European LETS Tour Report #3
Topics: 1) Lord Sutch; 2) Cologne; 3) Bad Neuenar; 4) Mainz; 5) Begijnendijk, Belgium; 6) Paris ATTAC conference; 7) Begijnendijk Salongo.
1) LORD SUTCH: Lord Sutch, the leader of the "Monster Raving Loony Party," was the Guinness record holder for the most elections contested at 39 before I broke his record. He was up to 41 when the 5000 pound entry fee into the European elections prevented him from running. So when we landed at Heathrow, we were surprised to see front page coverage:
Daily Mirror June 17 1999 "SCREAMING LORD SUTCH IS FOUND HANGED." by Steve Atkinson and Alex Williams Screaming Lord Sutch, eccentric leader of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, was found hanged at his home yesterday. Lord Sutch who had contested polls since 1963 recently quit politics after his party could not afford to put up candidates in the Euro elections. His girlfriend said he had not been unhappy in recent days and could think of no reason why he might have taken his life. "He did suffer from depression but that was a long-term complaint." Alan Hope, who became the first Loony mayor at Ashburton Town Council in Devon, said: "I'm absolutely devastated. Lord Sutch was in good spirits during a phone conversation 10 days ago. He was saying he had no money troubles any more and was sorting out his life. But he was taking lots and lots of pills - Prozac, I don't know what." Lord Sutch was sad at the Raving Loonies being priced out of the Euro poll by the #5000 deposit - given up unless a party won 5% of the vote. He said: "It's a bad day for the loonies. There is no way we can afford it. It is a sad day for democracy when something like this happens." Some of his policies were copied by more orthodox colleagues - votes at 18, abolition of the 11-plus and all-day pub opening.
The Sun Front Page: "SCREAMING LORD SUTCH FOUND HANGED" by Mike Sullivan and Jamie Pyatt Screaming Lord Sutch was found hanged yesterday. The joker who became a political institution with his Monster Raving Loony Party was thought to have killed himself in a fit of depression. Sutch, 58, who backed banning January and February to make winter shorter, was found at his home at 3p.m. A suicide note was found next to his body. He stood for Parliament a record 41 times without winning under the slogan: "Vote insanity - you know it makes sense." He quit politics just before the 1997 General Election to care for his ailing mother Nancy who had brought him up alone after his father died when he was a baby. He became more depressed after she died two years ago. His 60s pop group, the Raving Savages,included brief appearances by superstars Keith Moon of The Who and Rolling Stone Charlie Watts. Sutch who would "rather have 1000 laughs than 1000 votes" broke the mould in politics and inspired a host of wacky candidates like Miss Whiplash and her British Corrective Party. A Downing Street spokesman said: "Screaming Lord Sutch will be sadly missed. Elections will never the same without him." Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey said: "This is a sad loss for British politics."
"THIS COLOURFUL CAMPAIGNER PUT THE FUN INTO POLITICS" by Bill Coles Screaming Lord Sutch brought more drama and colour to elections than any other living politician - but never got a seat in Parliament. He always stood against the Prime Minister in general elections and was a favourite with TV viewers as he played to the gallery. Sutch stood in dozens of byelections across the country wearing his trademark top hat and leopard-skin shirt. Occasionally, he even managed to get more votes than officially recognized parties. He even changed electoral coverage as commentators were forced to whisper the words "Raving Loony" to identify him during poll results. Sutch was a veteran campaigner who had added a touch of froth to elections since the Sixties. He always had an eye-catching manifesto and planned to stand as a candidate for London's new mayor. Recently Sutch campaigned for a seat in the Scottish parliament with a tartan version of his Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
"HE WAS SUTCH A SCREAM" by Antonella Lazzeri Top-hatted Screaming Lord Sutch was a mad as a hatter - but was the best-loved "politician" of his generation. He first stood for Parliament in 1963 with the National Teenage Party - even though he was twenty-two at the time. Soon after, he founded the Monster Raving Loony Party and went on to stand at a record 41 elections. In between, he followed his other career as a musician which he had launched when he was 19. But politics was his first love. His mum Nancy reckoned he inherited his passion from his father and grandfather who were both regulars at Speakers Corner in London. At the age of 19, he entered the pop world as Screaming Lord Sutch. He was an immediate success and hordes of his groupies would gather at his mum's house in Harrow, North London, to shout up at his window. Records like "Knocking on my coffin lid" and "Jack the Ripper" were huge successes in America. He got involved in politics in the Sixties to campaign for the legalization of commercial radio. He is in the Guinness Book of Records for standing more times than any other wannabe MP. The Monster Raving Loony Party was pledged to "giving Britain a good time" and his message was "fun, fun, fun." His bizarre outfits and top-hats made him a hugely recognizable public figure. Sutch was criticized by many politicians who dismissed him as not being serious about politics. But his party enjoyed moderate success and attracted a sizable following. His greatest victory was eclipsing the Social Democrats at the Bootle byelection in 1990 which signalled the end of Dr. David Owen's party as a major political force. Later Sutch was bailed out by a bank when a #194,000 debt threatened him with bankruptcy which would have banned him from future elections.
Daily Telegraph "Death of Looniest leader in politics"
JCT: So one of the planet's most colourful politicians is felled by financial problems and Prozac. Too bad. I bought his biography and tried to meet him on my first trip to Britain but we couldn't connect. Too bad. I even laid down a 10 pence bet on him with William Hill, bookmakers, were offered 15 million to one that he never get elected. I guess I can kiss that bet goodbye.
2) COLOGNE: Marina Corboga arranged for us to stay with Paula Cremer in Cologne during the TOES conference and our meeting with the Cologne LETS. Paula was one of Cologne's first LETS members and the German magazine Der Spiegel did an interview with her about LETS a few years ago. I have a copy which I'll soon get translated and posted to my LETS press section at my web site. Paula operates a second-hand store and has a unique apartment on the top floor of the building just opposite. Outside of her apartment, she has a roof-top terrace full of plants and we sat out there with a great view of the city center. She also joined us while we went to the Jubilee 2000 Chain of Debt around the G8 leaders. She had an African friend, Ishmael, who gave me a cowrie shell, one of the world's oldest forms of money used by Africans as money due to their rarity and their religious symbolism. On Sunday, we met with a group of Cologne LETS members at Marina Carboga's home. We discussed the usual problems that plague small LETSystems, such as how to avoid keeping half the members in the negative so the other half of the members could be in the positive. The LETS consignment store and the introduction of pensioners to the system are my usual suggestions to solve that problem. Paula had obtained an accordion from a neighbor so I gave them a little concert. They cleared the room of chairs and a bunch of the women were dancing around to it. Then we rented a car for a month with 4,600 free kilometers and set out on our journey. The thing that's wonderful about driving in Europe compared North America is that not only is the continent much smaller but the speed limits are much higher. It's a funny feeling cruising along at 100 mph and being passed on a regular basis. Germany has no speed limit and Belgium and France have 130kmph/80mph limits but most people drive at close to 150/90. Most of our trips will be shorter than 4 hours on the road. Some of our upcoming legs of the journey will be longer but never a whole day until we start our Nordic journey where some legs might take all day. Of course, my report on TOES got some negative feedback:
>Date: Wed Jun 23 18:17:33 1999 >From: email@example.com (Mark Brown) >Subject: Re: TURMEL: The "No Choice" TOES99 LETS Report >Hello, >These bewildering messages have been appearing on the J18 list for >some time. They apear to be quite a few degrees off topic, so perhaps >you could desist? Thanks and good luck... Mark (London) JCT: He doesn't see the relevance of my TOES report on the J18 meeting to the J18 list and wants me to desist. I usually ignore idiots like this who would prefer that I not send messages to everyone because they aren't interested themselves. You have to wonder where they get off thinking they have to right to censor the reading of all the others.
3) BAD NEUENAR: We visited Paul Imbusch, a Cologne and Bonn LETS member in Bad Neuenar. He showed us around the town where we visited the casino and a couple of pubs. The casino was a beautiful building with a couple of bridges over a stream packed with fish but they had no poker, only the usual casino games and slot machines. He gave us copies of two editions of Tausch-System Nachrichten, a magazine published by Klaus Kleffmann and Ingo Leipner. They trade a copy to each LETS in Germany in exchange for copies of the local LETSystem publications so they probably have the most extensive Germany LETS archives there are. Their email address is at firstname.lastname@example.org and we realized that we'd love to meet these two and see their archives. Paul was keen on inter-system trading. He called it "LETS without frontiers."
4) MAINZ: Erich Murmann organized our stay with Signe Seiler who had her Phd in anthropology and philosophy. That evening we went to the LETS meeting in Mainz but unfortunately, the girl organizing the meeting didn't know what I'd be speaking about and left me off the agenda. It wasn't a wasted trip though. Erich introduced me to one of the speakers who mentioned that he was involved with putting out a national LETS publication. I pulled out the magazine Paul had given me and found that that he was Ingo Leipner who was associated with that very magazine. What a fluke that one of the people we were going to try to contact happened to be speaking in Mainz that very night. At the end of the meeting, with Signe translating, I got to mention my LETS tour and show them some of the items I was going to discuss at the other meetings like the news out of the U.S. National Local Currency conference such as the hospital in Ithaca accepting Hours for medical services, the explosive growth of the Philadelphia LETS, the European Council funding U.K. Bradford LETS but what wowed them the most was Michael Linton's new smartcards for LETS. We went out to a pub after the meeting with several Mainz LETS members and had a lively discussion about LETS developments around the world. Ingo said that the idea of government having a LETS account and the possibility of the 300 German LETS organizations forming a political party if necessary had opened new doors in his mind. The others were similarly enthused. So I may not have been able to speak to the main group in detail but these discussions certainly made the trip to Mainz worthwhile.
5) BEGIJNENDIJK BELGIUM The "g" in Belgian is pronounced as an "h" and the "ij" like the "e" in "bed," so it sounds like Behenendek. The LETS there are a group of 12 families who help each other on a regular basis and keep track of their time traded in "feathers" worth a Belgian franc at a rate of 30 feathers an hour. Dirk (Derek) Geysen who organized the meeting and his wife Beatrice brought us to their meeting at Alex and Nadine Steeno who have a beautiful home converted from an old farm-house with attached barn and a huge back yard lush with plants. I made presented the usual information then we repaired to the back of the yard where Alex had lit a large bon-fire which we sat around talking for several hours. I did a few of my poems, "the plates" and "10%," sang Tom Lehrer's "The Bomb" and "The Vatican Rag" as well as the "Cameron Highlanders," a quite bawdy song from my militia days. Luc Van der Auwera mentioned that there was a large group that was having a meeting on Friday night in Antwerp to discuss starting up a barter system. He said he couldn't go but that he'd try to inform them about the LETS software.
6) PARIS ATTAC "PLANET" CONFERENCE: ATTAC, a large and fast-growing organization dedicated to coordinating networks against the dictatorship of the financial markets, were having a 70-nation planetary conference at the University of Paris at St. Denis on June 24, 25 and 26. When I heard about them, I wrote to ask if I could speak on LETS. They wrote back to invite me to the Economic Alternatives forum. We left Begijnendijk around 9:30, wasted half an hour in some back roads before finding the highway to Brussels and then Paris. By a fluke, we got off the highway in Paris just a few minutes away from the university and got there with 10 minutes to spare. My workshop had 7 speakers most of whom were connected with the micro-credit business. We all had 5 minute opening statements but the first speaker was a delegate, Michel Tavernier, who knew his monetary reform inside out and called for the abolition of interest rates! He cited Silvio Gesell's monetary experiment in Worgl (LETS with a demurrage charge to stimulate velocity) and pointed out no government can stop barter. I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation though I could tell he left many in the audience puzzled. He also suggested that they have a panel on money reform and quite a few people indicated they wanted one too. So it was arranged that there would be one the next day at noon. The other micro-credit speakers explained the good things that came of lending to the poor but their presentations were quite bland. So my presentation laden with jokes and wonderful news about LETS around the world amused and entertained them. I spoke in French and explained that I had formed the Abolitionist Party because the the historical Abolitionist movement against slavery had lifted the metal chains but had failed to finish the job by lifting the chains of debt by the abolition of interest rates with the LETS software. I could see Tavernier sit up and take notice. As usual, the mention of my Guinness record for most elections contested and most elections lost broke up the crowd. I asked if there were any in the audience who had heard about LETS and quite a few had. I told them of all the Councils in Britain who had supported LETS including the Stockport council who called it an anti-poverty strategy. I mentioned the Argentinian provinces who had instituted the biggest government LETS in recent history with their use of provincial bonds to pay all their government employees which then acted as currency for the rest of the population who could use them to pay their taxes. I urged inter-system trading, especially accommodations, and asked if there were anyone who would like to trade some accommodations in Paris for accommodations in Canada since we still hadn't found any LETSers in Paris to put us up yet. I mentioned how LETS and I had been shut out of the TOES 99 agenda this year and reminded them that just like in Cologne, they'd be hearing speakers urging that solutions be sought despite the fact that the solution is already here. Again, showing them how Michael Linton's smartcards worked wowed the audience. I urged anyone interested in local currency to pick up one of my business cards with my web site address to get all the information they might need about it. I was pleased that they gave me a super round of applause and one ATTAC member mentioned I had had a "grand tabac," a "big tobacco," which I found out meant a "big hit." Of course the LETS solution would be a big hit compared to most of the speakers who were still looking. The last speaker, a M. Vivaret, spoke of local currencies saying he wanted to fill out what I had told them. A delegate from Senegal and another from the Ivory Coast told us of the problems they were suffering at the hands of the financial system. A delegate from the "El Barzon" movement in Mexico told us of their efforts bank-fighting efforts. When I spoke next, I pointed out that both Senegal and the Ivory Coast now had LETSystems which could be found at my web page and that if they wanted a quick fix for many of their problems, they should go and join them. I also pointed out to the Mexican that Mexico City had their LETS Tlaloc system going and installing the LETS software on their organization's 2 million member database would have startling effects. I pointed out that there were two distinct groups of speakers in the panel, those trying to cope with the present financial system without changing it and those wanting to change it. One of the micro-credit panellists rebutted that to get the money they needed to lend to the poor, they had to borrow and pay some interest. So we shouldn't make out that interest is diabolical. I could see Tavernier chafing at the bit but he couldn't get the floor so I got to explain that because the micro-credit institutions do relend their depositors' funds, they think that the banks operate in the same way. They don't know that banks do not lend out their depositors funds like they do but do lend out new money so there's no reason they should be charging interest on new money like the micro- credit institutions do though a simple service charge would be better. Another delegate criticized me saying that the problems of the Third World and the Rich nations were not the same and needed different solutions. I answered that the problem is the same in all nations, a lack of money caused by the interest rate. Sure it's effects are worse in poorer nations but the problem is identical and the solution is the same too. One delegate, Sylvain Palfroy, backed me solidly and denounced the interest. He happens to be a LETS member as well as an influential ATTAC member. He should end up being very useful in getting their organization behind LETS as the alternative to the world's currency financial system. After the panel, I went to the ATTAC organization room and asked if it would be possible to have a room in which I could do a presentation on LETS. No problem. They found and empty room and allocated it to me for the next day at 2p.m. They gave me four ATTAC posters and I wrote "Presentation System Echange Local Room 102 2p.m." and they hung them up in the main lobby. Then we went over to the accommodations table where we found out that they had men's and women's dormitories available at 120 francs per night. But then heavenly intervention happened once again and a girl, Odile Lambert, came up and invited us to stay at her home if we didn't. It seems that she had offered ATTAC her home to accommodate any members but that the organizers had failed to make use of the offer so she and her husband decided they would simply invite someone to stay for free. What a break. We'll give them LETS IOUs for accommodations in Canada and we still haven't had to pay for any accommodations yet. And Odile and her husband Christian are both computer software engineers with France Telecom! Were they in for some unusually provocative house-guests. They live in West Paris, about 40km/25miles from the university so we used the subway and took about an hour to get to their home in a very nice suburb of Paris, St. Germain-en-laye and have two sons in university. One thing I found interesting is that while most North American windows and doors have blinds on the inside, they have their blinds or shutters on the outside which are rolled down over the window or door with a screw type handle. Seems a more secure system. The next day, we went to the university and attended a few more panels but they seemed to consist of the same type of speakers who populated the TOES conference, experts on money mismanagement and the various ills and miseries in their nations. At noon though, Michel Tavernier got to make a presentation on money which I attended with a dozen other people. He described several kinds of money from antiquity. When he mentioned shell money, I passed around the the cowrie shell that Ishmael had given me. Again, he spoke of Gesell's Worgl money as an example of a successful interest-free currency which had a velocity 10 times greater than the regular Austrian money. He pointed out the reason for the death-gamble, that interest is never created by the bank when they make the loans, only the principal. At my panel, I went over the usual math and LETS developments around the world. One fellow, Pierre, was very skeptical and we argued quite a bit. But after it was over, he went up to the computer room, visited my web page then came back to challenge me to show him more. So we went to the computer room together and one of those listening to us was Jean-Paul Vieron. I accessed the Selidaire site from my list of urls at http://turmelpress.com/urlsnat.htm then called up the list of LETS in his area. There were three and he took their addresses and phone numbers. Jean-Paul asked me to access the list in his area which brought up four LETS. Then he mentioned that he had been one of the first members of the first LETS on the list: number 7. From that point on, Pierre became convinced and turned exceedingly friendly. I was quite thrilled at the turnaround. I saw him several times over the next two days and he always came over to say hello. That night, I discussed the LETS development with Christian and Odile. She was skeptical that the bankers would oppose LETS effectively once it got big enough to hurt their business but immediately saw that the possibility of an Internet Service Provider like AOL, Microsoft Network or France Telecom providing Email LETS credit services could not be stopped and was the way to go. From then on, we discussed the best way of approaching them to do it. On the last day in Paris, ATTAC were having a demonstration march from the St. Lazare metro station in the financial district to the Stock Exchange after the last plenary. I had the same picket sign as I used in the Chain of Debt demonstration in Cologne: "Abolish Interest on Debt" and "Bankers starve third-world babies." I wore my white "The Engineer" hard-hat and carried my sign to the front of the plenary hall. Many many people gave me a thumbs up. Many people took pictures. Everyone who took a picture got a web site card. Then we took the metro to the St. Lazare station. On the subway, I sat beside a young man, Joep, and when I explained that I was at the conference to promote LETS, he told me that he was a member of Antwerp LETS. I told him I'd be speaking to the Antwerp LETS on July 14 but unfortunately, he was going to be out of town that week. Too bad because we had a great time marching together. During the demo march, I gave out over 100 cards to people who took pictures. At least a dozen media reporters took pictures or film and I gave them the flyer with the press report of my arrest at the World Bank conference in Toronto in 1982 with the same picket sign and the press report form the Citizen of my Guinness Record promoting LETS. I'd bet that my picket sign has been published somewhere.
5) BEGIJNENDIJK SALONGO We drove back to Begijnendijk to spend a couple of more days with our Belgian friends and arrived in time to share in a barbecue after their monthly "Salongo." A "salongo" is what we call a work-bee in English or a "corvee" in French. Every month, the whole group get together at one family's home and pitch in to do any necessary work. That day, the men had cleared some land in the back yard of bush and wood while the women had applied mortar to the bricks in the garage. The children all played. Some of the older ones helped pile the wood and prepare the food. At the end of the day, they all filled out their LETS cards recording the work they did to be credited by Beatrice, Dirk's wife, to their individual accounts. Dirk explained that it not only got a lot of the household chores done but it was turned it into a fun social occasion. I can't think of a more beautiful set up for a small LETS. They're certainly making it work for them. Finally, an econometrist from the new Vivant political party attended. Several of the LETSers belong and were anxious to introduce LETS to the party. I must admit that I felt trepidation at the thought of having to explain the advantages of an interest-free LETS to someone trained in economics given the difficulty exhibited by people who suffer such conditioning. I can only think of two economists I've ever spoken to who broke the brain-washing to understand. Geert Witteman was the third. He said he'd often doubted much of what he'd learned in Economics and had come to many of the conclusions that I had though they had now become much clearer in his mind. His party was started by an engineer who owns several companies, one on a New York stock exchange, and they polled 2% of the national vote in their first try. Pretty good considering that they face the same media bias I've always faced. He's going to try to make my Antwerp presentation and I think it would be wonderful to have a Belgian political party officially endorsing a LETS a-la-Argentina provincial bond system too. There seems to be a general awakening to the malfunctions of the banking system around the world. Once groups like TOES, ATTAC, and political parties jump on the LETS bandwagon which already include endorsements by the Argentinian provinces, Australia's Parliament, the U.K. government and the American IRS, it should provide the impetus for the final correction of the unsafe engineering design of the world money system. Lets us pray! Amen.
Send a comment to John Turmel