Whitewashing Stalin: Seumas Milne

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Norman-bates (3)Our subject this week has been Seumas Milne, Guardian columnist turned British Labour Party spokesman. Before we move on, a quick question: have you taken a good at his pictures? Yes, he’s handsome. But what about that look in his eyes? Is it just us, or – no, no, never mind. 

Anyway, on to our final couple of points. We’ve already witnessed Milne’s readiness to stand up for Stalin in the face of criticism. But it’s worth underscoring that he gets especially worked up whenever anyone dares to mention Stalin’s name in the same breath as Hitler’s. This is a thread that runs throughout his work, but two examples will have to suffice.

First, in a 2002 article, Milne slammed Martin Amis’s new book Koba the Dread, a passionate polemic about the evils of Soviet Communism and the moral obloquy of its Western apologists. In response to Amis’s cogent indictment of the Kremlin dictator, Milne argued strenuously that Stalin was nowhere near as bad as Hitler: “Despite the cruelties of the Stalin terror, there was no Soviet Treblinka, no extermination camps built to murder people in their millions.”

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Martin Amis

No. But there was a deliberately engineered Ukrainian famine that took millions of lives; there was a policy of forced collectivization that also led to millions of deaths; and there was a national network of prisons, the Gulag, in which yet more millions perished. Unlike the Nazi death camps, the Gulag endured for decades; yet it has never received even a fraction of the attention in the West that has been devoted to Hitler’s atrocities.

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Niall Ferguson

Example #2. In a 2009 piece reacting to Niall Ferguson’s statement that Stalin was “as much an aggressor as Hitler,” Milne again rushed to Stalin’s defense, insisting that “Soviet and Russian acknowledgment of Stalin’s crimes already goes far beyond…any such apologies by Britain or France for the crimes of colonialism” and fervently denying that “Soviet repression reached anything like the scale or depths of Nazi savagery – or that the postwar ‘enslavement’ of eastern Europe can be equated with wartime Nazi genocide.” As part of his effort to whitewash Stalin, Milne shamelessly smeared some of the nations Stalin subjugated – namely, Poland and the Baltic republics – as Nazi allies and collaborators.

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Milne sends his kids to the Tiffin School, Kingston-upon-Thames

Enough. One last, unsavory detail: on top of everything else, Milne turns out to be a world-class hypocrite. While championing the public sector over the private, posing as a champion of working people, and cheering on totalitarian regimes that force “equality” on the proles at the point of a gun, Milne lives like any other man of privilege, luxuriating in a £2 million mansion in the exclusive London suburb of Richmond and sending his kids to a fancy private academy when there are at least four free public schools (note: we’re speaking American here) closer to home.

No wonder foreign correspondent Kate Godfrey was so exercised over Milne’s appointment. Addressing Corbyn directly in an article for the Independent, she asked:  

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Josef Stalin

How could you? How bloody could you? How could you appoint Seumas Milne to be your voice, your eyes, your hands?…Mr Corbyn, you say that you want to listen to us, the people; and then you pick Seumas Milne – the one journalist who always knows better than the people who were there….You pick a man who never heard an opinion that he didn’t filter; a truth that he didn’t dismiss as an orthodoxy, or a story of pain on which he didn’t have superior information.

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Kate Godfrey

Citing her own background reporting from places like Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Lebanon, Yemen, and so on, Godfrey wrote:

I’ve seen a bit bloody more than Mr Winchester-and-Balliol Milne. And yet, it is Seumas Milne who is the expert on foreign affairs. And although, somehow, his is always the foreign affairs of dictators misjudged, and chemical weapons unused  —  of pure ideology and never people.

Godfrey’s conclusion: “The decision to appoint Seumas Milne devalues everything that Labour stands for, and everything that Labour is. It is morally and ethically wrong.”

We couldn’t agree more. 

Seumas Milne: geopolitics first, people second

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Seumas Milne

Okay, so let’s see what we’ve got so far. Labour MP Tom Harris, citing his party’s new chief spokesman Seumas Milne‘s relativization of the coldblooded jihadist murder of Lee Rigby and celebration of Iraqi terrorists as freedom fighters, described him “contemptuous of traditional working class attitudes to Queen and country.” Michael Moynihan of the Daily Beast commented: “Wherever there’s an aggrieved terrorist or an undemocratic regime engaged in an existential struggle with the West, you can rely on Seumas Milne…to offer a full-throated, if slightly incoherent, defense.” Alex Massie, in the Spectator, noted that Milne’s oeuvre includes “defences of, or explanations and occasional justifications for, inter alia, Joe Stalin, Slobodan Milosevic, Iraqi Baathists attacking British troops, and much else besides.”

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Oliver Bullough

There’s more. Even Oliver Bullough, a firm Labourite and Corbyn supporter, considers Milne a bridge too far. A specialist in the former USSR, Bullough knows the region well. “And yet, when I read what Milne writes about it, I slip into a parallel universe.” Bullough cited Ukraine, where last year the people overthrew a Putin puppet, Viktor Yanukovich, whose palace garage was piled with treasures: “icons, carved ivory, Picasso ceramics, ancient books….He’d had nowhere to put them.” Bullough described the revolution as “pure people power: the street reclaiming democracy from a thuggish kleptocrat.” Whereupon the bully next door, Putin, moved in and annexed Crimea.

A good liberal, suggested Bullough, should have no trouble telling the good guys in this story from the bad ones.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15: Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet Jimbelung the koala before the start of the first G20 meeting on November 15, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia. World leaders have gathered in Brisbane for the annual G20 Summit and are expected to discuss economic growth, free trade and climate change as well as pressing issues including the situation in Ukraine and the Ebola crisis. (Photo by Andrew Taylor/G20 Australia via Getty Images)
In Milne’s view, ever the innocent victim

And yet Milne’s response, he noted, was to serve up a full-throated defense of Vlad the Impaler. Describing Ukraine’s crisis as “a product of the disastrous Versailles-style break-up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s,” Milne slammd the Western alliance for pushing NATO “up to Russia’s borders.” Given such a provocation, argued Milne, who could blame Russia for acting “to stop the more strategically sensitive and neuralgic Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp”? Who, he demanded, could fail to see Putin’s Crimea annexation and his support for rebels in the eastern Ukraine as anything other than “defensive”?

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Jeremy Corbyn

Responding to this nonsense, Bullough pointed out Milne’s (characteristically) fast-and-loose approach to the facts: (a) the USSR’s dissolution, Milne to the contrary, wasn’t the result of outside coercion or some Versailles-like treaty; (b) since NATO founding member Norway borders on Russia, so has NATO since its inception; and (c) on what planet is invading a powerless, unthreatening neighbor “defensive”?

But Bullough wasn’t focused on these factual errors so much as on the things that, he said, really matter here – namely, the lives and hopes of people in Eastern Europe, which don’t appear to concern Milne at all. Those Eastern Europeans joined NATO of their own free will, in order to defend their freedom; to Milne, those people’s freedom – and their fervent interest in preserving it – are apparently invisible.

Seumas-MilneIn short, as Bullough put it: “For Milne, geopolitics is more important than people. Whatever crisis strikes the world, the West’s to blame.” He cited chapter and verse from Milne:

Why did a group of psychopaths attack a magazine and a supermarket in Paris? “Without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly couldn’t have taken place.”

Why did Anders Breivik slaughter 77 people? “What is most striking is how closely he mirrors the ideas and fixations of transatlantic conservatives.”

Why did two maniacs in London decapitate an off-duty soldier? “They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others.”

Appalling. We’ll wrap this up tomorrow.

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Seumas Milne, Ahmedinejad fan

Yesterday we met Seumas Milne, a longtime Guardian writer and editor – and ardent apologist for Stalinism – who’s been tapped by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to be his spokesman. We’ve seen that his appointment appalled former Labour MP Tom Harris, who deplored Milne’s undisguised admiration for jihadists and lack of sympathy for the British soldiers they killed.

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Seumas Milne

Harris wasn’t alone in his revulsion. Michael Moynihan, profiling Milne in the Daily Beast, waxed sarcastic:

Wherever there’s an aggrieved terrorist or an undemocratic regime engaged in an existential struggle with the West, you can rely on Seumas Milne, Oxford-educated warrior for the Third World and former comment editor of The Guardian, to offer a full-throated, if slightly incoherent, defense. If your country’s constitution mandates the burning down of orphanages and the conscription of 6-year-olds in to the army, Milne will likely have your back, provided you also express a deep loathing for the United States and capitalism.

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Michael Moynihan

Moynihan quoted Milne on various subjects.

Communism: in the USSR and its satellites, it “delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.”

The Soviet bloc: it “encompassed genuine idealism and commitment” to social justice.

East Germany: it was “a country of full employment, social equality, cheap housing, transport and culture, one of the best childcare systems in the world, and greater freedom in the workplace than most employees enjoy in today’s Germany.”

West Germany’s annexation of East Germany: it entailed “a loss of women’s rights, closure of free nurseries and mass unemployment.”

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad: he “stand[s] up for [Iran’s] independence, expose[s] elite corruption on TV and use[s] Iran’s oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority.”

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Che: “innate humanity”

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara: two men whose legacy is one of “innate humanity.”

Meanwhile, in the Spectator, Alex Massie depicted Milne’s appointment as “consistent,” given Corbyn’s own admiration for Cuba and Venezuela, hatred of “American hegemony,” etc. If that’s where you’re coming from, asked Massie, why not pick a spokesman “whose back catalogue features defences of, or explanations and occasional justifications for, inter alia, Joe Stalin, Slobodan Milosevic, Iraqi Baathists attacking British troops, and much else besides”? Why not hire a guy whose published oeuvre “is stuffed with articles downplaying the horrors of Sovietism and then, latterly, redefining Russian aggression as defensive manoeuvres designed to combat – of course – western neoliberalism”?

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Alex Massie

Massie quoted one of Milne’s many cockeyed statements about the USSR: “Whatever people thought about the Soviet Union and its allies and what was going on in those countries, there was a sense throughout the twentieth century that there were alternatives – socialist political alternatives.” Yes: alternatives that involved subjecting citizens to a culture of fear, denying them even a trace of individual liberty, imposing upon them policies of forced collectivization and planned famine that took millions of lives, and establishing a network of forced-labor camps to which millions of those citizens were sentenced for their political convictions or religious beliefs – or for no reason at all.

More on Milne tomorrow.

Meet Labour’s new pro-jihad spokesman

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Seumas Milne

His name is Seumas Milne, and he’s the new head of communications for Jeremy Corbyn, who in September was named head of the Labour Party in Britain. We’ve already taken a look at Corbyn himself, who’s a big fan of Vladimir Putin and an admirer of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. As we’ve seen, the ascent of such a far-left character to his party’s top job occasioned considerable unease among Labourites and Tories alike.

Milne, it turns out, is even worse. Son of a former director of the BBC, he’s an alumnus of Winchester College, of Balliol College, Oxford, and of Birkbeck College, London University. He served as business mananger of a Stalinist monthly called Straight Left. Later, he spent three years at The Economist (it’s interesting, by the way, to learn that The Economist had no problem hiring a Stalinist). Then he moved to The Guardian, where he reported from around the world and then, for several years, edited the paper’s comments section.

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Jeremy Corbyn

These days, Milne might not call himself a Stalinist, but his politics speak for themselves. Briefly put, he despises capitalism, hates the U.S. and Israel and deplores Britain’s alliance with both, and is a reliable apologist for Communists and jihadists everywhere. In piece after piece, he’s warned against equating Stalin with Hitler, against reducing the USSR to Stalin, and against reducing Communism to the USSR. He’s eager to make the point that just became the USSR did some bad things and ended up on the ashheap of history doesn’t mean that Communism itself is, by its very nature, undesirable or unworkable. Repeatedly, he’s argued that Stalin’s abuses were no worse than those committed by the British Empire, and that today’s jihadist assaults on British targets are defensible payback for today’s British (and American) imperialism.

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Osama bin Ladin, Guardian op-ed contributor

Tom McTague, reporting on Milne’s apppointment in the Daily Mail, noted that Milne had once published a speech by Osama bin Ladin on the Guardian‘s website, running it under the terrorist’s byline as if it were an ordinary op-ed. Two days after 9/11, Milne wrote that Americans “can’t see why they’re hated” and that they were “reaping a dragons’ teeth harvest they themselves sowed.” At a 2014 anti-Israel rally, he expressed the view that Israel has no right to self-defense but that Palestinians do. “It isn’t terrorism to fight back,” Milne maintained. “The terrorism is the killing of citizens by Israel on an industrial scale.”

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Fusilier Lee Rigby

Milne’s appointment brought cries of outrage from many quarters. In the Telegraph, former Labour MP Tom Harris described him as “a hate figure for the right of the Labour Party” who is “contemptuous of traditional working class attitudes to Queen and country.” Harris cited with disgust Milne’s statement that the brutal May 2013 murder, in London, of Fusilier Lee Rigby by two jihadists “was not terrorism in the normal sense of an indiscriminate attack on civilians” because “Rigby was a British soldier who had taken part in multiple combat operations in Afghanistan.” On the contrary, Rigby’s killing was the “predicted” (and thus, one gathered, permissible) “consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries.” Elsewhere, noted Harris, Milne served up “glowing descriptions of Iraqi insurgents attempting to blow up [UK] voters’ sons and daughters wearing British army uniforms.”

Others shared Harris’s revulsion. We’ll move on to them tomorrow.

Stiglitz’s Gallic delusion

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Channeling Chaplin? (see photo below)

He’s been called “a ‘superstar’ of the Left” who “defaults to leftist ideologies at every turn,” who “offers an old-Keynesian approach to new problems,” who “has assumed the role of social-democratic public-intellectual-in-chief,” who “increasingly labels anyone disagreeing with him as a ‘market fundamentalist’ or a ‘conservative journalist,’” and who’s “essentially an economic crank.”

Charlie-Chaplin-The-Great-Dictator_thumbWe’re talking about Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz, who, as we’ve seen in the last few days, is a fierce critic of the free market, of “American-style capitalism,” and of “economic inequality,” and a zealous enthusiast for welfare states, for an international currency and international tax system, and for the financially irresponsible governments of Greece and Argentina (for both of which, it turns out, he’s been a paid “advisor”).

The absurdity of Stiglitz’s economic views is crystallized in his relatively recent comments on France. As financial analyst Pater Tenebrarum noted a year ago, Stiglitz has been an outspoken fan of France’s profligate government spending – because, in Stiglitz’s view, lowering state spending is the path to economic disaster. Yet as Tenebrarum pointed out, France’s neighbor to the south, Spain, had “been outperforming France for the past several quarters.”

Why? Because, unlike France, Spain cut government spending, reformed its labor laws, and “ma[de] life easier for businesses” in a number of other respects. In short, as Tenebrarum put it, “Spain has done precisely what Mr. Stiglitz believes is leading to failure, while France has done precisely what he believes to guarantee success.” Commenting on Stiglitz’s statements about the French economy – including the claim that France is business-friendly – Tenebrarum could not disguise his incredulity:

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At a 2010 Italian Trade Commission event in New York

He believes that a government that is spending a record 58% of GDP every year – more than any other government in the allegedly capitalist countries – and that is well-known for having instituted the highest tax rates in Europe and having put in place the most onerous business regulations imaginable, is a paragon of “pro business austerity”!

To say that this is utterly ridiculous is the understatement of the century. How can one make such an assertion and keep a straight face? Hundreds of thousands of young entrepreneurs have fled France for more business-friendly places such as the UK, because they simply felt they could not operate in France’s extremely hostile business climate….

Is Mr. Stiglitz unaware of the fact that France has introduced a 75% marginal tax rate for high income earners, which is in fact the highest in the world? Stiglitz should in fact explain to us why the sure-fire “success” of this policy in France is so conspicuous by its absence (since he asserts above that raising taxes on the rich will “boost the economy”!). 

While acknowledging that one can have an opinion on business matters without ever having run a business, Tenebrarum added that “anyone who has struggled with establishing a small business in hostile bastions of socialism in the EU such as France” would be stunned by Stiglitz’s statement that “the level of corporate taxation has little effect on investment.” Tenebrarum’s own take on this claim:

Detail of the facade of the Bank of France headquarters in Paris May 9, 2012. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

This is spoken like a life-long leftist academic and bureaucrat who has never created one iota of real wealth in his life, who has never taken any personal risk or ever had to worry about paying someone else’s wages. Anyone who has ever taken the risks about which Mr. Stiglitz evidently knows nothing will confirm how utterly misinformed this comment is. In Europe, the entrepreneurial spirit has been completely crushed in many places due to extremely high taxation and massive over-regulation. And yet, how does Stiglitz believe new wealth is going to be produced? It’s not going to drop from the sky, that much is certain.

And that, in the end, is perhaps the most important thing that needs to be said about the economic preferences, proposals, pretenses, and prognostications of Columbia University’s own Professor Stiglitz.

Joe Stiglitz, Kirchner compañero

Yesterday, as part of our portrait of powerful, anti-capitalist economist Joe Stiglitz, we took a look at his outspoken support for Greece in its current budget crisis – and his close friendship with Greek leaders, who’ve paid him scads of (other people’s) money either for his advice or (could it be?) for his public advocacy on their behalf.

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Joseph Stiglitz

Then there’s Argentina. Stiglitz’s relationship with the corrupt Kirchner regime goes back a long way. He was a paid advisor to the late President Néstor Kirchner, who was in office from 2003 to 2007, and has played the same role for Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He’s traveled frequently to Buenos Aires to advise the Kirchners and been paid handsome sums to deliver lectures there. Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt in 2001, and Stiglitz took its side, filing an amicus curiae brief when Argentina appealed a U.S. court ruling ordering it to pay creditors $1.3 billion.

In 2012, he served as a paid consultant for the Kirchner regime in a case before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. In the same year, he held a speech at the Casa Rosada in which he bashed the free market and praised Cristina Kirchner, head of a grotesquely kleptocratic government, for the wisdom of her economic policies; Cristina, for her part, sat there applauding Stiglitz.

It’s worth asking: is Stiglitz being paid by the Kirchners for his advice – or for allowing them to use his name and reputation to whitewash their inept and criminal economic activities?

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Thomas P. Griesa

Then, last year, after being ordered by New York judge Thomas P. Griesa to pay off not just some but all of its creditors, Argentina defaulted again. It was the country’s second default in 13 years. Stiglitz again stood up for Argentina, publicly giving Cristina Kirchner a thumbs-up and calling for – what else? – “an international convention for sovereign debt restructuring to resolve these issues.”

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With Cristina Kirchner

In an August 2014 article written with Martin Guzman, Stiglitz ardently defended Cristina Kirchner – who, in collusion with her rapacious army of cronies, comrades, and confidantes, has stolen her nation blind – and instead viciously slammed everyone else in the picture. He slammed Griesa, whose only offense was to make a ruling that strictly adhered to the law. (Stiglitz and Guzman even promoted a Twitter hashtag, “#Griesafault,” as a way of deflecting responsibility for Argentina’s economic chaos from the crooked Kircherites to the U.S. judge.)

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On October 9 with Argentinian economics minister Axel Kicillof, who tweeted: “Gran diálogo con @JosephEStiglitz sobre los procesos de reestructuración de deuda y lucha contra los fondos buitres.”

He also slammed Argentina’s holdout creditors, whom, directly echoing Kirchner’s own rhetoric, he smeared as “vultures,” their only crime being that they expected to be paid in full for the debts they were owed. “Repayment on Griesa’s terms,” pronounced Stiglitz, “would devastate Argentina’s economy.” No, what has devastated Argentina’s economy has been years of governance by the unscrupulous, thieving Kirchner regime – including economy minister Axel Kicillof, who on October 9 tweeted a picture of himself and Stiglitz, writing: “Great dialogue with @JosephEStiglitz about the debt-restructuring process and the fight against the vulture funds.”

As with Greece, then, how can Stiglitz expect anyone to take his pronouncements on Argentina seriously?

We’re not done yet. Tune in again on Monday.

Joseph Stiglitz: Greeks bearing gifts

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Joseph Stiglitz

During the last couple of days, we’ve been pondering the career and views of big-government economist Joseph Stiglitz. We started out on Monday by mentioning Stiglitz’s glittering résumé. Here’s a little P.S. about that résumé: writing last year in National Review, Eliana Johnson noted that while it ran (at that point) to 56 pages, it omitted a good deal of Stiglitz’s speaking and consulting activity – even though, at $40,000 per lecture, he earned most of his income from that activity. These omissions, noted Johnson, were in direct violation of the transparency rules in effect at the Columbia Business School, where Stiglitz teaches. They also hid what any sensible observer would recognize as clear conflicts of interest. 

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Angela Merkel

What kinds of omissions – and conflicts of interest – are we talking about here? Well, one of them involves Greece. Over the course of the Greek financial crisis, Stiglitz has weighed in repeatedly on the subject – consistently on the side of the Greek government. While other economists argue that Greece brought on its own economic woes by spending far more money on generous welfare benefits and the like than it could afford, confident that Germany and other rich EU members would keep making up the shortfall, Stiglitz has depicted Greece as an innocent victim and its EU partners (which eventually got sick of picking up the tab) as heartless heavies.

Germany, he charged in July 2015 at an international development financing summit in Addis Ababa, lacked “solidarity” with Greece. “Asking even more from Greece would be unconscionable,” he said. In response to Western leaders who criticized Greece for failing to collect taxes, he accused those same leaders of being hypocrites for “trying to undermine” his own efforts to institute an international tax system.

The same month, in an article for Time, Stiglitz even went so far as to compare Angela Merkel’s Germany to Hitler’s:

The U.S. was generous with Germany as we defeated it. Now, it is time for the U.S. to be generous with our friends in Greece in their time of need, as they have been crushed for the second time in a century by Germany….Greece needs unconditional humanitarian aid; it needs Americans to buy its products, take vacations there, and show a solidarity with Greece and a humanity that its European partners were not able to display.

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Stiglitz and Papandreou at a 2013 Columbia University forum

As if that weren’t enough, Stiglitz wrote a New York Times op-ed – also in July 2015 – casting Greece as a “sacrificial lamb” victimized by what he calls the “troika” – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

What Stiglitz failed to acknowledge in these pieces – and elsewhere – is that he’s not a neutral observer of the Greek economic disaster. Far from it. From 2009 to 2011, he worked as a paid advisor to Greek prime minister George Papandreou, whom he’s described as a friend. In February 2010, while serving in that advisory position, Stiglitz actually said this about Greece: “There’s clearly no risk of default. I’m very confident about it.” Was he speaking as an honest, responsible analyst, or as a paid flunky? 

(A flunky, one might add, who was cashing checks from a government that should instead have been using that money to pay down its debts.)

More tomorrow.