You know all of those crazed fools who parade on the streets, clad in sandwich boards and screaming about the next holy terror? You know how every topic those fools touch (which, invariably, always come back to a conspiracy theory) immediately gains the stink of illlegitimacy? Even those who are able to broadcast their rants (Art Bell, we love ya!) still gain derision, and rightfully so; a bunch of rancid claims, a complete dearth of hard evidence, these a convincing argument do not make. All of these people, from the straitjacketed spastics to the smooth-faced 'rational' theorists, all of them get absolutely no respect.

Well, every once and a while, the shadowy leaders of the New World Order like to throw these people a bone.

At least, that's what I like to pretend the purpose of the Bilderberg Group is, because if it ain't a grand conspiracy of some sort, then, dammit, it sure looks like one.

It's an invitation-only event, three days or so long, taking place every year. Top politicos and businessmen from Western (or Westernized) countries silently slip away to some undisclosed hotel in an undisclosed country, polished black Mercedes pulling up to the doormen in synchronized glory, and Big Things Do Happen. Maybe. Even though many from positions of power in the Fourth Estate get the invite, no word of the proceedings get out. None. No leaks, nothing. Three days later, these men climb back behind the sleek blankness of their expensive cars and silently pad back out. A single press release is given after the fact. And then nothing.

It's a complete mystery.

The official party line on the proceedings is quite plausible. It's simply a meeting of the cultural elite and politically powerful, where no policy is laid down, but everyone involved gets a chance to see beyond the rhetoric and bullshit that is regularly spewed out. Of course, secrecy is required because politicians believe they need that mask of rhetoric and bullshit to continue serving their country. (Last thing we want it to see what they really think, eh?) No governmental policy is laid down at the conferences. Let me repeat that - the party line says NO POLICY. Just talk. Nothing but talk.

This scenario is quite believeable, don't you think? Think about the way things would work if this were the case. Everyone fights for access to the top politicians, clawing and scrabbling for face time, fighting over offices two floors away from the seats of power in hopes of a fateful hallway brush... and here, some people get access to them for three straight days, smooth-talking them into submission. No money, no bribes, just unrelenting head-spinning arguments until you capitulate and believe wholeheartedly. Beyond the lobbying - critiques of foreign policy are bandied about, fought over, but complete admission is given to what is actually done rather than what soundbite was given to the press. (Think like this - people in power finally dropping the 'poor Kuwaitis' phrase, replacing it with 'poor, poor Kuwaiti oil'.) Economists and academics get time to have workshops on exactly why their pet theory of How To Fix The Economy will work, hoping that these equations they write down on a blackboard will translate into public policy. Politics is talked with, again, open admission to the truth - "I can't publicly back this, since I go after the moderate vote, but your country and your power base is a little more left-or-right-wing... why don't you say it? I'll silently back you up..."

But we don't know that this is what happens. There's no news; a single press release announces the meeting after the fact, gives a (mostly complete) list of attendees, and beyond that, we're reading tea leaves.

The only solid information is the list of attendees, which usually features the leaders of smaller European countries, top media men from Great Britain, international businessmen of every stripe (Xerox and Monsanto's CEOs make frequent appearances), and experts from various fields (in foreign policy, usually Henry Kissinger and a few others of like minds). Most interestingly, the final category of attendees are up-and-comers, politicians from the US, Great Britain, and Canada - those who look to be poised to the brink of Top Power, but never those already there. Clinton in '91, Blair in '93, each a year before their big elections, never afterwards. Of course, most of the politicians who go don't make the big time, but if they are invited, it's thought that they could make it - during the darkest days of Blair's reign, the leader of the opposition was invited. (How's that for a vote of confidence, Mr. Blair?)

One magazine, the Big Issue (a British rag, I believe), claimed to have obtained documents about the proceedings of the 1997 meeting, and published an article about it them with full (but anonymous) quotes. Their documents (transcripts of various proceedings during the three days) claimed to reveal that the leaders of NATO implicitly gave Russia the go-ahead to bomb Chechnya, yet was strongly against any action in Kosovo on the grounds to being 'too colonial'. Globalisation of the economy was a big topic, centering around the new Euro and possible moves beyond that (adopting the American dollar as currency, apparently). And that's it. This is the only evidence (as weak as it is - nothing to back it up, near as I can tell) of what else happened during the proceedings. But we don't really know, do we?

And that brings us back to the conspiracy theorists. The Bilderberg Group meetings are a Rorschach blot, really; you can see what you want to see in them. Globalization your big issue? Think about all those businessmen, slaves to the almighty Dollar, trying to run things their way and bending the governmental machine to do their bidding. Maybe you fear a New World Order? This is obviously one of the places where the real men behind it all pull the strings and flip the levers. Maybe you've got some theory about how all the rich and powerful are lizardmen. Well, here's where the lizardmen are hatched in great rituals every year. All you get to see is the barest sliver of a moon, and you're left to fill out the rest of the silver disc how you like. I've got a jones for accountability and some openness, some glasnost in government; the complete silence of the proceedings is what I focus on, the utterly deafening silence.

Maybe nothing happens. It's one big party the first night and the rest of the two days are just hangover recovery.

We don't know.

We don't know.

And we may never know.

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