Category Archives: Spain

on the show trial of Julian Assange — Craig Murray, John Pilger and Chris Williamson speak out

The following post is based around a piece written by former UK ambassador Craig Murray that he published on Tuesday 22nd. It is interspersed with interviews of investigative journalist John Pilger and Chris Williamson MP that were featured on Wednesday’s episode of RT’s ‘Going Underground’.

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

UPDATE I have received scores of requests to republish and/or translate this article. It is absolutely free to use and reproduce and I should be delighted if everybody does; the world should know what is being done to Julian. So far, over 200,000 people have read it on this blogsite alone and it has already been reproduced on myriad other sites, some with much bigger readerships than my own. I have seen translations into German, Spanish and French and at least extracts in Catalan and Turkish. I only ask that you reproduce it complete or, if edits are made, plainly indicate them. Many thanks.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s piece on his official website.

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Update:

On Saturday 26th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters on RT’s Going Underground about Julian Assange’s latest extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court and why it makes him ashamed to be English. They also discussed the mass protests in Chile against the neoliberal US-backed President Sebastián Piñera and how the military crackdown is reminiscent of the Pinochet era:

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‘Integrity Initiative’ c/o Institute for Statecraft — the UK government’s own troll farm

Update: Inside the Integrity Initiative

On Boxing Day, independent journalists Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton invited propaganda expert Professor David Miller from the University of Bristol to discuss the scandal surrounding UK government-funded think tank The Institute for Statecraft and its ‘Integrity Initiative’ on their podcast Moderate Rebels (E32).

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Last week I received a response to a parliamentary question I’d tabled asking the government if the ‘Integrity Initiative’, a so-called think tank dealing in disinformation, had received government funding. The response was stunning. I was met with the admission that in the last 18 months or so, some 2.2 million has been awarded by the Foreign Office to this organisation.

Staffed by former security and military personnel, its agenda seems to include the denigration of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. Their approach is to connect media with academia and politicians to influence policy in certain countries.

Leaked documents revealed numerous examples such as Pedro Baños, an army reserve colonel and author, who the Spanish Socialist Party wanted to make the country’s Director of National Security. That was before the Integrity Initiative’s Spanish cluster for involved, putting a stop to the appointment altogether.

That’s right a Foreign Office-funded British think tank stopped the appointment of a public official in a fellow European democracy. And these are the people defending freedom?

Now it seems similar tricks are being played here at home. Ben Nimmo, a core member of the Integrity Initiative’s UK cluster was even quoted in The Sun newspaper saying Russia was supporting Corbyn against his opponents both in the Labour Party and outside it. The newspaper used this to support its assertion, which had no other evidence, that “a twisted Russian cyber campaign which has back Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is aiming to sow division across the UK”.

How many other stories like this have been entirely fabricated, and with government funding too? Well we don’t know, because after I submitted a follow-up question, Minister of State Alan Duncan refused to provide any further information claiming it could “disrupt and undermine the programme’s effectiveness”.

Effectiveness at what? Interfering in the politics of other countries while undermining the leader of Britain’s opposition? Because that’s precisely what it’s doing. That’s why I’m calling for a public enquiry into the Integrity Initiative and similar information war efforts being funded by our government.

Their approach of silencing and suppressing aspects of public debate doesn’t strengthen democracy, it debases it. — Chris Williamson MP

Click here to watch a video presentation of the statement on Chris Williamson’s facebook page uploaded on December 11th.

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Even the mainstream media has been forced to give a few paragraphs to the outrageous Integrity Initiative, under which the MOD-sponsored Institute for Statecraft has been given millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by the FCO to spread covert disinformation and propaganda, particularly against Russia and the anti-war movement. Activities include twitter and facebook trolling and secretly paying journalists in “clusters of influence” around Europe. Anonymous helpfully leaked the Institute’s internal documents. Some of the Integrity Initiative’s thus exposed alleged covert agents, like David Aaronovitch, have denied any involvement despite their appearance in the documents, and others like Dan Kaszeta the US “novichok expert”, have cheerfully admitted it.  — Craig Murray

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft” published on December 13th.

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Did Jeremy Corbyn mutter words to the effect that Theresa May is a “stupid woman”? I don’t know because I’m not a lip-reader. Neither do I care.

May is a woman and she was (as is increasingly her manner) behaving stupidly. As for the buffoons behind her, ‘stupid’ fails to do justice to their infantile efforts to divert attention from the irremediable divisions within their own ranks and the shambolic failures of this callous and inept Tory government. Given the seriousness of the current political situation, Wednesday’s Commons pantomime was more than a national embarrassment, it was an unspeakable disgrace, and ought to have been reported on as such. But what we got instead were the feeble rumblings of another smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.

The BBC led the way as they so often do. Thus sham allegations of misogyny against Corbyn made during the Commons debacle became headlines to every news bulletin and in the 24 hours since featured in no less than three articles. So today if you google “stupid woman BBC” you will find a full page of hits:

On the other hand, if you search for “integrity initiative BBC” a mere four of google’s hits are actually linked to the BBC and just one of those links reaches an actual article:

The reason for this disparity is straightforward. Since the release of the leaks at the beginning of November and the ensuing ‘Integrity Initiative’ scandal, the BBC has only ever published one article on the matter. An article it has since revised on no less than four occasions.

The article in question published back on December 10th is headlined “Russia hack ‘bid to discredit’ UK anti-disinformation campaign – Foreign Office” and credited to Diplomatic Correspondent James Landale, however, an earlier version was in fact released four hours prior and entitled “Foreign Office probes Russia campaign over ‘anti-Labour tweets’”. The difference between these twin versions is striking:

The original piece centres attention on the FCO’s investigation into the Institute and quotes Sir Alan Duncan saying “he would ‘totally condemn’ any UK-backed organisation ‘involved in domestic politics in that way’”.  This is strong language for a government minister. The updated version opens instead with a strident assault on “Russia state media” and asserts that it is “trying to discredit a government-funded body that works to counter Kremlin disinformation”. In this new telling the serious charges levelled against the IfS are neatly brushed over and an organisation that in different circumstances would be decried as a troll farm is instead recast as the more or less innocent victim of Kremlin villainy!

Click here to compare versions at News Sniffer.

So the Institute for Statecraft (IfS) is what precisely? It declares itself “independent” and somehow holds Scottish charity status (this is finally under investigation too). If it were not for the current scandal it would have surely remained just one of a burgeoning multitude of so-called “political charities”. But as its “Integrity Initiative” has suddenly been exposed (by whoever was behind the hack – Anonymous have claimed credit) what we discover with each fresh tranche of leaked documents is how UK government money is being diverted for nefarious purposes: not only to smear the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, but to meddle in democracies abroad. We learn in fact that “clusters” of its agents are embedded throughout Europe and beyond:

One such cluster operates in Spain, where the II [Integrity Initiative] successfully obstructed the appointment of a reservist colonel, Pedro Baños, who was preferred by the socialist government as the country’s next head of national security. Despite his strong resume – Baños was once head of counterintelligence and security for the European army – his admission on Twitter that Spain ‘would not gain anything from provoking Russia’ was apparently a stretch too far.

writes Aaron Bastani in an excellent piece for Novara Media. He continues:

The operation itself was named ‘Operation Moncloa and proved successful in less than 24 hours. Around midday on 7 June 2018, the Spanish cluster learned that Baños would soon be appointed to the role. […]

By 19.45 the Spanish cluster noted the campaign had raised significant noise on Twitter, with contacts in the Socialist party confirming the matter had been brought to the attention of prime minister Pedro Sanchez. Not long after the Partido Popular and Ciudadanos asked the prime minister to halt the appointment. They were successful.

Listed as the operatives working within its UK “cluster” we find Ben Nimmo, a fellow at the Atlantic Council – home also to Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat notoriety – and usual suspects including Edward Lucas and Anne Applebaum. Another name on the list is that of Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw:

Alongside military personnel the bedrock of the cluster are individuals working in think tanks, with Demos, RUSI, Chatham House, and the Henry Jackson Society all represented. Among the military names are high ranking officials including a captain in the Royal Navy and a colonel. On Twitter the II is followed by some interesting names, including Tom Watson, Luke Akehurst and Mary Creagh.

writes Bastani in the same piece for Novara Media, continuing:

Among the organisation’s top three ‘deliverables’ to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the first is to develop and prove ‘the cluster concept and methodology, setting up clusters in a range of countries with different circumstances’. The II is essentially a proof-of-concept in how to exert influence in an era of hybrid war where information can be a critical variable. Subsequently, its model should be viewed as mirroring that of Russia, the morphology of influencers, narrativistic ‘poles of attraction’ and the leveraging of backchannels (WhatsApp groups, text messages and email) to coordinate a front-facing response: this being composed of a ‘swarm’ on social media which synergises with legacy formats in broadcast and print.

That such an approach is being applied by a British organisation to the politics of a European neighbour is cause for grave concern – and by itself merits an enquiry. What’s worse, however, is the possibility that the same approach has been used against Corbyn’s Labour. One only need look on the II’s Twitter feed to see the low regard it holds Corbyn and his leading advisers in. Intriguingly, the organisation was founded in the autumn of 2015 – the same time Corbyn became Labour leader.

Click here to read Aaron Bastini’s full article entitled “Undermining Democracy, Not Defending It: The ‘Integrity Initiative’ is Everything That’s Wrong With British Foreign Policy” also published on December 10th.

The list of individuals associated with the UK-based cluster also includes the names of seven journalists (see update below for further information on this):

Deborah Haynes, David Aaronovitch and Dominic Kennedy all from The Times.

Natalie Nougayrède from the Guardian.

Neil Buckley from the FT.

And (like the final piece of a jigsaw fitting inevitably into place) Jonathan Marcus who is a Diplomatic Correspondent at the BBC…

As Craig Murray writes:

[But] One of the activities the Integrity Initiative sponsors happens to be the use of online trolls to ridicule the idea that the British security services ever carry out any kind of infiltration, false flag or agent provocateur operations, despite the fact that we even have repeated court judgements against undercover infiltration officers getting female activists pregnant. The Integrity Initiative offers us a glimpse into the very dirty world of surveillance and official disinformation. If we actually had a free media, it would be the biggest story of the day.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “British Security Service Infiltration, the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft”.

And here to read Tim Hayward’s article “Integrity: Grasping the Initiative”.

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Update: on UK journalists named in documents

The following is republished from the “Briefing note on the Integrity Initiative” published by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media on December 21st.

7.1 UK journalists named in documents

  • The Times – Deborah Haynes (now with Sky News), David Aaronovitch, Dominic Kennedy
  • The Guardian – Natalie Nougayrede, Carole Cadwalladr
  • The Economist – Edward Lucas
  • FT – Neil Buckley
  • BBC – Jonathan Marcus
  • Paul Canning – blogger with a focus on Ukraine, who has contributed to The Guardian
  • David Leask – Chief Reporter, Herald Scotland
  • Borzhou Daragahi – The Independent – appears as the only individual listed under ‘Turkey’ in the document xcountry.pdf that tabulates countries and election dates.

We have asked journalists listed in the documents whether they have had any contact with the Integrity Initiative. It may be relevant that the Integrity Initiative Handbook states that members of clusters are ‘to sign code of conduct & non-disclosure’.

Their responses can be grouped into four categories

7.1.1 I know nothing

  • David Aaronovitch – When asked over Twitter whether he knew of or had had contact with Integrity Initiative, Institute for Statecraft or the UK Cluster, Aaronovitch replied

I have never heard of any of these three exotic entities. I think you have been hoaxed.

  • Jonathan Marcus (BBC) – the BBC provided a statement to the Scottish Sunday Mail (print edition 16 December 2018) that

neither Marcus nor the BBC knew of the list of journalists, nor did he or the BBC consent to be part of any so-called cluster.

7.1.2 I attended a meeting or was on an email list, but was not involved

  • Borzou Daragahi:

I do receive their emails’

it goes to my junk email account’

I systematically subscribe to think tank email newsletters’

7.1.3 I am proud to be associated with them, there was nothing improper

I have not been paid by the institute. But I applaud their work in dealing with the Chekist regime’s pernicious information and influence operations.

He did not confirm or deny the existence of a network, responding to questions on Twitter with:

I don’t see why one lot of people have to explain being on lists compiled by another lot of people

  • David Leask – has been open about working with the Integrity Initiative. He has published two articles quoting “a spokesman for the Integrity Initiative”, one on the visit of Andriy Parubiy and one on Russian media coverage of the Salisbury poisonings. He has endorsed the output of the twitter account @initintegrity and others associated with the Integrity Initiative such as Nimmo. He responded to the release of documents with a 12 tweet thread on Twitter., acknowledging contact with the Integrity Initiative but denouncing Sputnik for ‘insinuation that I work for for or with a Nato/UK black ops’.

Leask’s description of the Integrity Initiative as ‘a network of researchers and journalists seeking to counter Russian propaganda and boost media literacy” confirms the existence of a network. In response to further questions, Leask asserted that government funding of the Integrity Initiative was ‘hardly a secret’. On this he was mistaken. The official summary of the Russian Language Programme does not list the recipient ‘implementing organizations’ stating that ‘Information has been withheld from publication on security grounds’. Although the government funding of £1.96 million for the Integrity Initiative in the current financial year is now a matter of public record following a parliamentary question, this information was not in the public domain until the documents were released on 5 November 2018. The source of funding for the Integrity Initiative was not mentioned on its public website. It would have been possible for a diligent researcher to infer the total FCO spending on the Institute for Statecraft by going through the monthly expenditure tables for the FCO, but this would not have revealed the specific funding for the Integrity Initiative programme. The accounts filed at Companies House show FCO funding of £124,567 for the year ending 23 November 2017, but not the £1.96 million awarded for the current financial year.

The Integrity Initiative documents include notes of a meeting with Leask on 27 March 2018, allegedly taken by Guy Spindler, Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Statecraft. The main focus of the interview is on Leask’s assessment of the prospects for the Scottish independence movement. The meeting finishes with a briefing on the misuse of Scottish Limited Partnerships as vehicles for money-laundering, which Leask’s own investigative reporting has helped to expose. It is not clear whether he is aware of the unusual use of this business structure by the founders of the Institute for Statecraft.

7.1.4 No response or refusal to answer

  • Deborah Haynes – no response.
    Three of Haynes’ stories between 2016 and 2018 can be linked to internal documents of the Integrity Initiative:

    • For the visit of Ukrainian special forces officers organised by the Institute of Statecraft, a one-hour meeting with Haynes was scheduled at the Institute of Statecraft’s office in 2 Temple Place on 11 July 2016. Haynes wrote a story based on this meeting that appeared in The Times on 11 August 2016. Haynes was the only journalist scheduled for a meeting with the Ukrainian officers: all their other meetings were with military officers except for one with the House of Commons Defence Committee.
    • The draft application for MoD funding dated 20 March 2017 lists under ‘Success so far’ (for the Integrity Initiative) the lead front-page story by Haynes in The Times on 17 December 2016 with title ‘Russia waging cyberwar against Britain’.
    • A document entitled ‘Representative selection of Integrity Initiative staff 2018 presentations and media interviews on Russian disinformation and malign influence’ lists under the outputs of Victor Madeira a report in the Times on 9 March 2018 by Fiona Hamilton, David Brown and Deborah Haynes with the title “Spy mystery: Sergei Skripal’s contact with MI6 in Spain suggests links to Litvinenko case’. Victor Madeira is briefly quoted:

Victor Madeira, a senior fellow at the Institute for Statecraft in London, said yesterday that links with organised crime were entirely possible. Russia was a mafia state where organised crime and the authorities overlap, he said.

It may be relevant that Haynes is listed as an honorary member of the Pen & Sword club, whose main mission is “the promotion of media operations as a necessary and valued military skill in the 21st century.” This may be an appropriate aspiration for military officers, but not for journalists. The club has 334 members, including Steve Tatham (listed in the UK cluster), Paul Tilley and the former BBC correspondent Mark Laity. Almost all other members have a military background or are NATO officials.

  • Dominic Kennedy – In response to an email asking whether he had heard of or was involved with the Integrity Initiative, Kennedy stated that he had not read the leaked documents, but did not answer the question.

On 14 April 2018 Haynes and Kennedy launched an attack on members of the Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media in the Times, including a front-page article, a two-page spread and an anonymous editorial. Two members of the Working Group hold posts at the University of Edinburgh. Unable to find anything tying them to Russia, Kennedy attempted to suggest that the university was under Russian influence (based on a grant from the Russian cultural institute Russkiy Mir), and even that the city of Edinburgh was a base for Russian influence (based on the presence of Sputnik’s office).

  • Neil Buckley (FT) – No response when asked over Twitter whether he had had contact with the Integrity Initiative.
  • Carole Cadwalladr – Identified in the third tranche of leaked documents as scheduled to talk at an event at the Frontline Club in early November 2018, co-organised by the Integrity Initiative and Foreign Desk Ltd. She confirmed that she had spoken at the event and did not receive a fee, but did not answer a question on whether she had been involved with the Integrity Initiative or its parent the Institute for Statecraft.
  • Natalie Nougayrede – No response when asked over Twitter if she was involved with the Integrity Initiative. She appears also in the French cluster list. In the same list, with a note that he is Nougayrede’s partner, is Nicholas Roche, whose current post is Director of Strategy at the Directorate of Military Applications of the French Atomic Energy Commission. It may be relevant that in May 2013, when she was editor of Le Monde, Natalie Nougayrede had a role in information operations in Syria. Under her direction, two Le Monde journalists acted as couriers to transfer samples provided by the opposition, allegedly from chemical attacks, to French intelligence agents in Jordan. Le Monde was then given the scoop of reporting that these samples had tested positive for sarin at the French chemical weapon detection lab at Le Bouchet.

Click here to read the full briefing note at the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media website.

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Additional:

On December 22nd Afshin Rattansi interviewed John Pilger for a special end of year Going Underground episode. In the first half they discuss the Integrity Initiative and what it reveals about the lack of true integrity in journalism. In part two topics range from the genocide taking place in Yemen, the “canonisation” of George Bush Sr., and Donald Trump:

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notes from Catalonia on the eve of tomorrow’s elections

On October 27th, the Catalan parliament honoured the result of the independence referendum held on October 1st by voting in favour of a unilateral declaration of independence. Within hours the Spanish Senate in turn voted to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to suspend regional autonomy and dissolved the Catalan Parliament. Prime Minister Rajoy immediately called for regional elections to be held on December 21st.

On the eve of the Catalan elections, here is another update courtesy of my friend in Barcelona. Firstly, in response to the anti-democratic clampdown on Catalonia since the independence referendum:

Things are rather complicated at the moment. We’ve had a “coup d’etat” by the Spanish state (government and lawcourts working together; no independent judiciary here), although of course from their point of view, it is the Catalan side that have staged one of those.

Whichever way, I don’t think the Catalan leaders deserve to be in custody (this could mean up to four years before trial), and even less go to prison for up to thirty years if found guilty (which they might well be). To me this means that anybody, not just them, can be put in prison for their political ideas, whether they’re peacefully demonstrating, or striking, or whatever. Anything can be judged as “sedition” these days.

Something else that has happened is that Catalan self-government, which is in fact older the Spanish constitution, has been suspended, and we may not get it back after the election. The Spanish government have made it clear that it all depends on whether the “wrong” side win or not. Rigging is definitely on the cards.

In the meantime, freedom of expression is being curtailed, sometimes in bizarre ways: for example, yellow lights in public fountains have been banned, because they evoke the yellow ribbons that independentists wear as a protest against the arrests. And school teachers who dared hold debates in class about the police violence on October 1st have been taken to court for it. What gets to me is that many people refuse to see how worrying these things are. I suppose normalizing it all is a survival strategy, since the alternative, i.e. being aware of what’s going on, makes one anxious and afraid.

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Secondly, on the prospects for tomorrow’s vote and the likely repercussions:

I don’t know what polls you looked at, but the ones that newspapers of all tendencies have published here say that it will be a close thing between Esquerra Republicana and Citizens. I’m sending you a link to an article in the Financial Times (sorry about the rotten source) that presents the data as it has appeared in Spanish and Catalan media.

I don’t have a clue how valid the polls are. All I can say is that most newspapers in Spain are right wing, so if all these right-wing media (including FT) are saying the independentists have a good chance of winning, maybe they will win. On the other hand, they might be deliberately exaggerating the independentists’ chances in order to encourage unionist participation.  Who knows?

As for the Thursday vote, that’s another conundrum. Some say that an election on a working day is likely to have lower participation than on a Sunday [in Spain elections are usually held on weekends], since people in precarious jobs (i.e. most workers) will probably hesitate to ask their bosses permission to go to the polling station (though legally they’re entitled to four hours off to do so). In principle lower participation should damage the unionist side, since abstention in Catalan election has traditionally been quite high on that camp. But of course this is an unusual election and they should be more motivated than in the past. Maybe only the staunchest people on both sides will make the effort to vote, and if this is the case, the non-committal Podemos-type left (Catalunya en Comú) will do badly. But this could work to the latter’s advantage after all, because if there is a hung parliament (there may well be a draw between the two blocks), they might become the arbiters of the situation and force some sort of compromise solution. Otherwise, there would have to be a repeat of the election. And so on and so forth…

The one thing that’s clear to me, in answer to your question, is that if the independentists win, they won’t be able to go ahead with their separatist agenda for the simple reason that their leaders are either exiled, or in prison, or on bail under promise not to break the law again, or indicted, or about to be indicted, or in the case of CUP (the radical independentist party), quite likely to be made illegal. In fact they haven’t even been able to talk much during the election campaign, since saying certain things would mean an arrest. It’ll be quite an act of protest on the part of Catalan voters if they win, given these circumstances; and in fact this is why, for the first time in my life, I’m going to vote for Esquerra Republicana. But it will be a symbolic act and nothing else.

Something else that may well happen is a rigged election. I know this sounds weird and impossible in a European country, but a lot of weird and impossible things have happened over here since last September, so if I’m paranoid, it’s not without some justification. For example, the IT company hired by the Spanish government to count the votes is one that already raised suspicion when in the last Spanish election (the one that had to be repeated) Podemos lost about one million votes in six months. Apparently this company have close ties with Partido Popular and have been appointed arbitrarily and without following due procedure. The rumours of rigging are so widespread that there will be the largest number of voluntary observers in polling stations ever. But what happens once the data is sent to the central system is more difficult to keep track of. Would it really be so difficult for the Spanish government to alter the results?

Finally, I’m not surprised that May is backing Rajoy and that the media have stopped being interested in us. We’re after all of no economic or strategic importance to anybody. And I guess from the point of view of the rulers of Europe, having authoritarian regimes ruling peripheral countries like Spain or Greece can only be a good thing. After all we had Franco for forty years and nobody batted an eyelid, so long as the US could keep its military bases in the peninsula. I don’t think things have changed that much.

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Update:

On Friday 22nd, the day after the elections, Democracy Now! interviewed Sebastiaan Faber, professor of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College and author of the new book “Memory Battles of the Spanish Civil War: History, Fiction, Photography.”

Faber compared Spain’s clampdown on the independentist movement to “a kind of McCarthyism”:

It’s really important to understand that despite the fact that what—despite what happened yesterday, where the pro-independence parties continued to hold onto a majority of seats, this judicial process is continuing. In fact, this very morning, so the morning after the elections, the Spanish Supreme Court announced that it was further indicting a bunch of other leaders of the pro-independence movement, of all the different pro-independence parties, as well as the civil society movement that has been supporting independence.

And you can describe this as a kind of McCarthyism, where what is, in principle, a legitimate political position, which is the idea that Catalonia is better off on its own as an independent republic, has become criminalized. And in the same way that in the 1950s communism was a reason to persecute political ideas, the same is happening now in Spain, where the judicial branch of the Spanish state is applying pressure and sort of setting boundaries to what is sayable and thinkable politically.

Regarding the future, he said:

Rajoy has said already, this morning in a press conference, that he is not going to talk with Puigdemont anywhere. Rajoy, in his typical stubborn denial fashion, has said he is not going to do that. It’s really—one could wonder how long this attitude of Rajoy, this kind of denialism of Rajoy, can withstand reality, the political reality of the fact that at least about half of people in Catalonia do not see the Spanish state as their state and want to leave. It’s really unclear whether Rajoy can keep this up, but he’s going to, for sure, try.

Currently, the Catalan self-government continues to be revoked. Rajoy said this morning he will—the self-government will be reinstituted as soon as a new government has been formed. And now the question is whether the three pro-independence parties will be able to actually form a government. They do have a majority of seats, but there’s three of them, and they don’t see eye to eye on everything. So it’s still up for question whether this government can be formed. And it’s up to question how the government will look, because of the 70 pro-independence deputies that were elected yesterday, eight are either in exile or in prison currently.

Click here to watch the interview and read a full transcript at the Democracy Now! website.

 

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reflections on October 1st 2017: the day when tyranny returned to Catalonia

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A day of tyranny

On Sunday, all across Catalunya ballot boxes were ripped from people’s hands by masked police and a dangerous violence was unleashed, at random, upon some of the 2,262,424 people who stood in long lines to cast their vote. The repression dealt by the Spanish State to prohibit the Catalan Referendum, in every bloodied baton and ever rubber bullet, transformed the day from a question of independence to a question of democracy. People were voting for the right to vote.

writes independent journalist Kevin Buckland, who provides eyewitness testimony of the Spanish government’s savage determination to thwart Sunday’s referendum in Catalonia.

He continues:

I am sitting on the floor of the polling station in central Barcelona, a long line has grown behind us. We have been here for hours already, but it doesn’t bother us. Just by being here we are useful. The rain has slowed to a drizzle and faces are emerging from beneath the umbrellas. It could be the line of people waiting to see a movie, young couples, the middle-aged with their adult daughters, families with children — these are not protestors, these are people.

There is a nervous tension, as we wait we are seeing realtime images of polling stations that look exactly the same as ours having their doors kicked in, people pulled away by their hair, elderly women thrown down stairs; twitter is a scroll of police clubs and rubber bullets. In some places the hundreds of people, with arms linked or hands in the air are enough to turn back the police, in others masked men walk out of schools holding half-filled ballot boxes.

Please take a second to imagine this: you go to your usual polling station and, as usual, you wait in a short line to vote. As you wait, masked men in dark armored suits smash their way in, pushing the elderly, clubbing your neighbor and firing rubber bullets into the crowd. They grab the ballot boxes and march out. They steal your vote; steal your voice. Twitter says there are 234 people injured.

This is the largest act of civil disobedience I have ever seen, and the bravery it required of the everyday people should not be diminished. Just by standing in that line we were all risking great harm. We wait our turn, patiently and calmly, but nervously. We pass the time by chatting to those next to us in line. The woman in front of us tells us of the first time she voted after fascism ended; of the student protests and the police brutality. In a country with such a recent history of dictatorship, voting means something different for the older generation.

The crowd cheers after an elderly woman walks past the long line after voting, she claps her hands in joy and the crowd joins her. Having spent most of her life under fascism, democracy must taste sweeter. I see the woman in front of me wipe away a tear. The crowd cheers next for a old man in a wheelchair and a young couple with their baby, the noise follows each of them from the polling station. We cheer for everyone, not for how they voted, but becausethey voted. This has become about more than independence, it is about the right to vote; the right of a population to ask itself a question and to answer it.

Click here to read Kevin Buckland’s full report of the day.

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Richard Sudan was another journalist who encountered the brutality first hand. The following extract is drawn from an article published by RT:

I witnessed for myself police trying to control the flood of people entering one polling station in Barcelona, only to fail due to the sheer numbers of those present. A number of videos showed police entering separate polling stations and seizing ballot boxes full of votes that had been cast. Were it not for the large amounts of people occupying the polling station where I spent the afternoon, I believe the same thing would have happened there too.

And this brings us to the crux of the matter: Spain, or any other country, cannot claim for itself the status of ‘a democracy,’ while repressing the fundamental democratic freedoms of its people, in this case, the Catalans. Personally, the situation brings to mind the plight of the Palestinians, who are routinely attacked by the Israeli state while Israel harps on about being a democracy. Hypocrisy of the highest order.

Now, we’ve all the seen the images of the Spanish police beating Catalans, shutting down polling booths, and seizing ballot boxes. What I didn’t see, however, and which is a stark paradox in my mind, were gatherings of neo-Nazi nationalists who were openly doing Nazi salutes in Catalonia Square being challenged with the same vigor, by the very same police who were attacking the polling booths. Why? How can this possibly make any sense?

How can the Spanish police justify their crackdown on voters while allowing neo-nationalists to make open Nazi salutes and parade in Barcelona unchallenged? Are the Spanish authorities really more afraid of the ballot box than neo-Nazis?

Entitled “Deafening silence: EU must condemn Spain’s Catalonia crackdown”, the same piece continues:

The only thing worse than this violence and hypocrisy is the deafening silence from other European and world leaders. The EU as a bloc has failed to take a formal stand against the brutalization of the Catalan people, who are, after all, citizens of the EU. Now, I’m not a fan of the neo-liberal economic program that underpins the EU, and I’m even less of a fan of the ‘leave’ campaign in Britain.

But it cannot be right, that the leadership of the EU is silent on this issue of Catalonia when it is so willing to criticize human rights abuses elsewhere.

Click here to read Richard Sudan’s full report.

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Media silence and complicity

In the days leading up to the referendum, corporate media outlets with few notable exceptions (RT, Al Jazeera and to some extent the Guardian), uncritically repeated the pro-Madrid mantra that the independence election was unconstitutional and thus illegal. Here was the patina of legitimacy for what would quickly follow. Repeating it meant promoting the Spanish government’s pretext for violent suppression. It justified the media’s collective decision to downplay an already impending paramilitary crackdown against a peaceful movement.

Of course the full shock of Catalonia’s bloody Sunday could hardly fail to make headline news across the mainstream. That said, the media is well-honed in methods for spinning half truths and so although widely reported, the true picture was obscured nonetheless: voters became “protesters” with Madrid’s armoured enforcers portrayed as “the security cordon”. Reprinted below is part of an excellent post put together by Craig Murray which summarises the propaganda techniques used across the British media:

This was a headline on the Guardian front page at 10.29am today. The people who wrote it are highly educated media professionals. The misleading impression a natural reading gives is absolutely deliberate.

Maintaining the Establishment line in face of reality has been a particular problem for picture editors. The Daily Telegraph has produced a whole series of photos whose captions test the “big lie” technique to its limits.

Note the caption specifically puts the agency for the “clash” on the people. “People clash with Spanish Guardia Civila…”. But the picture shows something very different, a voter being manhandled away from the polling station.

Actually what they are doing is preventing voters from entering a polling station, not preventing a riot from attacking a school, which is the natural reading of the caption.

In fact the firemen are trying to shield people walking to vote from the paramilitaries. The firemen were attacked by the Guardia Civilia shortly after that.

Sky News every half hour is repeating the mantra that the Catalan government claims a mandate for Independence “after a referendum marred by violence”, again without stating what caused the violence. In general however Sky’s coverage has been a great deal better than the BBC; Al Jazeera has been excellent.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article.

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What next?

When Spanish President Mariano Rajoy deployed thousands of police forces to Catalonia to repress an illegal referendum for independence, he probably thought it would bring some closure to an open issue. Perhaps, enforcing the law violently on peaceful citizens who just wanted to cast a vote, and doing it on the global stage would finally convince those rebellious Catalonians that their cause was lost.

Far from closure, the events of 1 October 2017 will cause more consternation in Catalonia than ever before. It is fair to question if Catalonians live in a 21st Century democracy, whether their most basic human rights are going to be respected and whether there is any room for political dialogue. Many of those who were not pro-independence before yesterday but supported a referendum, are probably wondering today whether there is any point in even considering staying in Spain, after all.

writes journalist Victor Lasa in another article published by Counterpunch.

Lasa continues:

Make no mistake, this is not a symptom of political idiocy, but a well-thought, effective strategy. Surveys are already showing the PP [Partido Popular, the ruling party in Madrid] would win the government again, by a landslide. The PP thrives in conflict, and Catalonians served them one on a silver platter. Why resolve a conflict when you can benefit from it instead?  This is classic Real Politik applied within its own borders. By simplifying and trivializing, they polarize the electorate, perhaps leaving almost no chance for those who show moderation and relative impartiality, like center-left PSOE and Podemos. On the other hand, this conflict is the perfect attention deviation device. One they desperately need to divert attention from hundreds of cases of rampant corruption, which include the political manipulation of the same national police they sent over to Catalonia.

Madrid’s iron-fisted suppression of Catalan nationalism plays well as a populist strategy in many quarters of Spain, however as Lasa points out, this latest display of force was so excessive that it has altered the political landscape more emphatically. He adds in conclusion:

The next time they have a chance, Spaniards and Catalonians will vote with their guts rather than their brains. Nevermind that PP will be reduced to political irrelevance both in Catalonia and the Basque Country. They will have the rest of Spain, drawing a map that paradoxically will make borders ever more obvious. One more question to answer now is how far the PP will go with this strategy. How much can the conflict be managed for political benefit before it explodes into an uncontrollable succession of violent events. It looks like we could find out soon, as the Generalitat [government of Catalonia] prepares itself to unilaterally declare Independence in the following days.

Click here to read Victor Lasa’s full article entitled “Catalonia and the Unsustainable Strategy of Conservative Spain”.

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Update:

On October 2nd, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Dastis, was interviewed on BBC2’s Newsnight by Mark Urban. Here is part of that interview [from 0:50 mins]:

MU: But do you think the police in every case – pushing women downstairs, firing rubber bullets into polling stations – do you think they have used proportionate and legitimate force?

AD: Yes I do.

However, when interviewed more recently (Sunday October 22nd) on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Dastis’ position had completely changed. Where previously he tacitly acknowledged the extreme police brutality and defended it as legitimate, he now claimed it was “fake news” [from 6:45mins]:

AD: No I don’t think there is any brutal situation – look, I think by now many of those pictures have proven to be fake pictures…

AM interjects: Really?

AD: And if there was any use of force it was a limited one and prompted by the fact that the law and order agencies were prevented from discharging the orders of the courts.

AM: You’re saying that those pictures that people saw of Spanish police intervening aggressively in polling stations are all fake pictures – they didn’t happen?

AD: I’m not saying that all are fake pictures but some of them are. And you know there has been a lot of alternative facts and fake news here. And as I said, if there was at all – and according to the pictures there was – some use of force it was not a deliberate use of force. It was a provoked use of force.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the interview because that option has been made unavailable but you can watch it by following this link: https://youtu.be/wuIAx_oQ-Ss

You can also watch the same interview on BBC iplayer by clicking here.

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Madrid’s crackdown means Catalonian referendum is now about much more than independence

Last June, a referendum was called on whether Catalonia, an autonomous region of the northeast of Spain, should declare itself to be a fully independent country. On September 6th the Catalan parliament approved this referendum and set the date for October 1st. It also introduced a law which states that independence would be binding with a simple majority. The Spanish government has ruled the referendum illegal.

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The president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, writes in the Guardian that “a de facto state of emergency” has ended Catalan home rule just weeks ahead of a planned referendum on independence. Madrid appears deaf to the argument that its heavy-handed attempts to stop the vote will only ultimately strengthen support for secession. A judge sent in the police to arrest a dozen local officials; the Guardia Civil seized millions of ballot papers; the central finance ministry took over the region’s finances to prevent public money from being used in the vote. All the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has achieved by being so oblivious to public sentiment in Catalonia is to harden opinion in the region and draw thousands onto the streets.

The paragraph above is taken from the Guardian editorial published last Thursday [Sept 21st] entitled “The Guardian view on Catalonia: step back from the brink”.

As a friend in Barcelona confirms, not only is pro-referendum opinion being suppressed, but democracy has effectively been suspended:

About reports that a state of emergency has been put in place, they’re not totally wrong. Officially, such a thing hasn’t happened, because it would require approval by parliament, and Partido Popular [the governing party in Madrid] haven’t got enough of a majority to push this. But in practice civil liberties are being trampled on in various ways. Fourteen officials working for the Catalan government were detained yesterday, and interrogated for a whole day without the presence of their lawyers. The headquarters of an independentist party were surrounded for eight hours by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police with an infamous Francoist past) without a court order.

The Catalan government’s finances have been forcibly put in the hands of the Spanish government. The banks have connived in this, blatantly against the law, since no there is no court order to close down the Catalan government’s accounts.

Although by law we have our own Catalan police, we have been invaded by the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Policía Nacional, who have arrived in large numbers; and more are stationed in boats in the port waiting to act. A few days ago over 700 town mayors were simultaneously indited for their support of the referendum, and now face criminal charges, like the arrested officials. Freedom of expression has been curtailed, since it is now a crime to publicly call for participation in the referendum, though Catalan public media keep ignoring the order.

The latest news is that school directors (most polling stations are schools) have been declared liable if they allow the vote by handing in the keys to the buildings, and police will be sent to each individually in the next few days to threaten them with criminal charges if they don’t comply. Also, school directors are supposed to inform against their superiors in the Catalan Department of Education, and again, they’re liable if they don’t.

Further restrictions are also in place to censor the internet:

All websites informing about how and where to vote have been seized by the Guardia Civil. Even printing voting cards has become illegal, and private printing presses have been raided, the material confiscated and the owners indited.

I find that one of the most depressing aspects of what’s going on here at the moment is censorship, which everybody looking for information on the referendum has experienced in the last few days. It feels weird to look up a website and find it has been replaced by the threatening logo of the Guardia Civil (complete with an axe and a sword) and a message in Spanish and English informing that the website has been “seized pursuant to a warrant by the Judicial Authority”. And just this morning I heard that charges are being brought against activists who set up mirror websites to circumvent the ban on referendum advertising.

Click here to read more about Spanish government’s denial of access to a free and open internet.

More positively, my friend says that resistance to the crackdown continues to be diverse and strong:

Public statements condemning the crackdown have been made by many civil society institutions (Barcelona football club among them), and Podemos and other associated left-wing parties (both here and in Madrid) have done likewise and are now backing the referendum as a protest act, although they are not independentist and would prefer an agreement with the Spanish government.

Also, a lot of ordinary citizens are defying the Spanish government’s ban on referendum advertising, by pasting home-made posters wherever they can. The Catalan trade unions are beginning to talk of a general strike. The Catalan government and the pro-referendum parties have called for peaceful resistance and so far there hasn’t been violence on the part of protesters, except for a couple of minor incidents last night that have been wildly exaggerated by the Spanish media. But the situation is tense since a lot of us feel outraged by the totalitarian measures imposed by the Spanish government.

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Now they’re calling us seditious. They accuse us, all of us, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people that have protested in support of Catalan institutions, of being agents of sedition. This is what the assistant state prosecutor, Miguel Ángel Carballo Cuervo, has said in a document destined to inhabit the precincts of judicial infamy. He, of course, will never understand it, but his accusation, is for me at least, an honor.

So writes Vicent Partal defiantly under the headline “Proud to be an Agent of Catalonian Sedition.” He continues – and his polemic is reproduced below in full:

Why? Because I believe it is an honor to be accused of sedition by an authoritarian state that violates its own laws to cancel democratic rights. It is honorable to be accused of sedition by those that arrest politicians, threaten media outlets, spy on personal correspondence, close down websites, invade government offices, enter into print shops without warrants, and threaten high school principals. In these circumstances and before these behaviors, I do not want to be among the defenders of their order: I prefer to be an agent of sedition.

To be accused of being an agent of sedition is a privilege when the accuser is someone obsessed with using the law to confront democracy, when he seeks refuge in an article of the constitution, number 155, brought in an envelope to the authors of the constitution by Franco’s military, when they say to us, whatever we decide to do, their documents will always carry more weight than our hands. It could very well be that we’ve waited too long to confront them. Be that as it may, the taboo of burying our differences can no longer hold up. It is the people that decide such things, not an old and decrepit law that we neither respect nor recognize as our own.

I’ll go even further. To be a seditious person today is, for them, to take an unforgivable position. Those that accuse us of sedition in this way or that  are really only trying to maintain the privileges of a corrupt regime that is, for the first time, being seriously challenged.  I’ll never be able to close ranks with people that say things like, “he who breaks it,  pays for it” as they cynically cover up the fact that their party is the most corrupt political party in Europe, while among their ranks are hundreds of people that have never been held to account  for  the things they’ve done, while they break the hard drives where the evidence of their crimes are hidden without the least fear of consequence,  while they violate the Constitutional separation of powers and use state institutions not only to serve the needs of the Prime Minister and his cabinet, but even worse, the proprietary needs and desires of the their party.

But let me say above all that being an agent of sedition today is, in my view, a moral necessity. I am an agent of sedition because I am taking a position, because I cannot believe in the idea of a middle ground that requires me to equate ballots with armed police, politicians elected by popular vote with attorneys general and martial-law courts, a peaceful people with the coercion of a state shorn of its legitimacy.  And still one more thing. I am an agent of sedition, and quite proud of it, because I learned when I was young something that I have believed in ever since: that when one is confronted by the possibilities of both liberty and tyranny there is never, ever, any need for deliberation.

Click here to read the same article (translated by Thomas Harrington) in Counterpunch.

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Before deciding to reprint the article above I forwarded it my friend in Barcelona who wrote back as follows:

I agree with the sentiments in the Counterpunch article, and the facts reported in it are true as far as I can tell. What I find missing is some criticism of the independentist side, especially of the Catalan government’s strategy, which has been rather questionable, and of their ulterior motives, which are not being discussed enough. But I guess having reached this wretched point, any democrat’s priority should be to denounce the Spanish state’s totalitarian measures, rather than point out the wrongs or the weaknesses of the more vulnerable side.

My position at the moment is that of Podemos and other associated left-wing parties: the referendum must be held because this has become a question of civil liberties and human rights. However, under the current circumstances, it will be impossible to hold it with all the proper guarantees, so it should be considered a protest act rather than a binding vote. In my case, if polling stations are open, I’ll try to go and put in my vote, even if it is a blank one, just to affirm the sovereignty of the Catalan people and my individual freedom of expression. But whether this will happen at all is looking less and less likely.

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Update:

On September 27th, the Guardian published an op-ed written by the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, entitled “Europe must act to protect the rights and freedoms of Catalans”.

She writes:

By proving itself incapable of finding a solution during all this time, the Spanish government has allowed the Catalan conflict to escalate from an internal dispute to a European conflict…  Europe cannot allow itself to adopt a passive position over the Catalan question, seeing that the events going on in Barcelona are affecting Paris, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin alike.

The European Union came about as a project to safeguard and guarantee our rights and freedoms. Defending the fundamental rights of Catalan citizens against a wave of repression from the Spanish state is also the same as defending the rights of Spanish and European citizens.

Those of us who are committed to advancing towards a democratic, social and freedom-loving European project find it hard to believe that the European Union’s institutions would not only back a situation that jeopardises fundamental rights and freedoms but also fail to commit themselves to finding the means for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

It is for this reason, given the seriousness of the situation in Catalonia, that it is my obligation as mayor of its capital, Barcelona, to call on the European commission to open a space for mediation between the Spanish and Catalan governments to find a negotiated and democratic solution to the conflict.

Click here to read the full article by Ada Colau.

Another article published the same day by the Guardian reports that an official letter of protest has been sent to the European Commission calling for action to stop internet censorship:

“What they’re doing by blocking domain name servers is doing what Turkey does and what China does and what North Korea does,” said the spokesman [for the Catalan government]. “No western democracy does that. The internet is the kingdom of freedom.”

The letter says the online crackdown is part of “the ongoing unlawful repression of the institutions of autonomy of Catalonia” and calls on the commission to act as “the ultimate guardian of the open and free internet, which is truly at stake now”.

Asked about the legality of the Spanish authorities’ actions, the commission referred the Guardian to remarks made by its chief spokesman on Tuesday.

“We don’t have anything to say other than to reiterate our respect for the legal order – the constitutional order – within which all these measures have been taken,” Margaritis Schinas told reporters on Tuesday.

Spain’s interior ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full article entitled “Catalan leaders compare Spain to North Korea after referendum sites blocked”.

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wanted: dead or alive — how we abandoned justice and came to love shoot-to-kill

Shortly after the 9/11 atrocity, President Bush appeared on CNN and issued the following statement:

Osama Bin Laden is just one person. He is representative of networks of people who absolutely have made their cause to defeat the freedoms that we understand, and we will not allow them to do so… I want justice, and there’s an old poster out West that as I recall said ‘Wanted: dead or alive’.”

Sixteen years have passed since Osama Bin Laden was hunted down, but the war without end initiated under Bush grinds on of course. In those sixteen years, the small pockets of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan expanded into Iraq, Libya, Syria and well beyond. They have since splintered multiple times and been rebranded.

Daesh is the latest and reportedly most obscene of those Salafist offshoots. This is in part because its atrocities – that is, the ones it claims for itself – are routine and strike at the heart of our own cities. Like the wars that first spread the plague of ‘Islamism’, we are told that this sickness is something we have to live with forever.

In reality, of course, nothing is ever so straightforward. So consider this:

The U.S. government has prosecuted more than 800 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never committed an act of violence.

This eye-opening fact is taken from a brilliant recent article by investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson published by The Intercept. In it Aaronson relates in scrupulous detail the tragic tale of a young man called Arlem Suarez. Suarez, who had always lived at home with his mother and very likely suffers from brain damage, has just received a life sentence for his role in an ISIS plot. Except it wasn’t an ISIS plot, but one entirely concocted as an FBI sting.

As this sorry tale unfolds we learn about how Suarez was deliberately and persistently strung along by FBI ‘informants’ who at one point helped him to make a jihadi video (hilarious if it wasn’t so sad) and also encouraged him to procure items for a bomb. It is perfectly evident from the transcripts that for Suarez his ordeal starts out as a game – he is really not very smart – and indeed, as the game becomes increasingly scary, he attempts to back out, repeated times in fact. But the FBI simply won’t let go (they have invested time and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in their entrapment operation) and as Suarez frets about the danger facing his mother if he lets ‘his brothers’ down, the FBI lead him to a pick-up point and hand him a fake bomb.

As Aaronson writes:

The jury didn’t accept Suarez’s excuses and convicted him on February 1. U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, gave Suarez the maximum punishment: life in prison.

Suarez’s sentence is indicative of the increasingly harsh punishment ISIS defendants caught up in FBI stings are now facing in federal courts. While federal judges rarely gave life sentences to sting targets allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda and other groups — the Fort Dix Five being a notable exception — Suarez is one of two ISIS defendants to receive a life sentence in the last year.

In each of these ISIS cases, the other being Justin Nojan Sullivan, the FBI provided the weapons in the supposed plots. Since Suarez was arrested after taking custody of the fake bomb, there’s no way of knowing with certainty what he would have done with it. 1

Click here to read Trevor Aaronson’s full account which includes an embedded video showing Suarez hapless attempt at making his jihadi video with the FBI on hand to help.

And here to read an earlier post about the FBI ‘terror’ factory entitled “the tragic tale of Sami Osmakac – or how the FBI creates a terrorist patsy” posted in 2015.

*

The latest acts of senseless violence (this time in Catalonia)

Spanish police on Monday shot dead an Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van in Barcelona last week, ending a five-day manhunt for the perpetrator of Spain’s deadliest attack in over a decade.

Police said they tracked 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub to a rural area near Barcelona and shot him after he held up what looked like an explosives belt and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest). The bomb squad used a robot to approach his body.

So begins a report published by Reuters on August 21st, the day of the killing of suspected van driver of the horrific Barcelona attack, the alleged perpetrator in the latest of so many terrorist atrocities. The same article continues:

“Shortly before 5 p.m., the police shot down Younes Abouyaaqoub, the driver of the van in the attack that killed 14 people in Barcelona,” Carles Puigdemont, head of the Catalonia regional government, told a news conference. He said the bomb belt turned out to be a fake one. 2

Click here to read the full Reuters report.

Being dead, Reuters and other media outlets saw fit to omit the word “alleged” or “suspected” (as I have properly inserted above) from their account of the actions of Younes Abouyaaqoub. This Moroccan with his suspiciously exotic name is the “Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van”, even whilst support for this otherwise as then unsubstantiated accusation is founded on the wholly circumstantial evidence of remarks reportedly made by unnamed “relatives”:

“The van driver, Abouyaaqoub, began showing more religiously conservative behaviour over the past year, said relatives in his native Morocco. He refused to shake hands with women during a visit to his birthplace in March, they said.”

I find this eerily reminiscent of a scene in Albert Camus’ famous novel L’Étranger (trans: The Outsider) in which the title character, a French Algerian called Meursault, is put on trial for the murder of an Arab man. The facts of the case are clear and Meursault is indeed guilty of shooting the Arab, but at his trial the prosecutor is far more interested in directing the jury to consider Meursault’s behaviour at his mother’s funeral, than over details of the case. Eyewitnesses said he hadn’t cried apparently. As Camus writes:

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game. 3

Younes Abouyaaqoub was killed four days after the attacks in a town 30 miles away from Barcelona, and the story of his escape is a complicated one. It is since reported that CCTV images captured the moment his white Fiat van came to halt on the famous Joan Miró mosaic on Las Ramblas. Abouyaaqoub immediately got out of the van, put on his sunglasses, and continued on foot. He then walked for about an hour and a half finally reaching the Universitaria district in the north of the city where he allegedly murdered another victim, Pau Pérez, a Spanish vineyard worker, who was parking his Ford Focus. With Pérez’s body on the back seat of the car, Abouyaaqoub then rammed his getaway vehicle through a police barricade leaving one officer injured and evaded capture a second time. This occurred two hours after the van attack.

Abouyaaqoub’s brother El Houssaine and first cousins Mohamed and Omar Hychami were also among the list of other suspects shot dead by police. They were three of five involved in a second incident when a different van was driven through a crowd of pedestrians at nearby Cambrils, killing one woman and injuring six others. All five men were believed to have been members of a terrorist cell comprised of twelve members in total – four have been arrested (more in a moment).

This cell is said to have been led by a shady imam by the name of Abdelbaki Es Satty. It was first thought that Es Satty, a convicted drug trafficker, vanished shortly before the twin van attacks, however, suspicion soon arose that instead he had been blown up the night before the Catalonia attacks when the cell’s bomb-making factory accidently exploded. Since confirmed dead, Es Satty, the alleged ringleader, was well-known to both the security services and the police:

Es Satty appears to be the only one of the suspects whose name had already crossed the radar of the police. He was jailed in Castellón in Valencia in 2010 for smuggling cannabis, and released in 2014. It is reported that while in prison he met Rachid Aglif, who is serving 18 years for his part in the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks that left 192 dead and about 2,000 people wounded.

More significantly, his name also appears in a report that was compiled after five men were arrested south of Barcelona, in Vilanova i la Geltrú, on charges of recruiting young men to fight in Iraq.

The imam also spent three months in Belgium before the Brussels attacks, it has emerged. The mayor of Vilvoorde, Hans Bonte, told local TV that Es Satty was in the Belgian town between January and March 2016.

The assaults on Brussels airport and a Metro station killed 32 people in March last year. Isis claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Es Satty is thought to have travelled to Belgium frequently, but he was never an official resident. Immigration and asylum minister Theo Francken said he was unknown to the foreigners’ registration service. “He has never requested or received a Belgian residence permit,” he wrote on Twitter. “Of course, he could have been in Belgium, but the immigration office has no record of him.” 4

There are so many parts of this story that appear to be missing or unexplained. Most glaring is how did this bomb-making factory with its hundreds of gas canisters not arouse greater suspicion? Also why did the authorities not react sooner after it exploded on the night before the van attacks? Although surely the most salient question is how the disreputable imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, another “known wolf”, manages to slip the security services time and again? Then lastly, why have Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla, two of the four suspects originally detained by police, since been quietly released?

A Spanish High Court judge on Thursday ordered another one of the four suspects arrested over twin attacks in Catalonia last week, Salh El Karib, to be freed on certain conditions, according to a court source. […]

El Karib will have to hand over his passport and check into court every week. The judge decided that there was not enough evidence to keep El Karib in custody, the court source said.

… Mohamed Aalla, was also released on certain conditions earlier this week while two others were remanded on charges of membership of a terrorist group and murder. 5

Could it be that there is insufficient evidence to convict the two men? Or that the available evidence, were it ever to come to light, would raise uncomfortable questions about the role played by the security services? More properly, in any case, we should insist that Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla are presumed innocent – the presumption of innocence was once the “golden thread of justice”. Alarmingly, the presumption of innocence no longer applies in cases of this kind.

Remarkably few of the alleged perpetrators of this post-9/11 spate of terrorist attacks carried out across Europe have actually been found guilty for the simple fact that they died before capture. Many of the earlier incidents were of course suicide attacks (or allegedly so) but countless others have been shot dead by police before they were able to provide testimony. There is even a convenient euphemism that helps turn reality on its head – “suicide by police”.

With no day in court, there can only be a trial by the media. Meanwhile, we have been habituated to accept the adopted though seldom discussed shoot-to-kill policy, when besides the blatant issue of human rights violations, lessons drawn from recent history ought to be cautionary.

*

Lest we forget

“British justice must be in tatters after today. It’s not as if the evidence wasn’t there. The evidence had been there all the time… they had us picked out, they told us that… We were made scapegoats to appease the public and it’s been connived with right up to the very highest of levels because what they did to us, and the amount of people that’s in it, it couldn’t have been done without the help and connivance of people in high places.” 6

These are the impassioned words of Paddy Hill spoken at a press conference shortly after his release from prison in March 1991. Hill was one of a group of men who would come to be known as the Birmingham Six — Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were the others — all wrongly arrested without hours of the Birmingham pub bombings in November 1974 and falsely sentenced to life imprisonment. Sixteen years later they won their case in the court of appeal in what proved to be a humbling day for British justice. As former Labour MP and campaigner for their release, Chris Mullin, wrote later in his book Error of Judgement, published 1997:

The release of the Birmingham Six was a watershed for British justice. In the months that followed there was a string of further releases. At the time of writing, twenty-seven other people have either had convictions quashed or charges against them dropped after evidence from West Midlands detectives was discredited.

A number of other terrorist convictions also collapsed. In July, 1991, Mrs. Annie Maguire, five members of her family and a friend who had been convicted of making bombs had their convictions quashed. In June, 1992, the Appeal Court quashed the conviction of Judith Ward, then in the nineteenth year of a thirty-year sentence for the M62 coach bombing. The judgement was a damning indictment of the police officers, forensic scientists and Crown layers responsible for the conviction. Judith Ward’s release brought to eighteen the number of innocent people wrongly convicted of terrorist offences committed in 1974. Of these, ten would certainly have been hanged had the death penalty still been in force. So, too, would at least one of the three people wrongly convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock during a riot on the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London. Their convictions were quashed in November, 1991, amid a great deal of official wailing and gnashing of teeth. The case made legal history. For the first time anyone could recall, a British judge apologised.

Not only the Maguire Seven, but also the better remembered Guildford Four — Paul Michael Hill, Gerard Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson — also had their verdicts quashed in the months following the acquittal of the Birmingham Six. Besides the lack of evidence, it wasn’t even true to say the members of the Guildford Four fitted the profile of an IRA terrorist. Carole Richardson was an Englishwoman who lived in a squat. Yet in spite of such bizarre incongruities, rumours persisted long after their release. Here’s Mullin again:

A whispering campaign started from the moment the first convictions were quashed. It could be heard wherever two or three lawyers or police officers were gathered. The Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Mrs. Maguire and her family are all guilty, it said. They were released on a technicality. Okay, maybe the forensic scientists souped up the evidence a little. Maybe the police cut a few corners, but everyone is guilty so there is nothing to worry about, nothing for which to apologise. It is a tribute to our capacity for self-delusion that there is scarcely a policeman or a judge in the country who does not believe this falsehood.

He continues:

At Blackpool 2,000 delegates of the Police Federation, meeting for their annual conference, received the news with a standing ovation. An editorial in the Daily Telegraph caught the new mood.

“Until now the received view of the Guildford Four … is that they were all innocent victims of a scandalous miscarriage of justice who spent many years in jail for crimes they did not commit. The acquittal of the three ex-policemen, and some of the new evidence heard in the course of their Old Bailey trial, suggests that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that two of the Guildford Four, Mr. Patrick Armstrong and Mr. Gerry Conlon, might have been guilty after all. This raises the disturbing possibility that the real miscarriage of justice in their case occurred when they walked free.”

There was, of course, no new evidence. The Guildford Four were convicted on the basis of confessions in police custody and nothing of any significance has since emerged. 7

Had police on the British mainland been operating a shoot-to-kill policy (as was the case in Northern Ireland 8) the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and many others might all have been gunned down in cold blood. Had this happened we would in all probability still not know the truth today.

*

Mistakes were made…

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks current Brexit Secretary and former shadow Home Secretary David Davis published an article in the Guardian in which he wrote:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi [aka “Jihadi John”] after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

I reprinted these paragraphs in an earlier article on the subject, adding further names to Davis’ long list of examples of “known wolves”:

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s [subjects of interest], people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home. Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks. And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry.

A complete list indeed goes on and on and on… and please note that all the above cases have been referenced with footnotes in my original article entitled “another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

With the accused, including so many of those listed, killed during pursuit, not only is uncertainty left hanging over their own guilt, but in cases such as those above, it leaves us with questions about the role played by the security services who had kept them under close surveillance. The truth dies with them.

Zakaria Boufassil is someone who has been convicted for his role in Islamist terrorism. Last December both he and accomplice Mohammed Ali Ahmed were sentenced and jailed for handling money supplied to Mohamed Abrini who was an alleged perpetrator of the 2015 Paris attacks and also believed to be the so-called “man in the hat” filmed at the Brussels airport prior to the March 22nd bombing. Abrini, who was charged in January for his role in the Paris attacks, was (once again) known to security services 9. He is yet to face trial. However, this is what defending barrister, Dorian Lovell-Pank QC said during the Boufassil trial:

“In Zakaria’s eyes, he feels he was effectively picked up by MI5 and was pumped and dumped.

“He found himself approached by the security service and he was reluctant at first, then more gradually, he told them what he knew about Abrini and the meeting in the park.

“He was told by MI5 he wasn’t in any trouble and was told they were interested in signing him up or having him on their books.

“He feels he ceased to be of any use to them and he was effectively thrown to the wolves.”

According to the Guardian article (where the statement is reported):

The prosecution said they could “neither confirm nor deny” Boufassil’s claim, which is a standard response from MI5. 10

Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him”.

As I wrote previously in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11, we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”, we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

Click here to read my earlier extended post from March 2015.

*

Dead or alive

The twenty-first century turned out to be a lot simpler than the twentieth. Its defining image, a projection of Manifest Destiny as recast by the silver screen and the latest video games, is the ‘War on Terror’. In this war, Uncle Sam polices the world, while at home the good guys inside our security services work tirelessly to stop the bad guys as they connect to Daesh via the portal of the dark web. Marked out crisply in sharp lines of black and white, news bulletins provide a daily insight into this ongoing Manichaean battle between good and evil.

Bush told us that Osama Bin Laden was “Wanted: dead or alive” and dead was precisely how the world’s most wanted man eventually turned up – gunned down in Pakistan, if we accept the only available accounts. So instead of facing extradition and trial for his terrorist murder spree, the official story tells us that a team of United States Navy SEALs cornered him inside his own ‘compound’ in Abbottabad and dispatched him, then hastily buried the corpse at sea. Few respectable journalists have dared to delve into the strangeness of this tale of derring-do or to challenge the lack of tangible evidence. Why would they?

When veteran journalism Seymour Hersh had the temerity to take issue with a few minor details of the official story surrounding which agencies knew what and when, even he was not immune to mainstream opprobrium. Perhaps he would have done better just to stick by his statement made during an interview with the Guardian that the whole story was “one big lie, not one word of it is true”. 11

This wasn’t always so. In the past not all journalists in the mainstream media were so “pathetic” (Hersh’s word). For instance, back in 1988 ITV was brave enough to produce and broadcast a hugely controversial episode of their current affairs documentary series This Week entitled “Death on the Rock” that took to task the official British government account of the shooting of three members of the IRA at a filling station in Gibraltar.

Here’s a quick review of the case. The three — Seán Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell — were all known to the authorities and allegedly preparing to detonate a bomb outside the governor’s residence. Under Operation Flavius, plain-clothed SAS soldiers opened fire on the three as they tried to evade capture. The soldiers later testified that they had acted in the belief that the suspects were reaching for weapons or a remote detonator, although it afterwards transpired that none of the three were armed and no explosives were discovered in their car. The official account was also refuted by eyewitnesses who said the three were shot without warning and with their hands up. Sound familiar?

The fallout is revealing however: although programme-makers were instantly castigated by the Thatcher government and the usual attack dogs writing for the tabloids decried this “trial by television”, the programme went on to win a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary as well as the Best Single Documentary Award (1989) 12 from the Broadcasting Press Guild. That said, the broadcast is also “widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority [IBA]”. 13 Another repercussion was that programme-maker Thames Television lost its franchise; almost certainly in an act of revenge. Heightened political censorship is one of the many forgotten the legacies of Thatcher’s reign in office.

In only three decades all this has been turned absolutely upside-down. In today’s world shoot-to-kill – that rightly reviled criminal policy once synonymous with British forces and the RUC in Northern Ireland – has become the norm across the continent and no-one bats an eyelid. This is especially so now that, unaccountably, fake suicide vests are the de rigueur terrorist apparel. And why would a real terrorist bother to fake a suicide vest? It isn’t proper to ask apparently. This is the other side of the reversal we have seen: today no ‘serious journalist’ ever asks the awkward questions.

As the ‘War on Terror’ has exported terror and terrorism (the two are significantly different) and more widespread human rights abuses (for example inside the many CIA ‘black sites’), it has likewise paved the way for a tightening surveillance state and the trampling of civil liberties at home. But as with much else that is done in the name of preventing ‘terror’, the policy of shoot-to-kill is being introduced more insidiously. In strict legal terms nothing has changed; it is the spirit of the law that is being flouted and undermined.

After each fresh terrorist atrocity, retribution is swiftly delivered. And though this reversion to frontier justice is a subversion of the rule of law, as with the proverbial boiling frog in the pot, if you turn the heat up fairly gradually it won’t ever notice being cooked alive. Is there really any better way of destroying our lasting freedoms – the ones so detested by the ‘Islamists’ – than this?

*

1 From an article entitled “The Unlikely Jihadi” written by Trevor Aaronson, published in The Intercept on September 3, 2017. https://theintercept.com/2017/09/03/the-fbi-pressured-a-lonely-young-man-into-a-bomb-plot-he-tried-to-back-out-now-hes-serving-life-in-prison/

2 From an article entitled “Spanish police track down, shoot dead Barcelona attacker” written by Angus Berwick, published in Reuters on August 21, 2017. https://in.reuters.com/article/spain-security-idINKCN1B10JQ

3 Written by Albert Camus in January 1955. Quoted in Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice by David Carroll, published by Columbia University Press. p. 27.

4 From an article entitled “Spanish police focus on Ripoll imam who vanished before terror attacks” written by Stephen Burgen, Jonathan Watts, Ian Cobain and Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on August 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/20/ripoll-the-small-town-home-to-the-barcelona-and-cambrils-attackers

5 From an article entitled “Second of four men arrested over Catalonia attacks released: source” published by Reuters on August 24, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-security-suspect/second-of-four-men-arrested-over-catalonia-attacks-released-source-idUSKCN1B41GQ

6 You can listen to Paddy Hill’s full statement here: http://www.rte.ie/archives/2016/0314/774696-birmingham-six-released/

7 From “Error Of Judgement: Truth About the Birmingham Bombings” written by Chris Mullin, published on March 13, 1997. Read more on his website here:  http://www.chrismullinexmp.com/recent-articles/error-of-judgement

8

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain has a case to answer in relation to allegations of an “illegal shoot-to-kill” policy in Northern Ireland.

From an article entitled “‘Shoot-to-kill’ case gets go-ahead” published by BBC news on April 5, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/702920.stm

9

Identified as a radical Islamist by Belgian investigators, Mr Abrini is believed to have briefly visited Syria last year and his younger brother Suleiman, 20, died there.

He was known to security services for belonging to the same cell as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organisers of the Paris attacks who opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall before he died in a police shootout shortly afterwards.

From an article entitled “Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini charged over Paris attacks, say French lawyers” written by Chris Stevenson, published in The Independent on January 30, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/mohamed-abrini-brussels-bombing-paris-attacks-france-belgium-killings-isis-islamic-state-french-a7552741.html

10 From an article entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him” written by Jamie Grierson and Duncan Gardham, published in the Guardian on December 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/dec/12/convicted-terrorist-says-mi5-pumped-and-dumped-him

11

Don’t even get him [Hersh] started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011 [see footnote].

From an article entitled “Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media” written by Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on September 27, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/media/media-blog/2013/sep/27/seymour-hersh-obama-nsa-american-media

The footnote reads:

Hersh has pointed out that he was in no way suggesting that Osama bin Laden was not killed in Pakistan, as reported, upon the president’s authority: he was saying that it was in the aftermath that the lying began. Finally, the interview took place in the month of July, 2013.

12 http://www.broadcastingpressguild.org/bpg-awards/1989-3/

13

1988 Government relations turn frigid when Thames Television broadcast Death on the Rock, which produces evidence to show three unarmed IRA terrorists had been shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. Asked if she is furious Thatcher replies “deeper than that”. This is widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which had a responsibility for what was broadcast.

From a Timeline entitled “How ITV got where it is today” written by Maggie Brown, published in the Guardian on March 4, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/mar/04/how-itv-got-where-it-is-today

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, police state, Spain, USA

from los indignados to Podemos: Esther Vivas reflects on half a decade of public outrage in Spain

What remains of all our outrage?

Esther Vivas | Público

It’s been five years since the massive occupation of May 15, 2011 that gave birth to the movement of los indignados, 15M. Five years of faltering progress with many advances and set-backs along the way. Five years of a tremendous crisis, civil unrest and mass protest. So, what remains today after such a sustained period of outrage?

15M has changed the way we read and interpret the crisis we are facing. We were all told in 2008 that “we live beyond our means”, and blamed for the present situation, but the movement of los indignados has enabled us to change the story. One of its principle slogans, “no somos mercancías en manos de políticos ni banqueros” (we are not mere things to be manipulated by politicians and bankers), pointed in this direction. 15M said that the banks were the authors of economic collapse, and that most of the political class was also complicit. Los indignados imposed a counter-narrative that challenged the official lie: neither guilty nor responsible, it said, we are victims of an age of corruption.

What began as an economic crisis, soon led to a social crisis and finally, under the impact of 15M and the independence movement in Catalonia, to a crisis of the political system per se, which led people to question the founding principles of the (post-Franco) Spanish Constitution of 1978  and each of its pillars, monarchy, two-party system and our state model. This would have been unthinkable not long ago.

15M connected with the seething social discontent and helped to propel it into the form of collective mobilisation, legitimising protest and nonviolent direct actions, such as camping in public places, or occupations of empty houses owned by banks, like the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (or PAH – literally: Platform of People Affected by the Mortgage). Potentially illegal actions were now considered legitimate by a significant portion of public opinion. According to several polls, up to 80% of the public considered that los indignados were right and supported us, despite criminalisation and stigmatisation by those in power.

Two years after Mareas ciudadanas (the citizens’ Tide), the spirit of 15M finally made the jump to policymaking: moving from “no nos representan” to “Podemos” and the claims of “los comunes” , having overcome the difficulty of gaining political traction. Even after pundits had accused the movement of being unable to present a serious political alternative and said that the management of our political institutions must be left to professionals.

The emergence of Podemos came with the victory of five MEPs in the European Parliament in May 2014, which marked the beginning of a new political/electoral cycle; one that has not yet been closed, and that was further crystallized in municipal elections of May 2015 with victories against all odds, of alternative candidates in local government capitals of Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, Santiago de Compostela, Cádiz… followed by the breakdown of two-party politics (in the General election) on December 20th. This political translation of outraged social unrest simply needed two things: time and strategic boldness. These successes had not been anticipated, and without the 15M movement would not have been possible.

Those stuck in “old politics” have been forced to rethink their modes of communication. Some have abandoned ties and put on more fashionable shirts, as step-by-step all kinds of shifts became imperative and the word “change” became ubiquitous in the electoral scene. As if that was not enough, a new party, Ciudadanos (Citizens) was launched, with the aim that social unrest might be railroaded into more harmless channels.

Maybe on today’s upset political chessboard the weakest side is the social mobilisation necessary to any process of change. The bid for institutional participation, the setting up of new political instruments and the sudden and unexpected victories in various city councils took place in a climate of social passivity. However, real change does not come about only through conquering institutions, but through gaining support from a mobilised society. If society does not exert pressure on governments for change, it is the powers-that-be that will, and we know whose interests they serve.

What remains of all our outrage? A regime in crisis, not ready yet to fall but ready to be reconfigured. As the French philosopher Daniel Bensaïd said: “Indignation is a start. A way of standing up and beginning to walk. One becomes indignant, rebels, and then thinks what next.” This is where we are now.

* Article in Publico.es, 15.05.2016.

 This is the name used by the candidacy of Ada Colau, elected mayor of Barcelona on May 2015.

Follow the link below to read the original article in Spanish:

https://esthervivas.com/2016/05/15/que-queda-de-tanta-indignacion/

Esther Vivas is an activist, journalist and the author of several books on food and agricultural policies and social movements; her latest work is The food business: Who controls our food? ( Icaria ed., 2014)

@esthervivas | facebook.com/esthervivas | www.esthervivas.com

**Translation is my own — approved by Esther Vivas

+info: http://esthervivas.com/

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily ones shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Esther Vivas, Spain

Whoops austeritypocalypse! or why unbounded economic reasonableness runs into such trouble…

Q: At the onset of the crisis, the former Finance Minister Papaconstantinou likened the Greek economy to the “Titanic” heading straight for the iceberg. Do you also feel as if you are standing on the bridge of the “Titanic”?

A: No. The “Titanic” sank a while ago. We’re steering the lifeboat and throwing lifebelts to those drowning around us.

This was the response Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, gave in an exclusive interview to German magazine Stern1

*

“austerity”, what is it good for…?

As the economies of the western world continue to flounder, with Germany too (Europe’s last remaining industrial powerhouse) reeling just a little from the greater crisis, debt reduction is still regarded as the key component to any recovery programme. To meet these ends, all our governments have been overseeing huge cuts in public services, welfare payments especially gouged, in concerted efforts to reduce their deficits. This death of our societies by a thousand cuts of “austerity” being the recommended cure which mainstream economists have called for, and though alternative voices have no less insistently pointed out that “austerity measures” are inherently counterproductive (since they reduce tax revenues), these dissenting voices continue to be marginalised.

A few years ago Thomas Herndon stepped forward. Herndon, a university student and thus less rigid in his outlook, caused quite a rumpus – as a consequence, he has since been rewarded with his own wikipedia entry. This sudden burst of fame coming after he inadvertently stumbled upon grievous errors in an influential paper entitled Growth in a Time of Debt (published 2010), authored by eminent Harvard professors, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff – Rogoff, a former chief economist at the IMF.

In their paper, Reinhart and Rogoff had purported to show that whenever national debt is in excess of 90% of GDP, growth is “roughly cut in half”. This correlation had subsequently been quoted by policy-makers across the world, as well as routinely served up as empirical proof that there was simply no viable alternative to our continuing “austerity” programmes. Most notably, perhaps, former EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, leant rather heavily on Reinhart and Rogoff’s work.

But then doubting Thomas Herndon decided to check their figures for himself. And, to his own astonishment, discovered that one of the most frequently cited justifications for the imposed “austerity” strategy actually rested upon a few careless mistakes on a spreadsheet!

[Herndon had] spotted a basic error in the spreadsheet. The Harvard professors had accidentally only included 15 of the 20 countries under analysis in their key calculation (of average GDP growth in countries with high public debt).

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Denmark were missing.

Oops.

Herndon and his professors found other issues with Growth in a Time of Debt, which had an even bigger impact on the famous result. The first was the fact that for some countries, some data was missing altogether. 2

Click here to read more in this BBC news article.

Taken aback by this unexpected challenge from a novice, Reinhart and Rogoff felt obliged to issue a response:

We are grateful to Herndon et al. for the careful attention to our original Growth in a Time of Debt AER paper and for pointing out an important correction to Figure 2 of that paper. It is sobering that such an error slipped into one of our papers despite our best efforts to be consistently careful. We will redouble our efforts to avoid such errors in the future.

Confessing to their blunder, but keen also to defend their professional reputation, they casually added:

We do not, however, believe this regrettable slip affects in any significant way the central message of the paper or that in our subsequent work.

There has since been no halt to the economic gouging and scourging of Europe. Despite the more immediate evidence coming out of Greece, Spain, Portugal, and every other place where such “measures” have been most strongly administered, that prove “austerity” isn’t working. And even when all other factors, social and human factors, are set aside, and success or failure is judged within the exceedingly narrow terms of its proponents, we see that the sovereign debt burdens in all these countries have continued to rise. 3

Given such a lack of success, the response is obviously to double-down. Apply more stringent “austerity”; if the original cuts have failed, then they needed to be deeper. In former times the doctors would just have ordered more leeches, or the priests would have demanded a tightening of the cilice. Tougher love. Just too bad if the supposed antidote is the worst of the poison, because orthodoxy asserts that, poison or not, it is the best and only remedy. The really important thing is to never let mere facts (especially incalculable costs like human misery) get in the way of a damned fine economic theory!

*

 whose debt is it anyway…?

But how did these sovereign debt burdens arise in the first place? Or put another way, the related question might be asked, to whom are the debts actually owed? This second question is rarely broached, but in 2013 award-winning business journalist, Harald Schumann, sought a direct answer to precisely this question. He journeyed across the stricken eurozone countries and poised the question to those working inside the so-called “Troika” (IMF, European Central Bank and EU Commission) as well as significant politicians, economists, lawyers, journalists and even the occasional central banker. The result, a brilliantly constructed documentary entitled The Secret Bank Bailout, is embedded below:

I highly recommend watching the documentary in full, but would also like to offer a brief overview.

Schumann asks which parties were actually rescued by the bailouts, and finds that contrary to what ordinary Germans were led to believe (this is a German documentary originally titled Staatsgeheimnis Bankenrettung) the people living in the poorer eurozone states received barely a penny of this apparent ‘foreign aid’ – our own media perpetuates the self-same falsehood.  Because rather than letting the creditors and the banks absorb their speculative losses, these financial institutions were deemed “too big too fail” and protected. So the bailouts were never used to support the governments, but always passed on to the creditors of major banks, especially ones in Germany and France, who had taken the unwise risks that caused the crisis – the original losses often due to property bubbles in places like Spain and Ireland. (The whole notion of “too big too fail” is, of course, a contravention of even the most basic tenets of free market capitalism.)

And who have been the ultimate recipients of all this bailout money? Well, that has remained a closely guarded secret. We ought to be asking why, of course, which Schumann’s documentary does. He also seeks to penetrate the secret itself.

In the next sections, I will present a further overview comprising highlights of Schumann’s discoveries, and following the same route (then a little beyond it) as he investigated country by country, across the blighted eurozone.

*

 Ireland

The Irish people have been forced to take on 70 billion euros of additional debt to pay off foreign creditors.

Stephen Donnelly, independent Irish MP, says that the ECB held the Irish government virtually at gunpoint:

“The suspicion is that European Central Bank said ‘You will continue to pay these bondholders [the mainly foreign creditors] to whom you owe nothing or we will pull the emergency funding out of your banking system, thereby collapsing your banking system, thereby collapsing your economy.’ To me that is gunboat diplomacy… [with a little prompting] or blackmail. It is a very, very serious threat for a central bank to have made in actually forcing a sovereign nation to surrender its sovereignty to bailout an independent group of investors. Was the ECB acting illegally?”

Brian Hayes, Irish Deputy Minister of Finance:

“Of course that was a position that was foisted on the Irish people as a result of the decisions taken… It was the majority view of the ECB that this money had to be paid back.”

And where did the Irish bailout money go? A full breakdown of the bondholders of Anglo Irish bank is available here. (The list was publicly released by blogger Guido Fawkes.)

Germany has the most with 15 of the bond holders. Who between them hold 5.3 trillion euros.

France is next with 10 bond holders.  Who have an estimated 4 trillion.

Britain is third with 9 who have around 3 trillion.

The Swiss have 6 but who have about 8.5 trillion.

America has only three and hold only a trillion.

Other nations include, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Holland Finland, Norway, Sweden, Poland, South Africa and Italy.

The bondholders include some of the world’s largest banks: Deutsche, Soc Gen, Barclay’s, PNB Paribas, UniCredit (who don’t appear on the list but own Pioneer Investments) and Wells Fargo (also not on the list but who own European Credit Management). There is also Goldman Sachs and Rothschild Group4

As Harald Schumann says “It’s like a Who’s Who of the financial world.”

Back to Stephen Donnelly:

“No country on earth in history has ever paid that amount of money back without having its own monetary policies… you gradually bleed, year on year on year. And now you really do depend on Europe. There was a quote by Nelson Mandela where he said something like: ‘It is the greatest tragedy of the human condition that we must endure so much pain before arriving at a compromise that we always knew was going to be needed.’”

The first lesson, therefore, is that the solution – any practicable solution – has to include debt cancellation.

*

 Spain

The Spanish people have been forced to take on 40 billion euros of additional debt to pay off foreign creditors.

Harald Schumann confronted Luis De Guindos, Spanish Minister of Finance, with advice he was given Stephen Donnelly that they would be better to let (some of) the banks fail because “banks have to be allowed to fail”. But Luis De Guindos disagrees:

“I think that the Irish situation is totally different from the Spanish situation. As I have said before, the size of the balance-sheet of the Irish banks in comparative terms with the GDP of Ireland was three times larger than the case of Spain. So I think that while in the case of Ireland the cost of recapitalising the banks has been above 20% of the Irish GDP, in the case of Spain we are talking 4% of GDP. So it’s a totally different situation and it’s not comparable at all.”

But economist Juan Rallo disagrees with De Guindos, and beginning with the figures themselves: “The real figure is not 40 billion, but 80 or 90 billion…”

And who are the creditors of the Spanish banks (particularly Bankia)? When Schumann manages to get hold of a list (thanks to “friendly people that help me”) he discovers that Deutsche Bank again features prominently.

Juan Moreno is a lawyer working with the 15M protest movement, who filed the lawsuit for the closure of Bankia to save the Spanish taxpayers from a bailout. When asked if the system would have collapsed, Moreno says:

“If you were to drop Bankia it would probably lead to the collapse of other banks, but not the big banks like BBVA, Santander, La Caixa, [Banco] Sabadell, or [Banco] Popular.”

Back to Luis De Guindos:

“A money market economy with fiat money is unstable. And we have an example that we let the banks go down… it was the Great Depression. It was the worst depression we had over the last century.”

Juan Moreno’s response:

“It’s all scaremongering. I don’t want that, I want numbers. I want to know what would really happen if they were to go bankrupt… With what we know now we would say this bank is beyond saving. We can’t continue to pour billions of euros into it. The creditors must take losses…

“The trial uncovered that the bank figures were falsified by upper management, but now we discover that the same had happened at the lower management levels. So a banking culture developed where employees were rewarded with bonuses so that the upper level did not realise how bad things were at the local branch level… The judge said that there was indeed public control of the bank, but the government supervisors played along. Letting the fox guard the hens is good for nothing.

“They’re all criminals: those in charge of Bankia and the public supervisors. If they’d let the savings banks go bankrupt, we would have found out what the politicians did with the money. Much of the debt that cannot be repaid is money that went to political parties, to city administrations, for work in the autonomous southern regions to companies connected to the government. These revelations would have made the political class disappear.”

So what is Moreno’s advice to the Germany citizens who are paying to prop up this corrupt system…?

“Numbers. The balance-sheet. It’s simple. You have to know the facts and apply the laws.”

*

 Cyprus

Meanwhile, depositors in Cypriot banks (savers as opposed to taxpayers) had more than 6 billion euros seized overnight in a so-called bail-in to pay off foreign creditors. This has crippled many businesses and stifled economic growth in a different way.

Panicos Demetraides, Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus:

“It’s a change from past bailouts that we have had to bail-in on this occasion [from] uninsured depositors in the two big Cypriot banks. The burden of this bail-in has been borne partly by non-residents, but also partly by residents, Cypriot companies and households. About two-thirds of the burden has been borne actually by non-residents and one-third by residents.”

But as German MP Gerhard Schick (Green Party) explains:

“The European Central Bank allowed the Cypriot Central Bank to give money to banks in Cyprus even though they were insolvent. That’s a real mistake because then non-functioning structures are upheld and taxpayers’ money – and that’s what we’re talking about with a central bank – is endangered. In this way the ECB slowed down the rescue programme and made it possible for many creditors to withdraw their money and invest it elsewhere… The ECB was a creditor acting in self-interest to protect its own money. This conflict of interest should never have been allowed to happen, but it did because central bank money was put into bad banks.”

Back to Panicos Demetraides:

“Certainly the delays offered more informed investors [the chance] to protect their own investments. And they put the less informed investors at a disadvantage.”

Does this mean the ECB allowed other European banks time to withdraw their money? That must be some sort of rumour, says Demetraides. It is a rumour that must persist until there is an independent investigation, but as Gerhard Schick points out:

“The problem is that the ECB is a closed shop, and neither the European Parliament nor national parliaments are really able to call it to account when it breaks the rules.”

Harris Georgiades, Cypriot Minister of Finance:

“For us it was a take it or leave it situation. A decision that we accepted under pressure, and with no time to negotiate extensively. Essentially both of our kneecaps have been broken, and now we are asked to run.”

*

 Greece

Greece entered the crisis with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 110% and with around 10% unemployment. It was then put through an “austerity programme” supposedly designed to tackle the debt. Five years and several thousand suicides later, unemployment currently stands at 30% and debt-to-GDP is at around 180%.

This tremendous spike in debt remains in spite of ‘haircuts’ known as the Greek “Private sector involvement” or PSI, the first announced in July 2011, and quickly followed by PSI Mk2 (after PSI Mk1 failed), which involved a impressive sounding 50% reduction in the face value of Greek government bonds (GGB). 5 But then, as Yanis Varoufakis, current Greek Finance Minister, but as then a lowly Professor of Economics, wrote soon after:

In short, and so as not to overlabour the point, PSI Mk2 is dead in the water. The shenanigans of the shadow banking sector (which, lest we forget, includes not only the hedge funds but also, remarkably, the ‘proper’ banks shady Special Vehicles) plus the predictable deterioration of the Greek economy have put paid to it. The negotiations may go on for a little while longer, the announcement of a brilliant agreement may be made but, in truth, the idea that the Greek haircut will put Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio back on a course towards 120% has sunk without trace. And if you need hard evidence for this, the European Summit of 9th December provided it even before 2011 was seen off: Officially, Europe’s great and good announced the end of PSI as a policy of the new ESM; Europe’s future central, permanent bailout fund. It had all been a mistake, they seemed to confess. 6

Greece has never been bailed out, only the European banks (well over 90% of the bailout money returning to them), and likewise the ‘haircut’ actually caused more problems than it solved. In particular, it permitted the looting of social security and public pension funds that are mandated by law to invest in government bonds – the following is taken from a special report published by Reuters:

Greece’s pension funds – patchily run in the first place, say unionists and some politicians – have been savaged by austerity and the terms of the international bailout keeping the country afloat.

Workers and pensioners suffered losses of about 10 billion euros ($13 billion) just in the debt restructuring of March 2012, when the value of some Greek bonds was cut in half. That sum is equal to 4.6 percent of the country’s GDP in 2011.

Many savers blame the debacle on the Bank of Greece, the country’s central bank, which administers three-quarters of pension funds’ surplus cash. Pensioners and politicians accuse it of failing to foresee trouble looming, or even of investing pension fund money in government bonds that it knew to be at high risk of a ‘haircut’ – having their value reduced. 7

Click here to read the full Reuters report.

In June 2014, Yanis Varoufakis was interviewed by Harald Schumann. Excerpts would feature in another collaboration between Arpad Bondy and Schumann; their follow-up documentary The Trail Of The Troika (in German, Macht ohne Kontrolle – Die Troika), which plotted another route across the continent in order to show how “austerity measures” have utterly failed to rescue the eurozone economies, and how in the process “the Troika” has also flagrantly breached its own European treaty regulations. Unfortunately, an English version of this more recent documentary is at present unavailable on youtube or elsewhere (so far as I can ascertain – but I will certainly embed a version as and when I find one). Meanwhile, uploads of the various interviews filmed during its making are now freely available, and embedded below is Schumann’s unabridged interview with Varoufakis, of which I have again selectively transcribed some of the answers he gave last summer:

What was the bailout for? The bailout was not in order to bail Greece out. Greece was never bailed out. The bailout loan that was extended in May of 2010 had a very singular, simple purpose. It was to transfer banking losses from the asset books of banks, not only Greek ones, but also French ones and German ones, onto the shoulders of the taxpayers. Initially the Greek taxpayers – because they knew that these shoulders were too weak to bear those losses, eventually it was always part of the plan to transfer them onto the shoulders of the German, and the French, and the Dutch and the Finnish taxpayers. And “the Troika” is here supervising this sinister transfer. [5:45 mins]

Smart people in Brussels, especially in Frankfurt, and of course Berlin, knew in May 2010 that Greece would never be able to repay its debts. They knew that again in the Spring of 2012 when they extended the second loan. They know it again now. In their minds they have already written off a very large bulk of the billions and billions that was given to the Greek state to give to the Greek banks and to give to the rest of the banks. All other things being equal, of course, “the Troika” would much rather more money was repaid than less money. But all other things are not equal. At this very moment in time, as we speak, while the Greek banks have huge black holes that we all know, even though they are not being admitted to, something similar is happening in the rest of the eurozone. Deutsche Bank, Finanzbank, BNP Paribas are skating on thin ice. They will never admit to it. And part of the angst and of the anxiety of the powers in Brussels, in Frankfurt, in Berlin, is how not to admit to the German, to the French, to the Dutch, to the Finnish people, that their banking sector was never really put back on an even keel. 8 [7:15 mins]

In 2010, what they had done was this: they lied to the Greek people and to the German people. They said to the Greek people: We have avoided bankruptcy. And they said to the German people that the Greeks, they were waivered, now we are going to punish them with austerity. But we will lend them the money because European solidarity demands that. In reality, what they were doing was transferring banking losses from the bankers – the European bankers, all of them – onto the shoulders first of the Greek taxpayers and eventually onto the German taxpayers, because the Greek taxpayers could not shoulder all of this money.

So they had lied to the German taxpayers. They said: We are not going to haircut the Greek debt. They were always going to haircut the Greek debt. They knew it. What they did with first bailout loan was to shift that big bulk, a 110 billion, from the bankers’ loss book onto the shoulders of Europe’s taxpayers. And then, after that had been effected, of course then they had to haircut – to do what they said they were never going to do – and who did they haircut? They haircut the small bondholders and the pension funds… So the PSI, the second bailout, the haircut of the private sector, was part of the original process of shifting the burden of adjustment and the cost of the crisis from the shoulders of those who caused it, onto the shoulders of those who didn’t cause it in Greece and in Germany. And all that in the name of European solidarity. And then they wonder why right-wing parties of the extreme part of the spectrum are winning power – or, at least, winning seats in the European Parliament. [21:30 mins]

Asked whether he thought the 2008 crisis had been caused as a result of incompetence or due to a more deliberate act of conspiracy, Varoufakis replied:

It wasn’t a conspiracy. It was a very simple operation: How do we stay in power? Mr [Jean-Claude] Juncker said it. Once he admitted: we know what needs to be done, we just don’t know how to do it and remain in power. Now don’t forget that before 2008, 2010, all parties of government, whether they were Christian-Democratic, Social-Democratic, it doesn’t matter. They had developed this extremely close relationship with the financial sector. They had looked at the financial sector as the cow that would bear the milk from which they would feed all, not only their political parties and careers, but also the welfare state – from the point of view of the Social-Democrats.

There was a kind of Faustian bargain between our politicians and bankers. We will let you do what you want, and you pay us a small amount proportional in order to fund our states. So when the crisis hit – which was completely unexpected for them – they had neither the analytical power nor the moral authority to go to these bankers and say: You know what, you’re out. You’re bankrupt, we’re taking over the banks… 9 [24 mins]

Finally, here was what Yanis Varoufakis, the economist (and not yet Finance Minister) said when asked for “any realistic proposal [to] how the dire economic situation in Greece can be improved”:

Well, we have to stop doing what we are doing and do something quite diferent. And there are two levels at which you should see this, because let’s not forget that once we have a monetary union you can’t talk about the overcoming of the crisis in one part of it in isolation to the others. It would be like talking about how South Dakota would escape the Great Depression in 1933 without the rest of the United States going through the New Deal. So we need a New Deal for Europe… 10 [32:30 min]

But, I have to insist: The solution must be European, because the crisis is European. And there are things we can do within two weeks to end this euro-crisis without violating any of the European Union treaties as long as we have the political will to do it. 11 [34:30 min]

*

there is a better alternative… (and always was)

Q: Your Finance Minister Varoufakis said that he is not afraid of an Armageddon.

A: He said in parliament: if you enter into negotiations, you are not seeking a breakup. But you have to keep a breakup in mind as a contingency. I share this view.

 

Q: So you have a Plan B in case Greece does decide to exit from the single currency?

A: We don’t need a contingency plan because we will stay in the eurozone. But we won’t achieve this objective at the expense of the weak – like our previous government.

 

– Alexis Tsipras in same interview published in Stern magazine.

On April 16th, Varoufakis was invited to speak at a press conference hosted by the Brookings Institute which is based in Washington. In answer to a question about being trapped in a position where the Greeks are left with little alternative but to default, Varoufakis replied:

I would willingly, eagerly and enthusiastically accept any terms offered to us if they made sense. I would have no problem with the Memorandum of Understanding if it was founded upon a reform programme that attacked the worse cases of rent-seeking in Greece, and made the reforms that were necessary in order to enhance efficiency and social justice. If it came for the planet Mars, if it came from Berlin, if it came from Brussels, if it came from Portugal, from Slovakia, I don’t care which, I would have embraced it. The problem we have with these conditions – you know, the take it or leave it conditions – is not so much the authoritarianism, it is that fact that we’ve tried that medicine and it hasn’t worked…

It is almost precisely three years ago since I wrote a post entitled ‘austerity’ or ‘Grexit’: is there really no better alternative for Greece? There have since been more than two and a half years of unrestrained “austerity” (prior to Syriza’s victory), a “take it or leave it” Hobson’s choice, which has deepened the crisis not only in Greece but across the entire eurozone. ‘Grexit’ has never been a realistic alternative, and as Syriza have maintained from the outset, they have no intention whatsoever of ditching the euro. So ‘Grexit’ becomes ‘Grexident’, in other words, an impossibility. Because any accidental Greek exit can only occur if it is accidentally on purpose, and that would mean ‘Grexpulsion’ – a term the mainstream has yet to adopt for obvious reasons.

In Washington, Varoufakis was once again unequivocal about Syriza’s position:

“Toying with ‘Grexit’, which is something we don’t do – we are refusing to discuss it, because as I have said before even worrying about it is like worrying about being hit by a comet in a universe in which comets are attracted to you if you are worried about them – toying with ‘Grexit’ and ideas of amputating Greece is profoundly anti-European because anybody who claims that they know what the effect of a ‘Grexit’ is, are deluded.” [52 mins]

*

Which brings us to an impasse. Accept “austerity” or get out! Jump off a cliff or suffer slow death by a thousand cuts. Is there really no genuine alternative for the Greeks?

Well, the answer to that question actually depends upon what you value. If you think that all debts are sacrosanct, then it necessarily follows that the Greeks must go on paying the banks to their bitter end. That the debt is unpayable doesn’t matter. That the debt is the consequence of so much ineptitude and malfeasance within the banking system doesn’t matter either. The Greeks must cough up because otherwise the chaos will worsen (or so we are again constantly given to believe). But if you value human life above money, and recognise that debts that cannot be repaid will never be repaid, then you can begin to think more constructively. In fact, the alternative becomes immediately and blindingly apparent. Since a debt cancellation will inevitably come sooner or later, the only real question is how much longer must the Greeks be punished in the meantime.

A way-out of all this mess is entirely possible. It doesn’t involve “austerity” and does not necessarily require a Greek exit from the eurozone. What is needed is simply an end to the bottomless banker bailouts and then new money being made available for reconstruction projects and other productive enterprise within Greece, Spain and elsewhere. Such a ‘New Deal’ injection is unlikely to be offered by the IMF, and neither will it be supported by the likes of Angela Merkel. But it can be fought for by the Greek people themselves, and in this battle to stop the wanton destruction of their nation, as fellow Europeans we should stand with them, recognising that the same aggressive financial interests that have already eviscerated Greece, will be pillaging our own lands soon enough.

The paragraphs above are taken from the post I wrote three years ago – yet so little has significantly altered that it remains pertinent enough to repeat it.

Back to Varoufakis who puts flesh on those barest of bones regarding the ‘New Deal’ option for Europe (and presenting the way ahead without any recourse to deficit spending by governments – so heretical to the neo-liberals):

Europe as a whole, the eurozone as a whole, is typified not only by a mountain of great private and public debts, which we do have. But there is another mountain hiding behind it: a huge mountain of idle savings with nowhere to go. And it should be our joint project to energise, to motivate, those idle savings, to help them overcome their great fear that keeps them idle, and channel them into productive investments – not investments into assets, but investments into real productive capacity. Now, how do we do this? Well, we have the European Investment Bank [EIB] that could do this. And we have the European Central Bank which is embarking on quantitative easing. Well, why can’t the EIB fund a major ‘New Deal’ for Europe, that channels investment to the private sectors of the countries and regions within countries that have a major output gap? [44 mins]

The whole of Varoufakis speech at the Brookings Institute and the subsequent Q+A session is embedded below:

*

last frenzy of reasonableness…?

Just days after Syriza were swept to election victory on January 26th, economist and former US Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts, published an article entitled “Is Democracy Dead In The West?” which began:

We will find out the answer to the question posed in the title in the outcome of the contest between the new Greek government, formed by the political party Syriza, and the ECB and the private banks, with whose interests the EU and Washington align against Greece.

Roberts, once known as the “Father of Reaganomics” but more recently a repentant neo-liberalist and outspoken opponent of the financial elites, continues:

The new [Syriza] government wants to moderate the agreements made by previous Greek governments that sold out the Greek people. The new government wants to stop giving away at bargain prices Greek public assets to clients of its creditors, and the new Greek government wants to raise the Greek minimum wage so that the Greek people have enough bread and water on which to live.

However, for the private bank creditors, for Merkel’s Germany that stands behind the banks, for Washington which could care less about the Greeks, for the Greek elites who see themselves as “part of Europe,” Syriza is something to be rid of.

Adding that:

A purpose of the “Greek financial crisis” is to establish that EU members are not sovereign countries and that banks that lend to these non-sovereign entities are not responsible for any losses with regard to the loans. The population of the indebted countries are the responsible parties. And these populations must accept the reduction of their living standards in order to ensure that the banks do not lose any money.

This is the “New Democracy.” It is a resurrection of the old feudal order. A few super-rich aristocrats and everyone else serfs obliged to support the ruling order. 12

Click here to read Paul Craig Robert’s full article.

The question is, who is actually right here? Certainly we ought to acknowledge that elements in Paul Craig Roberts’ more conspiratorial outlook are irrefutable, recognising that Goldman Sachs did indeed deliberately help to hide previous government debt in order to extend credit to Greece. The Greeks were set up; this has been established – details of Goldman Sachs involvement can be found in this previous post.

Varoufakis is diplomatic, arguably too diplomatic. But then, is Paul Craig Roberts unduly pessimistic when he says that Syriza can now do “very little”, and, in either case, is the very moderate and rather modest approach of Varoufakis a good one, pragmatically speaking? Extending a hand of friendship being unlikely to impress “the powerful rich interest groups that rule the West [who] could not care less about the people over whom they rule” (to quote Roberts again, who knows them well, of course). Yet it may be effective in another way, such relentless persuasion and his “frenzy of reasonableness” at least winning the more public battle for hearts and minds. My own view is that Varoufakis (and Syriza) have adopted a sensible stance, which is in fact evidenced by the harsh criticism they have received from both extreme flanks. Appearing too flexible has made him a target for derision from the more radical (and Communist) left-wing, whereas standing his ground irritates his more powerful opponents working within the establishment (who lash out publicly whenever Varoufakis is out of earshot).

Meanwhile, ‘Grexident’, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s own portmanteau neologism (I gather), is now trending on twitter – not literally, of course, because it doesn’t have a celebrity angle. But the hashtag certainly exists and the tweets that include it are mostly German and Greek, alternating like a stack of incomprehensible post-it-notes. And sadly, the word ‘Grexident’ isn’t the only eurozone nonsense currently trending:

Academic-turned-finance minister Varoufakis was called “a time-waster, a gambler and an amateur”, a source privy to the closed-door talks told the news service Bloomberg.

This is according to a Guardian article published on Friday [April 24th] and entitled “Time is running out for Greece, says Eurogroup chief”. The article continues:

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the eurogroup of finance ministers, told reporters in Latvia it was a “highly critical” meeting as Greece had still not agreed a comprehensive and detailed list of reforms.

Although there were positive signs, there remained “wide differences to bridge on substance”, he said.

“We are all aware that time is running out … too much time has been lost.” […]

Dijsselbloem warned on Friday that after the lack of recent progress it would be very hard to consider a new programme for Greece to cover its funding needs beyond June. He ruled out giving Greece an early slice [of] bailout cash. […]

ECB president Mario Draghi also betrayed his exasperation and warned that central bank could impose tougher conditions in return for keeping Greek banks afloat.

Weeks ago, the Riga meeting had been pencilled in as the moment when the eurozone could sign off an aid payment for Greece, but in the event ministers vented their frustration with Varoufakis for Greece’s failure to bridge the gap with creditors.

Just to remind you, Mario Draghi is not only the former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs – directly implicated in bringing the crisis to Greece – but serves as a trustee of the Brookings Institute13

So watching Varoufakis descend into the belly of the beast that is the Brookings Institute and to receive such a warm welcome and nonjudgmental reception, I must confess that I was instantly reminded of the film, Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic, and of one scene in particular:

“If you’re part of a crew, nobody ever tells you that they’re going to kill you. It doesn’t happen that way. There weren’t any arguments or curses like in the movies. So your murderers come with smiles. They come as your friends, the people who have cared for you all of your life, and they always seem to come at a time when you’re at your weakest and most in need of their help.”

But Varoufakis is not easily daunted, and so, as the Guardian piece describes:

Varoufakis said the talks [in Latvia] were “intense”, but remained confident that the two sides will resolve their differences in time.

“We agreed that an agreement will be difficult but it will happen and it will happen quickly because that is the only option we have,” he told a press conference.

Varoufakis later declared: “We want an agreement and we are willing to make compromises to achieve this … The cost of not having a solution would be huge for all of us, Greece and the eurozone”. 14

In saying so, he is quite correct. Not only the Greeks, but the Germans too, whose major banks are set to carry the heaviest losses in the event of default, ought to be aware of the extreme dangers of such brinksmanship. A basic instinct for self-preservation is what Varoufakis is relying on, but for so long as the banks and other financial institutions remain confident of receiving further bailouts, it is the German taxpayers who ought to worry – as should the rest of us – because so long as they remain “too big too fail” (i.e., untouchable) then bankers like Mario Draghi and co really have nothing at stake. For once the Greeks are unable to shoulder the debt burden, as Varoufakis reminded us last summer, it will be passed on to the shoulders of the Germans and the French.

Indeed, the people of Europe stand to lose enormously if this so-called ‘Grexident’ (in reality ‘Grexpulsion’) leads to ‘Grexit’ and then to ‘Grextagion’ as it will be doubtless be called; as idiotically named as it will have been idiotically contracted and spread. Because, if no compromise can be reached in spite of Varoufakis’ tireless efforts, then sooner then we imagine we may all be standing in the Greek people’s shoes.

*

Update:

A weekend can be a very long time in politics…

Unbeknownst to me, on Sunday 26th [the day before I posted this article] Yanis Varoufakis had put out a tweet in which he quoted the words of Franklin D Roosevelt, who famously said “They are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred”, adding simply “A quotation close to my heart (& reality) these days”:

This would be one of his final acts as chief negotiator at the Eurogroup meetings:

Greece moved to inject fresh momentum into problem-plagued talks with creditors on Monday, reshuffling its negotiating team to try and defuse tensions over its outspoken finance minister. […]

In a bid to ease tensions with lenders, the Syriza party-led coalition said the minister of international financial relations, Euclid Tsakalotos, would take over the coordination of the new team. The appointment will see the economics professor, who was raised in the UK, assuming a more active role in face-to-face negotiations with creditors.

So writes Helena Smith in the Guardian [April 27th], her report released a mere two hours after I posted.

Varoufakis told us that before he took the job he had written a pre-prepared resignation letter to carry around with him at all times, just in case he ever found himself sounding too much like a politician. Hopefully this will not be needed, and news that he has been “removed” is perhaps a little exaggerated:

[However,] one well-placed Athens official insisted that Varoufakis’s role had been upgraded “in many ways”. The official added: “To make him resign would be to retreat and the government would never do that.”

Three months after his elevation to power, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has come under extraordinary pressure to remove Varoufakis. Yet last night Tsipras said that his finance minister “is an important asset for the government, and [with creditors] he speaks their language better then they do”. In a wide-ranging interview aired on Greek TV, Tsipras rejected suggestions that his government had any intention of sacrificing the politician. Now that negotiations with creditors were in the final straight, Greece had to reorganise its negotiating team, the PM said. […]

But insiders insisted that the politician still enjoyed Tsipras’ confidence, even if the young premier was now reaching out to the German chancellor Angela Merkel in an effort to reach a political solution.

With his high popularity ratings at home, Varoufakis is credited with internationalising the country’s debt problem and raising questions over austerity economics.

“They [creditors] couldn’t counter his economic arguments rationally so they went for him claiming he didn’t understand eurozone rules and regulations, that his reforms weren’t good enough,” said one official. “Tsipras knows this is not about Varoufakis, but his government, because it has dared to take on the system that is Europe’s neoliberal doctrine. He knows that if one goes the other goes too, which is why Varoufakis is here to stay.”

I very much encourage Tsipras to stick by Varoufakis, certainly in the capacity of his chief economic advisor, if not within government itself. We so very seldom see anyone of such intelligence, integrity and courage in public office. The world needs more politicians like Varoufakis, not less.

Please note that I corrected this update after mistakenly believing that Varoufakis had stepped down from his role as Greek Finance Minister. Apologies for posting the incorrect original version.

*

1 From an interview published as “Give us six more months, and we will be another country”, written by A. Albes, F. Batzoglou, A. Petzold, published by Stern on February 18, 2015. http://www.stern.de/politik/ausland/interview-with-greek-primeminister-alexis-tsipras-give-us-six-more-months-and-we-will-be-another-country-2174273.html

2 From an article entitled “Reinhart, Rogoff… and Herndon: The student who caught out the profs” written by Ruth Alexander, published by BBC news on April 20, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22223190

3 Here are some interesting graphs taken from an wikipedia article entitled “European sovereign-debt crisis”, which show the rise in the levels of Greek, Spanish and Portuguese debt since 1999 as compared to the average of the eurozone:

 

 

 

All three graphs (and others including those for Ireland and Cyprus) show a marked turning point around 2007–8, providing further evidence not only that “austerity” hasn’t worked (even within its own terms of debt reduction), but that the western world is actually faced with a systemic banking crisis that flared up at that time. The debt-to-GDP ratios have flattened towards the end, but even so the downturn is mostly in the projected regions.

And this is from an article written by Tyler Durden and posted on zerohedge from February 18, 2013:

“Beleaguered Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy just broke another record. As if a plague of corruption scandals was not enough, Spain’s debt-to-GDP has now reached levels not seen in over 100 years. As El Pais reports, Spanish debt levels rose at an alarming EUR 400 million per day in 2012 making for the largest annual increase in debt in the nation’s history – all the while proclaiming austerity.”

And here’s another helpful graph that goes along with the article, showing once more that rather than reducing the nation’s debt, “austerity measures” are more closely correlated to the growth of that debt:

 

 

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-02-18/chart-day-spanish-debt

4 These details of a summary of more detailed notes complied here: http://www.golemxiv.co.uk/2010/10/who-are-the-bond-holders-we-are-bailing-out/ 

5 Based on figures taken from an article entitled “Greece’s PSI is Dead on Arrival: An error in search of a rationale but also a failure that may prove a harbinger for the Modest Proposal” written by Yanis Varoufakis, published on January 11. 2012:

Back to the drawing board, our European leaders came up with a deeper haircut in October 2011. They called it PSI Mk2 and even had the foolish Greek PM fall on his sword, to be replaced by a hitherto loyal ECB functionary, so as to ensure that PSI Mk 2 would become Greece’s new light on the hill; a beacon of the last glimmer of hope for a desperate nation. PSI Mk 2 envisaged an impressive sounding 50% reduction in the GGBs’ face value which, in present value terms, would result in a haircut no less than 60% (since the interest rates charged on the new bonds, that would be swapped with the old ones, could not exceed the interest rates charged by the ECB and the EU for the original bailout funds). In other words, holders of GGBs would be hair-cut in two ways: a 50% reduction in face value and an interest rate less than 5% which would cut further into the present value of the old GGBs.

http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2012/01/11/greeces-psi-is-dead-on-arrival-an-error-in-search-of-a-rationale-but-also-a-failure-that-may-prove-a-harbinger-for-the-modest-proposal/ 

6 Ibid.

7 From a special report entitled “Greeks rage against pension calamity” written by George Georgiopoulos & Lefteris Papadimas, published in Reuters on November 30, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/30/us-greece-crisis-pensions-idUSBRE8AT0CV20121130

8 Varoufakis adds:

“The one thing if I were, I am not, but if I were the CEO of Deutsche Bank, I would be very wary of the dangers from “the Troika” in Athens that is casting a critical gaze into what is happening to Greek banks. Because if “the Troika” takes a keen interest, it will have to declare that the Greek banks are beyond salvation. And the only possible outcome of that would be nationalisation of these banks.”

9 Varoufakis  adds:

“There is no doubt that there was a great deal of incompetence. Our leaders, and I have to say most of my profession – speaking as an economist – had become steadily lobotomised since the late 1970s. We didn’t have leaders who understood macroeconomics… You just let the markets perform their triumphant trick and everything will be fine. Politicians were convinced of that, their careers went swimmingly, their cosy relation with the financial sector was working out for them beautifully. When the whole thing, this bubble, collapsed, they were found wanting analytically – they didn’t understand what happened – they believed their own rhetoric and when they started realising the truth, at that point they had already misled parliaments and electorates to such an extent that they would much rather die than confess to the sins of omission and commission.” [25:45 min]

10 Varoufakis offers the following example:

Regarding the Greek situation, the Greek debt, for instance. What we need to do is, we need, since the German government is going to find it politically very difficult to go to the parliament in Berlin and say: Well, it was all a mistake, we have to write off their debt. What you can do is you can create euphemisms – you can create what Keynes referred to as bisque bonds, GDP-related bonds. The Greek government could issue particular bonds that it exchanges for the debt that the ESF [European Social Fund] holds. And those bonds could specify that they can last 30 years let’s say. In 30 years they become extinct whether they have been repaid or not. And that the coupons, the repayments, on a year to year basis depend on the level of growth in Greece. So if growth is more than 3% then it specifies particular payment. That way Mr Schäuble will be able to look at his parliamentarians and say: We haven’t haircut it, but the extent to which the Greek debts will be repaid will be linked to our success in helping Greek growth. So you make them partners in Greek growth as opposed to bailiffs who come in and take your furniture away and throw you out on the street. [33:15 min]

11 The details go as follows:

Three things: The first thing we need to do is deal with the banking sector troubles throughout the eurozone. And the way I would do it – because we know we have declared this banking union which is really a term confirms there is no banking union – so what we should do about banks is this: Banks that are found out by the ECB in September (when the ECB assumes the role of the single supervisor of the banking system) to be wanting in terms of recapitalisation to have bad assets that have not been declared so far, they should accept money from the ESM – from the European stability mechanism – directly, not through the governments, directly. And the ESM should get shares, the shareholders should be wiped out and the ECB should appoint a new board of directors – hopefully not from within the country in which the bank is domiciled. This way you Europeanise these banks. In 6 months, 12 months, you resell them – you will resell them with a profit because those shares will be purchased by the ESM at very low prices. And then the ESM gets money back, the European taxpayers get their money back, TARP-like. And you do it step by step. You don’t Europeanise all 6,000 banks. The banks that are in trouble…

The second thing you do is to deal directly with the public debt, which is getting worse everywhere – except in Germany because of the low, low interest rates due to the fact that the crisis is proceeding. The European Central Bank should make a simple announcement tomorrow morning that will cost it nothing, zero. And the announcement is this: From now on, every time a government bond matures, the ECB will service, will pay, for the proportion of that bond that corresponds to the country’s Maastricht compliant legal debt. So in the case of Italy it will be half of it. So the European Central Bank will pay for this, not the Italian government. Now I said it won’t cost the European Central Bank anything, so how can that be if it pays half of it? The answer is the ECB issues its own bonds and sells them to the Chinese, to the Russians, to whoever wants to buy them at very, very low interest rates – because the ECB is such a sterling institution – and immediately opens a direct debit account for Italy. And says to Italy: Look, within ten years, this amount of money has to go in there in order to repay the Chinese. So in other words, what I’m suggesting is that the ECB should play a management role for public debt in Europe that costs nothing, that doesn’t require printing a single euro, and does not violate any treaty. Because ths is not a bailout…

And then we have the big problem of growth. Of investment. We have an amazing dearth of investment in Europe, both in the north and in the south. Even in Germany. So what we need is really a Roosevelt-like New Deal – a very large investment programme. I am not talking about a 100 million here and a 100 million there. We need something between 8 and 9% of eurozone GDP to be invested in productive activities… That would be what we need in order to avert deflation and in order to restart growth in Europe. Now we have the European investment Bank in Europe. The European Investment Bank is three times the size of the World Bank. It could very easily effect such a large scale investment-led recovery programme in Europe. The reason why it doesn’t do it, is because the convention is that 50% of every project is funded from a nation state. The nation state is bankrupt. Waive it. And what should we do instead? We should have either the ECB issuing more bonds in order to support the EIB bonds or something simpler than that. Everyone now, including Mr [Mario] Draghi and Mr [Jens] Weidmann [President of German Bundesbank], are speaking about the need for quantitative easing in Europe. Or at least they are considering it. Now we do not want American-style or British-style quantitative easing because this simply inflates bubbles… Mr Draghi’s worried about quantitative easing because he doesn’t know which assets to buy. German assets? Italian, you know, we are going to start arguing like children amongst ourselves, as to whose assets should be purchased. Bu the European Investment Bank issues European bonds, EIB-bonds. Why not have the EIB effect quantitative easing by purchasing EIB-bonds to such an extent that the EIB ca start a New Deal for Europe programme of 8–9% of eurozone GDP with the ECB buying only its bonds, which are European bonds?  And also they are triple-A bonds. Now that a combination of those three measures would deal with the banking sector crisis, it would create a rational way of managing the Maastricht compliant and legal part of the debt… and you have a massive investment-led recovery programme.

12 From an article entitled “Is Democracy Dead In The West?” written by Paul Craig Roberts, published on January 29, 2015. http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2015/01/29/democracy-dead-west-paul-craig-roberts/ 

13 From Bloomberg Business (bold highlight added):

Mr. Mario Draghi has been the President of Executive Board and President of European Central Bank since November 2011. Mr. Draghi served as Governor of Banca d’Italia SpA since December 29, 2005 until November 01, 2011. He served as Managing Director of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. until January 2006. He served as Director-general of Italy’s treasury. He served as an Adviser to the Bank of Italy, an Executive Director of the World Bank and as a member of the Group of Seven deputies. He served as the Chairman of Financial Stability Board. He has been a Director at Bank For International Settlements since June 2012. He serves as a Trustee of The Brookings Institution. He has been Member Of Governing Council of European Central bank since January 16, 2006. He served as a Member of Governing Board at Banca d’Italia SpA and served as its Member of General Councils. He served as Member of Board of Governors – Italy of Asian Development Bank until November 2011. He served as Director of Bank For International Settlements from September 2011 to November 01, 2011. Mr. Draghi has a Doctorate in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=13154633&privcapId=5774394

14 From an article entitled “Time is running out for Greece, says Eurogroup chief” written by Graeme Wearden, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/apr/24/time-is-running-out-for-greece-says-eurogroup-chief-jeroen-dijsselbloem

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Syriza must win and be seen to win: we need solidarity across Europe

In current discussions of what Greece might or might not get in the way of concessions from the Eurozone, there has so far been relatively little appreciation of one basic political reality: as far as the governments of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, probably Italy and perhaps even France are concerned, Syriza must fail and must be seen to fail.

So begins an article by neo-liberal economic guru Andrew Lilico in Wednesday’s Telegraph. Why? Well, because of the domino effect. Although no debt deal has been reached so far, if the other Eurozone finance ministers were to agree some kind of a compromise and bailout package with Syriza, then it is a near certainty that other European nations, starting with those suffering the worst of the “austerity”, would follow suit.

Here is Lilico to elucidate further:

The reasons differ slightly between countries. The easiest case to see is perhaps Spain. In Spain, the governing party is the centre-right Partido Popular led by Mariano Rajoy. It is currently facing pressure from a far-left party, Podemos, allied to Syriza. Indeed the Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias even campaigned in partnership with Syriza and, following Syriza’s victory, at his own party’s rally he proclaimed: “Syriza, Podemos – we will win [venceremos]!” Podemos is currently leading in the polls, ahead of an election later this year. The very last thing Rajoy can afford is for Syriza’s approach to be seen to succeed, emboldening and vindicating Podemos.

As for Portugal and Ireland, where the governments stuck to bailout conditions despite the domestic pain, how would they sell concessions to Syriza to their own voters? Suppose they go back and say: “We were suckers. We shouldn’t have made all those cuts. Instead, what we really should have done was to raise the minimum wage, hire back the public sector staff that had been fired, say we weren’t going to pay our debts to our eurozone partners, cosy up to the Russians and tell the Germans they didn’t feel nearly guilty enough about World War Two. Then everyone would have said we were ‘rock stars’ and and [sic] forgiven our debts.” Do you reckon that would go down well?

Lilico is horrified by all this, saying that he worries about “amateurish hard-left lunacy” which might somehow make, what he necessarily concedes is an already terrible situation, worse again. Not that Lilico is an impartial observer. He may write for the Guardian as well as The Telegraph, but that’s just how it works these days. The mainstream left and right merged long ago. So when he suddenly pops up to ward us away from Syriza, remember that he has his own interests to worry about. Potentially serious repercussions for his consultancy firm Europe Economics, which lists as its clients government departments, regulators, the European Commission and the European Parliament. With that in mind, here’s a little more of what he writes:

The best way for [Syriza] to fail would be for it to capitulate utterly and crawl back to Greece with its tail between its legs and a few cosmetic patronising “concessions” such as renaming the “Troika” the “Consultative Committee” (or, if it makes them feel better, the “Symvouleftiki Epitropi”). If it won’t do that — and there’s a good chance that if it did try to do that then the Greek government would collapse, anyway — then things get a bit more complicated. Because if it’s bad and dangerous for Syriza to succeed inside the euro, it would be disastrous for it to succeed outside the euro.

In short, Syriza must not be allowed to succeed under any circumstances, and although he may claim to speak “from the perspective of [the] eurozone governments”, it is more accurate to say that Lilico speaks here from the perspective of the bankers and the super-rich. For instance, in the hypothetic instance of Syriza’s success, Lilico predicts a calamity. This is what he foresees:

[Syriza] would nationalise the banks and many other industries, print money to cover public spending, overthrow property rights and impose wealth taxes in a desperate attempt to obtain revenue, and many other crazy things. 1

All these, at least to the mindset of Lilico and his powerful ilk, are “crazy things”. Thus, imposing every kind of tax on wealth becomes, ipso facto, a crazy thing. And as for “print[ing] money to cover public spending”, well printing money to bail out the banks is just fine, of course. That’s called Quantitative Easing which, combined with historically low interest rates (recently turned negative in some places), is all that’s keeping the ever more precarious Ponzi scheme afloat. So don’t be mistaken: what worries Lilico is not the unfettered overproduction of money ‘out of thin air’, but an awful dread that some significant part of this new money might be misdirected “to cover public spending”. Money for public expenditure instead of funnelled into the pockets the bankers (like almost all of the money from the previous ‘Greek bailouts’); to Lilico, this is unthinkable. As for “overthrow[ing] property rights”, well I’m really not sure what Lilico means, but I think the problem might lie in his inherent inability to see beyond a certain characterisation of Syriza. His own hard-right lunacy obscuring the fact that Syriza’s actual demands are both democratic and reasonable.

In the end it is the people who matter, and in Greece, the people are suddenly taking to the streets in droves. Not to shout down government injustices, but to add their own chorus of support. Yes, pro-government rallies without a can of tear gas in sight. Can you imagine? Lilico can’t.

However, the main trouble still facing the majority of us (the 99 percent) is that evangelists of loopy free-market, neo-liberal economics such as Andrew Lilico have been ruling the roost for decades. Intent only to smooth the way for business as normal, they are already the technocrats and they have a great deal to lose if the system were ever to be radically reformed. Unfortunately, these people are now embedded, and not only within ‘think tanks’ and ‘policy forums’, but also throughout academia, which in itself ensures any dissenting voice – anyone who does not fully subscribe to the current economic orthodoxy – is conveniently sidelined as a heretic.

Yanis Varoufakis is a perfect example of just such a heretic. A Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens, yet Lilico entirely brushes aside his alternative vision on the grounds that it is “amateurish”. For having cornered the market in supplying economic “expertise”, the likes of Lilico are very handsomely rewarded in their role as ‘consultants’: in reality, one of an increasing number of unelected and unaccountable architects of policy, who pocket a small fortune irrespective of results. Small wonder Lilico fears Syriza’s success.

Those wishing to see real political change should get behind Syriza. I suggest that we give those like Lilico good cause to keep on squealing.

*

The following statement and call for action is taken from the Greece Solidarity Campaign website:

The European Central Bank is trying to force the new anti-austerity Greek government to its knees. Its actions provoked mass demonstrations in Athens last week in support of the government anti-austerity stance.  On Wednesday 11 February the Eurozone Finance Ministers have called an Emergency Meeting with Greece where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis will present their plans.

The Greece Solidarity Campaign, Syriza London and other organisations are calling for a Mass Rally in support of the people of Greece on Sunday 15th February at 13.00 in Trafalgar Square. This is part of an international wave of rallies and protests in support of Greece taking place across Europe. Come along with friends and colleagues to show your support for the first anti-austerity government in Europe.

1 From an article entitled “Eurozone leaders believe Syriza must fail and be seen to fail”, written by Andrew Lilico, published in The Telegraph on February 11, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/11406154/Eurozone-leaders-believe-Syriza-must-fail-and-be-seen-to-fail.html

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King Juan Carlos has abdicated — long live the real transition!

After the abdication of the king, time to checkmate the regime
Esther Vivas

The regime is collapsing, it is dying and in its last-ditch struggle to survive, the king has abdicated. Never has the regime resulting from the Transition [The Transition is the name given to the political process following the death of Franco, which culminated in the Constitution of 1978] been as widely challenged as it is today. The pillars on which it rests, the monarchy, the judiciary, bipartisanship, have been greatly delegitimized for some time now. We no longer believe in their lies, those lies with which they are trying to hold together a system that is falling apart. What seemed not so long ago impossible appears today as a reality. Let us push with all our might to widen even further this breach that the economic, social and political crisis has made possible.

Since the elephant hunt of his “majesty” in Botswana, through the indictment of his son- in-law Iñaki Urdangarín in the “Noos affair” and the involvement of the Infanta Cristina in this case, and including the many operations on the monarch’s hip, costing millions and paid out of public funds, the Royal House has become a caricature of itself. One of the main justifications of “democracy” is mortally wounded, but it is not dead yet.

The announcement of the royal abdication is a final, desperate attempt to save the regime; an attempt at a “facelift” with the aim of restoring legitimacy not only to the monarchy but also to its suite of judges, politicians and opinion formers. For years, far too many years, they have lived under the shelter of this false Transition, trying to efface or hide our collective history. Our forgetfulness has been the substrate of their victory, not only moral but also political and economic.

The economic crisis, transformed into a profound social and also political crisis, has put the king and the regime of 1978 on the ropes. People have said “basta”. We saw it three years ago with the emergence of the 15-M Movement; with the spread of civil disobedience; with the occupation of empty homes that were in the hands of banks, and all of that with broad popular support despite the criminalization of protest. More poverty means more pain, but thanks to these mobilizations it also means greater awareness of who are the winners in this situation – the bankers, the politicians – and who are the losers.

The rising demand for sovereignty in Catalonia has also thrown the regime on the ropes, highlighting the deeply anti- democratic nature of a Constitution that does not allow the right to self-determination. Today, the European elections have given the “coup de grace” to a decaying regime, with the loss of more than five million votes for the PP and the PSOE and the emergence, with the election of five members of parliament, of “Podemos” . The regime is becoming nervous, very nervous.

The royal abdication is the latest rescue manoeuvre. But we must nevertheless remember that the system still has room for manoeuvre. The abdication of the king illustrates the weakness of the pillars of the regime and the strength of the people. But we do not want Juan Carlos Felipe [Juan Carlos Felipe is the Crown Prince] either. It’s time to go out into the streets to demand the opening of constituent processes throughout the Spanish State, in order to decide what kind of future we want. We must go on the offensive in order to checkmate the regime.

*This article was published in “Público.es ” June 2, 2014. Translated by International View Point.

I would like to thank Esther Vivas for allowing me to reproduce this article.

+info: http://esthervivas.wordpress.com/english

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