Archive for May, 2012


The vast majority of the people of Australia, and for that matter, many people in many other countries are supportive of the work of Wikileaks.

Despite this, Julian Assange has been sacrificed by an Australian Government which like many of its predecessors puts the rights of Australians to know the truth a long way behind its subservient relationship with the United States of America.

There was a time when Australian Prime Ministers like John Curtin and Billy Hughes were prepared to stand up for Australia, not only against the demands of the United States, but also the whole world if that was necessary.The Gillard Government by contrast is hiding behind deceptive language trying to disguise its true position. It is clearly playing a part in a coordinated plan to have Julian Assange sent to the USA where he can be charged with espionage and face the death penalty. 

Our small neighbour New Zealand has shown that it has the courage to do what it believes right. Despite threats of economic devastation if they resist US pressure to conform to US military demands NZ refused to port US nuclear warships.

The Australian media is also lacking in courage, preferring to mount a campaign of character assassination against Assange rather than stand up for the principle of free speech they claim to adhere to. Perhaps they are ashamed they were champions of the illegal war in Iraq and that they failed to shine a light on war crimes that only Wikileaks had the guts or sense of human decency to expose.

The USA is an important ally, but many of their recent actions in the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay and also the illegal rendition of individuals to places of torture was an appalling breach of international law and a blot on the character of the USA. Especially as many of those tortured were innocent of any crimes. In the long term this behaviour is damaging to the United States and to all of us who silently acquiesce to this criminality. It also provides justification for retaliation that may also breach normal standards of engagement.

If we are to have a free society and a peaceful world we must always speak out against injustice and thuggery, whether it is done by our friends or by our enemies. Truth only wounds those who have acted badly and do not want their actions exposed. We the people need to ensure that those among us who have the courage to expose the truth, are protected from dishonest totalitarian governments if we want to live in a free society.

The author has no desire to prevent Julian Assange from facing a fair trial if he has broken the law, but is dismayed that the Australian Government has not demanded an agreement from the Swedish Government that it will ensure that Assange is not sent to face another of the US kangaroo courts that sentences people who have been tortured to force confessions.

Ben Harridan is in the conference room of the Caucasian, juggling the demands of an imminent subs promo deadline with his hectic Foreign Editor’s schedule. He pitches to NY via the video conferencing thingummy…

Is your sock drawer a bit, well, bonkers? Yes, they’re practical, and yes, they go with just about anything, but why not add just a hint of grey to your sock essentials with these Trevor Cheesley New Oxford Plain Socks with Contrast Bipping?Each pair of Trevor Cheesley socks in this triple pack comes with a 1 year subscription to the Caucasian!
So the ‘average’ grey sock can have its own hidden virtues too – who knew? Well, we do…

Ben, my freyend, that’s a terrific subscriptions promo. It’ll appeal to our discerning readership – hey, appeal, apparel…appeal…

Heck, huhh, haa. Master James. Smashing.

Now, I need to discuss May’s lying bonus. It seems you had a bumper month! I’ll cite somma the highlites:

– Israel, Netanyahu is a very nice man really….Obama is a communist North Korean Manchurian candidate…Dave Cameron may be an old Etonian but he has ridden a bicycle and once met a member of Boney M…Tony Blair wasn’t really god-father to paaa’s other son…more weaponry will hasten a more stable world (we love that one), internet censorship is actually an important security measure… I mean, the list goes on, Ben…ad infinitum…

(more here harridan’s extraOrdinary rendition    and   harridan cOnfronts the 10 Absolutes of Reuters Journalism )

vile kyle fm

vile kyle is at it again.

This time around, vile kyle is ridiculing a disabled Pakistani baby. He does this live on air. He makes a fortune spouting vile, fascist  shite. He also does this kind of thing from the safety of his studio.

He looks a bit like this….

Uhhh. Just who is paying this craven narcissist?

It’s disturbing that he even has an audience.

To recap. First, Cameron, Osborne and the Murdochs together embraced a relationship of mutual benefit, irrespective of the interests of the British public and democracy…

Second, the Murdochs knew what went on in the News of the World and approved of and supported the cover up and the pay-offs. Therefore the Prime Minister and Chancellor entered into an agreement with the bosses of a criminal organisation.

The third question is this: granted that Cameron and Osborne knew that the Murdochs were “tough” (just as did Thatcher and later Blair) did they also understand they had become criminal? After Cameron won the Tory party leadership in 2006, perhaps only the Guardian was trying to ring the alarm bell over the courtship. But after Goodman was jailed for hacking and Coulson resigned were these not danger signals? Osborne is said to have then recruited Coulson and Cameron agreed to give him “a second chance” as he put it. But really, did both of them believe the “rogue reporter” line?

It does not matter if you want to give them the benefit of the doubt because an identifiable moment in the run-up to the 2010 election removes all uncertainty. To explain this begs readers’ patience, but it is a defining moment. The fullest account so far is the gripping book subtitled ‘News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain’, Dial M for Murdoch. It’s by Tom Watson MP, the hero of the Select Committee and Martin Hickman of the Independent. (The hint in the title is heavy-handed – see openDemocracy’s review of the book by the author of The Murdoch Archipelago, Bruce Page, who agrees there is a comparison with KGB but denies that NewsCorp assassinates, and I agree with him).

The story seems to be this, drawn from Dial M for Murdoch (pp. 107-10, 167-181). After Cameron had put Andy Coulson in charge of his press and media operation in 2007, it emerged that as Editor of News of the World Coulson had employed Jonathan Rees.

Back in 1989 Rees was a partner with Daniel Morgan running a private detective agency. Apparently Morgan was concerned about Rees’ connections to corrupt police. After having a drink with Rees in a pub Morgan was murdered. Rees denied he was responsible. He went on to run a lucrative business obtaining stories while the police were suspicious and began to bug him. They recorded him saying “No one pays like the News of the World” and, more important, discovered that he was planning to plant cocaine on someone to fit her up. After he did so, he was charged with perverting the course of justice and given a seven-year sentence in 2000. Released in 2005 he was promptly re-employed by… Andy Coulson at the News of the World.

Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott shows his true colours in refusing to support a proposal to put in place an anti- corruption body or new codes of conduct for Members of the Australian Parliament.

Abbott considers that striving to demoralise and brutalise Craig Thompson on the floor of the parliament so that he will resign or have a psychological meltdown is a better solution for him to become Prime Minister than waiting for the next election, or for the proper procedures of the parliament and the law to be followed.

This shows two vital aspects of Abbott’s character. The first aspect is his ruthlessness that allows him to continually put his own ambition above any other consideration. The second is his deceit.

Abbott does not want stronger codes of conduct because he knows that at least one of the members of the Liberal/National coalition is likely to be caught by its provisions and penalties, and therefore strip her vote from the coalition negating the possible loss of Labor’s Craig Thompson.

The true reason Tony Abbott does not want to wait for any of the proper procedures or solutions to be used is because he wants an immediate election while Labor is at its weakest point. He does not want Labor’s program of reforms to be implemented because he knows they will be popular and that his alarmist rhetoric will be shown to be untrue, leaving him revealed as the emperor with no clothes.

  

   

Green Party leader Christine Milne has clearly articulated a major emerging issue for Australia and the countries of the South. The neo-colonial  pillaging of resources provides almost no benefit to the ordinary citizens of exploited countries and constitutes a  blatant dispossession of future generations.

Milne was responding to the announcement that the Australian government would allow foreign workers to be flown in to work on Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore mine in Western Australia.

A recent report by the Australia Institute showed that 5 out of every 6 dollars profit from mining in Australia went to overseas investors and that most of the remaining profits went to a handful of wealthy Australians like Gina Rinehart. The most significant benefit to ordinary Australians is derived through the jobs of mine workers.

By eliminating Australian jobs there is very little benefit to this country in digging massive holes in the ground and the significant harm of creating environmental damage and global climate change.

Christine Milne is spot on in identifying the need for a new examination of the ramifications of the impacts of mining on this country and its people.

Australians are in danger of becoming the present day equivalent of the Incas and Aztecs whose Gold and Silver resources were plundered by Pizarro and Cortez and the surviving population was forced into slavery.

Gina, mmmmuhhhh. I am honoured to bee your guest this evening. Your guest here…here et your luvelee magnolia penthouse. Vwat splendid oils upon arrival! Z’art…

Yes, they’re super doops, aren’t they? Leni, I’ve commissioned a triptych by the late Saffron Legging that I shall be gifting to Morley. It’ll accompany the nugget inscribed with my ode d’or.

Vell, thets splendid fraulein Gina. Und ze subject matter….zee subject matter of this acqeezition.

Well, it wepwesents Western Australia, all the element things and nature…the air in the sky…

Ochhh, eet sounds marvelous…

And, and and, Leni…the subject matter includes a shark and a dog. Vwee see the doggie… swimming in the water…the ocean…splashing in pursuit of a ball…the next panel depicts a shark fin upon the horizon…viewed, as seen from the water…

Gina, ze soobject matter is so raw! So raw und so naturel. Und thee third? The final panel?

The shark comes rocketing to the ocean’s surface and has the pooch in it’s jaws!!! Ha, haaah. I love it…

So, zee doggy succumbs… to zee force of nature in zee shark! Now, ze sementecs…eets, eets…

All mine, Leni. Please come on through…

Dear Gina. Dear, dear Gina…well, congwatulations are in order!! Splendid achievement.

Ohh Lord Chwissie, I weally, weally hoped that this was to be you. You upon the telephone…

Dear Gina. Dear, dear Gina. Your pa would be pwoud. Why, you have the midas touch.

Ohh Lord Chwissie, it’s my cwowning achievement. World’s…richest…WOMAN! Andy Pandy sent me a congratulatory telegwam and exclaimed that he was considerwing a sex change!!

Did he now! Did he now, ho-ho. You and he embody a ‘fair go’, Gina. ..A great big, luvelee jubelee fair go. Tony’s tickled to bits too over this and he wants to nail Australia’s richest man!

Lord Chwissie, he’s married with childwen. Just what on earth do you mean?

Nooo, nooo, dear Gina. Tony…wants …Australia…to have a world’s richest man title.

Hahh, yooo are a card, viscount B. A weal card. I’m getting wather poety amidst West Perth’s ambrosia hues. I’m on fire….I’m nucleartastic…it’s mine…it’s all just bloody well all mine!!!

And all mines, dear Gina. All mines…

Psychological research can often confirm existing hunches. For those of us that find Fox ‘News’, Caucasian editorials, Abbott rhetoric and resource business platitudes STUPID, as well as offensive, the May ’12 issue of the Psychologist (journal of the British Psychological Society) is coming to the rescue…

‘Think less and become more conservative’:

“The less time or mental effort a person puts into thinking about an issue, the more likely they are to espouse a politically conservative perspective. That’s according to a new study by Scott Eidelman and his team, who stress that their point is ‘not that conservatives rely on low effort thought’ but that ‘low effort thinking promotes political conservatism’…

….reduced mental effort encourages more conservative beliefs fits with prior research suggesting that attributions of personal responsibility (versus recognising the influence of situational factors), acceptance of hierarchy and preference for the status quo – hallmarks of conservative belief.”

Think more and become less conservative? Bring it on.

“People did not believe in my facts and thought my theories unsavory. Resistance was strong and unrelenting.”

The hedge fund Magnetar helped create billions of dollars’ worth of risky deals called collateralized debt obligations, many of which failed spectacularly in the financial crisis. Magnetar, meanwhile, had taken positions that allowed the firm to profit when many of those same CDOs collapsed. Since Magnetar’s dealings was reported on two years ago, there’s been a long line of investigations and settlements related to the hedge fund.

Magnetar itself has never been charged with wrongdoing, and it has always maintained that it did not have a strategy to bet against CDOs they were involved with. But today’s Wall Street Journal reported that Magnetar is indeed under investigation by the SEC.

But the Journal reports that the SEC’s investigation is looking into whether Magnetar took such a prominent role in structuring some of the CDOs in which it invested that it became a de facto collateral manager, responsible for selecting the assets in a CDO. If that were the case, Magnetar might have some responsibility to all the investors in the deal.

The SEC has been circling around the Magnetar deals for some time, hitting some of the investment banks and managers involved. Here’s a roundup of all the charges, settlements, and investigations that we know of stemming from Magnetar deals:

Settled:
June 2011: JPMorgan agrees to pay $153.6 million to the SEC to settle allegations that it misled investors by not telling them that Magnetar was involved in the creation of a CDO called Squared CDO 2007-1. In reaching the settlement, JP Morgan did not admit or deny the SEC’s allegations.

February 2012: State Street Global Advisors pays the state of Massachusetts $5 million to settle allegations that it did not disclose to investors that Magnetar was involved in constructing the CDO Carina CDO Ltd. State Street did not admit or deny Massachusetts’ allegations.

Charged:
June 2011: The SEC files a complaint against manager Edward Steffelin for his involvement in structuring JPMorgan’s Squared CDO 2007. In October 2011, a judge threw out part of the SEC’s case, ruling that Steffelin had not engaged in “fraud or deceit.” Other charges are still pending. A lawyer for Steffelin declined to comment on an ongoing case.

Under investigation:
June 2011: The SEC is reportedly investigating Merrill Lynch and the firm NIR Capital Management over the Magnetar CDO called Norma.

September 2011: The SEC is reportedly investigating the Japanese Bank Mizuho and an executive there, Alexander Rekeda, over the making and marketing of the CDO Tigris, another Magnetar deal. Mizuho did not immediately respond to our requests for comment on the current status of the investigation.

September 2011: The SEC warns it may bring charges against the Ratings Agency Standard & Poor’s, which abruptly downgraded a Magnetar CDO called Delphinus CDO 2007-1. (In an SEC filing in February, S&P’s parent company, McGraw Hill, said that the SEC’s warnings “have no basis and they will be vigorously defended.”)

February 2012: The SEC warns Alexander Rekeda that it may bring charges against him for misleading investors about Magnetar’s role in creating Delphinus. Rekeda, who is now at the investment firm Guggenheim Capital, could not be reached today for comment.

May 2012: According to the Wall Street JournalMagnetar itself is under investigation by the SEC. Magnetar told ProPublica in our original story that the SEC was “looking broadly” at CDOs and had requested information from Magnetar, but said that they were unaware of a particular target of the investigation.

The Journal also reports that the SEC continues to investigate NIR and its founder, Corey Ribotsky, for its role in creating Norma with Merrill Lynch. NIR did not respond to our requests for comment, but a lawyer for NIR and Ribotsky told the Journal that the firm had not acted improperly in selecting Norma’s assets. A spokesman for Bank of America, which now owns Merrill Lynch, declined to comment.

This article was by ProPublica.

The JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) of the British government has directed the Home Office to convey the Obama administration’s terms re Ben Harridan to the detention unit at Heathrow…

“Inspector Weeting, the Obama people are adamant. No latitude. Mr Harridan has conspired with Hague ICC held master criminals…Chesney, Bliar, Dumsfeld. The evidence is in print – black and white. His words are recorded there in the newspaper archive. I mean, fuckin’ hell Charlie, he has salivated and gushed over them all. He had access to venal aresholes of the highest order! He even recently described Dubbya as “visionary and morally courageous…” I mean, the man is a criminal and a craven turd…let me read you a bit of his recent Bush/Cheney revisionism in his ghastly rag:::

“Rich Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Bob Zoellick – with very deep Australian connections, and a doctrine that put solid allies ahead of all others. Howard sensibly took maximum advantage of all that this offered.Right now the whole world is absurdly against Bush. If he jumped in front of a speeding train…”

I mean..Inspector Weeting, the Armitage/Wolfowitz/Zoellick troika had a doctrine of malice, discontent and exploitation. What doesn’t he get yet? I mean, listen to this, I’ll patch it in, it’s an excerpt from Harridan’s interrogation of late:::

Mr Harridan, let me put this to you…as Foreign Editor of the Caucasian, do you consider that you have influence?

We  provide our readers with information… Don’t you know who and what I am!? This, this, this is quite simply a kangaroo court…

Harridan. Just answer the question. Influence, yes or no?

Yes, ok, ok. At the end of the day, we have a measure of influence.

A measure, Mr Harridan? Can you elaborate?

Look, I’m the bloody chap who does the heavy lifting. It’s not easy traversing the globe and …I’m sure, a more balanced understanding of Bush’s achievements, as well as his failures, will emerge.

I wanted to begin this article with a new group name that appropriately described Australian political reporters. I refuse to call them a “Pack”, even though it rhymes with hack, because a media pack sounds active and alert, not at all suitable for the aging and pathetic mob of name droppers, lobbyists and scandalmongers who constitute the Canberra media.

I have settled upon “Wallow”, a name that more accurately describes a group of gossiping dirt lovers who lethargically flop around on the muddy shores as a vast river of fundamental information flows past their uncomprehending eyes.

Why do the Wallow focus on the non events occurring in this country? How is it they are capable of extracting the finest nuances from a story with sexual connotations? They relentlessly pursue the Peter Sleeps and Craig Thompsons for some juicy gossip that  makes no difference to this country, and while they are doing so, they miss the real story.

The Wallow have concentrated their gaze on the personal imbroglios of both of these miscreants and attempted to widen the smear to their parties while missing the really important ramifications that could massively change the future direction of the Australian nation.  If both of these MPs are removed from the Australian Parliament there is a real chance that Tony Abbott can very quickly become our Prime Minister. Why is the possible impact of this invisible to the Wallow? Perhaps they have mud in their eyes.

By his own admission, and despite his relentless calls for the resignation of the Gillard Government, Tony Abbott is not ready to take over governing of this country. He has offered no clear idea of what he will do in government beyond reversing important reforms implemented by the Rudd and Gillard Governments. Abbott has refused to say what his reversal plans will cost the Australian taxpayers and is equally coy about the feasibility of the  few new programs he promised to implement in his budget speech. He said he didn’t need to reveal the cost until the next election is due. This means on the last day before the election when it is too late to calculate the true cost of his program socially and economically.

The last time Abbott ran for government his last minute budget was farcically exposed as being greatly flawed. Now there is a real possibility of Abbott becoming the Prime Minister long before the next election is due.  It is a disgrace that the Wallow has failed to pin him down on this fundamental issue.

On the day of his recent budget speech it was far too easy for Tony Abbott to get away with saying that because the next election is not due for over a year, that there is no need to outline his alternative plans or tell us what his budget will cost until then. Yet on the same afternoon Abbott repeated his demand for Prime Minister Gillard to resign her commission and go to an election immediately.

The media Wallow has no agenda to keep the populace informed on important public issues. They see themselves as media celebrities and performers and the providers and creators of gossip. In short they treat the public as short attention span fools to be manipulated by fear and envy. The Wallow no longer have a beneficial purpose in society above telling us what to buy and where to do our shopping. Not so much a fourth estate more a glorified advertorial posting board.

While the Wallow blindly flop in the murky shallows we seem destined to be led by a man who does not agree with science or with evidence based decision making; a man who plans to drag us backwards into a narrow prejudiced Tea Party style past. While trumpeting Christian values he seeks to turn back refugees seeking our help and shelter. He calls the Prime Minister a liar and yet he makes promises he knows he cannot and will not deliver. He then excuses himself saying we should not rely on the promises he speaks, only on the promises he has written down.

Tony Abbott has driven Australian politics to new low levels of nastiness. He has regularly put his own ambition above the public interest. He needs to be exposed before our country regresses into an ignorant, deeply divided winner take all battlefield, like that created by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately we cannot rely on our largely foreign owned Australian media to shine a light on his deficiencies.

And, Mr Harridan, your passport’s date of issue is April 2002. It provides evidence of travel to Israel and the US. From a Home Office perspective, we’ll need to dig a little deeper. Please wait at the door to the left of the counter and accompany me…

Don’t you know whooo I AM? I’m HARRIDAN, BEN HARRIDAND and ...

That’s quite enough of that. Glenys, can you accompany me with ‘Mr Harridan’…

Ben Harridan’s still slammed up at Heathrow, in a cell and wearing an orange jumpsuit, deportation pending and not very happy…

Heck, this is just simply not on..not what I blooming well expected. I mean, just how many times have I just hopped off the plane and into a black cab, bound for Wapping? To be here, surrounded by this, this filth. A Foreign Editor …of global repute, incarcerated in an airport cell. Like a caged animal, it’s just frankly outrageous…The sheer nerve of the copy of the Reuters bloody handbook just happening to lie upon the bunk thing, here in the cell. How long has it been now? They are denuding my dignity. I mean…taking a chap’s sandals. It’s an OUTRAGE!!

Owz it goin’ then Julian? You new ‘ere.

What? Julian? My name is Ben.

Heard your a bleedin’ journo.  All the bloody same to me, mate.

That, I can assure you, is far from the case.

Whatever…

The 10 Absolutes of Reuters Journalism:

• Always hold accuracy sacrosanct.  Always correct an error openly • Always strive for balance and freedom from bias • Always reveal a conflict of interest to a manager • Always respect privileged information • Always protect their sources from the authorities • Always guard against putting their opinion in a news story • Never fabricate or plagiarise • Never alter a still or moving image beyond the requirements of normal image enhancement • Never pay for a story and never accept a bribe (source: Reuters Handbook)

A new political movement has called for tolerance to be shown towards medical homophobics.  Professor Cureasinner MBBS MPhil FRCPsych FRANZCP has told the “Interpretor” that homophobics are a misunderstood group who just want acceptance into normal society.

“We don’t really hate gays and we certainly don’t beat them up these days he said. You have to consider that many of them are spending their lives in gyms and look a bit threatening to homophobics.”

The professor said “we find it really unfair that people attack our credibility just because scientific evidence is against us on this gay marriage issue. Why are people so hung up on evidence? Look at climate change – all the scientific evidence says its happening and we are causing it, but its a load of rubbish, isn’t it?. There’s certainly nothing in the Bible about it.

We know for sure that gays can’t make normal families. Every one of our members has a personal relationship with god and god has told us it is wrong for gay people to do normal things like getting married and having kids. What more proof would you want than that?”

Passport, please.

Yes, uhm, of course. Here it is…

Harridan. Ben Harridan. And you are Ben Harridan?

Yes, that’s me. I am Ben Harridan.

Business or pleasure? The purpose of your trip to the UK, Mr Harridan?

Strictly business.

Says here, ‘occupation: Foreign Editor’.

Yes. Quite frankly, I’m the Foreign Editor of the Caucasian. You may even have heard of us…

Mr Harridan, leafing through your passport, I see stamps for Israel and the US. Fairly recent, too…

Yes, us Foreign Editors tend to get around, ya know.

You may make that assumption, but your visa stamps are exclusively Israel and the US? Your work not take you further afield?

Now look here. I don’t like your insinuation. I’m FOREIGN EDITOR. FOREIGN EDITOR of Australia’s BIGGEST SELLING BROADSHEET!!

And, Mr Harridan, your passport’s date of issue is April 2002. It provides evidence of travel to Israel and the US. From a Home Office perspective, we’ll need to dig a little deeper. Please wait at the door to the left of the counter and accompany me…

Don’t you know whooo I AM? I’m HARRIDAN, BEN HARRIDAND and ...

That’s quite enough of that. Glenys, can you accompany me with ‘Mr Harridan’…

‘Addressing the topic of mental health in Australia (and its treatment) are: Professor Allan Fels, head of the newly established National Mental Health Commission; former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, head of Orygen Youth Health and one of the National Mental Health Commissioners, and Barbara Hocking, Executive Director of SANE Australia…’

Please click link below to go directly to this discussion:

the monthly: mental health & australia ’12

… France, next chapter; US and China, partners still; Egypt and Libya, Islamists in action; Al-Jazeera’s star wanes; African mercenaries for US warsVietnam, universities on the cheap; Occupy, the first year; Russia’s new middle class; US, the enemy within; Tony Judt, wise words…and more…

Le Monde Diplomatique is informative, broad and available in English by clicking on the May 2012 hotlink below.

 http://mondediplo.com/tag/open-access

LMD provides a cool, reasoned, different view of the world’s most pressing issues”
New York Review of Books

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, May 2012 report on Putin’s mega wealth:

Back in 2011, surrounded by press, Vladimir Putin emerged from the murky waters of the Black Sea clutching the discovered remnants of ancient buried treasures. The discovery later turned out to be nothing more than a PR stunt. He hadn’t found the artefacts after all. But the stunt had achieved its purpose. Putin was once again seen as the bare-chested, judo-master, tiger-pacifying, untouchable leader of Russia.

But it was another apparent PR stunt – the spontaneous gifting of a £5,500 watch to a peasant boy – which led some to question whether Putin did not have buried treasure of his own. How could a politician with a declared annual salary of around $140,000 (£88,000) afford to live a life seemingly full of luxury watches, as well as yachts and palaces?

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism decided to investigate and has produced a documentary for Al Jazeera’s People & Power. We travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg looking into the origins and scale of Putin’s wealth.

Declared earnings
On March 6, Putin was once again elected president of Russia. He regained the role he had relinquished in 2008, when he had stepped down because of rules preventing more than two consecutive terms, becoming prime minister instead.

As part of his latest election bid, Putin was required to declare his worth. His declaration seems modest for a world leader.

Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst, claims Putin could be worth as much as $70bn, a figure that would make him the richest man in the world.

According to the Russian Central Electoral Commission, Putin has $179,612 in the bank and has earned around half a million dollars in the past four years. His wife Lyudmila has $261,541 in four bank accounts. Putin’s declared assets are also rather spartan. He has claimed to have a share in a public garage, apartments in Moscow and St Petersburg and a 1,500-square metre plot of land outside Moscow.

But there is increasing concern that Putin has not declared all of his worldly goods.

Watches
One of the reasons for such concern is that, despite his modest income, Putin has shown something of a flair for the finer things in life. He is rarely seen without a luxurious watch and has been photographed several times wearing expensive brands, including a £70,000 Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar, and a £15,000 Breguet Marine.

Not that the Russian leader is uncharitable: he has also been spotted giving away £11,000 worth of Blancpain watches. The first was gifted to the shepherd boy and the second, rather more reluctantly, to a metal worker who brazenly asked the Russian leader for a keepsake. Both instances were captured by the media.

In total Putin has been photographed wearing around £160,000 of wrist wear.  A remarkable feat for a man who earns, before tax, £80,000.

It is something that other journalists have been alert to.  Luke Harding has reported for the Guardian newspaper on Putin’s wealth for years, and has been banned from Russia in the process. He said, ‘it is unlikely that [Putin] – or any of the presidential administration – would have items of this value without any kind of supplementary income.’

We asked the Kremlin about the watches. Were they his personal property or owned by the state? They declined to tell us.

But high-end watches are positively discreet compared to luxury yachts and palaces.

Luxury accomodation
As president, Putin will have access to the presidential yacht, Chakya. Bought under Medvedev’s rule, the luxury yacht came with a £26m price tag. It has six luxury cabins, wine cellar, jacuzzi, barbecue and other luxuries.

The yacht was bought with presidential funds. However, another extravagant purchase, which some have linked to Putin’s personal wealth, is a mansion overlooking the Black Sea.

The palace, sold recently for £350m, is rumoured to have been built as a holiday home for the Russian president-elect.

Leaked photographs of the Palace show richly decorated interiors, ornate grounds, gates topped by a two-headed eagle and a lift down to the beach.

Security around the palace is high, barbed wire and guard dogs kept our reporters at a distance. Putin denies any connection to the palace and current, official owner Alexander Ponomarenko says the palace is a ‘holiday home.’

However, local resident admit seeing Putin frequenting the area and when environmental activists broke into the compound in 2011 protesting the building’s construction on protected land, they were met by Federal Protection Service guards.

Sergei Kolesnikov, a Russian businessman and former associate of Putin, claims the palace was built for Putin through a web of transactions with its ownership being held in anonymous bearer shares.

The Bureau has also obtained building contract documents for work on the palace which bear the signature of Vladimir Kozhin, the head of the Presidential Administration Property Development.

Read more about the Black Sea Palace.

Hidden wealth?
But it is not just watches, yachts and palaces. There are others who believe that Putin’s declaration of modest wealth simply does not add up. Stanislav Belkovsky, a political analyst and critic of Putin, is one of the most outspoken. He claims Putin could be worth as much as $70bn, a figure that would make him the richest man in the world.

This extraordinary sum is based on claims that Putin owns shares in three major oil and gas companies: 4.5% of national gas giant Gazprom, 37% of oil supplier Surgutneftegas and a major shareholder of a company that cannot be named for legal reasons.  That company strenuously denies any links to Putin.

‘The figure of $40bn emerged in 2007. That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of $60-70bn,’ Belkovsky says.

His estimate is based on information gained from confidential sources around the corporations, Belkovsky claims. But he is reluctant to reveal more.

All three companies have opaque ownership structures, and it is impossible to identify the shareholdings claimed by Belkovsky.

Gas and oil producer Surgutneftegas is secretive – an attitude that has not always played in its favour. In 2009 the company bought a 21.2% stake in Hungarian company MOL. However, when Surgutneftegas came to register as a voting shareholder, it was refused. MOL said the company’s lack of transparency around its ownership structure did not comply with Hungarian law.  Gazprom is the biggest gas extractor in the world; the Russian government controls it with a 50.002% stake. But while Gazprom is more transparent over share ownership, Belkovsky claims Putin’s share is hidden through ‘a non-transparent scheme of successive ownership of off-shore companies and funds’.

Gazprom and Surgutneftegas did not respond to the Bureau’s questions.

Despite repeating the claims several times and it being reported widely, Belkovsky has never faced legal action disputing them.

Investigating Putin
As Bureau reporters travelled across Russia we came across others that had tried to investigate Putin in the past.

Deep in the countryside, outside St Petersburg, we met with Marina Salyle.

In 1992 Salye investigated a deal made in the St Petersburgh City office deal which involved the export of $100m worth of raw materials in exchange for food. According to Salye Putin oversaw the deal but while the raw materials were shipped from the city, the promised food never arrived. Her accusation, made up until her recent death, was that Putin benefited from this incomplete deal.

The Kremlin argue that Putin never signed the paper authorising it, though Salye has papers that she claims do contain the President-elect’s authorising signature.

Back in St Petersburg, Lt. Col. Andrei Zykov, a former senior investigator at the Russian Interior Ministry, described his own work looking into Putin’s past.

In June 1999, when Putin was serving his first term as president, Zykov was put in charge of criminal case, number 144 128.

The case involved a construction company called Twentieth Trust, which officials suspected had been used to siphon money from St Petersburg’s city budget in the early 1990s. Zykov claims that Putin benefited from a Spanish villa from the deal.

The investigation was shut down on the grounds of ‘insufficient proof’ and according to Zykov he was fired a year and a half later.

We asked the Kremlin to respond to Mr Zykov’s claims. It has declined to do so.

Read more about Putin’s past. (and link back to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

In the early days of his first term as president, Putin had promised to rid Russia of its corrupt oligarchs.

However, as he now prepares to enter a third term as leader of Russia, it is the luxury lifestyle of a tsar that awaits him.

Ariely: So the first thing I want to ask you is: How do you pick your topics?

Gladwell: I don’t really know — I mean, desperation? … I see things and I collect them, and I think they might be interesting. But there’s no theory or system. I go to the library sometimes, and I just sort of roam around; or I go on the databases and I just type in things at random, or I get articles and read through the bibliography…. But there’s no rhyme or reason. Someone will say something to me interesting, and I’ll follow up on it or something. To be a writer I think you’re kind of constitutionally disposed toward optimism…

This fascinating conversation between Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwellcontinues at the Journalism Resource organisation

Australian banks have once again failed to reduce their rates in line with the rate reduction by the Federal Reserve Bank. They are now hitting the media blaming the government and making excuses for their profit gouging. Meanwhile the gap between the rate the banks charge us to borrow and what they pay for money continues to grow and has become a permanent feature of Australian banking.

The issue is, is this fair and if not, what can we or the Government do about it?

The big banks claim that due to the Global Financial Crisis, a shortage of money to borrow has pushed up the prices they pay for their borrowings. If this is correct it is indeed a problem largely of the Banking industries making. The GFC  was bought about by huge investment in sub-prime mortgages, the highly unethical bundling of sub-prime debts and shonky derivative trading by large banks and traders, mainly to pass off their bad debts to others.

In Australia any possibility of the failure of our major banks was averted by swift action from the Rudd Government which included the backing of the major banks solvency with a government guarantee. Because the Australian Government had a Triple A credit rating this enabled the banks to access funds more easily and at a cheaper rate than most overseas banks.It also gave the big four banks an advantage over smaller banks and credit unions.

Despite this advantage the building societies and credit unions have still been able to provide cheaper mortgage rates than the big four. Clearly this would indicate that the banks are pushing for greater profits and/or are less efficient than the credit unions. No doubt there is a great disparity in the salary packages as well.

The  banks have already forgotten their role in the GFC and that excessive greed was their motivation. So what can be done to bring the Big Four into line? The reserve bank and its interest rate setting is independent of government. It is also unlikely that the reserve bank could give cheaper rates to credit unions and building societies due to it being anti-competitive. (Although the current system gives a financial advantage to the Big Four)

But there is an answer. The federal government is not obliged to provide a solvency guarantee to the Big Four. They could refuse to give the guarantee to banks that refuse to reasonably follow the lead of the Reserve Bank with interest reductions. The guarantee could be reinstated if they provide the Reserve with documentation showing reasonable cause for maintaining high interest rate charges to its customers. Perhaps the government guarantee should be given to approved building societies and credit unions to give them the same advantages as the big banks and this would create competitive pressure for rate reductions.

Finally you can help bring change by moving your business to cheaper institutions and banks.

The InterpretOr has found this site to check out the best rates. http://www.canstar.com.au/interest-rate-comparison/compare-home-loan-rates.html

Titanic 2 is Safe

A co-owner of the Liberal National Party has commissioned a copy of the famous almost unsinkable Titanic ocean liner, which is to be named Titanic 2.

Mr Clive Palmer a multi-billionaire coal magnate and sole owner of the governing Queensland political team announced that Titanic 2 would differ from the original in that it would really be unsinkable. Most journalists took this to mean the new Titanic would incorporate modern technologies to prevent the ship from sinking.

What Mr Palmer actually meant was that by the time his ship is launched, he will have sold so much coal that global warming will have reduced the size of any remaining Atlantic icebergs to the size of Queensland pineapples.

Mr Palmer is expected to announce an even bigger naval project in coming weeks. He has an ingenious plan to obliterate the major shipping hazard on the Queensland coast. The hazard is threatening to derail his plans for building two massive new coal loading ports. Mr Palmer said the Great Barrier Reef is really a great barrier to development in Queensland and its removal will make us all better off.

Mr Palmer said he had instructed his newly installed Queensland Government to put the reef up for tender. Mr Palmer has made arrangements to sell it to a Chinese syndicate who could see the benefit in moving it to China where much bigger tourist numbers could easily access and enjoy the reefs wonderful environmental qualities.

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