Tag Archives: Bill Clinton

NATO, the EU, and peace in our time…?

In 2003, the British government published a Defence White Paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. Chapter 3 was headed “Further Requirements for Defence”; it opens as follows:

There are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or NATO – but the threat from proliferation and international terrorism remains very real and in the worst case could result in serious casualties and significant disruption to the national economy and our way of life. 1

[bold emphasis added]

However, more recently, following Nato’s deployment of thousands of troops to the Baltics and Poland, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg defended his decision telling German newspaper Bild, “[it] is an appropriate response” to Russia’s “aggressive actions”:

“We want to show our partners that we are there when they need us. And we want to show potential attackers that we react when they threaten us.” 2

[bold emphasis added]

To understand this extraordinary and troubling volte-face from “no major conventional threats” (2003) to the current ‘new Cold War’ hostilities and Russia singled out as a “potential attacker”, it is helpful if we retrace the steps just a little further again. Back to the early ’90s as the rubble of the Berlin Wall lay strewn and the dust had barely settled.

*

Nato’s chequered retreat

Once the Cold War ended (officially at least), Nato’s raison d’être was inevitably thrown into question. If it was to re-establish its role in the world, then it urgently needed to rediscover a purpose. The breakdown of Yugoslavia and the ongoing civil war between the republics perfectly served these ends. Nato became the peacemaker.

With UN Security Council Resolution 816 calling for the enforcement of “a no-fly zone” over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nato entered the conflict in April 1993. For the first time in its history, it was directly engaged in combat. (Note the bold highlight – it will be repeated later.)

The Bosnian War (1992–1995) happened during an unprecedented period of modern history. In the immediate wake of the West’s “victory” in the Cold War, anti-imperialist voices were at their weakest. Consequently, with anti-war opposition stifled, there was almost nothing by way of countervailing analysis or commentary.

By the time of the Kosovo War (1998–1999), the silencing of dissent became more intense again. The proclaimed success of Nato’s earlier intervention ending the Bosnian War with the negotiated settlement of the Dayton Accords had engendered an atmosphere in which anti-war sentiment had been completely marginalised and opposition voices were quiescent.

As in Bosnia, Nato’s campaign in Kosovo was presented as a purely “humanitarian intervention” – a phrase that pre-Iraq and -Libya did not possess such a deathly, hollow ring. It was a propaganda line that would be adopted as an article of faith, particularly, it seemed, within ranks of the liberal left. And those who protested too loudly against the bombing were judged to be appeasers – there was little outcry at the time.

One journalist who spoke up against the official narrative was John Laughland. The following extract is taken, however, from a later article published in 2007 by the Guardian: it is Laughland’s response to the now largely forgotten verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after it ruled that Serbia was not guilty of the massacre Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. 3

In the piece, Laughland challenges some of the half-truths that had inculpated the Serbs and their leader, “the Butcher of the Balkans”, Slobodan Milošević:

The international court of justice (ICJ) did condemn Serbia on Monday for failing to act to prevent Srebrenica, on the basis that Belgrade [Milošević] failed to use its influence over the Bosnian Serb army. But this is small beer compared to the original allegations. Serbia’s innocence of the central charge is reflected in the court’s ruling that Serbia should not pay Bosnia any reparations – supplying an armed force is not the same as controlling it. Yugoslavia had no troops in Bosnia and greater guilt over the killings surely lies with those countries that did, notably the Dutch battalion in Srebrenica itself. Moreover, during the Bosnian war, senior western figures famously fraternised with the Bosnian Serb leaders now indicted for genocide, including the US general Wesley Clark and our own John Reid. Should they also be condemned for failing to use their influence? 4

Click here to read John Laughland’s full article.

This is Noam Chomsky, another critic of the Kosovo war, answering questions regarding the guilt or otherwise of Milošević and the Serbian forces:

Investigative journalist John Pilger was another who spoke out strongly at the time and continues to do so now:

Milosevic was the victim of war propaganda that today runs like a torrent across our screens and newspapers and beckons great danger for us all. He was the prototype demon, vilified by the western media as the “butcher of the Balkans” who was responsible for “genocide”, especially in the secessionist Yugoslav province of Kosovo. Prime Minister Tony Blair said so, invoked the Holocaust and demanded action against “this new Hitler”. David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes [sic], declared that as many as “225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59” may have been murdered by Milosevic’s forces.

This was the justification for Nato’s bombing, led by Bill Clinton and Blair, that killed hundreds of civilians in hospitals, schools, churches, parks and television studios and destroyed Serbia’s economic infrastructure. It was blatantly ideological; at a notorious “peace conference” in Rambouillet in France, Milosevic was confronted by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, who was to achieve infamy with her remark that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children were “worth it”.

Albright delivered an “offer” to Milosevic that no national leader could accept. Unless he agreed to the foreign military occupation of his country, with the occupying forces “outside the legal process”, and to the imposition of a neo-liberal “free market”, Serbia would be bombed. This was contained in an “Appendix B”, which the media failed to read or suppressed. The aim was to crush Europe’s last independent “socialist” state.

Once Nato began bombing, there was a stampede of Kosovar refugees “fleeing a holocaust”. When it was over, international police teams descended on Kosovo to exhume the victims of the “holocaust”. The FBI failed to find a single mass grave and went home. The Spanish forensic team did the same, its leader angrily denouncing “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines”. The final count of the dead in Kosovo was 2,788. This included combatants on both sides and Serbs and Roma murdered by the pro-Nato Kosovo Liberation Front. There was no genocide. The Nato attack was both a fraud and a war crime.

All but a fraction of America’s vaunted “precision guided” missiles hit not military but civilian targets, including the news studios of Radio Television Serbia in Belgrade. Sixteen people were killed, including cameramen, producers and a make-up artist. Blair described the dead, profanely, as part of Serbia’s “command and control”. In 2008, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, revealed that she had been pressured not to investigate Nato’s crimes. 5

Click here to read John Pilger’s latest article [August 23rd] in full.

For an alternative perspective on Nato and the West’s involvement in the breakup of Balkan states of the former Yugoslavia, I also recommend Boris Malagurski’s controversial Canadian documentary The Weight of Chains which is embedded below – although the style is light, the content is serious and, on the whole, well-documented:

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The West’s about-turn

But then came the attacks of September 11th, which presented the Nato alliance with a fresh threat – purportedly of existential proportions. Overnight, everything was changed. Indeed, on September 12th, Nato met in emergency session and, for the first time in its history, invoked Article 5  of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

The “Global War on Terror” was thereby launched with Nato at the helm, although during the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (OEF-A), of course, only America and Britain sent out forces to overthrow the Taliban. The other Nato allies looked on and waited. Meanwhile, Canadian and US forces were jointly mobilised under Operation Noble Eagle (ONE) around the North American continent.

It was later, in October 2003, under the mission title International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) when Nato forces stepped fully into the fray. Here is how BBC news had then reported the story:

Nato is repositioning itself for a future as a key force in the “war on terror”, according to its US ambassador, Nicholas Burns.

The organisation has been struggling to define its role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the threat from which was the basis of its foundation. […]

Questions have been asked about Nato’s role in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Although the alliance intervened in Kosovo, it did not formally operate in the military campaigns in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  […]

“Nato’s purpose is to be on the front lines, to fight the war on terrorism for Europeans, and for Americans and Canadians.

“That’s where we’ve turned the organisation, that’s how we’ve transformed it over the last two years.”

In particular, Mr Burns stressed the role the newly-established rapid response force would play.

The force is designed to be able to deploy within days to anywhere in the world if needed, with between 20,000 and 30,000 troops.

Mr Burns refuted suggestions that it would merely be a tool of American foreign policy. 6

[bold emphasis in original]

A decade on and, after the 2014 Wales Summit, that same Nato Response Force (NRF) has been enhanced with the formation of a “spearhead force” or Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) within it. And the prime target is no longer “terror”, but Russia instead (already by 2014, history had turned full circle):

At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO agreed the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) to ensure the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges. This is the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War. The RAP addresses risks and threats from the east and the south. […]

Due to the changed security environment on NATO’s borders, the RAP includes ‘assurance measures’ for NATO member countries in Central and Eastern Europe to reassure their populations, reinforce their defence and deter potential aggression. 7

This is taken from Nato’s official release on its Readiness Action Plan (RAP) and note that references to Russia remain oblique throughout – although you certainly don’t need to be a mind-reader to understand the real message, which goes on as follows:

To facilitate readiness and the rapid deployment of forces, the first six NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) – which are small headquarters – were inaugurated in Central and Eastern Europe. Two more NFIUs are being set up in Hungary and Slovakia. Headquarters for the Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland and the Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania were also established. In addition, a standing joint logistics support group headquarters is being set up.

And whereas Nato (at least in their public documents) are timid when it comes to mentioning the name of their latest (and oldest) enemy, the closely-affiliated think tank Atlantic Council  is altogether brazen:

Firstly, the VJTF’s size does not pose a credible deterrent to Russia, particularly with regard to the Baltic States, which are widely viewed as the flash point for any potential NATO-Russia confrontation. Russia has undertaken massive impromptu military exercises involving up to 100,000 troops along its borders with the Baltic States. It would be difficult for a NATO force of 5,000 to deter Russia from afar. […]

The VJTF should be high on the agenda of the Alliance’s seminal Warsaw Summit in July, and for good reason. Russia has become emboldened by its military forays in Ukraine and Syria. In the unlikely event it sets its sights on NATO territory next, NATO must ensure its spearhead force is sharp enough to respond. 8

Likewise, following a meeting of Nato ministers of defence last February, Nato released this more coded announcement:

“NATO Defence Ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our Alliance,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The enhanced forward presence will be “multinational, to make clear that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all Allies, and that the Alliance as a whole will respond,” he stressed. 9 [bold highlight added]

Stoltenberg is thus invocating Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – Nato’s call to arms.

In short then, the “War on Terror” has allowed Nato’s existence to be kept on ice. Ready for when the Cold War could begin again in earnest.

*

Nato and the EU pincer

At last month’s Warsaw summit [on July 8th], Nato issued a official joint declaration with the EU for the first time in its history. The declaration begins:

We believe that the time has come to give new impetus and new substance to the NATO-EU strategic partnership.

Continuing:

Today, the Euro-Atlantic community is facing unprecedented challenges emanating from the South and East. Our citizens demand that we use all ways and means available to address these challenges so as to enhance their security.

Now let us unpick this opening statement. Firstly, notice the fig-leaf of democratic legitimacy. After all, “our citizens” did not get a vote on the actions of the long-standing Nato-EU strategic partnership and we certainly have no say whenever it comes to Nato’s long-standing meddling in “the South and East”.

In fact, contrary to this official statement, “the Euro-Atlantic community” (presuming this uncertain label attaches to the people of Europe and America) has been consistently opposed to the post-9/11 spate of wars. Our only consistent and clear demand having been for a cessation to hostilities. Yet in spite of the wishes of the “Euro-Atlantic” majority, a perpetual “Global War on Terror” is ravaging Central Asia, the Middle East and (though rarely if ever reported upon) many territories in North Africa. This extended warzone – reduced in the Nato-EU lexicon to ‘the East and the South’ – involves multiple interconnected battles which spill over into each other causing incalculable misery to some of the poorest people on earth, and very much to the detriment of our own western security.

We read on:

The substantial cooperation between NATO and the EU, unique and essential partners, established more than 15 years ago, also contributes to this end.

In light of the common challenges we are now confronting, we have to step-up our efforts: we need new ways of working together and a new level of ambition; because our security is interconnected; because together we can mobilize a broad range of tools to respond to the challenges we face; and because we have to make the most efficient use of resources. A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing. Together they can better provide security in Europe and beyond. [bold emphasis added]

This post-Brexit statement signed by Presidents of the European Commission and European Council, Jean-Claude Junker and Donald Tusk, and Secretary General of Nato, Jens Stoltenburg, is all about a deepening collaboration between the two organisations. An arrangement that, amongst other things, will involve “Facilitat[ing] a stronger defence industry and greater defence research and industrial cooperation within Europe and across the Atlantic.”

Is this the same EU that proponents say brings peace in our times?

*

James Baker’s booby trap

For those puzzled by the relationship between Nato and the EU, here are a few vital statistics – encyclopaedic background details. Firstly, the EU and Nato individually comprise 28 member countries. Of these countries, 22 are joint members of both bodies. A club of nations including many that once fell behind the Iron Curtain: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, plus the formerly occupied Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. 10

As Soviet satellites under Moscow’s thumb, these states were once the buffer zone between the USSR and the West. Today there is no buffer.

And here is another piece of the historical geostrategic jigsaw, albeit a forgotten one – at least in the West – that Nato membership of every one of these former Eastern Bloc countries is in contravention to Western promises made shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall; a deal (declared though never formally signed) that if Russia acceded to the reunification of Germany then the old Eastern Bloc would remain non-aligned:

What the US secretary of state [James Baker] said on Feb. 9, 1990 in the magnificent St. Catherine’s Hall at the Kremlin is beyond dispute. There would be, in Baker’s words, “no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east,” provided the Soviets agreed to the NATO membership of a unified Germany. Moscow would think about it, Gorbachev said, but added: “any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.” 11

The West’s double-dealing, though a dusty footnote in the West, is very well-remembered in Russia. The loss of twenty-four million lives during the Second World War (one third of the total fatalities) gives Russians good reason to fear an invasion – especially one from the west – its concerns about Nato’s eastward expansion are perfectly understandable.

*

Encirclement

During the last seven decades of the post-war nuclear age, a fragile peace held out. Just. As much, if not more, by sheer luck than judgement. Indeed, our world very narrowly escaped all-out thermonuclear obliteration on numerous occasions – two of the best known incidents remembered in an earlier post. Here is a more detailed overview titled “Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew” written by Gunnar Westberg and published in Counterpunch.

We did not need hindsight to see that the first Cold War was an era of astonishing madness, but with the aid of hindsight we do know that the madness itself was premised on a wholly non-existent threat of Soviet invasion. The Kremlin had no plans to launch an attack and there never had been a “missile gap” of any kind. Instead, the USSR was mainly preoccupied with quelling dissent amongst its own downtrodden population (or crushing those desperate to flee the occupation of its Eastern Bloc satellites).

Yet, in spite of the lack of an authentic communist threat, the superpowers repeatedly went to the brink of Armageddon, and had it not been for the remarkable courage and cool-headed reason of (at least) two men (both Russians – or, more accurately, Soviets) who held their nerve during moments of extreme crisis, there would be little that remains of our wonderful and shared European heritage besides a few smouldering mounds of rubble.

So what of Russia today? Is it planning to invade the West? Let us consider the evidence as dispassionately as we can.

Eighteen months ago it was widely reported (and believed by most in the West) that Russian battalions and, even more crucially, columns of tanks had begun crossing into Eastern Ukraine. At one point, Poroshenko held up Russian passports as evidence – there were six. 12 The principle claims, however, turned out to be completely bogus, though retraction by our media has been understandably muted. Russia did not invade Ukraine, and there is literally no evidence that it had any intention of doing so. (Crimea was not invaded, and though the territory was annexed following a referendum that was never legally sanctioned, the majority of Crimeans evidently welcomed the return of their territory to Russia – the reason there was no bloodshed.)

It is undeniable that Russia has covertly aided the ‘rebels’ in Eastern Ukraine (or the ‘separatists’ – both labels are propagandistically skewed and there is no absolutely neutral alternative), just as America has provided military assistance to Kiev. However, when the ‘rebels’ held a referendum of their own, the Russians ignored the results. They preferred not to be dragged directly into a war with Kiev. Meanwhile, while some Russians did indeed cross the border to fight, so did many westerners – individuals in fact joined the armed factions on both sides in the conflict.

Perhaps more revealing was Russia’s judicious response when Turkey shot down one of its jet fighters flying close to the Syrian border last winter. Was their jet violating Turkish airspace? The Russians said it didn’t; the Americans said it did – no evidence was ever released to prove the Russians guilty:

Either way, if Russia was wishing to spark a wider war, then what better provocation could The Kremlin find? In refraining from a retaliatory strike, however, Russia was careful to avoid a potential tripwire and an escalation into a full-blown war against a Nato member.

By contrast we have recently seen Nato forces, with the EU’s mutual aid and consent, engaged in one of the largest military exercises since the end of the first Cold War:

For more than 10 days, 30,000 troops backed by large numbers of vehicles, aircraft and ships will be deployed in one of the biggest exercises on NATO’s eastern flank since the end of the Cold War, a move likely to put further strain on the already-tense relations between the Kremlin and the West.

The Anakonda-16 exercise, which includes manoeuvres such as a night-time helicopter assault and the dropping of US paratroopers to build a temporary bridge over the Vistula river, is being held one month before a NATO summit in Warsaw that will approve more troops to be stationed in eastern Europe. 13

Stretched out for 450 miles across the length of Poland, more than 30,000 troops from 24 nations played out war games on Russia’s borders. These forces actually included German tank divisions; the first to move in sight of Russia’s border since 1941. According to The Independent article quoted above, this sent out a “clear message to Russia”.

Is there also a clue in the name of this “clear message” too? After all, an anaconda is a snake, but not just any old snake, the largest snake in the world – and it kills its prey by constriction.

At the same time, Nato formally switched on the first stage of its $800 million state of the art “missile defence” shield in Romania and broke the ground on a sister site in Poland. Ostensibly to protect Europe against Iranian nukes, which are, of course, non-existent, the system is rather blatantly directed against Russia’s security. Understood in terms of the twisted but unavoidable logic of nuclear deterrence, this becomes a far greater provocation than mere tanks rolled up to the Russian border. For if Russia’s deterrent is effectively defused, then, rendered defenceless, Russia is de facto under attack.

Indeed, to better navigate the geopolitical landscape of today, rather than hastily dismissing the Russian outlook as deeply paranoid (as we are encouraged to view it), we might try to step into their shoes for a moment. Suppose, for instance, a potentially hostile power – let’s say China – deployed thousands of troops to Ireland. Would Britain raise any concern? Or suppose China built bases in Mexico… there are none but that doesn’t stop the howls of red scare rumour-mongering. And we do not even need imagine the response were Russia to install its latest “regional missile defence system” in Cuba… Another missile crisis, anyone?

But then, Russia is routinely portrayed as the aggressor by the western media, so now consider these further incontestable facts:

Russia has two bases in the Middle East and a handful in Central Asia. The U.S. has 662 bases around the world and Special Forces (SOF) deployed in between 70 and 90 countries at any moment. Last year SOFs were active in 147 countries. The U.S. is actively engaged in five wars and is considering a sixth in Libya. Russian military spending will fall next year, and the U.S. will out-spend Moscow by a factor of 10. 14

On July 6th Sibel Edmonds’ alternative outlet ‘Newsbud’ broadcast a discussion with Montenegrin author, political activist and university professor, Filip Kovacevic, who had recently authored a piece published by ‘BoilingFrogsPost’  in which he analyses “The Travels of NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg”.

Here Kovacevic explains why he believes Nato’s influence is undergoing serious decline, and the danger this poses of more widespread international conflict:

*

America über alles

The Russian army can outgun British troops on the battlefield, according to a shock Ministry of Defence report.

So begins a flabbergasting article even by Daily Mail standards entitled perhaps even more hilariously “Shock Ministry of Defence report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield… [blah, blah, blah]”

This same piece continues:

The leaked assessment warns that rocket launchers and other weapons at Moscow’s disposal were superior to ours – while its mastery of electronic warfare technology was ‘game changing’. 15

Well, I say “blah, blah, blah” although the headline actually reads “… as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin”.

If true, then surely that represents a move to the good? Or is the Daily Mail and the MOD proposing that Britain might one day wish to test its relative might on the battlefield against Russia?

The peace we have enjoyed in Europe is becoming extremely fragile again. Outside Europe, after two decades of sustained neo-imperialist adventuring, we have destroyed lives and devastated ancient civilisations, spreading only chaos and pandemonium. The havoc we have wrecked is certainly coming back to haunt us, both directly and indirectly. But far more dangerous to the West is the immediate threat we pose to Russia. If Russia fights back, then everything is lost.

To prevent the unthinkable, there has to be a rollback. Our perpetual meddling in “the South and East” is already generating a crisis close to Russia’s borders. If this meddling moves along to Iran (as is being mooted again), then Russia will be directly drawn into conflict against the West.

Equally pressing, however, is the requirement to normalise diplomatic relations with Russia. Sanctions historically are a precursor to war, but surely even the biggest warmongers cannot seriously contemplate war with Russia. So why inflict such counterproductive damage on our own European economies when this tactic of isolation achieves nothing except to serve the vested interests of neo-cons in Washington? There has to be rapprochement with Russia.

With relations between Russia and Europe (or, better still, the West) restored, the resolution of many conflicts and international disputes becomes foreseeable again. It also becomes possible to end the overwhelmingly dire threat of thermonuclear exchange, accidental or otherwise. Such a genuine commitment to multilateral disarmament could and should have happened long ago – shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the official ending of Cold War hostilities. Instead, as we know, Nato and the West opportunistically pressed eastward.

Nato was inaugurated to confront a perceived communist threat – a threat, largely imagined, that has since been vanquished altogether. In light of this irreversible change in international relations, Nato’s dissolution ought thereafter to become a final peacetime objective. For what function does Nato serve in any truly post-Cold War world? To ensure its own survival it will always look for enemies elsewhere.

In an extended piece recently published in The Atlantic arguing the case for Nato, former Fulbright Professor of Political Science at Moscow State University and ardent globalist, Ira Straus, writes candidly that:

The main, but unstated, reason the U.S. has troops in Europe nowadays is not for the defense of Europe but because it is a cheaper, more convenient location for getting to the Mideast than the continental U.S. It costs us more, not less, when we keep all our troops at home.

We have an irrationally small number of troops in Europe today (64,000). It would be cheaper for us if we put three times as many of our troops in Europe.

Under the heading “The [American] people support NATO as a plus for American power, and they’re right”, Straus continues:

Most people have the common sense to support their own society and their own power. NATO is the greatest extension that America has in the world. It is a kind of Greater America (and so is its informal additional wing in the Pacific). Trump likes American greatness and building big. This is the place for it.

The Alliance is what has preserved America’s greatness no matter how weak or incompetent its leaders. 16

So yes, Nato is “a kind of Greater America” although in reality they operate together as a sort of ‘good cop, bad cop’ team. America lost its reputation long ago and is less squeamish about getting its hands bloodied. Nato generally turns up afterwards and mops up.

Meanwhile, the more soft-spoken but firm Atlanticist alliance between Nato and the EU, with neighbouring HQs in Brussels and joined-at-the-hip foreign policy agendas (EU foreign policy is totally reliant on Nato), has also been instrumental in expanding post-9/11 Western influence militarily into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, throughout many other regions of North Africa, into Syria, and within Ukraine. And whatever the EU may have dreamed of becoming — no matter how many Nobel Peace Prizes it receives! — it is no longer tenable to claim that it is in the business of making peace.

Ties between the EU and Nato ought now to be loosened rather than strengthened, as is actually happening. Last month’s joint statement supplying further proof, if any were needed, that the EU is really just a different arm of our aggressively expanding military-industrial complex:

A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing.

Is this the Europe we were hoping to build?

*

 Additional:

Afshin Rattansi spoke with John Pilger in an extended interview broadcast on RT’s Going Underground on August 31st. The subjects covered included the last days of the Obama presidency, the race between Sanders, Clinton and Trump, and the looming threat of global conflict. Pilger says:

“The United States is in a frenzy of preparation for conflict of some kind. And conflict of some kind can lead to war of the real kind – against China and against Russia – on two fronts. The greatest build-up of forces since the Second World War has happened in Eastern Europe and in the Balkan states.” [from 9:00 mins]

“The full American so-called “interest” has gone to a country [Ukraine] that means ‘borderland’ and through which the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the early 1940s at the cost of something like 27 million lives. Imagine – and this is something that we’re not allowed to imagine – imagine the equivalent in the United States. The border with Mexico. The border with Canada. Well, we can imagine it because it happened when the Russians unwisely put missiles into Cuba, and we almost had then World War III.

“But I think what is striking in a country like the United States which has constitutionally the freest media in the world. These war preparations against Russia and against China have not been mentioned. A great silence covers them.

“When China is mentioned it’s about its aggressive moves in the South China Sea. It’s very interesting to see how the American public is being primed to accept so-called “aggressive moves” by China when in fact they are clearly defensive moves. The United States has something like 400 major bases encircling China like a great noose. Well, actually it’s an arc: it starts in Australia, it goes all the way through Asia – the Philippines (where they’re back – were thrown out a few years ago, but they’re back now), Thailand, Japan and Korea.

Looking straight at Shanghai is Okinawa. Okinawa has 32 American military installations. Japan has 130 in all. Okinawa is interesting – it’s about the size of Long Island. If you imagine Long Island as a Chinese base looking straight at New York, that’s the equivalent. [from 10.50 mins]

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1 From a 2003 British government white paper entitled “Delivering Security in a Changing World”, Ch3, p. 11. http://archives.livreblancdefenseetsecurite.gouv.fr/2008/…/whitepaper2003.pdf  

2 From an article entitled “Jens Stoltenberg: NATO troop deployment right response to aggressive Russia”, written by Hanne Cokelaere, published in Politico.eu on June 6, 2016. http://www.politico.eu/article/jens-stoltenberg-nato-troop-deployment-right-response-to-aggressive-russia/ 

3

THE HAGUE, Feb. 26 — The International Court of Justice on Monday for the first time called the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 an act of genocide, but determined that Serbia itself was not guilty of the enormous crime.

Nonetheless, it faulted Serbia, saying it “could and should” have prevented the genocide and, in its aftermath, should have punished the Bosnian Serbs who systematically killed close to 8,000 men and boys in July 1995.

The ruling resulted from a civil lawsuit Bosnia had brought against Serbia, the first in which one country sued another for genocide. […]

The ruling appeared to give some satisfaction — and frustration — to both sides. It freed Serbia of the stigma of being a genocidal nation and absolved it from having to pay war reparations, as demanded by Bosnia.

At the same time, Bosnia obtained what it said it wanted from the outset: a recognition of Serbia’s guilt.

From an article entitled “Court Declares Bosnia Killings Were Genocide” written by Marlise Simons, published in The New York Times on February 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/world/europe/27hague.html?ref=world&_r=0

4

Slobodan Milosevic was posthumously exonerated on Monday when the international court of justice ruled that Serbia was not responsible for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The former president of Serbia had always argued that neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia had command of the Bosnian Serb army, and this has now been upheld by the world court in The Hague. By implication, Serbia cannot be held responsible for any other war crimes attributed to the Bosnian Serbs.

The allegations against Milosevic over Bosnia and Croatia were cooked up in 2001, two years after an earlier indictment had been issued against him by the separate international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at the height of Nato’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. Notwithstanding the atrocities on all sides in Kosovo, Nato claims that Serbia was pursuing genocide turned out to be war propaganda, so the ICTY prosecutor decided to bolster a weak case by trying to “get” Milosevic for Bosnia as well. It took two years and 300 witnesses, but the prosecution never managed to produce conclusive evidence against its star defendant, and its central case has now been conclusively blown out of the water.

From an article entitled “Lies of the vigilantes” written by John Laughland, published in the Guardian on February 28, 2007. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/feb/28/warcrimes.balkans

5 From an article entitled “Provoking nuclear war by media” written by John Pilger, published on August 23, 2016. http://johnpilger.com/articles/provoking-nuclear-war-by-media

6 From an article entitled “Nato turns to terrorism fight” published in BBC news on October 18, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3201578.stm

7 http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_119353.htm

8 From an article entitled “It’s Time to Sharpen NATO’s ‘Spearhead’ Force” written by Robbie Gramer, published by the Atlantic Council on March 21, 2016. http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/it-s-time-to-sharpen-nato-s-spearhead-force

9 From an article entitled “NATO boosts its defence and deterrence posture” published by Nato on its official website on February 10, 2016. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_127834.htm

10 28 NATO member countries: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.

28 EU member countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom.

11

Of course there was a promise not to expand NATO “as much as a thumb’s width further to the East,” Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president at the time, says in Moscow today. However, Gorbachev’s former foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, says that there were no such assurances from the West. Even the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the Eastern military alliance, “was beyond our imagination,” he says.

For years former US Secretary of State James Baker, Shevardnadze’s American counterpart in 1990, has denied that there was any agreement between the two sides. But Jack Matlock, the US ambassador in Moscow at the time, has said in the past that Moscow was given a “clear commitment.” Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister in 1990, says this was precisely not the case.

After speaking with many of those involved and examining previously classified British and German documents in detail, SPIEGEL has concluded that there was no doubt that the West did everything it could to give the Soviets the impression that NATO membership was out of the question for countries like Poland, Hungary or Czechoslovakia.

From an article entitled “NATO’s Eastward Expansion: Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?” written by Uwe Klussman, Matthias Schepp and Klaus Wiegrefe, published in Der Spiegel on November 26, 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315.html

12 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31206434

13 From an article entitled “NATO allies launch largest military exercise since end of Cold War in clear message to Russia” written by Wiktor Szary, published in The independent on June 6, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/anakonda-16-nato-allies-launch-largest-military-exercise-since-end-of-cold-war-in-poland-in-clear-a7068141.html

14 From an article entitled “Baiting the bear: Russia and Nato” written by Conn Hallinan, published in Counterpunch on May 4, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/05/04/baiting-the-bear-russia-and-nato/

15 From an article entitled “Shock Ministry of Defense report warns Russian forces could defeat us on the battlefield as Theresa May bids to thaw relations with Vladimir Putin” written by James Tapsfield, published by the Daily Mail on August 10, 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3732828/Russian-forces-defeat-battlefield-shock-Ministry-Defence-report-warns.html

16 From an article entitled “Is America Getting a Bargain With NATO?” written by Nicholas Clairmont, published in The Atlantic on August 23, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/08/natos-a-deal/496952/  

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, did you see?, Europe, John Pilger, Kosovo, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Serbia, USA

FIFA is patently corrupt, but what’s this FBI sting really been about…?

A precursory note to the disinterested:

I did not originally intend to post an article (certainly nothing so extended) about the ongoing investigations into football’s world governing body, FIFA. However, once I began to scratch just a little beneath the surface of this developing scandal, I found that it immediately led into areas completely unanticipated. Behind the cartoon kleptocracy running the show at FIFA HQ up popped more familiar faces: the gone, but not so easily forgotten Nicolas Sarkozy, the ubiquitous Benjamin Netanyahu, and — never far from any scandal — the unwanted opinion of John McCain. Added to which, there are political entanglements that ought to have a bearing on the current US Presidential election campaign – what is the role the Clintons have played?

*

World Cup fever

When, in 2010, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter announced that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup a few eyebrows were raised… Moments later, however, as Blatter slipped his hand into a second envelope before revealing to the assembly of hopeful delegates that Qatar were to host in 2022, you could barely hear the feigned applause above the sound of jaws collectively dropping around the world.

Russia is a country very much riddled with corruption as we know (after the fall of communism, the so-called “liberalisation of markets” left the way wide open for the rise of the gangster oligarchs), but Russia is also a proud footballing nation. Supporters of the game recognised that Russia had at least earned its right to host football’s greatest tournament. The Qatar decision, on the other hand, instantly turned FIFA into a laughing stock.

Qatar has zero footballing tradition, effectively zero facilities, and due to its arid climate, close to zero blades of grass. What it had instead, and in prodigious abundance, was oil and money, and the political clout that goes with both. In other words, graft had again won the day – and just look who is smiling broadly beside the delegation of Qatari sheikhs as they jump for joy – bottom left of the screen [16 mins in], the sleek, silvery head of former President and (very likely, heaven forfend) soon-to-be (first) First Husband of the United States, Bill Clinton (a lot more on this Clinton connection later):

Whatever lingering hopes we’d had that FIFA may recover a little of its horribly sullied reputation were gone forever (though most supporters knew the score long before 2010), and all that was left was to marvel at the temerity of football’s world governing body, so casually throwing off any last pretence to probity and respectability.

With the rigged voting in 2010, it may be argued that the writing was on the wall for both FIFA and its seamy president Sepp Blatter, but with friends like Qatar around to watch your back, neither FIFA nor Blatter were about to be quite so unceremoniously deposed. Certainly the stage had been set, but the future remained secure for the heads of FIFA, or so it seemed until last week…

*

It wasn’t exactly extraordinary rendition. But when Swiss police arrested seven officials of FIFA, the international football federation, for extradition to the United States, there were some echoes of the secret terrorism arrests. Soccer is a global game, and it matters more to almost everyone than to Americans. So why is the US acting as the international sheriff and grabbing up non-US citizens to try them domestically for corrupting the sport worldwide? And, more to the point, why is this legal?

So writes Noah Feldman, who is a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard.

Feldman’s questions are germane. But before we come to addressing them, it is worthwhile considering more closely the person in charge of so aggressively pursuing the case, Obama’s newly appointed US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. Lynch has a point to prove, as an article published by the Guardian in February explains:

Opposition to Barack Obama’s nominee for US attorney general over her handling of the HSBC scandal is growing in Congress after she admitted deciding not to prosecute the bank for money laundering offences without hearing from key regulators or a separate investigation into tax secrecy. […]

“These decisions by the [Department of Justice] and Ms Lynch’s office raise troubling questions about whether pertinent information of public concern regarding HSBC was ‘swept under the rug’, if justice was served, and why HSBC was given special treatment that allowed it to walk away from such serious offences unscathed,” [Senator David] Vitter writes in a letter to current attorney general Eric Holder. “This case is increasingly relevant and pressing now that Ms Lynch has been nominated as the next attorney general.”

Lynch has confirmed she was not aware of the damning tax allegations against the bank when negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) over it facilitating money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and helping clients evade US sanctions.

This was despite a separate investigation into documents from whistleblower Hervé Falciani showing HSBC’s role in colluding with Swiss bank clients to hide their assets from tax authorities, which were passed to the US government by French authorities.

“To my knowledge, my office did not have access to the Falciani documents prior to execution of the DPA [Deferred Prosecution Agreement],” said Lynch in responses published on Thursday. “I am not aware of whether or how the information was conveyed to the department, nor do I have information about why my office did not have access to it.”

The admission has angered campaigners who say the crucial Facliona [sic] documents were “lost in the haystack of information” at the DoJ but their public existence could have been easily verified.

“She could have looked it up on Wikipedia,” said Bart Naylor, an expert at Public Citizen1

Click here to read the full article.

Thanks to Lynch’s oversight (in both senses of the word), HSBC escaped prosecution despite proven charges of laundering money for drug cartels and for terrorists – setting an extremely dangerous “too big to jail” precedent. After this remarkably softly, softly approach to Wall Street, however, Lynch is now taking an altogether more muscular stance in the case of FIFA.

An approach which potentially sets a differently dangerous precedent as she risks accusations of judicial overreach, especially given the comparatively speaking, minor felonies – bribery and kickbacks of around £100 million over 24 years is the charge against the accused FIFA officials (close to the price Real Madrid paid Spurs for Gareth Bale), and not the multiple billions of the never-ending banking “scandals”, or, to offer a very different example, the child trafficking allegations for which both DynCorp and Halliburton have been implicated (but no prosecutions brought). Furthermore, these alleged offences were committed by officials not at the head of a multinational corporation, but of a sports body that the average American cares very little about. So, why is the FBI so bothered? Why now? And on what grounds did the FBI make last week’s arrests outside America? Back to Noah Feldman:

It turns out the legal basis for the FIFA prosecutions isn’t all that simple or straightforward – and therein lies a tale of politics and sport. The prosecutions are being brought under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act of 1970, which was designed to prosecute crime syndicates that had taken over otherwise lawful organisations. […]

Generally, as the US Supreme Court has recently emphasised, laws passed by Congress don’t apply outside the US unless Congress affirmatively says so. RICO on its face says nothing about applying beyond US borders. So you’d think it can’t reach conduct that occurred abroad, and much of the alleged FIFA criminal conduct appears to have done so.

But in 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that RICO could apply extraterritorially – if, and only if, the separate criminal acts required by the law, known as “predicate acts”, violated statutes that themselves apply outside US borders. […]

But what’s most remarkable, and even incendiary, about the indictment comes in the fine print. RICO requires the existence of a criminal enterprise. As part of its case, the US Department of Justice is alleging that FIFA, the organiser of the World Cup, became a criminal enterprise as a result of its use of systematic corruption. In effect, the US government is saying that FIFA became the Mafia. 2 [Emphasis added]

*

Sepp Blatter has not (yet) been indicted, but for most of last week he was decidedly the man most in the (media) frame. In spite of this, delegates at the 65th Congress re-elected him as FIFA president and then for days afterwards, Blatter brazenly refused to step down. During this period of prolonged ignominy, it had been Michel Platini, chief of European football’s ruling body, UEFA, who was most vociferous in calling for Blatter’s resignation:

[Blatter’s] speech came just hours after Frenchman Platini said the latest crisis had left him “absolutely sickened”, adding: “People have had enough, they don’t want this president any more.” 3

That was on Thursday 28th, the day before FIFA’s election for president, and after Platini had personally requested that Blatter step down. The same day, Platini also called for delegates to join him in voting for Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, saying:

“Sepp, I like to speak to you man to man, face to face. Listen we started together, now I am asking you to leave FIFA because we give a terrible image and this can’t go on.” 4

Now, it is here worth briefly reflecting upon Michel Platini’s reputation as a player. For Platini wasn’t just any old player, but acclaimed by many as the greatest player of his generation. Creative, imaginative, tremendously skilful, Platini had been lauded not only for his prodigious talents, but also for his clean approach to the game. That said, after becoming head of FIFA’s European affiliate UEFA, Platini, like Blatter (who was always a bureaucrat), moved into politics. The politics of sport is politics nevertheless.

Since Platini took the helm at UEFA, he too became deeply embroiled in scandals seemingly of his own making – scandals I will return to in a moment. Yet at the present time, the media have collectively latched onto Platini and adopted him as football’s knight in shining armour. So whatever Platini is reported to have said is often presented as though Platini himself has no political ambitions. But this is nonsensical. And in actual fact, Platini’s own decisions as a footballing chief also played a significant part in FIFA’s downfall too – if, that is, we accept that FIFA’s real troubles began with the absurd 2010 vote and Qatar’s moment in the sun.

*

Qatar

In a 20-page investigation headlined “Qatargate”, the respected magazine France Football said that “acts of collusion and corruption” shaped the much-criticised FIFA decision to award the 2022 competition to the tiny, oil-rich Gulf state.

Among the alleged “acts of collusion”, the magazine listed a secret meeting called by President Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on 23 November 2010. Ten days later – to worldwide astonishment – Qatar was chosen by a FIFA executive committee meeting in Zurich to host the World Cup in June-July 2022, despite summer temperatures in the Gulf of up to 50C.

This is taken from an article published by The Independent in January 2013. It continues:

Mr Sarkozy’s lunch guests included the crown prince of Qatar, Tamin bin Haman al-Thani, Michel Platini, president of the European Football Association (EUFA), and a representative of the investment fund which owned the then struggling French football club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

France Football said that Mr Platini – a star of the France team of the 1980s – came under pressure at the lunch to switch his vote from the United States to Qatar.

The article ends with a quote from Nicolas Sarkozy:

One of the few international figures to have consistently supported the choice of Qatar is Mr Sarkozy. Just after the FIFA vote in 2010, he said: “Sport does not belong to a few countries. It belongs to the world… I don’t understand those who say that events should always be held in the same countries and the same continents.” 5

Click here to read the full article.

Eighteen months later, as the scandal rumbled on, we learned that Platini not only voted for Qatar in the ballot, but that he had been involved in another private meeting linked to the Qatar bid:

The Telegraph has unearthed evidence that Mr Platini, a former leading French international and the president of Uefa, European football’s governing body, had a private discussion with Mohamed Bin Hammam, the controversial Qatari [a former Fifa executive committee member and ex-president of the Asian Football Confederation] who paid millions of pounds to football officials around the world. […]

It is understood that the meeting took place shortly before Fifa awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and that Mr Bin Hammam personally lobbied Mr Platini to support the Emirate’s bid.

Fifa executive committee members vote in secret, but Mr Platini has disclosed that he voted for Qatar in the ballot, which was held in 2010. 6

Platini, whose son Laurent happened to be the chief executive of Qatar owned sports company Burrda, quickly denied the allegations, writing in response to The Telegraph article:

“I find it astonishing that conversations with a fellow member of the FIFA Executive Committee could suddenly be transformed into a matter of state.

I have obviously met with Mr. Mohamed Bin Hammam on many occasions in 2010 as we were both members of the same FIFA Executive Committee since 2002.

During those conversations with Mr. Bin Hammam, the topic of the discussions was my potential candidature for the FIFA Presidency. Mr. Bin Hammam was indeed trying to convince me to become a candidate for the 2011 FIFA Presidential elections.

Additionally, I wish to reiterate that I am the only member of the FIFA Executive Committee who publicly stated for which bid I have voted – proof of my full transparency – and that no one ever dictates terms or conditions to me.

Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised by the circulation of unfounded rumours which aim at tarnishing my image, especially in such an important time for the future of football.”

*

Ukraine and Russia

[Nonetheless,] the bid was still considered the outsider of the three.

Poland is still recovering from a match-fixing scandal and its government has been warned by Uefa and Fifa about political interference in the country’s football governing body.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has been hit by a political crisis, with the president trying to dissolve parliament. 7

This was how the BBC reported on the surprise victory by the joint Poland-Ukraine bid to host the Euro 2012 tournament. At the time, Italy had been favourites to win, even though their own bid was similarly overshadowed with issues relating to crowd violence as well as to a match-fixing scandal. The Italian authorities have always accepted the result, however, one person, and not an Italian but a Cypriot, would later publicly claim that he held evidence of backroom deals. UEFA’s response was swift:

European football’s governing body, Uefa, says it is taking legal action in response to allegations of corruption in the bidding race for Euro 2012.

Spyros Marangos, a former treasurer of the Cyprus Football Association [CFA], claimed this week that money had changed hands before the championship was handed to Poland and Ukraine.

He was told to provide evidence within two days to back up his claims.

But, according to Uefa, Mr Marangos had complained that was too short notice.

His lawyers told the BBC on Monday that Mr Marangos had tried for the past two years to draw the football body’s attention to the allegations for which he had witnesses. 8

Spyros Marangos, who had left the CFA in 2007, “made the allegations in German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung before telling Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that he had proof to back up his claims.” In response, UEFA filed for damages in the Swiss courts and lodged a complaint with the Cypriot Attorney General. They also released an official statement:

‘UEFA has been obliged to take legal action firstly in order to establish whether any of the claims made by Mr Marangos have any substance to them, and therefore to make available any tangible elements in order to substantiate these claims. And secondly, to protect the integrity and the good name of UEFA and European football in general, which have been seriously damaged by these allegations.’ 9

Not that scandal surrounding the Euro 2012 tournament ended with Spyros Marangos’ unsubstantiated allegations. There have since been claims that once construction for the tournament started, as much as £2.5 billion (compare this with the £100 million in alleged bribes currently being investigated by the FBI) went missing in Ukraine alone:

Uefa, the governing body of football in Europe, is under pressure to investigate claims of massive corruption during Ukraine’s preparations for Euro 2012, amid allegations that as much as $4bn (£2.5bn) in state funds allocated for the tournament was stolen by officials.

Rebecca Harms, the leader of the Green faction in the European parliament, said Uefa had to investigate why Ukraine cancelled competitive tenders for all Euro 2012 projects in 2010. Instead, contracts for building stadiums, roads and other infrastructure projects were awarded to a handful of shadowy companies, including one based offshore in Belize. […]

Harms, a German MEP who visited Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, last week, told the Guardian: “I will confront Uefa with these questions. I will also raise them in parliament. In whose private pocket did the money go? Uefa [under Platini’s watch – my note] must take responsibility.” 10

This comes from a Guardian article published in 2012, a time when former Prime Minister “the gas princess” Yulia Tymoshenko had been jailed for her own part in a corruption scandal soon after her fierce opponent Viktor Yanukovych was re-elected into office. With pro-western Tymoshenko behind bars and more Russophilic Yanukovych back in power, the corporate media was much keener to switch its spotlight on to Ukrainian criminality.

But for reasons of political expedience, Ukraine and its oligarchs now get a more or less free pass. The media turns a blind eye, not merely to its corruption scandals, but to Kiev’s deliberate bombing campaign against civilians (a million people forced to flee to Russia), to its complicity in a massacre, and to the overt rise of fascism both within government spheres and military brigades. When searching out stories of corruption, attention has instead shifted solely to the misdemeanours of Russian oligarchs and to crimes committed (“allegedly” is a word reserved for western misdemeanours and indiscretions) by the Kremlin. Which brings us back to FIFA…

Given the sordid history of FIFA, the allegations will likely have a solid foundation. Four other people and two companies have already pleaded guilty to charges in the case. Allegations of bribery have long dogged FIFA. Vast fortunes are at stake when it comes to hosting prestigious sporting events, such as the World Cup and Olympics. Bribery has become endemic in the allocation of these events.

Mass sporting events, which are backed and sponsored by gigantic corporate interests, are fundamentally managed no differently than anything else organised by big business and the imperialist powers.

The decision by the Obama administration to pursue and file the charges, however, is both hypocritical and politically motivated. Indeed, the sums cited in the criminality within FIFA are dwarfed by the corrupt practices associated with the US and global financial system.

Following the arrests, FBI Director James Comey said, “If you corrupt our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that is through meetings or using our world-class financial system, you will be held accountable for that corruption. Nobody is above or beyond the law.”

Loretta Lynch, the Obama administration’s attorney general, spoke of a culture of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption. In the attempt to justify action against individuals residing in and largely operating outside of the US, Lynch said, “In many instances, the defendants and their co-conspirators planned aspects of this long-running scheme during meetings held here in the United States.”

Comey and Lynch speak as representatives of a US elite that is guilty of criminality on a much larger scale. Their “world-class financial system” is one that allowed a parasitic elite to indulge in financial skulduggery that collapsed the world’s banking system in 2008, leading to a global recession. And they rewarded these same people for their criminal behaviour with trillions of dollars of public money.

“Rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption is an apt description of the daily operations of US banks, yet no executive of a major bank has been arrested or prosecuted.

The well-documented financial corruption within football’s ruling body is being utilised by the US primarily as a propaganda weapon against Russia.

That comes from an article published on the World Socialist Web Site. I reprint such an extended passage simply because it so cogently summed up my own thoughts upon hearing that FIFA had been busted by the FBI. Can anyone honestly fail to make the same connection? Especially since, as the same article goes on to point out:

Moscow’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup has been turned by figures with the US ruling elite and their allies internationally into a question of paramount importance.

Senator Robert Menendez, who in April was indicted on federal corruption charges, said he was “especially pleased that Swiss and US authorities are investigating FIFA’s granting of the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022”, as he had “long been concerned about FIFA’s selection of Russia.”

He was supported by Senator John McCain, who jointly authored a letter to FIFA declaring, “In light of President Blatter’s continued support for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup—despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and other challenges to the post-WWII security architecture—we ask that you reconsider your support for President Blatter’s fifth term as FIFA President.

This follows a letter to FIFA last month from 13 US senators requesting that Blatter step in to take the World Cup away from Russia. 11 [Emphasis added]

As the new Cold War sets in, this action is rather blatantly about Russia – an Anglo-American desire to embarrass Putin – although there are more reasons besides why this meeting taking place in Zurich about the immediate future of “global soccer” might have been troubling some on Capitol Hill…

*

Israel

In 2007, FIFA suspended Kuwait from all international matches because of “governmental interference in the national game”. In 2013, Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) was suspended, and then last year, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was also suspended “on account of government interference.” This year, both FIFA and UEFA were threatening to sanction Greece, who had previously been suspended briefly in 2006 when they were then-reigning European champions, before the threat was dropped.

This time around, however, it was the Israeli FA that were facing possible suspension, and not because of “governmental interference in the national game” (as is usually the case), but on the more aggravated grounds that Israel had violated rules relating to free movement of players and of racism. In fact, Israel was about to be called to account for its abuses against Palestinian footballers that have included harassment, assaults, arrests, deliberately targeted shootings 12 and actual killings 13. One of the most high profile cases involved Mahmoud Sarsak, who at 14 years old was the youngest-ever player in the Palestine League:

Its abuse of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak undermined a promising career. In 2009, Israeli security thugs arrested him for trying to cross from Gaza to the West Bank to participate in a match – his legitimate right.

He was horrifically abused, lawlessly kept in administrative detention for three years uncharged. His lawyers were denied access to fabricated evidence against him.

He was guilty of the crime of football – freed in summer 2012 after a 92 day hunger strike. Israel ruthlessly targets other Palestinian footballers like Sarsak. 14

A more detailed list of Israel’s violations are available at the Stop the War Coalition website.

The Palestinian Football Association (which has been recognised by FIFA since 1998 and is led by president Jibril Rajoub) had been granted a vote on Israel’s suspension at last week’s FIFA Congress, and Palestine supporters were also gathered outside to lend vocal support to the call for Israel’s expulsion. Although delayed because of a bomb scare, the Palestinians  remained optimistic that the ballot would return a decision in their favour:

The Palestinian Football Association will push ahead Friday for a vote calling for the suspension of Israel from the world football organisation at Fifa’s scandal-riven congress in Zurich.

Despite last-ditch attempts at mediation by world football officials, the Palestinian delegation insisted it would push for a vote unless Israel expels five teams based in illegal Israeli settlements from its football league. […]

Both Palestinian and Israeli delegations in Zurich have been working around the clock since arriving in the midst of the biggest scandal to hit the world football organisation.

Twin Swiss and US investigations focussing on a far-reaching culture of kickbacks in Fifa have thrown the congress in Zurich into chaos, including both the re-election bid of Fifa president Sepp Blatter and other business on the agenda including the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended.

Israel has sought the support of the European regional grouping UEFA of which it is a member to vote against the proposed suspension. [I will come back to this]

Its efforts to avoid a vote – which some see as damaging in itself as a vote for suspension – have seen it enlist Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs as well as the lobbying of key Fifa officials.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, weighed in on Thursday, telling reporters that if Israel is suspended “it would be a blatant politicisation of sport and the result will be Fifa’s collapse”15

[Emphasis added]

That was taken from a Guardian article published on the morning of Friday 29th, the day of the vote, but by the evening everything had changed:

The Palestinian Football Association has withdrawn its call to have Israel suspended from Fifa in a chaotic last minute climbdown at the congress of football’s governing body in Zurich. Following days of negotiations, and the mediation of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, the Palestinian moves at the scandal-ridden congress appeared comprehensively outmanoeuvred by feverish Israeli lobbying and the opposition of senior Fifa officials, including Blatter.

As details of an impending deal emerged, the Palestinian delegation came out of the last round of talks expecting the congress to vote on an amendment to refer the main sticking point, the status of five Israeli clubs based in illegal settlements on the West Bank, to the United Nations.

But the Palestinian move was overruled by Blatter, to the clear dismay of the Palestinian delegation, whose lawyer tried to appeal from the floor. Instead, the issue will be referred to a new Fifa committee. […]

Palestinian sources confirmed that Rajoub had been under huge pressure to withdraw the suspension motion from delegates. “It is true everyone was putting pressure on him to withdraw,” said one. Blatter has always made clear he opposed a vote on suspension.

Following the withdrawal of the request to suspend Israel over claims of its racist and discriminatory policies towards Palestinian football, 90% of delegates voted to set up a new monitoring inspections committee to oversee a mechanism to ensure movement of players and equipment.

The size of the vote in favour of the motion – 165-18 – is likely to be the only consolation for the Palestinian side, which has been pushing a long-term campaign over what it says are Israeli abuses of Palestinian football.

The outcome seemed certain to be a cause for celebration for Israel. […]

Commenting on the outcome, Netanyahu said: “Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from Fifa.” 16

Click here to read more of this follow-up Guardian article

Afterwards, Israeli minister, Yisrael Katz, posted this on Facebook:

Rajoub failed in his mission of throwing Israel out of FIFA.  Now’s the time to imprison him in the Muqata [like Israel did to Arafat] and let him play Stanga [hackysack] with his pals 17

Newly re-elected president Sepp Blatter, who had stated his opposition to the suspension of Israel, tried to be conciliatory, but what he said was all the more risible for his attempt:

“This has been an issue for the past two FIFA Congresses and I’m so happy that we’re coming to a solution. I’m sure both sides will apply the basic principle of FIFA which is solidarity, it is up to Israel to help and share a little bit more with Palestine.”

But Blatter was not alone in defending the indefensible. Back in April, Platini too had given his backing to Israeli Football Association (IFA) officials. The IFA later releasing a statement saying:

“Platini stressed that Israel is an inseparable part of UEFA and is an equal member that is welcome in the UEFA family.”

Then, at a press conference on the eve of the FIFA congress, Platini reiterated that:

[The] football’s world governing body ‘wouldn’t accept’ the Palestinian FA’s bid to ban Israel from FIFA, should the motion be put to a vote tomorrow. 18

So punishment that was thought good for Cameroon, Nigeria, Greece and many others, including even oil-rich Kuwait (should anyone suppose this is simply about money), was withheld from Israel. All the turmoil going on at FIFA can hardly have helped the Palestinian cause.

*

Back to Qatar (and the Clintons)

Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents. 19

This is the opening to one of the earliest mainstream reports on the use of slave labour in constructing the World Cup infrastructure ready for Qatar 2022.

As this whole corruption fiasco has played out, and when not conducting the growing chorus of disapproval towards the disgraced but shameless Blatter, the media has also occasionally drawn a little more attention to the unseen costs of FIFA’s shock decision in 2010. For this is apparently what it takes to get our western media to fully investigate and to seriously challenge conditions within the despotic regimes of our Gulf State partners. And, on a similar note, we may now also return to consider the role of the Clintons in this whole debacle:

Bill Clinton looked anything but happy as he strode into the Savoy Baur en Ville hotel in Zurich in December 2010. The receptionists could tell he was irritated, but had no idea just how angry he was.

After closing the door to his suite, he reached for an ornament on a table and threw it at a wall mirror in a fit of rage, shattering the glass.

The former US president, who had spent two years travelling the world glad-handing members of football’s governing body, Fifa, could not believe America’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup had been beaten by, of all places, Qatar. 20

Hmmm, well he certainly doesn’t look like a man about to throw an ornament into a mirror in a fit of pique in that footage (embedded above), but then Bill is a renown diplomat, so presumably he was just putting a brave face on it. But hold up, what’s this…?

Former President Bill Clinton served as the honorary chairman of the U.S. committee that worked unsuccessfully to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The surprise winner that year was Qatar–and it turns out that the Qatari committee now planning the massive event has been a major donor to Clinton’s charitable foundation. […]

The foundation’s donor records, posted on its Web site, show that FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton foundation. The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, which was formed in 2011 to build stadiums and other infrastructure after Qatar was named the 2022 host, has given between $250,000 and $500,000 to the foundation.

Naturally therefore, top of Loretta Lynch’s list will now be inquiries regarding these donations into the Clinton funds… Well, no:

U.S. officials Wednesday unsealed indictments against 14 top officials involved with soccer, accusing the group of bribery, money laundering and fraud.

While the [Clinton] foundation has no involvement with the investigations, it’s a reminder that the global philanthropy has accepted donations from many of the world’s richest and most powerful players. Its donor list runs to 200,000 names, and includes foreign governments, Wall Street and foreign financial institutions, energy conglomerates and others. The government of Qatar, for instance, which aggressively sought the World Cup, has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. 21

[Emphasis added]

Other “philanthropic” donations to the Clinton Foundation have come from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric and another less well-known aerospace manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft, who were part owned by Goldman Sachs. Coincidentally, many of these state and corporate donors had trade deals approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department:

The monarchy in Qatar had similarly been chastised by the State Department for a raft of human rights abuses. But that country donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was running the State Department. During the three full budgetary years of her tenure, Qatar saw a 14-fold increase in State Department authorizations for direct commercial sales of military equipment and services, as compared to the same time period in Bush’s second term. The department also approved the Pentagon’s separate $750 million sale of multi-mission helicopters to Qatar. That deal would additionally employ as contractors three companies that have all supported the Clinton Foundation over the years: United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and General Electric. 22

To read more about how these Clinton Foundation donors received contracts from Hillary Clinton’s State Department click here.

So let me pose this: is the bigger story here the one about a few (so far numbering fourteen) corrupt FIFA officials, or is it one about the financial irregularities of a former US President and his warmongering Presidential candidate wife?

[There are a great many other “scandals” surrounding and involving the Clintons, but I prefer to hold back from writing more about the misadventures of Bill and Hillary until a later date.]

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Beyond Blatter

Now that Blatter is gone, what about the future of world football itself? The consensus amongst supporters – in Europe at least – appears to be that FIFA as a whole ought to be reformed, or even abolished. But here (as always) I believe it is wise to be very careful what we wish for.

During my time as a football fan (a period that encompasses nearly my whole life) there have been enormous changes in the sport. In England, surely the most significant of these was the establishment of the Premier League.

Prior to the Premier League, the wealthiest clubs in England were already in the habit of pestering for a bigger share of the television revenues. Breakaway threats would come and go, but nothing very much altered. It happens, however, that there have always been two ruling bodies in English football – The Football League and the Football Association (FA) – and eventually all this talk of divorce was formalised by the oldest and grandest of two, the FA, who foisted a deal against The League’s broader interests and on behalf of the richest “big five” clubs. In consequence, the top division became effectively a league of its own, administered under the auspices not of The League, but the FA. Extra money from the new TV rights could then be divvied up amongst the clubs in the new Premier League. Thus greed won out over democracy, as was the fashion in the early 1990s (and as now).

There have been many consequences to the formation of the FA Premier League. Increased revenues have enabled its clubs to attract star players from across the world, and the standard of top level English football has certainly improved. But the new money mostly went into players’ wages, and as salaries and bonuses rapidly inflated, ticket prices also escalated, squeezing out many of the game’s long-standing supporters. As clubs’ loyalty to their supporters waned, so too did the players’ loyalty to their clubs. Loyalty in football has all but disappeared.

In short, the establishment of the Premier League has helped to accelerate the corporatisation of English football. Thirty years ago there were arguments about whether players’ shirts should be allowed to carry advertisements (the BBC allowed ads on Formula One cars but baulked at letting football go the same way), and debate over whether football matches could be played on Sundays (a day of rest, for those who remember). Who could have envisaged a future when TV executives (primarily at Sky) would demand football matches are played literally every day of the week and three times on Sundays! Meantime, the supporters, who often travel great distances to watch their teams, and who cling to the belief that the game belongs to them (I remain one of the millions of likewise deluded fools), have in truth become little more than an advertising backdrop. Colourful scenery for corporate giants to hang their logos on.

As this latest FIFA scandal unfolded, it was the corporate sponsors, we have repeatedly been informed, who pushed hardest for Blatter’s resignation, deeply concerned that their own brand may become tarnished with ties to FIFA’s corruption. Hurrah for enlightened self-interest; this is what we’re supposed to think. Forgetting how those very same offshore (for tax purposes) multinational entities, exploit their distant workers in third world sweatshops, twisting every health and safety and environmental regulation in unremitting efforts to maximise profit. We ought really to laugh out loud, if only it didn’t hurt so much.

Likewise, the news is that UEFA may soon be split from FIFA altogether. A move which the corporations would doubtless prefer – two tiers in world football, very much along the lines of the two-tiered English league. So is UEFA about to usurp FIFA just as the FA usurped the Football League in the early ’90s? I sincerely hope not.

One thing I have learned about FIFA during the last week or so that surprised me in a good way, is how its voting systems are actually more democratic than those for most other global institutions. Each affiliated football association, irrespective of its size or importance, gets just one vote. It is this equality amongst nations that has helped to preserve the World Cup as a genuinely international competition. The diversity surviving by virtue of one simple but surprising fact: that it is very much easier for teams from Oceania, Asia, Africa and even North America to qualify than for those from the footballing superpowers in Europe and South America. Such handicapping makes the World Cup what it is – and FIFA deserve credit for keeping the playing field unlevel.

FIFA’s “one association one vote” system is arguably the very epitome of what footballing democracy ought to be, and not as the media has repeatedly presented it, another measure of corruption within the organisation itself. Of course, FIFA’s system does make the buying-off of local officials in smaller and poorer nations worthwhile, whereas if the major nations were prioritised (as is usually the case), corruption of a different but more familiar form would likely proliferate instead. Meanwhile, the insinuation that only officials of the “lesser nations” are prone to corruption is one that smacks very much of racism.

In any case, once the pressure has built to overhaul the existing system, the great tendency will be to make changes to benefit the superpowers of the game. And with more control in the hands of those in Europe (assuming UEFA prevails), western domination of the world’s favourite sport will also mean football imperialism.

I would like to finish on a related issue presented again by Noah Feldman, professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, as he concluded his piece for Bloomberg View:

How will the rest of the world react to the claim that soccer’s international governing body is a criminal enterprise under U.S. law? One possibility is that international observers will be grateful that someone finally stepped in to do something about endemic corruption within FIFA. It’s been a more or less open secret over the years that FIFA was corrupt in the ordinary, nontechnical meaning of the word. Perhaps – just perhaps – fans will be pleased or relieved that someone has taken on the task of cleaning up the mess.

That interpretation is optimistic, given America’s reputation for extraterritorial imperialism. The relative unimportance of soccer in the U.S. compared with every place else on earth makes concerns about imperialism still more pressing. Through creative and aggressive use of a highly unusual American law, the U.S. may well be seen as attempting a takeover of international soccer. 23

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Additional: The 3 Horse Race at FIFA

“This guy, if he gets in, will make Blatter and co seem like saints.” So wrote a very good friend of mine after hearing rumours (months ago) that another ex-footballer Luis Figo might be standing for the FIFA presidency.

Well, I have just looked at the odds for the various candidates and it appears to be roughly a three horse race. Prince Ali Al-Hussein is favourite – the bookies not the people’s. Platini is a close second, and next is indeed Luis Figo. So might it be that Platini was only the stalking horse — perhaps, Prince Ali too? Although if you are looking for a really long shot, then the bookies are offering 500-1 on Vladimir Putin (in the same spirit, I’m offering 1000-1 on both Bill or Hillary Clinton — take your pick!)

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Update: Where were the auditors?

Auditors are fond of telling anyone prepared to listen that they cannot be expected to spot every fraud or impending disaster when they comb through a company’s books.

But the Fifa affair, which has finally claimed the scalp of president Sepp Blatter, raises questions about long-term auditor KPMG, which did not raise an alarm despite the openly lavish lifestyles of some officials.

It is just the latest embarrassment for KPMG – the firm audited a string of scandal-hit clients including HSBC, HBOS, the Co-op Bank and US mortgage lender Fannie Mae, apparently without noticing anything amiss.

It is not alone. Its peers, EY, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte also stand accused of not spotting impending disasters on their client lists.

The latest furore inevitably raises questions not only over the conduct of KPMG, but the wider issue of how accountable are the accountants.

‘The Fifa affair begs a question of exactly what are audits good for,’ says Professor Prem Sikka of Essex University Business School.

‘If the auditors can’t spot millions of pounds going astray over many years, what can they do?

Click here to read the full article at thisismoney, which questions the ‘revolving door syndrome’ between accountancy firms, corporate boardrooms and our financial regulators.

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1 From an article entitled “Loretta Lynch confirmation as attorney general dogged by HSBC scandal” written by Dan Roberts, published in the Guardian on February 20, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/20/loretta-lynch-confirmation-attorney-general-hsbc-scandal

2 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

3 From an article entitled “Fifa: Blatter refuses to quit as president & vows ‘to restore trust’” published by BBC news on May 28, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/32914907

4 Quoted here: http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/news/AN_1432819609175844000/platini-calls-on-blatter-to-step-down-uefa-to-attend-fifa-congress.aspx

5 From an article entitled “Nicolas Sarkozy ‘colluded’ to get Qatar 2022 World Cup” written by John Lichfield, published in The Independent on January 29, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/nicolas-sarkozy-colluded-to-get-qatar-2022-world-cup-8471758.html

6 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022: France embroiled in corruption scandal” written by Claire Newell, Holly Watt & Ben Bryant, published in The Telegraph on June 2, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871065/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-France-embroiled-in-corruption-scandal.html

7 From an article entitled “Poland and Ukraine host Euro 2012” published by BBC news on April 18, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/6562527.stm

8 Uefa to sue Cypriot over Euro 2012 corruption claim” published by BBC news on October 28, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11645694

9 The quote and details above are taken from an article entitled “UEFA launch legal action over corruption allegations surrounding Poland and Ukraine” published in the Daily Mail on October 30, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1325142/UEFA-launch-legal-action-corruption-allegations-surrounding-Poland-Ukraine.html

10 From an article entitled “Euro 2012: Uefa urged to investigate $4bn corruption allegations in Ukraine” written by Luke Harding and David Leigh, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/jun/20/euro-2012-corruption-allegations-ukraine

11 From an article entitled US seizes on FIFA corruption to pursue campaign against Russia” written by Robert Stevens and Chris Marsden, published on the World Socialist Web Site on May 29, 2015. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/29/fifa-m29.html

12

Outrage has surfaced over the case  of two Palestinian teenage football players [two teenagers, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17] who were reportedly shot in the feet at an Israeli checkpoint on their way home from practise on January 31. Israeli security forces said  the two were trying to throw bombs at police officers.

Doctors reportedly said  the two teens will never be able to play sports again due to their injuries, and will need months of treatment before assessing whether they can walk.

From an article entitled “Shooting renews calls for FIFA to kick out Israel” published by Al Jazeera on March 5, 2014. http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201403052234-0023531

You can also read more on the same story here: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/palestinian-teenagers-shot-feet-by-israeli-soldiers-after-playing-football-calls-fifa-israel-ban-1439183

13

Ahed Zaqout, a former Palestinian national team player, has been killed by an Israeli bomb that hit his apartment in Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said on Thursday.

“Palestine has lost one of its best players, he may have been the best midfielder we ever had,” Gaza sports journalist Khaled Zaher told Reuters.

From an article entitled “Former midfielder on Palestinian national team killed in Gaza air strike” written by Nidal Al-Mughrabi, published by Haaretz on July 31, 2014. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.608224

14 From an article entitled “Soccer Politics: Palestinian Bid to Expel Israel from FIFA Dropped” written by Stephen Lendman, published by Global Research on May 30, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/soccer-politics-palestinian-bid-to-expel-israel-from-fifa-dropped/5452598

15 From an article entitled “Palestinian Football Association to push ahead for Israel’s suspension from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinian-football-association-to-push-ahead-for-israels-suspension-from-fifa

16 From an article entitled “Palestine withdraw call to suspend Israel from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinians-withdraw-call-to-suspend-israel-from-fifa-west-bank

17 Read more and find translation here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/did-israel-buy-its-way-out-of-fifa-suspension/5452609 

18 From an article entitled “Platini: FIFA ‘won’t accept’ Palestinian bid to suspend Israel” published by Jewish News on May 28, 2015. http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/platini-fifa-wont-accept-palestinian-bid-to-suspend-israel/

19 From an article entitled “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’” written by Pete Pattisson, published in the Guardian on September 25, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves

20 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022 scandal: Bill Clinton’s fury at vote triggered global search for truth” written by Holly Watt, Claire Newell & Ben Bryant, published by The Telegraph on June 3, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871114/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-scandal-Bill-Clintons-fury-at-vote-triggered-global-search-for-truth.html

21 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation donors included FIFA, Qatar host committee” written by Rosalind S. Helderman, published in the Washington Post on May 27, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/05/27/clinton-foundation-donors-included-fifa-qatar-host-committee/ 

22 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton’s State Department” written by David Sirota and Andrew Perez, published in the International Business Times on May 26, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

23 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Israel, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, USA

the answer to TINA… is TRISH!

Let’s start with TINA…

There is no alternative (shortened as TINA) was one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite slogans. Those who repeat this slogan today, do so in defence of the same neoliberal agenda that Thatcher’s policies first helped to establish during the 1980s. They believe that only the  “freedom of the markets” is sacrosanct, and oblivious to the hardship and brutal oppression which such policies have brought to so many countries around the world, they stand firm in their conviction that we are living under the best of all possible economic orders. In this sense, they are fundamentalists. Whilst those who use it to defend calls for the latest round of “austerity measures” are also saying that making savage cuts to government spending is the only way to rescue ourselves in these times of economic crisis. That we must sacrifice everything in order to satisfy the market. Yet all of this is dependent upon accepting an ideology that refuses to admit it is an ideology, and all of this is socioeconomic nonsense.

A background to austerity

Inter-governmental institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have for many years demanded a commitment from governments of impoverished nations to accept the imposition of austerity measures in exchange for functioning as a lender of last resort. The terms for such IMF bailouts are technically known as “conditionalities”.

Conditionalities generally involve a number of requirements and some of these may indeed be beneficial. The IMF may, for example, insist upon anti-corruption measures. But mostly the IMF will insist upon “free market reforms”, which means, in short, a tough austerity package to dismantle the nation’s welfare system, with the forced privatisation of key public services, along with the imposition of “trade liberalisation” and deregulation. Under such a programme, with the country being required, in effect, to give up it economic sovereignty, it is suddenly open to vulture capitalism, and ready to be asset-stripped by global corporations.

This package of conditionalities, or “market-friendly policies”, was known as the Washington Consensus, although it might more aptly have been renamed the “Chicago Concensus” given that these rules for “economic reform” were predicated on the hardline neoliberal dogma developed by the Chicago School, and then first tested by the so-called Chicago Boys, who imposed them as economic “Shock Therapy” during the terrible years of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. In any case, the name Washington Consensus became so sullied that the IMF have dropped it altogether. But only the tone of the IMF has been softened, as the demands being made of Greece and Portugal now show. They are still in the business of dismantling welfare systems and the wholesale privatisation of nations.

The results of austerity

“The experience of austerity measures imposed on developing countries should sound alarm bells for us all. These measures are not a new innovation; they were cooked up by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s and forced onto developing countries by the IMF and World Bank. The effects were devastating: inequality, poverty and injustice increased as public services and welfare spending were slashed.

“Recently, such policies have been completely discredited; even the World Bank and IMF held their hands up and said they got it wrong. Countries, like Malaysia and Vietnam, that resisted the austerity measures remained far less vulnerable than those that had to succumb to these failed economic prescriptions. If we don’t resist this illogical thinking, the outcome will lead to a truly broken Britain.”

says Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement.

In the same article, which is entitled “Neoliberal policies have no place in the post-crash world”, Doane also gives a concise and well-informed overview of the effects of imposed austerity on the basis of recent historical cases.1

Why austerity cannot help us

“The deficit isn’t caused by profligate government spending to support an over-bloated welfare state, but by a massive bank bailout, shrinking government revenues, and a decline in corporate taxation. As in the developing world, maintaining public spending is what we need for long-term support to our economy, and to our populations.”

says Deborah Doane in the same article.

The maths is actually quite simple here. If you cut government spending, especially during times when the private sector economy is also struggling, then the knock-on effect is that tax revenues are reduced, and this then increases the deficit. The outcome being precisely the opposite to that demanded. But austerity isn’t simply doomed to failure, it is doomed to devastating failure. It leaves the country concerned with nothing but mass unemployment and even greater debts to repay.

Why we must fight this together

“For decades, Europe has been held up as a paragon for how social democracy can work, by providing free healthcare or education, and ensuring people have a high quality of life at the same time. The legacy of the Chicago School is invading this last battleground for social justice. Fighting the austerity agenda at home is a truly globally relevant campaign.”

says Deborah Doane in the same article.

It took a century for the people of Europe to win our economic rights, but we are now on the verge of throwing that inheritance away. People all around the world aspire to enjoy the same rights. We should not let them down.

And now over to TRISH

In an attempt to offer an alternative to TINA, I have put together this five-point alternative plan. I believe that something of this sort needs to be agreed upon by all groups who now stand opposed to the government (and IMF supported) programme of austerity measures. I would very much welcome any constructive comments, amendments, or corrections; and if you are interested in helping to take the idea further then do please get in touch.

The basic proposals can be summarised as follows: Take on the bankers, Re-regulate the markets, Increase tax revenues, Stop the wars, and Help for ourselves. Hence, TRISH:

Take on the bankers

The current crisis didn’t just happen for no reason. If it were simply a part of some kind of quasi-natural but ultimately mysterious boom and bust cycle, then we might hope to simply grit our teeth and ride it out. There is, unfortunately, no evidence that supports such a conviction.

The current crisis did not originate because of fiscal mismanagement and government overspending. The problems in Greece, for instance, did not arise simply because of their long-standing problems with tax receipts, any more than the recession in America began with subprime mortgages and the housing bubble. The individual crises of these various nation states are merely symptoms of more than two decades of unregulated greed and corruption in Wall Street and The City of London. The results of a systemic failure, which cannot be resolved therefore until the current financial system is itself overhauled.

The current crisis has happened because the speculators and financiers gathered so much power that they have taken control of our senior politicians. This is why Obama is surrounded by a coterie of advisers from Goldman Sachs. It is also why Peter Mandelson and George Osborne were found cosying up together aboard a Russian oligarch’s yacht at one of Nathan Rothschild’s lavish parties. For no dog can have two masters. To make sure they are working for us then, such obscene cronyism has to be rooted out, and, so far as it’s possible, legislated against.

Ever since the crash of 2008, the banks have been playing the suicide card. Holding us hostage with a gun pointed to their own heads. Give us your money or everything goes down with us, they threaten, and their close friends in the media and government play along, perpetuating the myth that they are simply “too big to fail”. They want us to forget about their malpractice and criminal fraud that caused the crisis, and to carry on stumping up the interest for debts so enormous they can never be repaid.

We need an investigation. We need an international debt moratorium followed by cancellation of all debt found to be odious. The endless bailouts only serve the bankers and these must end. Meanwhile private savings and pension funds need to be protected. But if Goldman Sachs closes down then so be it. We’ll pick up the pieces later.

Re-regulate the markets

This current crisis really owes its origins to the policies of Thatcher and Reagan. Everything would have been avoided if it hadn’t been for the deregulation of the markets which began back in the 1980s. Allowing the bankers to police themselves turned out to be a bad idea. We might have guessed.

The underlying cause of the current crisis is the worldwide trade in “derivatives”. It is currently estimated that in the order of a quadrillion US dollars (yes, that’s with a qu-) has been staked on derivations of various kinds. We can compare this with the entire world GDP which turns out to be a mere 60 trillion US dollars2. One quadrillion being more than twenty times larger. Or we might compare it against the estimated monetary wealth of the whole world: about $75 trillion in real estate, and a further $100 trillion in world stock and bonds. So one quadrillion is a number exceeding even the absolute monetary value of the entire world! Warren Buffett once described derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”, and he should know because he trades in them.

We must place a ban, if not on all derivatives, then certainly on the most toxic varieties such as credit-default swaps. There should also be a criminal investigation that looks into the sale of so many “toxic assets” and considers the role of the credit ratings agencies which graded them triple-A. The very same rating agencies that are now downgrading countries such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

A separation of investment banking from depository banking would at least have protected ordinary savers from the whims of the speculators. In America such a separation had existed since the Banking Act of 1933, known as the Glass-Steagall Act, until Bill Clinton repealed the law in 1999. Legislation along the lines of Glass-Steagall needs to be brought back.

Increase tax revenues

Tax is a dirty word but if the deficit is to be redressed then government revenue will need to be increased. Politicians talk a great deal about fairness and we should hold them to this. The people who caused the crisis should now be bailing us out. There has been some talk of a Tobin tax on all transactions in the financial markets, and even at the very low rates of 0.05% being proposed by some groups, hundreds of billions of pounds would be raised annually. So why not levy a Tobin tax at a higher rate, say 1% (which is a tiny fraction when compared to any tax the rest of us pay) and then use that money to repay the national debt?

Gordon Brown came into office on the promise of closing tax loopholes but did nothing of the kind. Major corporations simply don’t pay their fair share. They move their operations offshore by taking advantage of the many tax havens available, the majority of which are British dependencies. It is estimated that tax havens drain the UK economy of around £25bn annually through their role in tax avoidance and evasion, and that hundreds of billions are lost globally each year.3 Money that should be paying for education and healthcare.

We should resist any rises in the sorts of stealth taxes on the poor and the middle class which the government are likely to propose, no matter how temptingly packaged they may appear. “Quantitative Easing”, which is a deliberately impressive and misleading term for what is simply the printing of extra money, is an inherently inflationary strategy. It is, therefore, the most insidious stealth tax of all. Let’s find the money in fairer ways, by forcing the corporations and the super-rich to pay their dues.

Stop the wars

Wars cost money, lots of money. Defence Secretary Liam Fox has recently revealed that the estimated cost for our involvement in the NATO-led Libya campaign will be in the region of £120m, assuming the conflict continues into the autumn as expected. A further £140m then being needed to replace missiles and munitions, which makes £260 million in total.4 However, less conservative estimates of costs to the British taxpayer raise the figure to as much as £1bn. 5

Meanwhile, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost British taxpayers more than £20billion, and this does not even include the salaries of soldiers or paying for their long-term injuries and mental health care.6 Acute care for the troops most seriously injured in Afghanistan is costing the government more than £500,000 every week.7 And all for what?

Putting an end to these imperialist adventures is not only a moral imperative, it is an economic necessity.

Help for ourselves and others

Running a nation’s economy is not the same as running a household budget. Making cuts in government spending may save money, but with reduced investment there must come an inevitable kick-back. The economy will shrink and with less tax revenue available the deficit then grows. And this becomes a vicious cycle.

In order to stop such a debt spiral turning into depression, the government needs to spend rather than save. This is what the post-war Attlee government did when it expanded the welfare state and founded the National Health Service. Reinvestment in public services and infrastructure can put money in people’s pockets again. Meanwhile, investment in manufacturing and industry would help to reduce our balance of payments deficit.

During times of depression government investment becomes essential. We need investment to revive Britain’s once strong manufacturing base. This can involve tax or other incentives and will most certainly require significant cash injections to support established industries and encourage new production and innovation. In the meantime, we should roll back the privatisation of our public sector, of schools and prisons (how outrageous that companies can profit from locking people up), and most urgently, of the NHS.

In a fully privatised world, which is the dream of neoliberal economists, we all fall prey to the markets. So let’s abandon our current obsession with private enterprise and move back to a more mixed-economy, adopting a policy of dirigisme. In this spirit, we might decide to take state control of any struggling key industries, as well as re-nationalising the natural monopolies of water and energy supply.

It is high time to rebuild our infrastructure, since this is the bedrock for all social and economic progress: and examples of the sorts of projects we should consider include the long overdue upgrading of our railway system; the installation of countrywide fibre-optic broadband; the construction of new power plants including the proposed tide power barrage across the Severn estuary, which alone could supply more than 5% of our current electricity demands; and then there are more ambitious schemes, such as protecting ourselves against future water shortages by building a national water grid. We need to seize this as an opportunity to do all the things we ought to have done years ago because the future will belong to those who invested wisely – which means funneling our money into rebuilding industry, reconstructing our infrastructure, and supporting new areas of scientific research and development instead of frittering it away on banker bailouts and bonuses. Let’s build a country that’s fit and proper for the twenty-first century.

Such a New Deal programme was how Franklin Roosevelt rescued the US economy during the last Great Depression. Between 1933 and 1936, Roosevelt implemented the “3 Rs”: Relief for the unemployed and poor, Recovery of the economy to normal levels, and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. Roosevelt’s New Deal is perhaps the best example of the kind of forward-thinking programme of economic measures that is so desperately needed today.

2 According to IMF economic database for October 2010, World GDP is $61,963.429 billion (US dollars)

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Bilderberg – it’s just a big club and you ain’t in it

Just in case you missed it, here was one of the main headlines on BBC News just few days ago on Wednesday 8th June:

In the manner of a James Bond plot, up to 150 leading politicians and business people are to gather in a ski resort in Switzerland for four days of discussion about the future of the world.
Previous attendees of the group, which meets once a year in a five-star hotel, are said to have included Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and Peter Mandelson, as well as dozens of company CEOs.

Click here to read the full article.

The “James Bond plot” in question was this year’s outing of the secret gathering of the political and business elite known as the Bilderberg Group. The inaugural tete-a-tete of this most elite of elite gatherings was held at the Hotel de Bilderberg, near Arnhem in May 1954; a location that lends its own name to all subsequent gatherings. Every year since then, a hand-picked group of 120 participants, have met up for drinks and a game of golf at one of the Bilderberg meetings.

How do I know? Well, for starters, these days the group has its own website – a site that is light on information and heavy on restrictions. The disclaimer page basically says don’t trust the information on this site, it may be unreliable, and don’t even think of copying it. It has the strictest copywrite notice I’ve ever come across. For the last few years, there has also been a rapidly growing discussion on the internet, which includes an ever-expanding entry on Wikipedia, though such readily available information wasn’t so easy to source ten years ago, and my own first insight into the Bilderbergers came from a most unlikely reporter.

Jon Ronson would describe himself as a humorist. His speciality is quirky human interest stories, and Ronson is wonderfully adept at gently teasing his subjects in order to get beneath their skins. But this time he had happened to land something much bigger than that.

In June 1999, Ronson met with “Big” Jim Tucker, a chain-smoking hick journalist (who had already devoted much of his life trying to stake out the Bilderberg Group), and Tucker and Ronson together made tracks to a five-star hotel in Sintra, Portugal.

Upon arriving at the secret location, it wasn’t long before Tucker and Ronson were being tailed by security men, or as Ronson puts it, “the henchmen of the shadowy elite”. A game of cat and mouse that continued throughout the day. In desperation, Ronson phoned up the British Embassy to ask for help. The response he received was probably not what he was expecting:

“I am essentially a humorous journalist,” Ronson explained to the woman at embassy. “I am a humorous journalist out of my depth. Do you think it might help if we tell them that?”

“Listen” came her reply, “Bilderberg is much bigger than we are. We’re very small. We’re just a little embassy. Do you understand? They’re way out of our league. All I can say is go back to your hotel and sit tight.”1

When Ronson first got the run around with Jim Tucker, he’d gone along just for the ride. He was interested to learn what had led “Big” Jim Tucker, and others like him, to believe in “a fabled shadowy cabal that secretly rules the world”. He was anticipating a wild goose chase. So blundering in on a flesh and blood Bilderberg meeting as it was about to kick-off in Portugal – just exactly as Tucker had described – came like a bolt from the blue. “It seemed that Jim had stumbled on to something extraordinary,” Ronson says in the voice-over to his film, adding, “It seems that Jim was right.”

Ronson later managed to get hold of a guest list for the meeting in Portugal. It included such luminaries as Conrad Black (news media), Donald Graham (chief executive officer of the Washington Post), Richard Holbrooke, William Joseph McDonough (8th President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York), Henry Kissinger, and sure enough, David Rockefeller (who had apparently arrived there in the back of a taxi).

They’d also spotted a fresh-faced Peter Mandelson staring back from one of the coaches that pulled through the gates. Ronson also established that previous Bilderberg attendees had included, amongst the ranks of the great and the good, Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton (who were, it is worth noting, in attendance at meetings prior to their election as premiers).

Later, Ronson managed to arrange an interview with Denis Healey, who was proud to acknowledge his own involvement in the group. When Ronson put it to Healey that there was a rumour from outsiders that the Bilderberg Group were intent on constructing a One World Government, Healey replied that this was “exaggerated but not totally unfair”. And Healey hastily dismissed any suggestion of a secret conspiracy. It was simply a way for industrialists, financiers, politicians and those in the media to discuss ideas in private: “that is the way it happens in the world, and quite right”.

So now you know… And if so you’re ever asked the question: “what links Denis Healey, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Peter Mandelson?” you’ll know now – if you didn’t know before – that the answer doesn’t have anything to do with playing the xylophone.

Video of Ronson’s extraordinary documentary can be seen here: video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-287163572862203022#

Knowledge of the Bilderberg Group opens many questions. Some of these questions have very obvious answers, although other, perhaps more important questions, are far harder to get to the bottom of.

For example, who actually decides on the attendees for each meeting? This question is important because, although there is a common core who attend most, if not all, of the annual Bilderberg meetings, there is also a constant rolling and evolving contingent of new introductions. Thatcher and Clinton were just such new recruits, presumably being groomed for office. But the question is also important for different reason, because it would seem most likely that a smaller and even more elect sub-group act as the gatekeepers to Bilderberg. But who actually makes decisions regarding future invitations?

Well, hardly surprisingly, Bilderberg has its own steering committee; an inner circle. Healey indeed claims to have been a part of that steering committee. So is there still a smaller inner circle again? After all, who decides on the members of the steering committee, or is the steering committee fully autonomous? The simple truth is that we don’t know, with the reason being that everything about these meetings, from the minutes taken down to the final guest list, is wreathed in secrecy.

So what then can we know most certainly about the Bilderberg Group? The simple truth is still not very much at the present time. The almost total media blackout means that Ronson remains one of the very few respected journalists who have ever investigated the group at all. Indeed, back in May 2005, at a time when the Bilderbergers were gathered again (on this occasion at Rottach-Egern in South Germany) Ronson was invited onto CNN to provide a little inside analysis. What he said was interesting enough, though Ronson certainly doesn’t regard himself as a political journalist let alone a Bilderberg expert. Unfortunately, and aside from Jim Tucker, Ronson remains the best expert we have!

In the CNN interview, newscaster Charles Hodson asks Ronson’s opinion on whether the Bilderberg members are “the fabled shadowy elite” that conspiracy theorists imagine. “Well, yes and no,” Ronson replies, stifling a nervous laugh, before adding, “I do think that by and large, many members of the Bilderberg Group actually see themselves in much the same way as the conspiracy theorists see them. As this shadowy cabal, out to – if not to rule the world, to influence world events.”

Questions regarding Bilderberg meetings have also been raised on occasions in the House of Commons, publicly addressed to those who have returned from one of the meetings, but again no fresh insights are forthcoming. Professor Andrew Kakabadse, co-author of new book Bilderberg People, told the BBC in Wednesday’s article:

The group has genuine power that far outranks the World Economic Forum, which meets in Davos, he argues. And with no transparency, it is easy to see why people are worried about its influence.
“It’s much smarter than conspiracy,” says Prof Kakabadse. “This is moulding the way people think so that it seems like there’s no alternative to what is happening.”
The agenda the group has is to bring together the political elites on both right and left, let them mix in relaxed, luxurious surroundings with business leaders, and let the ideas fizz.
It may seem like a glorified dinner party but that is to miss the point. “When you’ve been to enough dinner parties you see a theme emerging,” he says. The theme at Bilderberg is to bolster a consensus around free market Western capitalism and its interests around the globe, he says.
“Is this all leading to the start of the ruling the world idea? In one sense yes. There’s a very strong move to have a One World government in the mould of free market Western capitalism.”

Three things about Bilderberg are immediately clear to anyone who makes even the most cursory examination. Firstly, the fact that the Bilderberg Group was originally chaired by one of its founder members, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, and that it is still regularly attended by members of other ruling European monarchies, means that we should put aside any cosy modern notions that somehow aristocratic rule is a thing of the past. Instead it seems that even the so-called “bicycling monarchs” of the Netherlands still wield quite considerable political clout.

Secondly, and as Andrew Kakabadse says, there is no clear preference for admitting participants on grounds of being politically left, right or centre. All parties have had (and continue to have) their representatives. Thatcher, Mandelson, David Owen, and more recently Ed Balls and George Osborne from home, whilst from the US, there was Clinton and many from the subsequent Neo-Con administration. We are left to presume then that all parties are, in very important respects, reading from the same globalist script; and that the left-right paradigm is, at least in party political terms, a partial if not total fraud.

The third and last point is that Bilderberg Group has only recently become visible – not so long ago all respected journalists regarding it as just another crackpot conspiracy theory. Quite how the great and the good had managed to meet up secretly every year since 1954 for decade after decade without anyone blowing their cover is frankly astonishing (even if we know that most of the major media proprietors are Bilderberg affiliates). But then, and almost like a miracle, Jon Ronson proved that truth really can be stranger than fiction.

Wednesday’s article on BBC News was entitled “Bilderberg mystery: Why do people believe in cabals?” Well, what is a cabal? According to my dictionary it is 1. a secret intrigue, or 2. a political clique or faction. So Bilderberg then is unquestionably a cabal, and the question should really be: is it a type–1 or a type–2 cabal?

Of course the very word “cabal” is intended to put readers off the scent. Related to the words “cabbala” or “kabbala”, it has an unmistakably antisemitic flavour. It reeks of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax, and this is something that the BBC article and Times columnist David Aaronovitch are keen to play up. Aaronovitch complaining that those who gnash their teeth about Bilderberg:

“…tend to believe that everything true, local and national is under threat from cosmopolitan, international forces often linked to financial capitalism and therefore, also often, to Jewish interests.”

But going back to the title of the BBC article, what about the first part – the “Bilderberg mystery”. Why is there any mystery at all? And why is it, as the article begins, that:

Ordinary people can only guess at the goings-on at the meetings of the secretive Bilderberg Group, which is bringing together the world’s financial and political elite this week.

The answer is depressing. The BBC and The Times and almost all the mainstream media throughout the half century of its existence have chosen to look the other way, which is another important side to the Bilderberg conspiracy. Rather than doing the job that a free press is supposed to do — a role that is so vital to ensuring our freedom and protecting society against corruption, and one that involves actually getting you hands dirty and doing some work — the media has instead collectively backed off from the real story and, after years of denial, now offers a meta-story in its place. The meta-story is all about the silliness of “conspiracy theorists”, whereas the real story is taking place behind police-lines and closed doors right now in St Moritz, Switzerland. And if you want to know about the real story then don’t bother to check the BBC or the Times because they’re still not interested…

If you are looking for more information about the true story of this year’s Bilderberg meeting then I recommend Russia Today (as the only mainstream broadcast network with reporters on the ground):

And also Charlie Skelton’s yearly Guardian blog which has so far revealed that:

On the 2011 delegate list, Osborne appears thus: Osborne, George, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I’ve just spent the entire day trying and failing and failing and trying again to get an official confirmation that Osborne is attending the St Moritz conference, and if so, in exactly what capacity he’s here.

At long last the Treasury Press Office gave me a straight answer, but it wasn’t the answer I was expecting: “George Osborne is attending the Bilderberg conference in his official capacity as Chancellor of the Exchequer” – and he’s coming along “with a number of other international finance ministers.” Any Treasury staff? “Probably not more than one.”

Click here to read Skelton’s full article.

For information with regards to past Bilderberg events you might also try the unofficial website bilderberg.org which provides lists of previous attendees.

*

Update:

The link to google video is lost but I have since found a version of the same documentary on youtube which is embedded here:

That one has since disappeared too. Third time lucky:

1. The Secret Rulers of the World, Episode 5: The Bilderberg Group was first aired on Channel 4 on May 27 th, 2001. Here is the full transcript of the filmed conversation as taken from Ronson’s book based on the TV series (the book was given a rather different title than the original series) “Them: Adventures with Extremists”:

“British Embassy.”

“Okay,” I [Ronson] said, “I’m a journalist from London. I’m calling you on the road from Sintra to Estoril . . .”

“I’m a journalist from London,” I said. “I’m calling you on the road from Sintra to Estoril. I’m being tailed, right now, by a dark green Lancia belonging to the Bilderberg Group.”

There was a sharp intake of breath. “Go on,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I just heard you take a sharp breath.”

“Bilderberg?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “They watched us scouting around the Caesar Park Hotel and they’ve been following us ever since. We have now been followed for three hours. I wasn’t sure at first, so I stopped my car on the side of a deserted lane and he stopped his car right in front of us. Can you imagine just how chilling that moment was? This is especially disconcerting because I’m from England and I’m not used to being spied on.”

“Do you have Bilderberg’s permission to be in Portugal?” she said. “Do they know you are here?”

“No,” I said.

“Bilderberg are very secretive,” she said. “They don’t want people looking into their business. What are you doing here?”

“I am essentially a humorous journalist,” I explained. “I am a humorous journalist out of my depth. Do you think it might help if we tell them that?…”

“Listen”‘ she said, urgently, “Bilderberg is much bigger than we are. We’re very small. We’re just a little embassy. Do you understand? They’re way out of our league. All I can say is go back to your hotel and sit tight.”

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the unbearable lightness of online petitions

We have reached an altogether desperate state of affairs. Whilst the Lib-Con coalition are greedily snatching every last penny from the poor so as to bail out their rich friends who run the hedge funds, Miliband jr is absent without leave, and the parliamentary Labour party are barely able to muster any opposition to the most savage government programme of cuts in living memory (arguing feebly that the cuts ought to fall less swiftly on our unfortunate heads). Differences between the parties have become quantitative rather than qualitative. Indeed, the public could be forgiven for thinking that we have been led into some kind of “three-in-one party state”, although in this, we are simply following the American example, political convergence in the US having occurred decades earlier, with the Democrats barely distinguishable from the Republicans during most of my lifetime.

It happens then, that as public concern becomes increasingly at odds with actual political will, and we slowly awaken to the realisation of our own political impotence with feelings of anger and frustration, we have begun to look for new and different ways to raise our voices. And, as it happens, there is a way. Quite literally at our fingertips, a new and outstanding mechanism for getting ourselves heard. The fastest, widest-reaching, and least restricted system of communications ever devised. The internet offers potential that few ever dreamed of, and it appears to be the perfect place to restart our democracy again. Can it deliver this promise, becoming the major catalyst for real and lasting changes to what remains a deplorably unfair world? I wait in hope. I write in hope. And in hope, I occasionally double-click my support to a variety of links for petitions from the ever-growing number of online pressure groups.

Yes, online pressure groups. It all started back in 1998 with the launch of MoveOn.org, which was set up to challenge the impeachment of Bill Clinton. A campaign that had originally been called “Censure and move on”, and called upon supporters to add their names to an online petition demanding: “Congress must Immediately Censure President Clinton and Move On to pressing issues facing the country.” Then, a few years later, after the attacks of 9/11, MoveOn.org found a different role, as representative voice of the peace movement. I must have added my own name to dozens of their petitions around this time.

Now I’m guessing that you very likely have an online petition for something or other waiting in your inbox at this very moment. Someone forwarded it to you, a friend perhaps (possibly me), and now you’re wondering whether to bother following the link and clicking your own assent. Does it actually make one jot of difference whether you open it or simply delete? After all, what discernible effect can a few personal details and the cursory click of your mouse have on those with the executive power to make actual policy decisions? Well petitions do occasionally work, no doubt, and at a local level, for instance, petitions have undoubtedly slowed the ever-expanding supermarket takeover of our high streets, stalling corporate progress just a little bit. An online petition is just a bit easier – though not that much easier – than the old-fashioned pen and ink variety. So online petitions undoubtedly have a limited impact. Have petitions ever seriously altered the wider course of government policy? Well, there was the small victory with the forests I suppose. And on an international level? You probably can’t think of any instances, but might as well click anyway, adding your own micron of persuasion or dissent.

But hold it. Perhaps it really was too easy. Do you feel, however slight, any nagging doubts? After all, I’d be surprised if you took much trouble in checking into who is actually running the campaign in question, let alone ascertaining the faces behind the faces: the foundations and individuals who provided funds to keep the campaign offices running. Or if you did, then I’m guessing you probably didn’t recognise many, if indeed any, of those faces. Perhaps the major donors didn’t want their faces shown. In the case of MoveOn.org, international financier George Soros certainly kept a low profile when, in 2004, he gave the organisation a sum in the region of £1.5 million (chicken feed to Soros but a small fortune to any growing pressure group).12

So now you’re on the mailing list. One petition after another, awaiting approval in your inbox. A whole host of internet pressure groups that you’d previously never heard of, run by groups of people you’ve never met and doubtless never will, all constantly tugging at your overly twisted arm for ongoing and renewed support. Fresh campaigns for new causes. And many of the causes you agree with, whilst others you may feel cautious about. You can be selective of course, but then by supporting the causes you approve of, aren’t you inadvertently lending support to the pressure group in a more general sense? So when MoveOn.org later put its burgeoning weight behind the Obama campaign, did my earlier support against the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, also help to carry the vote for Obama’s election into office?

Which brings me to Avaaz. “Avaaz is a global web movement to bring people-powered politics to decision-making everywhere”, says the website blurb, which sounds great, albeit in a kind of wishy-washy corporate-speak sort of fashion. Launched in 2007, it began as a direct off-shoot of MoveOn.org, though quickly outgrowing its parent organisation, as it became the fastest expanding of all internet pressure groups. According to its own website again, the aim of Avaaz (which simply means “voice”) is to “empower[s] millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues”, which it achieves by setting overall priorities in accordance with results of its annual all-member polls. (And you can Click here to see the results of last year’s poll.) There is no agenda as such, no ideology, no corporate sponsors, but only a fresh approach to democracy. So is democracy effectively broadened on the basis of such internet polls? And can the world really be so radically reshaped, as Avaaz very boldly asserts, by means of regular email petitions? Co-founder and director, Ricken Patel, explained the mission of Avaaz to BBC HARDtalk in this interview broadcast in 2008.

Avaaz.org’s executive director, Ricken Patel, is interviewed by BBC’s Stephen Sackur on HARDtalk.

Back in March 2003, I put my name to a MoveOn.org emergency appeal to the UN Security Council which read: “The stakes couldn’t really be much higher. A war with Iraq could kill tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and inflame the Middle East. According to current plans, it would require an American occupation of the country for years to come. And it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine.” Unfortunately that petition had no effect. It fell on deaf ears and the ensuing war cost not tens, but hundreds of thousands of lives, so many in fact, that our governments very quickly decided to stop counting. And now, almost exactly eight years on, I have received the following appeal from its offspring organisation, Avaaz: “Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, “a no-fly zone” is actually a euphemism for a military operation that necessarily involves an intensive bombing campaign to ensure the total destruction of a country’s air defences. Avaaz are saying this is a necessary measure to protect Libyans from the brutal oppression of the Gaddafi regime, which may be correct, though any talk of humanitarian intervention in Libya, or anywhere for that matter, rings a little hollow given our recent record of “humanitarian intervention” in other parts of the Middle East. So is there really nothing ideological in Avaaz’s sudden call to arms?

The email continues: “The head of NATO, meanwhile, has said that any effort to create a no-fly zone would first require a resolution from the UN. In many crises like this one, one UN country or another has vetoed strong positions — but with Libya, something different has already begun. The Security Council’s sanctions are real. UN Ambassadors say that representatives are “substantially united” that Qaddafi has to go. What’s needed now is another push from the world’s people. A resolution wouldn’t be a silver bullet — the enforcement of a no-fly zone would be dangerous and complex. But even the serious threat of one could show Qaddafi that his time is up.” Could it be that military intervention in Libya will require an occupation of the country for years to come? Or that it could escalate in ways that are horrifying to imagine? Is this what they mean by “dangerous and complex”? To get a better picture of what Avaaz might be meaning, I recommend watching their own award-winning short film “Stop the Clash of Civilisations”. This eye-catching animation paints the whole world as “dangerous and complex”, and as an infuriating confusion of shades of grey. The implication presumably being that right and wrong are matters only of opinion. With regards to where Avaaz actually stands politically, I felt none the wiser…

Avaaz currently claims to have a community of more than 7 million members, whilst admitting if pressed, that membership actually involves nothing more arduous than accepting the regular email drops (and having responded to past campaigns, presumably I too speak in the capacity of being an Avaaz member). They also claim to have “an ethic of servant leadership”; a statement of principle which can be read in two entirely different ways. They want us, of course, to understand that Avaaz are our servants, amplifying our voices and helping us to be heard, although it would be equally fair to say that “work[ing] with partners and experts to develop effective, member-driven campaign strategies”, means they may unwittingly be helping to lead the serfs by setting the agenda of their “partners and experts”.

The hard truth is that it actually makes no difference to the UN or the American or British governments what Avaaz demands, so be assured that the decision whether or not to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya was determined, as it always is, primarily on the basis of geostrategic interests. If two million people marching in London cannot change a government’s foreign policy, then what  sway do a few virtual signatures carry? When it comes to matters of such international importance, what pressure groups like Avaaz and MoveOn.org can and do achieve, however, is to help shape and inform sections of public opinion. Because Avaaz is really just another kind of brand. If we see the Avaaz logo on petition it helps to change how we feel about it. Understood this way, Avaaz is yet another small resonant component of the endlessly reverberating political echo chamber we now live in. But then, of course, you can always unsubscribe.

1 “Founded on millions of small donations, MoveOn.org hit the jackpot when it was embraced in 2004 by George Soros and his circle of rich friends, who later organized themselves into a loosely structured coalition known as the Democracy Alliance.” Click here to read full article from The Center for Public Integrity.

2 “The Democratic 527 organizations have drawn support from some wealthy liberals determined to defeat Bush. They include financier George Soros and his wife, Susan Weber Soros, who gave $5 million to ACT and $1.46 million to MoveOn.org; Peter B. Lewis, chief executive of the Progressive Corp., who gave $3 million to ACT and $500,000 to MoveOn; and Linda Pritzker, of the Hyatt hotel family, and her Sustainable World Corp., who gave $4 million to the joint fundraising committee.” Click here to read full article from the Washington Post.

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