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Journal Archives

HSBC and the Upside-Down World of Austerity Politics

By Jérôme Roos
Source: teleSUR English
February 13, 2015

“What is rewarded above is punished below … Profits are privatized, losses are socialized.”

~ Eduardo Galeano, Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World (2001)

This week it was revealed that HSBC – Europe’s biggest bank – has been running a massive tax evasion scheme through its Swiss subsidiary, allowing some of its wealthiest international clients to hide over $120bn in undeclared assets in 30,000 secret bank accounts. Leading British regulators, MPs and government officials were aware of the malpractices and the names of potential tax evaders (including movie stars, drug lords and heads of state), but never pressed criminal charges.

Instead, the UK – like the rest of Europe – ushered in an age of austerity. Where the billions of the rich escaped to Switzerland and the Caymans, the benefits of the poor were cut “to balance the budget.” Last year, David Cameron pledged to slash “wasteful” government spending for another decade, citing as reason that it “comes out of the pockets of the same taxpayers whose living standards we want to see improve.” The irony of the Prime Minister speaking from a golden throne was hardly lost on anyone. Welcome to the topsy-turvy reality of austerity politics.

Of course the diligent observer will not have been very surprised by the news of HSBC’s umpteenth mega-scandal. Already back in 2012, financial journalist Matt Taibbi made it clear that the bank had been engaged in “more or less the worst behavior that any bank can possibly be guilty of.” So far, HSBC has managed to evade prosecution despite laundering billions of dollars for some of the most notorious Mexican drug cartels, cutting illegal deals with a Saudi bank linked to Al Qaeda, and systematically rigging interbank interest rates, reaping lavish profits in the infamous LIBOR scandal.

The financial privileges obtained through this process, referred to by David Harvey as “accumulation by dispossession“, stand in direct relation to the fiscal deprivation at the bottom. Ultimately, major scandals like HSBC’s Swiss tax evasion scheme are merely flash points offering us a clearer view of the hidden dynamics at work in the world economy: what is taken from one side shows up at the other. In a word, there is no such thing as austerity; there is only a highly skewed redistribution of scarce resources. In this upside-down world of financialized capitalism, money simply tends to flow upwards.

The result is a stable set of outcomes in which profits are perennially privatized and losses are systematically socialized. Those who question this state of affairs are told that “there is no alternative,” and those who actively resist – like the social movements and progressive governments in Latin America and Southern Europe – are ruthlessly punished for it. First the cops will beat ordinary citizens over the head when they protest, then investors will beat popular governments over the head when they do the same. Foreign capital is withdrawn, bond yields spike up, stock markets collapse. Where the bankers above are rewarded for criminal behavior, those who struggle for justice from below find themselves imprisoned within the narrowing perimeters of the permissible.

Full article: https://zcomm.org/zcommentary/hsbc-and-the-upside-down-world-of-austerity-politics/

War in Ukraine: Who Wants War? And Who Doesn’t?

by William Boardman / February 12th, 2015

“Russian aggression” – the bad faith mantra of dishonest brokers

Just as NATO allies Germany and France were undertaking a peace initiative with Russia and Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry turned up in Kiev at the same time, seeking to poison the talks before they started by spouting yet again the ritual U.S. accusation of “Russian aggression.” The incantation is meaningless without context. Its purpose is mesmerize a false consciousness. “Russian aggression” may or may not exist in the events of the past year, just like “Russian self-defense.” Reporting on the ground has been too unreliable to support any firm analysis, never mind the provocative “Russian aggression” the U.S. brandishes as a virtual call for war.

All signatories must take Minsk accord seriously to avoid war

It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t urge compliance with the Minsk Agreement, even if that means different things to different people. Neither side in Ukraine has come close to significant compliance for any length of time. Poroshenko calls for the ceasefire, but omits the international monitoring called for in the agreement. He calls for closing the border with Russia, which is NOT part of the agreement. When he calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops, he omits mention of NATO. When he refers to elections, he omits Kiev’s failure to pass the legislation it promised, and he omits the elections that have already been held in the Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk . Poroshenko also omits amnesty for separatists, improving humanitarian conditions in the region, and the recovery program, all of which are part of the Minsk Agreement.

Remember how the present Ukraine crisis came about? In the fall of 2013, Ukraine was weighing a political, economic choice between a European proposal requiring exclusivity (and implying future NATO membership) and a somewhat more open Russian proposal (with no military alliance component). In Ukraine, as politically divided as ever, the western population yearned for Europe, the eastern population was content with Russia. When the legitimate, democratically-elected Ukraine government rejected the European offer, protesters mostly from western Ukraine launched the months-long Euro-Maidan demonstrations in Kiev (presumably with the connivance of the U.S. and others). In time, including on the scene visits from Biden (whose son reportedly has significant economic interests in Ukraine) and Nuland (with her cookies for the mob), the Maidan evolved into the coup d’etat that produced the current Ukraine government.

Election Note : The Donetsk and Luhansk elections held November 2 were supported by Russia and rejected as illegitimate by Ukraine, as well as spokespersons for the European Union, Germany and others in the west. The election results mostly confirmed the local authority already in place, including the chief executive and parliamentary majorities in both Republics, which were popularly approved in referendums in May. An OSCE spokesperson called the November elections a violation of the spirit and letter of the Minsk Agreement, which seemed to contemplate such elections taking place on December 7, under Ukrainian law. Ukraine had excluded Donetsk and Luhansk from its presidential election in May and its parliamentary election in October. The last apparently legitimate presidential election held in Ukraine chose Viktor Yanukovych president in February 2010. Yanukovych, whose support reached 90% of the vote in some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk, was forced from office in February 2014 by the coup that emerged from the Maidan protest. Ukraine has almost 34 million voters in all, of which more than 5 million are (or were) in Luhansk and Donetsk. Another 1.8 million voters in Crimea have not taken part in the 2014 elections outside Crimea.

Full article: http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/02/war-in-ukraine-who-wants-war-and-who-doesnt/

The Public Officials Who Need Locking Up

by Jonathan Cook / February 12th, 2015

If there is one story that encapsulates the corruption of public life at every level, it is the latest revelations about HSBC’s Swiss bank helping thousands of clients evade tax. Some £78 billion was stashed away, out of sight of the tax authorities of various countries.

The man who sat atop this global money-laundering scheme (which included laundering drugs money, as HSBC staff apparently knew) was Stephen Green, the bank’s executive chairman from 2006-10. He was appointed by the British prime minister, David Cameron, to be trade minister in late 2010 shortly after the British government became aware of HSBC’s corrupt practices.

The HSBC got off lightly everywhere, but its treatment in the UK was exceptional. The head of the British tax authority, Dave Hartnett, unlike his counterparts in several other countries, decided to quietly cover up the matter, massively defrauding the British taxpayer as well as letting lots of very rich people get away with breaking the law. Hartnett retired a short time later and was given a well-paid consultancy at … HSBC.

Vince Cable, the business minister, said: “We simply don’t know at present if Lord Green was aware of or condoned these practices.” Which would require us to believe that 6,000 wealthy British clients knew about HSBC’s illegal practices and hid their money in its Swiss accounts to evade tax, while Green himself – who presumably mixes in exactly the same circles of the 0.1% – was oblivious to what what was going on in his own company.

Full article: http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/02/the-public-officials-who-need-locking-up/

‘Realists’ Warn Against Ukraine Escalation

Published on
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
by Consortium News

The neocons’ war-and-more-war bandwagon is loaded up again and rolling downhill as “everyone who matters” in Washington is talking up sending sophisticated weapons to Kiev to escalate Ukraine’s civil war, but some “realists,” an endangered species in U.S. foreign policy, dissent.

byRobert Parry

Two of the few remaining “realists” with some access to elite opinion circles, Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, have written articles opposing the new hot idea in Washington to arm the Kiev regime so it can more efficiently kill ethnic Russians battling to expand their territory in eastern Ukraine.

As classic “realists,” these two academics do not argue so much the moral issue of whether the eastern Ukrainians should be slaughtered in the Kiev regime’s determination to crush all resistance to its authority or whether the U.S. support for last year’s overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych was justified. Instead, they focus on whether arming the Kiev regime makes sense for U.S. interests.

“Moreover, the Ukraine crisis did not begin with a bold Russian move or even a series of illegitimate Russian demands; it began when the United States and European Union tried to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and into the West’s sphere of influence. That objective may be desirable in the abstract, but Moscow made it abundantly clear it would fight this process tooth and nail.

Safety in Numbers

But the reason that people like Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, who helped plot the overthrow of the Yanukovych government a year ago, is that they represent the neocon/liberal-interventionist dominance of Official Washington. That’s also why key media advocates for the Iraq War, like the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt and the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman, still have their jobs; they ran with the powerful herd and are proof that there really is safety in numbers.

Citing the “spiral model,” Walt warns that the current popular idea of arming the Kiev forces “will only make things worse. It certainly will not enable Ukraine to defeat the far stronger Russian army; it will simply intensify the conflict and add to the suffering of the Ukrainian people.


All those supporting and allowing the slaughter of citizens of eastern Ukraine with millions/billions, and now weapons, don't care ONE BIT for their suffering. This is Libya all over, and it's just as sickening.

As New Ukraine Peace Talks Begin, Risk of Broader Conflict Looms

Published on
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
byCommon Dreams

byDeirdre Fulton, staff writer

Poroshenko arrives in Minsk saying situation is on the verge of going 'out of control.'

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany gathered on Wednesday in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to try to broker a peace agreement after 10 months of conflict that has claimed more than 5,000 lives and set the stage for a protracted proxy war, with the U.S. and NATO forces on one side and Russia on the other.

Even as the world leaders convened, violence flared in eastern Ukraine, underscoring the critical need to reach an agreement.

"There is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one; and a new supply of U.S. arms will provide ammunition for Russian leaders who believe, fairly or not, that America is attempting to turn Ukraine into a military base near Russia’s borders."
—Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation
As he arrived in Minsk, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said: "Either the situation goes down the road of de-escalation, ceasefire ... or the situation goes out of control."

According to the New York Times:

Negotiations on what exactly the leaders would discuss continued even as the various governments announced that their leaders were heading to Minsk. The talks are based on a 12-point peace agreement called the Minsk Protocol, signed here in September but violated almost immediately.

A group of negotiators from Russia and Ukraine, as well as from the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, were trying to make the final arrangements for a cease-fire and the size of a demilitarized zone, according to a Ukrainian diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the talks.

"There is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one; and a new supply of U.S. arms will provide ammunition for Russian leaders who believe, fairly or not, that America is attempting to turn Ukraine into a military base near Russia’s borders."
—Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation

Full article: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/02/11/new-ukraine-peace-talks-begin-risk-broader-conflict-looms

German Sociologists on Crimea’s Choice

by Konstanin Kosaretsky / February 11th, 2015

The attitudes of Crimeans were studied in January 2015. This representative sample included 800 respondents living on the peninsula, from all age and social categories. The poll had an error margin of 3.5%.

In answer to the most important question: “Do you endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea?” 82% of the respondents answered “yes, definitely,” and another 11% – “yes, for the most part.” Only 2% gave an unambiguously negative response, and another 2% offered a relatively negative assessment. Three percent did not specify their position.

We feel that this study fully validates the results of the referendum on reunification with Russia that was held on March 16, 2014. At that time 83% of Crimeans went to the polling stations and almost 97% expressed support for reunification.

Ukrainians continue to question whether this was a credible outcome, but it is now backed up by the data obtained by the Germans. The 82% of the respondents who expressed their full confidence in the results of the Russian election make up the core of the electorate who turned up at the ballot boxes on March 16, 2014.

And now the moment of truth: “What is your opinion of what is being written by the Ukrainian media about Crimea?” Who could be a more objective judge on this issue than the residents of the peninsula themselves? Who else but they – who have been fated to experience all the pros and cons of both Ukrainian and Russian citizenship – could better evaluate the accuracy of the information being published? Perhaps no one.

Full article: http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/02/german-sociologists-on-crimeas-choice/

"Who could be a more objective judge on this issue than the residents of the peninsula themselves?" Who indeed?

K&R. nt.

Saying No to Torture: A Gallery of US Heroes

Tuesday, 10 February 2015 12:36
By Rebecca Gordon, TomDispatch | Op-Ed

John Kiriakou, a retired CIA agent, has recently been released from prison after blowing the whistle on the Bush administration's torture program. In 2007, Kiriakou became the first CIA official to publicly confirm and detail the agency's use of waterboarding. (Photo: Troy Page / t r u t h o u t)

.....And any attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel would naturally have written the "torture memos" that John Yoo and Jay Bybee created in 2002, in which they sought to provide legal cover for the CIA's torture practices by redefining torture itself more or less out of existence. For some act to count as "severe physical suffering" and therefore as torture, they wrote, the pain inflicted would have to be of a sort "ordinarily associated with a… serious physical condition, such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions."

Wouldn't anyone do what these men did, if they, too, were frightened out of their wits? Actually, no. In fact, the sad, ugly story of the U.S. response to the criminal acts of 9/11 is brightened by a number of people who have displayed genuine courage in saying no to and turning their backs on torture. Their choices prove that Bush, Cheney, & Co. could have said no as well.

Though you'd never know it here, no level of fear in public officials makes acts of torture (or the support of such acts) any less criminal or more defensible before the law. It's remarkably uncomplicated, actually. Torture violates U.S. and international law, and those responsible deserve to be prosecuted both for what they did and to prevent the same thing from happening the next time people in power are afraid.

Some of those who rejected torture, like CIA official John Kiriakou and an as-yet-unnamed Navy nurse, directly refused to practice it. Some risked reputations and careers to let the people of this country know what their government was doing. Sometimes an entire agency, like the FBI, refused to be involved in torture.

I'd like to introduce you to six of these heroes:

Full article: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/29042-saying-no-to-torture-a-gallery-of-us-heroes

Latin America unites against US attack on Venezuelan democracy

By Frederick B. Mills, COHA
Tuesday, Feb 10, 2015

A special commission of the two largest associations of Latin American nations, CELAC (which includes all of the Latin America and the Caribbean) and UNASUR (which represents South American countries) met today in Montevideo, Uruguay, to analyze the relationship between the United States and Venezuela as well as the situation inside Venezuela. The commission, which has been convened at the request of the President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, includes the foreign ministers Delcy Rodríguez (Venezuela), Ricardo Patiño (Ecuador), María Ángela Holguín (Colombia) and Mauro Vieira (Brazil), as well as the Secretary General of UNASUR, Ernesto Samper.

Early indications are that this broad based association is calling for the U.S. to cease interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela; for Caracas to resume a dialogue inside Venezuela; as well as for the commencement of a U.S.–Venezuela dialogue. This call is only the latest in a series of statements of solidarity with Caracas and the rejection of U.S. meddling in the internal affairs of member states issued by regional political and economic associations as well as social movements.

In an interview with the author on February 9, 2015, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Larry Birns, observes:

“Washington is basically being berated by Latin America for its campaign to pressure and to otherwise weigh-in against the region’s sovereignty and its inalienable right to conduct its own economic and political policies according to its own writ. It appears that Washington believes it can carve away, in silence, the rest of Latin America, including Cuba, from Venezuela. But the statements coming out of UNASUR and CELAC should serve as a strong reminder that Latin American unity remains intact.”

The UNASUR commission has convened at a time of increasing U.S. belligerency towards the Maduro administration in the form of sanctions, unsubstantiated attempts to criminalize and delegitimize the government, and increases in soft power funding to opposition groups inside Venezuela. On February 3, 2015, in response to the expanded sanctions imposed by Washington against Caracas, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry released a statement that read: “The Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela deplores the continued attacks by the Government of the United States” that “continue violating the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and non-interference in the internal affairs inherent in international law” (Telesur). There is a sense of urgency within the Chavista camp, that in the face of a divided opposition the role of foreign interference on behalf of the counter revolution may be stepped up to fill the gap. Venezuela, however, is not alone.

Full article: http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_69317.shtml

Burying Vietnam, Launching Perpetual War

By Christian Appy / TomDispatch February 8, 2015

Photo Credit: Keith Tarrier/Shutterstock.com

The 1960s -- that extraordinary decade -- is celebrating its 50th birthday one year at a time. Happy birthday, 1965! How, though, do you commemorate the Vietnam War, the era’s signature catastrophe? After all, our government prosecuted its brutal and indiscriminate war under false pretexts, long after most citizens objected, and failed to achieve any of its stated objectives. More than 58,000 Americans were killed along with more than four million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians.

The Antiwar Movement Dispatched to the Trash Bin of History

In the 1980s, however, the Americans most saddled with blame for abusing Vietnam veterans were the antiwar activists of the previous era. Forget that, in its later years, the antiwar movement was often led by and filled with antiwar vets. According to a pervasive postwar myth, veterans returning home from Vietnam were commonly accused of being “baby killers” and spat upon by protestors. The spat-upon story -- wildly exaggerated, if not entirely invented -- helped reinforce the rightward turn in American politics in the post-Vietnam era. It was a way of teaching Americans to “honor” victimized veterans, while dishonoring the millions of Americans who had fervently worked to bring them safely home from war. In this way, the most extraordinary antiwar movement in memory was discredited and dispatched to the trash bin of history.

Although a majority of Americans came to reject the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq in proportions roughly as high as in the Vietnam era, the present knee-jerk association between military service and “our freedom” inhibits thinking about Washington’s highly militarized policies in the world. And in 2012, with congressional approval and funding, the Pentagon began institutionalizing that Vietnam “thank you” as a multi-year, multi-million-dollar “50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Vietnam War.” It’s a thank-you celebration that is slated to last 13 years until 2025, although the emphasis is on the period from Memorial Day 2015 to Veterans Day 2017.

Last year, U.S. Special Operations forces conducted secret military missions in 133 countries and are on pace to beat that mark in 2015, yet these far-flung commitments go largely unnoticed by the major media and most citizens. We rely on 1% of Americans “to protect our freedoms” in roughly 70% of the world’s countries and at home, and all that is asked of us is that we offer an occasional “thank you for your service” to people we don’t know and whose wars we need not spend precious time thinking about.

From the Vietnam War, the Pentagon and its apologists learned fundamental lessons about how to burnish, bend, and bury the truth. The results have been devastating. The fashioning of a bogus American tragedy from a real Vietnamese one has paved the way for so many more such tragedies, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Pakistan to Yemen, and -- if history is any guide -- an unknown one still emerging, no doubt from another of those 133 countries.

Full article: http://www.alternet.org/world/burying-vietnam-launching-perpetual-war
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