Category Archives: Austerity

Maxwellisation? Enough already.

So first we had the so called ‘credit crunch’. Bankers all over the world, all paid telephone number fees, ran banks into the ground and brought various economies to their knees. Then we had the bailouts – Governments all over the world and not least the UK, decided the best way out of the ‘credit crunch’ was to give the banks billions of pounds, dollars, Euro’s, you name it, they gave it, to the banks to replace what they lost in their bizarre spending frenzy. And that resulted in mass austerity across the UK, Europe and the US – probably elsewhere as well but I’m not an expert.

Then came the clean up – or the apparent clean up. What happened to cause the credit crunch and how regulators and Governments could ensure we wouldn’t get a repeat performance anywhere in the near future? And how was this clean up done? Well that’s the latest page in the most bizarre story of the 21st century history book – we clean up by burying as much truth as possible and where we can’t – because the public are demanding explanations – we introduce Maxwellisation.

I’ve read various explanations of Maxwellisation and they make as much or even less sense to me as the fateful and long drawn out love affair on the Maxwell House advert. I don’t know what happened in the agonising and tragic story of a love affair that was almost but never quite fulfilled. I certainly don’t know what it had to do with coffee! And similarly I don’t understand how the exploits of Robert Maxwell – who apparently ripped off not just his own company but also pension funds – could be introduced as a legitimate way to stop the rightful exposure of wrong doing?

I may be mad but surely we’ve got it the wrong way around? If our regulators and their third party experts do in depth investigations into situations and come up with explanations, in the form of reports, which finally expose the truth, how can it be right that the people named and blamed in those explanations, can challenge the reports before they are released? Are we saying our ‘experts’ and our regulators may have got things completely wrong? Is it in the nature of ‘experts’ who spend years doing these reports at vast expense to the public, to get it completely wrong? Is that an equation our regulators start with? I don’t think so.

This is like an appeal in the justice system happening before the trial. So the crooks, let’s say for the sake of argument bank robbers, receive the prosecution case and, before a Judge or a jury gets to hear it, half of it is removed because the accused don’t like it or they don’t agree with it. Better still, the accused’s lawyers may be able to come up with legal technicalities as to why the allegations can’t even be made in the first place. So what the Judge or the jury finally get to hear is an edited version of events as permitted by the defendants. Wow, I can see that going down very well with the criminal fraternity. Not a luxury extended to Tom Hayes but surely one the magic circle lawyers will be insisting on for more senior bank management in the future.

As someone who has spent years of my life investigating bank fraud albeit from the perspective of someone who is actually in the rock & roll business, the one thing I know is ‘the written word doesn’t lie.’ Even if people have been deliberately writing lies, the culmination of a proper investigation will just highlight those lies and you will be grateful someone bothered to put the lies in writing as an example of fraud or corruption or, at the very least misconduct or negligence. For example – how could any bank relying on untold amounts of emergency funding from the Bank of England and then needing several billion pounds from the public purse, possibly pretend to investors that it’s a safe bet to plough money into a Rights Issue? But read this absolute twaddle from Andy Hornby back in 2008 http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1631967/HBOS-chief-Hornby-defends-rights-issue.html and you’ll see that’s exactly what some of them did! Now what part of Maxwellisation can alter those facts?

Better still, let’s remind ourselves of exactly how the great and the good from HBOS and RBS were still trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes even after they’d been so instrumental in bringing the Country to the edge of the abyss: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmtreasy/uc144_vii/uc14402.htm

That’s a cracking read by the way.

I don’t know how anyone would do a comprehensive investigation into why we went into the Iraq war although logic would say the absence of the weapons of mass destruction, which were the reason for so many tragic deaths, raises some terrifying questions. But in the case or RBS or HBOS, it’s just not that complicated. If two music publishers can expose a massive fraud in HBOS and if certain members of SME Alliance are supplying the Times with evidence of massive issues in RBS, how can the FCA and their ‘experts’ be so endlessly challenged on their findings? The whole thing smacks of the dreaded ‘D’ word – deals. Deals to hide what really happened in our banking sector. Deals to protect the so called great and the good. Deals which, rather than give the public some sort of closure on what happened and show who was responsible, will just ensure the same or worse happens in the future.

There is no point in Maxwellisation – it’s apparently not a legal requirement and all it is doing is staving off the inevitable. If either of these banking reports ends up as another whitewash, there’s a whole army of people out there who will challenge them. Journalists, whistle blowers, small organisations like SME Alliance, Move Your Money and Bully Banks – not to mention various forthcoming trials (criminal & civil) which will shed more light on the reality. Clearly, if the FCA keep delaying their reports or if they allow the truth to be watered down, others will happily set the record straight.

I would say, from a public perception, Maxwellisation should really be called Orwellisation. We are continually walking backwards to Orwell’s views of 1984. The important difference is, there was no social media in Orwell’s world. No twitter or Facebook or Linked In. And unless the powers that be can wipe out the world wide web, Maxwellisation is actually and ultimately just like the coffee advert – long, drawn out and a fantasy. We’ve had enough fantasy when it comes to real people’s lives. Just like the cream always goes to the top of the coffee,  the truth, as Hillsborough has shown us, also has an amazing way of coming out on top and Maxwellisation won’t change it.

Surely the public have been on the receiving end of too much abuse from bankers without this latest trickery? Let’s just get on with it please, let’s publish these reports and stop all this nonsense. As a very good friend of mine would say – enough already!

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Can anyone save Greece and, while we’re at it, can we also save Mozzarella from EU lunacy?

Having lived in Italy both pre and post the European Union, I’m surprised this EU marriage of assorted incompatible countries, which was definitely not a marriage made in heaven, has lasted this long. Historically, European Governments (and certainly in Mediterranean countries) have had enormous difficulty in efficiently running their own economies – so the idea that a central Government, run by bureaucrats from innocuous offices in Brussels could manage them all, was always a Panglossian scenario doomed to end up with one country or another or several ending up in the stew.

I don’t doubt there was some good intention behind forming the European Union. Open borders, one currency, easy trading – but it was always tenuous. We live on an Island and our only neighbours are Scotland (and that’s going well!!) Wales and Ireland and even those relationships are littered with dissent and the demand for independence. All the same, we just about manage to stay together under the heading of Great Britain and we have done for many years. But the relationship between the Italians, French, Germans and the Spanish (to name but a few European neighbours) prior to the EU, was frequently as collaborative and friendly as rival Pitbulls. The idea that Europe would unite and merge cultural and economic identities under one banner and one rule was always quite extraordinary.

Neither was it properly considered. Due diligence would have told anyone we are so culturally diverse in Europe, any collective rule book would have been as useful as a manual on aerospace technology for three year olds. The idea that Greece or Italy (for example) would conform to the same rules as Germany or France was just daft. I lived on the Italian French border for many years and the difference between Ventimiglia and Menton (about 5 miles distance) was so enormous it was just like entering a different country – because it was! What part of signing membership to the EU changed that scenario?

In my opinion the EU was never about what was best for people and always about what was best for the financial sector. And sooner or later it was always going to become impossible for voters in any country to have confidence in a system designed solely to feed the banks to the detriment of all else.

If the IMF decide in their wisdom to lay the blame entirely with the Greek people for this crisis, then I suggest they will find find they have a similar crisis with Spain and Italy (for starters) in the very near future. Even if (as the media would have us believe) Greeks really are the laziest and least trustworthy people in Europe – by whose standards are we judging them? By German standards? Are we saying Greeks are different to the Germans or the French and therefore they must change? Do the Greeks want to be like the Germans or the French? Or do they just want to be Greeks? Was the Greek economy on a sure footing before they joined the EU?

Ah but, I can hear people saying, in that case, they shouldn’t have joined Europe and borrowed so much money which they can’t pay back. And who engineered that situation? And who monitored it? Surely the top economists rounding up European countries for membership had some inkling that Greece was not economically stable – so how exactly did they qualify? As anyone in business (and especially the banking sector) knows, numbers on a page can be rearranged to tell a hundred different stories to a hundred different readers and someone obviously did some exceptional fantasy accounting for Greece. And who ever was regulating these figures somehow failed to notice two and two was never adding up to four.

Some might say it’s rather like the mess RBS or HBOS/Lloyds got themselves into which went (apparently) completely under the radar of the UK regulators. While the bank bosses were telling the world and his wife they were absolutely solvent, the truth of the matter was always bound to come out – they were completely broke and deeply in debt. Of course what happened there was the UK tax payer bailed the banks out even although it caused mass austerity. To add insult to injury, in the UK we continued to plough our banks and our top bankers with money and we refused (unlike Iceland) to hold anyone responsible for the catastrophe the banks caused. We even kept the obscene bonus system going.

Banks across the world were falling like nine pins during the so called ‘credit crunch’ and in the majority of cases the big banks were bailed out because they were “too big to fail.” Countries, it seems, are not. Fair enough – so Greece first and who is next?

The Greeks got themselves into this mess and now they can get themselves out of it is the attitude of the EU leaders. Although I can’t help feeling that the biggest offence Greece has committed against the EU has been to suggest it won’t be dictated to. How dare they tell EU leaders they won’t meekly submit their people to years and years of austerity and misery while they concentrate on pouring every possible Euro they can into paying off a debt that, realistically, is beyond repayment without some write offs? There has been a definite issue of ‘face saving’ here and the EUs big bosses have not taken kindly to the idea that the Greek people could have a say in economic affairs they clearly know nothing about! How many times do the ‘people’ have to be told “leave politics to the grown ups!” Hmmn – I think what they really mean is “leave politics to the bankers” who, as we all know, must continue to be paid millions of pounds for a job well done!

But Greece isn’t the only country in financial turmoil. And obviously the biggest issue with letting the Greek people have a say in their future is (God forbid) other economically badly behaved Europeans may follow suit. Worse still, when the European elite have finished blaming all the people of Europe, they may have to wake up to the fact the people of Europe are getting restless and some of them no longer care what a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels think. If the EU was run so well and regulated so well, why isn’t it an overwhelming success? Could it be the so called credit crunch was the fly in the ointment? Could it be the financial sector has had a big hand in this problem? Could it be that the big banks like Goldman Sachs (busy doing God’s work) just saw Europe and its populations as a delicious example of cannon fodder? And especially countries like Greece. Sun, sea, chaos, corruption, no taxes – did the EU not know that was the deal with Greece? Did they think people joining the EU and the Euro would automatically abandon their Mediterranean heritage get into straight lines?

Culture with all its good points and its failings is still the very thing that make Europe unique. A host of countries with a completely different way of life dating back hundreds of years. If you wanted to go to somewhere very well organised with fantastic motorways and possibly an over fondness for pork, you went to Germany. If you wanted to go somewhere where life is very laid back, prone to siestas and fiesta’s and with very good fresh fish, you went to Greece or Italy or Spain. You changed your money and deliberately set off to visit somewhere completely different to your own country with different shops, food, habits, architecture and lifestyle. What was wrong with that?

Clearly something was because we now have a system where EU countries must now conform to a bland similarity based on nonsense rules that are totally open to abuse. And apparently some abuse the rules more than others – well there’s a surprise. But I wonder who are the greatest abusers in a decade where corruption is so wide spread? You can get it anywhere these days but some nations hide it better than others and some are better at managing it. Take the UK? Some would call it the money laundering centre of the world – but in EU negotiation terms, butter wouldn’t melt. In my opinion, turning Europe into a franchise of one big corporation like MacDonald’s was never going to work. You were always going to end up with hamburgers containing snails, garlic, anchovies, sardines, sauerkraut and “don’t worry, I make lamb.” Bankers may have thought all European countries would perform unilaterally if they all had the same currency – they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Europeans are ultimately all Nationalists – even the Brits, look at the somersaults the UK Government did to keep Scotland British. You can’t tell Greek or Italian or, heaven help us, the French or German people how to live. You can try and bribe their Governments with grants and loans and swaps, and it all goes swimmingly while there’s plenty of money to dole out. But when the coffers in one country run dry and other richer countries start imposing such harsh austerity people risk losing their shirts, is it surprising we all start remembering we’re individual nations again?

We don’t have the Euro in the UK and that is our saving grace. Love him or hate him David Cameron does put the British point across in his negotiations with Europe and they have to listen. Despite our internal conflicts (Scotland, the power the banks have, austerity blocking justice) we do at least have our own currency and therefore a bigger hand in running our own economy – and even if it’s a mess, neither the Germans nor the French can dictate what’s best for us. Maybe the Greek leaders have realised (before the rest of Europe does) that the views of the people they rule are more important than the corporations who just think they’re so important. Maybe the Greek people just want their country, their dignity and their identity back. And whatever it costs them now, might be less than it costs them (or other EU nations) in the future. Bankers, in the name of the EU, have run riot over Europe in a bulletless war for too long now. Maybe the Greeks are right to fight back?

One final example of why I believe the European Union is ultimately doomed. It’s a small example but it clearly shows the dangerous level of interference the EU wields over national heritage. Last Wednesday I was talking to a very good friend who lives in Ventimiglia. I used to live there and I remember the border coming down. So I was asking my friend how Ventimiglia was coping with the thousands of migrants stranded there because the French have now very definitely put the border back up so the immigrants can’t just wander over to Monte Carlo or St Tropez.

However my friend, who is a great foodie, was intent on telling me about the latest crack pot EU regulation. Check out this headline: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/11704323/Italy-EU-request-for-powdered-milk-in-mozzarella-is-attack-on-cultural-heritage.html

What meddling jobsworth came up with that idea? Is this really the kind of rule the EU was set up to introduce? Does anyone really want to be associated with such idiocy? Oh for the days of bent cucumbers, irregularly shaped tomatoes and interesting foreign currency.

I will keep praying for a miracle solution for the ordinary Greek people caught in the middle of these power struggles. Obviously, at this stage, only a miracle will suffice.