Has Trump Finally Made A Sane Decision?

By the sheer laws of chance even a madman can occasionally produce an apparently sane decision. Donald Trump’s choice of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster1 as his National Security Advisor is an eminently sane one, springing from a host of otherwise crazy decisions by the present incumbent of the U.S. White House.

Known for his intellect and an insatiable need to speak his mind regardless of the consequences, McMaster was one of few commanders in Iraq building bridges with the Iraqis while the majority were kicking down doors and dragging the occupants away to internment camps and prisons like Abu Ghraib.

Only time will tell whether McMaster is able to control the unstable temperament of his political boss, and the other madmen presently at large in the presidential abode that’s become an asylum for the alt-right insane, but if he can’t do it then no-one can, and the future will indeed look bleak for us all.

[1] “Trump names Lt Gen H R McMaster as national security adviser” BBC, February 21st 2017

Wikipedia And The Secret Life Of The Hedge Fund

Courtesy ~ CorpWatch

One should really spend more time perusing Wikipedia. Written as they are by almost anybody, Wikipedia’s entries have often suffered criticism for possible inaccuracies, but one of the most fascinating aspects of this online encyclopaedia is not what’s being written about a particular subject, but what isn’t.

Scroll through some subject matter and you’ll find great long pages of facts, yet on others there’s less than half a page. That may be because the subject matter just isn’t particularly interesting: “Joe Bloggs, born in London, England, 1966; unmarried; no children; died London, England, 2014.” But, often, the truly fascinating entries are those that should be pages long, but aren’t.

Today there was a report from the BBC regarding the collapse of a potential takeover between two giants of the food industry, Kraft Heinz and the Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever. Do you ever wonder just who owns these vast conglomerates?

The BBC states:

Kraft Heinz is jointly controlled by the billionaire investor Warren Buffett and the Brazilian private equity group 3G. The latter has a deserved reputation for taking a scythe to costs – irrespective of how that might impact jobs and factories.
Unilever, on the other hand, has a reputation for doing the right thing in terms of corporate social responsibility and the environment – even if that eats into the bottom line. [1]

Note this comment concerning the equity group, 3G: “The latter has a deserved reputation for taking a scythe to costs – irrespective of how that might impact jobs and factories.”

Most of us know something of Warren Buffet, apart from him being the second wealthiest man in the world. Wikipedia tells us a lot more. You’ll scroll a long way down the page before reaching the end of Buffet’s entry. Similarly, the entry for Unilever is just as long, if not more so.

But who’s ever heard of the cut-throat company, 3G? Here’s where it gets really interesting. Wikipedia tells us:

3G Capital is a Brazilian multibillion-dollar investment firm, founded in 2004 by principals Jorge Paulo Lemann, Carlos Alberto Sicupira, Marcel Herrmann Telles and Roberto Thompson Motta.

Okay, let’s read all about this multi-billion dollar company. Sadly, we can’t. Well, no more than thirteen lines, anyway. The entry goes on to say that 3G owns Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Kraft Foods. Kraft Foods alone was worth over $23 billion by 2013 figures. It doesn’t state that on February 14th 2014 they bought Heinz Foods for $23 billion (another St Valentine’s Day Massacre?), though we do learn that in 2015 they merged Kraft with Heinz. The only other information is three lines about their offices and management.

Why is so little information available about this huge financial company? Its website is minuscule and has virtually no information at all, though the “Investors log-in” might reveal more – if one were an investor!

With such huge amounts of money being bandied about the obvious question is: who regulates it all? We can get this answer from Wikipedia, but it’s hidden away as a link down the bottom of the ‘3G’ page. Whatever fancy name it calls itself, 3G is basically a hedge fund run by four of the wealthiest men in Brazil (with a little assistance from Warren Buffet). The hedge fund regulatory authority is: ‘The Hedge Fund Standards Board’, which according to Wikipedia:

is [a] non-profit international group of hedge funds which was established in 2007, based in London, England.

It is a standard setting organisation for the hedge fund industry and sets the voluntary standard of best practice principles and practices endorsed by its members. Known as the Hedge Fund Standards these are designed to create a “… framework of transparency, integrity and good governance” in the way the hedge fund industry operates. The board was established in 2007 by 14 leading hedge fund managers and chaired by Sir Andrew Large to develop the standards. By 2016 it had almost 200 hedge fund managers and institutional investors as members who between them manage or invest US$ 3tn.

So the regulatory standards covering the management of three trillion US dollars are set solely by the hedge fund industry themselves. Incidentally, if you think Sir Andrew Large might be just the man to keep them in line, think again. Wikipedia tells us:

His career began with British Petroleum Ltd (1964–71). Subsequently he was an investment banker for twenty years becoming a member of the management board of Swiss Bank Corporation from 1987–1989. He was Chairman of the Securities and Investments Board (precursor of the Financial Services Authority FSA) from 1992–1997, and deputy chairman of Barclays Bank from 1998–2002. Also, he is on the advisory board of OMFIF where he is regularly involved in meetings regarding the financial and monetary system.

In other words, he’s one of them. Oh, and by the way, Wikipedia’s entry on the Hedge Fund Standards Board runs to – a mere ten lines.

When we seek out a Wikipedia entry for any of the four ‘owners’ of 3G the results are desultory. Jorge Paulo Lemann has the most detailed entry, but then he was a professional tennis player for a while. It also catalogues his career in the finance industry and how he met Warren Buffet.

Details on the other three founders of 3G are somewhat more sparse. Carlos Alberto Sicupira is given a grand total of five lines (though it does state his net worth is around ten billion dollars); Marcel Herrmann Telles’ entry runs to twelve lines, giving his net worth as thirteen billion dollars, and Roberto Thompson Motta has no Wikipedia entry at all.

It seems the less of a Wikipedia page there is the more secretive the subject wishes to remain (unless, of course, your name is Joe Bloggs). With the possible exception of the world of espionage, nothing is more secretive, or less well regulated, than the world of the hedge fund.

Wikipedia is a fascinating website, but often one learns more, not by perusing the content, but reading between the lines. And if you’re wondering what the hell OMFIF is I can tell you its the ‘Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum’. But you’ll not find an entry for it in Wikipedia.

I wonder why?

[1] “Kraft Heinz drops Unilever takeover bid” BBC, February 20th 2017

Who Will Trump Come For Next?

Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is 36 years old. She isn’t an American citizen, but she lived in the U.S. for more than twenty years, since the age of fourteen. Her children were born there and have lived there all their lives. Guadalupe was an illegal immigrant with no papers. In 2009 she needed a job, so she obtained forged social security documents. Presumably, they weren’t very good as she was arrested and pleaded guilty in court. She was given a deportation order in 2013.

According to the BBC:

She was allowed to remain under President Barack Obama’s policy of leniency towards undocumented migrants who had entered the US as children. Garcia de Rayos’s children were born in the US and they remain there with her husband.
Garcia de Rayos was detained a few days after President Trump signed an executive order broadening the regulations covering deportation.
It stipulates that any undocumented immigrants convicted of a criminal offence get priority for deportation.
An estimated 11 million immigrants were living in the US illegally as of 2014. [1]

A stipulation of her freedom to stay in the United States was that she report once a year to the immigration department for routine checks. Last Wednesday she went for her routine check. She never returned to her family, but was taken into custody and driven by van back over the border into Mexico.

The only wrong this woman did was to try and get a job to help support her teenage children. Now they have no mother.

This is the action of Donald Trump and his so-called ‘administration’. This is a part of their, ‘Make America Great Again’ policy. This incident, and the recent ‘travel ban’ that separated families from each other is clear evidence, if any were needed, that Trump and Co have no sense of decency or humanity. They’re cold, heartless, scheming individuals who are determined to make America great again, but only for themselves and their own purposes.

This is the man, and his collection of clowns, that Britain’s Theresa May is determined to ally her country with for the foreseeable future. She needs to be careful. Mussolini allied Italy with a strong, militaristic, nation in 1937. He lived to regret it.

[1] “Mexico warns citizens in US after woman deported” BBC, February 10th 2017

How One Man, Jeremy Corbyn, May Have Doomed The U.K. National Health Service

It’s hard to know what to make of the man pictured above. In case anyone has doubts it’s the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

Prior to the E.U. referendum and ‘Brexit’ result, Corbyn was supposed to be in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union. Despite this he did very little before the event to persuade anyone of his views, whether for or against. Now, it seems, he’s decided to support the Conservative government and has come down heavily on the side of ‘Brexit’. So much so that in the recent parliamentary debate, forced on the Tories by the law of the land after a failed appeal by them of an earlier ruling, he ordered his Labour MPs to support the Tories by issuing a ‘Three-Line Whip’. It basically means if you don’t follow orders you’re fired.

Corbyn’s excuse is that the Labour Party must respect the will of the British people, even though almost half of them voted to remain in the E.U..

A recent BBC report featuring the latest data figures states:

The data confirms previous indications that local results were strongly associated with the educational attainment of voters – populations with lower qualifications were significantly more likely to vote Leave.
The level of education had a higher correlation with the voting pattern than any other major demographic measure from the census
The age of voters was also important, with older electorates more likely to choose Leave…[1]

So it seems the more intelligent Brits voted to remain in the E.U. while the oldies and the thickies wanted out. It’s these latter folks that the government and the opposition Labour leadership seem to favour.

Has the whole ‘Brexit’ disaster then just become no more than a vote-getter? Has Corbyn thrown his principles to the wind because many of the ‘Brexit strongholds’ in the country are also Labour strongholds? And did Theresa May cast aside her original convictions on the E.U. for personal power and the opportunity to woo some of those Labour voters away from her political competitor?

Or does it go deeper than that? The Guardian writer George Monbiot, one of Britain’s best investigative journalists, thinks it does. He outlines the dark side of the U.S.-U.K. ‘special relationship’, and it all hinges around a man who is now the most powerful member of Theresa May’s government. That man is Liam Fox.

To understand the workings of Liam Fox and his involvement with U.S. corporate interests at the highest level it’s necessary to read (or, hopefully, re-read!) the Sparrow Chat post from September 12th 2016, entitled, “Atlantic Bridge – Dead Or Merely Undercover?”

It details Fox’s involvement with a fake charity, The Atlantic Bridge, set up ostensibly to “…bring people together who have common interests.” Those ‘common interests’ turned out to be a very short list indeed. In fact, Atlantic Bridge and its U.S. twin of the same name, was allied to a powerful, right-wing, conservative think tank, the American Legislative Council (ALEC), financed by the tobacco industry, big oil, big drugs, and the billionaire Koch brothers.

Running the U.S. branch of Atlantic Bridge was ALEC’s director of international relations, Catherine Bray. She’d worked for Daniel Hannan, a prominent far-right, British Tory Member of the European Parliament (MEP) who has long advocated an amalgamation of the Tory Party with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

Hannan was one of the principle activists of the ‘Brexit’ campaign. He’s also been a vocal critic of the British National Health Service, calling it “…a sixty year mistake.” His comments were backed by fellow Tory MEP Roger Helmer, who told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme:

“I think Dan has done us a service by raising these issues which need to be looked at. If 80% of Americans are getting better health care than we are in the UK then we ought to ask why, and we ought to ask how are we going to deliver equally good results.”[2]

Catherine Bray had also been closely allied to two other British Members of the European Parliament, Richard Ashworth (who was later deselected), and the aforementioned Roger Helmer, a Tory who later defected to UKIP.

From this it becomes obvious that UKIP is dedicated to privatising the NHS, and it’s easier to understand the high profile of UKIP, both in the Brexit campaign, and Nigel Farage’s swift trip to Trump Tower following the result. He was, of course, primarily trying to cement a nice little position for himself as British Ambassador to the U.S., hoping to utilise Trump’s influence with Theresa May. Sadly for him, neither Trump nor May considered him sufficiently useful to them and he was sent home with his tail between his legs.

But another reason for Farage’s U.S. trip was UKIP’s involvement in the privatization of the British National Health service. To American Big Business, this is the jewel in the crown of Brexit. Having carefully engineered Brexit (and make no mistake, it was engineered) U.S. corporate interests are poised to move in on the NHS as soon as Liam Fox and Co. can hand it to them.

It’s a known fact that David Cameron never wanted to hold a referendum on Europe. The Tory Party forced it on him. The Tories have been anti-Europe for years, seeing the future for Britain as nestling in the welcoming arms of American business, rather than that of the Europeans. Once in a while politicians trot out the phrase, ‘Special Relationship’, just to remind us.

Unfortunately for Cameron he eventually ran out of excuses to avoid holding the referendum while keeping the Party wolves off his back. As Ken Clarke, pro-European and old-timer of the Tory front benches, succinctly remarked on this issue:

“If you want to go feeding crocodiles then you’d better not run out of buns.”

The pressure mounted both from his Tory colleagues and, no doubt surreptitiously, their U.S. counterparts, until the British prime minister was forced to cave. Big money and the Tory/UKIP machine moved into gear, formulating a slick advertising campaign with little concern for truth or lie, while Cameron had so few true supporters among the party faithful that his Remain campaign hardly managed to get off the ground.

It’s a known fact that when politicians determine to do something the public may not like, the first thing they do is deny emphatically they’re going to do it. As the Guardian reported recently, Liam Fox is doing just that with the NHS:

Fears of an American takeover of the NHS are an urban myth “on a par with alligators in sewers”, Liam Fox has said as he revealed that US trade talks will begin within days. “It’s not been part of our approach to go into these agreements and sacrifice the right for government to regulate public services,” Fox said when asked about the perceived [NHS] threat during a Commons select committee hearing on Wednesday.

Pressed by the Labour MP Shabana Mahmood to guarantee that the NHS would remain “off limits”, Fox added: “As the person who will be negotiating [a US trade deal], I can say it would be not be happening on my watch.” [3]

Fox’s remark that “It’s not been part of our approach to go into these agreements and sacrifice the right for government to regulate public services” bears scrutiny. In America, Donald Trump’s new administration certainly hasn’t sacrificed any right to regulate public services, it’s simply been taken over by a corporate management team hellbent on deregulation. Most of these new ‘members’ of the U.S. government were, and still are, close business pals of Liam Fox through his Atlantic Bridge/ALEC connections. If they don’t intend to allow an American takeover of the NHS, why are so many in the British government trying to make a case for it?

Of course, it’s not just the NHS that corporate America is after. George Monbiot, in his Guardian article, “Dark Arts,”, writes:

The trade treaties that Fox is charged with developing set the limits of sovereignty. US food and environmental standards tend to be lower than ours, and they will become lower still if Trump gets his way. Any trade treaty we strike will create a common set of standards for products and services. Trump’s administration will demand that ours are adjusted downwards, so that US corporations can penetrate our markets without having to modify their practices. All the cards, following the Brexit vote, are in US hands: if the UK resists, there will be no treaty. What May needed – even before Trump became president – was a person prepared to strike such a deal.

As the Financial Times reports, “the election of Donald Trump has transformed the fortunes of Liam Fox”. He is now “an indispensable member of Theresa May’s front bench team”. The shadow diplomatic mission he developed through The Atlantic Bridge plugs him straight into the Trump administration…

This is part of what Brexit is about: European laws protecting the public interest were portrayed by Conservative Eurosceptics as intolerable intrusions on corporate freedom. Taking back control from Europe means closer integration with the US. The transatlantic special relationship is a special relationship between political and corporate power. [4]

At the beginning of this post I suggested it was hard to know what to make of the present British Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn. A left-leaning politician, he’d set out to re-instill in his party the values it had stood for, until Blair came along in the 1990s and adopted neoliberal policies more in line with those of Thatcher and Reagan.

Now, it seems Corbyn is slipping away from those values. He’s a parliamentary outsider. As such he’s allowed himself to be seen as something of a comic figure by those around him, on both sides of the ‘House’. Labour needed to oppose Brexit, if only to force Theresa May into a concessionary position. Corbyn did the opposite. He actively prevented his MPs from voting according to their consciences. By so doing, he handed Theresa May, Liam Fox, and their American corporate cronies, Brexit on a plate.

By so doing he may well have sealed the fate of Britain’s National Health Service.

[1] ” Local voting figures shed new light on EU referendum” BBC, February 6th 2017.

[2] “NHS attack by MEP ‘unpatriotic'” BBC, August 14th 2009

[3] “Liam Fox dismisses NHS takeover fears ahead of US trade talks” Guardian, February 1st 2017

[4] “Dark Arts Monbiot, February 4th 2017 (also published in “The Guardian” as “How corporate dark money is taking power on both sides of the Atlantic” Guardian, February 2nd 2017 (a must-read!)

A Personal Sense Of ‘Saudade’, Laced With A Topping Of Bitterness

Peel Island, Coniston Lake – The Setting Chosen By Arthur Ransome For His Book “Swallows & Amazons”

Recently my good blogging pal, Twilight, at “Learning Curve on the Ecliptic” wrote of the Portugese/Brazilian sense of nostalgia known as ‘Saudade’.

Twilight tells us that ‘Saudade’ is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves, often carrying a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.
(For a more in-depth understanding of ‘Saudade’, nip over to “Twilight’s Place”).

Reading her post and watching the videos she presented made me realise how much Saudade was, and still is, present in my own life.

I remember the first time it appeared.

When I was a very young boy of maybe seven or eight years my parents took my sister and I camping every summer to an idyllic spot, known locally as Blea Brows, on the shores of Lake Coniston in the English Lake District. They would pitch an old, ex-army, tent near a small pebble beach not far from where the lake runs into the River Crake. It was a remote, peaceful, place tucked away behind trees and invisible from the main Ulverston to Coniston road, though that scarcely mattered as in those days the road would be classed as busy if half a dozen cars a day passed along it.

It was two weeks of sheer heaven for me. I would roam through the woods, catch minnows in the lake shallows, but most of all I discovered the bounteous spiritual magic of nature. Whether it was watching the sun set over the hills, the flash and roar of a summer thunderstorm echoing around the fells, or shuffling out of the tent at three in the morning for a pee, only to be caught, mesmerized, by the mighty searchlight of the Milky Way, it’s billion glowing stars reflected in the glassy, mirrored, surface of the lake.

As I grew older the Lake District holidays with my parents waned until they ceased altogether. I returned on a number of occasions, trying to relive those wonder years, but somehow it was never quite the same. Eventually other interests took over as I matured; those childhood holidays faded into memory.

Sixty plus years later, the Lake District and my magical area around the Coniston Fells have changed little geographically, but my time was before the invention of motorways. The sound of a car winding its way round the twisty curves of that lakeland road would send my sister and I scurrying up the path to stand excited at the roadside, waving enthusiastically as it went by.

Now that same road is choc-a-bloc with traffic in the high season, the fells spattered with the bright red and yellow mountain jackets of young enthusiasts at the many outward bound schools, or at rock-climbing tuition. Every farmhouse, it seems, sports its “Swallows and Amazons” tea room.

I hadn’t been back there for quite a long time. I was beginning to feel that thing called Saudade. At first I was perplexed that although those intense feelings that drew me there as a child still moved me, the place itself no longer held the same magnetism. I realize now it wasn’t so much the place I was missing, but those particular moments of my childhood.

The Lake District of my early years no longer exists. Businesses have sprung up to cater to the huge influx of summer visitors. Camping is now only allowed on designated, controlled, sites with shower blocks and toilets. Elsewhere, the “NO CAMPING” signs abound and wardens patrol to ensure their adherence. The quiet isolation I remember has given way under the strain of modern life.

So, too, has the beautiful, idyllic, spot that was all mine for two weeks every summer of my childhood. It still exists, but nobody’s allowed there anymore. That very place, Blea Brows, where my parents pitched their tent so many years ago was sold by the British government to a private developer two years ago for the princely sum of 90,000 pounds, along with a number of other areas of the Lakeland National Park. [1].

BLEA BROWS
Coniston Water, Torver Common, Cumbria
About 9.99 acres [4.07 hectares]
with 575m of Lake Frontage

Tenure: Freehold
On the instructions from the Lake District National Park Authority. A truly wonderful, majestic, stretch of shoreline. Prominent rocky features, variety of trees, stunning views. Immense amenity value. Wonderful birdlife. 575m of Lake Frontage. About 9.99 acres (4.07 hectares).

For Sale by FORMAL TENDER. Closing Date: 12th MARCH 2015.

GUIDE PRICES: £70,000 to £90,000

“Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves, often carrying a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.”

I can never return to those halcyon days of my childhood spent at Blea Brows on the shores of Lake Coniston, but the longing for them never fully goes away. Now that longing, that Saudade, is tinged with feelings of revulsion and disgust at a government hellbent on selling off the birthright of its people. No doubt by now the place where I played as a child is fenced off and signed: “KEEP OUT PRIVATE PROPERTY.”

At least, in my heart I will always have access.

[1] “First they came for Coniston Water. What’s next?” Telegraph, March 9th 2015