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By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

As Greece’s new leftist leaders engage in an economic battle of chicken with their European creditors, the outcome of crisis talks portends dramatic consequences for the perennially indebted Mediterranean country as well as for its European lenders and global economic stability.

Here is what is at stake in the decision on whether to extend Greece’s bailout terms:

Greek Credibility As A Borrower

Athens was forced to seek loans from its European Union allies after its economy imploded in 2009 because it could no longer borrow on international markets. Should the country default on its obligations to European lending institutions or abandon the austerity measures imposed in exchange for those loans, the country would lose credibility as a borrower. The national coffers would run empty, reportedly within weeks, leaving the government unable to pay salaries and pensions — unless it reverts to the drachma, the domestic currency it abandoned 14 years ago when it entered the eurozone, and prints its own money again, setting off a new spiral of inflation.

Greek Political Stability

An anti-austerity campaign theme brought leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party to power last month as Greeks voted against the fiscal sacrifice that has caused their economy to contract by 25 percent over the past five years. Tsipras encouraged voters to believe they could force European creditors to accept an easing of repayment terms and reforms to boost tax collection, gambling that keeping Greece in the eurozone was so essential to European and global economic stability that its creditors would capitulate.

Eurozone finance ministers were persuaded last week that Greece would not take unilateral action to scuttle its bailout commitments or tap the national treasury to a degree that would deprive it of the funds to pay its debts. But leaked details of the planned rollbacks on campaign promises have angered Syriza hard-liners, and the measures may still not be enough to satisfy the bailout oversight “troika” — the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The new government faces the possibility of being damned if it does secure a bailout extension at the cost of continued austerity, and damned if it doesn’t and the country drops out of the eurozone and into a perilous new era of economic freefall.

Eurozone Integrity

While economists in some of the eurozone’s 19 member states have signaled that a Greek departure from the common currency would cut alliance losses, it would nonetheless represent a failure of the euro experiment that is a fundamental part of the European Union vision of the continent as a unified economic powerhouse. It would also leave the remaining euro users holding worthless paper on the 246-billion-euro ($280 billion) bailout of Greece five years ago.

A Greek exit from the eurozone would enhance skepticism about the shared currency among the major economies in the region that have yet to adopt it — Britain, Poland and Sweden, among others — making it unlikely that they would sign on to a potentially tanking project in the near future.

The European Union

Failure of the euro experiment to fulfill its goal of relying on the union’s stronger economies to lift neighbors out of financial trouble would undermine the grand mission of the 28-member alliance. It would also empower those lobbying in Britain to pull out of the union, which has been a drag on the fortunes of the more prosperous members. Aside from the European Union’s economic goals, the alliance pursues political and social unity with regulations and policies that have caused friction between the central authorities in Brussels and constituent capitals, including Britain’s fierce objections to a homogenized immigration policy and labor mobility among member states.

The Global Economy

World stock markets rallied to new highs Friday after eurozone finance ministers announced that they had reached a tentative agreement with Greece that would keep the country on track with its bailout commitments for four months beyond the current accord’s Feb. 28 expiration.

Investors had gone into panic after the Syriza leadership took office in late January and embarked on a tour of European capitals to drum up support for its demand of more autonomy in deciding how to manage its own budget and stimulate employment in a country where nearly 26 percent are jobless. Failure of the troika to secure a genuine commitment from Athens to abide by the bailout terms could plunge markets around the world into profound uncertainty about the future of the European Union, which by most calculations is collectively the world’s biggest economy with an $18 trillion gross domestic product.

AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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