Tag Archives: George Soros

this is the EU — so take it or leave it… #7. Ukraine and Euromaidan

A fortnight after the violent overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych, Europe Editor for Channel 4 news, Matt Frei, interviewed Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Ukraine’s Pravy Sektor [Right Sector] militia, who Frei introduces as “the hard men of the barricades, the masters of the Molotov cocktails, and now they’ve earned their place at the table of power” [1:45 mins]:

Behind closed curtains and surrounded by armed guards, Frei timidly asks whether it is right to “describ[e] people like you as neo-Nazis, as fascists, as anti-semites” adding “this is the pretext that [Russia] are using to occupy your country.” [from 2:10 mins]

Now you would be hard-pressed to think up a more softball question; “pretext” after all implies, by definition, that such allegations are evidently false and unfounded. Whereas these allegations are very evidently the case. Because Yarosh isn’t just any old fascist; he is the founder and leader of an undisguised and boastful neo-Nazi organisation. And Matt Frei and Channel 4 news know all this, but play dumb.

They gloss over the ugly truth because, after all, the official story is about a Euromaidan – “a revolution” inspired by dreams of EU membership that will bring “democracy and freedom” to Ukraine. A story built around obfuscation, denial and outright lies… 1

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On the very same day as Matt Frei’s interview, March 5th 2014, a phone call between the EU Foreign Affairs Chief, Catherine Ashton, and Estonian Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet, was leaked:

In the call, Paet, having just returned from a trip to Kiev, tells Ashton [from 8:20 mins in]:

“And what was quite disturbing, this same Olga [Bogomolets, the main doctor of the Maidan mobile clinic] told as well that all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and then people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides”

Ashton replies: “Well, yeah…that’s, that’s terrible.”

Paet then continues:

“So that she then also showed me some photos she said that as a medical doctor, she can say that it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. So that there is now a stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition.

Ashton’s response to this revelation is muted and muffled. She begins: “I think they do want to investigate” But then hesitates and finishes: “I mean I didn’t pick that up… Gosh.”

Paet then repeats the opinion that the incident is “disturbing” and concludes that “it already discredits from the very beginning this new coalition”.

However, Ashton and Brussels were not about to be sidetracked in their determination to press ahead with negotiating an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement with the new powers in Kiev. Although, unsubstantiated rumours that Yanukovich was behind the massacre were the strong grounds to run him out of the country, these alternative if better substantiated allegations that “it was somebody from the new coalition” were less welcome. For Brussels, it was a lot more convenient simply to ignore them.

Indeed, on this very same day, March 5th 2014, the European Commission released a memo in support of the new Ukrainian government in which it offered financial assistance to the tune of “at least €11 billion over the coming years from the EU budget and EU based international financial institutions (IFIs) in addition to the significant funding being provided by the IMF and World Bank.” 2

The memo continues:

“All these measures should be seen as the Commission’s contribution to a European and international effort at providing a sustainable way out of Ukraine’s difficult economic situation and to support its economic and political transition.”

Then, only a few weeks later on March 26th, the European Council issued a press release following the EU-US Summit in Brussels which begins:

Recent events in Ukraine have confirmed that strong cooperation between the European Union and the United States on peace and security is of critical importance.

Under the heading “Economy and global challenges” the press release then continues as follows:

Reinforcing economic growth and job creation remains central on both sides of the Atlantic. The EU and the United States have taken important steps to stabilise financial conditions and overcome the crisis. The EU remains committed to building a deep and genuine economic and monetary union, including a banking union. […]

The EU and US leaders renewed their commitment to a strong Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). this should go beyond a free trade agreement and reaffirm Europe and the United States’ shared values of democracy, individual freedom, the rule of law and human rights, and a common commitment to open societies and economies.

[Bold highlights maintained from original source]

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In fact, Kiev began negotiating an agreement to extend Europe’s free trade zone in early 2012, although there never was an invitation for Ukraine to join as a member state. Full integration has probably never been on the table, although to encourage those gathered in the so-called Euromaidan protests, there was certainly a deliberate misrepresentation of this key fact.

On March 3rd of this year, President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, in a (failed) effort to urge the Dutch to vote ‘yes’ in their recent referendum on the Association Agreement with Ukraine (the Netherlands remains the only EU state still to ratify), made the situation quite plain:

I have not come to the Netherlands to say: listen here; you should do this and that. This is not how things are done, most certainly not in the Netherlands.

It is no laughing matter, however. If the Dutch vote ‘no’, Europe will have a problem. That problem is destabilisation. We need to bear this in mind, because Ukraine expects Europe to stick to what was agreed. We should not fall into the trap of thinking that this is about Ukraine joining the EU. Many Dutch people I talk to in Brussels – ordinary people, not Commission officials – make that mistake. In reality, it is about trade and trade agreements. I can hardly imagine an old, successful trading nation like the Netherlands rejecting a trade agreement with a country, like Ukraine, that is so important for European stability. So let me repeat: we need to explain to people that it is not about EU accession. Ukraine will not join the EU during my term of office. In any case, I have said – rather bluntly – that there will be no new members over the next five years, because I do not believe any of the countries in waiting will fulfil the conditions in that time frame.

Then reiterating and upping the ante, presumably to assuage any lingering doubts:

We have rushed things in the past when it comes to enlargement. I am also guilty, because I thought it was an historic event and that we had to reunite European history and geography. Hence the accession of the ‘new’ Member States (in 2004). In some cases, though, we jumped the gun, and we will not make the same mistake again. Ukraine will certainly not join the EU in the next 20 to 25 years. Nor will it join NATO, Secretary-General. I actually wanted to talk about the Dutch referendum, not lecture the Ukrainians, but I know many Dutch people are very worried that this will be the first step to Ukraine joining the EU. But we can definitely say that is not the case. [bold highlights added] 3

Note: you can read more about the Netherland’s April 6th referendum in the addendum.

In other words, the EU doesn’t want Ukraine to join our club – not now and not in the foreseeable future. What it unquestionably does want, however, is to secure access to its plentiful energy resources and to the richest agricultural land anywhere on earth. And the signing of TTIP alone will open the way for major western corporations to profit from unfettered access to both. However, in light of the Dutch vote on April 6th, it is a deal that remains on hold. Perhaps the Ukrainians might consider themselves lucky (at least in this).

Click here to read more about how US corporations and the European Union are hoping to exploit Ukrainian resources in an earlier post entitled “never let a good Ukrainian crisis go to waste”.

Two years after the Euromaidan, the government in power is no more popular or less corrupt than the one it replaced. Still on the brink of outright economic ruin, today’s Ukraine is a country fractured by civil war, where human rights abuses are an everyday reality and where the extreme right is stronger than ever before. But you won’t see very many reports about this on Channel 4 news or elsewhere in the western media, because (as detailed here) today’s Ukraine is too much of a political embarrassment.

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Addendum: Dutch vote on Ukraine, April 6th

Dutch voters forced a referendum on the ratification of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine after a successful campaign led by GeenPeil, which managed to collect more than 425,000 signatures demanding a vote. The treaty was rejected by 61% to 38%.

In the run up to the vote, unsubstantiated claims were made that Russia was funding the ‘no’ campaign. On the other hand, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, had announced to the Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, NOS [trans: Dutch Broadcast Foundation] that it would spend €200,000 on the ‘yes’ campaign:

A Russia banned non-profit organization of billionaire George Soros is co-sponsor of the Dutch campaign for a ‘yes’ in the referendum Ukraine in April. The Stem voor Nederland [trans: Vote for the Netherlands] campaign will receive 200,000 euros from the Open Society Foundations. […]

On April 6, the Dutch population must decide in a referendum on the Dutch support an EU association treaty with Ukraine. Russia is fiercely opposed to the treaty. “Russia will see this as confirmation of what it believes anyway: that George Soros has political motives in this referendum,” said David Jan Godfroid, NOS correspondent in Russia.

The same article published by NOS continues:

A British newspaper recently reported that Russia may have interfered with the referendum. GeenPeil, the driving force behind the referendum, denies this. “If only it were so!” says Thierry Baudet of Forum voor Democratie [trans: Forum for Democracy], one of the initiators, smiling. “We have never seen a penny,” he says. “This nonsense is coming out of thin air,” says Bart Nijman of GeenPeil. “I have no idea where this came from.”

Incidentally Baudet wonders how serious it would be if other countries money was funding the campaign. “It is absolutely normal practice for countries such as Israel, the United States and Germany to provide funds,” said Baudet. “Very strange that there is so much attention to the fictional Russian support.”

The EU Citizens’ Committee is another group campaigning for a ‘no’. We “have not received a ruble” from Russia, says Pepin van Houwelingen. “That’s a real fantasy story. We rely on donations,” he says. 4

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1 Nor is it the case that Matt Frei was simply too afraid to confront Yarosh squarely – although given the extreme circumstances of the interview, he had every reason to fearful. However, the tone of the whole piece is the giveaway. Skilfully contrived to distract the viewer from the truth, he goes out of the way to divert attention from the glaring fact that the Maidan had been spearheaded by fascist brigades. Channel 4 news and the rest of the corporate media simply chose to look away. You can find the same video unloaded on the Channel 4 news website:

http://www.channel4.com/news/pravy-sektor-far-right-in-new-ukraine-government-video

2 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-159_en.htm

3 From the official transcript of the 14th Norbert Schmelzer lecture entitled “The European Union – a source of stability in a time of crisis” delivered by Jean-Claude Juncker at The Hague, Netherlands on March 3, 2016. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-16-583_en.htm

4 From a translation of an article published by Nederlandse Omroep Stichting, NOS [trans: Dutch Broadcast Foundation] on January 22, 2016. http://nos.nl/artikel/2082091-amerikaanse-miljardair-sponsort-ja-campagne-oekraine-referendum.html

The original article reads:

Een in Rusland verboden non-profit-organisatie van miljardair George Soros is medefinancier van de Nederlandse campagne voor een ‘ja’ bij het Oekraïne-referendum in april. Stem voor Nederland krijgt voor die campagne 200.000 euro van de Open Society Foundations. Dat bevestigt de organisatie aan de NOS. Wie in Rusland zaken doet met OSF kan zes jaar celstraf krijgen.

Op 6 april moet de Nederlandse bevolking zich in een referendum uitspreken over de Nederlandse steun aan een Europees associatieverdrag met Oekraïne. Rusland is fel tegenstander van dat verdrag. “Rusland zal dit zien als bevestiging van wat het toch al denkt: dat George Soros politieke motieven heeft bij dit referendum”, zegt David Jan Godfroid, NOS-correspondent in Rusland. […]

Russische bemoeienis

Onlangs meldde een Britse krant dat Rusland zich mogelijk heeft bemoeid met het referendum. GeenPeil, de drijvende kracht achter het referendum, ontkent dat. “Was het maar zo!”, zegt Thierry Baudet van Forum voor Democratie, een van de initiatiefnemers, lachend. “We hebben nooit een cent gezien”, stelt hij. “Uit de lucht gegrepen onzin”, zegt ook Bart Nijman van GeenPeil. “Geen idee waar dit vandaan komt.”

Overigens vraagt Baudet zich af hoe ernstig het zou zijn als andere landen geld steken in een campagne. “Het is volstrekt normale praktijk dat landen als Israël, de Verenigde Staten en Duitsland fondsen aanbieden”, aldus Baudet. “Heel vreemd dat er nu zo veel aandacht is voor de verzonnen Russische steun.”

Ook het Burgercomité EU, dat campagne gaat voeren voor een ‘nee’, heeft “geen roebel” gehad uit Rusland, zegt Pepijn van Houwelingen. “Dat is echt een fantasieverhaal. We leunen op donaties”, zegt hij. Volgens de tegenstanders van het verdrag is het een eerste stap naar toetreding van Oekraïne tot de Europese Unie, en leidt het tot miljarden aan subsidies voor dat land.

Zowel GeenPeil, Forum voor Democratie, Stem voor Nederland als het Burgercomité heeft 50.000 euro subsidie aangevraagd bij de Nederlandse overheid om een campagne te kunnen voeren.

http://nos.nl/artikel/2082091-amerikaanse-miljardair-sponsort-ja-campagne-oekraine-referendum.html

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Avaaz: manufacturing consent for wars since 2011

 

Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:

“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:

The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.

Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:

Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.

So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.

Patrick Cockburn continues:

Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.

But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:

Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.

No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2

So wrote John Hilary in an excellent article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.

In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:

Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.

Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.

Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.

It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.

The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.

One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone

Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.

After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):

 

Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:

“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….

Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”

These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:

We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3

Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”

As she explains:

Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.

Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4

“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.

Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?

Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.

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Additional:

Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.

The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:

Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.

There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.

Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.

Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:

“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5

So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.

We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.

But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?

Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”

“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.

Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):

President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).

Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”

To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.

In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:

Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.

When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.

Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:

The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.[158]

Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:

If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]

I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]

Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]

The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9

Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.

Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:

Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.

But not for Syria – for Saudi Arabia report-2011.

And it continues:

Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.

Further down we read that:

At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.

Not that Amnesty‘s report on Syria report-2011 is any less deplorable:

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.

Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:

We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.

Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.

Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.

So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.

And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:

Dear Friends,

Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!

Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:

So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.

The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!

On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:

  • a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
  • the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
  • the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
  • a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis

So consider me a member of the team once more. I’m putting those four campaigns out there. Or at least I would have before I’d read your ‘Terms of Use’. For it concerns me that “In order to further the mission of this site or the mission of Avaaz, we may use, copy, distribute or disclose this material to other parties” but you do not then go on to outline who those ‘other parties’ might be. And you say you will “Remove or refuse to post any User Contributions for any or no reason. This is a decision Avaaz will strive to make fairly, but ultimately it is a decision that is solely up to Avaaz to make.”

Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.

*

1 From an article entitled “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by The Independent on November 2, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-west-is-silent-as-libya-falls-into-the-abyss-9833489.html

2 From an article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” written by John Hillary, published in the Guardian on March 10, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/internet-activists-libya-no-fly-zone

3 From an article entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: Recognizing When, and Why, It Can Succeed” written by Tom Perriello, published in Issue #23 Democracy Journal in Winter 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/humanitarian-intervention-recognizing-when-and-why-it-can-succeed.php?page=all

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/ 

5 From an article entitled “Avaaz: activism or ‘slacktivism’?” written by Patrick Kingsley, published in the Guardian on July 20, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/avaaz-activism-slactivism-clicktivism

6 From an article entitled “Vince Cable to stay on as Business Secretary” published by BBC news on December 21, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12053656

7 From an article entitled “Up to 15,000 killed in Libya war: U.N. Right expert” reported by Reuters on June 9. 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/09/us-libya-un-deaths-idUSTRE7584UY20110609

8 From an article entitled “Residents flee Gaddafi hometown”, written by Rory Mulholland and Jay Deshmukh, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 3, 2011. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

9 From the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture” on April 28, 2009. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/152.pdf

Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:nogix7L1-kIJ:www.craigmurray.org.uk/Uncorrected%2520Transcript%252028%2520April%252009.doc+craig+murray+evidence+parliamentary+slect+commitee&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjfCqyleDnk_maooZDF7iGJ5MC68Lb9zNDi5PCH8_9PwlwCybyXYiCD-A1E-O_j9Z5XgnOsKsvguvirw4jqJW9zjuor_secSn7aw_X1JIxHxjLw0CZON7vwOcfitFM1bB8MOsaO&sig=AHIEtbScxyI2eTh3HF2MA_yGyeAcyTsoiQ

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Craig Murray, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Uzbekistan

one month after Ukraine’s revolution: reviewing the hype, the hypocrisy and the hysteria

During the last month or so, filtering out the lies, the half-truths and the outright nonsense in search of any semblance of truth about what’s happening in Ukraine has been an exceptionally tricky business. Propaganda has been flooding in from all sides (certainly if we were prepared to look from all sides) and the bias in the coverage has been as unstinting as it remains deliberately bamboozling.

So what can we now say with any guaranteed certainty about the situation in Ukraine? Well, firstly, and most obviously, there has been a revolution, although in saying this we should remember that this was an uprising – an insurrection – which ended in a bloodbath.

The only other uncontested facts are really these: that when the democratically elected though hugely corrupt government in Kiev was overthrown and replaced by a self-elected transitional government, Viktor Yanukovych, the former President of Ukraine immediately fled to Moscow and declared the new authorities illegitimate. Following this, Putin then deployed forces in the Crimea to “restore law and order”. A military offensive that has been widely interpreted as an act of extreme aggression, even a declaration of war, and a further indication of Russia’s return to Soviet-style expansionism.

The hype

Before continuing, I would like to recommend a different article – one published by antiwar.com entitled “What Color is Ukraine’s ‘Color Revolution’?” Here are just a few extracts drawn from the beginning, middle and end:

As the real nature of Ukraine’s “democratic” and allegedly “pro-Western” opposition becomes all too apparent, the pushback from the regime-change crowd borders on the comic. The War Party is stumbling all over itself in a frantic effort to cover up and deny the frightening provenance of the neo-fascist gang they’ve helped to seize power in Kiev. […]

Outside the “we are all Ukrainians now” bubble, however, people are sitting up and taking notice. A Reuters piece spotlights the general uneasiness about the exact color of this latest US-sponsored “color revolution”:

“When protest leaders in Ukraine helped oust a president widely seen as corrupt, they became heroes of the barricades. But as they take places in the country’s new government, some are facing uncomfortable questions about their own values and associations, not least alleged links to neo-fascist extremists.” […]

I don’t know which is more alarming: the entrance into government of a party that traces its origins back to a fighting battalion affiliated with Hitler’s SS, or the sight of US officials whitewashing it. They’re flying the Confederate flag and the Celtic cross in Kiev, and the first African American President is hailing them as liberators. That’s one for the history books!1

Click here to read the full article.

Key to separating a little of the wheat from the chaff requires a clearer picture of the following: i) What were the people in the square protesting about? ii) What kind of protest was taking place? iii) Who were the leaders?

So let’s take each of these points in order:

i) Demands of the Maidan

I touched on this in an earlier extended post, but to recap relatively briefly here: the protesters were united primarily because of their strong opposition to the ruinous and kleptocratic presidency of Yanukovych. The majority also appear to have been demanding closer ties with the EU and so we saw quite a number of tattered EU flags fluttering above the square.

Scratch the surface just a little, however, and we learn that the protesters were most angered by the Ukrainian government’s acceptance of a Russian bailout package worth $15 billion. On paper at least, the Russian deal was far better than the EU’s alternative, but many Ukrainians who are fearful of Russia (justifiably so), were quick to point out that “the only place you find free cheese is in a mousetrap”. In other words, they wanted to know where the Kremlin wished the strings to be attached.

Yanukovych was not the Russian puppet he has been often been portrayed as, but a man desperately struggling to get out off a hole of his own making and seeking help wherever he could find it (East or West). With his downfall, the new transitional government is now led by the former banker Arseniy Yatseniuk. “Yats” was, if you recall, the man preferred by Washington as Victoria Nuland’s leaked phone call so embarrassingly revealed. It is also worth pointing out that Yatseniuk is a co-founder of the Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation, “a nonpartisan international philanthropic foundation” (according to wikipedia), which has partners including Chatham House, The United States Department of State, and Nato. Strange bedfellows for a philanthropic foundation, one might think.

And here is what Yatseniuk told the press soon after his appointment as Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister:

“We are to undertake extremely unpopular steps as the previous government and previous president were so corrupted that the country is in a desperate financial plight,” Mr Yatsenyuk told BBC Ukrainian.

“We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suiciders! So welcome to hell,” he added.2

The kamikaze mission Yatsenyuk has in mind will involve Greek-style austerity measures, served up very much to the satisfaction of the IMF and EU. So welcome to hell indeed!

For further details on the Russia and EU deals, as well as Victoria Nuland’s support for Yatseniuk, I refer you again to related sections in the post linked above.

ii) The protests

The protests in Independence Square were far from peaceful. Evidently, amongst the crowds there were many peaceful individuals and so whenever the BBC and Channel 4 reported from the square they were keener to draw attention to this non-violent contingent. It was even possible to make lazy comparisons to earlier pro-democracy demonstrations. We saw the tents, the soup kitchens, the banners and, occasionally, the poets! Here was Occupy Kiev, although rapidly spreading as it won over hearts and minds across the country to eventually become Occupy Ukraine. And according to the early accounts, every reasonable Ukrainian was chipping in to help the Maidan. These were our first impressions.

Amongst the ordinary protesters, however, there were others who appeared more sinister. Dressed for battle in WWII-style army helmets, and often marching in columns, like an army. The police locking shields like Roman legions in vain attempts to fend off a furious bombardment of sticks, rocks and petrol bombs. Well, Occupy Ukraine is more heavy duty, but that’s okay we were gently reassured. And the same news reports that implied that it was fine to rip up cobblestones, smash them up on a makeshift revolutionary production line, and catapult them at the police lines, also showed Kiev ablaze with barricades of burning tyres and looted government buildings.

During Channel 4‘s coverage on the eve of the main battle, Wednesday [Feb 19th], their Europe Correspondent Matt Frei revealed that some of the protesters were filling up hundreds of plastic bottles with petrol and polystyrene fragments which, he then explained, would cause the Molotov Cocktails to stick like napalm. So arson too was presented as not only an acceptable form of civil disobedience but a tactic requiring impressive levels of commitment and hard work – which it does – but let’s face it, if a similar situation was unfolding in London, with rivers of fire and the streets engulfed by clouds of acrid smoke, the protesters would be have been called “rioters”. Instead, we were constantly given to understand that the Maidan occupied the moral high-ground, even when evidence indicating the contrary was being simultaneously shown to us.

And then we must come to the vitally important question of who ordered snipers to open fire on the protesters. The western media has always been very clear about this (at least to begin with) – it was the Berkut who carried out government orders to shoot the protesters. But, there is an alternative version of events. When first reported upon, it was rather quickly sidelined as “a conspiracy theory”. Here, for example, is a Guardian report from March 5th:

A leaked phone call between the EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet has revealed that the two discussed a conspiracy theory that blamed the killing of civilian protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on the opposition rather than the ousted government.

Embedded below is a recording of that intercepted phone conversation although I should warn you that there are also extremely graphic images overlaid. The controversy surrounds what Paet says to Ashton about 8 mins into the call – it is also transcribed by the Guardian in the same article that continues beneath the video:

The 11-minute conversation was posted on YouTube – it is the second time in a month that telephone calls between western diplomats discussing Ukraine have been bugged.

During the conversation, Paet quoted a woman named Olga – who the Russian media identified her as Olga Bogomolets, a doctor – blaming snipers from the opposition shooting the protesters.

“What was quite disturbing, this same Olga told that, well, all the evidence shows that people who were killed by snipers from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, that they were the same snipers killing people from both sides,” Paet said.

“So she also showed me some photos, she said that as medical doctor, she can say it is the same handwriting, the same type of bullets, and it’s really disturbing that now the new coalition, that they don’t want to investigate what exactly happened.”

“So there is a stronger and stronger understanding that behind snipers it was not Yanukovych, it was somebody from the new coalition,” Paet says.

Ashton replies: “I think we do want to investigate. I didn’t pick that up, that’s interesting. Gosh,” Ashton says.3

This opinion expressed by Paet is not quite as extraordinary as the Guardian report would have us believe. Snipers have been used to provoke revolutionary fervour on past occasions, the best known example happening during the Miraflores confrontation in Caracas, Venezuela during a violent uprising and failed attempt to oust Hugo Chavez in April 2002. You can read more on this in another earlier post.

So I would beg to differ with the Guardian‘s rather easy dismissal of Paet’s claims. “False flag attacks” are irrefutably a part of history.

You can click here to read their full report.

More recently [Sat 8th], Associated Press released an article backing up claims that the sniper attacks had been a provocation. It begins:

On Wednesday Paet confirmed the recording was authentic, and told reporters in Tallinn that he was merely repeating what Bogomolets had told him. He said he had no way of verifying the claims, though he called Bogomolets “clearly a person with authority.”

Bogomolets couldn’t be immediately reached by the AP for comment. She did not answer repeated calls to her cellphone or respond to text messages.

In an interview earlier this week with a correspondent from British newspaper The Telegraph, Bogomolets said she didn’t know if police and protesters were killed by the same bullets, and called for a thorough investigation.

“No one who just sees the wounds when treating the victims can make a determination about the type of weapons,” she was quoted as saying. “I hope international experts and Ukrainian investigators will make a determination of what type of weapons, who was involved in the killings and how it was done. I have no data to prove anything.”

However, according to the same report, support for the “conspiracy theory” appears to be growing in Kiev, although, in admitting the claims of Paet, members of the transitional government point not to factions within the Ukrainian opposition (and why would they?) but to Russia instead:

Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to Vladimir Putin’s Russia — pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government. […]

“I think it wasn’t just a part of the old regime that (plotted the provocation), but it was also the work of Russian special forces who served and maintained the ideology of the (old) regime,” [Ukrainian] Health Minister Oleh Musiy said. […]

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signaled that investigators may be turning their attention away from Ukrainian responsibility.

“I can say only one thing: the key factor in this uprising, that spilled blood in Kiev and that turned the country upside down and shocked it, was a third force,” Avakov was quoted as saying by Interfax. “And this force was not Ukrainian.”4

Click here to read the full Associated Press report.

So we might ask ourselves, whether Russia would be likely to send snipers in order to destabilise an already dangerous situation in the hope of covertly toppling Yanukovych, so that it might later seize on the chaos in order to annex the Crimea – “the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion”, as the Associated Press article suggests.

If so, then why has the West not drawn our fuller attention back to the leaked phone call? Indeed, why were the claims made by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, first publicised by Russia Today, and then either ignored or dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by western media? Was all this somehow a part of the same Kremlin plot?

iii) The leaders of the Maidan

Embedded below is a promotional video for a faction of the Maidan known as the “Right Sector”:

Right Sector have all the hallmarks of an extreme-right group because they are one. And disturbingly, in Ukraine, Right Sector are not alone – though they appear to be the most hardline of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi groups. As you can see from the video above, they were also a big part of the paramilitary wing of the Maidan protests.

A BBC news report (released soon after the dust had settled) calls attention to the fact that with the removal of Yanukovych, Right Sector became one of the biggest winners from the crisis:

The 42-year-old [Dmytro Yarosh, who is head of the fascist Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization or “Tryzub”] leads the paramilitary movement known as Right Sector, which was involved in violent clashes with the police in Kiev and considers the far-right party Svoboda “too liberal”. [I will come to Svobado next]

Advocating a “national revolution”, he dismissed the Yanukovych administration as an “internal occupation regime” and wants to ban both the former ruling party and its ally, the Communist Party.

There is pressure from the Maidan demonstrators to give him a security-related post in the new government, possibly as Mr Parubiy’s deputy.5

Click here to read the full BBC news report entitled “Ukraine crisis: Key Players”.

Another BBC news report from the previous day told us a little more:

Ukraine’s new interim government has been presented at Kiev’s main protest camp, the Maidan, following last week’s ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Maidan council named Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister. The cabinet – to be voted on by MPs on Thursday – includes leading activists. […]

Overall Maidan commander Andriy Parubiy – who commands huge respect among the protesters – was named candidate for secretary of the National Security and Defence Council

Andriy Parubiy is a neo-Nazi too, but we can deal with him in a second. The same article goes on:

However, some of the nominations – including that of Mr Avakov – prompted loud booing from the crowd, who said those candidates were not worthy of government posts.

People also chanted “Yarosh! Yarosh!”, demanding that the leader of the Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, be given a post. [the bold emphasis is added]6

Click here to read the full BBC news article.

But then, on the eve of the bloodiest night of the protest, at the end of Thursday evening’s Channel 4 news broadcast on Feb 20th, Matt Frei had already more casually let the cat out of the bag. Standing next to him was Yuriy Levchenko, captioned as spokesmen of “the far-right party Svoboda”, and Matt Frei was there to interview him in the politest possible way. What Frei might have asked, but didn’t, was why did his ultra-nationalist party with a name that now translates as “freedom” change from being “the Social-National Party” when it was founded in 1991. Back then they had also identified themselves with a symbol called the Wolfsangel, which looks like this:

The similarity to the swastika is not accidental, as this report from Der Spiegel published last month explains:

The Svoboda party also has excellent ties to Europe, but they are different from the ones that Klischko might prefer. It is allied with France’s right-wing Front National and with the Italian neo-fascist group Fiamma Tricolore. […]

In a 2012 debate over the Ukrainian-born American actress Mila Kunis, he said that she wasn’t Ukrainian, rather she was a “Jewess.” Indeed, anti-Semitism is part of the extremist party’s platform; until 2004, they called themselves the Social-National Party of Ukraine in an intentional reference to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist party. Just last summer, a prominent leader of party youth was distributing texts from Nazi propaganda head Joseph Goebbels translated into Ukrainian.7

Click here to read the full article from Der Spiegel International.

And embedded below you can watch Yuriy Levchenko as Svoboda candidate complaining to France 24 following his defeat in the October 2012 parliamentary elections. Please judge for yourself whether Levchenko appears to be a neo-Nazi:

But in fairness to Matt Frei, he wasn’t the first to rub shoulders with the far-right extremists in this latest Ukrainian uprising. Back in December, neo-con Senator John McCain was very happy to join Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Svoboda party, and already a member of the Ukrainian parliament – indeed, one of thirty-eight Svoboda candidates who won seats in the last election – on the stage in Independence Square during a mass rally:

It was Oleh Tyahnybok along with Andriy Parubiy (remember him? – the recently appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine) who in 1995 had jointly founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), which has since been rebranded as Svoboda. And Dmytro Yarosh (leader of the even more odious Right Sector who the crowds were chanting for – at least according to that BBC news article) has indeed since been appointed as Parubiy’s deputy.

So are there fascists in the new government? Yes. Are they in positions of influence? Well, aside from Parubiy and Yarosh who now jointly oversee national security, and Oleh Tyahnybok, of course, there is also:

The new Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych is a member of the far-right Svoboda party, which the World Jewish Congress called on the EU to consider banning last year along with Greece’s Golden Dawn.

The party, which has long called for a “national revolution” in Ukraine, has endured a long march from relative obscurity in the early 90s. Their declaration that Ukraine is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” has raised fears for the safety of the country’s Jewish population.

Svoboda now controls the ecology and agricultural ministry with Andriy Mokhnyk, the deputy head of Svoboda, running ecology and Ihor Shvaika as agriculture minister.

That’s taken from a Channel 4 piece also catching up with events a little late in the day (again from March 5th) and continuing:

The most important office seized by Svoboda is that of deputy prime minister, now occupied by Oleksandr Sych, whose position on abortion rights and comments about rape provoked an international outcry.

He has been criticised for declaring: “Women should lead the kind of lifestyle to avoid the risk of rape, including one from drinking alcohol and being in controversial company”.

Svoboda member Oleh Makhnitsky is now acting prosecutor general.

The initial actions of the interim government have included forcing making Ukrainian the only official language of the nation and making moves to remove a law which forbids “excusing the crimes of fascism”.8

In total, there are eight Svoboda neo-Nazis now occupying positions in Ukraine’s transitional government – fascist representatives making policy in every sector.

So why did the BBC and Channel 4 wait until after the revolution (or coup) was over before they started shedding this light on the far-right leadership at the heart of the Maidan movement, and why isn’t news of these worrying fascist gains in an Eastern European state being featured more prominently in their regular broadcasts today?

Click here to read the full article entitled “How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine’s power vacuum”

The hypocrisy

This is how veteran investigative reporter John Pilger chose to begin his latest article [from March 16th]:

Washington’s role in the fascist putsch against an elected government in Ukraine will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore the historical record. Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a similar fate, usually with bloodshed.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on earth with fewer people than Wales, yet under the reformist Sandinistas in the 1980s it was regarded in Washington as a “strategic threat”. The logic was simple; if the weakest slipped the leash, setting an example, who else would try their luck?

The great game of dominance offers no immunity for even the most loyal US “ally”. This is demonstrated by perhaps the least known of Washington’s coups – in Australia. The story of this forgotten coup is a salutary lesson for those governments that believe a “Ukraine” or a “Chile” could never happen to them.9

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

Pilger’s point, in brief, is that the United States, more often than not by the clandestine hand of the CIA, has a long record of overthrowing governments including those in power in democratic countries and sometimes even those of its own western allies. He then implies – without providing any supporting evidence – that Washington played a central role in the fall of Yanukovych. So is Pilger correct?

Well, we certainly know that both John McCain and Victoria Nuland made pre-revolutionary visits to Kiev in support of the Maidan. We also know that America has been spending large sums of money to “build democratic skills and institutions” and to “promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations.” Nuland talked of over $5 billion in ‘aid’ of this kind, although she failed to say more precisely how any of that money was spent. (So we may wonder, for instance, if any went into the coffers of the “Open Ukraine Arseniy Yatseniuk Foundation”.)

We also have the very clear and recent historical precedents in the form of those “colour revolutions” of the last decade, including, of course, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. All of which, it was later revealed, had been orchestrated by Washington and manufactured by means of NGOs, most especially those of George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

Soros remains proud of the part his own networks played in those earlier and much more peaceful uprisings. Unsurprisingly, therefore, some see the hand of Soros assisting in this latest upheaval in Ukraine, but is there direct evidence?

Here is what George Soros himself wrote on February 26th:

Following a crescendo of terrifying violence, the Ukrainian uprising has had a surprisingly positive outcome. Contrary to all rational expectations, a group of citizens armed with not much more than sticks and shields made of cardboard boxes and metal garbage-can lids overwhelmed a police force firing live ammunition. There were many casualties, but the citizens prevailed. This was one of those historic moments that leave a lasting imprint on a society’s collective memory.

No mention of any fascist elements there – but did Soros’ funding play any role in this latest revolution? The answer he gives is almost tantalising:

I established the Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine in 1990 – before the country achieved independence. The foundation did not participate in the recent uprising, but it did serve as a defender of those targeted by official repression.

So what does this mean? “Serve as a defender” – defending by what means? And who were “those targeted by official repression”? Well, one of the groups that Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation (IRF) helped in ‘defending’ were Spilna Sprava (which translates as “The Right Deed” but are also known as “Common Cause”). And so here is another BBC news report worthy of closer inspection (and bear in mind it is was published as far back as February 1st):

Together with the Right Sector, Common Cause is also at the extreme end of the Ukrainian protest movement, though it does not appear as yet to share the former’s relish for street fighting.

It is best known for capturing several key government offices in Kiev, such as the ministries of justice, agriculture, and energy.

The group has called for early parliamentary and presidential elections, and describes any opposition leaders who may urge protesters to disperse before the early polls “either idiots or provocateurs”.

“If we don’t force the authorities to go today, we’ll regret it tomorrow,” says the group’s website.10

You will find the organisation Spilna Sprava registered in the IRF annual report for 2009 at the bottom of page 189 where it is described as a “Charitable Foundation”.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

However, for full-blown hypocrisy it’s hard to beat John Kerry censuring Russia and Putin after sending forces into the Crimea, saying “you just don’t invade another country on phoney pretext in order to assert your interests” [about 2:30 mins into clip]:

Not that Kerry is wrong in his assessment. Russia is most certainly “asserting its interests” but then are we really supposed to understand that in comparable circumstances America would do otherwise? When under Obama, America already daily flexes its military might in faraway Afghanistan, over Yemen, and even in Iraq (where a strong US presence still remains). Remembering that Nato’s “kinetic action” against Libya became a flagrant violation of the humanitarian bounds of UN Security Council Resolution “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”. And that just six months earlier, Kerry and Obama were about to go ahead with massive air strikes against Syria without UN backing of any kind.

If there were a real crisis on the American doorstep would the US shrink from military engagement on the grounds that it ought not “assert its interests”? Would they even wait for a crisis – for are we also supposed to forget about the US invasion of the tiny island of Grenada in 1983? Or protecting its strategic interests in Panama in 1989? Or meddling in El Salvador, in Nicaragua and the notorious Iran-Contra scandal? Or US involvement in the Venezuelan coup in 2002, or for that matter their evident backing of the violent uprising taking place in Venezuela today? In fact, are we to forget about US interference in almost every country in Latin America throughout the entire postwar era – it really wasn’t so very long ago when White House officials openly referred to the continent as “America’s backyard”.

Former New York Times correspondent and investigative reporter, Stephen Kinzer, recently wrote a piece for The Boston Globe entitled “US a full partner in Ukraine debacle” in which he provides a more detailed historical perspective on the latest crisis. His article begins:

From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” warned George Kennan, the renowned diplomat and Russia-watcher, as NATO began expanding eastward. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies.”

Russia’s dispatch of troops in recent days to Crimea — a verdant peninsula on the Black Sea that is part of Ukraine but, partly as a result of Stalin-era ethnic cleansing, has a mainly Russian population — was the latest fulfillment of Kennan’s prediction.

Kinzer continues:

Putin’s decision to deploy troops reflects his loss of control over Ukrainian politics. US officials recognize this, and are pressing their anti-Russia campaign. Last week President Obama received the prime minister of Georgia. The prime minister of Moldova is due this week. These meetings are aimed at honing a strategy for further isolating Russia; it is called “Western integration.”

Much has been made of the fact that Ukraine is deeply divided between its pro-Europe western provinces and the pro-Russian east, of which Crimea is a part. A “velvet divorce” dividing Ukraine into two countries might be the best solution, but border changes, even when they seem sensible from far away, are always difficult to engineer.

If Ukrainians cannot agree to divide their country, Russia may do it for them. It already occupies part of Moldova and part of Georgia. For it to keep an army in Ukraine would anger the United States — and many Ukrainians — but it would be nothing new. Military occupation is, in fact, one of the few weapons Russia has to oppose the “Western integration” of neighboring countries.11

Click here to read Stephen Kinzer’s full article.

To read more on George Soros’ backing of previous “colour revolutions” as well as Victoria Nuland’s remarks on more recent American largesse, I refer readers again to my previous post.

The hysteria

It is even harder to know where to start when we get to the matter of hysteria over what Kinzer rightly describes as the Ukraine debacle. For convenience, however, we might begin again with John Kerry and that interview on Meet the Press! already embedded above:

“This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really Nineteenth Century behaviour in the Twenty-First Century. And there is no way to start with, that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to assemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But, there’s much more than that – Russia has major investment and trade needs and desires. I think there’s a unified view by all of the foreign ministers I talked with yesterday – all of the G8 and more – that they’re simply going to isolate Russia.”

So the aim now appears to be to isolate Russia… but is that even possible? Here is a little more of Kerry’s latest blustering:

“There could even ultimately be asset freezes, visa bans, there could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine. There could be business drawback on investment in the country.”

But could it be that Kerry and the US are actually the ones in danger of becoming isolated? After all, how can Germany start imposing sanctions when it depends on a Russian gas supply. And as for those asset seizures, can Kerry really imagine that the dirty money Russian oligarchs prefer to launder by taking advantage of the uncommon laxity of our own financial centres will no longer be welcomed? Here are the thoughts of Ben Judah writing in the New York Times on “London’s Laundry Business” and the unlikelihood of such tough sanctions on Russian oligarchs [from Friday March 7th]:

The White House has imposed visa restrictions on some Russian officials, and President Obama has issued an executive order enabling further sanctions. But Britain has already undermined any unified action by putting profit first.

It boils down to this: Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine.

Britain, open for business, no longer has a “mission.” Any moralizing remnant of the British Empire is gone; it has turned back to the pirate England of Sir Walter Raleigh. Britain’s ruling class has decayed to the point where its first priority is protecting its cut of Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that, in the 21st century, what matters are banks, not tanks.

The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.12

Overall, the tone of the rhetoric coming from Washington is alarming. Economic sanctions have historically been a precursor to war. That cracks within the Nato alliance are already showing is therefore good news. Any ratcheting up of tension between the two opposing superpowers being in no one’s best interests (other than defence contractors of course) and the dangers of backing Russia into a corner are all-too obvious:

Both John Kerry’s threats to expel Russia from the G8 and the Ukrainian government’s plea for Nato aid mark a dangerous escalation of a crisis that can easily be contained if cool heads prevail. Hysteria seems to be the mood in Washington and Kiev, with the new Ukrainian prime minister claiming, “We are on the brink of disaster” as he calls up army reserves in response to Russian military movements in Crimea.

Were he talking about the country’s economic plight he would have a point. Instead, along with much of the US and European media, he was over-dramatising developments in the east, where Russian speakers are understandably alarmed after the new Kiev authorities scrapped a law allowing Russian as an official language in their areas. They see it as proof that the anti-Russian ultra-nationalists from western Ukraine who were the dominant force in last month’s insurrection still control it. Eastern Ukrainians fear similar tactics of storming public buildings could be used against their elected officials.

So begins an excellent piece by Jonathan Steele writing in the Guardian. Steele is another journalist who has managed to sidestep all of the hysteria and remain level-headed about this latest escalation of the Ukrainian crisis.

His article continues:

Kerry’s rush to punish Russia and Nato’s decision to respond to Kiev’s call by holding a meeting of member states’ ambassadors in Brussels today were mistakes. Ukraine is not part of the alliance, so none of the obligations of common defence come into play. Nato should refrain from interfering in Ukraine by word or deed. The fact that it insists on getting engaged reveals the elephant in the room: underlying the crisis in Crimea and Russia’s fierce resistance to potential changes is Nato’s undisguised ambition to continue two decades of expansion into what used to be called “post-Soviet space”, led by Bill Clinton and taken up by successive administrations in Washington. At the back of Pentagon minds, no doubt, is the dream that a US navy will one day replace the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Balaclava.

Russia’s movement into Crimea was certainly an invasion – of sorts – and marked the beginning of a dangerous new phase in the present Ukrainian crisis. Although Russia are entitled to keep troops at bases within Crimea, and though the number of troops appear to have remained below those permitted under treaty, by moving Russian troops into the streets, Putin has been acting outside of International law. That said, this invasion is no way comparable to the types of “shock and awe” assault we are accustomed to seeing the US and Nato engage in. What Kerry called an “incredible act of aggression” resulted in no casualties (other than the unfortunate victims of more recent sniper attacks), in part because the majority in Crimea are not hostile to the Russian forces. Indeed, it was not the elected parliament of Crimea but the self-appointed parliament in Kiev which many Crimeans fear and oppose (and do not regard as legitimate), who declared the Russian troop movements “an act of war”.

Here is more from Jonathan Steele who closes his article considering the legality or otherwise of Russia’s annexation of Crimea13 as well as his hopes of a diplomatic resolution:

It is not too late to show some wisdom now. Vladimir Putin’s troop movements in Crimea, which are supported by most Russians, are of questionable legality under the terms of the peace and friendship treaty that Russia signed with Ukraine in 1997. But their illegality is considerably less clear-cut than that of the US-led invasion of Iraq, or of Afghanistan, where the UN security council only authorised the intervention several weeks after it had happened. And Russia’s troop movements can be reversed if the crisis abates. That would require the restoration of the language law in eastern Ukraine and firm action to prevent armed groups of anti-Russian nationalists threatening public buildings there.

The Russian-speaking majority in the region is as angry with elite corruption, unemployment and economic inequality as people in western Ukraine. But it also feels beleaguered and provoked, with its cultural heritage under existential threat. Responsibility for eliminating those concerns lies not in Washington, Brussels or Moscow, but solely in Kiev.14

The article, which is entitled “John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off”, offers a perspective which very few mainstream journalists (Stephen Kinzer and Liam Halligan being two others along with Stephen Cohen – see previous article) have so far been prepared to offer. His call for an end to the hysteria is surely the wisest call anyone can make right now.

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Additional:

Following the referendum in Crimea, on Monday [March 17th] Democracy Now! featured a discussion about the vote and the likely diplomatic, economic and military repercussions following Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The three guests were Oliver Bullough, Caucasus editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting; Nicholas Clayton, a freelance journalist who has been reporting from Crimea and covering the South Caucasus since 2009; and Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. Here is a snapshot of what each had to say:

Oliver Bullough: Well, the first thing about the vote is the result. The result was never in any doubt. The only option, essentially, on the ballot paper was either—well, you has a choice: to leave Ukraine or to join Russia. There was no “no” option. So, there was never any question that this would go one way. And it did indeed go that way. It went that way overwhelmingly, though, personally, I think possibly the results given are a little bit inflated. I can’t believe that the turnout was as high as 83 percent, certainly considering the fact that all the Ukrainians who live in Crimea and all the Crimean Tatars, who together make up, you know, more than 30 percent of the population, boycotted the polls. […]

Well, you know, it was—people were turning up for the polling stations. People were casting their votes in a fairly orderly manner. But it got increasingly jolly as the day wore on and it became obvious which way the vote was going to go. And people gathered on the central Lenin Square underneath the big towering statue of the founder of the Bolshevik state. And there was a rock concert, and people gathered, waved Russian flags, chanted “Russia! Russia! Russia!” as if they were at a football match. It occurred to me about halfway through that it was like a combination of Russia winning the World Cup and the Nuremberg rally. It was a very peculiar atmosphere of sort of a degree of celebration and also as a strange and slightly disquieting sense of triumphalism that I, as a non-Russian, found a little bit weird.

Dmitri Trenin: Well, I would say that the Russians have become used to people essentially using various standards for their own behavior and for other people’s behavior. Basically, President Putin in his press conference recently intimated that he was doing the things that basically the United States was doing. He was—he was placing the legitimate above the legal. If you need something and you need it badly, you go for it. It may not be legal, but if it’s your—if it’s in your national interest, then you go for it—except that the cases of Libya or Kosovo or Iraq, arguably, were less important for the United States’ national security interests than the issue of Crimea and Ukraine is, or was, for Mr. Putin and the Kremlin.

Nicholas Clayton: Well, the new leadership, it appears that they’re still very much in crisis mode, attempting to hold the country together. Many of them were not in the government before the Yanukovych regime fell. One of the more controversial things that has happened recently and one of the firmer gestures that the new government has made is saying that those advocating secession in other Ukrainian territories will be apprehended. And on one hand, this is a bit of an escalation of the rhetoric within Ukraine; however, it also represents very much the crisis mentality of the new government. As you mentioned before, there have been increasing protests in the cities of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk, where pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters have clashed, and three people have died so far. There’s been accusations traded, but Kiev has claimed that a large portion, if not the majority, of these pro-Russian protesters are indeed Russian citizens that have come—been bused in from Russia, and they’re also tightening the border. It appears that they’re trying very hard to avoid any other province in Ukraine from getting the Crimea treatment at this point. […]

And as we’ve discussed already this hour, I do think that many in the West underestimated how strategic Ukraine, and particularly Crimea, is to Russia. The port of Sevastopol has been the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet since imperial days, since the 18th century, and it actually is probably the best harbor in the Black Sea for a large fleet and one of the only ones that could safely hold a large fleet. It has a deep harbor, it’s very large, and it’s protected on both sides by hills, which means the wind is not a factor. If Russia were to be booted from there, it would have to drastically reduce the size of its fleet and spend billions of dollars attempting to build up facilities in one of its other ports in order to hold it. And the Russian Black Sea Fleet is the portion of the Russian navy that it uses to project naval force into not only the Black Sea, where it has significant interests, but also the Mediterranean Sea and through the Sinai and the Indian Ocean, and therefore, it’s an important portion of their Middle East strategy and their foreign policy in those regions.

And so, this really is a—what the Russians call a steel interest, something that is certainly a red line and certainly something that if Russia had to retreat from, would be very—would very much hurt their foreign policy and their ability to project power in the world. And we saw—this is partially why Russia moved so quickly in the upper house, was that many figures in the new government in Kiev did make statements saying that they wanted to basically cancel the lease that Russia has for the use of the base in Sevastopol. The current lease gives Russia the right to use that port until 2042, but there—in the past, previous governments have also tried to push Russia out, and it has been a major factor in Russia’s relationship with Ukraine since the end of the Soviet Union and very much—very much has been a huge card in the East-West battle over Ukraine, as well.

For once I would also recommend the latest outing of BBC’s political magazine programme This Week, which featured analysis from the Telegraph‘s Liam Halligan.

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1 From an article entitled “What Color is Ukraine’s ‘Color Revolution’?” written by Justin Raimondo, published by antiwar.com on March 12, 2014. http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2014/03/11/what-color-is-ukraines-color-revolution/

2 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Yatsenyuk is PM-designate, Kiev Maidan told” published by BBC news on February 26, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26359150

3 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: bugged call reveals conspiracy theory about Kiev snipers” written by Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on March 5, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/05/ukraine-bugged-call-catherine-ashton-urmas-paet

4 From an article entitled “Russia, Ukraine feud over sniper carnage” written by Mike Eckel, published by the Washington Post on March 7, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russia-ukraine-feud-over-sniper-carnage/2014/03/07/12ed2364-a638-11e3-b865-38b254d92063_story.html

5 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Key players” published by BBC news on February 27, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25910834

6 From an article entitled “Ukraine crisis: Yatsenyuk is PM-designate, Kiev Maidan told” published by BBC news on February 26, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26359150

7 From an article entitled “’Prepared to Die’: The Right Wing’s Role in Ukrainian Protests” published by Der Spiegel on January 27, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/ukraine-sliding-towards-civil-war-in-wake-of-tough-new-laws-a-945742.html

8 From an article entitled “How the far-right took top posts in Ukraine’s power vacuum”, published by Channel 4 news on March 5, 2014. http://www.channel4.com/news/svoboda-ministers-ukraine-new-government-far-right

9 From an article entitled “The forgotten coup – and how the godfather rules from Canberra to Kiev” written by John Pilger, published on March 16, 2014. http://johnpilger.com/articles/the-forgotten-coup-and-how-the-godfather-rules-from-canberra-to-kiev

10 From an article entitled “Groups at the sharp end of Ukraine unrest” published by BBC news on February 1, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26001710

11 From an article entitled “US a full partner in Ukraine debacle” written by Stephen Kinzer, published in The Boston Globe on March 3, 2014. http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/columns/2014/03/03/cold-war-over-russia-isn-zero-sum/Df9VSHeJFpKUz3tRKDjUXJ/story.html

12 From an article called “London’s Laundry Business” written by Ben Judah, published in The New York Times on March 7, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/08/opinion/londons-laundry-business.html?_r=0

13 ‘annexation’ is a provocative term. Many Russians including those in Crimea see it as a ‘reunification’. Mikhail Gorbachev said:

Earlier Crimea was merged with Ukraine under Soviet laws, to be more exact by the [Communist] party’s laws, without asking the people, and now the people have decided to correct that mistake. This should be welcomed instead of declaring sanctions.” He said: “To declare sanctions you need very serious reasons. And they must be upheld by the UN.” Adding: “The will of the people of the Crimea and the Crimea’s possible unification with Russia as a constituent region do not constitute such a reason.”

http://rt.com/news/mistake-fixed-crimea-gorbachev-422/

14 From an article entitled “The Ukraine crisis: John Kerry and Nato must calm down and back off” written by Jonathan Steele, published in the Guardian on March 2, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/02/not-too-late-for-ukraine-nato-should-back-off

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Filed under analysis & opinion, John Pilger, Russia, Ukraine, USA, Venezuela

the price of everything

The following article is Chapter Nine of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year. Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

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When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease…”

John Maynard Keynes 1

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be rich? Here I don’t just mean well-off, with a paltry few tens of millions in the bank, I mean proper rich – megabucks! So much money that, as I heard one comedian put it (aiming his joke squarely at the world’s richest entrepreneur), if Bill Gates were to stuff all his cash under the mattress, then due to interest alone, if he fell out of bed he’d never hit the ground!

I suppose what I’m wondering is this – and perhaps you’ve found yourself thinking along similar lines – why are these super-rich guys always so intent on accruing ever greater wealth when they already possess more than enough funds to guarantee the needs of a small country. Think about it this way: Gates and the others are, barring a few very necessary legal constraints, completely at liberty to do whatever they choose at every moment of every day. They can eat the best food, drink the most delicious vintage wines, smoke the finest cigars, play golf morning, noon, and evening, and then after the sun goes down, and if it is their wont, have liaison with the most voluptuous women (or men) available. Quite literally, they have means to go anywhere and do everything to their heart’s content and all at a moment’s notice. Just imagine that. So why be bothering about sales at all? I mean wouldn’t you eventually get bored of simply accumulating more and more money when you’ve already got so much – and let’s face it, money itself is pretty boring stuff. So just what is it that keeps them all going after it? After all, there are only so many swimming pools, grand pianos, swimming pools in the shape of grand pianos, Aston Martins, Lear Jets, and acreages of real estate that one man (or woman) can profitably use (in the non-profit-making sense obviously). Economists would call this the law of diminishing marginal utility, although in this instance it is basic common sense.2

Presented with evidence of this kind, some will say that here is further proof of the essential greediness of human beings. That, as a species, we are simply never satisfied until we have the lot. Fine then, let us take on this modern variant of original sin, since it certainly holds more than a grain of truth. For the sake of argument, we might presume that all men and women are greedy to an almost limitless extent. That this is truly the natural order, from our conception having been evolutionarily programmed to grab as much as we can for ourselves – our most primeval reflex being to snatch.

So I shall not waste too much time here. Only to say that I do not find such unrestrained cupidity within the circles of people with whom I have chosen to associate, most being happy enough to share out the peanuts and fork out for the next round of beers, quite oblivious to outcomes in terms of commensurate returns. What comes around goes around… There is, of course, no doubting that most folks will, very naturally, if opportunity arises, take good advantage to feather their own nests. Making life a little more comfortable for themselves, and reserving the ample share of their fortune for their immediate family and closest friends. But then, why not…? Charity begins at home, right?

What most don’t do (at least in the circles I know best) is devote their whole lives to the narrow utilitarian project outlined above. And why? Because, though quite understandably, money and property are greatly prized assets, they offer lesser rewards than companionship and love. And, in any case, pure generosity is its own reward – and I do mean “is”, and not “has” or “brings” – the reward being an inseparable part of the act itself: a something received as it was given, like a hug, like a kiss. That said, if you still prefer to believe that we are all to a man, woman and child, innately and incurably selfish and greedy, then next time you take a look into the mirror, do consider those all-too beady eyes staring back. It’s very easy to generalise about mankind when you forget to count yourself in.

But if not intractably a part of human nature, then we must find other reasons to account for how our world is nevertheless so horribly disfigured by rampant and greedy exploitation. For if greed is not an inherently human trait, and here I mean greed with a capital Grrr, then this monomaniacal obsession is all too frequently acquired, especially in those who approach the top of the greasy pole. There is an obvious circularity in this, of course. That those whose progress has depended upon making a buck, very often become addicted. As money-junkies, they, like other addicts, then prioritise their own fix above all else. Whether or not these types are congenitally predisposed to becoming excessively greedy, we have no way of knowing. What we can be certain of is this: that by virtue of having acquired such great wealth, they disproportionately shape the environment they and we live in. So they are not merely money-junkies, but also money-pushers. If you’re not a money-junkie then you don’t know what you’re missing. There’s nothing new in this. This is the way the world has been for many centuries, and perhaps ever since money was first invented.

So here’s Oscar Wilde addressing the same questions about money and our unhealthy relationship to it; his thoughts leaping more than a century, during which time very little has apparently changed:

“In a community like ours, where property confers immense distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other pleasant things of this kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more than he wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of. Man will kill himself by overwork in order to secure property, and really, considering the enormous advantages that property brings, one is hardly surprised. One’s regret is that society should be constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure of joy and living.”3

Embedded below is a recent interview [from December 2013] Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges gave on “The Real News” in which he talked about – based to a large extent on his own personal experience – how the super rich are isolated and disconnected from the rest of society. He explains how this creates a deluded sense of entitlement and a pathological callousness:

*

Isn’t money funny stuff! Funny peculiar, I mean. We just take it so much for granted, almost as though it were a natural substance (disappointingly, of course, it doesn’t actually grow on trees). But when we do think about it, money has far stranger properties than anything in the natural world. And our relationship to it is more peculiar than our relationship to almost anything else.

Money, that’s what I want… sang the Beatles on one of their less celebrated tracks. But the truth will out. So just why did the Beatles want money, and, for that matter, why do I, and why do you? It doesn’t work, you can’t eat it, and it’s not, of a rule, a thing of special beauty. Money is absolutely useless in fact, right until you decide to swap it for what you actually want.

Money can’t buy me love, true again, but it might buy me a chocolate bar. Because money is really just a tool, a technology: a highly specialised kind of lubricant, that enables people to exchange their goods and services with greater ease and flexibility. The adoption of a money system enabling levels of parity for otherwise complex exchanges to be quickly agreed and settled. The great thing about money being, to provide a concrete illustration, that although £1 of tinned herring is probably equivalent to about thirty seconds of emergency plumbing (if you’re lucky), you won’t require crates of herring to pay for the call-out. So far so simple.

Except wait. We all know how the price of herring can go up as well as down, and likewise for the price of emergency plumbers. So why such a dynamic relationship? Well, there’s “the market”, a price-fixing system that arises spontaneously, regulating the rates of exchange between goods and services on the basis of supply adjusting to match demand. Thus by a stroke of good fortune, we find that money is not merely a lubricant for exchange, but also regulatory of useful production and services. This, at least, is the (widely accepted) theory.

Prices rise and fall in accordance with demand. Things that are in short supply become expensive, things that are abundant are cheaper. This is basic economic theory and it means, amongst other things, that in every transaction the “real value” of your money is actually relative, for the simple reason that the amount required depends not only on what you’re after, but also upon whether or not other people are after the same kind of thing. Money then, in terms of its “real value” to any individual or group, is something that is constantly varying. We might call this “the relativity of money”.

One consequence of the relative nature of money, is that the useful value of money overall can also rise and fall. It is possible that wholesale, retail and labour costs can all more or less rise or fall together, although the general tendency, as we all know from experience, is for overall rising costs. Indeed such “inflation” is regarded as normal and expected, and, as a consequence, it comes to seem just as natural as money itself. Yet since you always need more and more money to buy the same things then the value of your money must, in some important way, be constantly falling. But just why does money as a whole lose its value in this way? What makes yesterday’s money worth less than today’s? Well it turns out that this is a huge question and one that economists have argued long and hard about.

One partial account of inflation goes as follows: businesses and people in business are constantly looking for a little bit more. For how else can they maximise profits? In direct consequence, we, as customers, necessarily require more dosh to pay for the same goods or services. But to enlarge our budget, this automatically requires a commensurate increase in income, which means successfully negotiating for a larger salary. In the bigger picture then, the businesses supplying our wants and needs, are now needing to cover their larger wage-bills, which means higher prices to compensate. So prices and incomes rise together, with money becoming worth less and less precisely because everyone is trying to accumulate more and more of it. This endless tail-chasing escalation, which is given the fancy title of “the price/wage spiral”, serves as an excellent example of why money is really very odd stuff indeed.

And what is money in any case? The first traders most likely exchanged shells, precious stones, or other baubles to aid in bartering, but then naturally enough, over time these exchanges would have been formalised, agreements arising with regards to which objects and materials were most acceptable as currency. The material that became most widely accepted was eventually, of course, gold. But why gold? Well, no one actually knows but we can make some educated guesses.

Firstly, gold is scarce, and it is also rare in other ways – for instance, having a unique and unusual colour, which just happens to correspond to the colour of the Sun. The fact that it is almost chemically inert and so doesn’t tarnish, means that it also shines eternally, and so again is like the Sun. Indeed, Aldous Huxley, in Heaven and Hell (his sequel to The Doors of Perception) points out that almost every substance that humans have ever regarded as valuable shares this property of shininess. To Huxley this is evidence that even money owes it origins, in part at least, to a common spiritual longing. Our wish to own a precious piece of paradise.

But back to more mundane matters, if gold (or any other substance) is chosen as your currency, then there arises another problem. How to guarantee the quantity and quality of the gold in circulation? For if gold is worth faking or adulterating then it’s certain that somebody will try cheating.

Well, one answer could be the adoption of some kind of official seal, a hallmark, and this solution leads, naturally enough, to the earliest forms of coinage. But then, if the coins are difficult to counterfeit, why bother to make them out of gold in the first place? Just the official seal would be enough to ensure authenticity. And why bother with metal, which is bulky and heavy. So again it’s an obvious and logical leap to begin producing paper banknotes. The value of these coins and banknotes, although far less intrinsically valuable in material terms than the gold they represent, is still backed by the promise that they are redeemable into gold. But hang on, what’s so special about the gold anyway (aside from its shininess). And doesn’t the gold, which is now locked up in bullion reserves, in fact have real uses of its own? And doesn’t this mean that the gold also has a monetary value? So why not cut loose from the circularity and admit that the value of money can exist entirely independent from the gold or from any other common standard. Indeed, why couldn’t the issuing authority, which might be a government but is more often a central bank, simply make up a “legal tender”4 with no intrinsic or directly correlated value whatsoever and issue that? Not that the money issued need even correspond to the amount of real coins or paper banknotes in circulation – most of the world’s money being bits and bytes, ones and zeroes, orbiting out in cyber-space. Which brings us to just how funny money has now become.

The Pound Sterling, the various dollars, the Euro and every major currency on Earth are, to apply the correct terminology, “fiat currencies”5 With fiat currencies there is no parity to the value of any other commodities and so they are, if you like, new forms of gold. As such, and given their shifting relative values, these new fiat currencies can also be traded as another kind of commodity. Money, in the form of currency, becoming an investment in itself. Money is strange stuff indeed.

Yet money also remains as an instrument. And we use this instrument to measure just about everything. To establish the value of raw materials and manufactured items. The value of land and, by extension, the value of the space it occupies. The value of labour, and thus a value on the time used. And, since works of art are also bought and sold, money is even applied as a measure of such absolutely intangible qualities as beauty.

So money is basically a universally adaptable gauge, and this is its great strength. It is perhaps the big reason why its invention gradually caught on in such a fundamental way. From humble trading token, money has risen to become a primary measure of all things. But remember, remember… Money, whether fiat currency or gold standard, can never be real in the same way as tins of herring and plumbers are real, and neither is “monetary value” an absolute and intrinsic property, but only ever relative and acquired. Money, we ought to constantly remind ourselves (since we clearly need reminding) is nothing without us or without our highly structured civilisation – intrinsically, it is worthless. It is very strange stuff.

Perhaps the future benchmark for money will no longer be gold but ‘virtual gold’ in the form of cryptocurrencies – bitcoin being currently the most well-known of these. One advocate of these alternatives to traditional forms of money is financial expert Max Keiser. On February 3rd 2014, he spoke with coder, hacker and cryptocurrency specialist Andreas Antonopoulos about the regulation of bitcoin transactions; the advent of bitcoin derivatives, which he believes these are less of a threat than ordinary derivatives (a subject I’m coming to next); the fact that unlike gold, cryptocurrencies can be ‘teleported’; and a future in which bitcoin is used widely by businesses as much as by individuals. He says that a time is coming when the prevalent misgivings and doubts about bitcoin and other cryptos have long since been forgotten. Is he right? I don’t know and remain highly skeptical, but I find the debate an interesting one:

Incidentally, there are less radical and more tangible alternatives to the currencies we now have in circulation. “Treasury notes” are one such alternative and these have historical precedence in the form of both the American “greenback” and the UK’s Bradbury Pound. To read more about this and also for links to campaigns to reintroduce them please read the addendum at the end of the chapter.

*

Little more than a century ago, and even in the richest corners of the world, there were no dependable mechanisms to safeguard against the vicissitudes of fortune. If you weren’t already poor and hungry (as most were), then you could rest assured that potential poverty and hunger were waiting just around the corner. Anyone with aspirations to scale the ladder to secure prosperity faced the almost insurmountable barriers of class and (a generally corresponding) lack of education. A lower class person of such ambitions would be very well aware that if they could step onto the ladder at all, there was very little in the way of protection to save them in the event of falling; errors of judgement or sheer misfortune resulting in almost certain and unmitigated personal disaster. This was the sorry situation for people at all levels of society aside from the highest echelons.

One tremendous advantage then, of living in a modern society, is that, aside from having slightly less restricted social mobility (not that we now live in the classless society we are told to believe in), there are basic safety nets in place, with additional protection that is optionally available. For those languishing at the bottom of the heap, there are the reliable though meagre alms provided through a welfare system, whilst for the ever-expanding middle classes there is plenty of extra cover in the form of saving schemes, pension schemes, and, in the event of the most capricious and/or calamitous of misfortunes, the ever-expanding option of insurance policies. If the Merchant of Venice had been set in today’s world then the audience would feel little sympathy for his predicament. Why had he ventured on such a risk in the first place, casting his fortune adrift on dangerous waters? Why hadn’t he protected his assets by seeking independent financial advice and taking out some preferential cover? It’s a duller story altogether.

Systems for insurance are essential in any progressive civilisation. Protection against theft, against damage caused by floods, fires and other agents of destruction, and against loss of life and earnings. Having insurance means that we can all relax a bit, quite a lot, in fact. But it also means that, alongside the usual commodities, there’s another less tangible factor to be costed and valued. That risk itself needs to be given a price, and that necessarily means speculating about the future.

Indeed, speculations about the future have become very much to the forefront of financial trading. As a consequence of this, at least in part, today’s financial traders have become accustomed to dealing in “commodities” that have no intrinsic use or value whatsoever. They might, for example, exchange government bonds for promises of debt repayment. Or, feeling a little more adventurous, they might speculate on the basis of future rates of foreign exchange, or in interest rates, or share prices, or rates of inflation, or in a multitude of other kinds of “underlying assets” (including that most changeable of underlying variables: the weather) by exchange of promissory notes known most commonly as “derivatives”, since they derive their value entirely on the basis of the future value of something else. And derivatives can be “structured” in any myriad of ways. Here are a just few you may have heard of :–

  • futures (or forwards) are contracts to buy or sell the “underlying asset” up until a future date on the basis of today’s price.
  • options allow the holder the right, without obligation (hence “option”), to buy (a “call option”) or to sell (a “put option”) the “underlying asset.”
  • swaps are contracts agreeing to exchange money up until a specified future date, based on the underlying value of exchange rates, interest rates, commodity prices, stocks, bonds, etc.

You name it: there are now paper promises for paper promises of every conceivable kind. Now the thing is that because you don’t need to own the “underlying asset” itself, there is no limit to the amounts of these paper promises that can be traded. Not that this is as novel as it may first appear.

Anyone who’s ever bought a lottery ticket has in effect speculated on a derivative, its value in this case being entirely dependent upon the random motion of coloured balls in a large transparent tumbler at an allocated future time. All betting works this way, and so all bets are familiar forms of derivatives. And then there are, if you like, negative bets. Bets you’d rather lose. For instance, £200 says my house will burn down this year, is presumably a bet you’d rather lose, but it is still a bet that many of us annually make with an insurance company. And general insurance policies are indeed another form of familiar derivative – they are in effect “put options”.

However there is one extremely important difference here between an ordinary insurance policy and a “put option” – in the case of the “put option”, you don’t actually need to own the “underlying asset”, which means, to draw an obvious comparison, you might take out house insurance on your neighbour’s property rather than your own. And if their house burns down, ah hum accidentally, of course, then good for you. Cash in your paper promise and buy a few more – who knows, perhaps your neighbour is also a terrible driver. There are almost numberless opportunities for insuring other people’s assets and with only the law preventing you, then why not change the law. Which is exactly what has happened, with some kinds of derivatives circumventing the law in precisely this way, and permitting profitable speculation on the basis of third party failures. When it comes to derivatives then, someone can always be making a profit come rain or shine, come boom or total financial meltdown.

But, why stop there? Especially when the next step is so obvious that it almost seems inevitable. Yes, why not trade in speculations on the future value of the derivatives themselves? After all, treating the derivative itself as an “underlying asset” opens the way for multiple higher order derivatives, creating with it, the opportunity for still more financial “products” to be traded. Sure, these “exotic financial instruments” quickly become so complex and convoluted that you literally need a degree in mathematics in order to begin to decipher them. Indeed those on the inside make use of what are called “the Greeks”, and “the Higher Order Greeks”, since valuation requires the application of complex mathematical formulas comprised of strings of Greek letters, the traders here fully aware, of course, that it’s all Greek to the rest of us. Never mind – ever more financial “products” means ever more trade, and that’s to the benefit of all, right…?

Deregulation of the markets – kicked off in Britain by the Thatcher government’s so-called “Big Bang” and simultaneously across the Atlantic through the laissez-faire of “Reagonomics”6 – both enabled and encouraged this giddying maelstrom, allowing in the process the banking and insurance firms, the stockbrokerage and hedge funds that make up today’s “finance industry” to become the single most important “wealth creator” in the Anglo-American world. Meanwhile, declines in manufacturing output in Britain and America meant both nations were becoming increasingly dependent on a sustained growth in the financial sector – with “derivatives” satisfying that requirement for growth by virtue of their seemingly unbound potential. Indeed, having risen to become by far the largest business sector simply in terms of profit-making, many of the largest banks and insurance groups had become “too big to fail”7. Failure leading potentially to national, if not international, economic ruin. Which is how the very systems that were supposedly designed to protect us, systems of insurance, have, whether by accident or design, left us more vulnerable than ever.

And then came the bombshell, as we learnt that the banks themselves were becoming bankrupt, having gambled their investments in the frenzy of deregulated speculation. Turns out that some of the money-men didn’t fully understand the complexity of their own systems; a few admitting with hindsight that they’d little more knowledge of what they were buying into than the rest of us. They’d “invested” because their competitors “invested”, and, given the ever-growing buoyancy of the markets at the time, not following suit would have left them at a competitive disadvantage. A desperate but strangely appropriate response to the demands of free market capitalism gone wild.

*

It is currently estimated that somewhere in the order of a quadrillion US dollars (yes, that’s with a qu-) has been staked on derivations of various kinds. Believe it or not, the precise figure is actually uncertain because many deals are brokered in private. In the jargon of the trade these are called “over the counter” derivatives, which is an odd choice of jargon when the only thing the average customer buys over the counter are drugs. Could it be that they’re unconsciously trying to tell us something again?

So just how big is one quadrillion dollars? Well, let’s begin with quadrillion. Quadrillion means a thousand trillion. Written at length it is one with a string of fifteen zeros. A number so humungous that it’s humanly impossible to properly comprehend: all comparisons fail. I read somewhere that if you took a quadrillion pound coins and put them side by side then they would stretch further than the edge of the solar system. The Voyager space programme was, of course, a much cheaper alternative. Or how about this: counting a number every second, it would take 32 million years to count up to a quadrillion… Now obviously that’s simply impossible – I mean just try saying “nine hundred and ninety-nine trillion, nine hundred and ninety-nine billion, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine” in the space of one second! You see it really doesn’t help to try to imagine any number as big as a quadrillion.

However, there are still useful ways to compare a quadrillion dollars. For instance, we can compare it against the entire world GDP which turns out to be a mere 60 trillion US dollars8. One quadrillion being nearly 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 far exceeding even the total monetary value of the entire world – material and immaterial! A little freaky to say the least! Especially when we discover that many of these derivatives are now considered to be “toxic assets”, which is a characteristically misleading way of saying they are worth nothing – yes, worthless assets! – whatever the hell that means!

So just like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, it seems that the spell has gone out of control, and instead of these mysterious engines making new money out of old money, the system has created instead an enormous black hole of debt. A debt that we, the people, are now in the process of bailing out, with extremely painful consequences. Efforts to save us from a greater catastrophe having already forced the British and US governments to pump multiple hundreds of billions of public money into the coffers of the private banks. Yet the banks and the economy remain broken of course, because how is any debt larger than the monetary value of the entire world ever to be repaid?

Another tactic to halt descent into a full-blown economic meltdown has involved the issuance of additional fiat currency in both Britain and America; a “quantitative easing” designed to increase the supply of money by simply conjuring it up (a trick that fiat currency happily permits). Money may not grow on trees but it can most certainly be produced out of thin air. But here’s the rub. For in accordance with the most basic tenets of economic theory, whenever extra banknotes are introduced into circulation, the currency is correspondingly devalued. So you may be able to conjure money from thin air, but all economists will readily agree that you cannot conjure “real value”, meaning real purchasing power. Indeed this common mistake of confusing “nominal value” (i.e., the number of pounds written on the banknote) with “real value”, is actually given a name by economists. They call it: “the money illusion”. And it’s useful to remind ourselves again that money has only relative value.

To understand this, we might again consider money to be a commodity (which in part it is, traded on the currency markets). As such, and as with all other commodities, relative scarcity or abundance will alter its market value, and, in obedience to the law of supply and demand, more will automatically mean less. This is just as true for the value of money as it is for tins of herring, plumbers, scotch eggs and diamonds. So it seems that if too much of our quantitative is eased, then we’d better be prepared for a drastic rise in inflation, or much worse again, for hyperinflation. Printing too much money is how hyperinflation has always been caused.

Our future is bleak, they tell us. Our future is in the red. So much for security, so much for insurance. We’d apparently forgotten to beware of “the Greeks” and of the “higher order Greeks” when they’d first proffered gifts.

*

I said earlier, just in passing, that money is actually pretty boring stuff, and it is… Truly, madly and deeply boring! So when I hear on the news how “the markets” are hoping that the latest round of “quantitative easing” will enable governments to provide the necessary “fiscal stimulus”, I am barely even titillated. Whilst explanations, both in the popular press and supposedly more serious media, that like to describe such injections of new money as in some way analogous to filling up my car with imaginary petrol provide me only with a far, far more entertaining distraction: to wit, a magical car that runs on air.

But then, of course, money isn’t really stuff at all! More properly considered, money is perhaps a sort of proto-derivative, since its worth is evidently dependent upon something other than the paper it’s (increasingly not) written on. So what is it that money’s worth depends upon? What underlies money? Well, the accepted answer to this question is apparently that money is a “store of value”. Although this leads immediately to the obvious follow-up question: in this context, what precisely is the meaning of “value”? But, here again there is a problem, since “value”, although a keystone to economic thinking, has remained something of an enigma. Economists unable to agree upon any single definitive meaning.

Is “value” a determinant of usefulness? Or is it generated by the amount of effort required in the production of things? Or perhaps there is some other kind of innate economic worth? For instance in a thing’s scarcity. And can this worth be attributed at the individual level or only socially imputed?

There are a wide variety of definitions and explanations of “value”, that, being so foundational, have then encouraged the various branches of economic theory to diverge. And here is another important reason why economics is in no way equivalent to the physical sciences. Ask any physicist what energy is, and they will provide both an unambiguous definition and, no less importantly, offer established methods for measurement. Because of this, if ever one physicist talks to another physicist about energy (or any other physical quantity) they can be absolutely certain that they are talking about the same thing. Which is very certainly not the case when economists talk about “value”.

“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” said Oscar Wilde, distinguishing with playful wisdom the difference in human terms between “price” and “value”. The great pity is that the overwhelming majority of today’s economists have become so cynical – but then perhaps they always were.

*

As part of his on-going assault against religion, Richard Dawkins recently published a book called The God Delusion. It’s the old hobby-horse again; one that he shares with a great many millions of other broadly liberal, literate and intelligent people. That religion is an evil of which humanity must rid ourselves totally. And yes, much of religion has been dumb and dangerous, this I will very readily concede (and already have conceded in earlier chapters). But really and truly, is it “the God delusion” that we should be most concerned about in these torrid times? For regardless of Dawkins claims, it is quite evident that religion is a wounded animal, and for good or ill, the secular world is most certainly in the ascendant. Right throughout the world, aside from a few retreating pockets of resistance, faith in the old gods has been gravely shaken. It is not that human faith, by which I mean merely a belief and/or worship of something greater, is extinguished, for it never can be, but that it has been reattached to new idol-ologies. And in those parts of the world where the old religions have been most effectively disarmed or expelled, namely the West, one idol-ology above all others has gathered strength from Religion’s demise.

Richard Dawkins has said many times that instructing young children in religious obedience is a form of psychological child abuse and on this point I wholeheartedly support him. Children’s minds are naturally pliable for very sound developmental reasons. But is it less pernicious to fill their precious minds with boundless affection for let’s say Ronald McDonald? For this is merely one stark but obvious illustration of how a new fundamentalism has been inculcated in the young. Devotion to the brand. Love of corporations. Worship of the dollar and the pound.

This new kind of fundamentalism has long since swept across the world, but it is unusual, although not unique, in that it denies its own inherent religiosity whilst claiming to have no idols. This is the fundamentalism of free market neoliberal economics. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost having been forsaken, only to have been usurped by the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. If you think I’m joking, or that this is mere hyperbole, then think again. When things are tough we no longer turn to the heavens, but instead ask what sacrifices can be made to “reassure the markets”. Sacrifices to make it rain money again.

By far and above, here is the most pernicious delusion of our age. And it has next to nothing to do with God, or Yahweh, or Allah, or even the Buddha. The prophets of our times talk of nothing besides profits or losses. They turn their eyes to the Dow Jones Index, trusting not in God, but only in money. So I call for Dawkins to leave aside his God delusion, for a moment, and pay a little attention to the rise and rise of “the money delusion”. If future historians reflect on our times, this is what they will see, and given the mess this “money delusion” is creating they will scratch their heads in disbelief and disgust.

*

I have already discussed the so-called “money illusion” – of mistaking nominal banknote value for real purchasing value – but this is merely one of many nested and interrelated illusions that make up “the money delusion”. Illusions that have become so ingrained within our permitted economic thinking that they are completely taken for granted.

Foundational is the belief that individuals always make rational choices. According to the definition of making rational choices, this requires that we all choose with consistency and always with the aim of choosing more over less. That a huge advertising industry now exists to tempt us into irrationality is never factored in. Nor are the other corrosive influences that so obviously deflect our rational intentions: the coercion of peer pressure, our widespread obsession with celebrities and celebrity endorsement, and that never-ending pseudo-scientific babble that fills up many of the remaining column inches and broadcast hours of our commercial media. We are always eager for the latest fashionable fads, and perhaps we always were. Yet this glaring fact, that people make wholly irrational choices time and again, whether due to innate human irrationality or by deliberate design, is of little concern to most economists. It is overlooked and omitted.

Likewise, a shared opinion has arisen under the name of neoliberalism that economics can itself be neutral, usefully shaping the world without the nuisance of having to rely on value judgements or needing any broader social agenda. If only individuals were left to make rational choices, as of course they do by definition, or so the idea goes, and the market could also be unshackled, then at last the people will be free to choose. Thus, goes the claim, individual freedom can only be guaranteed by having freedom within the marketplace. Freedom trickling down with the money it brings. “Wealth creation” alone must solve our problems by virtue of it being an unmitigated good.

Of course, back in the real world, one man’s timber very often involves the destruction of another man’s forest. Making profits from the sale of drugs, tobacco and alcohol has social consequences. Factories pollute. Wealth creation has its costs, which are very often hidden. There is, in other words, and more often than not, some direct negative impact on a third party, known to economists as “spillover” or “externalities”, that is difficult to quantify. Or we might say that “wealth creation” for some is rather likely therefore to lead to “illth creation” for others.

Illth creation? This was the term coined by romantic artist, critic and social reformer, John Ruskin, and first used in his influential critique of nineteenth century capitalism entitled Unto This Last. Ruskin had presumably never heard of “the trickle-down effect”:

“The whole question, therefore, respecting not only the advantage, but even the quantity, of national wealth, resolves itself finally into one of abstract justice. It is impossible to conclude, of any given mass of acquired wealth, merely by the fact of its existence, whether it signifies good or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. Its real value depends on the moral sign attached to it, just as sternly as that of a mathematical quantity depends on the algebraical sign attached to it. Any given accumulation of commercial wealth may be indicative, on the one hand, of faithful industries, progressive energies, and productive ingenuities: or, on the other, it may be indicative of mortal luxury, merciless tyranny, ruinous chicane.”9

*

We are in the habit of regarding all money as equal. Presuming that the pounds and pence which make up my own meagre savings are equivalent in some directly proportional manner to the billions owned by let’s say George Soros. A cursory consideration shows how this is laughable.

For instance, we might recall that on “Black Wednesday” in 1992, Soros single-handedly shook the British economy (although, the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont was left to shoulder the blame)10. But to illustrate this point a little further, let me tell you about my own small venture into the property market.

Lucky enough to have been bequeathed a tidy though not considerable fortune, I recently decided to purchase a house to live in. The amount, although not inconsiderable by everyday standards (if compared say with the income and savings of Mr and Mrs Average), and very gratefully received, was barely sufficient to cover local house prices, except that I had one enormous advantage: I had cash, and cash is king.

For reasons of convenience, cash is worth significantly more than nominally equivalent amounts of borrowed money. In this instance I can estimate that it was probably worth a further 20–30%. Enough to buy a far nicer house than if I’d needed to see my bank manager. A bird in the hand…

Having more money also has other advantages. One very obvious example being that it enables bulk purchases, which being cheaper, again inflates its relative value. The rule in fact is perfectly straightforward: when it comes to money, more is always more, and in sufficient quantities, it is much, much more than that.

But then, of course, we have the market itself. The market that is supposedly free and thus equal. The reality being, however, that since money accumulates by virtue of attracting its own likeness, the leading players in the market, whether wealthy individuals or giant corporations, by wielding larger capital resources, can operate with an unassailable competitive advantage. These financial giants can and do stack the odds even higher in their favour by more indirect means, such as buying political influence with donations to campaign funds and by other insidious means such as lobbying – all of which is simply legally permitted bribery. The flaunted notion of a free market is therefore the biggest nonsense of all. There is no such thing as a free market: never has been and never will be.

The most ardent supporters of free market neoliberalism say that it is a non-normative system, which permits us finally to rid ourselves of disagreements over pesky value judgements. The truth, however, is very much simpler. By ignoring values, it becomes a system devoid of all moral underpinning. Being morally bankrupt, it is unscrupulous in the truest sense of the word.

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If I had enough money and a whim, I might choose to buy all the plumbers and tins of herrings in Britain. Then, since money is (in part) a measure of scarcity, I could sell them back later with a sizeable mark-up. Too far-fetched? Well, perhaps, but only in my choice of commodity. The market in other commodities has without any question been cornered many times in the past. For instance, by the end of the 1970s, two brothers, Nelson Bunker and William Herbert Hunt, had accumulated and held what was then estimated to be one third of all the world’s silver. This led to serious problems both for high-street jewellers11 and for the economy more generally12, and as it happened, when the bubble burst on what became know as “Silver Thursday”, it also spelt trouble for the brothers’ own fortune. Fortunately for them, however, the situation was considered so serious that a consortium of banks came forward to help to bail them out13. They had lost, their fortune diminished, although by no means wiped out. As relatively small players they’d played too rough; meanwhile much larger players ensure that the markets are routinely rigged through such manufacture of scarcity. Going back as early as 1860, John Ruskin had already pointed out a different but closely-related deficiency in any market-driven capitalist system of trade:

“Take another example, more consistent with the ordinary course of affairs of trade. Suppose that three men, instead of two, formed the little isolated republic, and found themselves obliged to separate, in order to farm different pieces of land at some distance from each other along the coast: each estate furnishing a distinct kind of produce, and each more or less in need of the material raised on the other. Suppose that the third man, in order to save the time of all three, undertakes simply to superintend the transference of commodities from one farm to the other; on condition of receiving some sufficiently remunerative share of every parcel of goods conveyed, or of some other parcel received in exchange for it.

“If this carrier or messenger always brings to each estate, from the other, what is chiefly wanted, at the right time, the operations of the two farmers will go on prosperously, and the largest possible result in produce, or wealth, will be attained by the little community. But suppose no intercourse between the landowners is possible, except through the travelling agent; and that, after a time, this agent, watching the course of each man’s agriculture, keeps back the articles with which he has been entrusted until there comes a period of extreme necessity for them, on one side or other, and then exacts in exchange for them all that the distressed farmer can spare of other kinds of produce: it is easy to see that by ingeniously watching his opportunities, he might possess himself regularly of the greater part of the superfluous produce of the two estates, and at last, in some year of severest trial or scarcity, purchase both for himself and maintain the former proprietors thenceforward as his labourers or servants.”14

By restricting the choices of others, one’s power over them is increased, and it this that brings us to the real reason why money becomes such addiction, especially for those who already have more than they know what to do with. For truly the absolute bottom line is this: that money and power become almost inseparable unless somehow a separation can be enforced. And whilst wealth, especially when excessive, accumulates, as it almost invariably does, then along with it goes the accumulation of power. This is underlying and centralising mechanism has perhaps always operated at the heart of all civilisation. But even the power of money has its limits, as Ruskin points out:

“It has been shown that the chief value and virtue of money consists in its having power over human beings; that, without this power, large material possessions are useless, and to any person possessing such power, comparatively unnecessary. But power over human beings is attainable by other means than by money. As I said a few pages back, the money power is always imperfect and doubtful; there are many things which cannot be reached with it, others which cannot be retained by it. Many joys may be given to men which cannot be bought for gold, and many fidelities found in them which cannot be rewarded with it.

“Trite enough, – the reader thinks. Yes: but it is not so trite, – I wish it were, – that in this moral power, quite inscrutable and immeasurable though it be, there is a monetary value just as real as that represented by more ponderous currencies. A man’s hand may be full of invisible gold, and the wave of it, or the grasp, shall do more than another’s with a shower of bullion. This invisible gold, also, does not necessarily diminish in spending. Political economists will do well some day to take heed of it, though they cannot take measure.”15

Until such a time, every action and probable outcome must continue to be evaluated on the basis of strict cost and benefit estimates. Our “ponderous currencies” literally enabling a figure to be set against each human life – an application fraught with the most serious moral dilemmas and objections – and beyond even this, we have price tags for protecting (or else ruining) the natural environment all our lives depend upon. For only the market can secure our futures, optimally delivering us from evil, though inevitably it moves in mysterious ways. Which is how the whole world – land, water, air and every living organism – came to be priced and costed. Everything set against a notional scale that judges exclusively in terms of usefulness and availability, such is the madness of our money delusion.

We are reaching a crisis point. A thoroughgoing reappraisal of our financial systems, our economic orthodoxes, and our attitudes to money per se is desperately required. Our survival as a species may depend on it. Money ought to be our useful servant, but instead remains, at least for the vast majority, a terrible master. As a consequence, our real wealth has been too long overlooked. Time then for this genii called money to be forced back tight inside its bottle. Ceaselessly chasing its golden behind, and mistaking its tight fist for the judicious hand of God, is leading us ever further down the garden path. Further and further away from the land it promises.

Next chapter…

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 Addendum: Q & A

Back in April 2012, I forwarded a draft of this chapter to friends in Spain (a nation already suffering under imposed “austerity measures”). They sent an extended reply which raised two interesting and important questions. Both questions along with my replies are offered below:

Q1: You seem to be saying that printing money (as the US and UK, who are in control of their own currency, are doing ) is as bad as dealing with the debt problem by means of austerity (the “Merkozy” approach). But the latter is surely definitely worse.

A. I think these are simply two sides of the same scam. The bankers create an enormous unpayable debt and then get governments to create new money to bail them out. This is sold to us as a way of bailing out a few chosen victims (Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland) although it simply means a huge transfer of wealth from public into private hands. To make that money useful to the bankers (and the rest of the ruling elite) ‘austerity measures’ are put in place which not only steal money off the average person but also permit the fire sale of national assets. Meanwhile, in Britain and America, the governments are helping to pay for these bailouts by creating money out of thin air, which means the real value of our money is reduced through inflation (effectively a hidden tax). If the money were invested in infrastructure or education or whatever, then this could potentially be a good thing (even though it still creates inflation), so certainly QE could have been beneficial but not when you use the money only to keep afloat a huge Ponzi scheme. But then you ask later…

Q2: ‘but how come the pound is high now and the euro low’

A. That’s a very good question and I won’t pretend that I understand this completely, but I gather there are plenty of ways for keeping currencies higher than they ought to be by manipulating the markets [incidentally, the Forex Scandal to manipulate and rig the daily foreign exchange rates did not come to light until Summer 2013]. The market is rigged in any case by virtue of the fact that the dollar remains the world’s reserve currency and that oil is traded entirely in dollars. But essentially what’s going on here is a huge currency war, and the euro is constantly under attack from speculators. I am fairly certain that the chickens will come home to roost sooner or later in America and Britain (and in Germany too), but meanwhile the governments simply go about cooking the books and telling us how inflation is only 4% or whatever when fuel prices, for instance, have rocketed during the past few years. In any case, we get ‘austerity’ too, not as hardline yet as the ‘austerity’ being imposed elsewhere, but it will come – of this I have no doubt. Either it will happen slowly, or worse, there will be a huge war and the ‘austerity’ will be brought into place to justify the expense of that. This is a deliberate attack by the bankers against the people of the world, and until the people of the world say that’s enough, and most of the debts are cancelled outright, I don’t see any way this can be reversed.

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Another topic I briefly touched upon in the chapter above is the matter of inflation. What is it and what causes it? My answers were sketchy, in part, because I wished to avoid getting too bogged down in technicalities beyond my training. But this question about the causes of inflation is, in any case, an extremely thorny one. Different schools of economists provide different explanations.

One less orthodox account that I have frequently come across is that our fractional reserve banking system when combined with a central bank’s issuance of a fiat currency is inherently inflationary. That in the long term, and solely because of these extant monetary mechanisms, inflation is baked into the cake. So I wrote to a friend who holds with the above opinion and asked if he would explain “in the briefest terms that are sufficient” why he and others believe that central bank issuance of currency and fractional reserve banking are the primary underlying cause of inflation. Here is his succinct but detailed reply:

In a central bank system, money is created in the first instance by governments issuing bonds to banks and banks “printing” money and handing it over to the government in return. The government then owe the banks the money plus interest. If they ever pay back any of the principal, then a corresponding amount of bonds are handed back, i.e. cancelled. In that case, the money repaid goes out of existence!

Before elaborating any further, let’s take a step back. Fractional reserve lending doesn’t require central banks, nor does it require governments to create money by issuing bonds in exchange for it. Fractional reserve lending is simply the act of taking someone’s money to “look after it”, then turning around and lending a fraction of it to someone else. If the lender has enough depositors, then sum of all the unlent fractions of each deposit should cover him if one of them suddenly comes through the door asking for all their money back in one go. As I’m sure you know, if too many turn up at once looking for their money, a run ensues. Fractional reserve banking doesn’t even require a government sanctioned paper currency to exist. Depositors can simply deposit something like gold and the lenders can issue receipts which become the paper currency.

In olden times, when depositors of gold first found out that the goldsmiths they were paying to store their gold safely were lending it out for a percentage fee, they were outraged. The goldsmiths appeased them by offering them a cut of the fee for their interest in the scam. Accordingly, this money became known as ‘interest’.

So where do central banks fit in? Countries like the Unites States prior to 1913 have operated without central banks. There were thousands of banks of all sizes. To compete with one another, they had to endeavour to offer higher interest to depositors, lower interest rates to borrowers or to cut the fraction of deposits that they kept in reserve. This latter aspect was what caused banks occasionally to go to the wall, to the detriment of their depositors.

Central banking avoids this risk because the same fractional reserve ratio applies to all the banks under a central bank’s jurisdiction. However, it is really a way to avoid competition and if the system ever does get into trouble, the government feel obliged to bail it out or risk collapse of the whole system.

Now to answer your question about inflation.

In a fractional reserve central bank system, money is created as I’ve described by the government issuing bonds to the bank, receiving money created out of thin air and having to pay interest on it. When they spend it by paying salaries of government employees, contractors, arms manufacturers and so on, that money goes straight into bank accounts and the bankers can’t wait to lend out as much of it as possible, up to the limit of whatever fractional reserve ratio applies. So now there is a double claim on the money. The government employee thinks their salary is sitting in the bank but 90 percent of it is in the pocket of a borrower who thinks it’s theirs as long as they keep up with interest. That borrower, will inevitably either put the borrowed sum in their own bank account or spend it. Either way it will end up in another bank account somewhere. Then the same thing happens again; up to 90 percent of it gets lent out (81 percent of the original government-created money) and so on…

We end up in a situation where all of the money in circulation has arisen from someone somewhere, signing the dotted line to put themselves in debt. The money isn’t backed by a commodity such as gold. Instead it is backed by the ability of the borrower to repay. All these borrowers, including the government are paying interest. If interest is to be paid on every penny in circulation, then it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that new money must be continuously ‘created’ to keep paying this. That occurs by governments constantly borrowing so that their debts keep on increasing and borrowers constantly borrowing more and more. This seems to work as long as prices, wages and asset values keep increasing. Generation after generation, workers can afford to pay more and more for the houses that they live in because the price of the house keeps going up so it looks like good collateral to the lender and also their wages keep going up, so the borrower can meet payments in the eyes of the lender.

Working out what the rate of inflation is at any given time is practically impossible. Government figures such as RPI and CPI are just another tool for the propagandists to use as they see fit at any given time. However for the banks to gain anything from the game, the rate of inflation must be:

  • less than the rate of interest paid by borrowers and;
  • greater than the rate of interest paid to savers.

This is why savers money is ‘eroded’ if they just leave it sitting in a bank account.
Now imagine a different system where:

  • governments issue paper money by printing it themselves;
  • the amount in circulation is absolutely fixed;
  • there is no central bank but there are plenty of independent banks.

In such a country, there is no need for the government to have any debt and there is ample historical evidence of nations that have existed without government debt for very long stretches of time. What borrowers there are have to find the interest by earning it from the fixed pool of currency that is in circulation. There is little need for anyone to borrow but that’s something that most people you speak to have difficulty accepting. That’s because they’ve only ever lived in a system where they spend their lives in the service of debt and cannot conceive of it being any different.

The bankers right at the top of the system aren’t out to grab hold of all the money in the world. They’re not after all the tangible in the world either. Their only goal is to ensure that as much human labour as possible is in the service of debt.

Now for something different. How can this whole thing go horribly wrong for the bankers? I don’t just mean a run on banks or a recession. That happens periodically and is known as the business cycle. People lose confidence and are reluctant to borrow for a number of years, then they regain confidence and start to borrow again and the whole thing picks up and the cycle repeats.

What can go horribly wrong is if, after generations and generations and generations of increasing prices and debts, everyone gets more spooked by debt than ever before and totally fixated on repaying it. They sell assets but there are so many folk doing that that asset prices start to decline. That spooks people further. A spiral is under way. Banks try to ‘stimulate’ the economy by lowering interest rates but there is very little confidence around, especially if asset prices are declining compared with debts and wages aren’t rising either (or may be in decline), so that the ability to repay debt is impaired. This decline can be long and protracted. Also there can be many ups and downs along the way, although the long term trend is down. Ups can be deceptive as they are perceived as “coming out of the recession” by those used to the normal business cycles we’ve experienced throughout the whole of the twentieth century. In this way, asset prices can bleed away until eventually they reach something like a tenth of of their peak value. This process can reach a very late stage before a lot of people recognise what’s really going on. This is just a scenario but one worth considering seriously. We could be in for long term deflation but it will be well under way and too late for many people in debt by the time it gets mainstream acknowledgement.

A closely-related question and one that automatically follows is why do countries bother having central banks at all? Instead of a government issuing bonds, why not directly issue the currency instead, thereby cutting out the middle men? It is an approach that actually has a number of historical precedents as pointed out in this open letter to Obama urging him to reissue ‘greenbacks’ and the campaign in Britain to print ‘treasury notes’ like the Bradbury Pound. So in a further reply to my friend I asked him, “do you think that the re-issuance of ‘greenbacks’ in America or the Bradbury Pound in the UK might offer a realistic solution to the current crisis?” His response:

The issue of greenbacks or whatever you call them (essentially government-issued money) would probably make no immediate difference. Already, the money created by quantitative easing is not working its way into the system, so why would money issued by any other means?

In the longer term, such a fundamental upheaval would make a huge difference as the government wouldn’t need to be in debt the whole time and people wouldn’t have to keep paying increasing prices for houses and cars on top of interest. Pensioners wouldn’t be on a treadmill, having to ‘invest’ their savings just in vain an effort to keep up with inflation.

There’s a risk that the government might be tempted to print more and more money, which is often cited as a point in favour of the present system. It is claimed that having to pay interest and ultimately repay the whole principal is a disincentive in this respect. However, the current system ensures constant “printing” all the time as there’s no way that everyone involved can pay interest otherwise.

There’s talk at the moment about banks charging people a few percent for holding their money on deposit, i.e “negative interest”. People think they’ll lose money as their account balances will go down over time. However, it’s no different to being paid say six percent interest at a time when inflation is at 9 percent and the cheapest loan you can get is 12 percent.

I’m amazed at how people in the alternative media can inform us that banks are going to charge us ‘negative interest’ for our deposits, express outrage and then in the next breath claim that we’re in a hyperinflationary environment. Low/negative interest is a sure sign of massive deflationary pressure. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m convinced that deflation’s the one to watch. It has the potential to catch people out.

Getting back to your original question, the direct issuing of money by the government would represent a seismic shift of power from bankers to governments; a shift in the right direction, no doubt. It’s only possible if everyone knows what’s exactly going on. We’re a very long way off yet. Peoples’ understanding of the banking scam is very very poor.

I would add that very much front and centre in that scam is the role of the central banks. These extraordinarily powerful commercial bodies that adopt the outward appearance of public institutions when in fact they work for commercial interests. The US Federal Reserve, for instance, is a de facto private corporation and all of its shareholders are private banks. The status of the Bank of England is more complicated. This is what the main wikipedia entry intriguingly has to tell us:

Established in 1694, it is the second oldest central bank in the world, after the Sveriges Riksbank, and the world’s 8th oldest bank. It was established to act as the English Government’s banker, and is still the banker for HM Government. The Bank was privately owned [clarification needed (Privately owned by whom? See talk page.)] from its foundation in 1694 until nationalised in 1946.[3][4] 

Original references retained.

Clarification needed indeed! Anyway, nowadays it is officially (since 1998) an ‘independent public organisation’. However, the BoE is not really as independent as it might first appear, since along with eighteen other central banks from around the world (including the US Federal Reserve) it is a member of the executive of “the central bank for central banks” – the little known Bank for International Settlements (BIS) based in Basel, Switzerland. To hear more about the history, ownership and function of this highly profitable (tax free and extraterritorial) organisation, I recommend listening to this interview with Adam LeBor, author of the recently released book The Tower of Basel:

For my own more detailed thoughts on effective remedies to the on-going financial crisis please read this earlier post.

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Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

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1 From “The Future”, Essays in Persuasion (1931) Ch. 5, John Maynard Keynes, CW, IX, pp.329 — 331, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930).

2 Adam Smith applied “the law of diminishing utility” to solve “the paradox of water and diamonds”. Water is a vital resource and most precious to life and yet it is far less expensive to purchase than diamonds, comparatively useless shiny crystals, which in his own times would have been used solely for ornamentation or engraving. The reason, Smith decides, is that water is readily abundant, such that any loss or gain is of little concern to most people in most places. By contrast, the rarity of diamonds means that, although less useful overall, any loss or gain of use is more significant, or to put it more formally the “marginal utility” is greater.

3 Extract taken from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

4 Legal tender is a technical legal term that basically means an offer of payment that cannot be refused in settlement of a debt.

5 Fiat (Latin), “let it be done” meaning that these currencies are guaranteed by government decree only.

6 Milton Friedman pays homage to Ronald Reagan’s record on deregulation in an essay entitled “Freedom’s friend” published in the Wall Street Journal on June 11, 2004. Drawing evidence from The Federal Register, “records the thousands of detailed rules and regulations that federal agencies churn out in the course of a year”, Friedman contrasts Reagan’s record with that of Presidential incumbents before and since: “They [the rules and regulations] are not laws and yet they have the effect of laws and like laws impose costs and restrain activities. Here too, the period before President Reagan was one of galloping socialism. The Reagan years were ones of retreating socialism, and the post-Reagan years, of creeping socialism.” For socialism read regulation. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB108691016978034663

7 Definition of “too big to fail” taken from Businessdictionary.com: “Idea that certain businesses are so important to the nation, that it would be disastrous if they were allowed to fail. This term is often applied to some of the nation’s largest banks, because if these banks were to fail, it could cause serious problems for the economy. By declaring a company too big to fail, however, it means that the government might be tempted to step in if this company gets into a bad situation, either due to problems within the company or problems from outside the company. While government bailouts or intervention might help the company survive, some opponents think that this is counterproductive, and simply helping a company that maybe should be allowed to fail. This concept was integral to the financial crisis of the late 2000s.”

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

9 Unto This Last is based on a collection of four essays first published in the monthly Cornhill Magazine, 1860, and then reprinted as Unto This Last in 1862. This extract is drawn from his second essay: “The Veins of Wealth”

10 George Soros proudly explains the events of “Black Wednesday” on his official website: “In 1992, with the economy of the United Kingdom in recession, Quantum Fund’s managers anticipated that British authorities would be forced to break from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) then in force and allow the British pound to devalue in relation to other currencies, in particular the German mark. Quantum Fund sold short (betting on a decline in value) more than $10 billion worth of pounds sterling. On September 16, 1992—later dubbed “Black Wednesday”—the British government abandoned the ERM and the pound was devalued by twenty percent.” http://www.georgesoros.com/faqs/archive/category/finance/

11Last year [1979] Bunker and his syndicate began buying silver again, this time on a truly gargantuan scale. They were soon imitated by other speculators shaken by international crises and distrustful of paper money. It was this that sent the price of silver from $6 per oz. in early 1979 to $50 per oz. in January of this year. Chairman Walter Hoving of Tiffany & Co., the famous jewelry store, was incensed. Tiffany ran an ad in the New York Times last week asserting: ‘We think it is unconscionable for anyone to hoard several billion, yes billion, dollars worth of silver and thus drive the price up so high that others must pay artificially high prices for articles made of silver from baby spoons to tea sets, as well as photographic film and other products.’” Extract taken from “He Has a Passion for Silver”, article published in Time Magazine, Monday 7April, 1980. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,921964-2,00.html

12Many Government officials feared that if the Hunts were unable to meet all their debts, some Wall Street brokerage firms and some large banks might collapse.” Extract taken from “Bunker’s busted silver bubble”, article published in Time Magazine, Monday 12 May, 1980. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,920875,00.html

13What may deal the Hunt fortune a fatal blow is the fallout from the brothers’ role in the great silver-price boom and bust of 1980. Thousands of investors who lost money in the debacle are suing the Hunts. On Saturday the brothers lost a civil case that could set an ominous precedent. A six-member federal jury in New York City found that the Hunts conspired to corner the silver market, and held them liable to pay $63 million in damages to Minpeco, a Peruvian mineral-marketing company that suffered heavy losses in the silver crash. Under federal antitrust law, the penalty is automatically tripled to $189 million, but after subtractions for previous settlements with Minpeco, the total value of the judgment against the Hunts is $134 million.” Extract taken from “Big bill for a bullion binge”, article published in Time Magazine, Monday 29 August, 1988. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,968272-1,00.html

14 Extract also taken from the second essay, entitled: “The Veins of Wealth” of Unto This Last by John Ruskin.

15 Ibid.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, « finishing the rat race », financial derivatives, Max Keiser, neo-liberalism

The New Great Game: “Pax Americana” from Syria to Uzbekistan to the Ukraine

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Recent historical background

Embedded above is one of the most frequently cited (at least by alternative news outlets) political interviews of the past decade. Broadcast by Democracy Now! on March 2nd, 2007, it features Gen. Wesley Clark discussing US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The reason for its notoriety being the statement Clark makes during the opening three minutes, when he informs the world of how he learned about Pentagon plans to “take out seven countries in five years”:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs and just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me and he said, “Sir, you’ve gotta come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said “No, we’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September.

I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq – why?”

He said, “I don’t know…” [audience laughs] He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no, there’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan, and I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

He said, “Oh, it’s worse than that. He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper, and he said, “I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today” and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off, Iran.”

Wesley Clark’s testimony is important because it is revealing, at the same time though, I find his professed surprise at the revelations coming from “upstairs” more than a little hard to believe. After all, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, men who Clark says he had only just seen on the day in question (and ones he presumably met with on a quite regular basis), are both Signatories to Statement of Principles of the now notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neo-con think tank. A statement of intent had been signed by them and other notables, including Dick Cheney, more than four years prior to the 9/11 attacks on June 3rd 1997. It begins:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Unfortunately, the complete founding PNAC statement is hard to track down, but then we can no doubt judge the group’s geostrategic ambitions better from a few of its less public documents. For instance, a PNAC letter to President George W. Bush advocating “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” It was received on September 20th, 2001 – so again at precisely the time when Clark was being privately briefed by that unnamed general at the Pentagon. This letter from PNAC co-founder William Kristol “& others” read:

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Click here to find the complete letter to Bush.

But most damning of all the PNAC documents is its notorious ninety-page report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Released almost precisely one year prior to the 9/11 attacks, it calls for “a global Pax Americana” – which might be translated as ‘America uber alles’; for the betterment of all obviously – and looks forward to “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” In part five of this report, entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”, we discover their blueprint for “full spectrum dominance”. The details of “Transforming U.S. Conventional Forces” requiring (amongst other things):

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack – electronic, “nonlethal,” biological – will be more widely available. […]

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Click here to read the full PNAC document Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

The document reads like the wet dream of Dr Strangelove, but then the PNAC crowd (now officially disbanded) were all lunatics, of course. Like Strangelove, they were fascist madmen who suddenly had the ear of the US President. As a consequence, much of this brave new world of warfare was quickly established under Bush; the Obama administration then adhering to a similar doctrine. Expansionist wars by means of such high tech armaments as the “long-range, stealthy unmanned craft” as described by PNAC back in 2000, becoming so unexceptional that the public got into the habit of forgetting all about them.

Likewise, Obama has continued to press ahead with the same neo-con agenda of destabilisation which Wesley Clark warned about in 2007. The only really significant difference has been the rhetoric. Regime change in Libya justified as humanitarian from the get-go, as has been the ongoing campaign for the overthrow of Assad in Syria. But then, the White House can hardly be expected to publicly announce that it is covertly supporting al-Qaeda factions to those ends.

Almost six months has now passed since just such an unlikely shift in policy was on the verge of actually taking shape – it would take the crossing of Obama’s “red line”, but the US was very much poised to take up arms on the side of al-Qaeda (not that the White House were about to explain matters in such honest terms – the air strikes would only be aiding the good rebels). By then, US warships had been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean and were already on heightened alert. With the atrocity at Ghouta, John Kerry especially, was keen to seize on the opportunity, saying “We know a senior Syrian official discussed the attack and was afraid they’d be discovered”, before announcing to the world:

“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this matters to us. It matter[s] to us and who we are. It matters to leadership and our credibility in the world. It matters if nothing is done – if the world speaks out in condemnation, and nothing happens.”1

But Kerry was lying about the intelligence, and, as Seymour Hersh has since explained at length, the US couldn’t possibly have known that either Assad had given the go-ahead, or even that those within the Syrian army had launched any attack, with or without his express permission. And more recent evidence further challenges those US allegations that had brought us so close to a major international conflagration:

[But] The authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.2

This was the verdict of a report entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence” produced by a team of security and arms experts who met last month in Washington, as reported by McClatchy in mid January.

Click here to read the full article.

Refusing to be sidetracked by a few inconvenient details, like Kerry, Obama was eager to respond. Responding, that is, in the only way US administrations appear able to respond these days – with every problem jutting up like a nail that is in need of a good hammering down. The aerial bombing of Damascus would doubtless have started within days except that something completely unexpected then occurred – British MPs voting down the government. Following which, we saw another extraordinarily rapid change of circumstances as Russia persuaded the Syrian regime to entirely surrender its chemical weapons arsenal. A deal brokered by Sergei Lavrov meant that Kerry and Obama could at least save face. Thus the tensions between Russia and the West, which had been on the verge of snapping, eased a little. There was one less arsenal of WMDs in the world, and though a horrible civil war continued, at least the people of Syrian wouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of “shock and awe” we saw first over Baghdad and more latterly Tripoli and at Sirte.

With the removal of Syria’s WMDs, Obama salvaged a little dignity, but his veil of being the peacemaker, already wearing thin, had suddenly been ripped off altogether. Here is what John Pilger wrote last September, less than a month after the gas attack on Ghouta:

Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.3

Click here to read the full article at John Pilger’s own website.

 *

Syria

The civil war in Syria is three years old. Millions have been displaced, thousands are dying each week, and there appears little end in sight to the bloody stalemate. It is, as we are frequently reminded, a humanitarian crisis. During the first round of the Geneva II summit, John Kerry said:

Now, lost in the daily reports of violence is the fact that this revolution did not begin as an armed resistance. This started peacefully. It was started by schoolboys in Daraa who are armed only with graffiti cans, citizens who were peacefully and legitimately calling for change. And they were met almost immediately with violence. When their parents came out to protest the arrest of the children, 120 people died. That was the beginning.

And tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles.

They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war. And most recently, we have seen horrific reports of systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. This is an appalling assault, not only on human lives, but on human dignity and on every standard by which the international community tries to organize itself, recognizing the horrors of the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded, the destabilization of neighboring countries, and the endless exile of refugees.4

In short, Bashar Assad and the incumbent Syrian regime are solely responsible, Kerry says, whether directly or indirectly, for every death and all of the horror of the past three years. But how can this be true when a civil war is raging that involves at least three opposing sides? So Kerry’s version of events plays down the many atrocities carried out by a plethora ‘al-Qaeda affiliated’ factions. War crimes such as forced ‘suicide bombings’, throwing people from buildings, and very possibly including gas attacks like the one at Ras al-Ayn in the northern province of al-Hasakah that appear to have been launched by “rebel forces”.5 This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last December in the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Whose sarin?”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.6

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full report.

Roaming across Syria there are gangs of fundamentalists who proudly upload footage of their own bloodlust including public beheadings and acts of cannibalism. But Kerry has nothing of note to say about this either. Not even when those same factions are known to be fighting against and murdering one another. Is the Syrian government also responsible when one arm of al-Qaeda is killing the other?

Nor does Kerry make any comment about al-Qaeda’s immediate backers at home in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, nor level some of the blame at Turkey who have been providing assistance by allowing many of these Jihadists to slip across into Syria in the first place. Instead, he blames Assad and the Syrian government for the very acts of terrorism they are fighting against, saying:

So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.

Kerry’s concern is entirely one-dimensional. He wants regime change. And he stresses this demand without any evident concern for what will very likely fill the power vacuum left behind. A catastrophe of the kind that followed in the wake of other instances of regime change, such as in Iraq (after the fall of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein) and Libya (with dictator Gaddafi ousted). Like Bush and the rest of the neo-con ramble, he also shows a casual disregard for international law which was set up, in part, to protect the sovereign right of nations. Immediate decapitation, Kerry says, is the only permissible solution:

Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

Mark Twain famously remarked that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” and the recent history of US-backed regime change shows just how regular and tight the pattern of rhyming has now become. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all dictatorships, of course, and all had extremely poor human rights records, but regime change did not bring salvation in the form of freedom and democracy, it instead unleashed perpetual war.

Syria is yet another dictatorship with its own extremely poor human rights record. Not that this comes as news to Washington. Back when Assad had been in favour, his government, just like Gaddafi’s, had usefully provided facilities for the torture of America’s own prisoners under the secret programme of “extraordinary rendition”:

Iran’s proxy Syria did torture on behalf of the United States. The most famous case involves Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen snatched in 2002 by the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the CIA sent him to Syria under the mistaken impression he was a terrorist. In Syrian custody, Arar was “imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks by the Syrian government,” [chief Open Society Foundation investigator, Amrit] Singh writes.

But it wasn’t just Arar. At least seven others were rendered to Syria. Among their destinations: a prison in west Damascus called the Palestine Branch, which features an area called “the Grave,” comprised of “individual cells that were roughly the size of coffins.” Syrian intelligence reportedly uses something called a “German Chair” to “stretch the spine.”7

America’s “black sites” are still open and the “extraordinary rendition” flights continued under Obama and, so far as we know, continue today. As for appeals to human rights, these reassurances are only for a public increasingly unwilling to go to war. In the ranks of the policymakers the discussion has been more strictly along these lines:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.8

Taken from an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations back in August 2012.

*

Uzbekistan

To put all of this into a bigger perspective, I think it is helpful to go back again to the story of Craig Murray. Today, Craig Murray is recognised as one of the foremost political bloggers and is a well-known human rights activist in Britain. A decade ago, however, he was battling against serious illness and also on the verge of being sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The story of how he came to finally lose his job in October 2004 is long on details but can be summed up in just a few paragraphs.

Murray was, by his own account “a reluctant whistleblower”. At first he tried to alert his superiors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by sending confidential diplomatic telegrams (Americans call these ‘cables’) advising them that the Uzbek regime was involved in the widespread use of (what he later described as) “the most horrible forms of torture imaginable” against its opponents and including the torture of children in front of their parents.9

In the first telegram sent on 16th September 2002, Murray had written:

President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Murray was also keen to bring to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the dangers of trusting Uzbek “intelligence”, which he knew to be wholly unreliable. But, a month later, to his surprise, there was still no reply or even any acknowledgment from the FCO. Murray then decided to deliver a speech to a human rights conference hosted by US-based NGO Freedom House in Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) in which he asserted that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”. To support this claim, he drew attention to the boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov, which he said was “not an isolated incident” (The horrific method of Avazov’s murder had been independently verified by a leading pathologist who examined the photographic evidence).

He then sent a second telegram on March 18th 2003, in which he repeated his earlier concerns:

Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

Again, Murray says that he received no written reply. In the third and most damning of these telegrams which is dated July 4th, Murray wrote:

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture. […]

The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.” While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

Click here to read full versions of Craig Murray’s leaked diplomatic telegrams to FCO.

Murray says he was worried by the reliance of both the CIA and MI6 on Uzbek “intelligence”. He would later argue that both agencies were not only complicit in receiving confessions based on torture, but, in consequence, had been willingly misled when it came to assessing real levels of al-Qaeda terrorism in the country. He says that it came as a tremendous shock when he slowly realised that neither the civil service nor senior British politicians such as then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had any interest in these documented allegations against the Karimov regime, and so it was only in the last resort that he had decided to publicly release the cables onto the internet.

On the basis of largely cooked-up accusations of inappropriate personal behaviour, Murray was then summarily dismissed. But, a little less than five years later, on April 28th 2009, Murray was at last allowed to present evidence of UK complicity in torture before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He wrote on his blog:

As I prepare for my evidence session before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April, I was looking back for the evidence I gave to the European Parliament on extraordinary rendition. Unfortunately it seems that no transcript was made of the committee questioning me (unless anyone who knows the system there better than I can come up with one) but rather a kind of precis made of my evidence as a “working document”.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/tempcom/tdip/working_docs/pe374341_en.pdf

It also helpfully published the supporting documentation I gave.

What still surprises me is that, after I gave my evidence, I was mobbed by media, gave numerous television interviews, and was headline news all over Europe. Except in the UK where there was no mention of it at all. I was pondering this over the weekend as I read a very large number of commentary pieces, in every serious newspaper, on the apparent complicity in torture and what enquiries into it may find.

I have been answering the question of the moment – was there a policy of torture – for the last five years, with eye-witness testimony backed up with documentary proof. Yet I appear not to exist to the media. Will my testimony to the JCHR also be simply ignored?

Click here to read Murray’s full post from March 31st 2009.

Now, fast-forward to just two years ago when on March 12th 2012, Murray posted another short article with embedded videos showing a speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” given to the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Murray writing that:

It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

Intrigued, I tried to play the videos, but instead this notice popped up: “this video has been removed by the user”. Naturally, my intrigue was piqued a little more.

Two days on, and Craig Murray has posted yet another short article entitled “Beyond Irony”. It reads as follows:

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that something has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression”.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.

The video then reappeared and it is available here (and also embedded below). If you’re looking for an inside perspective on how diplomacy actually works in ‘the real world’ then you’d be hard pressed to find much better. I can’t help noticing, however, that one part of the presentation has been snipped. Has Murray’s full statement been censored? Here is the video as it now appears:

There are a number of statements in Murray’s presentation that remain very pertinent to the situation we find almost two years later, and so in efforts to highlight these points, I have made my own transcript of the relevant parts. Clarification of his own reasons for becoming a whistleblower are available in a footnote10 and below you can read selected passages that convey his frustration at the abysmal cynicism of western realpolitik:

Western governments actually don’t really care about this human rights stuff. They pretend they care about the human rights stuff because there’s a constituency at home that cares about the human rights stuff. If you have somebody like me who tries to take them at their word in promoting human rights in a country of which they have other interests, that person becomes a threat to the state and has to be removed, as a threat in any way.

Bahrain: we have this extraordinary situation where western support for the Arab Spring evaporates when it comes to Bahrain and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. I had a friend in a diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York. You may recall that the Americans were pretending in public to be against the bombing of Libya right up until the last moment – a lot of propaganda was put out saying the American military were against it that they were not prepared – all the time that propaganda was put out they were moving military assets into place to do it. I had a friend in New York who phoned me before either the UNSCR 19791973, while those resolutions were under discussion at the United Nations, and before the invasion of [Libya]… This friend of mine at the United Nations phoned me and he said that the Americans are cutting a deal whereby they will okay the Saudis to invade Bahrain in exchange for an Arab League call for Nato to go into Libya. That’s how cynical realpolitik is. [from 25:30 mins]

Western policy is driven by very hard financial interests. The interests of a very elite bunch of people, who control a great deal, and indirectly control the media narrative that surrounds the explanation the public is given as to why these wars [and] these attacks on human rights happen. To go back to that intelligence in Uzbekistan, there has to be a reason why you’re supporting the Uzbek dictatorship with a lot of money and training for their armed forces. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world. How do you justify giving that dictatorship support? Well, you justify it as part of a war on terror and that you are backing them against al-Qaeda. Except that there is no al-Qaeda in Uzbekistan. There’s virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Central Asia – there’s certainly none in Uzbekistan. [from 31:55 mins]

I’m afraid to say that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the analysis of intelligence – which is something that I have spent quite a lot of my career doing (and which I feel I was very good) – had ceased to be a genuine intellectual exercise in determining the facts, and had become instead, a process of providing lies to government. That government wanted to publish. Making the world as it was. The government wanted to support Karimov for reasons of oil and gas and the war in Afghanistan. There needed to be a reason for supporting him, therefore, there needed to be al-Qaeda activity in Central Asia, where it did not in fact exist. And the media is complicit in this building of lies. [from 38:30 mins]

A decade has passed since Murray blew the whistle on Karimov, yet he remains both President of Uzbekistan and an American ally. His record in office during the intervening period speaks volumes. In May 2005, his authorities blocked all the exits from Babur Square, kettling the crowd before snipers and police opened fire on thousands of protesters. It is estimated that between 400–500 people were killed in cold blood. Ikrom Yakubov, a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), said that Karimov had personally ordered massacres. He also accused the Karimov regime of “pursuing a policy of ‘false flag’ terrorism by orchestrating attacks and then blaming them on Islamist militants in an effort to demonize the opposition and win foreign support”, as well as “engineering a plane crash in 2004 that killed United Nations official Richard Conroy.”11

Nevertheless, in September 2011 Obama phoned Karimov to congratulate him on Uzbekistan’s twenty years of independence (Karimov is the nation’s first and only president) “and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.”12

Click here to read the full article about Ikrom Yakubov on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.

*

Back to Syria

On the eve of the Geneva II talks, a report (which Kerry alluded to) was released establishing “compelling evidence of the systematic murder of some 11,000 detainees through starvation, beatings and torture, including the gouging of eyes and electrocution – and all that in just one part of Syria, with the strong suspicion that more such killing will have taken place elsewhere.” Here is part of Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of the evidence published writing for the Guardian on the same day [Jan 21st]:

The source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [a source known only by the codename Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [&] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try).13

Others, however, were more questioning. Here, for instance, is veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writing in The Independent also on Jan 21st:

The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds. […]

But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an international conference in Switzerland in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.

How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.

Fisk’s article is subtitled “One is reminded of Nazi Germany”, but not for reasons that are immediately apparent. He continues:

Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?14

Such a strategy is unlikely to work, of course, since Iran and Russia have their own interests to defend – I will touch on this later. But Fisk is concerned not only by the involvement of Qatar as backers of the report, he is also worried about the role of solicitors Carter Ruck “– may their name be praised”. He was not alone. Here is Craig Murray writing again on his own blog:

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

Click here to read Craig Murray’s complete article.

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George Soros and the “colour revolutions”

Little more than a decade ago there were a series of “colour revolutions” within the former Soviet Union and across its former Eastern Bloc satellites. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 had already led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, and soon afterwards the Rose Revolution of Georgia (Nov 2003), would force the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, whilst the less remembered Tulip Revolution (also sometimes called the “Pink Revolution” of Spring 2005) led to the downfall of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Then, in Belarus, the following Spring (March 2006), President Alexander Lukashenko clung on to power after the failed Jeans Revolution – denim jeans having been adopted as a symbol of freedom (the reason for this, if not already apparent, will become so after the next paragraph).

During the same period we also witnessed what became perhaps the best-known of all these post-Soviet era uprisings, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which started with allegations of vote rigging in the second round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. A peaceful campaign of strikes and civil disobedience followed helping to force a reelection.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, Ian Traynor reported in the Guardian as follows:

With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

The outcome in fact was that leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating the man who now holds the office Viktor Yanukovych. But what is striking about the Guardian article is not only how candid Traynor is when it comes who was really backing the Ukrainian protests but his discovery that all of the “colour revolutions” had been similarly orchestrated:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

And who more precisely was behind it all? Ian Traynor’s article even provides a list of credits:

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev”.

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Ukraine

On January 30th, Democracy Now! featured a debate about the latest “Euromaidan” uprising in Ukraine, posing the question: “Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?” To answer this question they invited two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher. Here is a sample of what Cohen and Shekhovtsov had to say to each other:

Anton Shekhovtsov: I wrote the piece to highlight a very dangerous trend, in my opinion, is that many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue. There is a far-right element in the Euromaidan protests, but it is a minor element. And Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement which is trying to build a new Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine. And sometimes, by the name “far right,” there goes Ukrainian nationalism, and Ukrainian nationalism has—its main thrust is building of a truly independent Ukraine, a Ukraine which would be a national democratic state and not a colony of Russia, as Ukrainian nationalists think Ukraine is.

Stephen Cohen: Well, it’s not what Anton said. Where to begin? Can we begin at the beginning? What’s happening in Ukraine, what’s been unfolding since November in the streets, is probably the single most important international story underway today. It may impact for a very long time the geopolitics of Europe, Russia, American-Russian relations, and a lot more. At the same time, media coverage of this story, particularly in the United States, has been exceedingly misleading, very close to what Anton just told you. I would characterize Anton’s characterization, to be as polite as I can, as half-true. But a half-truth is an untruth.

The realities are, there is no “the Ukraine.” All this talk about Ukraine is on the front line of democracy—there are at least two Ukraines. One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. This is not my notion. This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure.

Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government—if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the EU economic agreement or else.

Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more—$600 million. It needed billions and billions.

There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.

One other point: These right-wing people, whom Anton thinks are not significant, all reports—and I don’t know when he was in Ukraine, maybe it was long ago and things have gone—but the reports that are coming out of Ukraine are the following. One, the moderates—that’s the former heavyweight champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, and others—have lost control of the street. They’ve asked the people who have been attacking the police with Molotov cocktails, and to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, to stop. And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway.

What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes. So, this is basically what I said, as I called as a distortion in the Western media. I don’t know if Professor Cohen have been in Ukraine. I’ve been to Ukraine just a few days ago. I haven’t seen that the right-wingers have taken control of the streets. The streets are controlled by Euromaidan, which is ideologically very different. There is a right-wing element, but this is the element which is only a minor component of Euromaidan. And if you remember the Solidarity movement in the ’80s in Poland, it also comprised some right-wing elements, but in the end they built a democratic national—national democratic Poland.

As for the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in western Ukraine, there are some, but at the same time, if you talk to them, if you interview them, and if you read their demands, you will not find any discrimination laws among their demands. What they demand is the national democratic state, independent from Russia. Even if they say that they are against the European Union, they at the same time support the pro-European protests. And this is partly what Euromaidan is about.

And then, again, there are many false reports about the beatings of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine. And mostly these reports are all false. They are being spread by Russian-backed propagandists, like Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Eurasian, pro-Russian party, Ukrainski Vybir, Ukrainian Choice. So, these people, they’re trying to distort the image of Euromaidan and picture it as something very violent, as something very right-wing, although the right-wing element, as I said, is a minor element at Euromaidan.

Stephen Cohen: Well, that’s Anton’s position. I mean, Anton represents—at least his description of the situation—the mainstream American media political view of what’s going on in Ukraine. And when I say “mainstream,” I mean it extends from the right wing in America to MSNBC, to the so-called liberals and progressives, to Bill Maher, who did this on his show the other night. There’s no alternative voice in America, except what I’m trying to say to you today. It’s wrong—it’s wrong factually, it’s wrong in terms of policy—for [John] McCain to go, as he’s done in other countries. He once said, “We’re all Georgians.” Now he’s saying, “We’re all Ukrainians.” If he understands the situation in Ukraine—and he may not—then he’s being reckless.

But a true understanding of Ukraine begins with the fact that there are at least two Ukraines, two legitimate Ukraines, culturally, politically, ethnically, economically, culturally. This isn’t Putin’s fault. This isn’t Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine’s fault. It’s either God’s fault, or it’s history’s fault. This is what came down through the centuries. The situation has been explosive since the end of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. When Western politicians go there, they’re playing with fire, metaphorically, and now they have real fire. […]

I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.

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

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Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”

Ukraine is, as Stephen Cohen says, a very divided nation. The western half, which is Ukrainian speaking, looks towards Europe; the Eastern half speaks Russian and prefers to keep its distance from the West. The opposition has been mostly portrayed as pro-EU (even when much of the sentiment is actually anti-Russia) and thus pro-democracy, which is a deliberate and calculated over-simplification.

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, the location of their homeland is key to winning what Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer and captain of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, once called “The Great Game”, and what Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly two centuries later alluded to as “The Grand Chessboard”. Brzezinski helpfully subtitling his 1998 book of the same name, “American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. In other words, the very same neo-con “Pax Americana” but by another name, with Brzezinski’s preferred approach more cloak-and-dagger than the full frontal assault of the PNAC crazies.

The major strategy of this updated quest for global hegemony (“The New Great Game” as some have called it), is again little different than during the days of Arthur Conolly: to seize control of Eurasia. And just as ‘the game’ itself hasn’t significantly altered in two centuries nor have the main competitors changed much either. Back in Conolly’s time, it was Britain in one corner against Russia in the other; nowadays America sits in for the UK.

In this pursuit of global dominion, the Ukraine is a vital stronghold. Firstly, it is located approximately at the hub of the Eurasian landmass. But additionally, Ukraine currently provides Russia with access to the Black Sea; the principal base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet being at Sevastopol – likewise, in Syria, the Russian fleet has its naval base at Tartus ensuring access to the Eastern Mediterranean. So capturing Ukraine weakens Russia militarily too, and would help in another way, therefore, to edge the world closer to Brzezinski’s stated goal of “American primacy”.

It is not by chance that Sevastopol, the second largest port in Ukraine, is located on one of the most well-known peninsulas in the world; that of the Crimea. A tongue of land jutting into the Black Sea and, like the rock of Gibraltar, of huge strategic importance. And no accident that the Crimea shares its name with an even more famous war. A war against the Russians between the years 1853–56 that is remembered, in part, for the real humanitarian courage of nurses like Florence Nightingale, but mostly because of gung-ho military campaigns such as the Battle of Balaclava (October 25th 1854) which featured that suicidally reckless charge of the Light Brigade. Old-time military madmen commanding the six hundred to ride “into the valley of Death.”16

Conolly didn’t live to hear about the shambolic pawn sacrifice at Balaklava; part of a failed attempt to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which was already Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. Identified as a British agent, he had been executed a decade before – beheaded in a square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. So Conolly was himself a victim of the Great Game, just as were more innocent and forgotten thousands, losing their lives in campaign after campaign, of which the Crimean War was one brief episode. And the scars of this centuries long face-off between empires have never healed, instead the wounds are routinely reopened. Indeed, that earlier age of imperialism never ended but has skilfully reinvented itself: the significant difference between old imperialism and more swanky neo-imperialism being one of image. In the modern world running up your flag above a defeated territory is no way to win respect or curry favour whether at home or abroad.

Incidentally, Brzezinski was one of the attendees at the recent 50th Munich Security Conference (January 31st –February 2nd). Other guests included John McCain, James Clapper, Henry Kissinger, the godfather of the neo-cons, and Tony Blair (what rogues gallery would be complete without him). One of the newcomers to this annual meeting was Vitali Klitschko, another was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Here is a report about what they were discussing:

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: “There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight.”

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing. “Democratic powers won’t let themselves be frightened,” he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country’s 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president’s power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military. “A military intervention is an option for this government,” Yatsenyuk said.

Also at the gathering was John Kerry. This is what Kerry had to say about the Ukrainian protests:

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine.”

So does this mean that the US are banking on Klitschko becoming President of the Ukraine? Or would they prefer Yatsenyuk? Well, they say that a week is a long time in geopolitics…

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House’s frustrations at Europe‘s hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

So begins an article in Friday’s [Feb 7th] Guardian, which continues:

In the tapes, Nuland and Pyatt discuss the upheavals in Ukraine, and Yanukovych’s offer last month to make the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went to Independence Square in Kiev in a sign of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in an apparent reference to differences over their policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

In the phone call, Nuland suggests that Klitschko, the former world champion boxer, is not yet suited to take a major government role, in contrast to Yatsenyuk.

“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she apparently said.

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she adds.17 [bold emphasis added]

Which is how it really works (behind closed doors). Those in Washington busily trying to reorder the world into their own version of what they will then sell to us as a “Pax Americana”. Under the new imperialism, the duty falling on state department officials like Victoria Nuland to carry the white man’s burden. Making the big decisions on who should be appointed to govern the overseas dependencies.

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And back once more to Syria

All of the post-9/11 wars have brought chaos and greater despair, but sadly this repeated failure provides little disincentive to the movers and shakers: those like Brzezinski and Kissinger (with Soros generally somewhere in the background), and a little lower in the pecking order, those like McCain and Kerry. Because their constant objective is really only to expand the American empire, or if that cannot be achieved, then to undermine the position of their main rivals – historically, Russia has always been the major opposing power, and remains so today, so Russian interests are a primary target.

The wars in any case satisfy two more immediate objectives, which are racketeering and piracy. Racketeering, since there are huge profits from insider deals on armaments and military accessories – again, nothing new in this, as Gen. Smedley Butler eloquently detailed in his 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket”; and piracy, since the goal of each new adventure is to seize resources – first and foremost the energy resources, but happy to grab whatever other valuable assets and resources are available too.

In Syria, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya already, the gravest danger is that another war without end between sects and gangs has been unleashed. Warlords stealing territories and then battling against neighbouring warlords. The country torn to shreds by factional infighting. And the unspeakable truth is that the neo-imperialist agenda is more often helped by such schisms. Divide and conquer always the preferred way to rule, and failed states are the end product of our ongoing wars, in part, because failed states are so much riper for plundering.

In his last Geneva II speech, Kerry went straight for the emotional jugular. The civil war is terrible, Assad is to blame, he must go and then everything will be better again. But if and when Assad is run to ground and the fanatics of al-Qaeda are victorious, they will never sit down peacefully with the pro-democracy moderates. These “rebels” didn’t join the fight just for a share in Syria’s democratic future. They came on a holy mission of transforming Syria into one emirate of a greater caliphate ruled under hardline Sharia law. And Syria is now overrun by Jihadists, which means, unless Kerry is truly a fool, that he perfectly well understands the probable outcome of what he unflinchingly demands. Instead, real diplomacy with concessions made by all sides (al-Qaeda excluded) is the only hope left for Syria. As Geneva II begins a second round of talks, this hope rests with Kerry consenting to a more flexible and conciliatory way ahead.

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Additional: Back to Ukraine

Flanked by street-sized poster adverts for Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Victoria Nuland spoke late last year [Dec 13th] to the “US-Ukraine Foundation” calling on the Ukraine to accept what she described as the “necessary” IMF reforms:

“The reforms that the IMF insists on are necessary for the long term economic health of the country. A new deal with the IMF would also send a positive signal to private markets, and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU would also put the Ukraine on a path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require. There is no other path that would bring Ukraine back to long term political stability and economic growth.” [from 5 mins]

In other words, welcome to the EU club – and get in line behind Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy for a strong dose of IMF shock therapy.

Nuland also proudly announced that the United States had spent “over five billion dollars to assist” the country:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as the promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine. [from 7:30 mins]

Not that the US have been alone in lavishing their money on Ukraine. The Chinese have also been investing heavily since the financial crisis began, buying into everything from agriculture to railways, and of course, back in mid-December, the Russians were busy brokering their own bailout deal:

Russia lavished Ukraine with a bailout package worth at least $20 billion Tuesday [Dec 17th], trumping the West in a Cold War-tinged struggle that keeps the former Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit.

Announced after talks in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, the deal gives Ukraine loans and cheaper natural-gas supplies.

It appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU’s trade-and-political accord. Russian officials said the first $3 billion in credits could be released within days.

“Ukraine’s trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way,” Mr. Yanukovych said, referring to the deep economic links between the two countries. “There is no alternative to this.”

Hardly surprisingly, the pro-EU (and anti-Russia) protesters disagreed. The same Wall Street Journal article reminding us:

Those demonstrators—and Ukraine’s opposition—were livid at the news of the deal with Moscow on Tuesday.

“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian,” an opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Possibly true, however, the alternative is to give up independence to the IMF and the EU (which along with close associates the ECB make up the rightly hated Troika). Giving up sovereignty to “the Troika” will mean the imposition of savage “austerity measures”.

Here’s what John McCain said in a speech at the Atlantic Council just a week after Nuland on December 19th:

“Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend – from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development.” [my bold highlight added]

The people of Italy and Greece are already rather familiar with “the institution of a technocratic government”, both nations having suffered under the appointments of Goldman Sachs usurpers Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos respectively. McCain is recommending that the opposition in Ukraine should be prepared to opt for similar conditions of economic dictatorship and their own hefty dose of shock therapy. Is this what revolution in Ukraine might bring?

Click here to read McCain’s full statement.

Returning Victoria Nuland’s presentation at the “US-Ukraine Foundation”, and how do those apparent sponsors Chevron and Exxon Mobil fit into the bigger picture?

This is from Reuters on November 5th:

Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron (CVX.N) on Tuesday [Nov 5th], another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia. [my bold highlight]

Ukraine Energy Minister Eduart Stavytsky, who signed the deal with Chevron executive Derek Magness, set it in the context of a high price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas.

“This is one more step towards achieving full energy independence for the state. This will bring cheaper gas prices and the sort of just prices which exist (elsewhere) in the world,” he said.

Yes, Chevron are in it for the frack… and as for Exxon Mobil, they get ample rewards too. Another article from Bloomberg on the same day reporting that:

Ukraine announced natural gas deals with Chevron Corp (CVX) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) in a push to cut costs by two-thirds and reduce its dependence on Russia.

The Ukrainian government signed a production-sharing agreement with Chevron for extraction of shale gas in the Oleske field, Energy Minister Eduard Stavytskyi said today at a press conference in Kiev. Another production-sharing agreement with an Exxon-led group for exploring the Skifska field in the Black Sea may follow by the end of the month, he said.

Victoria Nuland speaks of building “democratic skills and institutions” and promoting “civic participation and good governance”, but this contest over Ukraine really has nothing at all to do with freedom and democracy – and those large corporate adverts say it all. This is actually about money and fossil fuels. It’s the geostrategic interests, stupid!

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1 From an article entitled “Syria Ghouta Gas Attack: Assad a Thug and Murderer, Says US Secretary of State John Kerry” written by Gianluca Mezzofiore, published by International Business Times on August 30, 2013. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-assad-thug-murderer-john-kerry-502675

2 From an article entitled “New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims” written by Matthew Schofield, published by McClatchy on January 15, 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html

3 From an article entitled “The silent military coup that took over Washington: This time it’s Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and its war crimes” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington

4 From a transcript of John Kerry’s statement at Geneva II conference on January 22, 2014. Published by the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-john-kerrys-remarks-at-geneva-ii-conference-on-syria-on-jan-22/2014/01/22/f2ec3a56-83b8-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

6 From an article entitled “Whose Sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published by the London Review of Books on December 19, 2013. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

7 From an article entitled “More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture” written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on February 5, 2013. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

8 From an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Ed Husain, published by the Council on Foreign Relations on August 6, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/syria/al-qaedas-specter-syria/p28782

9 The quote taken from Craig Murray’s testimony given to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on April 28, 2009. His remarks are made 6:15 mins into the video embedded below:

Murray has also provided more detailed accounts of the kinds of torture involved, including the torture of children in front of their parents, on other occasions. For instance, you can hear his account from in the speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” on freedom of expression given at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin in March 2012 and already embedded above [from approx 34–36 mins].

10

“I am a reluctant whistleblower, as you’ll see from those telegrams going around [copies had been passed out to the audience]. I was attempting internally, using classification in secret, to stop the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture. And I did think that I would be able to stop it. I had no idea that government ministers throughout the civilised so-called world had decided that we should use torture as an instrument of policy. I thought that this must be something the security services were doing without the knowledge of politicians and that I would be able to stop it. That’s why I sent those telegrams. In fact, sadly, the West had moved to a policy of advocating torture.” [from 23:50 mins]

11 From an article entitled “Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum” written by Jeffrey Donovan, published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on September 1, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Uzbek_Spy_Seeks_Asylum/1195372.html

12 According to a White House press release dated September 28, 2011 which reads:

“President Obama spoke with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan earlier today by phone. President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.  The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.  President Obama expressed our view that a more prosperous and secure Uzbekistan benefits both countries, and that advancing democracy supports that goal.  The two presidents also discussed their shared interests in supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan and discussed the efforts we are undertaking together to further that goal.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/28/readout-president-s-call-president-karimov-uzbekistan

13 From an article entitled “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on January 21, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1

14 From an article entitled “Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany” written by Robert Fisk, published by The Independent on January 21, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-report-one-is-reminded-of-nazi-germany-9075743.html?origin=internalSearch

15 From an article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

16 As then- poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously commemorated the incident in a narrative poem of the same title.

17 From an article entitled “Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland’s remarks on EU are unacceptable” written by Ed Pilkington, Luke Harding “and agencies”, published in the Guardian on February 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/angela-merkel-victoria-nuland-eu-unacceptable

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reflections after Saturday’s anti-cuts demonstration in London

Saturday’s anti-cuts march in London attracted more than 150,000 people, which makes it one of the bigger protests I’ve ever been part of and certainly worthy of greater media coverage. With the economic destruction of European nations like Greece, Spain and Portugal already so well advanced, the need for mass protest across the whole of Europe and the rest of the western world having never been more urgent. So these relatively large numbers are still disappointing. I had anticipated that perhaps a million or more might be marching along the streets of London at the weekend – as there had been ten years ago when we marched against the Iraq War – but sadly no.

My conclusion, therefore, is that the people of Britain either didn’t get sufficient notice that a major protest was taking place (and one of my friends told me that the event wasn’t particularly well publicised), or couldn’t be bothered, perhaps because they’ve given up all hope of ever changing anything, or, and most depressingly, are actually opposed to the objectives of the march itself. Those in the latter category remaining convinced that ‘we just need to take our medicine’ like good little boys and girls, whilst leaving everything to the clever men who understand the system better, trusting that as they inflict injury after injury, this process of deliberate evisceration might somehow, presumably as a side-effect, rescue us from the jaws of recession. Which is a manifestly deluded hope, of course, firstly because it mistakes depression for recession (and many have known since well before the crash of 2008 that the world was on the imminent brink of a global depression), but also because it is in contradiction to all the evidence provided by failures abroad. ‘Austerity’ having rescued no country from this worsening crisis, but only serving to sink them ever deeper into trouble.

Even the Nobel Prize winner and former chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, came out with a statement last week pointing to the obvious failure of the current ‘austerity programme’ in Europe:

“Spain and Greece are in depression, not recession. That impact was brought about by austerity” with the countries now trapped in a vicious cycle of spending cuts and slumping growth, he said.

Stiglitz, who served as a senior advisor to former US president Bill Clinton, was speaking on the eve of a key two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels that will seek to address the eurozone crisis.

“Austerity is bringing Europe down and diminishes chances of making things work — it is the wrong measure,” said the Nobel laureate, who is a professor at New York’s Columbia University.1

Unfortunately, however, there are many who will continue to fail to understand that the so-called ‘austerity’ now being imposed throughout our continent and beyond, is the major cause of our accelerating death spiral into the grinding teeth of a total global depression. ‘Austerity’ being a policy that those holding significant positions of power must already have known would be disastrous for the simple reason that such methods have failed so many times before, and in places as far afield as Chile, Argentina, South Korea, as well as in all corners of Africa. But then it all depends what one means by ‘failed’ I suppose. What fails for the ordinary people generally serves the finance oligarchs very nicely don’t you know.

What the small turnout showed then, is that sadly a great many in Britain (as elsewhere) are still bewitched by those guys in their pin-striped suits pulling their strange levers and twiddling their incomprehensible knobs on the top floor offices of the hedge funds and within such megabanks as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Still ignorant, or else strangely oblivious, to the scale of the fraudulent means by which these same financial elites have saturated the world with their odious debt. Debts being used to hold us to ransom: menacing all of our nations with the threat that if ever their own well-deserved demise should actually occur, then the repercussions would be so serious as to result in the ruin of all of us. “Too big too fail”, no longer a slogan, but thanks to unquestioning media propagation, an inculcated factoid.

Again, I cannot believe that playing the suicide card has worked so well for the bankers, nor that remarkably few of the general public are yet to appreciate just how successfully these same financial giants have inveigled themselves into the highest positions of public office, placing their own puppets Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti directly into the governments of Greece and Italy, whilst former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, Mario Draghi settled in as president at the European Central Bank. The self-proclaimed ‘masters of the universe’ more or less openly ruling the world these days, which is why the crisis goes on and on and gets ever worse.

And the money-changers who now swivel in and out of power via the revolving doors of their own convenience have no interest whatsoever in saving the folks at home. Their own funds are safely offshore in any case and when the paper currencies begin to collapse as they sooner, rather than later, inevitably must, they won’t be worrying about this either, because their own stash of wealth will have been converted into more solid and stable forms, by, primarily, turning their assets into gold and silver and real estate. At this moment they lie to you, of course (but then they always did and always will), continuing to pretend that gold and silver are poor investments and using every possible means at their considerable disposal to artificially hold the prices down. But only the foolish still listen to what these people say, the ones who speak for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, instead of wisely judging on the basis of what they actually do. And if you look, you will discover that the leading financial players are suddenly buying heavily into gold because they know what’s coming, and they also know that what’s coming is coming soon enough.

Here’s an example from an article entitled “Rothschild bullish on gold as central bankers get out of their depth”, which was published by Investment Europe in late July:

Equity markets cheered after Mario Draghi promised recently to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, but Rothschild Wealth Management believes this was just another sign of central bankers “moving further into uncharted territory”, and that gold could benefit as a result.

Dirk Wiedmann (pictured), head of investments at RWM, said the precious metal could not be manipulated by central bankers, in contrast to paper currencies. He therefore called the environment “extremely positive for gold”, although he cautions investors in it should expect a volatile summer.2

And here’s another entitled “Billionaires Soros, Paulson Bet Big on Gold” taken from ABC news and published in August:

Once again John Paulson is choosing to heavily invest in gold and fellow billionaire George Soros is making a similar bet.

According to Bloomberg News, Paulson & Co. and Soros Fund Management bumped up exposure to SPDR Gold Trust to 21.8 million shares and 884,000 shares, respectively. Paulson & Co. now has 44 percent of its $24 billion fund exposed to bullion.3

So if you do not already feel the pinch of ‘austerity’ then please believe me that you soon will, and that when it comes, that pinch will tighten until it becomes a deathly hold. ‘Austerity’ not really being an intended remedy at all, but, and as it always has been, the underlying aim of the neoliberal ideology. The savaging of public services, the oppression of workers and the privatisation of whole states simply being the well tried and tested methods which the bankers have long used to build their empires, although in former times the use of these approaches being mostly restricted to places faraway. The imposition of ‘austerity’ making nations ripe for exploitation and ready to be enslaved.

Right now, those same financial elites have, and whether by accident or design, manufactured the perfect storm, and with it comes their greatest opportunity to consolidate what is already enormous power, and this time in order that they may wield it with the same nefarious intent much closer to home. Which is the real reason that this latest crisis will have no end, or at least no end until we are collectively prepared to stand tall and say very loudly that enough is enough. Some kind of organised programme for mass dissent being our last chance of averting the total destruction of society that will otherwise inexorably follow in the wake of further rounds of banker bailouts and imposed ‘austerity’.

I had therefore felt a very urgent need to go to London for Saturday’s protest, travelling down the M1 with four friends from Sheffield who had also decided that it was vitally important to publicly express their own dissent. We did this in good humour, and as it transpired, also in good time, arriving at Hyde Park to hear some of the speeches at the rally – something I’ve never managed on any previous marches, and an indication again that the turnout wasn’t as spectacular as at those earlier protests. But then, as one of my friends pointed out along the way, there were other reasons to doubt that our journey to London would achieve very much on this occasion. The police presence being so low profile and non-confrontational, she surmised, and in reply to my own musings, presumably because the protest itself was a more or less officially sanctioned affair.

And indeed, Saturday’s protest was so significantly endorsed that one of the speakers at the rally turned out to be none other than the right honourable leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband – and we had got there just in time to hear some of what he had to say. This is what we heard:

And you know [the government are] not just incompetent, their old answers don’t work any more. Trickle-down economics, cutting rights at work – David Cameron calls it ‘the sink or swim society’ – you don’t build a successful country with sink or swim, you do it by building one nation. And that is what a Labour government will do.

So far so good, I suppose, but unfortunately this was just a sweetener, his clever way to rally the traditional Labour ranks against the common Tory enemy. So here’s what Ed Miliband said next:

Now, of course, there will still be hard choices. And with borrowing rising not falling, I do not promise easy times.

You know, it’s right that we level with people, that there will still be hard choices. I’ve said that whoever was in government right now, there will be cuts, but this government are cutting too far and too fast.

Many in the park applauded, buoyed on by his words of condemnation for the incompetent incumbents in Whitehall, whilst wanting to show solidarity with the old party. Alongside the faithful, however, many hundreds of others booed and heckled.

I was one of those who booed Ed Miliband, and I am very proud to have done so. For these are nothing but weasel words. Polite but utterly insincere justification for further ‘austerity’ and all dressed up within that old Thatcherite garb of ‘there is no alternative’. Such words prove only how sold-out Ed Miliband and the Labour Party still remain, and as such deserve nothing but our outright contempt.

My friends and I had already left before Miliband went on to explain how his future Labour government would “end the privatisation experiment in the NHS and [we] repeal their NHS bills” and before his entirely hollow “pledge” to small businesses “that instead of a country that serves its banks, we will have once again banks that serve this country”. Even if we’d stayed longer, we would still not have heard him apologise, as he should, for New Labour’s important role in enabling the NHS to fall into private hands, whilst meanwhile permitting the banks to entirely run amok during more than a decade in government.

Our premature departure also meant that we hadn’t, at least, had to suffer his wretched and totally over-worked ‘one nation’ finale – and if you decide to listen to his speech on the embedded video below, then tell me if you don’t, like me, hear his voice audibly distort, almost as if in mimicry, to become indistinguishable from the bleating insincerity of Tony Blair – and I can almost hear the voice of Tony Blair as I read the transcript back again:

One nation is a country in which those with the greatest shoulders bear the broadest burden. One nation is a country where we give hope to our young people again. One nation is a country where we defend and improve institutions like our National Health Service. One nation is a country united not divided. A future that works. A future that Britain builds together.

He might just as well have included mention of the need to go “Back to Basics” and calls for “the Big Society”, before closing with “because you’re worth it”, or something else equally as vacuous. But the final straw for our own little party was when he told us all how he was so tremendously committed to “tax[ing] the bankers’ bonuses”. And not, as he should have proposed, to putting a significant but fair sales tax on the enormous volume of their market manipulating high frequency transactions. Nor to securing any of the unpaid taxes protected by the multitude of convenient offshore havens, the majority of which are, of course, British dependencies. Nor even to prosecuting any of those involved in what we now know – and with the revelations surrounding the fixing of Libor, know beyond all doubt – to be nothing less than a vast criminal racket. And finally, no mention whatsoever of any need for a cancellation of debts, something which must happen if only because the debts are simply unpaidable, as they always have been. In short, Miliband proffered no hope and made plain simply by omission that he has no real interest in bringing any kind of justice at all, social or otherwise.

Yet I remain glad that I made the effort to join in the demonstration, and if only because, as this entirely avoidable and still potentially reversible crisis deepens into greater chaos, and as the British people are slowly gripped by the same despair that those in Greece, Spain and Portugal are already feeling, it will help me again to salve my own conscience. For when all are wondering why we couldn’t have prevented our lemming-like march over the precipice, many will also turn to wonder why they themselves had not done more, or acted sooner, and if only by learning what’s actually going on, or by spreading the message, or more simply by standing firm and saying no. If only more had tried, they will realise too late, we might actually have saved ourselves…

And if you are wondering what kinds of remedies might truly be effective if we are to save ourselves from a fate worse than Greeks, Spanish, Portuguese and others are already suffering, then I refer you to my many earlier posts, and especially to those categorised under neoliberalism, debt cancellation and “austerity measures”. Perhaps the most succinct combination of analysis and suggested alternatives having been put together in this one.

Oh, and here is Ed Miliband selling himself as the new Benjamin Disraeli:

Click here to link to the official October 20th protest website.

*

Additional:

The anti-cuts campaign continues on November 17th with a Unite the Resistance national conference in London. The list of speakers are as follows:

Mark Serwotka – PCS general secretary

Hind Adb-al-Gawad Ibrahim – Independent Union of Local Development Information Centre Workers Egypt

Karen Reissmann – Unison NEC

Mike Mansfield QC – campaigning barrister

John McDonnell – Labour MP

Matt Wrack – FBU general secretary

Ian Hodson – BFAWU president

Kevin Courtney – NUT deputy general secretary

Zita Holbourne – a PCS executive member and joint chair of BARAC (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts)

Owen Jones – author of “Chavs – the Demonisation of the Working Class

Karen Reissmann – Unison NEC member

They will also be joined by an unnamed South African miner who has been involved in the bitter struggle against British-owned mining firm Lonmin.

Click here for further details.

*

Although I do not ordinarily publicise events taking place in other countries, I feel that it is worth making an exception in the case of the UFAA – United Front Against Austerity campaign which begins with its inaugural conference next weekend in New York. Here are more details:

When:

Saturday, October 27, 2012
12:00 pm — 6:00 pm

Where:

Walker Auditorium / INN World Report
56 Walker Street
New York, NY 10013
One and one half blocks south of Canal Street, between Church & Broadway

Purpose:

To organize an effective opposition to the impending austerity offensive; agitate to shift the burden of the economic depression onto Wall Street oligarchs; and to build momentum toward a genuine political revolution of, by and for the people.
Participants will hear proposals from distinguished speakers, engage in floor debate, and vote on vital strategic matters. The UFAA intends to build on Wisconsin and Occupy — with decisions, demands and action.

Speakers:

Cindy Sheehan — Antiwar Activist
Webster G. Tarpley — Author, historian and economist
Dr. W. Randy Short — SCLC, University of Virginia
Don DeBar — Founder, Community Progressive Radio
Anthony Monteiro — African-American Studies, Temple University
Dr. Jay Arena — Professor of Sociology, College of Staten Island, CUNY
Eric Lerner — Popular science writer and Occupy Wall Street activist
Rev. Edward Pinkney — Benton Harbor, Michigan activist (via Skype)
Murrell Brooks — Political Science, Virginia Wesleyan College
Eric Draitser — Independent journalist, StopImperialism.com
Bruce Marshall, moderator — former Congressional candidate, Green Party of Vermont

We will also play pre-recorded messages from:

Amelia Boynton Robinson — Civil rights leader
Yanis Varoufakis — Political economist, Greek SYRIZA coalition
Glen Ford — Radio host, Black Agenda Report
Stephen Lendman — Research Associate, Center for Research on Globalization
David Swanson — Activist, blogger and author

You can also find out more by visiting the official website at http://againstausterity.org/

*

Update:

Click here to watch a recording of that small but very lively inaugural United Front Against Austerity meeting.

The proposed anti-cuts programme agreed upon was stated as follows [2:53 hours in]:

The United Front Against Austerity adopts a jobs for all resolution that specifies that we demand:

  • 30 million jobs at good union wages
  • the nationalisation of the Federal Reserve
  • a Wall Street sales tax
  • that the jobs programme be open to all including immigrants and persons formerly incarcerated.

 *

1 From an article entitled “Greece, Spain ‘in depression’: Nobel winner Stiglitz” published by France 24 on October 17, 2012. http://www.france24.com/en/20121017-greece-spain-depression-nobel-winner-stiglitz

2 From an article entitled “Rothschild bullish on gold as central bankers get out of their depth” written by David Walker, published by Investment Europe on July 31, 2012. http://www.investmenteurope.net/investment-europe/news/2195534/rothschild-bullish-on-gold-as-central-bankers-get-out-of-their-depth

3 From an article entitled “Billionaires Soros, Paulson Bet Big on Gold”, written by Lyneka Little, published by ABC news on August 16, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/08/billionaires-soros-paulson-bet-big-on-gold/

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‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests spread to other US cities

A wave of public discontent in the US shows no sign of abating following weekend protests against corporate greed which saw hundreds of peaceful demonstrators arrested, sparking accusations of heavy-handed policing.

Defiant anti-Wall-Street activists are refusing to back down, saying more marches against corporate greed and social inequality are in the pipeline.

A new season in a different nation: the Arab Spring has become America’s Autumn.1

so begins Russia Today‘s report on the arrests of nearly 800 peaceful protesters who had tried to march across the Brooklyn Bridge; one of the largest arrests of non-violent protesters in recent American history:

Democracy Now! also reported on how the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, which began in the financial district a fortnight ago [Sept 17], had taken such a dramatic turn on Saturday:

Some protesters claim police lured them onto oncoming traffic on the bridge’s roadway; others said they did not hear instructions from police telling them to use the pedestrian walkway. Meanwhile, similar “Occupation” protests have spread to other cities, including Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, where hundreds of protesters are now camped out in front of City Hall.

Yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast also featured a roundtable discussion about the protests with Marisa Holmes, an organizer with the main organizing group of Occupy Wall Street (called the General Assembly), Marina Sitrin, an attorney who is part of Occupy Wall Street’s legal working group, and Laurie Penny, a writer and journalist who reported on protests in London earlier this summer:

Coverage on the mainstream channels has, of course, been more muted, although even the BBC found time to put together a short piece covering the events of Saturday, albeit from a somewhat more surprising angle. It begins:

Billionaire investor George Soros says he can sympathise with the ongoing protests on Wall Street, which have spread to other US cities.

He said he understood the anger at the use of taxpayers’ cash to prop up stricken banks, allowing them to earn huge profits.2

That’s the same George Soros who, back in March 2009, told the world that he was having “a very good crisis”:

“It is, in a way, the culminating point of my life’s work,” the 78-year-old says in his heavy Hungarian accent during an interview at his London mansion.3

Now doesn’t that make you feel all warm inside.

1 From an article entitled “’Occupy Wall Street’: Obama’s term is four more years of Bush” published on October 3, 2011 http://rt.com/news/occupy-wall-street-obama-887/

2 From an article entitled “George Soros’ sympathy for Wall Street protesters” published by BBC news on October 3, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15155046

3 From an article entitled “George Soros interview: A very good crisis” written by Peter Wilson, published in The Australian on March 19, 2009. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/a-very-good-crisis/story-fna7dq6e-1225689823416

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Bretton Woods II — running things the Soros way

George Soros is over eighty years old, but he’s certainly keeping active. For instance, just a few weeks ago, on April 4th, he made a “surprise visit to Athens” to address a closed session of Prime Minister George Papandreou’s inner cabinet:

 “According to sources privy to Soros’ surprise visit to Athens, the billionaire used the occasion of a private dinner invitation by a group of Greek businessmen on April 3 to virtually demand to speak to the government’s economic ministers for an hour the next morning.

“Soros literally summoned government ministers to the premier’s office to chastise them for the clumsy and counterproductive manner in which they have pursued blanket austerity measures that have landed the country into a deflationary debt trap,” a source told the Athens News on conditions of anonymity.

After explaining to the cabinet his position on how international investors are planning to push for debt restructuring by turning the heat on the creditworthiness of Greece, Ireland and Portugal in the coming weeks to make their borrowing costs unserviceable, Soros joined Papandreou for separate talks.”1

Then, days later, back in America, he was hosting the “Second Bretton Woods Conference” (or Bretton Woods II) organised by his very own Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET):

 “After a short stop in Greece, he is heading for the Mount Washington Hotel at Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, where from April 8 to 11 a group that the multibillionaire investor is funding will host a major economic conference.

It is the same site of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference that established the World Bank and chose the American dollar as the backbone of international exchange. The “second Bretton Woods Conference” is organised by the Institute for New Economic Thinking with the aim of transforming “our system of regulation or our tools of policy intervention”, as stated on its website.

This conference is bringing together politicians like former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, academics like Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz and journalists like Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times.”2

The original Bretton Woods conference of world leaders created the global economic framework still in place today. This new conference was intended to redress the failings in the existing framework, paving the way for nothing less than a new economic order. An ambitious and prestigious occasion and yet the media hasn’t paid a great deal of attention to this gathering of financial luminaries. Perhaps there is a reason…

“Despite its eminent speakers, the conference has gained little media attention. As the Wall Street Journal reported on March 29, “the Soros Empire is silent about this new Bretton Woods conference because it isn’t just designed to change global economic rules. It also is designed to put America in its place — part of a multilateral world the way Soros wants it.”34

Here is Russia Today reporting on the conference, and speaking to Andrew Gavin Marshall from the Centre for Research on Globalization, who compares and contrasts this congregation’s conversation with the historic Bretton Woods get together of 1944 and sees it as a precursor to the G20 meeting:

If you have a little more time on your hands (and a lot of patience) then you can find out exactly what was said at the conference from the INET website.

So what is this “multilateral world the way Soros wants it”? Well, to answer that question, it may help to look a little closer into what motivates this multi-billionaire man of the people.

On his own “official website”, www.georgesoros.com, you’ll find, aside from the prominence of the word PHILANTHROPY, which features top right amongst the page index labels, whilst also accidentally captioning his amiable portrait,  this accompanying statement:

 “GEORGE SOROS has been a prominent international supporter of democratic ideals and causes for more than 30 years. His philanthropic organization, the Open Society Foundations, supports democracy and human rights in over 70 countries.”

Soros then is a philanthropist – literally “a lover of mankind” – as well as being a long-standing proponent of democracy, human rights and “the open society”. It is notable indeed that a few years ago he severely criticised the Bush neo-con administration, even making direct comparison with Stalin and the Nazis:

This video may have been disabled but you can find it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DuafAqAHrc?version=3

Using some of his enormous wealth (14th richest in America according to Forbes), allied with his formidable political connections, Soros helped to get Obama elected, and the image he has carefully cultivated is one that appeals to many on the New Left. So is there anything else we should know about George Soros?

These are some extracts from an article written by Neil Clark for the New Statesman, when he profiled Soros back in June 20035:

 “Soros likes to portray himself as an outsider, an independent-minded Hungarian emigre and philosopher-pundit who stands detached from the US military-industrial complex. But take a look at the board members of the NGOs he organises and finances. At Human Rights Watch, for example, there is Morton Abramowitz, US assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research from 1985-89, and now a fellow at the interventionist Council on Foreign Relations [CFR]; ex-ambassador Warren Zimmerman (whose spell in Yugoslavia coincided with the break-up of that country); and Paul Goble, director of communications at the CIA-created Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (which Soros also funds).”

Well, perhaps not the sort of people you’d expect to find working at a human rights organisation, though it could be worse – after all Zbigniew Brzezinski, the geopolitical strategist who helped to covertly fund and provide weapons to the Mujaheddin6, and is accused of encouraging China to support Pol Pot7, I was dismayed to learn, is a past member of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International. And Brzezinski wasn’t only a fellow at the CFR, but a director from 1972–1977.8

But back to Soros, who also happens to be a former member of the Board of Directors of the CFR in 19959, Clark continues:

 “Soros’s International Crisis Group boasts such “independent” luminaries as the former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Richard Allen, as well as General Wesley Clark, once Nato supreme allied commander for Europe. The group’s vice-chairman is the former congressman Stephen Solarz, once described as “the Israel lobby’s chief legislative tactician on Capitol Hill” and a signatory, along with the likes of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, to a notorious letter to President Clinton in 1998 calling for a ‘comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime’. ”

Yes, but to be fair again, Soros isn’t the only philanthropist supporting ICG. There’s also the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Open Society Institute… no, sorry, that is Soros.10 Clark then turns to Soros’s business dealing:

 “Take a look also at Soros’s business partners. At the Carlyle Group, where he has invested more than $100m, they include the former secretary of state James Baker and the erstwhile defence secretary Frank Carlucci, George Bush Sr and, until recently, the estranged relatives of Osama Bin Laden. Carlyle, one of the world’s largest private equity funds, makes most of its money from its work as a defence contractor.

Soros may not, as some have suggested, be a fully paid-up CIA agent. But that his companies and NGOs are closely wrapped up in US expansionism cannot seriously be doubted.”

But then if Soros is such a bad egg, why was he so openly hostile to Bush and the neo-cons? And what of his ideas on an open society? His support for gay rights and the legalisation of soft drugs. Well, according to Clark, the answer is simple:

“Soros is angry not with Bush’s aims – of extending Pax Americana and making the world safe for global capitalists like himself – but with the crass and blundering way Bush is going about it. By making US ambitions so clear, the Bush gang has committed the cardinal sin of giving the game away. For years, Soros and his NGOs have gone about their work extending the boundaries of the “free world” so skilfully that hardly anyone noticed. Now a Texan redneck and a gang of overzealous neo-cons have blown it. […]

Soros knows a better way – armed with a few billion dollars, a handful of NGOs and a nod and a wink from the US State Department, it is perfectly possible to topple foreign governments that are bad for business, seize a country’s assets, and even to get thanked for your benevolence afterwards. Soros has done it. […]

But generally the sad conclusion is that for all his liberal quoting of Popper, Soros deems a society “open” not if it respects human rights and basic freedoms, but if it is “open” for him and his associates to make money. And, indeed, Soros has made money in every country he has helped to prise “open”. In Kosovo, for example, he has invested $50m in an attempt to gain control of the Trepca mine complex, where there are vast reserves of gold, silver, lead and other minerals estimated to be worth in the region of $5bn. He thus copied a pattern he has deployed to great effect over the whole of eastern Europe: of advocating “shock therapy” and “economic reform”, then swooping in with his associates to buy valuable state assets at knock-down prices.”

Soros is, when all is said and done, a speculator first and last. Indeed, he was so keen to cash in on the “super-bubble” that led to the current banking crisis that he actually came out of retirement, as he explains here during the World Economic Forum in 2009:

He wants us to believe that he benefits only from weaknesses already inherent within financial systems, such as the famous occasion when he speculated against the pound in 1992 and “broke the Bank of England”; or Black Wednesday, as it became known. He wants us to believe that if he hadn’t benefited then another speculator would have, and that, more generally, he is simply helping to burst the occasional bubble and set the markets straight again. So he would certainly like us to forget that in 2002 he was convicted in France of insider trading – a conviction that was subsequently upheld in 2006.11

But Soros the poacher has now turned gamekeeper. So he says that stricter regulation of markets is required, and he is right of course, and he should know.

More than this, and in the wake of the current economic disintegration, he sees the end of an era and an opportunity to construct nothing less than another world order. One that moves away from our system based on “self-interest” to a system founded on “common interest”. “The bubble of American Supremacy”, as he calls it, is indeed reaching its end, so what will replace it? Soros proposes direct political changes, for instance to the membership of the UN Security Council, which has obviously helped to maintain the Anglo-American post-war hegemony. And here his diagnosis is correct, as it frequently is.

Soros says that he offers a new paradigm. Not socialism, nor free market fundamentalism, “which are both false ideologies”, but the only possible non-false ideology, which just happens to be his own:

 “I think the only [non-false ideology] is the one that I’m proposing. Namely the recognition that all our ideas, all our human constructs have a flaw in it – and perfection is not attainable – and we must engage in critical thinking and correct our mistakes. That’s my ideology.”

Really? – That’s an ideology? Not simply commonsense. To hear more of Soros’s plans for our future I recommend the following interview. Reading between the lines, the bigger message becomes clear: the immediate future is bleak, he says, but if you listen to me then everything will eventually be better, although getting there “will be painful”:

Soros wants us to believe that the forms of regulation and restructuring he now vaguely outlines will lead to a fairer and more secure global economic system, even though his plans require giving still more power to central banks and the IMF (which he wants to “reconstitute”). All the problems could be fixed he says, if only “the rulers had the interests of the people really at heart.” Soros then, is looking forward to a time, not of global democracy, but of global philanthropy, in its loosest sense… to a world ruled by people like, um, let’s see, George Soros.

1 Extract from “Soros warns of debt trap”, by Dimitris Yannopoulos, published 11th April in Athens News. Click here to read full article.

2 Extract from “Soros for a new Bretton Woods”, by Costas Papachlimintzos, also published 11th April in Athens News. Click here to read full article.

3 Ibid.

4 The embedded quote was taken from an article by Dan Gainor entitled “Unreported Soros Event Aims to Remake Entire Global Economy” from The Wall Street Journal on March 29th. Click here to read full article.

5 “The billionaire trader has become eastern Europe’s uncrowned king and the prophet of ”the open society”. But open to what? George Soros profiled” by Neil Clark, published June 2nd 2003 in New Statesman. Click here to read full article.

6 From a 1997 CNN interview: “We immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Council prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again – for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujaheddin from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt.” Click here to read full transcript.

7 “In 1981, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said: “I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot.” The US, he added, “winked publicly” as China sent arms to the Khmer Rouge.” From an article entitled “How Thatcher gave Pol Pot a hand” by John Pilger, published April 17th 2000 in New Statesman. Click here to read full article.

8 This is part of Brzezinski’s bio for the American Entertainment International Speakers Bureau: “His former public and political positions include serving as director of the Trilateral Commission (1973-76), member of the Policy Planning Council of the Department of State (1966- 68), and co chairman of the Bush National Security Advisory Task Force (1988). Zbigniew Brzezinski is also a past member of the Boards of Directors of Amnesty International and the Council on Foreign Relations.” Sourcewatch also lists Amnesty International as one of his affiliations.

9 from Sourcewatch

10 from Sourcewatch.

11 “The highest court in France on Wednesday rejected a bid by George Soros, the billionaire investor, to overturn a conviction for insider trading in a case dating back nearly 20 years, leaving the first blemish on his five-decade investing career.

The panel, the Cour de Cassation, upheld the conviction of Soros, 75, an American citizen, for buying and selling Société Générale shares in 1988 after receiving information about a planned corporate raid on the bank.

Ron Soffer, his lawyer, said Soros planned to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, saying that the length of the proceedings had prevented his client from having a fair trial.” from an article in International Herald Tribune published 2006. Click here to read full article.

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when education becomes a business

Cashing in on Degrees — Dispatches

Broadcast on Channel 4 at 8:00pm — 9:00pm on Monday 4th April

Produced and directed by Lesley Gardiner

Journalist Laurie Penny investigates the increasing commercialisation of higher education and asks what happens when universities scour the globe for students and funds. She reveals how, at a time when budgets are being slashed and there is a deepening funding crisis, the university gravy train continues with excessive salaries, expenses and second jobs for those at the top.

Click here for link to 4OD

The documentary briefly revisits the case of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was awarded a PhD from the London School of Economics in 2008 for a thesis entitled, “The Role of Civil Society in the Democratization of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?”

The LSE subsequently received a donation of £1.5 million from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation (of which Saif Gaddafi is the president) in June 2009. According to an article in the Independent on Sunday :

Leading figures at the London School of Economics (LSE) openly joked about getting a donation from Saif Gaddafi before he had even been examined for his PhD, claimed a senior source at the LSE last night.1

The Dispatches documentary mentions that George Soros had advised that the LSE accept the donation from Gaddafi. An article published in the Guardian on Saturday 5th March, which looks into the case in more detail, also establishes that:

As part of the fall-out, billionaire US financier George Soros last night apologised for having advised the LSE to take Libyan money. Soros studied at LSE as an undergraduate, and had advised the school that it was acceptable to receive the contribution from Gaddafi’s son, Saif, on the grounds that he appeared at the time to be a believer in open society and claimed to be working to move Libya in that direction. A spokesman for Soros said he had come to see that his advice was “a mistake in judgment, which he now greatly regrets”.2

1 “LSE insider claims Gaddafi donation was ‘openly joked about’” by Jonathan Owen, from Independent on Sunday, Sunday 13th March 2011

2 “Anthony Giddens’ trip to see Gaddafi vetted by Libyan intelligence chief: leaked documents also reveal that US firm Monitor Group organised meetings between Gaddafi and former LSE director”, by Rajeev Syal and Jeevan Vasagar, from the Guardian, Saturday 5th March 2001.

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sheep in wolf’s clothing

Yesterday night I happened to come across an organisation I’d not heard about before. Called UK Uncut, they are one of many new protest groups that have recently taken a stand against the government cuts. Indeed, they are one of the groups trying to organise direct action on the streets of London in and around today’s big march.

According to their own website, UKU began as a single sit-down protest at a flagship Vodafone store on Oxford Street. But their method of protest, of taking direct action against tax-dodging corporations, was quickly to go viral. By means of Facebook and Twitter, this campaign has since spread far and wide across the country – and it is very likely to grab some news attention later today, presuming that some of their many “occupation” plans succeed in London.

If you click on the “About” section of their website you will find a statement of their principles:

“We start with some simple points of agreement. The brutal cuts to services about to be inflicted by the current Government are unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated. The coalition are particularly fond of two obscene catchphrases: ‘There is no alternative’ and ‘We’re all in this together.’ Both slogans are empty and untrue. The cuts will dismantle the welfare state, send inequality sky-rocketing and hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. A cabinet of millionaires have decided that libraries, healthcare, education funding, voluntary services, sports, the environment, the disabled, the poor and the elderly must pay the price for the recklessness of the rich.

“Austerity-economics is the policy of the powerful. It cannot be stopped by asking nicely. We cannot wait until the next election. If we want to win the fight against these cuts (and we can win) then we must make it impossible to ignore our arguments and impossible to resist our demands. This means building a powerful grassroots mass movement, able to resist the Government cuts at every turn.
UK Uncut hopes to play a small part in this movement. In only a few months, from a single action in London, UK Uncut has spread to up to fifty-five towns and cities. Everyone from pensioners to teenagers, veterans to newbies have already joined our actions in towns from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth. We have proved that there is anger at these cuts, that the idea of mass apathy is a myth and that people are willing to do more than just join a Facebook group to stand up and defend what they believe in.
Even if you have never been on a protest before, please join us. UK Uncut makes it easy to either join or organise an inspiring, effective protest wherever you are. Vodafone’s own slogan is ‘Power to You.’ It couldn’t be more appropriate.
Now is the time to get angry, to get organised and to build a resistance to austerity.
See you on the high streets.”

So can we disable the current government plans through such a series of sneak attacks? Well, UK Uncut seems to think it will help and one of the tabs brings up a schedule of actions past and pending.

At today’s march they are planning to occupy for the alternative:

“From 2pm flash mobs, bail-ins and occupations will shut down the dozens of banks and tax dodgers along the length of Europe’s biggest shopping street.

And at 3.30pm, after the dispersed actions, there will be a massive final convergence, ready for a spectacular mass occupation of a secret target.”

Their campaign promotion continues: “March 26th is not the end of the battle against the cuts. It is the beginning. Join us on Oxford Street and let’s help kick things off in style.”

Now that’s fighting talk if ever I heard it. And the logo is a good one. In the style of a signpost with a pair of scissors crossed through by a red band, making very clear the demand for no cuts. I’d wager that we’re likely to see a lot more of that logo in the next year or so.

Moving on, I was next drawn by the links at the bottom of the “About” page. And one of these took me to the website of openDemocracy. Having opened the attached mission statement, I followed another link to “our generous supporters” – well, it’s often a good idea to take a look just in case…

“The development of openDemocracy has been funded by the generosity of more than twenty trusts, foundations and individuals since 2001.
openDemocracy’s main source of funding has been through the Open Trust, a registered UK charity (number 1086404). The Trust has no direct stake in openDemocracy but conducts regular oversight to be sure that it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.1

So what of these other trusts, foundations and individuals? Well, let’s begin with its “past supporters”. We have the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Then there is something called New World Foundation. Another click of the mouse revealing that NWF’s own partners include, the Ford Foundation and Open Society. Then we have the more recent supporters of openDemocracy. There is the Ford Foundation again in 2008. And since 2009, we have The Open Society Institute. And so the chase continued. I clicked again on the link and came to Open Society Foundations. Ever heard of them? Nope? Me neither. Here is what you find if you click on “About”:

“The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. To achieve this mission, the Foundations seek to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. On a local level, the Open Society Foundations implement a range of initiatives to advance justice, education, public health, and independent media. At the same time, we build alliances across borders and continents on issues such as corruption and freedom of information. The Foundations place a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities.”

Well that sounds good. So who could be behind such a progressive venture? Let’s see… “George Soros is founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations. He is also the chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC.” Would that be the George Soros? What really — again! So when UK Uncut posted their link to openDemocracy did they actually bother to consider who might actually be paying the piper?

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, we have the Tax Payers’ Alliance. TPA is a pressure group that actually favours the government cuts, and is calling for swifter “austerity measures”. So taking the same approach, is it possible to find out who is funding this supposedly grassroots movement, with its appeal to Middle England Conservatives? Well, here again I hit a sticking point, with no information available from their own website regarding sponsorship and campaign donations. Indeed, there is now yet another organisation called “The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance” which challenges the transparency of TPA:

“Let’s look at the facts. It’s simply not true that all political organisations are secretive about their funding. Most declare their income and expenditure, and some give a break-down of income sources, including donors. The TPA does neither. It publishes abbreviated accounts which means income and expenditure are withheld. The last time it published full accounts was in 2006, when it recorded an income of £130,000. But the current organisation has ten full-time staff across two offices, which suggests either its income has jumped substantially or it is loaded with debt.”

The above extract was taken from an article on The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance.

As with UKU, it is hard to know precisely who is behind the TPA, aside from establishing its evidently close ties to the Conservative Party.2

According to Sourcewatch “It is affiliated with the World Taxpayers Association. Its initial funding came from the three directors and “generous people we know”.

Sourcewatch also shines a light on other groups the TPA has rubbed shoulders with. These include the right-wing think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs, which has close association with the odious neo-conservative Heritage Foundation. TPA held a joint seminar with the IEA in February 2004, with guest speaker Daniel J. Michell of the Heritage Foundation. According to Sourcewatch, the IEA is in turn funded by the Earhart Foundation, which depends on donations from, amongst others, the Rockefeller Brothers Trust, and a number of major corporations including Exxon and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Oh, what a tangled web of think tanks, charities and foundations we now have. Delving into pressure groups on the left and the right is like peeling back the layers of an onion. But it doesn’t actually take much peeling to reveal the extent of the current astroturfing – one click from the UK Uncut website we find Soros and the Rockefeller Foundations. One step from the Taxpayers’ Alliance and we find related foundations. So when it comes to pressure groups we ought to be careful, alert to the ever-present danger that we might all too easily end up as sheep in wolf’s clothing.

1 And so what of Open Trust? This is the charity that oversees openDemocracy, ensuring that “it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.” Well, that’s where the trail finally ran out. I found no links from Google for an Open Trust website and so checked on the Charities Commission website instead.

The activities of Open Trust listed by Charity Commission are as follows:

“THE OBJECT OF THE TRUST IS THE ADVANCEMENT OF EDUCATION, NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY, IN THE SOCIAL, ENVIROMENTAL [sic], POLITICAL AND BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, ECONOMICS, LAW, THE ARTS AND MEDIA COMMUNICATION AND OTHER RECOGNISED SCHOLARLY SUBJECTS.”

Registered 30th April 2001. Open Trust have no website registered, but there is an email address and a postal address that traces to a law firm.

So is that normal? For a charity to have the same address as a solicitors – I’m confused now!

2 “[But] a Guardian investigation has established that a large part of its funds come from wealthy donors, many of whom are prominent supporters of the Conservative party. Sixty per cent of donations come from individuals or groups giving more than £5,000. The Midlands Industrial Council, which has donated £1.5m to the Conservatives since 2003, said it has given around £80,000 on behalf of 32 owners of private companies. Tony Gallagher, owner of Gallagher UK, a property company that gave the Conservatives £250,000 in 2007, is a member of the MIC, as is Christopher Kelly who owns the international haulage firm Keltruck, and Robert Edmiston who owns IM Group, a large car importer.” From Guardian article “Who is behind the Taxpayers’ Alliance?” by Robert Booth, Friday 9th October 2009. Click here for full article.

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