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Euro Crisis

12 December 2011

Euro Crisis: Barking Up the Wrong Tree

By Gwynne Dyer

One senior European politician said angrily that British Prime Minister David Cameron was “like a man who comes to a wife-swapping party without his wife,” and there was some truth in that. Britain does not even use the euro currency, shared by 17 of the 27 EU members, but Cameron insisted on being part of the discussion in Brussels about how to save it. And in the end, he vetoed the solution that all the others had agreed on.

It was the eighth crisis summit of the European Union’s leaders this year, and it produced the fourth “comprehensive package” of financial measures to deal with the debt crisis. (The other three have already failed.) And if you judged the importance of the meeting by the scale of the uproar when Britain vetoed the EU treaty that was meant to stop the rot, it must have been a very important summit indeed.

But in fact they were all barking up the wrong tree in Brussels: the financial crisis over the euro will roll on, and the collapse of the common EU currency continues to be a real possibility. What the summit actually showed was how divided, distracted and deluded Europe’s leaders still are.

David Cameron went to Brussels knowing that his partners intended to come up with a treaty that would enshrine new financial rules for EU members, in order to reassure the “markets”, who have been demanding higher and higher interest rates to roll over the debts of EU members. He also knew that the nationalistic, “europhobe” faction in his own Conservative Party would never vote for such a treaty. They want out of the EU, not further in.

The only way out of Cameron’s dilemma, therefore, was to make sure that there would not be such a treaty. His stated reason for vetoing it was to avoid more stringent regulation, and possibly taxation, of the London financial markets, but his real reason was naked self-interest: a new treaty would split his own party and probably destroy his government.

His stated reason was nonsense. Any new financial regulations that would affect the London markets would have to be agreed unanimously by the EU countries at a later date; there was no need to veto the treaty if he just wanted to protect the free-wheeling, “casino” aspect of the London markets that had done so much to precipitate the crisis in the first place. Cameron just needed a cover story.

The other EU members feigned great anger at this, but some of them were secretly quite grateful for Cameron’s bad behaviour. They agreed to adopt the same rules anyway, but to do it outside the legal framework of the EU in order to get around the British veto. This had two great advantages: it meant that no referendums would be necessary – and if these new measures failed to reassure the markets, they could all blame Britain.

What were these fabulous new measures? They were all about “balanced budgets” in the eurozone countries, which would face sanctions if they let their budget deficit exceed 3 percent of GDP. They would even have to submit their national budgets to the European Commission, which would have the power to ask that they be revised.

These are exactly the steps that will be needed if the euro is to have a long-term future: it cannot survive if the countries using it do not have a unified fiscal regime. But the markets don’t give a damn about the long-term future of the euro; they just want to know for sure that they will get back the money they lend to eurozone countries, and until they have that assurance they will demand exorbitant interest rates on their loans.

In this context, the decisions taken in Brussels this week are merely a displacement activity. The bigger EU governments are using the crisis as a pretext to force through centralising measures that they have long wanted to impose on the weaker economies. But they are still not doing what the markets want, which is to take responsibility for the weaker countries’ debts.

Can it really be that simple? Can they really be that irresponsible? Yes, and yes again. Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, explained why this sort of thing happens in politics seventy years ago. “All politics is local,” he said, and that is true in spades in Europe today.

It’s not just David Cameron who is putting his local political interests above the interests of a broader European community. So is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who refuses to allow the EU to make a collective commitment to honour the debts of the weaker members.

That’s the only thing that will calm the markets, but Merkel’s voters are fiercely opposed to hard-working, thrifty Germans covering the debts of lazy, spendthrift Greeks and Italians (as many of them would put it), so she will not permit it. And so the euro crisis rolls on interminably.

But don’t worry: interminably is not the same as forever. Sooner or later there will be a real crash, and all these people will be duly punished for their fecklessness. Unfortunately, everybody else in the EU will be punished too.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 6. (“It was…indeed”; and “His stated…story”)

 

 

The English Spring

10 August 2011

The English Spring

By Gwynne Dyer

“I don’t call it rioting, I call it an insurrection of the masses of the people. It is happening in Syria, it is happening in Clapham, it’s happening in Liverpool, it’s happening in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and that is the nature of the historical moment,” said Darcus Howe, a black British journalist, in an interview with BBC television on Tuesday. The revolution has finally arrived: after the “Arab Spring”, here comes the “English Spring”.

And the revolution is going to spread. There’s apparently a “Trinidadian Spring” too (although it’s also possible that Howe only mentioned Port-of-Spain because he grew up in Trinidad). Whatever. In any case, the English Spring is certainly an earth-shaking event.

With London in flames, thousands dead, and the British government trembling before a full-scale insurrection of the masses, the collapse of the entire capitalist order is only moments away. As the Tunisian revolution led to the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and then to a non-violent revolutionary movement in Syria, so the overthrow of the British government will quickly lead to the destruction of the US government and the Chinese Communist regime.

Wait a moment! This just in! London isn’t in flames after all. Some dozens of buildings have been burned in various residential parts of London, but none in the centre. Apart from the original demonstration outside a police station in the London suburb of Tottenham by relatives of a suspected drug dealer who was shot by police on Sunday, it’s opportunistic looters who have been out on the streets, not political protesters.

In the inner London district of Camden Town, for example, the social media on Monday night were full with rumours of local landmarks in flames. However, Tuesday morning revealed that a few phone shops in the high street had been looted overnight, and an iconic (but rather grubby) rock venue called the Electric Ballroom had been vandalised. Nothing else to report.

We in the media love stories of death and destruction, but it turns out that there aren’t thousands of dead either. As of Wednesday, there had been only five deaths that might be linked to the turmoil: three people killed in Birmingham by a speeding car probably driven by looters, one man found shot dead in a car in London for unexplained reasons, and the drug dealer, Mark Duggan, whose death at the hands of the police unleashed these events.

There are certainly questions to be answered about Duggan’s killing (it appears that the gun he was carrying was never fired), and further questions to be asked about the way that the police dealt with his family afterwards. The demonstration outside Tottenham police station was genuinely political, and there are plausible claims that the police response was excessive.

But after that, everything changed. On the second night, there was no rioting, in the sense of demonstrations with a political motive or goal. There was just looting, as disaffected youths from the under-class seized the opportunity to acquire a little property from the rest of the population and damage a lot more. They feel that they have been abandoned by the society, and they are right.

Every post-industrial society has a large and growing minority of permanently unemployed or under-employed people who would once have grown up into the good working-class jobs that no longer exist. They are present in significant numbers in Britain and in France, in the United States and in Russia, even in Japan. It’s those bored and angry youths who are looting in England now.

Some people want to impose an ethnic explanation on this phenomenon. They try to define the looting and violence as a response by underprivileged black youths in Britain (or by underprivileged Muslim youth in the 2005 and 2007 riots in France). But the truth is that rioting and looting have always been equal-opportunity activities in both countries.

In the past thirty years of sporadic rioting and looting in England, every outbreak has included a large, probably majority participation by young whites from the under-class. The same was true of France in 2005 and 2007, where the young “Muslim” rioters were quite happy to be accompanied by their white and Asian friends from the same tower blocks.

For complex cultural reasons, the looters in England are disproportionately Afro-Caribbean youths, but it is not a particularly racist society. Afro-Caribbeans come last in school performance in England, but the children of immigrants from Africa come first. Fifty percent of second-generation Afro-Caribbeans in England end up in inter-racial relationships – but often in relationships with people of the white under-class. No escape there.

The real issue here is class – or to be more precise, the despair of the under-class. Less brutal and insulting behaviour towards the under-class by the police in normal times would reduce the level of resentment and the frequency of rioting and looting, but it wouldn’t stop it.

So there will probably be at least a few days’ more looting in England, until the under-class youths in every city and neighbourhood have had a chance to vent their anger and fill their pockets. And then it will stop. For a while.

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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 2, 5 and 12. (“And…event”; “In the…report”; and “For complex…there”)

The Christian Threat

27 July 2011

The Christian Threat

By Gwynne Dyer

Three pieces about Muslims in the same paper on the same day (The Independent, 25 July). The first is a local colour piece about how there are a lot more Middle Eastern tourists in London this summer. Why? Because France has banned the “Islamic” veil (or the Babylonian/Roman/Byzantine/Islamic veil, if you want to be precise) that covers the face. So the high-spending female shoppers from the Gulf aren’t going to Paris any more.

So many of them are going to London instead that big London shops like Selfridges and Liberty are reporting a 40-45 percent in international visitors compared to last year. And since Middle Eastern shoppers spend about fifteen times as much as your average British shopper, they are more than welcome even if many of them look a little weird to the average British eye.

Two pages on, a story about how rickets, a bone disease that causes stunted growth and bow legs in children, is making a comeback in Britain. It’s caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight acting on the skin. And it’s Muslims (British Muslims this time), who keep their women indoors or make them cover every bit of skin when they go out, who are the main victims of this disease.

The researcher didn’t actually say that, of course. She said: “You get women living in certain communities that perhaps don’t go out much because of religious, cultural traditions. They’re covered up when they do. They don’t get enough access to sunlight, so they get vitamin D deficient…So (their children will) be presenting with rickets at around 18 months.”

Fair comment, but it’s striking that nowhere in that story does the word “Muslim” appear. It didn’t appear in the first story either. Everybody knows that both stories are about Muslims, but the galumphing etiquette that governs this discourse means that you mustn’t actually say so. It’s a well-meaning but idiotic attempt to compensate for the vicious anti-Muslim rants that you’ll see every day in other parts of the Western media.

And finally, on the letters page, an angry complaint by a British Muslim about the way that Western media jumped to the instant conclusion that the hideous slaughter in Norway was the work of Muslim fanatics. “Now that the architect of the Norwegian massacre turns out to be a blue-eyed, blonde, white, Christian, right-wing fundamentalist,” inquired Dr Shazad Amin, “where have all the so-called experts on “Islamic terrorism” suddenly gone?”

“I look forward to now seeing an equally vigorous explanation of how Norway was “always a key target” for right-wing neo-Nazi groups, supported by a plethora of experts on “Christian terrorism” to explain the theological basis for these attacks.”

If you hold your breath until that happens in the mainstream Western media, you will turn an attractive shade of blue, but we could try to apply the principle here.

Just as Muslims living in northerly climes with weak sunlight suffer rickets because of their clothing preferences, for example, so “Christians” living in countries with strong sunshine suffer very high rates of skin cancer because of their custom of wearing as little clothing as possible.

That is not really accurate, of course, because a majority of the world’s Christians are not white. What’s actually being observed is that people of European descent (most of whom are at least “culturally” Christian) get skin cancer a lot if they live in countries like Australia, South Africa and Argentina.

The fully veiled women shoppers in London are not just generic “Muslims”, either. They are almost all women from the Arabic-speaking countries of the Gulf, home to only a quarter of the world’s Arabs and only about 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.

But this is really just quibbling. The real question is: what can be done about the obsession with “Islamic terrorism” in the Western media, to the virtual exclusion of other kinds of terrorism. It is so strong that even after Anders Behring Breivik claimed responsibility for the Norwegian horrors and explained his (right-wing, Christian fundamentalist) motives, internet posts continued to argue that he was just a tool in the hands of Muslim extremists.

It’s the “hidden hand” theory of politics, and its adherents generally proceed by the logical process that the lawyers refer to as “cui bono”: who benefits from this action? It’s hardly an infallible indicator of who is responsible, because you have to allow for the crazies, and also for those who are miscalculating where their interests really lie. Nevertheless, it’s the methodology that the conspiracy theorists prefer.

So, then, who benefited from Breivik’s actions? Obviously he believed that it would serve his own delusional ideology (which he elucidated in a 1,500-page internet post), but who was really behind it? I’m drifting towards paranoia, I know, but stay with me.

The week before the Norwegian tragedy saw a deluge of revelations of criminality and a firestorm of media criticism about the conduct of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Suddenly, all the media attention has turned to Norway and terrorism, and the Murdochs are off the agenda.

I’m not going to say anything that might get me sued, but if you like a really big conspiracy theory….

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 10 and 11. (“The researcher…months”; and “That…Muslims”)

The Murdoch Empire at Bay

20 July 2011

The Murdoch Empire at Bay

By Gwynne Dyer

Panic makes people stupid. It would be very stupid, for example, for the former editor of a British national newspaper, facing probable criminal charges for bribing policemen and illegally accessing the voice-mail of several thousand people, to put her computer and various incriminating papers in a large plastic bag and dump them in a garbage bin in a parking garage within a few metres (yards) of her London home.

It would be even stupider if, having done such a foolish thing, she sent her husband over to the garage to retrieve the incriminating evidence before it fell into the wrong hands. Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World, the paper that did the bribing and phone-hacking, is not a stupid woman, so she cannot have done such a thing.

That means that we must accept her husband Charlie’s explanation instead. It was actually his laptop, he said, and he had lent it to a friend. The friend was returning it by the curious method of putting it in a bag and leaving it in the parking garage. Alas, he left it in the wrong part of the garage. By the time Charlie got there, his spokesman explained, some cleaner must have put it in the bin, where it was found and handed in to a security guard.

Charlie tried to get it back from the guard, but could not prove that it was his. The guard called the police, who arrived in three vehicles and took charge of the bag. They are now examining CCTV footage taken in the car park to see who actually dropped the bag there. The footage will doubtless vindicate Charlie’s story.

Alas, Rebekah Brooks was arrested anyway on Sunday, on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and of corrupting police officers. The website called HasRebekahBrooksBeenArrestedYet.com that was set up last week is now redundant – but the same people have now launched a site called HasJamesMurdochBeenArrestedYet.com.

James Murdoch is the son and heir of Australian-American media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. He is the current head of the European and Asian operations of News Corporation, the “global vertically integrated media company” through which the senior Murdoch controls assets like Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, HarperCollins Publishers, Dow Jones, and three British national newspapers including the London Times.

It used to be four British national newspapers, and that is the source of the problem. The News of the World, the scandal-mongering tabloid that the Murdochs closed down two weeks ago as a damage-limitation measure, hacked thousands of people’s phones over the past decade in pursuit of stories, and paid policemen for many others. This was criminal behaviour, and now it is coming home to roost.

Another former editor of the News of the World, Andy Coulson, who went on to become Prime Minister David Cameron’s public relations adviser, has also been arrested, as have half a dozen other employees of the now defunct paper. The two most senior policemen in Britain have already been forced to resign. And the key question, as usual, is: who knew what, and when did they know it?

With Rebekah Brooks down, the legal inquiries move up the food chain to the next level: her immediate boss, James Murdoch. Rupert flew over to London to support his son, and found himself summoned to testify before the same parliamentary committee.

James denied all knowledge of the crimes committed in his corner of the empire in impenetrable management-speak, and more or less got away with it. The problem was Rupert himself.

Rupert Murdoch is 80 years old, and he looks every day of it. There were painfully long pauses in his answers. Perhaps it was all part of the act, for both men had clearly been intensively coached for the event, but he seemed frail and almost doddering.

To make matters worse, the strategy adopted by both men in order to avoid self-incrimination was to insist that their positions were so high up in the organisation that they could not be expected to know about the misdeeds of any single newspaper, even the best-selling Sunday paper in Britain. They had been betrayed by the people below them, whom they had mistakenly trusted, but they knew nothing about it themselves.

Well, maybe, but the downside of this strategy is that they have to portray themselves as hopelessly out of touch with the business they are supposed to be running. Either they were part of the cover-up, which went on for at least two years, or they weren’t paying proper attention. And that means it is not just a story about a scandal in Britain. It is coming to embrace the whole Murdoch empire.

There is something called the “Murdoch discount.” It is the gap between the market value of News Corporation as it is, and the considerably larger sum that it would be worth without Rupert Murdoch at the helm. (Bloomberg estimates that it would be 50 percent higher.)

So this is all playing into the hands of those shareholders who think that it’s high time Rupert Murdoch retired. And although James will probably escape criminal charges, they don’t see him as a suitable replacement for his father, either.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“Charlie…story”; and “Another…it”)