Tag Archives: Christine Lagarde

Charlie Skelton reports from behind the ring of steel at Watford

Firstly, a few pertinent words from Adam Smith:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty or justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

Taken from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) 1

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At one point in the meeting, during a tense exchange about contingency plans for dog-walkers, [police Chief Inspector] Rhodes let slip that Operation Discuss (the codename for the Bilderberg security operation) had been up and running for 18 months. Residents and journalists shared an intake of breath. “Eighteen months?” The reason for all the secrecy? “Terrorism”.

After 59 years of Bilderberg guests scuttling about in the shadows, ducking lenses and dodging the news, that’s the rationale we’re given? The same rationale, presumably, is behind the Great Wall of Watford, a concrete-and-wire security fence encircling the hotel. As ugly as it is unnecessary, it looks like the kind of thing you throw yourself against in a stalag before being machine-gunned from a watchtower. Appropriately fascistic, you might say, if you regard fascism as “the merger of corporate and government power”, as Mussolini put it.

The same threat of “terrorism” was used to justify the no-pedestrian, no-stopping zones near the venue. The police laid out their logic: they had “no specific intelligence” regarding a terror threat. However, in recent incidents, such as Boston and Woolwich, there had been no intelligence prior to the attack. Therefore the lack of any threat of a terror attack fitted exactly the profile of a terror attack. The lack of a threat was a threat. Welcome to 1984.

So writes Charlie Skelton, who is again one of the only mainstream journalists reporting from this year’s Bilderberg meeting which officially opened yesterday. Skelton, who also has a career as comedy script writer, adding with typically understated irony:

The audience was an odd mix. Half were residents from around the venue worried about the possibility of tyre-damage to a strip of lawn; the other half were journalists from around the world worried about the geopolitical implications of a conference at which BAE, Stratfor and General Petraeus will be discussing “Africa’s challenges”.

Both halves were worried about the funding for the gigantic security operation. The police assured sceptical residents that the conference would be “cost-neutral” for Hertfordshire, thanks in part to a “donation” from the conference organisers. This “donation” will have come, in part at least, from the Bilderberg Association, a registered UK charity that takes “donations” from BP and Goldman Sachs.

So, in a sense, the Herts police are doing charity work for Goldman Sachs. Which must be a comfort for the executives of Goldman Sachs attending the conference: the vice-chairman, a director and the chairman of Goldman Sachs International. They’ve got their charity team out patrolling, keeping the lenses at bay.2

Click here to read his full article entitled “Bilderberg 2013: welcome to 1984” published by the Guardian on Wednesday 5th.

Here is Skelton again reporting a few days earlier on his same Bilderblog, and on this occasion delving deeper into Bilderberg’s wonderful and little known works of charity whilst also pointing out how the timing of this year’s get-together happens to coincide with a long overdue scandal about political lobbying:

If you’ve been wondering who picks up the tab for this gigantic conference and security operation, the answer arrived last week, on a pdf file sent round by Anonymous. It showed that the Bilderberg conference is paid for, in the UK, by an officially registered charity: the Bilderberg Association (charity number 272706).

According to its Charity Commission accounts, the association meets the “considerable costs” of the conference when it is held in the UK, which include hospitality costs and the travel costs of some delegates. Presumably the charity is also covering the massive G4S security contract. Fortunately, the charity receives regular five-figure sums from two kindly supporters of its benevolent aims: Goldman Sachs and BP. The most recent documentary proof of this is from 2008 (pdf), since when the charity has omitted its donors’ names (pdf) from its accounts.

The charity’s goal is “public education”.3

Public education! From an organisation that hides its face in shame behind armed guards and steel cordons. Skelton adds:

If you are concerned about transparency or lobbying, Watford is the place to be next weekend. Whether the delegates reach out to the press and public remains to be seen. Don’t forget, they’ve got their hands full carrying out the good works of Bilderberg. The conference is, after all, run as a charity.

A charity which specialises in helping those most in need of a little corporate lobbying:

It’s a remarkable spectacle – one of nature’s wonders – and the most exciting thing to happen to Watford since that roundabout on the A412 got traffic lights. The area round the hotel is in lockdown: locals are having to show their passports to get to their homes. It’s exciting too for the delegates. The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell will hop from his limo, delighted to be spending three solid days in policy talks with the head of HSBC, the president of Dow Chemical, his favourite European finance ministers and US intelligence chiefs. The conference is the highlight of every plutocrat’s year and has been since 1954. The only time Bilderberg skipped a year was 1976, after the group’s founding chairman, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, was caught taking bribes from Lockheed Martin.

Here is the definition of “bribe”: Something, such as money or a favor, offered or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person’s views or conduct. So surely then, every form of lobbying is a kind of bribery.

Just imagine, for example, if my college discovered that I or any of my colleagues were accepting cash payments (or other ‘gifts’) from students – they would rightly sack us on the spot. Would it make any difference if I told them that the students were only “lobbying me” about their coursework, or would it be deemed more acceptable if I had “registered their interests”? Of course it wouldn’t! So in what way is lobbying not bribery?

That said, some kinds of bribery are more prosecutable than others. So was Prince Bernhard ever criminally charged after accepting a $1.1 million bribe from Lockheed? Of course not, after all he’s Prince Bernhard. Although apparently he was forced “to step down from several public positions and was forbidden to wear his military uniforms again.”4 Rough justice.

Back to Skelton’s comparative analysis of the current goings on at the Grove hotel to the on-going parliamentary scandal:

It may seem odd, as our own lobbying scandal unfolds, amid calls for a statutory register of lobbyists, that a bunch of our senior politicians will be holed up for three days in luxurious privacy with the chairmen and CEOs of hedge funds, tech corporations and vast multinational holding companies, with zero press oversight. “It runs contrary to [George] Osborne’s public commitment in 2010 to ‘the most radical transparency agenda the country has ever seen’,” says Michael Meacher MP. Meacher describes the conference as “an anti-democratic cabal of the leaders of western market capitalism meeting in private to maintain their own power and influence outside the reach of public scrutiny”.

But, to be fair, is “public scrutiny” really necessary when our politicians are tucked safely away with so many responsible members of JP Morgan’s international advisory board? There’s always the group chief executive of BP on hand to make sure they do not get unduly lobbied. And if he is not in the room, keeping an eye out, then at least one of the chairmen of Novartis, Zurich Insurance, Fiat or Goldman Sachs International will be around.

Click here to read Charlie Skelton’s full article.

Charlie Skelton is doing an excellent job again this year, and when, later today, I finally make it down to Watford myself, perhaps I’ll happen to run into him. If not then I’d certainly like to express my gratitude to him here before I leave.

I must also say that it is quite pleasing to see others in the media finally picking up the gauntlet and taking serious note of this most extraordinary annual general meeting for globalisation. There was even a surprisingly balanced report on Channel 4 news broadcast yesterday. You can watch it here:

http://www.channel4.com/news/the-bilderberg-group-a-meeting-of-minds-video

Finally, here is Charlie Skelton talking to Max Keiser on Tuesday’s Keiser Report:

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This year’s official list (which is reliably unreliable) has been released and includes amongst many the following names of particular interest:

George Osborne – Chancellor of the Exchequer

Ed Balls – Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

Tim Geithner – Former US Secretary of the Treasury

Christine Lagarde – Head of IMF

Peter Sutherland – Chairman of Goldman Sachs

Mario Monti – Former appointed Prime Minister of Italy

Ken Clarke – who is listed merely as “Member of Parliament”

Peter Mandelson – listed as Chairman of Global Council and also Lazard International

José Barroso – President, European Commission

Richard Perle – neo con, veteran warmonger and well known member of PNAC

Henry Kissinger – listed only as “Chairman of Kissinger Associates”

last, but certainly not least, I notice the recently disgraced Gen David Petraeus – why he, we might wonder?

And so to Watford… I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Mark Carney who has attended previous meetings at St Moritz (2011) and Chantilly (2012) and is about to replace Mervyn King as the next Governor of the Bank of England.

Various livestream broadcasts of the event can also be found here.

1 From Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Chapter X, Part II, p. 152.

2 From an article entitled “Bilderberg 2013: welcome to 1984” written by Charlie Skelton, published in the Guardian on June 5, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/05/bilderberg-2013-goldman-sachs-watford

3 From an article entitled “The week ahead: Bilderberg 2013 comes to… the Grove hotel, Watford” written by Charlie Skelton, published by the Guardian on June 2, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/02/week-ahead-bilderberg-2013-watford

4 At least according to wikipedia. Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_bribery_scandals#Netherlands

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Kostas Vaxevanis and the truth about Greek tax evasion

On Sunday [Oct 28th], the Greek police arrested one of the country’s top investigative journalists, Kostas Vaxevanis, whilst he was in the middle of a live radio interview. Vaxevanis was subsequently charged with breaching privacy on the grounds that he had published the names of more than 2,000 suspected tax evaders. The same list of names having originally been leaked by an employee at the HSBC bank in 2007, before being passed on to IMF chief Christine Lagarde, when she was still French finance minister back in 2010:

[Vaxevanis] has said he received the list – named after the International Monetary Fund head, Christine Lagarde, who gave it to authorities in several EU countries in 2010 when she was French finance minister – from an anonymous source.

The daily Ta Nea newspaper also published the 2,059 names, which include those of several politicians as well as many businessmen, shipping magnates, doctors and lawyers. It said the accounts had held about €2bn until 2007, but also made clear there was no evidence that any of the account holders had broken tax evasion laws.1

You can click here to read some of the names on the so-called ‘Lagarde list’.

And Lagarde had indeed handed the list on to the Greek authorities, but no action was subsequently taken:

On Friday [Oct 26th], the office of former Prime Minister George Papandreou denied accusations that he knew about the list, after a member of the opposition Syriza party asserted that Papandreou had helped arrange a meeting with the chief of the Geneva HSBC branch when he was in power.

Last week, former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said that he had asked the country’s financial crimes unit to investigate about 20 Greeks suspected of maintaining large holdings in Geneva, after French authorities forwarded him the list in 2010. He also claimed that the Finance Ministry’s legal adviser had told him that using the list as evidence was problematic, since an HSBC employee had illegally leaked it.

Click here to read the full report on Russia Today.

So it certainly seemed more than curious to many in Greece that it was not any of those suspected of tax evasion who were suddenly under investigation, but the whistleblower Vaxevanis himself who had been arrested. His crime being merely to have published the same list of names in Hot Doc, a weekly magazine which he edits:

“He’s been accused without reason,” said Nicos Constantopoulous, Vaxevanis’s lawyer and a former leftist politician. “The principles of a fair trial are not being followed.”

Vaxevanis’s arrest and trial following publication at the weekend has enraged many people already furious over consecutive governments’ failure to crack down on a rich elite whom they blame for years of recession.2

Click here to read the full report in the Guardian.

It is heartening to learn then, that yesterday, and following a trial that lasted just one day, a court in Athens has found Vaxevanis innocent:

“The three last governments have lied and have made a mockery of the Greek people with this list,” [Vaxevanis] said.

“They were obliged to pass it to parliament or to the justice system. They didn’t do it, and they should be in prison for it.”

Prosecutors had accused him of publicly ridiculing people and delivering them “to a society that is thirsty for blood”.

“The solution to the problems that the country is facing is not cannibalism,” the prosecutor said.

But the court took little time in acquitting the journalist, and observers in the courtroom broke out in applause, according to the AFP news agency.

Click here to read the full story on BBC news and also to watch a short interview with Kostas Vaxevanis.

Yanis Varoufakis, professor of Economics at the University of Athens, spoke to Russia Today about Vaxevanis’s arrest and also put the whole issue of Greek tax evasion into better context:

Let’s not beat about the bush. The great problem with tax evasion in Greece…it is one of the reasons that Greece is being portrayed internationally as a corrupt country, and Greeks on the streets who pay their taxes, work very hard and are suffering are incensed at how they are portrayed internationally.

The fact is that for the last 30-40 years, the rich in Greece has enjoyed a kind of tax immunity. They’re not really tax evaders, they’re immune from tax because of the cozy relationship that they have with politicians who legislate in a way that makes that tax immunity.

1 From an article entitled “Greek Lagarde list publisher accused without reason, court told: Journalists and other supporters pack courtroom in Athens as lawyers for Kostas Vaxevanis open defence case” from Reuters published by the Guardian on November 1, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/01/greek-lagarde-list-publisher-court

2 ibid

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‘austerity’ or ‘Grexit’: is there really no better alternative for Greece?

Should the Greeks submit to further the “austerity measures” that have already destroyed their economy and social infrastructure as Angela Merkel and others are demanding, or should they drop out of the Euro and begin tackle their debt crisis by returning to a hugely devalued Drachma? These are the only available choices, as we are all, Greeks included, constantly reminded.

Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF, is one of those calling for continued “austerity”, and this is, of course, perfectly in-keeping with her position. Ruining countries through debt and “austerity” being the legacy of so much IMF and World Bank intervention. Lagarde is also keen to protect the Euro, and, as she made very plain in a recent interview to the Guardian [Fri 25th May], couldn’t care less what this means to the Greeks or the Spanish or anyone else in Europe:

So when she studies the Greek balance sheet and demands measures she knows may mean women won’t have access to a midwife when they give birth, and patients won’t get life-saving drugs, and the elderly will die alone for lack of care – does she block all of that out and just look at the sums?

“No, I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens.”1

We are given to believe that the IMF operates in order to help ailing economies and so judging her remarks on that basis, this is akin to the doctor telling a patient that they’re not interested in treating a broken leg whilst some of their other patents have cancer. Worse than that – because Lagarde and the IMF (as one arm of ‘The Troika’) actually caused the misery that the Greek people are now suffering by insisting upon such a ruinous austerity programme. Returning to the analogy then, and we see that in this instance the patient broke their leg having been run over by the doctor’s own car.

Lagarde seems unaware of her own organisation’s part in the Greek’s downfall, but then it should be noted that she is not an economist. She also has “the little kids” in Niger on her mind “all the time” apparently! Evidently “the little kids” in Athens don’t count. Now it’s hard to imagine Lagarde thought anyone would swallow such cant, which perhaps explains what she immediately went on to say in the same interview:

“Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax.”

She wouldn’t say this if she was talking about Niger, of course, whether it was true or false. Anyone dismissing the plight of a African nation on the basis that their society is rife with corruption (which unfortunately is the situation facing most of the people on this planet) would be roundly condemned as a racist. In contrast, it is fine to speak ill of the Mediterraneans.

But this repeated accusation is also such errant nonsense that it’s hard even to begin to correct it. Not that there isn’t tax avoidance in Greece – of course there is – there is tax avoidance in all countries. And in all countries this avoidance is something that the wealthy do far better than the poorer classes. In the real world, accountants are mostly employed for the purpose. Tax avoidance is hardly even frowned upon. Indeed the world’s giant corporations are so good at it that they only pay small fractions of the contributions due of them.

Tax avoidance is absolutely rampant in our globalised off-shore world, and the vast scale of tax avoidance by corporations and the super-rich is a genuinely serious problem that should be urgently redressed. Not that it’s a problem that can be easily treated, just so long as most of the world’s leading politicians use the same legal loopholes and tax haven immunity themselves. But Lagarde doesn’t mean tax avoidance in any case, because if she did, she would be directly blaming previous Greek governments for their major part in such everyday corruption, rather than obliquely pointing the finger towards the ordinary Greek in the street. Her objection is not to tax avoidance but only to tax evasion. All those transparently illegal but comparatively minor tax infringements that are routinely committed by the business small-fry in every society – and just how many cash-in-hand payments slip the British government treasury’s coffers to fall instead into the pockets of our own independent traders?

Lagarde insinuates that the Greeks’ unpayable debts are entirely down to a lack of tax receipts. If this were true then it must follow that the fate of the Euro, and along with it the whole European project, is all now hanging in the balance because of the failures of the Greek tax collection system. But this is patent nonsense too – endlessly recycled nonsense at that – which, and if it only held a grain of truth, ought to make every one of us call into question our entire economic system simply on the grounds of its unsustainable frailty.

However, this financial crisis did not start with Greek taxpayers and will not be solved simply by collecting more Greek tax revenues now, as Lagarde’s comments also imply. This whole financial crisis is a banking crisis. One that was caused by systemic failures and criminal trading. It continues because those failures have never been rectified and because no prosecutions have yet been brought. Austerity cannot cure this disease. It will bring nothing but pain. So as our own lives get tougher – along with the lives of those in Germany, France and elsewhere – we should not be blaming the Greeks for their “contagion”, but people like Christine Lagarde, Angela Merkel and the other austerity-mongers for helping to turn a crisis into a catastrophe by such wrong-headed economic thinking.

So what of the second option – the one that already has the stupid text-style name of Grexit? Should Greece abandon the Euro altogether? Well, firstly, the Greeks cannot be forced to drop out of the Eurozone – or at least there is no recognised mechanism for expelling any member nation. Secondly, it should be noted that the Greek people don’t want to leave the Eurozone. Like most of the peoples of Europe, these days they are broadly enthusiastic about the European project. Added to this, they also clearly recognise the serious risks of trying to suddenly go it alone in such perilous times. Once isolated, the Drachma would be mercilessly attacked by the same predatory banks and hedge funds that are currently threatening to bring down the Euro. The Drachma wouldn’t stand the ghost of a chance.

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

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

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

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One potential hope for Greece is that in the coming second election, Syriza (a coalition of leftist parties not always in agreement with each other) may just pip the two more traditional main left (PASOK) and right (New Democracy) parties and win the election. Syriza have been attacked from both political flanks and by almost all of the mainstream media, and yet remain strong in Greek opinion polls. The reason presumably being their commitment to staying in the Eurozone whilst seeking an end the savage “austerity” programme through a total renegotiation of the loan agreed under Pasok, New Democracy and Loas (the Greek version of the BNP) prior to the recent elections and under guidance from a technocrat, Lucas Papademos.

Their leader Alexis Tsipras, who has certainly been bold in his criticisms of the German government for its self-righteous and unhelpful stance, is also trying to drum up vital support from other progressive leftist European parties. And Syriza together with the German party Die Linke have now to put together a 6-point programme  offering “alternatives to austerity and bank rescue”. A set of proposals that other movements like los indignados and Occupy might also consider endorsing.

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Additional:

In an article published in the Guardian on May 29th, entitled “Greece can do without the ‘sympathy’ the IMF has shown Niger”, Nick Dearden explains how in the 1980s, the IMF and World Bank’s economic reforms and “austerity programme” ruined Nigeran agriculture and helped unleash a famine:

These policies fed into the 2005 famine, a crisis caused not primarily by natural catastrophe – food was available but unaffordable – but by an appalling set of policy decisions. Even during a crisis there was no let-up in economic dogma. The IMF told the Niger government not to distribute free food to those most in need. Today’s so-called “tough love” to Greece is nothing new.

And yet these genocidal measures, which were part of “the IMF’s now infamous Structural Adjustment Programme”, ultimately failed even to reduce Niger’s debt levels:

The desperate impact of IMF policies on Niger has not even achieved the purported chief objective of the IMF – to control debt. In a Jubilee report released last week, we found that 10 years after debt cancellation, Niger’s debt payments as a proportion of government revenue are projected to be the same level as they were before cancellation. IMF attempts to “restructure” Niger have failed even in these terms.

Nick Dearden concludes:

To pretend that the IMF operated in a somehow kinder way towards Niger than it is doing in Greece stands up to no scrutiny whatever. The IMF’s policies cannot assist countries in crisis. Greece can learn from this – and has little to gain from Lagarde’s “sympathy”.

Click here to read the full article.

1 From an article entitled “Christine Lagarde: can the head of the IMF save the euro?” and captioned with the banner “Her charm is legendary, but Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, is far from a pushover. She talks about sexism, swimming and saving the European economy”, written by Decca Aitkenhead, published in the Guardian on May 25, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/25/christine-lagarde-imf-euro

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Filed under analysis & opinion, austerity measures, debt cancellation, Greece, Niger

the IMF and its part in our downfall

For a refreshingly frank and insightful examination of the reasons for the current global economic crisis, and, more specifically, of the IMF’s part in our accelerating downfall, I recommend the following programme:

Empire: The IMF on trial

broadcast on Al Jazeera on Thursday 11th August at 9:00pm–10:00pm

Presenter Marwan Bishara leads a searching debate into the historic failures of the IMF, with reflections on the legacy of its intervention in Latin America — most especially in Argentina — as well as in East Asia and Africa. There is also speculation about what is likely to happen to Egypt, after calls for IMF intervention were declined, and to Greece, where the imposition of “austerity measures” is already in full swing.

The guests are:
Professor Alex Callinicos, director of European Studies, King’s College London and author of “Bonfire Of Illusions”.

Ann Pettifor, fellow, at the New Economics Foundation and author of “The Coming First World Debt Crisis”

Georges Corm, former Lebanese finance minister and former special consultant, World Bank

Dr Mario Blejer, former governor, Argentine Central Bank and former advisor, Bank Of England

Also included are interviews with:
Christine Lagarde, managing director, International Monetary Fund

Professor Alan Cibils, chair, Political Economy, Universidad Nacional Sarmiento

The programme is still available on Al Jazeera at the following times next week:

Sunday: 7:00 am; Monday: 9:00 pm; Tuesday: 1:00 pm; Wednesday: 2:00 pm; and Thursday: 7:00 am.

Click here to watch on the Al Jazeera website.

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