Tag Archives: George Osborne

more lies, more war: plus ça change…

Before offering thoughts and analysis of my own, I would like to draw attention an interview given by veteran investigative journalist John Pilger who spoke to Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground broadcast on November 25th. It was the Western powers, he reminds us, aided by a compliant press, who gave birth to ISIS:

Minor clarification: Although former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas made his statement on TV regarding British plans for regime change in Syria in 2013, Dumas was referring to a meeting that took place in London in 2009, “two year before the violence in Syria”. 1

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The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.

Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: “Yes, if you wish.”

He then added unequivocally: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” 2

As reported by the Guardian, published on September 16th 2004.

Release of the Chilcot report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War has been repeatedly and indefinitely delayed, but so what. We already know perfectly well what is being covered up and smoothed over. We know the essence of what Chilcot is compelled to tell us, presuming the inquiry intends to maintain any modicum of credibility. That we went to war not on a lie, but a dossier of lies, and a conspiracy hatched between Washington and Whitehall: between Bush and Blair and the rest of the vipers. We know all this just as we knew what Kofi Annan belatedly informed the world eighteen months after the “shock and awe” invasion and long after it had cost the lives of almost a million innocent victims. Of course there was no legal sanction from the United Nations. We knew all that even as Kofi Annan had “kept a tactful silence” (as the Guardian diplomatically puts it).

Just as we know, when Cameron speaks about the 70,000 “moderate rebels” that he is also lying. Simple as that. Not simply because such claims are utterly false, and anyone who knows anything at all about the war in Syria knows they are false, but, more importantly, because, as former UK Ambassador Craig Murray writes of the ‘moderates’: “their leading fighting component is Jabhat-al-Nusra, [is] an open al-Qaida affiliate.”

Which means that when Cameron addressed the 1922 Committee in efforts to rally his own troops prior to the parliamentary vote on air strikes, saying “You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”, he was not just slurring the opposition leader and those millions of others who continue to protest against the wars, but wilfully suspending reality. For it is he who wishes to support the so-called ‘moderates’ like Jabhat al-Nusra, and not Corbyn or anyone else in the Stop the War Coalition.

In fact, the single member of the cabinet who has been telling the truth is our much maligned Chancellor, George Osborne. “Britain has got its mojo back and we are going to be with you as we reassert Western values, confident that our best days lie ahead.” So said Osborne at a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), adding how “it was a ‘source of real pride’ for him that MPs had overwhelmingly backed air strikes in Syria against Islamic State.” 3

Osborne’s careless words supply the truth we are rarely privileged to hear. For Osborne is rejoicing that Britain is back in the business of imperialism; the business that the CFR exists to promote and coordinate. When he chirps up about how “Britain has got its mojo back” he is telling his audience that the (‘Great’) game is afoot once again – and inadvertently giving us an insight into how the Anglo-American establishment truly sees its role in the world. A glimpse into the unspeakable callousness of the neo-colonial mindset and, for those prepared to listen more closely, a justification for all of Cameron’s “noble lies”.

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I marched against the Iraq War. Two million of us took to the streets of London to voice our opposition. According to opinion polls we represented the views of around 80% of the British public (which given the tremendous scale of the street protests was surely a realistic estimate). The majority in Britain (and elsewhere – mass demonstrations happened throughout many parts of Europe) could see straight through the paper-thin veil of deceit. The baloney about the trail of Niger yellowcake, those other weapons of mass distraction, and, perhaps most preposterously, of Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. We were fully cognisant that the real goal was a regime change in an oil-rich region of the world and we were sick of war. Yet the majority of MPs were apparently taken in, as they have been surprisingly keen to admit ever since. One has to marvel at their astounding gullibility.

Prior to Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short (they treat us with such contempt) 4 – international law, was beginning to fray at the edges, but remained intact. Shortly afterwards, however, in September 2003, “[Kofi] Annan issued a stern critique of the notion of pre-emptive self-defence, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.” 5 Had he issued that same “stern critique” twelve months earlier the world might still be a safer place.

International order has indeed broken down. Since Iraq, that breakdown was catalysed by our disastrous “intervention” in Libya; Obama’s “kinetic action” launched on the back of more convenient lies 6 to bring about another regime change. In this instance the UN did sanction a “no-fly zone” (under UNSCR 1973), however conditions of the resolution were promptly violated. 7 Another war without end had been set raging.

To compound matters, our “victory” in Libya (i.e., the overthrow of Gaddafi) had been accomplished with air support for the gangs of Jihadists who made up the infantry. Thereafter the Jihadists installed themselves as the region’s warlords. So after “we came, we saw [and] he died”, as Hillary Clinton ingloriously gloated over witnessing Gaddafi’s bloody corpse, Libya (once the most developed nation on the African continent), benighted by Salafist backwardness, was transformed into a bridgehead for al-Qaeda to spread deeper into Africa or to stopover on their way to the Middle East.

Meanwhile the people of Yemen who have endured so much misery inflicted by the butchers of al-Qaeda and under the more spectral menace of US drones, are now bombed to hell by despotic neighbours Saudi Arabia. The Saudis spilling the blood of forces opposed to al-Qaeda in yet another illegal war. But, like the drones high above, the plight of Yemen is off the radar and rarely seen. International law be damned!

And now, as the West prepares to intensify its fight against the terrorists in Syria, let us remind ourselves how ISIS began, not in Syria, but neighbouring Iraq. A decade of unremitting bloodshed making Iraq fertile ground for terrorism to take root; the new imperialism, like the old, makes many martyrs and leaves thousands more irate and desperate for revenge.

It was inside Iraq where the gangs that make up ISIS first assembled before penetrating the border into Syria. They were joined by fellow extremists who gained access through the even more porous Turkish border. Some had defeated Gaddafi, others came via Afghanistan, and still others had been directly recruited by their sponsors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Whatever their origins, by virtue of being the enemies of Assad, they found powerful friends within the Gulf States and amongst the Western powers alike.

ISIS, just like al-Qaeda from which it splintered, is a monster of our making. It would never have arisen without the trauma of war nor could it have flourished if there had not been such a vacuum of power following the wars in Iraq and Libya. Moreover, Jihadist groups have been covertly funded and trained ever since we first used them to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. They are pawns in a bigger game, periodically manoeuvred, as in Libya, and, as such, there are some in Washington, London and Paris who are very unwilling to give them up cheaply.

Indeed, the trick so far has been to redefine these “rebels” (as we call them) as either ‘moderates’ or ‘extremists’, which is more easily achieved thanks to their unfortunate  habit of fighting amongst themselves. Rebranded FSA and ISIS, they are then portrayed as goodies and baddies respectively. In reality, however, all of the significant factions in Syria are terrorists. Murderers with a taste for crucifying and decapitating their victims. The only real difference is that the so-called ‘moderates’ – which include such notorious al-Qaeda factions as Jabhat al-Nusra – are the ones the West believes it might later do business with.

For half a decade the conflict in Syria has rumbled on as a proxy war; a full-scale invasion always on hold. After the chaos of Iraq and Libya (not forgetting Afghanistan or Yemen) it became very much harder to tug our collective conscience with pleas of a need of “humanitarian intervention” or that older fallback tactic of scaring us with WMDs – both ploys were tried against Syria but failed. In order to fully enter the conflict, therefore, the militarists finally settled on a tried and tested alternative strategy.

Ostensibly in search of terrorist super(bogey)man Osama Bin Laden (wanted dead or alive, remember him?), the war that kicked off this century of war was predicated on the existential threat from a new form of global terrorism. And this becomes the narrative once again with last month’s carnage and horror in Paris serving as the latest European 9/11.

The postponed frontal assault on Assad might yet begin, but for now air strikes will be directed towards ISIS in a partial war that was initiated more than a year ago in any case. Meanwhile, regime change has never been officially taken “off the table”.  Thus, Nato member forces, although ordered to bomb ISIS and any Syrian infrastructure in their way, continues to avoid attacks on ‘moderates’. And yet everyone who’s anyone within The Pentagon, the US State Department, the White House, or equivalent positions in Britain and other European states, obviously knows the unspeakable truth.

Meantime, all serious journalists are also able to see through the lies. They are aware that distinction between good and bad “rebels” is bogus – they have frequently written about it and only pretend to forget. And they must see, as anyone with an iota of intelligence can, that bombing ISIS will not miraculously disarm terrorists and prevent further atrocities in Europe or elsewhere. But deplorably, with the honourable exception of a few like (most prominently) Seymour Hersh, Patrick Cockburn and Chris Hedges, the press continues to play along. Stenographers of power instead of its interrogators.

When Bush first declared the “war on terror”, all true journalists would have stood up and rebuked such nonsense. For you cannot wage war on an abstract noun, let alone defeat it. Instead, by committing themselves to endlessly regurgitating the only officially sanctioned line of narrative, the media has endorsed and reinforced the greatest lie of our age. For “war on terror” was code for waging our war of terror and an unchallengeable premise for illegal invasions and occupations.

It was the camouflage under which the neo-imperialist agenda could freely operate. International law has been smashed in its wake. And the “war on terror” turned truth on its head in other ways too, transforming its victims into villains, emblematically and, in consequence of its crimes, sometimes literally. Today it lets Cameron demonise peace activists as “terrorist sympathisers” and never apologise.

Now, with the attacks in Paris and the escalation of the Syrian conflict, the “war on terror” has been put centre stage again. We may not often hear it referred to as the “war on terror”, but it is. A battle to defeat ISIS, that terrorist band formerly known as al-Qaeda: only the names have been changed.

And remember Operation Iraqi Liberation – OIL for short – because the lies are no less contemptuous now than then. The media laps it all up, of course, as they are compelled to do. To maintain the illusion they so assiduously helped construct. So expect more lies, and expect more war… plus ça change.

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Additional:

In an article published by Counterpunch on Tuesday 15th [the day after I posted this], correspondent Mike Whitney presented a Russian perspective on the Syrian conflict and the rise of ISIS. He writes:

Putin announced at the G-20 meetings that he had gathered intelligence proving that 40 countries – including some in the G-20 itself – were involved in the funding and supporting of ISIS. This story was completely blacked out in the western media and, so far, Russia has not revealed the names of any of the countries involved.

So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think the United States is on that list of ISIS supporters?

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Update:

On Friday 18th, Counterpunch published a follow-up article by Mike Whitney in which he reflects on the upshot of John Kerry’s announcement at the Moscow talks of what he says “has got to be the biggest foreign policy somersault in the last two decades”:

Then of course came the real stunner, the announcement that the US had suddenly changed its mind about toppling Syrian President Bashar al Assad and–oh by the way–‘we’d love to work with you on that ISIS-thing too.’  Here’s what Kerry said:

“The United States and our partners are not seeking regime change in Syria……(the focus is no longer) “on our differences about what can or cannot be done immediately about Assad…….”

There’s no question that when the United States and Russia work together our two countries benefit. Despite our differences we demonstrated that when our countries pull together, progress can be made.”

The US is “not seeking regime change in Syria”?

No one saw that one coming. Maybe someone should remind Kerry that the Decider in Chief Obama reiterated the “Assad must go” trope less than two weeks ago. Now all that’s changed?

Whitney then offers what he sees as the Russian perspective again, continuing:

Here’s what Putin said immediately after Kerry left:

“I have repeatedly stated and I am ready to stress once again: we will never agree with the idea that a third party, whoever this party is, has the right to impose its will on another country. This does not make any sense and it’s a violation of international law.”

Sounds pretty inflexible to me. Then he added this tidbit as if to underscore the fact that Obama’s meaningless policy reversal will not effect Russian’s military offensive in any way, shape or form:

“As soon as we notice the political process has begun, and the Syrian government decides it is time to stop the airstrikes, [we are going to stop]. …. The sooner it [the process] starts the better.”

In other words, show us you’re sincere and maybe we can do business together. But, until then….

Meanwhile, as the Saudis “desperately [try] to create a fig leaf of legitimacy for the many groups of terrorists that have torn Syria to shreds” by “launch[ing] an initiative to create a  ‘Islamic military alliance devoted to combating global terrorism’”, Whitney asks “what’s this new charade all about?” Here’s his answer:

It’s another attempt for the Saudis to get a shoe in the door so they can raise more hell in Syria. They think that if they create a “broad-based international coalition” then they’ll be able to deploy their homicidal crackpots into Syria with impunity. It’s all part of the neocon plan to rip Syria apart by occupying a vast stretch of land in east Syria and west Iraq to establish Sunnistan, a de facto terrorist sanctuary where the Washington-Ankara-Riyadh axis can continue its proxy campaign for as long as they want keeping the Middle East in a permanent state of anarchy until the elusive Caliphate finally emerges and the last drop of oil has been extracted by avaricious western oil giants.

Click here to read Mike Whitney’s full article entitled “John Kerry’s Moscow Lovefest”.

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1

Read more here: http://nsnbc.me/2013/06/16/dumas-top-british-officials-confessed-to-syria-war-plans-two-years-before-arab-spring/  

2 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

3 From an article entitled “Chancellor George Osborne says UK has ‘got its mojo back’ with air strikes” written by Iain Macwhirter, published in Herald Scotland on December 8, 2015. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14129765.Osborne__UK_has__got_its_mojo_back__with_air_strikes/

4 No, this is not an urban myth. In the opening days of the Iraq War, President Bush’s Press Secretary Ari Fleischer uses the name “Operation Iraqi Liberation” (OIL) as the name of the Iraq war as the following youtube clip shows:

When it was pointed out the acronym spelled out “OIL”, the mission name was quickly changed to “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Further proof is available from the White House archives: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030324-4.html

5 From an article entitled “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan” written by Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, published by the Guardian on September 16, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

6 “Gaddafi is feeding his troops Viagra and ordering them to rape the womenfolk of the rebels … well, maybe. Or is truth, as usual, the first casualty in this war?” This is the strapline for an article by Patrick Cockburn entitled “Lies, damn lies, and reports of battlefield atrocities” published by The Independent on June 19, 2011.

Cockburn writes:

Battlefronts are always awash with rumours of impending massacre or rape which spread rapidly among terrified people who may be the intended victims. Understandably enough, they do not want to wait around to find out how true these stories are. I was in Ajdabiyah, a front-line town an hour and a half’s drive south of Benghazi, earlier this year when I saw car loads of panic-stricken refugees fleeing up the road. They had just heard an entirely untrue report via al-Jazeera Arabic that pro-Gaddafi forces had broken through. Likewise al-Jazeera was producing uncorroborated reports of hospitals being attacked, blood banks destroyed, women raped and the injured executed.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/patrick-cockburn-lies-damn-lies-and-reports-of-battlefield-atrocities-2299701.html

Sadly, al-Jazeera was not the only news outlet presenting similarly unsubstantiated rumours as truth. You can read a further analysis here: http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/08/26/lies-war-and-empire-nato%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Chumanitarian-imperialism%E2%80%9D-in-libya/ 

7 In an interview given in December 2012 to Eric Bailey of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Noam Chomsky said this when he was asked whether intervention to prevent the destruction of Benghazi as had been claimed:

Well, we don’t know if Benghazi was going to be destroyed, but it was called to prevent a possible attack on Benghazi. You can debate how likely the attack was, but personally, I felt that was legitimate – to try to stop a possible atrocity. However, that intervention lasted about five minutes. Almost immediately, the NATO powers (France and Britain in the lead and the United States following) violated the resolution, radically, and became the air force of the rebels. Nothing in the resolution justified that. It did call for “all necessary steps” to protect civilians, but there’s a big difference between protecting civilians and being the air force for the rebels.

http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-ART-146-2012/?searchterm=noam%20chomsky

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Craig Murray, Iraq, John Pilger, Libya, Noam Chomsky, Saudi Arabia, Syria

how can there be any talk of recovery in this “age of austerity”?

Toffed up to the nines and luxuriating in five-star privilege, David Cameron recently told a gathering of fellow ministers and lords during the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the Guildhall in London that the devastating “austerity” will be “permanent”:

The age of austerity is not just a passing phase and Britain should get used to having a ‘permanently’ smaller state, David Cameron said last night.

The Prime Minister used one of his most significant speeches of the year to say that low public spending and a ‘leaner, more efficient state’ would have to be maintained permanently in order for the UK to succeed.

He said the country would have to rediscover its traditional ‘buccaneering’ spirit for private enterprise in order to generate wealth instead of relying on the state.

His remarks are a significant shift for a leader who said in 2010 that he ‘didn’t come into politics to make cuts’, insisting: ‘We’re tackling the deficit because we have to – not out of some ideological zeal.’1

Tory cuts, ideological? Come, come…

If you can stomach any more of it, the full Daily Mail article is here.

Curiously, chief political correspondent at the Guardian, Nicholas Watt, lets Cameron and his Coalition government off the hook too, accepting his pleading that the cuts are “not out of some ideological zeal”:

In a change of tack from saying in 2010 that he was imposing cuts out of necessity, rather than from “some ideological zeal”, the prime minister told the Lord Mayor’s banquet that the government has shown in the last three years that better services can be delivered with lower spending.

Watt adding that:

The remarks by the PM contrasted with his claim after the 2010 election. In his New Year’s message for 2011, issued on 31 December 2010, he said: “I didn’t come into politics to make cuts. Neither did Nick Clegg. But in the end politics is about national interest, not personal political agendas.” […]

A few months earlier that year, in his first Tory conference speech as PM, Cameron said he would have preferred to tackle the deficit in ways other than public spending cuts.2

Click here to read the full article.

Yet this declared “change of tack” is absolute nonsense and easily refutable nonsense at that. Here, for instance, is what Cameron promised back in April 2009 at the party’s spring conference when he was a mere leader of the opposition:

A Conservative government would usher in a new “age of austerity”

So begins a rather different Guardian article, this time from politics editor, Deborah Summers, reporting on what she (and others) then described as Cameron’s ‘age of austerity’ speech. Her article continuing:

The Tory leader insisted greater transparency would help to get Britain’s finances back on track as he used his keynote speech to the Conservative party forum in Cheltenham to pave the way for sweeping cuts in public spending.

“Over the next few years, we will have to take some incredibly tough decisions on taxation, spending and borrowing – things that really affect people’s lives,” Cameron warned.3

So for the record then, Cameron has never changed tack at all. Neither for that matter have their Coalition ‘partners’, the spineless Lib-Dems, or even the supposedly left of centre Labour government. None of our main parties ever seriously discussing real alternative economic strategies, with policies differing purely in terms of how savage the cuts would “need to be”. The Tories, once in office and free to wield the axe thanks to the quiet complicity of their Lib-Dem lackeys, cutting deeper and faster because, in truth, they love nothing better than hounding the lower classes and impoverishing the poor.

Yet after more than three years of “taking our medicine”, a collective punishment very eagerly dished out by the Coalition government, there has basically been no recovery at all in any meaningful sense. Yes, GDP growth has been positive for three quarters, but even this is only at levels comparable to the end of 2009 and beginning 2010 – in other words, growth equivalent to that achieved during the last few months of the admittedly wretched and incompetent Labour government.4 So no improvement, whatsoever, and this is after three years of stagnation. On top of which, all these figures are “real” and thus “adjusted for inflation”. But then, of course, the inflation rate itself is already rather carefully finessed. Henry Blodget of businessinsider provides a helpful explanation of the effect of this adjustment, although here writing about US GDP growth back in May 2011:

The way the government calculates real GDP is to start with nominal GDP – the actual change in the output of the economy as measured by adding up all the actual sales prices (“nominal”) – and then “deflating” this number by subtracting an estimated inflation rate. Thus, the government backs into the real GDP growth number, starting with nominal prices and then adjusting for inflation.

Well, the “GDP deflater” the government is using right now – the estimated rate of inflation – is only 1.9%. As anyone who has been to a supermarket or gas station recently can attest, this assumption is preposterously low. But the effect on “GDP growth” of using a very low inflation estimate is helpful, in that it makes real GDP growth look bigger.5

Click here to read the full article.

GDP is regularly and rather casually accepted as an indicator of “standard of living”, although actually it measures something entirely different and far more abstract: the monetary value of all goods and services produced within national borders. “Standard of living” is therefore better assessed on the basis of a variety of alternative indicators including the quality of healthcare, standards in education, income growth inequality and so forth. That a string of successive governments have failed us in all these regards is widely acknowledged.

I know many who work in the NHS and can’t recall anyone ever telling me that services were getting better or their jobs any less stressful. More personally, I have worked in education for more than fifteen years and standards have unquestionably declined, whilst grade inflation is absolutely real. But then, we can all see how our public services, and the NHS especially, have become infested with managers; whilst our teachers, healthcare professionals (doctors excepted) and many other public sector workers have been put under increasing pressure, and further demoralised thanks to deteriorating pay and contractual conditions alongside flexploitation. Meantime our entire society is being steadily ripped apart by the ever-widening gulf in wealth and incomes. Much of this, of course, is Thatcher’s legacy.

Now I accept that there is indeed a great deal of waste in public spending, and pruning out levels of superfluous management as well as trimming salaries at the top could be beneficial as well as cost effective. But these are not cuts of the type being made on the ground. If the government were seriously intent on cutting back only on real waste, then it would apply its measures with something like surgical precision, but instead it brings the axe. Waste being just a smokescreen. And as with any axe, it hacks away at the bottom of the trunk. Making the most vicious cuts to welfare, which means deliberately snatching a little public money from those who can least afford to lose any, whilst simultaneously targeting the soft underbelly of our few remaining public services, which is also as deliberate as it is ideologically driven. Lastly, when it’s not cutting services, it’s selling them off instead – lowest prices, because everything must go…

Our government is now so openly committed to establishing its permanent “age of austerity” that for millions of people no hope survives that their standard of living will ever improve again – with the proposed £20bn cuts to the budget of our already broken and terribly overstretched NHS being nothing short of a final swing of the wrecking ball through Britain’s most treasured national institution.6 Indeed, a friend who is a dedicated political activist in London recently sent me a distressing email that put into better perspective (since it was founded on her own personal experience) how this talked-up “recovery” is absolutely nothing of the sort. She wrote:

Life is already unbearable/intolerable for many people in the UK on sick benefits having their benefits cut off or cut in half to £49 a week to live on, left with no money to pay bills or the water rates part of their rent, means eviction and out on the streets, living with no heat, no light, no gas, no electricity; or mental breakdown and in a mental hospital; or taking their own lives as they have nowhere to turn and an uncaring society that goes on about benefit scroungers. These people are too sick to work. This is pure fascism and no one is making a fuss in the UK – why? Where is the anger, where are the activists? Why aren’t they doing something? People who are too sick to work are being killed by this government.

Yes, as Cameron entertains an equally pampered audience from behind his gilded lectern, talking without a hint of irony about all the “hard choices” and “tough decisions” he has to make in this new age of perpetual “austerity” — does one use the fish knife for spreading one’s caviar? — people less than a mile away are already struggling to find a few coins for the electricity meter or food for the next meal. All of which elegantly sums up the age we are already living in: an age not of shared “austerity”, where “we’re all in this together” (even if we know it was the bankers who caused the crisis), but of “let them eat cake” disparity. Times, for instance, when super rich Premier League footballers (super rich by ordinary standards that is) wear shirts emblazoned with the name of payday loan sharks Wonga and no one seems to notice, no one feels ashamed, and so one begins to wonder, as my friend wrote: “Where is the anger, where are the activists? Why aren’t they doing something?”

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Yesterday, I received a new article from journalist and political activist Esther Vivas, which is appended below. In it she details the growing despair of the people of Spain as they suffer even more severe “austerity” bringing with it the inevitable mass unemployment, frozen salaries and escalating costs of living. Broadly, what she says about Spain sadly applies to nearly every corner of the western world and beyond.

Spain in 2014: Not a Prosperous New Year
Esther Vivas

We have entered 2014 a little poorer. For those of us with a job, our salaries have been frozen, or even cut; only a few can expect a rise in the New Year. Furthermore, the price of electricity, public transport and water are increasing.

2013 ended with the controversy over a threatened increase in electricity bills by 11%, leaving Spaniards paying well above the European average and Spain ranking the third most expensive electricity in Europe. So, Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) government intervened and stopped this rise by decree. As you can see, if the PP wants to, it can intervene. But overall, there is little willingness to confront the interests of multinationals. For now, the government has limited the rise to 2.3%, and we are expected to be thankful.

The rising price of public transport is another traditional New Year scam. Train tickets, are up nearly 2%, and in Barcelona, not to be outdone, the fare raises on the subway are an abusive 5% with the most popular travelcard, the T-10. However, if you usually take the high speed train (AVE) , which is only used by a minority of citizens, do not worry, because the price has been frozen . Lucky too, are the drivers who use the highways from Castelldefels to Sitges and Montgat to Mataro, where the tolls have been reduced by 30% and 10% respectively, provided they use teletac card, the automatic payment system. Lower the cost of private transport and increase the cost of public transport – that’s the approach of Catalonia’s [right-wing nationalist] CiU government.

And in Barcelona, we face further rises, for water too, even if money appears to be in plentiful supply, especially for the city council, as we saw with the celebrations on New Year’s Eve at the Montjuïc fountain. The tourists are happy at least. But for the rest of us, water bills will be going up by 8.5 % on average in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, thanks to the votes of CiU and [Catalan Socialists] PSC, and the abstention of the [left nationalists] ERC. In the end, those who criticise the cuts are the first to sharpen the scissors. We will not forget.

Meanwhile, the minimum wage remains frozen, as was the case last year, leaving it at a meagre 645 euros per month, while public sector workers remain on the wages they received in 2010. Pensions of those ten million retirees who worked all their lives, will see their incomes hit by a change in indexation that means rises are tied to below inflation (CPI ); this year they will rise by just 0.25% , the minimum set by the Government. An increase that will barely buy a cup of coffee.

We enter this 2014, a little poorer. Our purchasing power slowly falls. Every year that passes we have less. They want to make poverty normal. Do you remember those stories, not so long ago, of those struggling on 1000 euros a month? The new precariat. Today an employer offering a job paying a thousand euros monthly would be swamped by curriculums. And yet some, like the Prime Minister, dare to say that 2014 brings “the beginning of the recovery.” What a bunch of thieves and liars.

*Article published in the Spanish digital newspaper Público.es, 02/01/2014. Translated by Revolting-Europe.com.

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

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

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

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Update:

On January 6th, Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered a New Year economy speech at the West Midlands headquarters of Sertec in which he continued from where Cameron had left off, announcing that:

If 2014 is a year of hard truths for our country, then it starts with this one: Britain should never return to the levels of spending of the last government.

We’d either have to return borrowing to the dangerous levels that threatened our stability, or we’d have to raise taxes so much we’d put our country out of business. Government is going to have to be permanently smaller – and so too is the welfare system. […]

We’ve got to make more cuts. £17 billion this coming year. £20 billion next year. And over £25 billion further across the two years after. That’s more than £60 billion in total.

Click here to read a full transcript of George Osborne’s speech at gov.uk

From a report in the Guardian published the same day (co-authored by Nicholas Watt and Rowena Mason), we also learn that:

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Osborne said he would seek to achieve some of the £12bn savings by targeting housing benefit for under-25s and by means-testing people on incomes of £60,000 to £70,000 who live in social housing. But one Whitehall source said that targeting those two areas would produce “laughable” savings. Department of Communities and Local Government figures show that the 11,000 to 21,000 council tenants, who earn more than £60,000 a year, each cost the taxpayer £3,600 a year. Targeting this group would produce savings of £40m-£76m a year.

No doubt desperately intent to put some clear blue water between his own party and the truer blue Tories in the run up to the 2015 general election, the same article reports on Nick Clegg’s entirely belated fightback against what are in any case his own government’s “austerity measures”:

Clegg chose to describe Osborne’s plans to target cuts on the working-age poor – while ruling out tax increases – as “lopsided and unbalanced”. In a sign of how coalition relations will remain fractious until the election in May 2015, the deputy prime minister said: “You’ve got a Conservative party now who are driven, it seems to me, by two very clear ideological impulses. One is to remorselessly pare back the state – for ideological reasons just cut back the state.

“Secondly – and I think they are making a monumental mistake in doing so – they say the only people in society, the only section in society, which will bear the burden of further fiscal consolidation are the working-age poor.”

Signalling how he will waste no time in publicly criticising Tory plans over the next 16 months, Clegg later added: “I literally don’t know of a serious economist who believes that you only do it from that lopsided, unbalanced approach. Almost all serious economists say you have some kind of mix.”

Meanwhile, professional clown and London Mayor, Boris Johnson, managed to upstage both Osborne and Clegg on LBC radio by comparing Nick Clegg to a condom, describing him as “David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device”.

This is taken from The Mirror, published January 7th:

The London Mayor likened the Deputy Prime Minister to a “prophylactic protection device” as relations between the Tories and Lib Dems sank to a new low. The tirade came during a radio phone-in after Mr Clegg claimed George Osborne’s “extreme” plan to cut £12billion from welfare was a “monumental mistake”.

Furious Tory MPs called on the Lib Dem chief to apologise. Leading the backlash on LBC radio slot Ask Boris, jabbering Johnson said: “Clegg is there to perform a very important ceremonial function as David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device for all the difficult things that David Cameron has to do.

“He is a lapdog who’s been skinned and turned into a shield.”

You can listen to Boris Johnson’s latest rant against Coalition teammate Nick Clegg embedded below:

 

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Additional:

On November 27th, Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza in Greece, wrote an op-ed for the Guardian entitled “Austerity is wreaking havoc, but the left can unite to build a better Europe”. Here are a few pertinent extracts:

Those European leaders who claim that the current medicine is a “success” are hypocrites. For millions of people, the European dream has turned into a nightmare. Eurobarometer surveys show the growing crisis of confidence in the EU and the catastrophic rise in the popularity of far-right parties. What should give us hope is the emergence of new solidarity groups and community-based movements. They can and will lead to greater democratic participation and control. […]

Europe needs an anti-austerity and anti-recession front, a solidarity movement for its working people, north and south. This could deliver a pact for democracy, development and social justice. We must rebuild solidarity among the young, the workers, the pensioners and the unemployed to break down the new dividing line between Europe’s rich and poor, the “mur d’argent” to use a historical phrase that has become topical.

Click here to read Alexis Tsipras’ full article.

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1 From an article entitled “Cameron: Austerity should last for ever and Britain must get used to being a ‘leaner, more efficient state’” written by James Chapman, published in the Daily Mail on November 11, 2013. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2501697/Cameron-Austerity-Britain-used-leaner-efficient-state.html

2 From an article entitled “David Cameron makes leaner state a permanent goal” written by Nicholas Watt, published in the Guardian on November 12, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/nov/11/david-cameron-policy-shift-leaner-efficient-state

3 From an article entitled “David Cameron warns of ‘new age of austerity’” written by Deborah Summers, published by the Guardian on April 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/apr/26/david-cameron-conservative-economic-policy1

4 A comparison can be easily made from studying a graph published by the BBC in late October. Figures from the ONS for UK GDP growth are as follows: 2009 Q4, 0.4%; 2010 Q1, 0.5%; 2010 Q2, 1.0% compared against 2013 Q1, 0.4%; 2013 Q2, 0.7%; 2013 Q3, 0.8%. Indeed, the accompanying article begins: “The figures mean that the economy grew at its fastest pace for three years.” After three years of Coalition government, in fact! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10613201

5 From an article entitled “Check Out What GDP Growth Would Look Like If The Government Were Using The Right Inflation Numbers” written by Henry Blodget, published by businessinsider on May 30, 2011. http://www.businessinsider.com/gdp-adjusted-for-inflation-2011-5

6 In October 2011, Denis Campbell and James Meikle investigated and reported in an article published by the Guardian entitled “£20bn NHS cuts are hitting patients, Guardian investigation reveals”.

They write: “This Guardian investigation details the latest evidence of increased cuts – the cuts that, according to the government, should not be happening – being implemented across a wide range of the NHS’s many care services. With £20bn due to be saved by 2015, and the NHS receiving only a 0.1% budget increase each year until then, experts predict that tough decisions – about the availability of services and treatments, staffing levels and which clinics and hospitals provide care – will become increasingly common.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/oct/17/nhs-cuts-impact-on-patients-revealed

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Filed under austerity measures, Britain, Esther Vivas, Spain

notes from a small island… about to be fracked

Saying that the British constantly talk (most often complaining) about the weather is a cliché but then clichés are often clichés because they happen to be true. And this one is true principally because Britain is a peculiarly weathery place. Rarely extreme (in spite of the frequent and increasingly stern Met Office warnings of “flood alerts” and whopping “level 3 heatwaves”) and yet by virtue of being geographically perched in a temperate maritime climatic zone, cursed by weather that is highly unpredictable and uncommonly capricious. Sunny one minute, “tipping it down” the next – we run the gamut of weather from icy to baking (sometimes in the space of twenty-four hours) and always with insufficient lorry-loads of grit or hopelessly inadequate access to air conditioning. Unpreparedness for regular seasonal changes being almost a matter of national pride.

So cast your mind back to last spring… or perhaps you don’t remember it because it never properly happened. Instead, we simply skipped spring and launched ourselves barechested into a scorching summer. Nevertheless, as April approached the news was that Britain was quickly getting herself into a bit of a weather-related pickle. Another overheated drought of sorts…

This year an unseasonably cold March has seen a spike in gas demand – with forecasters predicting this weekend could be the coldest in March for half a century.

Temperatures could drop to -3C in parts of the country, and the Met Office has already issued several severe weather warnings.

“Severe weather warnings” were a hazard we might negotiate, but then there was far worse news riding on the back of our especially dreary couple of months of inclemency:

A study by Reuters claimed that if the current cold snap continues as forecast, Britain could run out of gas by April 8. 1

This absolutely gobsmacking claim that Britain had “the equivalent of less than two days’ consumption remaining” (as the same Yahoo News story reported) being echoed right across the news media. And yet as April skated into May and then May sledged into June somehow the lights stayed on and the hot water kept on flowing. But just what might have happened if the sun had never got his hat on, would Britain have eventually run out of gas altogether? I mean just how unprepared can any nation be…?

The subtext of these stark messages was also clear. That what our nation so very urgently requires (aside from a hefty dose of sunlight for our pallid hides) is a reliable and ‘alternative’ supply of energy. Preferably – especially given the precise nature of our deficit – huge gas reserves directly beneath our feet.

Thankfully BBC news were ready to present us with just such a viable and almost immediate rescue package:

“Gas, we cook with it, we heat our homes, we use it to drive turbines to make electricity. The thing is we don’t have huge amounts of it. In fact we’re a net importer of gas.

What if we were standing on a new supply of UK gas? We’d want to take a look wouldn’t we? That’s what fracking is…”

So begins a characteristically upbeat and rather nannying BBC report delivered by Giles Dilnot on March 25th – and so right on cue to save the day.

Dilnot’s ‘report’ for the Daily Politics show was then closely followed by a debate (of sorts) between Cuadrilla Resources chief executive Francis Egan praising the wonders of shale gas that his company is so determined to get its grubby mitts on, whilst opposed and supposedly balanced by environmental campaigner Tony Juniper who says he objects to plans for a future powered by shale gas principally on the grounds of climate change. A discussion (available on the same link above) that was as consistently sidetracked and irritatingly one-dimensional as it was brief, and at every turn hindered by misdirected questions from mediator Andrew Neil, very likely addled on Blue Nun. Inevitably, therefore, all of the most salient points were skipped past or overlooked entirely; points which I will return to later (even if I’ve hammered those same points nearly to death in previous posts).

Come late April, however, and the BBC was in any case reporting more cautiously on the prospects of our shale gas energy renaissance:

Shale gas in the UK could help secure domestic energy supplies but may not bring down prices, MPs report. […]

The MPs say the UK’s shale gas developers will face technological uncertainties with different geology.

And public opinion may also be more sceptical, they add.

The UK is a more densely populated landscape, and shale gas operations will be closer to settlements as a consequence.

Interestingly, those same MPs felt that any undue concerns of the general public might be overcome by recourse to “cash sweeteners” offered to the local communities most affected (“cash sweeteners” being a form of inducement that MPs seem to know a lot about these days). Unfortunately, of course, even such direct forms of bribery only get you so far (since not everyone is as venal as most of our parliamentarians), added to which, there were a few other awkward hurdles that needed jumping:

The MPs believe operators will have to overcome potentially tighter regulations.

What is more, the extent of recoverable resources in the UK is also unknown, so the report concludes that it is too soon to say whether shale gas will achieve US-style levels of success. 2

Incidentally, “US-style levels of success” is another thing I will need to come back to later, and even if it again leads me to issues I’ve already hammered long and hard on many previous occasions…

Meanwhile, as May defrosted into June, and as the British public waited and waited for the sun to come out more fully attired… lo, another (minor) miracle!

UK firm IGas says there may be up to 170 trillion cubic feet (4,810 cubic km) of gas in the areas it is licensed to explore in northern England. […]

The company’s licences cover an area of 300 sq miles across Cheshire.

It had previously said it had about nine trillion cubic feet of shale gas. It now estimates that the volume of “gas initially in place” could range from 15.1 trillion cubic feet to 172.3 trillion cubic feet, the higher figure being nearly 20 times higher than the previous estimate.

The UK’s annual gas consumption is currently about 3 trillion cubic feet. […]

“Our estimates for our area alone could mean that the UK would not have to import gas for a period of 10 to 15 years”. 3

Yes, little more than a month had passed, and suddenly (as if completely out of the blue) it turned out that Britain has nearly limitless bags of lovely gas just waiting patiently to be defracked – potentially trillions and trillions of billowing cubic feet of the stuff. Enough gas for every man jack amongst us. Enough gas to power all our homes and factories, enough to keep the telly on and Andrew Neil tepid, enough even to satisfy that most gassy of gas-expelling institutions, our houses of parliament.

The same BBC article also provided us with a handy map showing the considerable swathes of black shale deposits running though the country like thick veins of fat coursing across a rasher of streaky bacon. And in the midst of these, those areas where onshore licences are now being granted. Areas which happen to surround my own beloved city of Sheffield like, like, like…

… like day-old bruises… or like the mottled skin of a plague victim. Since this is how such a map appears if you are inclined to turn your nose up at the prospect of poisoned land and contaminated water supplies the colour of crude oil, reeking of turps and fizzing with methane…

Yes this, unfortunately (and to finally return to those other issues), is precisely what those “US-style levels of success” have actually meant for countless farmers and other residents penned in by the hundreds of thousands of drilling rigs so tightly arrayed across the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin and far beyond to distant horizons. And soon, with dubious credit going to President Obama and his unrestrained assent for the thorough-going expansion of the fracking industry, there will be quite literally millions of similar rigs operating day and night from coast to coast across the whole of the United States. All this fracking bringing to the folks who happen to live in the ever-encroaching vicinities of the drilling, not so much a blessing, as a most terrible blight:

My daughter looks up. Her rash is all over her face. She has a nosebleed. Bob has a nosebleed, burning throat, burning eyes. I had a rash. It covered my scalp. It went through my entire body, literally to the bottoms of my feet. My throat would start swelling. I started gasping for air. I started stuttering. I started stumbling. My face drew up on my left side like I had Bell palsy.

Here is part of the testimony of just one of many such victims speaking out on Josh Fox’s recently released Gasland Part II. Lisa Parr of Wise County, Texas, explaining how her family’s health deteriorated after shale gas drilling began around their home. [The documentary has since been released on Vimeo – it is embedded at the end of this article.]

And whilst the ordinary victims struggled on to make themselves heard, and besides the anticipated silence maintained by the greater part of the US corporate media, the fracking industry has nevertheless felt obliged to fight dirtier than ever before. Resorting to quite staggering and altogether outlandish strategies for reversing the battle they had been losing over hearts and minds:

Well, this is audio that was recorded by a blogger named Texas Sharon, working for Earthworks, who was at an oil and gas industry conference where they were discussing all the bad PR that they were getting and how to counter it. And what they go on to do is explain how they’re using former PSYOPs officers, psychological operations officers, who were newly coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, to write local laws, to develop techniques to divide local landowners. That’s Matt Pitzarella from Range Resources talking about that. Chesapeake then goes on to talk about people who are fighting the gas industry, like landowners, like you just saw, Jeremiah Gee, as insurgents. And one of the PR spokespeople for Anadarko, another huge petroleum company, says that what they should actually do is download the counterinsurgency manual, which is a 300-odd-page book about, you know, how to deal with an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are terms of war, and it was very, very shocking to see that.

Those are the words of Josh Fox speaking on Democracy Now! [July 12th], addressing a question about his own discovery of industry’s use of military PSYOPs tactics. It’s a PR approach, he explains, that combines bogus science with more familiar methods of advertising:

But it goes hand in hand with a strategy that’s very overt in the media, which is to buy—you can’t turn on the TV, except for perhaps this show, where you’re not going to see ads from the natural gas industry. And we’re seeing also editorials and these kinds of things on blog posts seeded to do things to try to discredit the very clear science, and in most cases the science that the industry themselves did. This is following the tobacco industry’s playbook. The tobacco industry for decades sponsored bogus science, went out to try to create doubt in the media as to whether or not the cigarettes were harmful to people. And that strategy was developed by a PR firm called Hill & Knowlton. The America’s Natural Gas Alliance hired the same PR firm in 2009, and we’re seeing that same kind of strategy of creating doubt and of creating a false debate in the media over whether or not this drilling contaminates water.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Not that any of this is what the guys at Cuadrilla Resources have in mind for us apparently. Fracking in Britain will be entirely different the chief executive of Cuadrilla, Francis Egan, told Andrew Neil, offering his solemn pledge as a certain guarantee that our groundwater will very definitely never be contaminated, whilst insisting that in the eccentrically British variety of fracking only “one single chemical” is ever pumped into the ground.

It is worth noting, however, that when it came to fracking in Poland (which happens to be the European frontier for shale gas extraction), residents were also given clear reassurance from industry officials that the fluids injected into the earth would only include such harmless food additives as salt and lemon juice… lemon juice!!! Yes, sadly I’m not joking – it seems that these industry guys will tell the public absolutely anything just so long as it helps them to get their way. Indeed you can see these claims for yourself if you decide to watch an alternative investigative documentary made by Polish-American filmmaker Lech Kowalski and entitled Drill Baby Drill (the reason for the title becoming quickly apparent). A trailer for the film is available here:

Drill Baby Drill Trailer 1 by Lech Kowalski from revolt cinema on Vimeo.

And if our own rush to fracking truly represents such an unmitigated good for the people of Britain then precisely what’s all this about…

Local communities are set to lose control over key environmental decisions affecting whether fracking can go ahead within their midst, it is claimed.

Campaigners opposing the industrial-scale exploitation of shale gas reserves in the British countryside said the Government has removed key democratic controls in its dash to bring unconventional energy resources on stream.

Under planning guidelines published last week, councils will no longer be able to investigate issues such as seismic activity, flaring and venting as well as the potential impact on ground water supplies before granting planning permission for new wells.

Which is taken from an article published in Monday’s Independent. A report that goes on to add:

Whilst campaigners argue that there are still many environmental and economic questions yet to be answered over the impact of fracking, the Government is determined to go press ahead. Last week Chancellor George Osborne, whose own Tatton constituency is home to major reserves, announced that onshore shale gas producers will pay a 30 per cent tax rate compared to 62 per cent paid by on North Sea oil operations. 4

Special exemptions and deregulation plus the bonus of tax incentives all serving to underline how extremely keen our government now is to give fracking the go-ahead; bending over backwards to get the acres of rigs set up as soon as is humanly possible. And why such a mad dash in the first place? Is it really that our national gas stocks are set to run out next March (all over again)…?

Undoubtedly this is what they would have us believe. Though crying wolf over shortages appears to be merely the latest corporate-government ruse, and a trick that played rather well over in Poland, with many Poles easily blinded by offers of energy independence from their overbearing neighbour Russia and so quite happy to be fracked all over (and, as Lech Kowalski’s documentary reveals, in Poland tests alone were enough to contaminate some local water supplies).

But then this great urgency to get cracking with the fracking suits both the industry and governments for another reason of course, with speed being of the utmost essence whenever anyone is attempting to sell a pig in a poke. On top of which, when it comes to the instigation and operation of every kind of a filthy scheme, the schemers are certainly best advised to make significant and, if possible, irreversible headway before the real filth behind their scheme comes to major public attention… bankers being the real trailblazers when it comes to “pulling a fast one” on an unsuspecting public.

And the damage caused by fracking, as with the damage caused by smoking, is damage in the making and thus very conveniently delayed. So fast-forward some five to ten years and in the aftermath of this proposed policy of furious and widespread fracking, and with a vast proportion of our countryside potentially unfit for human habitation, the environmental devastation having become almost as inescapable as it is undeniable, well the industry will no doubt turn to their teams of lawyers to help them fight against every claim made for damages. They’ll be alright Jack just as the tobacco industry is quite alright: very much alive and well (unlike some of its most unlucky customers) and still highly profitable – just ask Ken Clarke.

With Britain already fracked to the eyeballs, there will be plenty of other as then less benighted corners of the world being made ready for a jolly good fracking (even if, rather curiously, Bulgaria is one place unlikely to join us in the queue – plucky little Bulgaria, eighteen months ago, becoming only the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling for shale gas 5).

For those who prefer to trust the executives of the oil companies and the well-paid teams who work on public relations and advertising, I’m not quite sure what more can be said. Do please take a little time to read my earlier (informative and more restrained) posts on the subject. But far more importantly, watch Josh Fox’s excellent original Gasland documentary and his still finer Gasland II. Following which, and supposing that you still wish to see fracking drills burrowing under your neighbourhood like so many parasitic ticks, then I have to presume that you dismiss the many expert contributors as unreliable witnesses whilst disregarding the testimony of so many victims as deluded idiots or out and out liars. The gloopy water being just a theatrical prop and the incendiary taps clever special effects.

On the other hand, for those like myself who feel frankly outraged by the cavalier manner in which our government is behaving, so to eager to sell off our precious land and mineral rights to these nefarious energy giants, then my advice is simple – stop talking so much about the weather and begin talk about fracking instead.

We need to reclaim our land before its too late and if that means being a nimby* then here’s to it! Because when it comes to opposing fracking, which although a widespread menace is necessarily carried out on an extremely local scale, our best hope seems to be that nimbys of the world (and according to another cliché the British are exemplary nimbys) can somehow unite. I’m very much a fracking nimby – and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m hoping that you’re a fracking nimby too!

* nimby: not in my backyard (generally a pejorative and used to refer to persons or groups that oppose the introduction into their neighborhood of a new development they consider objectionable)

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Additional:

Gasland Part II was released on HBO on July 8th. It was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last Sunday [July 21st]:

The film argues that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a myth and that fracked wells inevitably leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, and endangering the earth’s climate with the potent greenhouse gas, methane. In addition the film looks at how the powerful oil and gas industries are in Fox’s words “contaminating our democracy”.

You can watch the official trailer below:

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Update:

For anyone who missed it – here’s Lord Howell, Tory gasbag and father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne, outlining to his ‘noble Lords’ how fracking might better be restricted, at least for the more immediate term, to “large and uninhabited desolate areas” of the North East.

Lord Howell of Guildford (which, incidentally, happens to be far away from the desolate North) arguing that:

“there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence, where it could be conducted without any kind of threat to the rural environment…”

And after all, the North doesn’t actually have rural environment in any case, but only back-to-back terraces, factories, chip shops, men with flat caps and whippets and all sorts of other frightful nastiness…

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Here is a full version of Gasland Part II from Vimeo:

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1 From an article entitled “As experts say ‘the lights could go out in Britain’, what has caused UK’s looming gas crisis?” written by Chris Parsons, published on Yahoo News on March 22, 2013. http://uk.news.yahoo.com/britain-gas-shortage–lights-going-out-energy-supplies-march-cold-snap-160212133.html#aadBz8x

2 From an article entitled “UK shale gas bonanza ‘not assured’” written by Roger Harrabin, published by BBC news on April 26, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22300050

3 From an article entitled “UK shale gas reserves may be ‘bigger than first thought’” written by John Moylan, published by BBC news on June 3, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22748915

4 From an article entitled “Fracking controls ‘removed in dash for unconventional energy resources” written by Jonathan Brown, published in The Independent on July 22, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/fracking-controls-removed-in-dash-for-unconventional-energy-resources-8726869.html

5 “Bulgaria has become the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling for shale gas using the extraction method called “fracking”.

“Bulgarian MPs voted overwhelmingly for a ban on Wednesday, following big street protests by environmentalists.”

From a BBC news report entitled “Bulgaria bans shale gas drilling with ‘fracking method’” published on January 19, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16626580

 

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Poland, USA

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:

*

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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join the Budget Day protest on Wednesday 21st March

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: Not one more cut

Coalition of Resistance is organising a protest on Budget Day, Wednesday 21st March at 11:30am outside Downing Street, London.

The event, which has been organised with the cooperation of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and Stop the War Coalition, and is timed to coincide with Chancellor George Osborne’s departure from Downing Street on his way to present the budget to the Queen.

The message will be ‘Not one more cut to public spending’, ‘Welfare not Warfare’ and ‘Scrap Trident’.

Coalition of Resistance is calling for volunteers who can help on the day to please phone Sam on 07872 481769.

Click here for link to official facebook page

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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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