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Monday, 7 March 2011

LIES, DAMN LIES AND INTERVIEWS WITH LEADING ECONOMISTS


Σημείωση: Αν βρεθήκατε σε αυτή τη σελίδα στην προσπάθειά σας να βρείτε τις πηγές της φερόμενης ως συνέντευξης του Mark Weisbrot με τίτλο Η ΑΡΓΕΝΤΙΝΗ ΔΕΝ ΗΤΑΝ ΤΙΠΟΤΑ. ΕΣΑΣ ΘΑ ΣΑΣ ΕΞΑΦΑΝΙΣΟΥΜΕ, δείτε την αποστομωτική απάντηση του ίδιου του καθηγητή παρακάτω. Επίσης ρίξτε μια ματιά και σε αυτή τη σελίδα. Βοηθήστε κι εσείς να εξυγιανθεί η Ελληνική μπλογκόσφαιρα, όχι με λογοκρισία, αλλά με αντίλογο.




An endlessly copy+pasted passage has reappeared in Greece in the last few months, worthy of our blogosphere's great tradition of making stuff up and of LOLGreece’s smaller but proud tradition of calling Orange Blog writers out for the untalented amateurs that they are.


In summary, the piece, entitled ‘Argentina was nothing – you will BE wipeD out!’ cites an interview, supposedly with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research.


“Weisbrot” is quoted as saying that the IMF intervention in Greece will be cataclysmic in its consequences, uprooting the Greek welfare state and abandoning the Greek people to exploitation from all angles through the labour market, asset and resource sell-offs, and the drugs trade – unless, that is, we band together in violent resistance and demand the payment of reparations from Germany.


First things first. The document is a hoax. How do I know? Because Weisbrot himself says so. This is obvious even to a fairly casual Googler.


Clue no. 1 that this is a hoax originated by illiterate idiots:


“Weisbrot” writes:


“Indeed [I hear] simultaneously in many circles in Geneva where I live, that Switzerland will give as a gift to Greece, without [claim of] restitution, 100 billion, not to lead a European country, with such tragic consequences, [into] the mouth of the lion.”


No Greek post-bailout meme is complete without a miraculous 'no-strings money' theory. First we had the Russians and the Chinese, and now an even more incredible candidate. In this one, "Weisbrot" claims that he has heard rumours of a EUR100bn bailout of Greece, no strings as per usual (in fact in this case we would wouldn’t even pay the principal back), which would see Switzerland, a non-EU and non-Eurozone member, hand over 28% of its GDP to us, just to keep the Euro from collapsing. Quite how the Swiss would find this money, let alone justify the transaction to their people, is never made clear but I guess we are to assume that, since Switzerland is where every high-net-worth individual’s savings end up, the Swiss have access to endless amounts of cash. This Underpants Gnome logic would be dismissed out of hand in any rational discourse, but for some in Greece it represents pretty mainstream thinking.


My theory is that the Swiss have been dragged into this ridiculous hoax because of the Swiss Central Bank’s desperate attempts to keep its currency competitive and its lenders from recognising huge losses as the Euro and Eastern European currencies came under pressure and wrath-of-God money started flowing out of the rest of Europe and into Switzerland. The Swiss Central Bank did make purchases that are not orders of magnitude below EUR100bn, so perhaps a desperately confused mind could link their purchases to Greece’s IMF loan.


That a leading economist would ever need to cite Genevan gossip on an issue as big as this one is ridiculous. And the fact that no newspapers or other news outlets, let alone the bond markets, have picked up on this monumental aid offer is beyond belief. But even if one overlooks this, there’s the very small matter of Weisbrot’s residence. Mark Weisbrot doesn't actually live in Geneva. He just doesn't. He lives in the States, where he works, and although he spends a great deal of time in South America he most definitely doesn't do so in Switzerland.


Clue no. 2 that this is a hoax promoted by illiterate idiots:
[of] the IMF the impression [was] that the Argentines believe[d] [us to be their] saviors.”
“They all [felt] that we [had] saved the country [which] was corrupt and [had] incompetent governments. It was incredible what correspondents broadcast, when we saw the truth with our eyes on every street in every neighborhood. You need to wake up in Greece now before it's too late, must at all costs avoid the IMF.”


Amazingly, the article seems to imply that Weisbrot himself worked for the IMF, and earlier editions say this explicitly. This is of course also not true.


I believe this muppetry arises from a confusion of Weisbrot’s testimony, and his links to Oliver Stone’s South of the Border, with the similarly-themed but much less factual Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, which was recently broadcast in documentary form in Greece, to a very positive reception by our chattering classes. In fact, it is probably this that reignited the “Weisbrod” interview meme.


Thanks to the excellent work of Diagoras and a public apology from ireporter to its readers, I now know that the hoax started when a real Weisbrot interview was posted in February 2010 here alongside an unattributed set of a comments which Olympia attributes elsewhere to an ex-IMF Vice President. Due to the two men sharing a salutation ("professor"), and the lack of a clarification to the effect that they are two separate sources, third parties including myself have deduced that all of the quotes in this article were attributed to Weisbrot. While I cannot know what the intention was, I note that Olympia also posted this, in which they claim to be the originators of the Weisbrot interview.

Whatever the case, one third party did believe the interview to be Weisbrot's and helped it go viral. Bits of the Olympia post were mixed with bits of another article by a well known Greek journo and then published, in April 2010, by ireporter (who, to their credit, have issued a full correction here). The hoax article then went briefly underground where it mutated around May and then circulated via email, probably until June 2010. I can trace the mutation to May 2010 because a reference to mass layoffs in the definitive version suggests it must be more recent than mid April but the reference to Swiss monetary intervention makes it earlier than June.

The first blog coverage of the 'definitive' version of the hoax was in that very month, and it appears to me to be this one.  But as with all things ill-researched and sensational, this story quickly made it onto Tro-ma-ktiko, our premier ‘Orange’ blog. In fact, it was published twice by the ever-astute Tro-ma-ktiko staff: once in Nov 2010, and once in March 2011, this time with a photo of Weisbrot in mid-press-conference, which would imply to the casual reader that his statements were official and on-the-record. Both instances were in fact published after Weisbrot himself had been interviewed by Epsilon and categorically stated that the ‘interview’ reported by Orange Blogs was a hoax. Even worse, it’s since been taken up by the Greek Union of Chemical, Pharmaceutical, Cosmetic and Related Company Employees (in Greek here and in Google-translated English here) and will no doubt be with us for ever more.
 

It is possible to trace the 2011 resurgence of this meme back to some of its origins, as Tro-ma-ktiko cites e-parembasis, which in turn cites Ramnousia. This only goes back to March 2011, and the trail ends here. But the article resurfaces in Nov. 2010 in sfrang2, and [bingo] in the widely read Athens Indymedia whose anarchist readers will have greatly sympathised with the following exhortations by “Weisbrot”:


[Believe me,] the only way [for you] to survive is to come out every day for one month, as one and united, 8 million people, adults I mean, onto the streets until all, I mean all, daily operations are suspended. Only in this way will the EU be coerced enough to give money, and interest-free at that, of which they have plenty.”
“In Argentina [in response to the] actions taken by the IMF, the [people] came [out into] the streets with axes, saws and scimitar[s] and burst into banks, media and government buildings and slaughtered, literally [decapitated] bank employees, managers, journalists, who [were] on top of corruption and fraud, and executives and members of industry, members of the Government, government [spokespersons] and certain members of the Government of the [Argentine] Ministry of Finance.”



In fact the meme resurfaced with no major alterations on Newstoday, on 29 May 2011.  
 
In fairness to the man, I should say that the real Weisbrot is indeed a very vocal critic of the IMF, as his Guardian column quickly reveals to even the most casual reader. He has signed a petition for an investigation into the causes of Greek debt, which I would strongly subscribe to, but has never called for Germany to pay reparations, to the best of my Googling ability.  He is particularly critical of the process of ‘internal devaluation’ taking place in Greece and far from arguing for our allies to save the Euro, he in fact argues that we should leave the Eurozone, as should Spain and indeed everyone else. I can agree with him on this as well, although I can’t think that we will agree on much else. He very much resents suggestions, including from the Greek side, that we need Europe’s help in order to manage our affairs. I don’t. I regret that it is true but it is. At any rate, the man’s positions on Europe are strongly at odds with what “Weisbrot” writes in our original hoax article:

“What saddens me most of all is that Europe and the EU generally do[es] not seem interested in saving the euro because if [Greece] fold[s], the Euro will be completely useless in international markets and throughout Europe, the Euro will collapse in an Argentine [type] crisis not only in Greece but [in] all countries [that are] EU members.”


The real Weisbrot has authored, way before the Greek bailout, a very interesting review of how IMF bailouts tend to work out, one which chimes perfectly with the current situation and which I recommend without hesitation. Read it and your minds will be cleansed from the stench of the Orange Blogs.


All of the above makes the fraud committed by the Orange Bloggers even more insidious because a superficial web check would confirm Weisbrot as a critic of the IMF and thus appear to confirm the authenticity of their “story.” Far from acting as researchers, or even bog-standard journos, they are pandering to the worst in the Greek people’s mentality, at a time when social peace is extremely fragile, and call specifically for murder and crippling strikes whilst hijacking the name of a solid academic (with whom I disagree on a lot but who is at least sane and rigorous in his thinking) and using him as their mouthpiece.


Freedom of speech is sacred; I would go further even than the law and justify freedom to slander and incite to violence as long as it is done in public and is open to refutation. These people must not be silenced. But those of us with a single brain cell that is not baying for blood must confront them. I will write to as many of them as I can this week, making it clear how dangerous and irresponsible their reporting is, how deeply it misrepresents our people to the rest of the world, and how deeply ashamed they ought to be of themselves as citizen journalists. I note that, in the endless iterations of this fraudulent story, others have stood up to misinformation way before I did – it is to one of them that I owe the link to the Epsilon interview. I urge you: please do as these good people have.


And now for the full-on, hernia-defying belly-chuckle, which I never saw coming: the Centre for Economic Policy Research, of which Weisbrot is co-director, acknowledges as its generous supporters none other than the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation. If you fail to see the irony, you may want to read back to this post. How will the Orange Bloggers and Indymedia live with themselves now?


UPDATE: Mark Weisbrot's colleagues have come back with a very comprehensive refutation, which you can read here. It appears they are willing to pursue this matter in the appropriate manner, so stay tuned. Their official line is as follows:
Από το Κέντρο Οικονομικών και Πολιτικών Ερευνών:
Ο Mark Weisbrot δεν είπε ούτε έγραψε αυτά που του αποδίδουν σε αυτήν την υποτιθέμενη «συνέντευξη», για την οποία δεν αναφέρεται ούτε συντάκτης ούτε πηγή.
Αυτή η δήθεν συνέντευξη είναι ένα ατυχές συμβάν καθώς δημιουργεί περαιτέρω σύγχυση στην αντιπαράθεση σχετικά με ένα ιδιαίτερα σημαντικό θέμα: τα προτεινόμενα μέτρα λιτότητας και τις εναλλακτικές λύσεις όσον αφορά στην οικονομική ύφεση που αντιμετωπίζει η Ελλάδα.
Οποιοσδήποτε ενδιαφέρεται για αυτά που πραγματικά είπε και έγραψε ο Mark Weisbrot σχετικά με αυτό το θέμα θα πρέπει να διαβάσει εδώ: http://www.skai.gr/news/finance/article/156255/mark-weisbrot-yparhei-kai-allos-dromos
και εδώ: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/eurozone-crisis-is-self-inflicted
The list of blogs that have decided to flag reposts of this hoax as debunked continues to grow. If you have done so in your blog, or are aware of a blog that has done so, please send me a link so I can add those blogs to the list:

  • i-reporter have issued, as I said before, the best possible correction 
  • e-parembasis [e-intervention] 
  • Pyli Iasonos [Jason's Gate ]Despite the name of the editor this one has no relation to me at all.
  • Alithina Psemmata [True Lies] 
  • Arhaia Ithomi [Ancient Ithomi], which also cited much of our Dear Reader page on the matter. Many thanks! 
  • Greek Tastes also cites much of this blog post. Many thanks!
  • Aetos Halkidikis [Eagle of Chalkidike]
  • Top Secret 
  • Pentapostagma [Quintuple Distillation] put up a fight over this, initially responding that they couldn't know whether the story was true or not (which they forgot to mention in their post) but would need proof of the contrary. Upon receiving this they responded that they would put 'my view' across to readers for discussion if I sent a suggestion. I could probably have done that but there are no views to be discussed, as though equally valid. Only the truth of Weisbrot's refutation. 
  • stopcartel were a particularly nasty case; upon first contact with Weisbrot's associates they questioned the identity of the latter and argued that regardless of its authenticity the core narrative of the forged document was close enough to his views. Both the Centre staff and myself and finally Weisbrot himself wrote to them to explain that this is bullshit and they should not attribute a dangerous, forged statement to anyone regardless of how representative of their views they think it is. Eventually the post was taken down. Weisbrot's associate notes that they should really be ashamed of themselves. I concur.
  • the notorious tromaktiko originally made a goodwill gesture by posting one of Weisbrot's real interviews. I remained unsatisfied because any reader who has fallen for the original posts quoting the forged "interview" will only have his/her beliefs reinforced by this new post. I wrote to them again, on email, Facebook and Twitter, and expressed my confidence that they will find an acceptable solution to this. With none of their originally quoted sources still showing the story, they eventually backed down 'for the sake of my health' as they put it over email and have since pulled the story. [Actually a third copy is still up and I've asked for that to be corrected but for now I'm happy].
  • But the medal of muppetry goes to sfrang2, the personal blog of one Stelios G. Frangopoulos who I am assured by a trustworthy reader (see below) is normally a proper gent. Frangopoulos acknowledged that the document is a hoax, but posited like stopcartel that it is irrelevant who wrote the document. It is the ideas that matter. I responded with a set of questions he could have put to his readers on the basis of this document if he had really meant to provoke a discussion. His epic response was: 
    "Mano, you have developed an obsession with this blog post, as though I am meant to be some kind of Union of Journalists ethics board. I gave you the answers I needed to, and had I known from the start that the document was a hoax I would not have posted it. But neither am I going to go researching next time
    [I post something like this] to confirm the validity of the text. I will post whatever I take a shine to. If the blog fails to gush forth the level of rigor that you are looking for, don't read it. I am not going to do any more."
My regards, Stelio. I will put that response down to a bad day at the Uni.


While this is only a very small start, and not a campaign I can afford to repeat, it is a victory of sorts. if enough people sign up to this way of doing things we could start making a difference. One man can do this work in less than a week. What can 100 people do?

FINAL UPDATE: I've just found out there is a word for that kind of unthinking copy+paste syndication: It's called Churnalism. A brilliant piece of terminology courtesy of filmmaker Chris Atkins, which actually manages to sound like LOLspeak as well.

3 comments:

  1. Nice blog, good writing, and on a very good subject, too.

    Sfrang is not based in Vienna, he is right here in Greece. He is a good guy. I do not know what has gotten into him with this post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Διαγόρα,

    σε ευχαριστώ για τα καλά σου λόγια αλλά κυρίως για τις επισημάνσεις σχετικά με τον sfrang. Έκανα μερικές σχετικές διορθώσεις για να είμαι πιο δίκαιος.

    Δες επίσης την καταπληκτική διόρθωση που δημοσίευσε το ireporter. Δεν μπορώ να τους κρατήσω κακία μετά από αυτό, αν και η όλη ιστορία είναι ΠΟΛΥ ύποπτη. Το δε κουβάρι ξετιλύγεται κι άλλο όπως βλέπεις. Βρέθηκε πηγή από το Φλεβάρη... Προσωπικά δεν έχω πλέον χρόνο για να το κυνηγήσω αλλά θα παρακολουθώ την ιστορία όσο μπορώ.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Good post and Smart Blog
    Thanks for your good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog Ancient Greece Art and more Subsistence in The Early Iron Age in Ancient Greece thanks again admin

    ReplyDelete

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