Does Privacy Exist? Yes, But Only For Our Leaders At Bilderberg 2014

Bilderberg 2014 Copenhagen 3

 

If 100 of the world’s top celebrities – from Angelina Jolie to Will Smith – suddenly dropped what they were doing and hunkered down together in a luxury hotel to debate the future of the entertainment industry in complete seclusion from the world, and then emerged three days later as though nothing happened, people would be rightly curious to know what they were up to.

Actually, curious is an understatement. There would be wall-to-wall media coverage, the TMZ drone would hover above the scene capturing aerial footage, pundits would offer endless speculation and real-time ‘analysis’ of what they thought might be taking place inside – in short, the world’s press would make a presidential election look like local newspaper reports about a lost kitten.

Isn’t it odd then, that when 100 of the most wealthy and influential people from outside of Hollywood – powerful establishment politicians, new rising stars, corporate CEOs, high-tech moguls and royalty – meet in secret every year to do the very same thing, nobody gives it a second thought?

The Bilderberg 2014 conference is now under way in Copenhagen, where a star-studded cast of characters from civilian, business and military-intelligence backgrounds are gathering to debate this year’s agenda of topics including sustainable economic recovery, the future of democracy, the Middle East, the Ukraine crisis and whether or not the basic concept of privacy still exists.

And no, you didn’t miss the hype. There has been scarcely any coverage of this year’s confab in the British or American press. Outfits such as the New York Times and the Daily Telegraph do not see fit to mention the meeting to their readers (in contrast to their coverage of the annual World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, Switzerland), and the BBC’s only acknowledgement of Bilderberg this year has been a Daily Politics segment which discussed conspiracy theories in general, and laughingly recalled the occasion last year when the show mocked and denigrated American radio host Alex Jones, one of the few activists to cover the 2013 Bilderberg meeting in Watford, England.

If Bilderberg was just another place for the wealthy and well-connected to hang out, there would be no issue – the world is awash with exclusive places and events for the elite to hobnob with each other. The same cast of characters also meet up at Davos for the World Economic Forum (the red carpet event of the year for people of lesser beauty and charisma), but if twelve months is simply too long to wait between encounters then nobody should begrudge them another opportunity to awkwardly flirt with one another while putting the world to rights.

The problem is not that successful and powerful people are meeting in secret in Copenhagen. The problem is the particularly volatile, toxic blend of people that assemble. Why are serving heads of government and state on the invite list to what is in part a giant, closed-door lobbying event? And how do attendees from the military and intelligence communities such as the secretary general of NATO, the head of MI6 and the former head of the NSA have common cause with corporate leaders including the Chairmen or CEOs of Shell, Barclays, BP, HSBC, Nokia, LinkedIn and Google?

And one more question – when the press are neither invited to the meeting nor briefed on its outcomes, why do the editors of media outlets including The Economist, The Financial Times, Le Monde and Italy’s RAI-TV sanction Bilderberg with their attendance?

In short, the answer is this: Bilderberg is the closest that western democratic societies come these days to openly, flat-out declaring that well-connected, wealthy people have an inherent right to rule and influence national and international policy, and to have their opinions taken more seriously than regular folk. From supposedly meritocratic “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” New York through the Scandinavian poster-children of equality and back to post-Citizens United Washington DC it holds true; but most of the time we try to convince ourselves that it is otherwise, that our voices still count and that we are all equal before the law. For those who pay attention, the yearly Bilderberg conference serves to disenthrall us, briefly lifting the curtain on the truth.

That truth is the fact that money talks, and exorbitant wealth carries the loudest megaphone of all. It’s hardly a revelation, but the only time when the rest of us have it shoved in our faces quite so explicitly is at the yearly Bilderberg meeting – ironically the one time when almost none of us, led by the press, pay any attention.

Venue for the 2014 Bilderberg conference
Marriott Copenhagen – venue for the 2014 Bilderberg conference

 

On the agenda for Bilderberg 2014 is the subject of privacy – very topical given the ongoing fallout and scandal resulting from the Edward Snowden surveillance revelations and consequent exposure of the real extent of government surveillance in and by the United States, United Kingdom and other Five Eyes group countries.

Meeting with John Sawers, General Petraeus and others who are intimately involved in the conducting of government surveillance activities will be many high-profile people of vast wealth and influence. Many of these people are likely to hold quite forceful opinions on the issue of privacy, but they are more likely to be interested in protecting their own privacy from the journalists who would make their activities and indiscretions known to the public than altruistically pressuring governments to cease collecting everyone’s private data in their indiscriminate dragnet.

Given the rare opportunity to hold face-to-face meetings with the people who run the surveillance programmes and formulate the policies which underpin them, which aspects of the privacy question – and whose personal  interests, those of the elite or those of society as a whole – are the privileged attendees most likely to discuss?

Charlie Skelton at the Guardian, one of few mainstream journalists to cover Bilderberg every year, also picks up on the irony of an organisation as secretive as Bilderberg holding a discussion about the existence of privacy:

That’s an exquisite irony: the world’s most secretive conference discussing whether privacy exists. Certainly for some it does. It’s not just birthday bunting that’s gone up in Copenhagen: there’s also a double ring of three-metre (10ft) high security fencing … There’s something distinctly chilling about the existence of privacy being debated, in extreme privacy, by people such as the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the board member of Facebook Peter Thiel: exactly the people who know how radically transparent the general public has become.

Precisely. The average person might care about privacy issues because they don’t like being treated as automatic suspects in the intelligence services’ surveillance dragnet, or because they don’t want risk-averse insurance companies from searching out deeply private facts from our lives in order to increase their premiums. The privacy concerns of an oil company CEO or the queen of Spain (attendees all) are likely to be of a different order altogether, more focused on keeping potentially explosive or embarrassing information out of the public domain, and creating a legal framework that punishes those who reveal the truth while empowering those who seek to operate in the dark.

And you can bet that the Bilderberg attendees do want to affect change – they do not assemble for purely social reasons, but to leverage one another’s influence for their own ends – sometimes quite noble ends, but equally possibly very selfish ones. This leads to another sharp observation from Skelton:

The Bilderberg Group says the conference has no desired outcome. But for private equity giants, and the heads of banks, arms manufacturers and oil companies, there’s always a desired outcome. Try telling the shareholders of Shell that there’s “no desired outcome” of their chairman and chief executive spending three days in conference with politicians and policy makers.

If people want to shoot the breeze or have long, meandering yet inconclusive conversations about the state of the world, they go to Starbucks or sneak off to the pub with their friends. Influential and high net worth individuals – whose time is supposedly so valuable – don’t check out for three days and traverse continents unless there’s something significant in it for them, or the causes that they promote.

As Bilderberg 2013 drew to a close in the Hertfordshire countryside, Semi-Partisan Sam had this to say (among other things) about the motivations and biases of the people who get together once a year to decide what’s best for the rest of us:

The reason so many of the actions taken by [Bilderberg members] over the years have been so harmful to ‘normal people’ is because the membership is comprised entirely of the successful. None of the protesters were allowed to remonstrate with the Great Ones within. No refugees from the middle east Arab Spring. No malnourished people from Africa. No failed small business owners from the town of Watford itself, which has struggled in the recession.

If every year you and your chums reassemble at the next Bilderberg meeting and find yourselves even more spectacularly successful and wealthy than the last time you met, “more of the same” could start to seem like a pretty good prescription.

A year later, and this ‘confirmation bias’ explanation is starting to look rather too charitable toward the Bilderbergers. Since the Watford meeting we have learned of more government overreach in the realm of surveillance, more incursions on privacy, more intimidation of the media and the further undermining of national democracy from overturned limits on corporate political spending in the United States to the growing concentration of powers at super-national level in the European Union.

It really would be helpful if the organisers would consent to publishing minutes from their meetings, because at the moment it looks suspiciously as though the 2013 attendees listened to public opinion, then got together and resolved to do the polar opposite.

Perhaps the ultimate irony of Bilderberg 2014 is this: not one week ago, the voters of Europe delivered a stinging rebuke to the political establishment for their growing disconnect with the people and their tendency to talk amongst themselves and prescribe universal solutions from on high without a democratic mandate for their actions. And now today, at a Copenhagen hotel in the heart of Europe, they’re at it once again as though the European elections never happened.

Unfortunately for us, our political elites are seemingly the only ones still able to assert a right to privacy, conducting their business with Bilderberg behind closed doors. But it’s just as much our fault – by not paying any attention, we let them get away with it.

Saving The World, From A Swiss Fortress

The wait is finally over.

 

What do Bono, Eric Schmidt, Matt Damon, Jamie Dimon and David Cameron all have in common?

No, U2 are not auditioning for a new band member. The answer is even more thrilling – the World Economic Forum 2014 is convening for their annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. The tired, the poor and the huddled masses can rest easy because these luminaries, together with Benjamin Netanyahu, the CEO of Wal-Mart and the King and Queen of Belgium have arrived in full pomp and splendour, to do…whatever it is exactly that they do there every year.

From the WEF homepage:

Profound political, economic, social and, above all, technological forces are transforming our lives, communities and institutions. Rapidly crossing geographic, gender and generational boundaries, they are shifting power from traditional hierarchies to networked heterarchies. Yet the international community remains focused on crisis rather than strategically driven in the face of the trends, drivers and opportunities pushing global, regional and industry transformation.

“The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” is therefore the thematic focus of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014. Our aim is to develop the insights, initiatives and actions necessary to respond to current and emerging challenges.

If this sounds to you like something you might hear in a second-tier business school lecture or the opening paragraphs of a particularly bad Tom Friedman column, you would be forgiven your mistake. It’s the year 2014 and our moral, intellectual and financial betters have apparently only just come to the realisation that technological forces are transforming our lives, communities and institutions.

Thank goodness for the sagacity of these wise men (and they still mostly are men), who alone among us have perceived that some kind of shift has taken place in our national economies and personal behavioural patterns since the internet and these fancy cell phones popped into being. It is astounding to witness how some of the brightest, busiest and most successful businesspeople, politicians and artists can sit and listen to so much meaningless garbage, and then come back a year later under the powerful spell of collective amnesia to do it all over again.

And seriously – “networked heterarchies”? All outward evidence suggests that there is but one solitary networked heterarchy that has gained and consolidated power in recent years, and that is the one currently booked into a Swiss convention centre to discuss just how wonderful networked heterarchies are, and to divide up the spoils of another bumper year.

In sessions with meaningless titles such as “The New Digital Context”, the world will be put to rights in Davos 2014 – and any outstanding items from the Bilderberg 2013 agenda will no doubt followed up and neatly resolved by those people privileged to be invited to both.

Here’s Klaus Schwab (what better name could there be for the leader of such an event?), the Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, welcoming the distinguished delegates to the annual shindig. And yes, he does have a symphony orchestra on the stage behind him. Pity them.

 

At least Schwab has the decency to admit at around the 1 minute 20 second mark that the whole affair is really about providing an opportunity for the global super-elite to relax, do business deals and network. He puts it somewhat more prettily than this, but the meaning is quite clear. This alpine convocation is like a gold-plated version of LinkedIn, with extra snow.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice also traveled to Davos, and read aloud a message from Pope Francis. Given the Pope’s well known thoughts about conspicuous displays of wealth and false displays of public piety, one must wonder whether poor Cardinal Turkson found himself having to ditch his prepared remarks and speak extemporaneously for fear of being run out of town for speaking truth to power.

On a personal level, I just don’t quite get it. For most of my career I have worked as a management consultant and project manager. But when I went on vacation, I left my work and all the trappings of my professional life behind at home. I didn’t walk the streets of Paris or the hills of the Lake District pretending to still be running IT projects or anything else to do with my line of work. And so if the shining people in Davos wants to have a good shindig in snowy Switzerland, I would have a lot more respect for them if they would just say so, and spend their time skiing rather than propagating the farcical myth that they are bringing their unique professional skills to bear on the problems of the world.

And yet every year we go through this worn-out pretense that the greatest minds of our generation are sequestering themselves in the mountains to hatch new plans to save the world, when really we all know they are there to slap themselves on the back for another successful year, drink glühwein and try to avoid being isolated in a corner and engaged in interminable, pious conversation by Gordon Brown.

So I have a proposal. Let’s test the mettle of these great, good and benevolent people who claim to care so much for us small folk. Let’s hold the World Economic Forum 2015 somewhere different, somewhere cheaper, calculate the difference in cost and give that sum of money to a front-line charity picked at random from a hat.

Let’s hold the World Economic Forum 2015 in my hometown of Harlow, Essex.

Superb transport links. Al Gore and Bono can hop on the 501 bus from Stansted Airport and stay at the new Holiday Inn Express.
Superb transport links. Al Gore and Bono can hop on the 501 bus from Stansted Airport and stay at the new Holiday Inn Express.

 

Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg can network and negotiate new business deals at this conveniently located Wetherspoons pub.
Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg can network and negotiate new business deals at this conveniently located Wetherspoons pub.

 

Concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh, there's nothing you can't do.
Concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh, there’s nothing you can’t do.

 

I’ll see you there!

 

On EU Secession And Straw Man Arguments

Another day, another newspaper column from a political has-been lecturing us on why leaving the European Union or renegotiating our terms of membership would be terrible, just terrible, and consign us to the lowly status of a third world country, adrift in the sea of globalisation with no friends and no influence.

The newspaper columns tend to follow the exact same template, and this time it was the turn of Kenneth Clarke, writing in The Telegraph, to gently explain to us stupid “swivel-eyed” nationalist loons exactly why our views are undermining Britain and putting our future at risk. He writes, with reference to the potential EU-US free trade agreement currently being discussed at the fringes of the G8 meeting in Lough Erne:

For, irony of ironies, it is of course the EU that is making deals with America and Canada possible. It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s officials have commented that they would have “very little appetite” for a deal with the British alone. Quite simply, the political commitment and dedication that the creation of a free market encompassing over 800 million people, 47 per cent of world GDP, and boosting the combined economies of the EU and the US by nearly £180 billion, could only ever be made by the leaders of evenly matched economic blocs.

What nonsense. While this statement may be true for some of the smaller EU member states, until you reach about Spain size, it certainly does not apply to the United Kingdom. Why would any country not wish to negotiate bilaterally with the sixth largest economy in the world, and miss out on the many benefits of tariff-free access to such a large hub of industry, innovation, technology, arts and sciences? Ken Clarke would have us tremble in fear that the mighty President Obama might overlook pathetic, little old Britain if we dared to stand on our own, but he certainly pays attention to the likes of India, Russia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and countless other countries with much lower nominal GDP than the United Kingdom, so that argument hardly stands up.

But of course, Ken Clarke doesn’t need his arguments to bear scrutiny, because they are straw men. He assumes that a Britain outside of the European Union would automatically be isolated, introverted and inward-looking, seeking to shut itself off from the world, but he is putting words into the mouths of the Eurosceptics. He disingenuously proclaims:

There always has been something of the romantic in the British soul. We can’t fail to be stirred by Charge of the Light Brigade visions of Britain standing alone against the odds. It is the same sentiment behind the idea of exchanging the EU for Nafta.

But, in the end, we are a practical race. We know that the empire on which the sun never set was created by intrepid, relentlessly outward-facing adventurers and administrators, not isolationist John Bulls. That “Brexit” would mean curtains for our ability to have any leadership role in world-defining plays like these free-trade agreements would greatly disturb us. Accepting a diminished situation in which the UK is forced to trade by EU rules which it has had no say in setting is simply not in our nature.

I don’t know of any anti-EU people who want to create a Fortress Britain and isolate ourselves from the world – in fact, quite the opposite is true. We feel that the ever more onerous conditions and regulations that must be observed as part of our EU membership damage our national competitiveness and make it harder for us to do the business that we want to do with the rest of the world. If the EU were simply a free trade area then remaining an EU member to negotiate an agreement with NAFTA or the US would make the utmost sense. But the ever-closer union has become so much more than that, spawning parliaments, commissions, foreign policy chiefs, “human rights” courts, and generally extending its tentacles into every aspect of national life. How does Ken Clarke imagine being beholden to all of these anti-democratic institutions improves our leverage or bargaining position when it comes to discussing matters of free trade?

Of course, Clarke is deeply invested in the success and longevity of the European project. He himself is a current member of the secretive Bilderberg group which in the post-war years was instrumental in formulating many of the policies and initiatives that have helped to bring us to our ever-closer union with our European neighbours and allies. Indeed, at the most recent Bilderberg Group meeting in Watford, England, one of the agenda items specifically focused on “the politics of the EU”, which you can read as “how to make the masses support our floundering European project”. The last thing that he would want is to undo his organisation’s stated objectives of weakening the institution of the nation state in favour of larger, pan-national, anti-democratic organisations. The European Union serves the needs of his political and corporatist friends very well indeed; the average voter, less so.

Personally, I don’t appreciate being talked down to by the likes of Ken Clarke, so in retaliation I am going to post this video of him, taken at a campaign event while he still held fairly high political office, being too fat to get out of a racing car that he was inspecting (skip to the 7 minute mark):

 

I’ll change my views on Britain’s need to leave the European Union, or at least drastically renegotiate our terms of membership the day that Ken goes on a diet.

On Bilderberg Withdrawal Syndrome

It’s all over.

The last armoured limousines have swept back out of the Watford Grove Hotel’s gates, and the helicopters have departed.

The steel fence is being disassembled, and Alex Jones has flown back to his “central command center” in Austin, Texas.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a rather acute case of Bilderberg Withdrawal Syndrome.

For a few precious days, at least a segment of the population who don’t normally pay attention sat up and looked at the protesters, covered on television at length for the first time, and listened to what they had to say. They heard about the concentration of power in the hands of a global elite, about our failed financial system, the lack of accountability in the political and corporate worlds, the pervasive nature of the surveillance state, and the efforts underway to undermine the importance of local power and the nation state.

And so for the first time in a very long time we were able to have something of a national conversation about causes rather than effects. About the disease rather than the symptoms (which are covered in one form another by the newspaper headlines most days – crime, immigration, unemployment, income inequality, education).

And it was amazing how widely and enthusiastically the message was received. I was particularly heartened to learn how many of the police officers guarding the meeting venue and the Bilderberg Fringe protest site had listened to the message from the protesters and taken an active interest, some even undertaking to go home and do their own research:

 

Ellen Grace Jones, writing at The Huffington Post, agrees with my assessment:

A triumph in securing – for the first time ever – wall-to-wall mainstream media attendance, subjecting the meeting to serious enquiry and inspection. And a triumph in hosting a peaceful, joyful Fringe event within the Grove grounds which united thousands of concerned citizens, activists and inquisitive Watford locals. This year felt like a sea change in dragging the shadowy cabal’s club kicking and screaming into the daylight.

She continues:

On Sunday, with the Fringe winding down and a hundred or so lining the gates as the delegates left, I questioned a police liaison officer if he’d felt awakened by the event he’d witnessed this weekend. “I’ve heard a lot of interesting ideas that I’m going to go away and research. I’ve got a reading list, Agenda 21, Endgame which I’m going to follow up. The one person who really made me sit up and go ‘oh my god’ was one of the audience, a former stockbroker. He was discussing things I’ve thought about like who’s controlling the energy companies, oil company cartels and the Libor bank scandal and he made me think, yeah actually, as someone who’s suffered from the housing crash somebody else should be paying for this but it’s the public sector that’s being screwed to pay for their mistakes – especially the police, we’re being cut.”

Of course, it wasn’t all good. The Bilderberg protests brought out the absolute worst in much of the British mainstream news media, who refused to take the issue seriously at all, treated the protesters as imbeciles and simpletons to a man, and covered the event only as the lighthearted end segment, where you would normally expect to be entertained by a squirrel on water-skis.

The foremost example was the truly dreadful segment from the BBC’s The Sunday Politics show, in which the lead-in to the segment focused only on the lunatic fringe of the protest and wholly ignored the serious concerns of the protesters, and the substance (if it can be called that) of the interview itself, with US journalist Alex Jones, whereupon host Andrew Neil decided to mock his guest from start to finish, fail to ask serious questions and ultimately provoke Jones into one of his famous rages:

 

There were also reports of Bilderberg-covering journalists being held or turned away at the border, and of harrasment of various kinds.

But on the whole, those wonderful days where we actually got to talk in public and on mainstream media about freedom and liberty without getting bogged down in the minutiae and drudgery of day-to-day political distraction were intellectually refreshing, and invaluable for the movement.

Roll on Bilderberg 2014 – if they dare assemble in public sight again.