Category Archives: Big Banks

The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, speaking to Ukrainian and other business leaders at the National Press Club in Washington on Dec. 13, 2013, at a meeting sponsored by Chevron.‘A senior U.S. diplomat told me recently that if Russia were to occupy all of Ukraine and even neighboring Belarus that there would be zero impact on U.S. national interests. The diplomat wasn’t advocating that, of course, but was noting the curious reality that Official Washington’s current war hysteria over Ukraine doesn’t connect to genuine security concerns.

So why has so much of the Washington Establishment – from prominent government officials to all the major media pundits – devoted so much time this past year to pounding their chests over the need to confront Russia regarding Ukraine? Who is benefiting from this eminently avoidable – yet extremely dangerous – crisis? What’s driving the madness?’

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Market Farces: Horrifying Images of the “Free” Market at Work

akadjian writes for Daily Kos:

 photo child-labor-sm_zpse67cfcab.jpg‘When economists talk about how a market “regulates itself,” what they mean is that markets reach an equilibrium between supply and demand.

This says nothing about whether or not this equilibrium will be a good thing for society. It simply states that if consumers choose what to buy and producers choose what to sell and how to produce it, the market settles on a product distribution and prices.

Lately, many people I know have argued that “free markets” mean something more. They see markets as ethically right or ethically moral, meaning pursuit of profit always somehow leads to a greater good.

Unfortunately, morality isn’t built into markets.’

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New BBC chief sued over claims HSBC laundered terrorists and drug cartels’ money

Alasdair Glennie reports for The Daily Mail:

‘The BBC’s chairman-elect is being sued over her involvement in the HSBC money-laundering scandal, it was revealed yesterday. Rona Fairhead, who is set to become the first woman to lead the corporation, had her appointment approved by MPs yesterday.

But hours after the Commons hearing it emerged the 53-year-old is facing a class action lawsuit by HSBC shareholders over allegations the bank allowed terrorists and Mexican drug cartels to launder money.

Mrs Fairhead chaired the bank’s ‘risk committee’ in 2012, when it was fined £1.2billion by US authorities to settle allegations that it allowed drug traffickers to launder millions of pounds. The bank was also accused of breaching sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Burma and Zimbabwe.’

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TUC leader speech on class system cut off by royal baby newsflash

Editor’s Note: This story reminded me of when an MSNBC host cut off a U.S. Congresswoman who was talking about the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data, just so that she could bring us “breaking news” about Justin Bieber appearing in court. Hilarious yet absolutely shocking at the same time but is it really any surprise? Bieber and the Royal baby are just another example of what a joke the media is on both sides of the Atlantic. A media which is largely there to keep us misinformed and distracted for the benefit of those own the system. So strap yourself in for another long, drawn-out, gooey eyed ride with Britain’s favourite celebrities. Puke!

Andy McSmith reports for The Independent:

‘Live television coverage of a speech by Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, was cut off this morning minutes after she had warned of a return to a “Downton Abbey” society –  for a newsflash announcing that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her second child.

The second royal pregnancy was deemed to be so important that nothing more was heard of Ms O’Grady’s speech, in which she expanded on her theme that the British class system is being reinvented, as the gap between rich and poor widens.’

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Spain’s brain drain ‘worst in Western Europe’

The Local reports:

Spain's brain drain 'worst in Western Europe'‘Spain is among the European countries hardest hit by the so-called ‘brain drain’ effect with thousands of professionals including nurses and teachers taking steps to leave the country in recent years, new figures from the European Union show.

One of the most damaging aspects of Spain’s economic crisis has been the departure from the country of university graduates and highly skilled professionals. With jobs hard to come by and research and development funding slashed in many industries, anecdotal evidence suggests many people have decided to make the move elsewhere.’

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Italy’s fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage

Anthony Faiola reports for The Independent:

The Colosseum in Rome‘They have clothed the world’s wealthy fashionistas and bejeweled Hollywood stars. Now, Italy’s kings of fashion are poised to give this nation’s crumbling monuments a makeover to restore them to their former glory, something the cash-strapped Italian government cannot do.

But as Italy courts private cash to rescue some of the globe’s best-known relics of the ancient world, a debate is raging over the commercialisation of history. The Italians have been careful to avoid, say, the kind of US-style rebranding that could lead to Prada’s Pompeii or the Leaning Tower of Gucci. But critics are already fretting about corporate exploitation of Italy’s national patrimony.’

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Former First Lady on Hollande: ‘He does not like the poor, privately he calls them the toothless ones’

John Lichfield reports for The Independent:

‘In the 320 pages of Valérie Trierweiler’s literary revenge attack on François Hollande, just two words may have destroyed what remains of the hapless French President’s credibility. France has exploded with self-righteous rage at Ms Trierweiler’s claim that a Socialist President, who once said that he “hated the rich”, jokingly refers to the poor in private as “les sans dents” – “people without teeth”.’

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Fast-Food Workers Arrested In Fight For $15 Minimum Wage

Erika Eichelberger reports for Mother Jones:

‘On Thursday, nearly two years after fast-food employees first walked off the job in New York City, workers in dozens of cities around the country are staging a new round of strikes aimed at winning workers a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union. This spate of walk-outs will see a significant escalation in tactics: home healthcare workers will join the day of action, and some workers will engage in civil disobedience. Several have already been arrested.’

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Payday loan hardship cases up 42%, says UK debt charity

BBC News reports:

cash loans sign‘The number of people struggling with payday loans has risen by 42% in the past year, according to a debt charity. The charity StepChange is asking the City regulator to take further action to protect consumers who suffer from such financial hardship.

It said the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) should impose an even stricter cap on payday loan costs. The FCA said it would study the idea, along with all the other responses to its current consultation.

StepChange’s latest figures suggest the number of people getting into difficulty as a result of payday loans is continuing to increase. In the first half of 2014 it dealt with 43,716 consumers who were in trouble. That compares with 30,762 in the same period last year.’

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Even the Council on Foreign Relations Is Saying It: Time to Rain Money on Main Street

Ellen Brown writes at Web of Debt:

When an article appears in Foreign Affairs, the mouthpiece of the policy-setting Council on Foreign Relations, recommending that the Federal Reserve do a money drop directly on the 99%, you know the central bank must be down to its last bullet.

The September/October issue of Foreign Affairs features an article by Mark Blyth and Eric Lonergan titled “Print Less But Transfer More: Why Central Banks Should Give Money Directly To The People.” It’s the sort of thing normally heard only from money reformers and Social Credit enthusiasts far from the mainstream. What’s going on?

The Fed, it seems, has finally run out of other ammo. It has to taper its quantitative easing program, which is eating up the Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities needed as collateral for the repo market that is the engine of the bankers’ shell game. The Fed’s Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) has also done serious collateral damage. The banks that get the money just put it in interest-bearing Federal Reserve accounts or buy foreign debt or speculate with it; and the profits go back to the 1%, who park it offshore to avoid taxes. Worse, any increase in the money supply from increased borrowing increases the overall debt burden and compounding finance costs, which are already a major constraint on economic growth.

Meanwhile, the economy continues to teeter on the edge of deflation. The Fed needs to pump up the money supply and stimulate demand in some other way. All else having failed, it is reduced to trying what money reformers have been advocating for decades — get money into the pockets of the people who actually spend it on goods and services.’

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Nail In The Petrodollar Coffin: Gazprom Begins Accepting Payment For Oil In Ruble, Yuan

Zero Hedge reports:

‘Several months ago, when Russia announced the much anticipated “Holy Grail” energy deal with China, some were disappointed that despite this symbolic agreement meant to break the petrodollar’s stranglehold on the rest of the world, neither Russia nor China announced payment terms to be in anything but dollars. In doing so they admitted that while both nations are eager to move away from a US Dollar reserve currency, neither is yet able to provide an alternative.

This changed in late June when first Gazprom’s CFO announced the gas giant was ready to settle China contracts in Yuan or Rubles, and at the same time the People’s Bank of China announced that its Assistant Governor Jin Qi and Russian central bank Deputy Chairman Dmitry Skobelkin held a meeting in which they discussed cooperating on project and trade financing using local currencies. The meeting discussed cooperation in bank card, insurance and financial supervision sectors.

And yet, while both sides declared their operational readiness and eagerness to bypass the dollar entirely, such plans remained purely in the arena of monetary foreplay and the long awaited first shot across the Petrodollar bow was absent. Until now.’

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Russia and economic warfare: RIP the free market new world order

Larry Elliott writes for The Guardian:

Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989‘[...] Although Putin has no alternative ideology to offer, times have changed. This is now a messier, less clearly defined, multipolar world. It is not just that the pre-eminence of the dollar has been challenged by Russia’s announcement that roubles and yuan will be used in the oil deal it has brokered with China. It is not just that we are back to spheres of influence. It is not even that governments have become more interventionist and protectionist. It is that after the convulsions of the past seven years, it is hard to imagine a US president or indeed any western leader saying: “We know what works, the free market works.”

So RIP new world order. Born Berlin 1989. Died with Lehman Brothers September 2008. Laid to rest eastern Ukraine August 2014.’

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It’s socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us in Britain

Owen Jones writes for The Guardian:

UK Fears Triple-dip Recession.‘Socialism lives in Britain, but only for the rich: the rules of capitalism are for the rest of us. The ideology of the modern establishment, of course, abhors the state. The state is framed as an obstacle to innovation, a destroyer of initiative, a block that needs to be chipped away to allow free enterprise to flourish. “I think that smaller-scale governments, more freedom for business to exist and to operate – that is the right kind of direction for me,” says Simon Walker, the head of the Institute of Directors. For him, the state should be stripped to a “residual government functioning of maintaining law and order, enforcing contracts”. Mainstream politicians don’t generally talk in such stark terms, but when the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg demands “a liberal alternative to the discredited politics of big government”, the echo is evident.

And yet, when the financial system went into meltdown in 2008, it was not expected to stand on its own two feet, or to pull itself up by its bootstraps. Instead, it was saved by the state, becoming Britain’s most lavished benefit claimant. More than £1tn of public money was poured into the banks following the financial collapse. The emergency package came with few government-imposed conditions and with little calling to account. The urge to punish all bankers has gone far enough,” declared a piece in the Financial Times just six months after the crisis began. But if there was ever such an “urge” on the part of government, it was never acted on. In 2012, 2,714 British bankers were paid more than €1m – 12 times as many as any other EU country. When the EU unveiled proposals in 2012 to limit bonuses to either one or two years’ salary with the say-so of shareholders, there was fury in the City. Luckily, their friends in high office were there to rescue their bonuses: at the British taxpayers’ expense, the Treasury took to the European Court to challenge the proposals. The entire British government demonstrated, not for the first time, that it was one giant lobbying operation for the City of London. Between 2011 and 2013, bank lending fell in more than 80% of Britain’s 120 postcode areas, helping to stifle economic recovery. Banks may have been enjoying state aid on an unprecedented scale, but their bad behaviour just got worse – and yet they suffered no retribution.

Contrast this with the fate of the unemployed, including those thrown out of work as a result of the actions of bailed-out bankers. In the austerity programme that followed the financial crisis, state support for those at the bottom of society has been eroded. The support that remains is given withstringent conditions attached. “Benefit sanctions” are temporary suspensions of benefits, often for the most spurious or arbitrary reasons. According to the government’s figures, 860,000 benefit claimants were sanctioned between June 2012 and June 2013, a jump of 360,000 from a year earlier. According to the Trussell Trust, the biggest single provider of food banks, more than half of recipients were dependent on handouts owing to cuts or sanctions to their benefits.’

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Shutoff: Detroit’s Water War

‘Earlier this year, Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department began turning off water utilities for overdue or delinquent accounts. Since April, the department has cut off the water for nearly 3,000 households per week — meaning roughly 100,000 Motor City residents are without water. Entrenched at the bottom of Detroit’s current economic crisis, many of those without water are the city’s poorest resident. The city’s shut-off campaign has garnered international press attention, and has been called “an affront to human rights” by representatives of the United Nations. VICE News traveled to Detroit to see first-hand how residents are dealing with the water shut-offs, speak with local government representatives about the issue, and discuss possible resolutions with activist groups.’ (VICE News)

Despite Calls for Humanity, Detroit Resumes Water Shutoffs

Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams:

‘Despite widespread public outcry and international condemnation, the city of Detroit on Tuesday resumed shutting off the water supply to thousands of city residents. Ending the month long moratorium on shutoffs, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) public affairs specialist Gregory Eno confirmed to Common Dreams that the city turned off the water to roughly 400 households that are delinquent on their water bills and have not yet set up a payment plan. More shutoffs are expected.

According to the citizens group Detroit Water Brigade, the only thing that changed since shutoffs began in March is that the city has lowered the required down payment water bills from 30% to 10%. “The water is still too expensive for Detroit,” they said. Detroit is one of the poorest cities in the United States with over 38% of the population living below the poverty line, according to Census Bureau statistics.

Members of the Detroit Water Brigade are calling on the city to halt the shutoffs altogether and consider alternatives for helping people pay their bills, arguing that restricting access to water for the city’s poorest residents is “doing nothing more than hurting people,” DWB volunteer DeMeeko Williams told a local CBS affiliate.’

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IMF head Christine Lagarde to be investigated for alleged role in political fraud case

Anne Penketh reports for The Guardian:

File:Lagarde.jpg‘The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, has been charged with “simple negligence” over her handling of a controversial €400m payout to French business tycoon Bernard Tapie when she was finance minister. Lagarde announced that she had been placed under investigation by a magistrate on Tuesday – the French equivalent of being charged in the UK – after being questioned for 15 hours at the court of justice in Paris, which deals with cases of alleged ministerial wrongdoing.

But she told a reporter that she would not resign from her position: “I’m going back to work in Washington this afternoon,” she said. The IMF chief insisted that she had not broken the law and would appeal. The case is an embarrassment for Lagarde, the IMF and France. Judicial sources told the Guardian that negligence by a government official carried a possible one-year prison term and/or a €15,000 (£11,900) fine.’

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The Decline of the Fifth Republic: A Legacy of Imperialism

Alexander Reid Ross writes for CounterPunch:

‘After just two years in power, French Socialist François Hollande has become one of the least popular leaders in Europe. He has taken much of the blame for chipping away at France’s social wage and for the rise of the radical right wing. Rather than listening to his economy minister Arnaud Montebourg’s recap of Paul Krugman’s critique of “absurd” fiscal cuts, Hollande has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Emanuel Valls, dissolved his entire government, and ordered Valls to form a new cabinet. The question is not only whether Hollande can still call himself a socialist, but whether the French Fifth Republic can hold on.

The immediate response is that this is just a shakeup, typical of the rebellious style of French political life. But what if there is something much deeper at play? When the Fourth Republic fell in 1958, it was due to the coming dissolution of France’s colonial empire, beginning with Algeria. The French army swept through the backdoors of the French Republic, and in a rapid coup d’etat, overthrew the republican system, reinstating Charles de Gaulle as leader.

Although de Gaulle allowed the government to return to a quasi-democratic process, Gaullism has remained a hard kernel in French politics, emerging powerfully in the 1970s and again for 17 years through the Party for a Popular Movement’s big hitters, Jacques Chirac and Nicholas Sarkozy, after a window of Socialist governance by François Mitterand in the 1980s. The chief reason for the recent shakeup in the French government is not only Montebourg’s claims that financial matters have been mishandled, but his insistence on comparing Hollande unfavorable to Margaret Thatcher and to de Gaulle, himself!’

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Hollande Government: New team named after ministers rebel

Editor’s Note: France’s new economy minister, investment banker Emmanuel  Macron, attended this year’s Bilderberg conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Manuel Valls, the man who selected him, has also attended the elite meetings in 2008 as a Member of the French Parliament. It’s all about connections when it comes to highest levels of business and politics. Jean-Claude Trichet, former head of the ECB and a Bilderberg regular, seems quite happy that Macron is the right man for the job. That job being sticking to the austerity policies that the big bankers who regularly attend Bilderberg want imposed on Europe

BBC News reports:

‘French President Francois Hollande has named a new cabinet under PM Manual Valls, dropping ministers who rebelled against austerity cuts. The first government of Mr Valls, who was appointed less than five months ago, fell on Monday after a row with Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg.

Mr Montebourg resigned along with two other ministers from the left. He will be replaced by Emmanuel Macron, a former Rothschild banker and ex-presidential economic adviser.

President Hollande is seeking a coherent line on economic policy after recent criticism from the left wing of his Socialist Party. Many see it as his last chance to make a successful presidency, after his recent poll ratings sunk to 17%.’

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Hedge funds gave Robert Mugabe $100 million for genocide, got platinum mines in return

Cory Doctorow reports for Boing Boing:

‘Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe unleashed a storm of brutal, genocidal violence after losing the 2008 elections — and now we know that it was funded by western hedge-funds and banks, led by Och-Ziff Capital Management, the largest publicly traded fund, with assistance from Blackrock, GLG Partners, and Credit Suisse, who raised $100M for Mugabe’s weapons and torture-chambers in exchange for a sweetheart deal on the country’s platinum mines.

Daniel Och’s Och-Ziff manages $45.7B, including funds from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Och’s protege, Michael Cohen, led the charge to fund Mugabe’s pogrom; while an Israeli diamond trader called Dan Gertler helped broker a joint deal with OCH to invest in mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, another nation whose state is complicit in horrific terror-campaigns that include child soldiery and rape camps.’

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Charles Eisenstein: Stories That Once Offered My Life Meaning No Longer Satisfy

Charles Eisenstein, author of ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible’, writes:

‘[...] And as my horizons broadened, I knew that millions were not supposed to be starving, that nuclear weapons were not supposed to be hanging over our heads, that the rainforests were not supposed to be shrinking, or the fish dying, or the condors and eagles disappearing. I could not accept the way the dominant narrative of my culture handled these things: as fragmentary problems to be solved, as unfortunate facts of life to be regretted, or as unmentionable taboo subjects to be simply ignored.

On some level, we all know better. This knowledge seldom finds clear articulation, so instead we express it indirectly through covert and overt rebellion. Addiction, self-sabotage, procrastination, laziness, rage, chronic fatigue, and depression are all ways that we withhold our full participation in the program of life we are offered. When the conscious mind cannot find a reason to say no, the unconscious says no in its own way. More and more of us cannot bear to stay in the “old normal” any longer.

This narrative of normal is crumbling on a systemic level too. We live today at a moment of transition between worlds. The institutions that have borne us through the centuries have lost their vitality; only with increasing self-delusion can we pretend they are sustainable. Our systems of money, politics, energy, medicine, education, and more are no longer delivering the benefits they once did (or seemed to). Their Utopian promise, so inspiring a century ago, recedes further every year. Millions of us know this; more and more, we hardly bother to pretend otherwise. Yet we seem helpless to change, helpless even to stop participating in industrial civilization’s rush over the cliff.’

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Wall Street’s hot new scam: Shady banking consultants absolve the banks that pay them!

David Dayden writes for Salon:

‘On Monday, New York’s top banking regulator, Benjamin Lawsky, announced an enforcement action against PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the venerable auditing firm you might know from its work tabulating votes at the Academy Awards. But when it’s not ensuring fairness in the best supporting actress race, PwC makes its money engaged in one of the most insidious practices in the financial industry – operating as a third-party “consultant” for major banks, with far more loyalty to the firms that hire them than the truth.

Over the past several years, one way banks have devised to get themselves out of trouble is to hire consultants to head up “independent” investigations into their operations. Because state and federal regulators often don’t have the resources for such an intense inquiry, the consultants often step in as a shadow regulator, performing the work of bank examiners. Regulators increasingly require independent consultant reviews as part of their enforcement actions. However, these consultants are typically handpicked and paid for by the bank they intend to examine.

The potential for abuse in that relationship is clear. If your promise of future work depends on a continued positive relationship with your employer, you’d be the last person willing to rat them out to the federal government for misconduct. And third-party consulting has become big business indeed, as well as a way station for ex-regulators wanting to make real money out of government.’

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Corporate Tax Burden in U.S. Not as Heavy as It Looks, Report Says

Andrew Ross Sorkin writes for The New York Times:

‘For years, chief executives have complained bitterly about the United States corporate tax code, arguing that it is too complicated and that rates are too high. The issue has reached a near boiling point this summer as many large American companies have sought to buy smaller foreign rivals so they can renounce their United States corporate citizenship and reincorporate overseas to lower their tax bills. Others are considering the move, known as an inversion.

Again and again, we hear that these deals are being driven by an effort to make our companies more competitive globally and that unless we “reform” our tax system — which is code for “lower our corporate tax rate” — we will lose business to foreign rivals. It is a compelling narrative. But it may be wrong. Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the Gould School of Law at the University of Southern California and a former chief of staff to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, makes a captivating argument in an academic paper that the United States tax code — counter to the conventional wisdom — is not impeding global competitiveness. In fact, the opposite is true.’

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White-collar crime could thrive under ‘plea bargain’ code

Jim Armitage reports for The London Evening Standard:

‘[...] The scrutiny of business people’s wrongdoing is, I fear, to be severely lessened under new powers for the SFO allowing companies to effectively plea bargain their crimes away in return for a hefty fine and no trial. These so-called deferred prosecution agreements are based on the US model which has garnered billions of dollars in fines, but potentially seen serious crimes committed by very well-paid executives swept into filing cabinets that will remain locked for ever more in prosecutors’ offices.

For, while deferred prosecution deals make it easier to raise fines from companies, they foster a perception that corporate corruption is not as serious as, say, ATM fraud by gangs. Imagine the uproar in the popular press if a gang of east European credit-card cloners paid off the courts with a £50,000 fine and a vow not to do it again. It’s easy to see why the SFO might want to go down the plea bargain route. This underfunded organisation has blundered repeatedly in attempts to take on the richest people, and organisations, in the land. But to let off the criminal companies with fines — which will inevitably be a fraction of their weekly profits — adds to the temptation of employees and directors to see potential settlements with the SFO as part of the everyday cost of doing dirty business.’

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Adam Curtis: The Hidden Systems That Have Frozen Time and Stop Us Changing the World

Editor’s Note: Adam Curtis is a documentary film maker who focusses on “power and how it works in society“. His films include ‘The Power of Nightmares‘ and ‘The Century of Self’ among many others. Watch them, watch them all.

Adam Curtis writes on his BBC blog:

frontaltIf you are an American politician today, as well as an entourage you also have a new, modern addition. You have what’s called a “digital tracker”. They follow you everywhere with a high-definition video camera, and they are employed by the people who want to destroy your political career.

It’s called “opposition research” and the aim is to constantly record everything you say and do. The files are sent back every night to large anonymous offices in Washington where dozens of researchers systematically compare everything you said today with what you said in the past.

They are looking for contradictions. And if they find one – they feed it, and the video evidence, to the media.

On one hand it’s old politics – digging up the dirt on your opponent. But it is also part of something new – and much bigger than just politics. Throughout the western world new systems have risen up whose job is to constantly record and monitor the present – and then compare that to the recorded past. The aim is to discover patterns, coincidences and correlations, and from that find ways of stopping change. Keeping things the same.

We can’t properly see what is happening because these systems are operating in very different areas – from consumerism, to the management of your own body, to predicting future crimes, and even trying to stabilise the global financial system – as well as in politics.

But taken together the cumulative effect is that of a giant refrigerator that freezes us, and those who govern us, into a state of immobility, perpetually repeating the past and terrified of change and the future.’

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Iain Duncan Smith urged by senior Tories to shut all Jobcentres

Asa Bennett reports for The Huffington Post:

Job Centre PlusIain Duncan Smith is reportedly being urged by senior Tories to shut down all Jobcentres and let private companies and charities to step in to help Britain’s unemployed back to work. The proposal, backed by allies of chancellor George Osborne, is being considered for potential inclusion in the party’s election manifesto for 2015, in what would be a radical step for Britain’s system to help people into work.

One senior Tory told The Sun: “Introducing competition into the job search market is a natural Conservative thing to do. Tailoring help from experts for what people really need will work far better than the clumsy one-size-fits-all state solution.” However, Duncan Smith is believed to be sceptical about the idea, with a source describing the proposal as “expensive and complicated”.’

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Sanctions against those on sickness benefit up 350 per cent in Government crackdown

Emily Dugan reports for The Independent:

‘Soaring numbers of sick or disabled people are being punished by having their benefits taken away in a Government crackdown that experts say is pushing the most vulnerable in society to destitution.

The use of sanctions against those on sickness benefits has gone up by 350 per cent in a year as part of an aggressive drive to push more people into work. Those with serious health conditions can have their benefits removed for up to three years because of minor mistakes, such as missing an appointment at the Job Centre or forgetting to attend skills training.’

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Is Britain’s housing bubble about to burst?

HSBC chairman warns against banking reforms

Jill Treanor reports for The Guardian:

HSBC Group chairman Douglas Flint‘The chairman of HSBC warned yesterday that fear of hefty fines was forcing banks to become risk averse as they grapple with unprecedented regulatory reforms in the wake of the financial crisis.

As Britain’s biggest bank revealed it was putting aside $367m (£218m) to cover compensation for mistakes in loan statements to UK customers, Douglas Flint said there was an “observable and growing danger of disproportionate risk aversion”.

He warned of “growing fatigue” in some of the bank’s operations, where staff were having to work at weekends to implement systems changes. One concern was that “there are only 52 weekends in a year”.’

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Leaked World Bank lending policies ‘environmentally disastrous’

John Vidal reports for The Guardian:

A palm oil plantation in Sumatra. Changes to the World Bank's lending rules could allow such plantations on indigenous peoples' lands, NGOs fear‘Radical plans by the World Bank to relax the conditions on which it lends up to $50bn (£29bn) a year to developing countries have been condemned as potentially disastrous for the environment and likely to weaken protection of indigenous peoples and the poor.

A leaked draft of the bank’s proposed new “safeguard policies”, seen by the Guardian, suggests that existing environmental and social protection will be gutted to allow logging and mining in even the most ecologically sensitive areas, and that indigenous peoples will not have to be consulted before major projects like palm oil plantations or large dams palm go ahead on land which they traditionally occupy.

Under the proposed new “light touch” rules, the result of a two year consultation within the bank, borrowers will be allowed to opt out of signing up to employment safeguards, existing protection for biodiversity will be shredded, countries will be allowed to assess themselves, and harmful projects are much more likely to occur, according to World Bank watchdog groups including the Bank Information Centre (BIC), the Ulu Foundation and the International Trade Union Confederation.’

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Could Britain Leave the EU? Interview with Prof. John Weeks and Prof. Trevor Martin

‘Prof. John Weeks and Prof. Trevor Martin discuss British PM David Cameron’s call for a referendum vote to decide whether the UK remains a part of EU, as stagnation continues in the Eurozone and bleeds into economic powerhouses like Germany.’ (The Real News)