Don't forget the eurozone: Citigroup peg probability of Grexit at 90%

ECB President says he'll do "whatever it takes" to save the euro.

Remember the eurocrisis? It didn't go away, we've just all been nicely distracted by bread and circuses. And while no-one was looking, it's been getting steadily worse.

A research note from Citigroup's chief economist, William Buiter, now puts the chance of a Greek exit from the eurozone at 90 per cent:

We now believe the probability that Greece will leave EMU in the next 12-18 months is about 90%, up from our previous 50-75% estimate, and believe the most likely date is in the next 2-3 quarters. As before, for the sake of argument, we assume that “Grexit” occurs on 1 January 2013, but we stress this is an assumption rather than a forecast of the precise date. Even with the Spanish bank bailout, we continue to expect that both Spain and Italy are likely to enter some form of Troika bailout for the sovereign by the end of 2012. . .

The EA end-game is likely to be a mix of EMU exit (Greece), a significant amount of sovereign debt and bank debt restructuring (Portugal, Ireland and, eventually, perhaps Italy, Spain and Cyprus) with only limited fiscal burden-sharing.

The attention of the world has absolutely been elsewhere; while the mainstream press has moved on to the Olympics, the financial pages have been just as focused on the news from America. But just because there are more novel problems happening in other countries, doesn't mean that any of the underlying problems of the eurozone have been fixed.

Greece is still suffering debilitating capital flight, as people steadily transfer as much of their money to safe havens as possible. The banking systems of the periphery countries – now closer to PIICS than PIIGS, as Greece graduates to a class of its own and Cyprus takes its place – are suffering under their own stresses, and the repeated bailouts push the structural problems underground for ever-shorter periods.

Mario Draghi, the ECB's President, has not be so distracted. At a press conference today, he announced the ECB would do "whatever it takes" to preserve the euro, adding "believe me, that will be enough". And enough it may be, for in the strange world of monetary policy, a committment to action is itself a form of action. If Draghi is believed – and that is a big if – then merely promising to do whatever it takes can be enough to end some of the capital flight and general unease which he has to tackle.

We will see whether expectations have been thus managed.

Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.