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Why Babylonian kings had their faces slapped

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]by Giles Jackson

Revisiting the financial headlines of 2008 brought an unexpected surprise. There among the doom and gloom (GREENSPAN’S SINS RETURN TO HAUNT US…GRIDLOCK AND PANIC FOLLOW LOSS OF COMPASS…HOW WE WERE ALL BLINDED BY THE GOLDEN CALF…) was a reassuring full-page ad for Deutsche Bank. ‘In challenging conditions, you need to know who and what you can trust’, it states. ‘As a proven partner in global markets, Deutsche Bank delivers the strength and sophistication needed to optimise new business opportunities when it matters most’. The message? Fear not that other banks are dashing on the rocks all around us; you’re in safe hands. Hell, you’ll even profit from the chaos.

deutsche-ad

It was all smoke and mirrors. US authorities are now demanding a fine of up to $14 billion from Deutsche Bank for mis-selling mortgage-backed securities during the financial crisis. This follows the $1.9 billion the bank paid in 2013 to settle claims that it defrauded US government-controlled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (America’s biggest providers of housing finance) into buying $14.2 billion in mortgage-backed securities before the crisis. The bank faces other litigation cases this year relating to suspicious equities trades in Russia and allegations of money laundering. It’s not alone. In 2014, the Dept. of Justice asked Citigroup to pay $12 billion to resolve an investigation into the sale of shoddy mortgage-backed securities. Goldman Sachs agreed in April to pay $5.06 billion to settle claims that it misled mortgage bond investors during the crisis.

Someone, somewhere, always reads the writing on the wall — but their warnings almost always go unheeded. In 2004 Edward Gramlich, a governor of the Federal Reserve, warned publicly of the risks of subprime lending that fuelled the turbocharged housing boom. He’d been making the point privately at the Fed as early as 2000. However Fed chairman Alan Greenspan dismissed the evidence. Instead of pricking the property bubble that preceded the financial crisis, he courted the applause and celebrity that came with inexorably rising asset prices, becoming a rock star not only among central bankers but also the general public.

It’s no coincidence that these benighted institutions were all led by entrenched men who lost sight of their clients, employees, principles and social mission. That’s why hubris – extreme self-confidence and arrogance — was considered a crime in ancient Athens: it could bring down an institution. The Babylonian high priests also understood the danger. In the New Year they’d strip the king of his regalia and drag him by the ears to the image of Bel, before whom he had to kneel. After praying for forgiveness and reciting a long list of assurances to the clergy and ordinary pople, the chief priest would slap him hard in the face — hard enough that tears would flow — to satisfy the gods and teach him some humility.

I’d love to see those drunk on hubris cut down to size. Since no one in high office has been prosecuted, the arts should be doing more. I think I know just the person for the job: the Californian artist Robert Therrien, known for his colossal sculptures of familiar objects such as the table and chairs exhibited at the Tate Modern in 2009. Set tall enough for viewers to walk easily beneath its vast expanse, it made us feel very small. Now imagine a sequel to these surreal games of power in which we grow in stature at the self-proclaimed gods’ expense.

thierrien

The writer is cofounder of Liberation Kilt Co.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

What are you most scared of?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]by Giles Jackson

Growing up in the seventies in London’s rural hinterlands, we had very little to worry about. There was the IRA’s bombing campaign, but targeting the city this seemed worlds away. Besides, social media hadn’t been invented yet, so we hardly ever saw graphic images of real-world violence. About the scariest thing I had to face was Grandpa’s weekly Gaelic lessons.

I don’t know how well he spoke this indecipherable tongue, but I remember him testing our vocab and our failing miserably. Mind you, he set the bar high with intimidatingly long words like: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (the name of a small Welsh town, meaning ‘St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave’).

I thought of him the other day as I stumbled across Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (1894-96) while researching the origins of the ‘sporran’ (Gaelic for purse and worn with kilt). Unfortunately the Society failed in its mission keep ancient Highland culture alive. For reasons that should be abundantly clear from the following excerpt, Gaelic wound up on UNESCO’s list of ‘Definitely Endangered’ languages.

sporran

These days there’s so damned much to worry about that keeping track is a worry in and of itself. Not to worry! The all-seeing, all-knowing World Economic Forum has worked it all out for us:

wef-global-risks-report-2016

Whereas large scale involuntary migration is the most likely threat, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation will have the most far-reaching impact on global security, they say. But not everyone would agree. When asked what he was most scared of, the novelist Norman Ohler (author of Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich) simply replied, “capitalism”.

That capitalism isn’t on the list should come as no surprise, given that WEF is an elite capitalist forum. However what Ohler surely means is neoliberal capitalism, “a self-serving racket”, according to The Guardian. Neoliberalism emerged in the late nineteen thirties. It was a distinctive, innovative philosophy promoted by a network of thinkers and activists led by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, both exiles from Austria who saw social democracy as just another form of collectivism. Ironically, what started out as a well-meaning attempt to prevent totalitarian control evolved over the coming decades into a brutal form of social Darwinism.

“It [neoliberalism] has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump” ~ George Montbiot, The Guardian

Montbiot suggests that the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political ones. Indeed, populism is the result of representative democracy’s failure to meet the collective interests of the mass of the working population, as it had in the post-war era. “I suspect the answer is we need a more socialist model” ponders Mark Henderson, chairman of the Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes, a bastion of the establishment if there ever was one.

My own sense of outrage came to a head in the summer of 2011, three years after the financial crisis, when it became clear that the pernicious effects of austerity programs were being felt disproportionately by the less well off. The repercussions of widening inequality extend far beyond economics, as Martin Wolf points out. In his mind, “the greatest costs are the erosion of the republican ideal of shared citizenship. As the US Supreme Court seeks to bend the constitution to the will of plutocrats, the peril is to the politically egalitarian premises of the republic. Enormous divergences in wealth and power have hollowed out republics before now. They could well do so in our age”. I fear this has already come to pass.

Ensconced in a cabin in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I set about designing a tartan to capture the prevailing sense of injustice, disempowerment, and disenfranchisement. Shortly thereafter, Occupy erupted and spread like wildfire. I called Occupy Wall Street to brainstorm ideas for a name (predictably, Zuccotti Park’s owners ignored my requests). OWS saved the day with ‘Liberty Square’, their nickname for the park. Happily, this was good enough for the Scottish Register of Tartans.

The Liberty Square tartan

liberty-square

Liberty Square symbolises the golden rule of contemporary capitalism: ‘Those with the Gold make the Rules’. In a throwback to the gilded age, the spoils go to a very few (represented by the gold stripes), while the ordinary citizen (centre) is gradually disempowered. In the US, real wages for average workers are slightly below their 1970 level, whereas the top 0.1 per cent has increased its share nearly fourfold, with the 400 richest people now having assets equal to the poorest 140 million.  Writing in the Financial Times, Jeremy Grantham, head of asset manager GMO, admitted the system is “designed to prolong, protect and intensify the wealth and influence of those who already have the wealth and influence”. This tartan honours the Occupy protesters around the world who have recognised the danger and stepped up to demand transparency, reform and equality of opportunity.

As much as I detest the current state of affairs, neoliberal capitalism isn’t my worst fear. Thanks in large part to the amazing work of B Lab, a US nonprofit organisation, we now have proven alternatives to the classically shortsighted, profit-maximising, socially and environmentally exploitative C Corporation (I’m not sure what the C stands for, but ‘Capitalist’ seems fitting). The ‘Benefit Corporation’ is categorically different because it bakes stakeholder values into its legal DNA — the corporate charter.

Governed by Title 13.1, Chapter 9, Article 22 of the Virginia Code, Liberation Kilt Co is organised for the purpose of creating a general public benefit. Our principal purpose is to create and commercialise textile designs to advance social causes, while considering the impact of our decisions on shareholders, employees, suppliers, the overall community, and the local and global environment. This goes beyond traditional Corporate Social Responsibility, a kind of window dressing used by old-school capitalists to appease the public while avoiding lawsuits from their shareholders for failing to maximise profits.

Social entrepreneurs are an underappreciated resource and indispensable for addressing many of the world’s ills, many of them caused of exacerbated by benighted neoliberal capitalists. I’m not sure what I’m most scared of, but I do know what to work for: the glorious day when neoliberal capitalism joins the Definitely Endangered list.

The writer is cofounder of Liberation Kilt Co.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]by Prof Giles Jackson

“I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under European governments”, wrote Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington in 1787. “Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, and restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate. This is a true picture of Europe”. Jefferson must be rolling in his grave. Everywhere you look, it seems, nations are being overrun by authoritarian alpha wolves.

The greatest threat to a reigning alpha wolf is freedom of speech — uninhibited, robust, and wide-open debate on public issues. Chapter 1 of the yet-to-be-written 101 Ways to Grab & Retain Power should be devoted to muzzling free speech — a sure-fire strategy for breeding sheepishness among the people. Turkey is the exemplary case. While locking up journalists is an old tradition there, President Erdogan is taking full advantage of the recent coup to set a new national records for repression. Indeed, Turkey is on track to imprison more journalists each year than China.

In November of last year, Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the Turkish national Cumhuriyet newspaper, was arrested on charges of espionage, aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation, trying to topple the government and revealing state secrets. In truth he’d published photographic evidence of a covert arms shipment to radical Islamist organisations fighting government forces in Syria. Canis Erdogan called for two life sentences. Dündar was held in solitary confinement while awaiting trial. However awful, this turned out to be the most productive three months of his life, and his enthralling We Are Arrested is the result.

I think I can relate. In May of 2009 Chesapeake Climate Action Network staged a protest against Congressman Rick Boucher’s pro-fossil fuel energy policies, lubricated by the $375,000 poured into the coffers of House Energy and Commerce Committee members (including Boucher) by electric utilities, oil and gas corporations and coal producers during the first three months of that year. Fifteen of us were arrested and jailed for disorderly conduct (all we did was sing a few songs, while preventing anyone from entering or leaving Boucher’s office on Capitol Hill). Sitting on metal chairs in a completely bare and unplugged jail room, we launched into the kind of wide-ranging, stimulating and uninterrupted debate I’d only ever dreamed about in grad school.

Blocking Rick Boucher's Office, US Capitol

Photo Matt Stern

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It also underpins most other rights and allows them to flourish. The right to speak your mind freely on important issues in society, access information and hold the powers that be to account, plays a vital role in the healthy development process of any society” ~ Index on Censorship

The Index on Censorship’s interactive Mapping Media Freedom project identifies threats, violations and limitations faced by members of the press throughout EU member states, candidates for entry and neighbouring countries. PEN International, the world’s leading association of writers, encompasses the entire globe with 149 active centres. Holding Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO, PEN has been campaigning against human rights violations of writers since the 1960s when its Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) was established. In 2014 the WiPC team documented over 900 cases of attacks, killings, arrests and imprisonment of writers across the globe.

PEN has fought repression and violence tooth and nail for almost a century, with no end in sight. I wanted to do something to help the cause, and designing a free speech tartan seemed like a good idea because it could only help raise awareness of the survival value of writers willing to confront reality head-on, as well as the high price paid by those who are targeted, few of whom ever recover their lost freedoms, as Nilanja Roy said. (Who knows, this tartan might even shift the boundaries for what can and cannot be said in the writer’s favour, but that’s wishful thinking on my part).

Anyway, I pitched the idea to the PEN American Center in NYC. Lo and behold, this set things in motion. They put us in touch with Sara Whyatt, Programme Director at WiPC in London. Sara shook some trees over at Czech PEN, who then consulted with the Dagmar and Vaclav Havel Foundation, whereupon Mrs. Havel kindly gave her blessing to name our tartan in honour of her late husband, the dissident playright and former Czech president Vaclav Havel. Twenty per cent of profits from the sale of Havel fabric and finished goods goes to PEN International.

What’s next? A lambswool Havel scarf for Can Dündar seems fitting. It gets cold in exile.

Havel-tartan-with-Havel (2)

The Havel tartan portrays an endless succession of prison cell windows struck through in red, protesting the persecution and imprisonment of writers of conscience in the knowledge that free expression is an essential component of every healthy society. It is named in honour of the late Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright and co-author of Charter 77, the landmark human rights declaration for which he was imprisoned for several years, only to lead the ‘Velvet Revolution’ that peacefully overthrew communism and installed him as Czechoslovakia’s president. Charter 77 was also the inspiration for Charter 08, the petition demanding the end of one-party rule in China for which author Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence. Permission to adopt the Havel name was graciously granted by his wife, Dagmar Havlova Veskrnova, with assistance from the Dagmar and Vaclav Havel Foundation VIZE 97 and PEN International, the worldwide writers’ association promoting literature and defending freedom of expression. Scottish Tartan Register No. 10625; UK Patent Office No. 4022092

* “Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs” attributed to Isaiah Berlin, the philosopher and historian of ideas

The writer is cofounder of Liberation Kilt Co. 

Wolf image >Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_antarts’>antarts / 123RF Stock Photo</a>[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Since when is it ok to put a price tag on a human being?

by Sarah Harfleet

Dear World,

Since when is it ok to put a price tag on a human being?

Between the early hours of your morning coffee and your head hitting the pillow, MILLIONS of men, women and children experience something most of us would find inconceivable. Something no human being should ever have to endure. From a 14-year old girl who is sexually abused about 50 times in a day, to a man who is physically forced to work as someone’s slave, a woman who may never escape from the underground trap of being bought and sold for her body, and a young boy who wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings without one of his kidneys.

Despite the horrific nature of human trafficking, it continues to boom as an industry – an estimated $32 billion dollar one according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – growing year on year. Millions of victims are lured into this terrible fate with promises of a better life. Often, predators rely on vulnerability and seize the opportunity to trick, exploit and abuse their victims.

The need to raise awareness is absolutely vital to stop this modern form of slavery. Liberation Kilt Co (LKC) believes that together, as a global society, we can unite to fight this crime. LKC became a partner of the United Nations’ Blue Heart Campaign in 2015 and designed the LKC Blueheart tartan. The Blue Heart Campaign is an international initiative to raise awareness of the plight of trafficking victims and build the political will needed to fight the criminals who reap the profits from buying and selling people. Endorsed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), LKC’s Blueheart tartan is expertly woven by Bute Fabrics Ltd of Scotland, a renowned leader in tartan fabric production. Blueheart’s colours and lines symbolise the collective heartbeat of those who are being trafficked. The vision is to encourage people to show solidarity against human trafficking by displaying and wearing the design.

As part of the events and initiatives to commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (July 30), United Nations’ tour guides in Vienna wore Blueheart sashes with the official Blue Heart pin. Partnering with UNODC, LKC hopes to build awareness in order to crack down on human trafficking and put an end to this abhorrent industry. LKC will donate 20% of its profits from sale of Blueheart fabric to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, which provides support for NGOs around the world helping victims recover from their ordeal, claim restitution and judicial punishment for their traffickers, and rebuild their lives.

7 things you need to know about the underground trap (and how YOU can help)!

1. The sheer SIZE of the industry
It’s growing at an unprecedented rate. Every day, more and more innocent people are lured into this trap. They are sold against their will and moved across borders. Victims are taken away from their familiar environments and can be taken thousands of miles away from their homes. According to UNICEF, this includes around 1.2 million children each year. The things that those children will witness and experience are things that no adult should ever see – let alone a minor. However, the monetary value of exploiting young children keeps this industry fuelled and expanding.

Approximately 45.8 million people in 167 countries are victims of human trafficking according to the latest Global Slavery Index, making it one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. However, those who are trafficked are not always necessarily hidden away from plain sight and physically imprisoned. They are commonly abused and controlled psychologically in order to keep them from speaking out or attempting to flee. Victims may be prepped to give a specific story if they are ever asked questions. For instance, they might be told what to say if asked why they’re living in a large house with dozens of others, or their employer’s house. The psychological restraint means that it can be difficult to identify trafficked individuals. They may not know who to trust and can be threatened if they attempt to leave to situation.

2. The aftermath of abuse
Psychological and physical abuse is rife in the human trafficking industry. The small number of rescued victims are left traumatised and in need of significant emotional care and support to rebuild their lives. Physical injury is common, and specifically in the sex trade, victims are at high risk of contracting STDs and infections like HIV/AIDS. These victims are also often confined to a small bed where they are forced to service clients; they sleep on that same bed, which means that hygiene is extremely poor. Those rescued are usually found severely malnourished and need a careful medical treatment plan to help them to recover from physical trauma.

Those who have been trafficked are psychologically scarred from the unimaginable experiences they have gone through. Trusting anyone is a major hurdle given the trickster tactics to which they would have been subject to. The mental suffering of those who were seen and used as commodities is deeply tragic. Self-harming, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and a vast range of emotional problems can surface given the extreme events they have faced. Victims may be very reluctant to give evidence to the police, particularly in instances where they may be deemed an illegal immigrant due to fear of prosecution, making it harder to track down the culprits. Children who were trafficked at a young age never experienced the nurture and love that they deserve nor the education that so many of us take for granted.

3. Where it’s happening
Although human trafficking is a massive problem on the global scale, it may be happening right under your nose. The devastating fact is that human trafficking is a global operation and occurs on every continent. The trafficking criminals prey on innocent victims, luring them in to travel to another country, perhaps from Eastern Europe to the UK, with promises of a stable job and a new start. However, once they are in unfamiliar surroundings, far away from everything that they know, they are forced to work in a sex parlour as prostitutes. This could be in your local neighbourhood. The most important thing is to be aware and to be vigilant as traffickers are in the game of deception.

4. Misperceptions about gender
There’s sometimes a common mistake of who actually gets trafficked when it comes to discourse surrounding the gender of victims. Although the number of women trafficked is significantly higher and is estimated to be double that of men, victims are both men and women, and both need to be recognised in media discourse on this issue. Men are often sold into forced labour, working in appalling and illegal conditions. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also state that young boys are also often trafficked as child soldiers, and in some cases, sexual exploitation. Hence, criminals do not spare age or gender.

5. It’s not only sex
It is true that the biggest human trafficking demand is sex slavery of women. However, people are also trafficked for their organs which are then sold on the black market. Others are forced to work in extremely poor conditions or exploited in a way that is tantamount to slavery. People are snatched from their families and coerced to provide various illegal services. Victims may also be working in public service jobs like hospitality. However, psychological manipulation of victims helps the criminals to conceal the abuse (again, particularly if they have been moved across borders illegally). They are prisoners. At the end of the day, those operating within the human trafficking industry see humans as commodities – no matter how  they are bought and sold.

6. The startling 1% truth
The most frightening statistic of all is that only around 1 out of every 100 victims is ever rescued according to the UNODC. That means that there is so much to be done to help the other 99% of trapped victims. Imagine if a loved one were suddenly taken and cast into this world of darkness. The tragic truth is that victims are often in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, UNODC and other organisations across the globe are working tirelessly to make the world a better and safer place and trace the complex chains involved in human trafficking.

The fact that only 1% of victims is ever rescued is heart-breaking enough. But on top of that, the criminals themselves, if caught, are not always prosecuted. The UNODC believes this can be due to victims being intimidated by traffickers and therefore choosing not to participate in investigations. Further, not all countries adopt the same stance on the sanctioning of the offences. This allows the enterprise to continue to accelerate in terms of risk vs. reward in the minds of traffickers driven by money. It is essential to heavily punish those involved in human trafficking. Not only to sanction them for the horrific nature of the crimes committed but also to make bold statements on the severity of the crime to deter its momentum. This requires unity on the legal front between all countries and a global level of cooperation between authorities.

7. How you can help
Raising awareness remains ever crucial to stop human trafficking. People with a limited knowledge or misperceptions about what trafficking can involve must become aware of the true extent of the industry. More awareness equals more global action and could help save millions of lost lives. Showing solidarity through symbolism such as wearing the Blueheart tartan increases the awareness and makes a zero-tolerance statement towards the buying and selling of people.

If you suspect or become aware of human trafficking, it is important to speak up on behalf of victims who may not have a confident voice to come forward. For example, if you spot any suspicious behaviour or characters who appear to be groomers, or any manipulative behaviour occurring, this could be an indicator that something untoward is happening. Report anything out of the ordinary to your local authority, should you suspect human trafficking.

Stop The Traffik have launched the Stop App where individuals can anonymously report trafficking taking place anywhere in the world. Often, those with knowledge of trafficking may be wary of coming forward due to fear of prosecution or association to the crime. With the Stop App, users are protected. However, Stop The Traffik clearly states that the app should be used in addition to informing the police. The primary purpose of the app is to build up a global picture of human trafficking to create more effective strategies for prevention.

For more information visit liberationkilt.com/tartans/blueheart.

The writer is founder of HandledPR and directs communications at Liberation Kilt Co.