Verdi union shuts down Berlin airport workers strike

On Wednesday, the Verdi union stopped the strike by ground staff at the Tegel and Schönefeld airports in Berlin, despite the fact that the employer side refused to submit a new offer. On Tuesday afternoon the strike leadership announced to surprised workers at the Schönefeld airport that the strike was to be shut down until the weekend. Shortly before the union announcement, workers had participated in a demonstration through the airport.

— source wsws.org

Insane Clown President

Matt Taibbi talking:

I think this is an unprecedented crisis heading into an inauguration week. I think we never could have imagined that some—this last twist, at the end of what was already the craziest election season in history, with this Russia controversy and this sort of unparalleled intelligence crisis, in a way it’s actually kind of the perfect anti-ending to this, you know, incredible tragicomedy of the last couple years.

I was going for something subtle, actually. No, I mean, honestly, it’s funny. If the president-elect and his followers have complaints about the title, they should really blame Trump himself, because I actually learned a lot about marketing watching Donald Trump over the last couple years. There’s no reason to be subtle at all in the current environment. So, I thought this—that, you know, the title kind of reflected how what happened in the last couple years was a mix of kind of the extremely horrible and the extremely ridiculous. And it had that clown car theme, as well, I wanted to kind of reference.

– more than 40 years ago, your magazine, Rolling Stone, chronicled Nixon’s campaign in 1972. There are parallels, because you now have an inauguration where, well, just at this point, 42 congressmembers, Democratic congressmembers, like one in five, will not be attending.

Just to go back to the beginning, I mean, yeah, obviously, you know, I cover the campaign for Rolling Stone magazine. It’s sort of one of the iconic jobs on Earth. It’s kind of like being the Dread Pirate Roberts. And this is a tradition that kind of goes back all the way to, you know, Hunter Thompson and when he covered Richard Nixon, and then eventually compiled it into a book called Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. And that was sort of the gold standard, I think, and always will be, for campaign writing. And I think what made that series of articles and that book art, as opposed to just kind of snappy magazine writing, was that Thompson was personally obsessed with how horrible and disgusting Nixon was, in a way that no other politician really touched him. For the rest of his life, no matter who he wrote about, whether it was Carter or, you know, even George Bush, it just wasn’t the same thing. He almost had like the opposite of a love relationship with Nixon. And that kind of obsession is something you really can’t force. You either have it or you don’t have it.

I would never compare myself to Hunter Thompson. I think that’s an unflattering comparison for any writer, but I think I do a little bit understand what he was going through with Nixon. I kind of feel a little bit the same way about Trump. He’s a—you know, it was kind of hate at first sight, actually, when I first saw him on the campaign trail. He’s a fascinating, repellent, awful, epically horrible character. And in a way, it makes for this incredibly engrossing story to follow him. So, you know, I think that, to me, is what really stood out about this last year, is Trump himself, he is just such a unique figure in our time. He’s kind of the perfect foil to reflect everything that’s excessive and vulgar and disgusting and tasteless and cheap and greedy about American culture. He is the perfect mirror to reflect everything about our society.

how do politicians get elected? There’s a very simple formula that people on both sides have followed for ages. They tell people that, you know, things are bad, and we’re going to give you somebody to blame. You know, on the right, they’ve traditionally pointed the fingers at minorities and foreigners. And on the left, we point at corporations, you know, the pharma companies, insurance companies, etc., etc.

Trump did all of those things. He appropriated all of those bogeymen, both the liberal and the conservative bogeymen, but he also made the campaign process itself a villain. He said, “These people, these reporters, these donors, these two entrenched political parties, they are against you.” And unfortunately for us reporters, we were the only people from that particular group who were actually in the room during these events. So what he would do is he would say, “Look at these people. Look at these bloodsuckers. You know, they’ve never come so far for an event. And they didn’t want to come. They all said I was going to lose,” etc., etc. And the crowds would physically turn toward us and start, you know, sort of hissing and booing. And he made us part of this kind of WWE act. And it was—in a way, it was brilliant theater. And I think that the people on the campaign plane didn’t understand the significance of what he was doing. He was villainizing the process. And it was really effective.

this is something, to be fair, that had been happening gradually for a while now. I mean, I think the reporters have been increasingly unpopular with people in, quote-unquote, “flyover America.” It’s always been hard for, you know, sort of coastal media types to interview people in red state America. But this time around, I had a success rate of about one in five in getting people to actually talk to me. You know, when they heard where I worked, it sometimes got even worse than that. So, there was a lot of abuse, a lot of anger. You know, but some of it, to be fair, was justified. I think a lot of these people felt betrayed by the media, not just the liberal media, all media. Even the people from the conservative publications and TV stations had difficulty connecting with Trump’s voters.

there are obviously—there’s some crossover between the anger on the Trump side and the anger that fueled the Sanders campaign. I think that was something that everybody who was following the campaign recognized from very early on. But we just were slow to recognize that some of that anger was directed toward us.

Trump made Goldman Sachs a villain very early in the campaign. He was extremely explicit about it throughout the entire campaign season, dating back to January and February, when he used it as a club to beat on Ted Cruz, because both his wife—Cruz’s wife and Cruz himself had a financial relationship to Goldman Sachs. He said, “Cruz is totally controlled by Goldman Sachs. Hillary is totally controlled by Goldman Sachs. You know, I know those people from Goldman Sachs. I’m not going to be a puppet of Goldman.” He actually ran a campaign ad, a 30-second campaign ad, very close to the election, that specifically mentioned Goldman and Wall Street banks.

And then he turns around right after the election, and he brings five people from Goldman Sachs, or four ex-Goldmanites and a Goldman lawyer, into the White House. So this is, you know, your immediate, obvious contradiction in his campaign rhetoric. You know, he talked about draining the swamp, and the first thing he did is he filled it with people who were from that very company.

– Steve Mnuchin who, now we know, his wealth may be well over $400 million, treasury secretary. Steve Bannon, who comes from Breitbart, the white nationalist, white supremacist website, news website, also was a Goldman banker. Government Sachs, not Goldman Sachs.

Goldman has always had a major presence in government all over the world, not just in America. They’ve been presidents of the World Bank. They’ve been presidents of, you know, the EC Bank and Bank of Canada. You know, they head a lot of the Federal Reserve branches, etc., etc. But now it’s not just—it’s not just Mnuchin. It’s not just Bannon. There’s also Gary Cohn, who was the number two at Goldman Sachs behind Lloyd Blankfein. In fact, they were sort of co-heads of Goldman Sachs for all the relevant crisis years. Cohn is now the chief economic adviser to Donald Trump; he’s the head of the NEC. There’s Jay Clayton, who was Goldman’s lawyer. He worked for Sullivan & Cromwell, but he represented Goldman. Anthony Scaramucci, who’s another ex-Goldmanite, who is now a principal Trump adviser. So there’s at least—at least five high-ranking people already in the White House who have a relationship with Goldman Sachs. And again, this is a company that he specifically denounced during the campaign.

– United States’ role in meddling in internal Russian politics in the past.

I think people, they might want to look back at July 1996, at the cover of Time magazine, actually. There was a cover that said “Yanks to the Rescue.” And it was all about how we sent American advisers over to save Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign. We openly talked about how we participated in helping Boris Yeltsin get past his communist challenger, not only in 1996, but in 1993 during the referendum. I was there throughout that period, so I know we had an enormous influence on Russian politics, not just during the election campaigns, but also in terms of advising the Yeltsin government on how to do things like privatize the economy. So, there were a lot of people out there in Russia, all over the country, who, when they think about things like how I don’t have health insurance anymore, or I don’t have free education, they point the finger at us for that, because some of that was due to policies that we recommended. So, it’s a subtext that probably a lot of Americans don’t—aren’t conscious of, because it wasn’t heavily publicized here, but it’s certainly something to think about.

I’ve talked to people who have a pretty high degree of confidence that Russia did hack the DNC, and then they do think it’s probable that they also passed it to WikiLeaks. But beyond that, I think, is where we start getting into this grey area, where it’s very, very dangerous for reporters to start making statements and insinuations about what may or may not have happened, because Russia hacking and trying to influence the election, and Donald Trump being in on it, there’s an order of magnitude of difference between those two things. And I think they’re being conflated a little bit in the media, and we have to be careful about saying that before we know what the facts are. I mean, it could very well turn out to be true, but I think we need a full investigation to know why people are saying that they believe that.

The Washington Post ran this story about how a group called PropOrNot had—which is a sort of a private cyberteam, I guess. They claimed to have identified 200 independent new sources who they called, you know, “useful idiots” in support of the Russian state. And coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally, almost all of those sites were pretty well-known alternative media organizations. You know, it was a very sloppy piece of reporting that the Post did. And their excuse was they didn’t openly recommend these allegations and didn’t endorse them, but they linked to them, and anybody could look at them. And, of course, that’s how—that’s an end run around, you know, the usual factual standards that we have in the media. And I think that’s the kind of thing that I’m worried about with a lot of this Russia talk, is that we have excesses when people believe things that maybe aren’t true.

Exxon is an oil company. And the subterranean dealings between ExxonMobil and whatever, you know, the Russian oligarchy, I’m sure that’s a tangled web that we need to get to the bottom of. But I think, somehow, someway, there has to be some kind of independent investigation. Whether, you know, some people in the Senate can be prevailed upon—you know, we do have this joint intelligence committee in the Senate that is allegedly going to have subpoena power and is allegedly going to be able to interview people about what went on. But, you know, it’s an urgent question.

Clearly—one of the things that’s been clear in the last couple of weeks is that our intelligence services either believe that Trump has some kind of a relationship and that there was some kind of quid pro quo in the last year. They either believe that that’s true, or they’re putting that out there for some reason. And we have to get to the bottom of it, one way or the other. If it’s a disinformation campaign, we have to know that. And if it’s true, we need to know that, because there’s really nothing more serious than a compromised person becoming president of the United States.

I had been waiting for something like Trump to happen for a long, long time. I mean, there’s actually an excerpt from a book I wrote 10 years ago, in this book, about how, you know, people were tuning out the mainstream media, and they were turning to more conspiratorial directions, and there was going to come a time when they were going to shut us out completely. And I kind of saw that coming. And I did see, early on in the campaign, that Trump—I never thought anybody else was going to be the nominee.

But I was fooled, I think, in the second half of the campaign, like a lot of people were, by the poll numbers and also by—there was a little bit of a change in his strategy, where he seemed to be moving away from themes that had been successful for him during the primary season, and he was trying this crazy new thing, talking about how he was going to rescue—be the rescuer of the African-American community and all that. I thought that was a terrible, disastrous move and that it was going to lose him the election. It turned out it won him the election, because it rehabilitated him with, quote-unquote, “mainstream Republicans,” who didn’t want to think of themselves as racists. So, it turned out to be this brilliant move that helped him build a coalition, which he himself, you know, wouldn’t have been capable of alone. He needed Steve Bannon’s help to do that.

And I just never saw that result coming, and I think a lot of reporters didn’t, because—and this is the main problem with campaign reporting. We just—we aren’t out there enough talking to people. We tend to spend all of our time with other reporters and other politicians and other pollsters. We don’t—we’re not out there physically taking the temperature of voters enough, and that’s why things like the Trump phenomenon can happen and take us by surprise.

this is the most extraordinary political story, I think, in our history. I don’t think anything has ever—on this scale, has ever happened before. Trump—what people need to remember about Trump is—they’re overwhelmed by the horror of it right now, but they have to remember also that this was an extraordinary story about how democracy, in a weird way, does work. He penetrated all of these different layers, these barriers to power that had been thrown up to ordinary people. And he was a true outsider, who somehow made it past all those barriers, through all these loopholes that we had left open. And I think that’s an amazing story that we need to focus on. How did that happen?

I think this is a moment when people have to do that. This is a—again, it’s an unparalleled crisis. If any of this stuff about Russia is true, people need to do whatever they can to prevent him from becoming president, or at least try to get him impeached as quickly as possible. And, you know, again, we have to take the example of what Trump supporters did. They defied the odds to get him in office. And I think it’s a demonstration that if people are organized enough, they can accomplish anything. And then, they—people on the other side should take that lesson.
____

Matt Taibbi
award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine.

— source democracynow.org

Media Uncritically Promoting Russian Hacking Story

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts.

Hersh denounced news organizations as “crazy town” for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public.

“The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous,” Hersh said when I sat down with him at his home in Washington, D.C., two days after Trump was inaugurated. “They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that summary of the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done,” they reported it as fact. Hersh said most news organizations missed an important component of the story: “the extent to which the White House was going and permitting the agency to go public with the assessment.”

Hersh said many media outlets failed to provide context when reporting on the intelligence assessment made public in the waning days of the Obama administration that was purported to put to rest any doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails.

The declassified version of the report, which was released January 7 and dominated the news for days, charged that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election” and “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” According to the report, the NSA was said to have had a lower confidence level than James Clapper and the CIA about the conclusion that Russia intended to influence the election. Hersh characterized the report as full of assertions and thin on evidence.

“It’s high camp stuff,” Hersh told The Intercept. “What does an assessment mean? It’s not a national intelligence estimate. If you had a real estimate, you would have five or six dissents. One time they said 17 agencies all agreed. Oh really? The Coast Guard and the Air Force — they all agreed on it? And it was outrageous and nobody did that story. An assessment is simply an opinion. If they had a fact, they’d give it to you. An assessment is just that. It’s a belief. And they’ve done it many times.”

Hersh also questioned the timing of the U.S. intelligence briefing of Trump on the Russia hack findings. “They’re taking it to a guy that’s going to be president in a couple of days, they’re giving him this kind of stuff, and they think this is somehow going to make the world better? It’s going to make him go nuts — would make me go nuts. Maybe it isn’t that hard to make him go nuts.” Hersh said if he had been covering the story, “I would have made [John] Brennan into a buffoon. A yapping buffoon in the last few days. Instead, everything is reported seriously.”

Few journalists in the world know more about the CIA and U.S. dark ops than Hersh. The legendary journalist broke the story of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, the Abu Ghraib torture, and secret details of the Bush-Cheney assassination program.

In the 1970s, during the Church Committee investigations into the CIA’s involvement in coups and assassinations, Dick Cheney — at the time a top aide to President Gerald Ford — pressured the FBI to go after Hersh and seek an indictment against him and the New York Times. Cheney and then-White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld were furious that Hersh had reported, based on information from inside sources, on a covert incursion into Soviet waters. They also wanted retaliation for Hersh’s exposé on illegal domestic spying by the CIA. The aim of targeting Hersh would be to frighten other journalists from exposing secret or controversial actions by the White House. The attorney general rebuffed Cheney’s requests, saying it “would put an official stamp of truth on the article.”

Although critical of the Russia coverage, Hersh condemned the Trump administration’s attacks on the news media and its threats to limit the ability of journalists to cover the White House. “The attack on the press is straight out of national socialism,” he said. “You have to go back into the 1930s. The first thing you do is destroy the media. And what’s he going to do? He’s going to intimidate them. The truth is, the First Amendment is an amazing thing and if you start trampling it the way they — I hope they don’t do it that way — this would be really counterproductive. He’ll be in trouble.”

Hersh also said he is concerned about Trump and his administration assuming power over the vast surveillance resources of the U.S. government. “I can tell you, my friends on the inside have already told me there’s going to be a major increase in surveillance, a dramatic increase in domestic surveillance,” he said. He recommended that anyone concerned about privacy use encrypted apps and other protective means. “If you don’t have Signal, you better get Signal.”

While expressing fears about Trump’s agenda, Hersh also called Trump a potential “circuit breaker” of the two-party political system in the U.S. “The idea of somebody breaking things away, and raising grave doubts about the viability of the party system, particularly the Democratic Party, is not a bad idea,” Hersh said. “That’s something we could build on in the future. But we have to figure out what to do in the next few years.” He added: “I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.”

In recent years, Hersh has been attacked for his investigative reports on a variety of policies and actions authorized by the Obama administration, but he has never backed down from his aggressive approach to journalism. His reporting on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden dramatically contradicted the administration’s story, and his investigation on the use of chemical weapons in Syria cast doubts on the official claim that Bashar al Assad ordered the attacks. Although he has received many awards for his work, Hersh said praise and condemnation have no impact on his work as a journalist.

— source theintercept.com By Jeremy Scahill

On culture and power

Interview with Ahdaf Soueif

We seem to be entering through a period of contradictions, of dislocating change and crisis, of raised hopes and terrible realities. We have seen the economic crisis questioning the very pillars of neoliberalism yet market fundamentalism has not faltered in its march. We have had inspiring flourishing of social movements yet authoritarian leaders everywhere are rising to the fore. How do you understand this moment?

There’s clearly a struggle taking place on a universal scale between a system that has the world in its clutches, and something new that’s trying to be born. In a sense, this is the story of mankind.

But some elements in our situation are particular to this moment. The first is an awareness of the interconnectedness of the world – in both problems and solutions.

Of course people with interests in the matter have always been aware of the opportunities that different parts of the world present; trade, conquest and migration are all based on that. But now there’s a growing general awareness that the world’s problems need to be solved globally.

Environmental issues are the most obvious examples, but there are many more – the exponential increase of both wealth and poverty and the obscene gap between rich and poor, wars, migration and the movement of capital, and more – and they’re all linked.

We can’t pretend that this awareness is shared by everybody, but it’s shared by enough politicized groups of – on the whole young – people across the world (can we call this ‘the Young Global Collective’?) – to make it now unremarkable for us to see Palestinians, say, sending messages of support to Black activists in the US, or to have seen Occupy using Tahrir iconography.

This awareness needs to grow, to coalesce, and to use its potential to generate ideas and action. For this we need forms of global conferring, decision-making, solidarity and action – like the TNI enterprise.

The second element that’s particular to this moment is that the Internet and related technology seem to hold a promise that global conversations and actions are achievable.

The third element is that the fate of the planet itself is in the balance; this lends acute urgency to the struggle.

On the other hand, the existing power system also sees the issues in global terms – and it is in a better position to create and enact its own global solidarity in pursuit of consolidating and furthering its power. Bilderberg, Davos, G8 are all examples of this.

I think we need to recognise that neoliberalism has not failed. It has not failed its proponents. It understands that it has not delivered its promises to ‘the people’ and that, therefore, it is under attack. But its answer is to find reasons outside itself for this non-delivery (immigrants, shirkers, Terror) and to repeat its promises more emphatically every time it changes its front players.

It plays to the fears of the audience, and it breathes life into the demons in their psyches: jingoism, selfishness, racism, a readiness to embrace violence, etc. The Trump campaign was an example of this.

The system – being old and in power – has its ideas, arguments, discourse and justifications in place. And embedded within it are the power structures with which it protects and continuously justifies and consolidates itself: the governments, the intelligence, police, security and military establishments, the legal and financial systems that underpin them – and the media.

One of the traits I find really attractive and encouraging in the Young Global Collective is how unconstrained it is by old ideologies. It has powerful ideas – and has ethics and natural justice on its side – but these ideas are not yet translated – how could they be? – into one overarching idea that can develop into a coherent system for running the world.

It has not yet found a way to coalesce into a global movement – although we often see bits trying to come together as happened in Cancun and Durban. (My sense is that the Green parties are the most suited to embrace and process the impulses and ideas of the Young Global Collective and forge them into a much-needed vision centred somehow around life, sustainability and human rights).

So what we have now is a situation where the Young Global Collective understands that Neoliberalism is lethally bad for most of the world’s population and for the planet itself. It continually challenges various aspects of Neoliberalism in a variety of ways in different parts of the world: activists take on Big Oil, armaments, dismantling the NHS in the UK, police brutality in the US, austerity in Greece, the BDS campaign takes on the Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and so on. Every one of these challenges raises our hopes.

It used to be a received idea that if millions came out onto the streets and stayed there the existing power structures would collapse and space would be created for something new. Exactly what the new thing would be like no-one knew, but everyone had a good idea what it would not be like. And everyone hoped there would be space and time for forms to evolve. Egypt 2011 proved that this was not true. Syria is proving it in even uglier fashion.

The young of the Young Global Collective are to a large extent averse to the structures and practices of power. They – commendably – want to change the world but not to rule it. In other words, most social movements would find it an impossible contradiction to employ, for example, an armed force to defend themselves and spin doctors and PR firms to propagate their ideas.

In the midst of this conflict there are now the emerging armed actors, like Islamic State. They serve the existing system – by purchasing arms, militarizing struggles, normalizing violence and by providing a Terror Monster for the use of fear-mongering politicians and so a justification for increased surveillance of citizens, increased spending on arms, intelligence and security. In a way, we are witnessing an alliance of Neoliberalism and Terror whipping democracies into fascism.

All these are things we need to be – I’m certain many of us are, constantly – thinking about, trying to imagine and image, to represent and to develop and to counter.

The culture of Tahrir square

You had the experience of being part of the movements in Cairo and Egypt that inspired the world. Can you tell us something about the culture of those resistance movements? Is there something of that time that remains today?

What happened in Egypt in January 2011, and so embedded itself in the world’s imagination, was a moment – a climactic moment – in a process that had started years before, and continues today.

I would particularly like to remind us of two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that were set up in the 1990s: al-Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC). Both were set up by committed and charismatic professionals: psychiatrist Aida Seif el-Dawla and lawyer Ahmed Seif, who were able to gather around themselves similarly committed and smart teams. Their focus was human rights, and their work revealed the extent to which the abuse of human rights had become a normalised part of how power structures in Egypt are serviced, consolidated and extended.

Both organizations sought to redress and challenge this abuse; al-Nadim treated people who had been tortured, published reports and statistics, and took huge risks campaigning against the Ministry of the Interior and individual officers; HMLC provided people with legal support against a wide spectrum of human rights violations, published information and research papers and sought to take cases to the Constitutional Court and so to change and develop the law itself.

By taking on the Mubarak regime in this way al-Nadim and HMLC started this latest round of resistance and enabled it to take root. The positions they took formed the “personality” of the 2011 revolution.

Both organizations provided their services free, paid their staff in line with Egyptian rates, and were very careful in choosing non-governmental funding sources whose agendas matched their own; this way they avoided the alienation and de-politicization that blights so much NGO work.

Both were clear in that their services were available to everybody regardless of nationality, citizenship, faith, gender, sexual orientation, etc. HMLC, for example, took on the defence of the unpopular and dangerous “gay case”; the Queen Boat. Both were welcoming of refugees.

Their audience – their constituency – was the public both at home and abroad. They implemented a vision of human rights and speaking truth to power as international as well as local concerns. In Australia, I once met a Sudanese writer who told me al-Nadim had saved his life and his marriage.

The first decade of the new century saw a number of initiatives appearing in Egypt, all seeking change and challenging power.

HMLC then opened its doors to new initiatives like the Movement for the Support of the Palestinian Intifada (2000) providing these initiatives with a free safe space, resources, information and advice. Lawyers trained in HMLC established their own NGOs supporting freedom of information and expression, workers’ rights, land rights, personal rights, economic rights, housing rights and others.

There were movements for the independence of the universities and for the independence of the judiciary and movements simply for ‘change’. ‘Kefaya’ was an umbrella movement for social and political change which put sudden and imaginative protests on the streets from 2005 to 2011. The 6 April Youth Movement, which worked to establish links with workers’ protests, managed to create a reasonable cross-country presence with activists in every major town.

When –after 28 January 2011 – Tahrir – and other locations in Alexandria and other cities – for a period became a liberated space, the culture they created was informed – in its basic principles – by the spirit of the work of the previous decade.

One clear principle was the empowerment of people. Activists taught reading and writing to street children who, for the first time, found a safe space on the street. The Mosireen Film Collective trained anybody who came along to shoot and edit film. Some of the trainees were street children who went on to shoot their own footage with Mosireen equipment. Mosireen documented housing struggles, fishing, industry and legal struggles and amplified people’s voices through them.

‘Let’s Write Our Constitution’ was an initiative set up by Alaa Abd el-Fattah (Ahmed Seif’s son and one of the most prominent figures of the revolution. Now serving five years in prison for protesting) to elicit a new set of constitutional governing principles from ordinary people across the country.

Freedom of information was another principle, with Mosireen, again, acting not only as producer of footage but as collector, archivist, point of exchange and distributor of footage onto mobile phones. By the end of 2011, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was killing revolutionaries on the streets, this footage was used by activists in the campaign: Kazeboon (‘They Lie’), to expose the lies of the military.

Kazeboon achieved what every grassroots movement aims for: non-ownership. People across the country downloaded footage from mobile phones, acquired or borrowed projectors and set up surprise screenings against walls. This was how everyone came to see the huge gap between the rhetoric of the military and what they were doing on the ground.

Another initiative set up by Alaa Abd el-Fattah – who happens to be a software designer – was ‘Tweet-Nadwa’; a discussion forum run by Twitter rules. This was one of the activities in which technology and game-playing were used to celebrate diversity, tackle difficult topics and bring people together.

The first Tweet-Nadwa brought young people from the Muslim Brotherhood and others who’d left the Brotherhood to talk about their experience with each other and with a wide audience – a meeting that was a ground-breaker for everyone involved. Another was held sitting on the ground in Tahrir, about reforming the police. Applause was not by clapping but by ‘twittering’ your hands in the air. Attracted by the twittering hands more and more people joined the nadwa and the discussion. Tweets were streamed on a large screen.

In Tahrir there was, overall, a rejection of Neoliberal capitalism. There was true altruism, a rooted belief in human rights and a tremendous emphasis on social justice. People understood that their views about how to achieve social justice ranged from centre right to far left, but it was enough that everyone wanted it. For the moment the work of keeping the sit-ins alive, pressing for the removal of Mubarak and then trying to press for transparent, democratic government provided enough common ground for people to work from.

As Tahrir was periodically under attack by security forces, the army and various related thugs, field hospitals very quickly appeared. The organization and efficiency of these cannot be overstated. Entire systems came into being organically to save and treat people. After the attacks they often stayed in place to provide everyone with free medical care. A culture also grew where many physicians who did not come to Tahrir made themselves available to perform emergency surgery – particularly eye surgery – for free at their hospitals and clinics.

And, of course, art was everywhere. From simple pavement drawings by people who suddenly realised they were free to make them, to huge sophisticated murals by graffiti artists that expressed – and created – the collective spirit of Tahrir. Graffiti artists recorded events, made statements, created iconic emblems – The Blue Bra, Nefertiti in a Gas Mask, Angel Ultras, Universal Man – and eventually created massive murals which mined the art of every era of Egypt’s long past to bring its aesthetic and moral force to bear on the present moment.

There’s much more. But I want to close this section with a quote from a young revolutionary, written in December 2011:

Tahrir Square worked because it was inclusive – with every type of Egyptian represented equally. It worked because it was inventive – from the creation of electric and sanitation infrastructure to the daily arrival of new chants and banners. It worked because it was open-source and participatory – so it was unkillable and incorruptible. It worked because it was modern – online communication baffled the government while allowing the revolutionaries to organise efficiently and quickly. It worked because it was peaceful – the first chant that went up when under attack was always ‘Selmeyya! Selmeyya!’. It worked because it was just – not a single attacking (thug) was killed, they were all arrested. It worked because it was communal – everyone in there, to a greater or lesser extent, was putting the good of the people before the individual. It worked because it was unified and focused – Mubarak’s departure was an unbreakable bond. It worked because everyone believed in it. Inclusive, inventive, open-source, modern, peaceful, just, communal, unified and focused. A set of ideals on which to build a national politics.

You ask Is there something of that time that remains today? The answer has to be ‘yes’. Even though thousands of our young people have been killed and thousands have been injured – some without repair; even though tens of thousands are in prison and hundreds of thousands live in trauma.

Even though the country has been through betrayals and massacres, the democratic process has been discredited and the military has established a counter-revolutionary regime more repressive and vicious than any that Egypt has ever known.

Even though there are people who found themselves in the revolution and when it was lost they were lost. Even though there are people who are disillusioned and bitter and people who pretend 2011 was a mass hallucination and people who have gone back to their lives and are trying to forget that the last six years ever happened.

Yet, I would say that everybody who was truly involved in 2011 and who is now working on something – anything, whether they are in Egypt or outside it – is doing work that will one day fuel the next revolutionary wave.

Enough to note the internet news sites like MadaMasr, or al-Badeel, or Yanair and all the people working in them, still providing news, analysis and commentary. The network of legal and practical support for the prisoners – still functioning despite exhaustion. The human rights organizations born of HMLC, still working despite arrests, freezes on assets and smear campaigns. Aida Seif el-Dawla and her colleagues sitting in their office, refusing to close, and facing down 20 security agents just a few weeks ago.

And all of this while arrests disappearances and deaths in prisons and in police stations continue.

Culture and meaning

From your experience in participating in the Arab Spring and then seeing its hopes and aspirations diverted or crushed, how do you see the role of culture in sustaining and one day delivering on those dreams?

It is through culture that we describe the world and what has happened to it and to us in it. We comment on the present, excavate the past and try to imagine a future – or several.

Culture holds up a mirror, criticizes, tries to synthesize; it puts worlds together, opens up feelings, validates them, provides illumination, ideas, respite. Culture is dreaming the dream, it is also enacting it. Culture provides us with the language, the symbols, the imagery to explore, communicate and propose. Without culture no dream is dreamable.

I’d like to give you one tiny, and to me, powerful example of the role of culture creating meaning.

We’ve all seen the ancient Egyptian symbol of the scarab with a disc between its front legs. Well, some artist, thousands of years ago, watched a black beetle lay its eggs in a bit of animal dung. The beetle rolled the dung and rolled it and rolled it till the eggs were encased in a ball of dung at least twice its own size. Then the beetle dug a hole. Then, moving backwards and using its hind legs, it rolled the ball of dung deep into the hole. It then came out of the hole, filled it up and went away.

The artist watched the space where the hole had been until one day, struggling out of the earth, there emerged 15, 20 baby beetles. As they found their feet and shook the dung and the earth off their wings and started to take their first tentative flying leaps the artist saw the new little beetles’ luminous bright blue wings catching the light. Iridescent, sparkling little joyous flickers of sapphire blue against the earth. The Scarab is the dung beetle, the Disc is both the ball of dung and the sun that gives light and life to everything.

For the reader, thousands of years ago, the image of the ‘Scarab holding the Disc’ spoke of ‘becoming’, of transformation and emerging. Just think of all the elements that image brought together, and of the power of what it proposed.

“Culture” is often regarded – and may be presented by political and religious authorities – as being both homogeneous and static, yet we know that there are always fault lines and voices that don’t get a hearing or are suppressed. We also know that well-intentioned external efforts to address harmful or gender-restrictive traditional practices can have the effect of further entrenching them. How, then, can changes happen and be sustained?

I think change happens organically within each community/culture group. The change is for the better – in other words towards more freedom, openness, transparency etc – when people are confident and not defensive. ‘Outside’ intervention should only ever be at the request and according to the demands and guidelines of trusted and authentic ‘inside’ groups. So a feminist group from Somalia, say, wanting to work on feminist issues in Norway, would only do so in partnership with credible, rooted Norwegian groups and within their programme.

A culture of transformation

What does a culture of transformation, democracy and justice look like?

The society we dream of would be one in which no child is born disadvantaged, where basic education and healthcare are free, where people don’t have to worry about survival, where everyone has enough time and resources to fulfill their potential as they see it, where people are truly involved in the decisions that will affect them, where we respect the earth and all natural creatures on it.

I believe that the world needs to be engaged with and run as one unit.

I believe that the processes of democracy unless accompanied by certain safeguards are merely a tool for the system. When people have to make a decision on an issue they need to have all the information that’s relevant to that issue, be able to understand it, and be free of any need or coercion that affects their decision. Without transparency, freedom of information, education and guaranteed human rights there is no democracy.

Finally, this is a statement that I’ve been making for a while, and I would like to make it again here, as particularly relevant to TNI:

“If I could decree a universal education programme, I would make every child in the world learn a brief history of the entire world that focussed on the common ground. It would examine how people perceive their relationship to each other, to the planet, and to the universe, and it would see human history as an ongoing, joint project, where one lot of people picked up where another had left off.”

— source longreads.tni.org

The truth about tax havens

In 2009 I met a former private banker, Beth Krall, to explore a question that had been nagging me: how do bankers who shelter the wealth of gangsters and corrupt politicians justify what they do? We met one Sunday in Washington DC. She had left private banking and joined the non-governmental sector. Dressed in a striking black-and-white coat, she still looked very much the stylish international financier. Aged 47, and with nearly 24 years in the banking business, Krall (not her real name) was still coming to terms with her past life.

Krall’s last offshore posting was in the Bahamas, an island archipelago with over 300,000 residents that has been an important offshore centre since the golden age of American organised crime. A few months earlier, a practitioner in the Caymans had warned me to watch out for my personal safety if I went “asking all these questions” in the Bahamas. Krall said she was unsure what might happen to her if she went back, as she was partly breaking the private bankers’ code of silence. “I don’t want to have concrete shoes put on me,” she said without smiling. One reason for her fear was something that had angered her in the first place: so many of the people she dealt with were powerful members of society in their home countries.

Krall took her banking exams straight after school, and then worked for a number of banks before moving to Cititrust in the Bahamas, where she ran evaluations and accounting for their mutual funds business.

From this point, Krall declined to name her employer. She became a client relationship manager with the private banking arm of a well-known international bank in the Bahamas. They worked with what are euphemistically known as managed banks or shell banks, an offshore speciality. These have no real presence where they are incorporated, so they can escape supervision by regulators.

The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 prompted the US to legislate against shell banks. A bank in the Bahamas must now employ two senior bankers and keep its books and records there to be judged real enough to do business. “That means a bank maybe with a room or suite in a building, with two people in it – that’s a bank now,” Krall said. She directed me to the website of a Bahamas-based trust company that will provide you with exactly that: the appearance of being a real bank – including two staff members as directors and a place to keep the books. Such a setup can allow business almost as usual, yet still tick the regulators’ boxes.

Krall moved to a big European bank, again as a client relationship manager – in effect, someone who finds wealthy clients and keeps them happy. Trawling for business, she was routinely pointed towards Latin America, where she travelled frequently. “On the immigration form you would write that you were going for pleasure, though your suitcase would be full of business suits and portfolio evaluations, or marketing materials and presentations explaining the advantages of a trust in the Bahamas.” The client’s name didn’t appear on their portfolio evaluation: in fact, the bank would not even record it as the account name. It was nerve-racking, sometimes, going through airports, but she always got through unchallenged.

Despite her growing qualms, Krall ended up working for a boutique Swiss private bank in the Bahamas. This was no ordinary bank, and was the only one where she actually saw a suitcase full of cash. “My bank never once had a client walk through the door,” she said. “The bankers and their clients go on big-game hunting trips, or to the ballet in Budapest. That is where it happens.”

Her colleagues hailed from old European aristocratic circles. While Krall was perfectly good at her job and had close working relationships with top lawyers, asset managers and so on, a gap remained. “They went to parties with royalty, with ambassadors,” she said. “I wasn’t in their circle.”

At the time, laws in the Bahamas were being tightened a little, following a feeble global crackdown, and she moved sideways in the bank to work as a compliance officer. These days, offshore bankers make a big show of their know-your-customer rules to keep out the bad money. Depositors may have to supply a certified copy of a passport, for example, and divulge where their money came from. Jurisdictions such as the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands put these requirements into their statutes, and banks employ compliance officers such as Krall to enforce this. That, at least, is the theory. But there are many ways around the restrictions.

Krall was supposed to check for suspicious movements through the accounts – of which there were plenty. She raised many red flags. “They [her managers] would say, ‘This was a commission’.” Were these bribes? Commissions on what? “I went back, and never got an answer.” One Swiss-based trust company that had a relationship with her bank displayed almost nothing on its website, bar some photos of a nice fountain in Geneva. “The crap they brought to us was unbelievable. There is no way a responsible trustee should take this on. You would have no idea who the trust settlors were, what the assets were or where they came from. I objected strongly, but the bank took them on.”

There is something about island life that stifles dissent. In the island goldfish bowl, you cannot hide. The ability to sustain an establishment consensus and suppress troublemakers makes islands especially hospitable to offshore finance, reassuring international financiers that local establishments can be trusted not to allow democratic politics to interfere in the business of making money.

John Christensen, Jersey’s former economic adviser-turned-dissident, describes encountering extremist right-wing offshore attitudes when he returned to his native island in 1986 after working overseas as a development economist. It was the year of the City of London’s Big Bang of financial deregulation, and he found the tax haven amid a spectacular boom. Old houses, tourist gift shops and merchant stores in Jersey’s beautiful capital St Helier were being knocked down and replaced by banks, office blocks, car parks and wine bars. He went to an employment agency and they told him he could have any job he wanted. The following day he had three offers. In his work he soon became aware of practices such as reinvoicing, in which trading partners agree on a price for a deal, then record it officially at a different price in order to shift money secretly across borders.

As the river of money flowing into Jersey became a tide, he expressed unease about the origins of some of it, much of it from Africa, but he was brushed aside.

The concentration of extremist attitudes in Jersey was self-reinforcing, as Christensen explains. “Most liberal people like myself left,” he said. “My socially liberal friends from school, almost all of them left Jersey to go to university, and almost all of them didn’t go back. I can’t tell you how dark it felt.” He almost left, but was persuaded to stay by academic researcher Mark Hampton, who was putting together a framework for understanding tax havens and convinced him how important it was to understand the system from the inside. “I went undercover,” Christensen said, “not to dish the dirt on individuals and companies, but because I couldn’t understand it – and none of the academics I spoke to could either. There was no useful literature.”

Jersey is riddled with elite, secretive insider networks, typically linked to the financial sector. After being appointed economic adviser in 1987, Christensen found that many people who came to see him wanted him to join their Masonic lodge, and gave him the secret signal. “Their thinking is very much of the old-boy network – you are either one of us or you are against us,” he continued. “It means they can trust you to do the right thing without having to be told – an insidious meaning of the word ‘trust’.”

Unaccountable elites are always irresponsible, and I got my own flavour of Jersey’s mouldy governance on the first day of a visit in March 2009, when the Jersey Evening Post carried a front-page story headlined “States in shambles”, referring to the States Assembly, Jersey’s parliament. “The States resembled a school playground yesterday as foul language and personal insults flew across the chamber,” it said. Senator Stuart Syvret, a popular but controversial politician, had complained in the assembly that the health minister was whispering in his ear.

Syvret, the newspaper reported, stood up and said: “On a point of order, I am sorry to interrupt the minister. But the minister to my right, Senator Perchard, is saying in my ear: ‘You are full of fucking shit, why don’t you go and top yourself, you bastard.'” Senator Perchard responded by saying: “I absolutely refute that. I am just fed up with this man making allegations.” The BBC, which was broadcasting the sitting live, had to apologise for the language.

Syvret has been a regular victim of efforts to suppress dissent. “Any anti-establishment figure here is bugged,” said Syvret. “There is a climate of fear. Anyone who dares disagree is anti-Jersey, an enemy of Jersey. You are a traitor, disloyal. There is all this Stalinist propaganda.” A few weeks after my visit eight police officers arrested Syvret and held him for seven hours while they ransacked his home and personal files, including his computer.

In October 2009, having been accused of leaking a police report about the conduct of a nurse, Syvret fled to London and claimed asylum at the House of Commons, saying he could not get a fair trial in Jersey. British Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming put Syvret up in his flat, declaring that “we should not allow him to be extradited, to be prosecuted in a kangaroo court”. When Syvret returned in May 2010 to fight an election he was arrested at the airport. “This is a society with no checks and balances, run by an oligarchy,” Syvret said. “It is a one-party state, and it has been for centuries.”

At the Smugglers’ Inn on Jersey’s beautiful coast, I sat with John Heys, a tour guide at the world-famous Durrell zoo, and his friend Maurice Merhet, a retired printer and pig farmer. The two had spoken out – in letters to the Jersey Evening Post and in other forums – and have been decried, publicly and regularly, as traitors. Both described the same climate of fear that Syvret had: the dread of being squeezed out of a job, of never getting anywhere, of being blacklisted.

Heys showed me an email from a government minister to a dissident friend who had, in a cheeky Christmas message to the minister, pointed out the large sums stashed away in Jersey amid global poverty. The minister responded – mistakes included: “Hi Traitor, Please refrain from sending me your unsolicited garbage … I am surprised you still decide to live in this ‘tax haven’ island … ifs its so bad why do you not leave to live somewhere else … good riddance I would say … but perhaps NOT because you get a damm good living here, no doubt perhaps funded by banks and your morgage lender … in fact my family have lived in Jersey for several generations and I am so very proud of it but to listen to traiterous idiots like you makes me furious. I would not have the nerve to wish you a happy christmas in fact I hope you continue to live a miserable existence in your traiterous world.”

One night in 1996, towards the end of his time in Jersey, Christensen opened the books for a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, who was investigating an alleged fraud ring involving American investors and a Swiss bank operating out of Jersey. The story, headlined “Offshore hazard: Isle of Jersey proves less than a haven to currency investors”, ran on the front page several months later. Jersey’s finance industry and politicians went into spasm. This was one of the first times Jersey’s supposedly clean and well-regulated finance sector had been challenged in a serious global newspaper. The end of the article quoted a senior civil servant. Everyone in Jersey was sure it was Christensen. He knew that, in talking to the reporter, he had effectively resigned.

Finance can take advantage of insularity, timidity and moral shortsightedness, but the ethos of the Jersey establishment derives ultimately from the offshore industries and their onshore controllers, not from innate island character. Offshore repression can happen in larger jurisdictions, too. Rudolf Elmer, a Swiss banker who had worked for banks in several offshore centres before becoming a whistle-blower on some of the corruption he had seen, felt the pressure in Switzerland, a country of eight million people.

In 2004 Elmer noticed two men following him to work. Later, he saw them outside his daughter’s kindergarten, then from his kitchen window. His wife was followed in her car. The men offered his daughter chocolates in the street and late at night drove a car at high speed into the cul-de-sac where he lived. The stalking continued, on and off, for more than two years. The police said there was nothing they could do. In 2005, they searched his house using a prosecutor’s warrant, and he was imprisoned for 30 days, accused of violating Swiss bank secrecy, which is, as he put it, “an official violation, like murder”.

“I was thinking of suicide at this stage,” he said. “I would be looking out of the window at 2am. They intimidated my wife, children and neighbours. I was an outlaw. I was godfather to a child whose father is in finance. He said I have to stop – ‘you are a threat to the family’.” A relative was pressured at work to avoid contact with Elmer; after one warning he left the office in tears. “I was bloody naive to think that Swiss justice was different,” Elmer said. “I can see how they might control a population of 80,000 people in the Isle of Man, but eight million? How can a minority in the banking world manipulate the opinion of an entire country? What is this? The mafia? This is how it works. Jersey, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland: this whole bloody system is corrupt.”

theguardian.com part 1

The offshore world is all around us. More than half of world trade passes, at least on paper, through tax havens. More than half of all banking assets and a third of foreign direct investment by multinational corporations are routed offshore. An impression has been created in sections of the world’s media, since a series of stirring denunciations of tax havens by world leaders in 2008 and 2009, that the offshore system has been dismantled, or at least tamed. In fact quite the opposite has happened. The offshore system is in very rude health — and growing fast.

It is no coincidence that London, once the capital of the greatest empire the world has known, is the centre of the most important part of the global offshore system. The City’s offshore network has three main parts. Two inner rings – Britain’s crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man; and its overseas territories, such as the Cayman Islands – are substantially controlled by Britain, and combine futuristic offshore finance with medieval politics. The outer ring comprises a more diverse array of havens, such as Hong Kong, which are outside Britain’s direct control but have strong links.

This network of offshore satellites does several things. First, it gives the City a truly global reach. The British havens scattered all around the world’s time zones attract and catch mobile international capital flowing to and from nearby jurisdictions, just as a spider’s web catches passing insects. Much of the money attracted to these places, and the business of handling that money, is then funnelled through to London.

Second, this British spider’s web lets the City get involved in business that might be forbidden in Britain, providing sufficient distance to allow financiers in London plausible deniability of wrongdoing. Much (but not all) of the financial activity hosted in these places breaks laws and avoids regulation elsewhere.

The three crown dependencies in the inner ring are substantially controlled and supported by Britain but have enough independence to allow Britain to say “there is nothing we can do” when other countries complain of abuses run out of these havens. They channel very large amounts of finance up to the City of London: in the second quarter of 2009 the UK received net financing of $332.5bn (£215bn) just from its three crown dependencies. Jersey Finance promotional literature makes the point plainly. “Jersey,” it says, “represents an extension of the City of London.”

The 14 overseas territories, the next ring in the spider’s web, are the last surviving outposts of Britain’s formal empire. With just a quarter of a million inhabitants between them they include some of the world’s top secrecy jurisdictions: the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos islands and Gibraltar.

Just like the crown dependencies, the overseas territories have close but ambiguous political relationships with Britain. In the Caymans the most powerful person is the governor, appointed by the Queen. The governor handles defence, internal security and foreign relations; he appoints the police commissioner, the complaints commissioner, the auditor general, the attorney general, the judiciary and other top officials. The final appeal court is the privy council in London.

It is the world’s fifth largest financial centre, hosting 80,000 registered companies, more than three-quarters of the world’s hedge funds, and $1.9tn (£1.2tn) on deposit – four times as much as in New York City banks.

The third, outer ring of the British spider’s web includes Hong Kong, Singapore, the Bahamas, Dubai and Ireland, which are fully independent though deeply connected to the City of London.

In the Caribbean, the modern offshore system traces its origins back to the time when organised crime took an interest in the US tax code.

When Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion in 1931, his associate Meyer Lansky became fascinated with developing schemes to get mob money out of the US in order to bring it back, drycleaned. A slick mafia operator, Lansky would beat every criminal charge against him until the day he died in 1983. Lansky began with Swiss banking in 1932, where he perfected the loan-back technique.

First he moved money out of the US in suitcases, diamonds, airline tickets, cashiers’ cheques, untraceable bearer shares or whatever. He would put the money in secret Swiss accounts, perhaps via a Liechtenstein Anstalt (an anonymous company with a single secret shareholder) for extra secrecy. The Swiss bank would then loan the money back to a mobster in the United States and the money would return home, clean.

By 1937 Lansky had started casino operations in Cuba, outside the reach of the US tax authorities, and he and his friends built up gambling, racetrack and drugs businesses there. It was, effectively, an offshore money-laundering centre for the mob.

Lansky then moved to Miami and plotted to find his next Cuba, small enough and corrupt enough to be able to buy the political leadership, and close enough to the United States for the gamblers to come and go at will.

The Bahamas, the old staging post for British gun-running to the southern US slave states of the Confederacy, was perfect. Lansky set about making this British colony, now dominated by an oligarchy of corrupt white merchants known as the Bay Street Boys, the top secrecy jurisdiction for north and south American dirty money.

A quaint memo from a Mr WG Hulland of the Colonial Office to a Bank of England official in 1961, just as Lansky began major operations there, illustrates the uneasy nature of this encounter between the British upper classes and American organised crime: “We feel that this [lack of provision of an effective regulatory system] might be a grave omission, since it is notorious that this particular territory, in common with Bermuda, attracts all sorts of financial wizards, some of whose activities we can well believe should be controlled in the public interest.”

London did nothing, and Lansky built his empire. Yet many locals were unhappy. In 1965 Lynden Pindling, a populist Bahamas politician, threw the ceremonial speaker’s mace out of a parliament window in a dramatic power-to-the-people gesture. He was elected prime minister in 1967 on a platform that included hostility to gambling, corruption and the Bay Street Boys’ mob connections.

Yet as it happened there was a reassuringly British place just next door, where the locals were far more friendly: the Cayman Islands.

Milton Grundy, an influential Caribbean offshore lawyer and author of several books on offshore finance, remembers first arriving in the Caymans. Cows wandered through the town centre, there was one bank, one paved road and no telephone system. In 1967 the Caymans published its first trust law, which Grundy drafted, and which a British Inland Revenue official subsequently said “blatantly seeks to frustrate our own law for dealing with our own taxpayers”. Within just a few months Grand Cayman was connected to the international phone network and the airport was expanded to take jet aircraft.

Some have argued that Britain set up the offshore networks simply out of a short-sighted desire to find a way for its overseas territories to pay their way in the world. After the second world war, an exhausted Britain found that its empire, once a source of great profits, was becoming more expensive and difficult to run, as locals began to agitate for independence. But the evidence points to a different, more troubling explanation for Britain’s decision to turn its semi-colonies into secrecy jurisdictions.

The archives tell a consistent story about how the tax havens grew: private sector operators working in a zone of extreme freedom began to call the shots, with little opposition from Britain and its inexperienced emissaries.

In the archives, two schools of opinion emerge within the British civil service. On one side sits the Treasury, and especially its tax collectors in the Inland Revenue, who virulently opposed tax havenry and found the Cayman Islands especially obnoxious. The US authorities were clearly highly vexed too, and the British Foreign Office broadly opposed havenry, though its position was more nuanced.

On the other side sits the Bank of England, the most vociferous cheerleader for the new arrangements, and its far less influential supporter, the British overseas development ministry, which seems unperturbed by the possibility that local tax haven activities might foster massive capital flight from developing countries elsewhere. Battle lines were drawn; the exchanges become vigorous and even acrimonious.

The Inland Revenue was especially alarmed, while their mandarin bosses in the Treasury showed some, but rather less, concern. They put together a working party, whose report in 1971 said Britain should, in effect, stop encouraging tax havenry in its overseas territories, which in the case of the Caymans had become, as one internal memo in London put it, “quite uncivilised”.

A letter marked secret from the Bank of England dated 11 April 1969 gives a better sense of the forces driving the changes in the Caribbean.

“We need to be quite sure that the possible proliferation of trust companies, banks, etc, which in most cases would be no more than brass plates manipulating assets outside the islands, does not get out of hand. There is of course no objection to their providing bolt holes for non-residents but we need to be sure that in so doing opportunities are not created for the transfer of UK capital to the non-sterling area outside UK rules.”

The Bank of England’s main concern at this time was that the new Caribbean centres were weak points: sources of financial leakage outside the sterling area. So in 1972 Britain shrank the area to Britain, Ireland and the crown dependencies, excluding the new havens.

The year the sterling area shrank, the British officials working against tax havens disappeared from the archive files. Their replacements seemed unaware of the 1971 report and only discovered it in 1977, sitting on the shelf, unimplemented. Again they expressed concerns – and again nothing was done. History repeated itself within and between the departments, all in less than 10 years. And, each time, the Bank of England fought the tax haven corner.

“This is no tropical paradise,” said Kenneth Crook, the newly arrived British governor of the Cayman Islands in 1972. “I could enlarge, in terms of a magnificent but mosquito-ridden beach; of a fairly new but rather ill-designed and sadly neglected house; of a pleasant but very untidy little town; of swamp clearance schemes which generate smells strong enough to kill a horse; of an office which will one day ere long collapse in a shower of termite-ridden dust.”

But on politics, and the strange relationship between Britain and its little quasi-colony, his tone hardens. “Caymanians don’t want independence,” Crook wrote. “They don’t want internal self-government either – they are very unwilling to trust each other with effective power … they quite well understand that the British connection gives them a status which they would otherwise not command.”

Nothing of substance seems to have changed, as a senior Caymanian politician, who asked not to be named, explained to me in 2009. “The UK wants to have a significant degree of control,” he said, “but at the same time it does not want to be seen to have that control. Like any boss, it wants influence without responsibility; they can turn around when things go wrong and say ‘it’s all your fault’ – but in the meantime they are pulling all the strings.”

This attitude of the locals towards Britain reassures investors, but the political bedrock underpinning the world’s fifth biggest financial centre is Britain’s role. If Caymanians gained full control, most of the money would flee.

While these changes were happening in the Caribbean, something similar was under way far closer to the City of London, in the crown dependencies. A constituent’s letter forwarded and endorsed by Tony Benn, then an MP, to the then chancellor, Denis Healey, about a tax conference in Jersey, gives a flavour: “I am somewhat surprised to see a Mr Gent from the Bank of England giving advice on how to avoid paying tax. I wonder if this is really part of the Bank of England’s duties? Mr Gent suggests that the Bank of England will not be prepared to pass on information required by the Inland Revenue! Does the UK Treasury have no control over the Bank of England? Surely Bank employees should not be working against government policy? And just what sort of arrangements and deals are made at these events ‘behind the scenes’?

“It really is just a bit too sordid to be true.”

As in the Caribbean, offshore banking blossomed here from the 1960s, when merchant banks such as Hambros and Hill Samuel opened for deposits.

Foreign travel was getting easier and more British expatriates opened accounts in Jersey, where the banks were reliable and comfortingly British, but where bank interest was untaxed and secret. Many did not declare their income to their countries of residence, often poverty-racked African nations, knowing they would not be caught.

Martyn Scriven, secretary to the Jersey Bankers’ Association, described how Jersey’s network grew. “The biggest business developer is client recommendation,” he said. “The client will say, ‘I’m happy, and I’d like to introduce you to my friend’ – and you build it up like that. You get some seriously interesting people … someone who goes abroad as a rigger 20 years ago for Shell may now be in charge of the company’s west Africa operations … We gather deposits from wealthy folk all around the world, and the bulk of those deposits are sent to London. Great dollops of money go into London from here.”

As in the Caymans, Jersey has carefully protected the ambiguous relationship with Britain. Jersey’s most senior public sector officials are appointed in London; its laws are all approved by the privy council in London, and Britain handles Jersey’s foreign relations and defence, and the lieutenant governor represents the Queen.

As in the Caymans, Britain goes to great lengths to hide its control. And, as with the Cayman Islands, the relationship with the mother country reassures the wealthy and the financial services industry that Britain will step in if needs be, to protect the tax haven from external attacks. Their money is safe in Jersey.

— source theguardian.com By Nicholas Shaxson

Money really has a leverage against news organizations

Brian Knappenberger talking:

this film actually started as a kind of deep dive into the Hulk Hogan-Gawker Media case, in which Hulk Hogan was suing Gawker Media for posting a sex tape of him. And so, I was interested in that. I thought it was a really interesting First Amendment versus privacy kind of case. And so, we started making the documentary, but then we realized afterwards, there was a $140 million verdict against Gawker, which was the death sentence for Gawker. They were forced into bankruptcy.

And then it was revealed that Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor—venture capitalist, early Facebook investor, was actually funding Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit. So the film became something very different. We started looking at this notion of Peter Thiel funding this lawsuit that led to the death of this online website. And that, of course, was before he spoke at the RNC, became a Trump supporter and eventually became part of the Trump transition team. So, that’s—that was an opening that we needed to look at, how money really has a leverage against news organizations, and how news organizations might be vulnerable to people with an ax to grind.

Gawker is a controversial site. A lot of people hated it. But I think that even if you think that they might have done something wrong, the fact that they were—that this—first of all, enormous verdict, the fact that they would have lost this case, and then the fact that it could have been sort of—the sort of secretive working behind the scenes, chess moves behind the scenes, in order to get rid of them, was disturbing to a lot of people.

We also look at the secretive purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal by Sheldon Adelson. This is an extraordinary story of a free press, where the Las Vegas Review—the reporters at the Las Vegas Review-Journal were informed in a meeting, big meeting, that their paper had been bought, which is, you know, an extraordinary thing for anybody in any company. “Wow! We have new owners.” And, of course, being reporters, they said, “Well, who did it? Who’s our new owner? And what are their expectations? What are they—what’s their perspective?” I think it’s a natural question. And the answer that they got was “Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to know. Just do your jobs.”

You don’t need to know who owns you. So, the reporters said, “Well, wait a minute, what is our jobs? That kind of—that is our jobs.” So, we—they immediately went to work trying to figure this out, who bought the paper, and so we follow that story, which I think is a pretty extraordinary tale of journalism, trying to figure out who bought the paper. Who—that’s their boss, so their jobs were on the line.

– Peter Thiel and Donald Trump’s relationship, the image of them hugging at the tech meeting in New York at Trump Tower, when all the other tech leaders were there.

It’s extraordinary. Yeah, I don’t think that they—as far as I can tell, they didn’t really know each other before the Gawker verdict. I think Trump, when he heard about it, was quoted as saying, “Oh, I love him.” So, clearly, they’ve been—they are like-minded, in many ways.

I think we’ve got two things going on. We’ve got this vulnerability of the press to potentially, you know, people with a lot of money, billionaires who might have an ax to grudge, who are thin-skinned, that don’t want to hear a word of criticism. And, unfortunately, now we have one of those people in the executive branch of the United States government. It’s one of the most powerful institutions in the world.

Mark Hertsgaard talking:

Washington covering the march for The Nation, and it was striking to me just how large this demonstration was. I’ve covered a lot of demonstrations in my career. And I think that it was—you showed some of the pictures, Amy. You know, this was very possibly the single largest political demonstration in United States history, just the Washington event. If you add in New York, Los Angeles, where even the police said 500,000 people

even the police said 500,000 in Los Angeles. So this was the biggest day of political protest in U.S. history. And somehow, most of the mass media, the corporate media, missed that point. It was happening right in front of them, and yet they are not inclined to go out and cover social movements. They had pictures of it, but they had nobody on the ground. And so, after I came back in from witnessing the protest, I, of course, turned on the television and watched CNN and then CBS, and they discussed this without the benefit of an actual journalist being on the panel. There was Republican political hacks and Democratic political hacks talking about the supposed meaning and aims of this march, but nobody who had actually been there on the ground who did journalism 101: talk to the people who are there, ask them why they are doing it. I want to give a quick shout out to Democracy Now! You guys were broadcasting live from there, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and that’s what journalism should be.

So I think, getting back to this film that you’re talking about—I very much want to watch that film. I think it points up, though, that this is a moment of truth for the American media, the corporate media included. They will either stand up to the Trump administration, which is very clearly engaged in a war on the media—the choice is either to stand up to that and fight back or to get rolled. And I think that if they stand up, that they will find that the American public is ready and waiting for real journalism.
____

Brian Knappenberger
director of Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. He previously directed The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, about the hacker collective Anonymous.

Mark Hertsgaard
investigative editor at The Nation magazine and author of seven books, including On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency and Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.

— source democracynow.org

Commutation of Chelsea Manning

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters there was a stark difference between the cases of U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. On Friday, a campaign supporting Edward Snowden delivered a petition with more than 1 million signatures to the White House demanding a pardon.

Jeremy Scahill talking:

there are clear differences between what Chelsea Manning did and the way that Chelsea Manning has been treated and Edward Snowden. But I do reject the idea that they’re using Edward Snowden as sort of a stepladder to justify this. The reality is that President Obama should have issued a full pardon to Chelsea Manning and should have never allowed the kind of abuse that she’s endured to go on for this period.

Let’s remember, though, that, you know, Chelsea Manning didn’t just leak the “Collateral Murder” video that showed the killing of Iraqi civilians and journalists from the Reuters news agency, didn’t just release the State Department cables that showed all sorts of blackmail, cajoling, corruption, support for dictators around the world, that—it was one of the most incredible moments in the history of democracy in this country, where people actually got to have the curtain pulled back and to see how the government functions in private and how it contradicts the public proclamations of the United States being this beacon of hope, the shining, you know, city on the top of the hill. And also Chelsea Manning provided the Iraq War logs and the Afghan War logs, that detailed numerous crimes committed by the United States and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also gave us an unprecedented window into how the assassination forces that the U.S. had unleashed in those countries functioned.

But not a single document that Chelsea Manning is known to have released was a top-secret document. And I think that’s a technical distinction from what Edward Snowden did. And I think that that’s part of why Josh Earnest is saying this. But let’s be clear: Edward Snowden also is a whistleblower deserving of an embrace from people who believe in democracy. We understand now the breaking news today was that the Russian government is saying it’s extending Edward Snowden’s ability to stay in Russia for two more years. And a senior Russian official rejected the suggestion by former acting CIA Director Mike Morell that Snowden should be handed over to the U.S. by Putin as a thank you gift to the incoming President Donald Trump, and the Russian Foreign Ministry said it’s curious that a former director of the CIA actually views the giving of people as a gift, and it says a lot about the United States. But, no, I think that the White House is using Edward Snowden in an attempt to justify the commutation of the sentence of Chelsea Manning. I’m ecstatic that Obama did even this. I think he should have gone farther and issued a full pardon to Chelsea Manning.

When Edward Snowden was in mid-air on the way to Moscow, the United States. we don’t know exactly where, but we understand somewhere in Latin America. While he was in the air en route to Moscow, the United States canceled his passport. So, it was the Obama administration that chose Russia. Edward Snowden did not choose Russia. And then they tried to force Evo Morales—well, they actually did force Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia’s plane down, thinking that Edward Snowden was on board it. My understanding is that supporters of Snowden had bought tickets for him on multiple airlines in an attempt to kind of fog up the U.S. efforts to catch him. he had to stay in the airport for weeks on end.

I know that our dear friend, the late Michael Ratner, believed that there was a lot of evidence to indicate that there was a secret or sealed indictment against Julian Assange, but that has not been confirmed. So it’s unclear even if there are charges against Julian Assange. Some of the leaked documents from Hillary Clinton’s circle indicate that maybe there is, but it’s unclear that there’s even an extradition request to respond to in the first place. And I think that, you know, Assange has plenty of trouble facing him if he steps outside of that embassy—the potential for the U.S. to want to extradite him, certainly there; Sweden is definitely going to want him to spend some time in jail, and Assange himself has acknowledged that; and the British government, of course, may bring a whole array of new charges against him, as well. But it will be interesting to see what happens. I mean, Assange did say it, and so we’ll see what happens.

former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was a witting participant in a sophisticated propaganda campaign orchestrated by Dick Cheney and the top levels of power in the United States government to falsify a case to invade and destroy Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people died in that war. Thousands of U.S. soldiers were killed in that war. Judith Miller shouldn’t write with ink; she should write with the blood that she has caused to be shed around the world. And shame on her for attacking Chelsea Manning, whose entire intent was to save lives, when she has knowingly participated in a drive to an unjust, illegal war that killed scores of people. She should, as they say, delete her account.

Chase Strangio talking:

I have no doubt that Chelsea Manning will continue to just absolutely fight for all the principles that she has long stood for, continue to engage in a campaign of advocacy for transparency, for transgender justice, for the justice of so many people. And I have no doubt that today she, as she always is, is thinking about other people, like Leonard Peltier and other people who are still awaiting to hear about the commutation of their sentences.

General Cartwright was part of the official leaks program, where the White House wants to put out information that they feel makes them look glorious, like as we saw John Brennan and others do in the Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden. What this boiled down to was Cartwright leaked information about the Stuxnet virus, and he appeared to have done it with the permission of the highest levels of power in the Obama administration—unclear if Obama himself approved it. But then he got caught lying to the FBI. And the whole point of it was to say, “Hey, we dismantled—or, we penetrated Iran’s nuclear program with this amazing computer virus that we created,” potentially in concert with the Israelis. Cartwright then got caught lying to the FBI. And so, this is sort of akin to, you know, some of the pardons that took place in Richard Nixon’s administration. Basically, Cartwright did this at the pleasure of the White House, so to speak, and so he’s part of the official leaks program, as, you know, so many other unindicted people are in the White House—big contrast to how they treat conscience-motivated whistleblowers.

Nancy Hollander talking:

I think it’s very important for future whistleblowers to see how Chelsea was treated and mistreated. And none of that is going to go away. But at least the president has reduced her sentence. But we’ve always been concerned, and Chelsea has been concerned, that future whistleblowers will be afraid to come out and step forward. And Chelsea will be out there doing service to her community, and she can’t wait to do that.

Part 2
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Jeremy Scahill
co-founder of The Intercept. He is host of the new weekly podcast Intercepted, which premieres January 25.

Chase Strangio
staff attorney at the ACLU. Strangio represents Chelsea Manning in a lawsuit against the Pentagon.

Nancy Hollander
appellate attorney for Chelsea Manning.

— source democracynow.org