said. "No House seat, no office in this land, is more important than the principles that we are all sworn to protect. And I well understood the potential political consequences of abiding by my duty."

Cheney's decision to use the spotlight of her high-profile House primary to tee off on Trump was never a winning one in Wyoming. But it did endear her to a segment of anti-Trump donors and position her as the GOP's most strident critic of Trump.

The three-term congresswoman has not said what her next political move will be -- including whether she'll run for president in 2024 as a foil for Trump.

But she used her speech to preview a continued fight against Trump, without laying out exactly what that means.

"I have said since January 6 that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that Donald Trump is never again near the Oval Office, and I mean it. This is a fight for all of us, together," she said.

"I'm a conservative Republican. ... But I love my country more. So I ask you tonight to join me: As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together, Republicans, Democrats and independents, against those who would destroy our republic."

BBC: Nasa is ready for the next giant leap for mankind

The American space agency Nasa is rolling out its giant new Moon rocket to prepare it for a maiden flight.

Known as the Space Launch System (SLS), the vehicle is being taken to Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a lift-off scheduled for 29 August.

Photo: NASA

The debut outing is a test with no crew aboard, but future missions will send astronauts back to the lunar surface for the first time in over 50 years.

The near 100m-tall SLS is riding an immense tractor to the pad.

It started moving from its assembly building at Kennedy late on Tuesday evening, local time, but with a cruising speed of just over 1km/h, it could take 8-10 hours to complete the 6.7km journey.

This is a key moment for Nasa, which will celebrate in December the half-century anniversary of Apollo 17, the very last human landing on the Moon.

The agency has vowed to return with its new Artemis programme, using technology that befits the modern era (Artemis was Greek god Apollo's twin sister and goddess of the Moon).

Nasa sees a return to the Moon as a way to prepare to go to Mars with astronauts sometime in the 2030s or soon after.

The SLS will have 15% more thrust off the pad than Apollo's Saturn V rockets. This extra power will allow the vehicle to not only send astronauts far beyond Earth but, additionally, so much equipment and cargo that those crews could stay away for extended periods.

The crew capsule, also, is a step up in capability. Called Orion, it is much more spacious, being a metre wider, at 5m, than the historic command modules of the 1960s and 70s.

"To all of us that gaze up at the Moon, dreaming of the day humankind returns to the lunar surface - folks, we're here! We are going back. And that journey, our journey, begins with Artemis 1," said Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson.

"The first crewed launch, Artemis 2, is two years from now in 2024. We're hoping that the first landing, Artemis 3, will be in 2025," he told BBC News.

Nasa has promised that this third mission will witness the first woman to put her boots down on the Moon's surface.

Once the SLS arrives at its launch pad, engineers will have just over a week and a half to get the vehicle ready for flight.

Three possible launch opportunities exist at the end of the month, starting with Monday 29 August.

If technical issues or inclement weather prevent the rocket from getting off Earth on this date, a further attempt can be made on Friday 2 September, and, failing that, on Monday 5 September.

The scope of the mission is to send Orion looping around the back of the Moon before bringing it home for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off California.

A major objective of the test fight is to check the heatshield on the capsule can survive the heat of re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

A key partner on the upcoming mission is Europe.

It is providing the propulsion module that sits on the back of Orion, pushing it through space.

"More than 10 countries in Europe have been working on this European Space Agency contribution. It's a hugely important moment for us," explained Siân Cleaver from aerospace manufacturer Airbus.

"The European Service Module is not just a payload, it's not just a piece of equipment - it's a really critical element because Orion can't get to the Moon without us."

While Nasa is developing the SLS, the American rocket entrepreneur Elon Musk is preparing an even larger vehicle at his R&D facility in Texas.

He calls his giant rocket the Starship, and it will play a role in future Artemis missions by linking up with Orion to get astronauts down to the surface of the Moon.

Like SLS, Starship has yet to have a maiden flight. Unlike SLS, Starship has been designed to be totally reusable and ought therefore to be considerably cheaper to operate.

A recent assessment from the Office of Inspector General, which audits Nasa programmes, found that the first four SLS missions would each cost more than $4bn to execute - a sum of money that was described as "unsustainable".

The agency said changes made to the way it contracts industry would bring down future production costs significantly.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva