Olduvaiblog: Musings on the coming collapse

Home » Posts tagged 'Britain' (Page 2)

Tag Archives: Britain

Joseph S. Nye asks whether war between China and the US is as inevitable as many believe World War I to have been. – Project Syndicate

Joseph S. Nye asks whether war between China and the US is as inevitable as many believe World War I to have been. – Project Syndicate.

CAMBRIDGE – This year marks the hundredth anniversary of a transformative event of modern history. World War I killed some 20 million people and ground up a generation of Europe’s youth. It also fundamentally changed the international order in Europe and beyond.

Indeed, WWI destroyed not only lives, but also three empires in Europe – those of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia – and, with the collapse of Ottoman rule, a fourth on its fringe. Until the Great War, the global balance of power was centered in Europe; after it, the United States and Japan emerged as great powers. The war also ushered in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, prepared the way for fascism, and intensified and broadened the ideological battles that wracked the twentieth century.

How could such a catastrophe happen? Shortly after the war broke out, when German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was asked to explain what happened, he answered, “Oh, if I only knew!” Perhaps in the interest of self-exoneration, he came to regard the war as inevitable. Similarly, the British Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey, argued that he had “come to think that no human individual could have prevented it.”

The question we face today is whether it could happen again. Margaret MacMillan, author of the interesting new book The War that Ended Peaceargues that, “it is tempting – and sobering – to compare today’s relationship between China and the US with that between Germany and Britain a century ago.” After drawing a similar comparison, The Economist concludes that “the most troubling similarity between 1914 and now is complacency.” And some political scientists, such as John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, have argued that, “to put it bluntly: China cannot rise peacefully.”

But historical analogies, though sometimes useful for precautionary purposes, become dangerous when they convey a sense of historical inevitability. WWI was not inevitable. It was made more probable by Germany’s rising power and the fear that this created in Great Britain. But it was also made more probable by Germany’s fearful response to Russia’s rising power, as well as myriad other factors, including human errors. But the gap in overall power between the US and China today is greater than that between Germany and Britain in 1914.

Drawing contemporary lessons from 1914 requires dispelling the many myths have been created about WWI. For example, the claim that it was a deliberate preventive war by Germany is belied by the evidence showing that key elites did not believe this. Nor was WWI a purely accidental war, as others maintain: Austria went to war deliberately, to fend off the threat of rising Slavic nationalism. There were miscalculations over the war’s length and depth, but that is not the same as an accidental war.

It is also said that the war was caused by an uncontrolled arms race in Europe. But the naval arms race was over by 1912, and Britain had won. While there was concern in Europe about the growing strength of armies, the view that the war was precipitated directly by the arms race is facile.

Today’s world is different from the world of 1914 in several important ways. One is that nuclear weapons give political leaders the equivalent of a crystal ball that shows what their world would look like after escalation. Perhaps if the Emperor, the Kaiser, and the Czar had had a crystal ball showing their empires destroyed and their thrones lost in 1918, they would have been more prudent in 1914. Certainly, the crystal-ball effect had a strong influence on US and Soviet leaders during the Cuban missile crisis. It would likely have a similar influence on US and Chinese leaders today.

Another difference is that the ideology of war is much weaker nowadays. In 1914, war really was thought to be inevitable, a fatalistic view reinforced by the Social Darwinist argument that war should be welcomed, because it would “clear the air” like a good summer storm. As Winston Churchill wrote in The World Crisis:

“There was a strange temper in the air. Unsatisfied by material prosperity, the nations turned fiercely toward strife, internal or external. National passions, unduly exalted in the decline of religion, burned beneath the surface of nearly every land with fierce, if shrouded, fires. Almost one might think the world wished to suffer. Certainly men were everywhere eager to dare.”

To be sure, nationalism is growing in China today, while the US launched two wars after the September 11, 2001, attacks. But neither country is bellicose or complacent about a limited war. China aspires to play a larger role in its region, and the US has regional allies to whose defense it is committed. Miscalculations are always possible, but the risk can be minimized by the right policy choices. Indeed, on many issues – for example, energy, climate change, and financial stability – China and the US have strong incentives to cooperate.

Moreover, whereas Germany in 1914 was pressing hard on Britain’s heels (and had surpassed it in terms of industrial strength), the US remains decades ahead of China in overall military, economic, and soft-power resources. Too adventuresome a policy would jeopardize China’s gains at home and abroad.

In other words, the US has more time to manage its relations with a rising power than Britain did a century ago. Too much fear can be self-fulfilling. Whether the US and China will manage their relationship well is another question. But how they do so will be dictated by human choice, not some ironclad historical law.

Among the lessons to be learned from the events of 1914 is to be wary of analysts wielding historical analogies, particularly if they have a whiff of inevitability. War is never inevitable, though the belief that it is can become one of its causes.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/joseph-s–nye-asks-whether-war-between-china-and-the-us-is-as-inevitable-as-many-believe-world-war-i-to-have-been#FTTehJIsCzqkHKMX.99

French firm Total to join UK shale gas search | Environment | theguardian.com

French firm Total to join UK shale gas search | Environment | theguardian.com.

Fracking protesters

Fracking protesters in Balcombe last summer. Photograph: Rod Harbinson/Demotix/Corbis

The French energy company Total will become the first major international oil company to join the exploration for UK shale gas when it announces an investment package on Monday.

Total is to join a shale gas exploration project in Gainsborough Trough in Lincolnshire currently operated by Ecorp of the US, according to the Financial Times. The other partners in the project are Dart Energy and UK-listed Igas and Egdon Resources.

The coalition government has made the exploitation of Britain’s unconventional gas reserves a priority, offering tax breaks to shale developers and promising big benefits. This is in contrast to France where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process by which shale gas is released, is banned.

George Osborne, the chancellor, has argued that shale has the potential to reduce Britain’s reliance on increasing expensive gas imports and create thousands of jobs.

Exploration for shale gas and other unconventional hydrocarbons is taking place or is planned in Wales, Scotland, the south of England and the Midlands and the north.

Opposition from environmentalists has hindered the work. Protesters say the fracking process – injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure into shale rock to release the oil and gas trapped inside – can contaminate groundwater and cause earthquakes. The operation of rigs and attendant noise and truck movements can disrupt the local area.

Last summer Cuadrilla Resources faced protests in the Sussex village of Balcombe, and protesters are currently camped outside a drilling pad at Barton Moss in Salford where Igas plans to drill an exploratory well.

Geologists estimate there could be as much as 1,300tn cubic feet of shale gas lying under parts of the north and Midlands. One-tenth of that would equal around 51 years’ gas supply for the UK.

Greece begins EU presidency by saying austerity policies are intolerable | World news | The Guardian

Greece begins EU presidency by saying austerity policies are intolerable | World news | The Guardian.

Greek EU Presidency

The start of Greece’s six-month European Union presidency reinforced the isolation of German chancellor Angela Merkel. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/EPA

Greece kicked off six months in charge of the European Union on Wednesday declaring that the imposition of austerity, spending cuts and fiscal policy by Berlin and Brussels could no longer be tolerated.

Coinciding with a growing backlash across the EU against the austerity policies mainly scripted in Berlin, the start of Greece’s EU presidency reinforced the isolation of German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has dominated the policy response to the EU crisis for the past four years.

Following four years at the sharpest end of Europe‘s debt and currency crisis and €250bn in bailout funds, the Greek government declared enough was enough.

“Greece does not want to have any more fiscal conditionality,” the finance minister, Yannis Stournaras, said on Wednesday. “It is out of the question because it is already too tough.”

The cry of exhaustion from a country that went broke, sank into years of slump and mass unemployment, slashed labour costs, and saw incomes collapse by more than a third is finding an echo not only across southern Europe but in the prosperous north, too, as leaders fear for their career prospects.

They have had enough of austerity, leaving Merkel, the main architect of spending cuts as the cure to Europe’s malaise, isolated as seldom before in what is becoming less of a financial crisis and more of a political battle for Europe’s future direction.

“The acute phase of the financial crisis is now over,” the US financier, George Soros, said last week. “Future crises will be political in origin.” He foresaw a bleak period of Japanese-style stagnation worsened by constant bickering between EU national leaders.

“What was meant to be a voluntary association of equal states has now been transformed by the euro crisis into a relationship between creditor and debtor countries that is neither voluntary nor equal. Indeed, the euro could destroy the EU altogether.”

The political frictions are visible, with leaders using vivid language to try to sway one another and win the argument. Merkel recently likened the situation to that of 1914, complaining of complacency and speaking of sleepwalking European leaders who led the continent into the first world war. She also evoked parallels with growing up under communism in East Germany, a rare public reference to her childhood experiences.

Describing the mood among most EU national leaders, a senior policymaker in Brussels said: “The worst of the crisis is over. So the pressure to take tough measures is off. We’ve had enough of discipline, enough of sanctions, we’re sufficiently unpopular already. The worst is over, so let’s stop now.”

Merkel, whose steering of the euro crisis propelled her to soaring popularity at home and a third term, has become increasingly resented among elites in other EU capitals, underlining the differences between Germany and the rest.

“The problem in Europe is that there is a government headed by one person,” a west European ambassador said in reference to Merkel. “That’s the issue and how to deal with it. All decisions are taken by one leader. This is what is happening now.”

If that has been a big part of the narrative for the past few years, however, the story went into reverse just before Christmas in the first week of Merkel’s new term. She went to a Brussels EU summit determined to push a new policy of compelling structural reforms on the economies of the eurozone. But she found herself supported by not one single other national leader, opposed not only by her foes, but also her friends such as the Dutch, Austrians and Finns.

“It was really a strange discussion,” said the policymaker, “difficult from the start, full of prejudice, ideology and fear.” Merkel was said to be disappointed. That much is clear from her private remarks to fellow leaders at the summit. A transcript of the exchange, obtained by Le Monde, highlighted her frustration.

She said: “Sooner or later the currency will explode without the necessary cohesion. If everyone behaves as they could under communism, then we are lost.”

Merkel’s plan was to empower the European commission in Brussels to police structural reforms in eurozone countries and to sweeten the pain of the changes by partially subsidising them. She denied that she was dictating anything, but said it was better to spend €3bn on the changes now than €10bn later.

She was supported by three European presidents, José Manuel Barroso of the commission, Herman Van Rompuy chairing the summit and Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank. None of the trio have to face the voter. All the other elected leaders were against and the plan was shelved.

One prime minister warned that the years of austerity had given rise to increasing populism. In Athens on Wednesday, the deputy Greek prime minister, Evangelos Venizelos, spoke of the growing appeal of neo-Nazis, racists and xenophobes. “In most of the EU we see a new wave of euro-scepticism.”

Soros went so far as to blame the German chancellor for this. “Angela Merkel’s policies are giving rise to extremist movements in the rest of Europe.”

The strength of the new anti-European movements on the far right and the hard left will be tested in the elections for the European parliament in May when they are expected to make gains at the expense of the centre and possibly win the poll outright in countries such as Britain, France, the Netherlands and Greece.

Fear of the impact of more extreme politics helps to explain the current aversion in most of Europe to the crisis solutions scripted in Berlin.

UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue | UK news | theguardian.com

UK’s worst winter storms for two decades set to continue | UK news | theguardian.com.

The riverside at Tewkesbury, where the Severn has burst its banks

The riverside at Tewkesbury, where the Severn has burst its banks. Photograph: Dougscycles Ashburn/Corbis

Britain remains in the grip of the worst run of winter storms for two decades, with 96 flood warnings in place throughout England and Wales and a further 244 areas put on flood alert.

Coastal areas – particularly in southern England – are most vulnerable because of unusually high tides and the arrival of a strong Atlantic storm.

The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings of ice and rain, predicting river and surface flooding as well as travel disruption, mainly in south Wales and the south-west and south-east of England. Up to 40mm of rain could fall on higher ground.

Inland rainfall will put pressure on rivers, endangering nearby communities including those along the river Medway in Kent, the river Thames in Oxford and Osney, and the river Severn estuary in Gloucestershire.

The Thames barrier will remain closed to protect land near the river.

Matt Dobson, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, said the rain “simply has nowhere to go” because weeks of severe weather had left the ground waterlogged and rivers rising over their banks.

“It’s very unusual to have so many powerful storms come in one after the other in such a short space of time; we haven’t seen anything like this since about 1991,” he said.

“The nasty weather of the last few days is going to continue across the UK, with the combination of high tides and a powerful storm putting coastal areas particularly at risk.

“Any rain will mean more flooding as the ground is saturated and swollen rivers are coming up against strong waves.”

The strong winds, persistent rain and tidal waves are predicted to batter the UK for at least another two days, as emergency services attempt to cope with the trail of devastation already created by the severe weather.

More than 200 homes have been flooded from Cornwall to Scotland, with miles of coastline affected and roads and fields across the country left under water.

Two people have already died in the storms: a 27-year-old man from Surrey was found on Porthleven Sands beach in Cornwall after he was swept out to sea on New Year’s Eve night, and a woman died after being rescued from the sea in Croyde Bay, north Devon.

Dozens of volunteers in south Devon have resumed their search for missing 18-year-old student Harry Martin, who was last seen leaving his home to take photographs of the weather.

Officials around the country have pleaded with people to keep away from coastal areas, where waves up to 40ft high have lashed the land.

A man and child were almost swept away by a huge wave at Mullion Cove in Cornwall as they peered over the sea wall to watch the raging sea, and elsewhere in Cornwall vehicles driving on a coastal road were swamped and almost washed away by a tidal surge.

In Aberystwyth, a man was rescued by lifeboat after he defied police warnings and became trapped when photographing waves from a harbour jetty. Aberystwyth University has deferred the start of the examination period by one week and is advising students not to travel to the coastal town until the middle of next week.

Debris was strewn across the town’s promenade, while rail lines in north Wales were left buckled by the power of the sea and a road collapsed in Amroth, Pembrokeshire.

The strong tides were said to be the worst to batter the Welsh coast in 15 years.

Emergency services rescued four people from a flooded farm in Llanbedr near Barmouth, north-west Wales, the river Severn burst its banks in Gloucestershire for the second day running and a pregnant woman was rescued after 30 properties were flooded in Cardigan, mid-Wales. Part of the sea wall behind the Landmark theatre in Ilfracombe collapsed because of the storms.

The coastal surge in recent days has tested over 3,000km of flood defences in England.

Trains have also suffered disruption with services in west Wales and from Newport and Bristol to the south coast affected by the weather. There were also delays at the Port of Dover because of force five winds.

The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, warned that more bad weather was on the way and said he had chaired a meeting of all government departments to ensure all the necessary preparations were in place.

“Our flood defences have worked very well and have protected 205,000 homes at risk,” he said.

“I’d like to thank the Environment Agency, local councils, public utilities and emergency services who have worked tirelessly over the last week. I’d also like to thank soldiers from 36 Engineer Regiment and 2 Royal Gurkha Rifles who have helped to fill additional sandbags today in Kent.”

Paterson also urged those in risk areas to sign up to Environment Agency warnings and heed any advice that was issued.

However, the government’s flood-control strategy has been criticised after it emerged that an estimated 1,700 jobs are to be axed at the Environment Agency, with 550 staff from the floods team to go.

Paterson said frontline flood defences would be protected after the EA’s chief executive Paul Leinster said risk maintenance would be “impacted” and work on flood warnings would “have to be resized”.

Leslie Manasseh, the deputy general secretary of trade union Prospect, has called on the government to stop the cuts.

“Last week David Cameron praised Environment Agency staff for doing an amazing job with the floods and extreme weather. It’s typical that as soon as there is a crisis, the politicians immediately turn to the specialists and professionals with the scientific knowledge and skills to step in and protect the public,” he said.

Thatcher had secret plan to use army at height of miners’ strike | Politics | The Guardian

Thatcher had secret plan to use army at height of miners’ strike | Politics | The Guardian.

1984 Miners' Strike at Orgreave

Ranks of police face the picket line at Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham in June 1984. Photograph: Pa/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Margaret Thatcher was secretly preparing to use troops and declare a state of emergency at the height of the miners’ strike – out of fear Britain was going to run out of food and grind to a halt, government papers released today reveal.

The 1984 cabinet papers, released to the National Archives, show that Thatcher asked for contingency plans to be drawn up to use troops to move coal stocks, despite official government policy ruling out the use of service personnel. A plan involving the use of 4,500 service drivers and 1,650 tipper lorries was considered capable of moving 100 kilotonnes a day of coal to the power stations.

A separate contingency plan, codenamed Operation Halberd, to use troops in the event of a dock strike, had also been drawn up.

The files show that there were two moments during the government’s bitter year-long struggle with the miners when Thatcher and her ministers “stared into the abyss” and glimpsed the possibility of defeat.

The first came in July 1984, when Britain’s dockers joined the miners on strike. The Downing Street papers show that Norman Tebbit, then Thatcher’s employment secretary, wrote her a “secret and personal” letter warning that “I do not see that time is on our side”.

In the face of secret estimates that they would run out of coal stocks by mid-January, Tebbit suggested urgent measures be taken, including opening a new front against the rail unions, to win the strike by October.

“In practice, we could not go right up to the brink,” he told her. “I am much concerned that the NUR and Aslef [the rail unions]which are so reducing the transport of coal and coke to the power stations are being carried out at very little cost to the unions, and at no cost to the individuals taking this action,” said Tebbit urging legal injunctions be taken out against them.

The second moment came that October when the combination of doubts about power station stocks and a strike ballot by Nacods, the pit deputies’ union, threatened a total shutdown in British coal production.

The secret list of “worst case” options outlined to Thatcher by Whitehall’s most senior officials included power cuts and even putting British industry on a “three-day week” – a phrase that evoked memories of Edward Heath’s humiliating 1974 defeat by the miners that brought down his government and which must have sent a chill down Thatcher’s spine when she read it.

The Cabinet papers also reflect the violence of the dispute that saw its bloodiest battle between police and flying pickets at Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire in June 1984. They show that in August 1984, the Association of Chief Police Officers told the prime minister that the miners, “frustrated by the failure of mass picketing, are taking to ‘guerrilla warfare’, based on intimidation of individuals and companies”.

They also show that senior Home Office officials shared the popular picket-line view of the Metropolitan police. The Met units sent to the picket lines are described as having been “valued in violent confrontations” but more likely to increase tensions the rest of the time.

The Home Office also told Thatcher that the most notable development in police tactics during the strike – the policy of “stopping and turning back” busloads of flying pickets on the motorways – was not the “unmixed blessing” it had been officially seen as. Officials pointed out that while the police had to know where the pickets were heading to intercept them, once they had turned them back, they had no idea which other picket lines they had gone to join.

The Downing Street papers also provide further confirmation of the role of David Hart, a shadowy old-Etonian, charged with organising and funding the working miners’ anti-strike movement, and nicknamed the “Blue Pimpernel” in Tory circles. Thatcher’s personal diary lists at least three face-to-face meetings with him at Downing Street, and in October 1984 a note on the file shows that he had phoned her in alarm that the press had found out that he had direct access to her. He told her he was “infinitely deniable”.

The papers also show the widely publicised “return to work campaign” was in reality “no more than a trickle” during the first six months of the strike, with no more than 500 going back to the pits in July.

Thatcher’s own handwritten notes on “possible strategies for the coal and docks dispute” paper for the 18 July meeting of Misc 101, the special cabinet committee on coal that she chaired, outlines the details of the plans to use the army. It involved using 2,800 troops in 13 specialist teams that could be used to unload 1,000 tonnes a day at the docks, but would require a declaration of a state of emergency to ensure they had access to the port equipment, such as cranes, that they needed.

The “secret” paper for the meeting spelled out the dangers a week after the dockers had walked out: “The political and economic stake[s] are much higher for the government in the coal dispute than in the docks dispute. Priority should therefore be: end the dock strike as quickly as possible, so that the coal dispute can be played as long as possible,” advised Peter Gregson, head of the Cabinet Office civil contingencies unit.

The agriculture minister, Peggy Fenner, advised that Britain would not run short of food supplies within the next 10 days but panic buying could drastically alter that. There were however looming shortages likely of certain kinds of fruit and veg, bacon, oil and fats and hard wheat.

Gregson added: “Even if no problem over food and oil … serious disruption to industry will soon be felt and there will pressure on government to find a solution.” He reminded Thatcher that troops had not been used to break a dock strike since 1950 and could bring more severe picketing and law-and-order problems.

The prime minister asked the attorney general to advise on how far it was possible to use troops to unload the food imports under a state of emergency even though there was not an immediate threat to the “essentials of life”.

Minutes of the secret cabinet committee, Misc 101, reveal Thatcher and her closest ministers were unsure of what to do: “It was not clear how far a declaration of a state of emergency would be interpreted as a sign of determination by the government or a sign of weakness, nor to what extent to which it would increase docker support for the miners’ strike.”

The armed forces minister, John Stanley, reported that troops could actually be provided on “a considerably larger scale” than the 2,800 in the plan. His pledge was never tested though, for that weekend the dock strike that had paralysed 61 ports for 12 days crumbled and was called off. It was immediately followed by Tebbit’s secret plea for tougher action to bring a swift end to the strike.

But Thatcher met this wobble by calling in Sir Walter Marshall, the head of the Central Electricity Generating Board, who reassured her that the coal stocks were not in danger of running out and that the power stations could be kept going at least until November 1985.

The second “darkest moment” came in October 1984. Thatcher had to contemplate possible power cuts and a three-day week if the threatened strike by Nacods, the pit deputies’ union had gone ahead.

Everything was done to avert that prospect and when it was called off the relief in Downing Street was palpable: “The news was announced this afternoon and represents a massive blow to [Arthur] Scargill,” read the “secret and personal”‘ daily coal report for Wednesday 24 October.

The strike was to drag on to the following March but the struggle had long been lost by then.

European countries reel from deadly storms – Europe – Al Jazeera English

European countries reel from deadly storms – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

Deadly hurricane-force winds and torrential rain have brought havoc to transport networks Britain and France.The death toll rose to at least six people on Tuesday, as winds of up to 145kph hit both sides of the Channel with heavy downpours causing flooding, traffic jams, and cancellations of rail, flight and ferry services.

Aidan McGivern, a meteorologist, told Al Jazeera people were preparing themselves for more bad weather.

Analysts expect the storms to hurt retailers eager to cash in on the traditional Christmas rush [EPA]

In Britain, the number of people killed in two days of storms rose to at least five after a man died trying to rescue his dog from fast-flowing waters in Devon, southwest England.

A teenager died in France on Monday after a wall collapsed on him.

Airports in southern England were disrupted, with some flights from Britain’s busiest airport, Heathrow, cancelled or delayed.

Britain’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, said one terminal had been hit by a major power outage on Tuesday and storm damage had temporarily cut all trains to the airport.

Several hundred passengers were stranded at the airport and airport police had to be called in to help deal with angry passengers.

British train operators cancelled hundreds of services on Tuesday morning, by which time the storm had abated, leaving hundreds of thousands of people scrambling to get on to later services in and out of London.

Thousands without power

Brittany and Normandy were among the regions worst hit in France, where 240,000 homes lost electricity, while in southern England, 150,000 homes were cut off from the power grid, the Energy Networks Association said.

Energy company Southern Electric said that some customers would be without power on Christmas Day.

McGivern told Al Jazeera another storm was expected to strike on Friday.

“That is expected to bring another spell of wet and windy weather,” he said.

IHS analyst Howard Archer said the weather was expected to hurt British retailers, eager to cash in on the traditional pre Christmas rush.

“Given retailers’ hopes that the last couple of days before Christmas would see a final strong surge in sales, the awful weather could not have come at a worse time,” Archer said.

 

Britain’s MI6 linked to Libya torture scandal – People & Power – Al Jazeera English

Britain’s MI6 linked to Libya torture scandal – People & Power – Al Jazeera English.

http://aje.me/1hiQSOG

False intelligence extracted by torture in Tripoli’s notorious Abu Salim prison has been linked to arrests of Libyan dissidents in the United Kingdom, an investigation by Al Jazeera’s People and Power has revealed.

In this exclusive report, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, the leader of the anti-Gaddafi resistance group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), explains that he and fellow leader Sami al-Saadi were subjected to torture by his Libyan interrogators, which forced them to give up the names of innocent residents in the UK.

Al-Saadi and Belhaj also claim foreign agents, including British agents, questioned them in Abu Salim prison. These allegations form the basis of a lawsuit against the British government.

According to Belhaj’s lawyers, the men and their families were pawns in a deal struck by Britain in 2004.

 

After Gaddafi’s fall, the role played by British intelligence agencies was discovered.

“When the rebels came to Tripoli they ransacked all sorts of buildings … associated with Gaddafi’s old regime,” said Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus, who was involved in the investigation.

“It was in the office of spy chief Moussa Koussa that they found a stash of documents that revealed, in startling detail, the collaboration between British and Libyan intelligence services.”

Belhaj says he was pressured by Gaddafi’s interrogators to give up information about Libyans living in Britain.

“Sometimes they would come to me with the questions and answers already done and force me to sign it. They would mention names to me and say that these people supported armed activities,” he said.

One of the innocent men named under torture was Ziad Hashem, a Libyan who obtained asylum in the UK after Belhaj’s rendition. Hashem claims he was arrested in Britain without any charges: “We were just put in prison arbitrarily without any explanation.”

Hashem is part of yet another law suit against the British government. One of the things he is hoping to reveal is the flow of information between Libyan and British intelligence agencies which led to his detention.

The British government says it is committed to investigating allegations of mistreatment, that it stands firmly against torture and that it never asks any other country to carry it out.

But the dissidents accuse the British government of being complicit in their rendition into Gaddafi’s prisons, showing Al Jazeera documents from MI6 tipping off Gaddafi’s intelligence apparatus about their flight movements.

 

Government under fire for rejecting European Union food bank funding | Society | The Guardian

Government under fire for rejecting European Union food bank funding | Society | The Guardian.

Government under fire for rejecting European Union food bank funding

Critics say Conservative anti-EU ideology being put ahead of needs of the poor after UK officials turn down subsidy
food banks

The economic downturn has seen use of food banks in Britain increase dramatically in recent months. Photograph: Mercury Press & Media Ltd

The government has been accused of putting “anti-European ideology” before the needs of the most deprived people in society after Britain rejected help from a European Union fund to help subsidise the costs offood banks.

David Cameron, who was heavily criticised recently after Michael Gove blamed the rise in food banks on financial mismanagement by families, faced pressure to embark on a U-turn to allow EU funds to be spent on feeding the poor.

The government came under fire after British officials in Brussels said that the UK did not want to use money from a new £2.5bn fund – European Aid to the Most Deprived – to be used to help with the costs of running food banks. The use of food banks has increased dramatically in recent months, prompting Sir John Major to warn that the poor face a stark choice between paying for heating or food.

But British officials rejected EU funding for food banks, which could have reached £22m for Britain, on the grounds that individual member states are best placed to take charge of such funding.

A document from the Department of Work and Pensions explaining Britain’s position, which has been leaked to the Guardian, says: “The UK government does not support the proposal for a regulation on the fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived. It believes that measures of this type are better and more efficiently delivered by individual member states through their own social programmes, and their regional and local authorities, who are best placed to identify and meet the needs of deprived people in their countries and communities. It therefore questions whether the commission’s proposal is justified in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.”

Richard Howitt, a Labour MEP who helped negotiate the new fund, accused the government of neglecting the needs of the poor. “It is very sad that our government is opposing this much-needed help for foodbanks on the basis that it is a national responsibility, when in reality it has no intention of providing the help itself. The only conclusion is that Conservative anti-European ideology is being put before the needs of the most destitute and deprived in our society.”

Howitt added that he hoped that a Westminster parliamentary debate on Wednesday would prompt a government U-turn. He said the debate “should be used to shame a government, which is taking food out of the mouths of the hungry, into a U-turn in time for Christmas”.

It is understood that in “trilogue” negotiations – between the European commission, the council of ministers and the European Parliament – British officials formed a blocking minority with three other EU member states to water down the fund which will run from 2014-2020. Under the original plans there would have been just one funding strand for the “distribution of material assistance” – sleeping bags and food. But Britain prompted the creation of a second funding strand known as “immaterial assistance” to cover counselling and budget maintenance but not food banks.

The position taken by UK officials means that Britain will draw down just €3.5m (£2.9m) from the fund compared with €443m for France which is around the same size as the UK. Britain is taking the same amount as Malta, the smallest EU member state with a population of 450,000.

The department for work and pensions said that Britain has not lost any money because the £22m would have come out of the UK’s EU structural fund pot. It said that ministers have not decided how to allocate the £2.9m earmarked for Britain from the fund, though this is expected to be spent on helping unemployed people find work.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation. Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”

Chris Mould, the executive chairman of Britain’s largest network of food banks, the Trussell Trust, told the Guardian: “We would welcome an opportunity to have discussions with DWP about how we could use that €3.5m to good effect. If the EU made a decision in the European Parliament that this money should be used for the assistance of people in severe need – and it has got a food aid tag on it – then we hope they will talk to us.”

On the signs that the government would like to spend the money in helping people into work, rather than on food aid, Mould said: “It is the decision of government at all times what its priorities are for the money it has available. But it does need to spend money in several places not in one place. The Trussell Trust has provided through its network of food banks emergency assistance for over 500,000 people since 2013 who are in financial crisis, who are going hungry who have been referred by more than 23,000 different professionals holding vouchers.

“If people don’t get help when they are in financial crisis they lose their home, their families break down, they suffer anxiety and depression. All these things have a significant financial cost to the state. It is very important that the government looks beyond the narrow single issue argument of spending all the money into employment. Of course that is important but they are spending massive of money on that which is good. But this EU money is extra and originally intended to be for food assistance.”

The Money Bubble Gets Its Grand Rationalization

 

 

by John Rubino on November 20, 2013 · 12 comments

 

Late in the life of every financial bubble, when things have gotten so out of hand that the old ways of judging value or ethics or whatever can no longer be honestly applied, a new idea emerges that, if true, would let the bubble keep inflating forever. During the tech bubble of the late 1990s it was the “infinite Internet.” Soon, we were told, China and India’s billions would enter cyberspace. And after they were happily on-line, the Internet would morph into versions 2.0 and 3.0 and so on, growing and evolving without end. So don’t worry about earnings; this is a land rush and “eyeballs” are the way to measure virtual real estate. Earnings will come later, when the dot-com visionaries cash out and hand the reins to boring professional managers.

During the housing bubble the rationalization for the soaring value of inert lumps of wood and Formica was a model of circular logic: Home prices would keep going up because “home prices always go up.”

Now the current bubble – call it the Money Bubble or the sovereign debt bubble or the fiat currency bubble, they all fit – has finally reached the point where no one operating within a historical or commonsensical framework can accept its validity, and so for it to continue a new lens is needed. And right on schedule, here it comes: Governments with printing presses can create as much currency as they want and use it to hold down interest rates for as long as they want. So financial crises are now voluntary. They only happen if a country decides to stop depressing interest rates – and why would they ever do that? Here’s an article out of the UK that expresses this belief perfectly:

 

Our debt is no Greek tragedy

“The threat of rising interest rates is a Greek tragedy we must avoid.” This was the title of a 2009 Daily Telegraph piece by George Osborne, pushing massive spending cuts as the only solution to a coming debt crisis. It’s tempting to believe anyone who still makes it is either deliberately disingenuous, or hasn’t been paying attention. 

The line of reasoning goes as follows: Britain’s high and rising public debt causes investors to take fright and sell government bonds because the UK might default on those bonds.

Interest rates then spike up because as less people want to hold UK debt, the government has to pay them more for the privilege, so that the cost of borrowing becomes more expensive and things become very, very bad for everyone.

This argument didn’t make sense back in 2009, and certainly doesn’t make sense now. Ultimately this whole Britain-as-Greece argument is disturbing because it makes the austerity project of the last three years look deeply duplicitous.

If you go to any bond desk in the City that trades British sovereign debt, money managers care about one thing – what the Bank of England does or doesn’t do. If Governor Mark Carney says interest rates should fall and looks like he believes it, they fall. End of story.

Why? Because the Bank directly controls the interest rate on short-term government debt, so it can vary it at will in line with any given objective. Interest rates on long-term government debt are governed by what markets expect to happen to short term rates, and so are subject to essentially the same considerations.

It doesn’t matter if investors get scared and dump government bonds because this has no implication for interest rates – it is what the Bank of England wants to happen that counts.

If investors do suddenly decide to flee en masse, the Bank can simply use its various tools to bring interest rates back into line.

The simple point is that since countries like the UK have a free-floating currency, the Bank of England doesn’t have to vary interest rates to keep the exchange rate stable. Therefore it, as an independent central bank, can prevent a debt crisis by controlling the cost of government borrowing directly. Investors understand this, and so don’t flee British government debt in the first place.

Greece and the other troubled Eurozone countries are in a totally different situation. They don’t have their own currency, and have a single central bank, the ECB, which tries to juggle the needs of 17 different member states. This is a central bank dominated by Germany, which apparently isn’t bothered by letting the interest rates of other nations spiral out of control. Investors, knowing this, made it happen during the financial crisis.

On these grounds, the case of Britain and those of the Eurozone countries are not remotely comparable – and basic intuition suggests steep interest rate rises are only possible in the latter.

Britain was never going to enter a sovereign debt crisis. It has everything to do with an independent central bank, and nothing to do with the size of government debt. How well does this explanation stand up given the events of the last few years? Almost perfectly. The US, Japan and the UK are the three major economies with supposed debt troubles not in the Eurozone.

The UK released a plan in 2010 to cut back a lot of spending and raise a little bit of tax money. The US did nothing meaningful about its debt until 2012, and has spent much of the time before and since pretending to be about to default on its bonds. Japan’s debt patterns are, to put it bluntly, screwed – Japan’s debt passed 200 per cent of GDP earlier this year and is rising fast.

But the data shows that none of this matters for interest rates whatsoever. Rates have been low, stable and near-identical in all three countries regardless of whatever their political leaders’ actions.These countries have had vastly different responses to their debt, and markets don’t care at all.

By the same token, the problems of spiking interest rates inside the Eurozone have nothing to do with the prudence or spending of the governments in charge.

Spain and Ireland both had debt of less than 50 per cent of GDP before the crisis and were still punished by markets. France and the holier-than-thou Germany had far higher debt in 2007, and are fine.

The takeaway is that problems with spiking interest rates amongst advanced countries are entirely restricted to the Eurozone, where there is a single central bank, and have no obvious relation to the state of public finances.

So what we have, then, is a disturbingly mendacious line of reasoning . Back in 2010 the Conservative party made a perhaps superficially plausible argument about national debt that was wrong then and is doubly wrong now. They then – sort of – won a mandate to govern based on this, and used it to radically alter the size of the state. The likelihood that somehow this was all done in good faith beggars belief.

Britain has had a far higher proportion of austerity in the form of spending cuts than tax rises relative to any comparator nation. On this basis austerity is a way of reshaping the state in the Conservative image, flying under the false flag of debt crisis-prevention.

If the British public had knowingly and willingly voted for the major changes made under the coalition in how the government taxes, spends and borrows, this wouldn’t be such a great problem.

Instead, they were essentially conned into it by the ridiculous story of Britain as the next Greece.

Some thoughts
What’s great about the above article is that it doesn’t beat around the bush. Without the slightest hint of irony or historical sense, it lays out the bubble rationale, which is that central banks are all-powerful: “If you go to any bond desk in the City that trades British sovereign debt, money managers care about one thing – what the Bank of England does or doesn’t do. If Governor Mark Carney says interest rates should fall and looks like he believes it, they fall. End of story.”

So this is the end of history. Interest rates will stay low and stock prices high and governments will keep on piling up debt with impunity – because they control the financial markets and get to decide which things trade at what price. Breathtaking! Why didn’t humanity discover this financial perpetual motion machine earlier? It would have saved thousands of years of turmoil.

At the risk of looking like a bully, let’s consider another peak-bubble gem:

“The simple point is that since countries like the UK have a free-floating currency, the Bank of England doesn’t have to vary interest rates to keep the exchange rate stable. Therefore it, as an independent central bank, can prevent a debt crisis by controlling the cost of government borrowing directly. Investors understand this, and so don’t flee British government debt in the first place.”

The writer is saying, in effect, that the value of the British pound – and by extension any other fiat currency – can fall without consequence, and that the people who might want to use those currencies in trade or for savings will continue to do so no matter how much the issuer of those pieces of paper owes to others in the market. If holders of pounds decide to switch to dollars or euros or gold, that’s no problem for Britain because it can just buy all the paper thus freed up with new pieces of paper.

This illusion of government omnipotence is no crazier than the infinite Internet or home prices always going up, but it is crazy. Governments couldn’t stop tech stocks from imploding or home prices from crashing, and when the time comes, the Bank of England, the US Fed, and the Bank of Japan won’t be able to stop the markets from dumping their currencies. Nor will they be able to stop the price of energy, food, and most of life’s other necessities from soaring when the global markets lose faith in their promises.

Tagged as: central banksDollareurogoldinflationinterest ratesmonetary policypound sterling,silveryen

The Money Bubble Gets Its Grand Rationalization.

 

Osborne hails UK nuclear deal with China as ‘new dawn’ – FT.com

Osborne hails UK nuclear deal with China as ‘new dawn’ – FT.com. (source)

George Osborne on Thursday hailed a new dawn for Britain’s civil nuclear programme as he announced a deal between Chinese investors and EDF Energy to build the first nuclear power station in the UK in a generation.

The Chinese General Nuclear Power Group and the French energy company are expected to sign a letter of intent as the two sides finally agree a deal for a planned new plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The main commercial details of the agreement will be announced on Monday by Ed Davey, energy secretary.

Speaking at Taishan nuclear power station in southern China, Mr Osborne said: “Today is another demonstration of the next big step in the relationship between Britain and China – the world’s oldest civil nuclear power and the world’s fastest growing civil nuclear power.”

The chancellor said it was an “important potential part of the government’s plan for developing the next generation of nuclear power in Britain”.

The first reactor to be built in Britain since Sizewell B began operating in 1995, ministers hope the deal will unlock the construction of several new nuclear power stations across the UK.

British officials have been travelling the world trying to entice investment in new nuclear, relying on French and Japanese technology and Chinese funding to fuel the renaissance of the British industry.

But Mr Osborne’s determination to announce the deal on his trip to China has infuriated Mr Davey, who has done much of the legwork. He travelled to China last month to meet officials ahead of the chancellor’s visit.

“Football fans might say he is the John Terry of government,” remarked one Liberal Democrat on Thursday, a reference to when the Chelsea captain changed into full kit to lift the Champions League trophy – despite having not played in the match. “He [Mr Osborne] was as close to the real negotiations and the work as Pluto is to the earth.”

Mr Osborne sees the nuclear programme as a positive investment story for the UK and spoke of his commitment to building reactors in his recent Conservative party conference speech.

“Should we, the country that built the first civil nuclear power station, say: ‘We are never going to build any more – leave it to others?’ Not on my watch,” said the chancellor.

Under the terms of the deal to be announced on Monday, the government will offer EDF a guaranteed price for the electricity it generates at Hinkley. That “strike price” is expected to be almost twice the present market price of electricity.

The UK government is also offering a financing “guarantee” to attract the private sector into building nuclear reactors.

Ministers are adamant that neither element of the deal is a form of subsidy for civil nuclear power, but the coalition could be in an uneasy position when the deal comes up against EU public subsidy rules in the coming months.

The coalition agreement between the Lib Dems and Conservatives states clearly there will be no government subsidy for new nuclear.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan

 

 

%d bloggers like this: