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Just a thought!

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A novel Nursing Home plan.

Sent to me by dear friend, Dan Gomez, as a light-hearted diversion for the weekend. (But it did fit rather nicely as a sequel to my Lies, Damn Lies, and … from yesterday!)

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Say you are an older senior citizen and can no longer take care of yourself and the government says there is no Nursing Home care available for you. So, what do you do? You opt for Medicare Part G.

The plan gives anyone 75 or older a gun (Part G) and one bullet. You are allowed to shoot one worthless politician.

This means you will be sent to prison for the rest of your life where you will receive three meals a day, a roof over your head, central heating and air conditioning, cable TV, a library, and all the Health Care you need. Need new teeth? No problem. Need glasses? That’s great. Need a hearing aid, new hip, knees, kidney, lungs, sex change, or heart? They are all covered!

As an added bonus, your kids can come and visit you at least as often as they do now! And who will be paying for all of this? The same government that just told you they can’t afford for you to go into a nursing home. And you will get rid of a useless politician while you are at it. And now, because you are a prisoner, you don’t have to pay any more income taxes!

Is this a great country or what? Now that you have solved your senior financial plan, enjoy the rest of your week!

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I’ll leave the closing words to Dan: “Crazy world but compelling plan.​”

Have a great weekend wherever you are.

Written by Paul Handover

May 23, 2015 at 00:00

Welcome to the asylum!

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Michael Klare offers convincing proof that the world is mad!

Once again, serendipity has stepped in and provided me with today’s post.

What do I mean?

Well yesterday, I republished in full a recent essay from George Monbiot.  He demonstrated that when it comes to “fiddling while Rome burns” the United Nations takes some beating. This is in the context of 23 years of UN gatherings to control the levels of CO2 in our planet’s atmosphere without attempting, in the slightest, to control the production of coal, oil and gas.  Take this excerpt as an example of our madness.

You cannot solve a problem without naming it. The absence of official recognition of the role of fossil fuel production in causing climate change – blitheringly obvious as it is – permits governments to pursue directly contradictory policies. While almost all governments claim to support the aim of preventing more than 2°C of global warming, they also seek to “maximise economic recovery” of their fossil fuel reserves. (Then they cross their fingers, walk three times widdershins around the office and pray that no one burns it). But few governments go as far as the UK has gone.

In the Infrastructure Act that received royal assent last month, maximising the economic recovery of petroleum from the UK’s continental shelf became a statutory duty. Future governments are now legally bound to squeeze every possible drop out of the ground.

The idea came from a government review conducted by Sir Ian Wood, the billionaire owner of an inherited company – the Wood Group – that provides services to the oil and gas industry. While Sir Ian says his recommendations “received overwhelming industry support”, his team interviewed no one outside either the oil business or government. It contains no sign that I can detect of any feedback from environment groups or scientists.

Then serendipitously, yesterday morning up pops an essay from Michael Klare published on Tom Dispatch that continues to underline the absence, the global absence, of any form of smart thinking.  It is republished today with the kind permission of Tom Engelhardt.

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Tomgram: Michael Klare, Is Big Oil Finally Entering a Climate Change World?

Posted by Michael Klare at 8:00am, March 12, 2015.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch.

Welcome to the asylum! I’m talking, of course, about this country, or rather the world Big Oil spent big bucks creating.You know, the one in which the obvious — climate change — is doubted and denied, and in which the new Republican Congress is actively opposed to doing anything about it. Just the other day, for instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote a column in his home state paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, adopting the old Nancy Reagan slogan “just say no” to climate change. The senator from Coalville, smarting over the Obama administration’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, is urging state governors to simply ignore the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “landmark limits” on those plants — to hell with the law and to hell, above all, with climate change. But it’s probably no news to you that the inmates are now running the asylum.

Just weeks ago, an example of Big Energy’s largess when it comes to sowing doubt about climate change surfaced. A rare scientific researcher, Wei-Hock Soon, who has published work denying the reality of climate change — the warming of the planet, he claims, is a result of “variations in the sun’s energy” — turned out to have received $1.2 million from various fossil fuel outfits, according to recently released documents; nor did he bother to disclose such support to any of the publications using his work. “The documents,” reported the New York Times, “show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as ‘deliverables’ that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.”

There’s nothing new in this. Big Energy (like Big Tobacco before it) has for years been using a tiny cadre of scientists to sow uncertainty about the reality of climate change. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote a now-classic investigative book, Merchants of Doubt, about just how the fossil fuel companies pulled this off, creating a public sense of doubt where a scientific one didn’t exist. Now, the book has been made into a striking documentary film, which has just opened nationally. Someday, perhaps, all of this will enter a court of law where those who knowingly perpetrated fraud on the American and global publics and in the process threatened humanity with a disaster of potentially apocalyptic proportions will get their just desserts. On that distant day when those who ran the planet into the ground for corporate profits have to pay for their criminal acts, Merchants of Doubt will undoubtedly be exhibit one for the prosecution.

In the meantime, TomDispatch regular Michael Klare continues his invaluable chronicling at this site of the depredations of Big Oil on this fragile planet of ours. Tom

Big Oil’s Broken Business Model

The Real Story Behind the Oil Price Collapse
By Michael T. Klare

Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

Until last fall, when the price decline gathered momentum, the oil giants were operating at full throttle, pumping out more petroleum every day. They did so, of course, in part to profit from the high prices. For most of the previous six years, Brent crude, the international benchmark for crude oil, had been selling at $100 or higher. But Big Oil was also operating according to a business model that assumed an ever-increasing demand for its products, however costly they might be to produce and refine. This meant that no fossil fuel reserves, no potential source of supply — no matter how remote or hard to reach, how far offshore or deeply buried, how encased in rock — was deemed untouchable in the mad scramble to increase output and profits.

In recent years, this output-maximizing strategy had, in turn, generated historic wealth for the giant oil companies. Exxon, the largest U.S.-based oil firm, earned an eye-popping $32.6 billion in 2013 alone, more than any other American company except for Apple. Chevron, the second biggest oil firm, posted earnings of $21.4 billion that same year. State-owned companies like Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Rosneft also reaped mammoth profits.

How things have changed in a matter of mere months. With demand stagnant and excess production the story of the moment, the very strategy that had generated record-breaking profits has suddenly become hopelessly dysfunctional.

To fully appreciate the nature of the energy industry’s predicament, it’s necessary to go back a decade to 2005, when the production-maximizing strategy was first adopted. At that time, Big Oil faced a critical juncture. On the one hand, many existing oil fields were being depleted at a torrid pace, leading experts to predict an imminent “peak” in global oil production, followed by an irreversible decline; on the other, rapid economic growth in China, India, and other developing nations was pushing demand for fossil fuels into the stratosphere. In those same years, concern over climate change was also beginning to gather momentum, threatening the future of Big Oil and generating pressures to invest in alternative forms of energy.

A “Brave New World” of Tough Oil

No one better captured that moment than David O’Reilly, the chairman and CEO of Chevron. “Our industry is at a strategic inflection point, a unique place in our history,” he told a gathering of oil executives that February. “The most visible element of this new equation,” he explained in what some observers dubbed his “Brave New World” address, “is that relative to demand, oil is no longer in plentiful supply.” Even though China was sucking up oil, coal, and natural gas supplies at a staggering rate, he had a message for that country and the world: “The era of easy access to energy is over.”

To prosper in such an environment, O’Reilly explained, the oil industry would have to adopt a new strategy. It would have to look beyond the easy-to-reach sources that had powered it in the past and make massive investments in the extraction of what the industry calls “unconventional oil” and what I labeled at the time “tough oil”: resources located far offshore, in the threatening environments of the far north, in politically dangerous places like Iraq, or in unyielding rock formations like shale. “Increasingly,” O’Reilly insisted, “future supplies will have to be found in ultradeep water and other remote areas, development projects that will ultimately require new technology and trillions of dollars of investment in new infrastructure.”

klarepbk2012For top industry officials like O’Reilly, it seemed evident that Big Oil had no choice in the matter. It would have to invest those needed trillions in tough-oil projects or lose ground to other sources of energy, drying up its stream of profits. True, the cost of extracting unconventional oil would be much greater than from easier-to-reach conventional reserves (not to mention more environmentally hazardous), but that would be the world’s problem, not theirs. “Collectively, we are stepping up to this challenge,” O’Reilly declared. “The industry is making significant investments to build additional capacity for future production.”

On this basis, Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, and other major firms indeed invested enormous amounts of money and resources in a growing unconventional oil and gas race, an extraordinary saga I described in my book The Race for What’s Left. Some, including Chevron and Shell, started drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; others, including Exxon, commenced operations in the Arctic and eastern Siberia. Virtually every one of them began exploiting U.S. shale reserves via hydro-fracking.

Only one top executive questioned this drill-baby-drill approach: John Browne, then the chief executive of BP. Claiming that the science of climate change had become too convincing to deny, Browne argued that Big Energy would have to look “beyond petroleum” and put major resources into alternative sources of supply. “Climate change is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next,” he had declared as early as 2002. For BP, he indicated, that meant developing wind power, solar power, and biofuels.

Browne, however, was eased out of BP in 2007 just as Big Oil’s output-maximizing business model was taking off, and his successor, Tony Hayward, quickly abandoned the “beyond petroleum” approach. “Some may question whether so much of the [world’s energy] growth needs to come from fossil fuels,” he said in 2009. “But here it is vital that we face up to the harsh reality [of energy availability].” Despite the growing emphasis on renewables, “we still foresee 80% of energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030.”

Under Hayward’s leadership, BP largely discontinued its research into alternative forms of energy and reaffirmed its commitment to the production of oil and gas, the tougher the better. Following in the footsteps of other giant firms, BP hustled into the Arctic, the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, and Canadian tar sands, a particularly carbon-dirty and messy-to-produce form of energy. In its drive to become the leading producer in the Gulf, BP rushed the exploration of a deep offshore field it called Macondo, triggering the Deepwater Horizon blow-out of April 2010 and the devastating oil spill of monumental proportions that followed.

Over the Cliff

By the end of the first decade of this century, Big Oil was united in its embrace of its new production-maximizing, drill-baby-drill approach. It made the necessary investments, perfected new technology for extracting tough oil, and did indeed triumph over the decline of existing, “easy oil” deposits. In those years, it managed to ramp up production in remarkable ways, bringing ever more hard-to-reach oil reservoirs online.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, world oil production rose from 85.1 million barrels per day in 2005 to 92.9 million in 2014, despite the continuing decline of many legacy fields in North America and the Middle East. Claiming that industry investments in new drilling technologies had vanquished the specter of oil scarcity, BP’s latest CEO, Bob Dudley, assured the world only a year ago that Big Oil was going places and the only thing that had “peaked” was “the theory of peak oil.”

That, of course, was just before oil prices took their leap off the cliff, bringing instantly into question the wisdom of continuing to pump out record levels of petroleum. The production-maximizing strategy crafted by O’Reilly and his fellow CEOs rested on three fundamental assumptions: that, year after year, demand would keep climbing; that such rising demand would ensure prices high enough to justify costly investments in unconventional oil; and that concern over climate change would in no significant way alter the equation. Today, none of these assumptions holds true.

Demand will continue to rise — that’s undeniable, given expected growth in world income and population — but not at the pace to which Big Oil has become accustomed. Consider this: in 2005, when many of the major investments in unconventional oil were getting under way, the EIA projected that global oil demand would reach 103.2 million barrels per day in 2015; now, it’s lowered that figure for this year to only 93.1 million barrels. Those 10 million “lost” barrels per day in expected consumption may not seem like a lot, given the total figure, but keep in mind that Big Oil’s multibillion-dollar investments in tough energy were predicated on all that added demand materializing, thereby generating the kind of high prices needed to offset the increasing costs of extraction. With so much anticipated demand vanishing, however, prices were bound to collapse.

Current indications suggest that consumption will continue to fall short of expectations in the years to come. In an assessment of future trends released last month, the EIA reported that, thanks to deteriorating global economic conditions, many countries will experience either a slower rate of growth or an actual reduction in consumption. While still inching up, Chinese consumption, for instance, is expected to grow by only 0.3 million barrels per day this year and next — a far cry from the 0.5 million barrel increase it posted in 2011 and 2012 and its one million barrel increase in 2010. In Europe and Japan, meanwhile, consumption is actually expected to fall over the next two years.

And this slowdown in demand is likely to persist well beyond 2016, suggests the International Energy Agency (IEA), an arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the club of rich industrialized nations). While lower gasoline prices may spur increased consumption in the United States and a few other nations, it predicted, most countries will experience no such lift and so “the recent price decline is expected to have only a marginal impact on global demand growth for the remainder of the decade.”

This being the case, the IEA believes that oil prices will only average about $55 per barrel in 2015 and not reach $73 again until 2020. Such figures fall far below what would be needed to justify continued investment in and exploitation of tough-oil options like Canadian tar sands, Arctic oil, and many shale projects. Indeed, the financial press is now full of reports on stalled or cancelled mega-energy projects. Shell, for example, announced in January that it had abandoned plans for a $6.5 billion petrochemical plant in Qatar, citing “the current economic climate prevailing in the energy industry.” At the same time, Chevron shelved its plan to drill in the Arctic waters of the Beaufort Sea, while Norway’s Statoil turned its back on drilling in Greenland.

There is, as well, another factor that threatens the wellbeing of Big Oil: climate change can no longer be discounted in any future energy business model. The pressures to deal with a phenomenon that could quite literally destroy human civilization are growing. Although Big Oil has spent massive amounts of money over the years in a campaign to raise doubts about the science of climate change, more and more people globally are starting to worry about its effects — extreme weather patterns, extreme storms, extreme drought, rising sea levels, and the like — and demanding that governments take action to reduce the magnitude of the threat.

Europe has already adopted plans to lower carbon emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020 and to achieve even greater reductions in the following decades. China, while still increasing its reliance on fossil fuels, has at least finally pledged to cap the growth of its carbon emissions by 2030 and to increase renewable energy sources to 20% of total energy use by then. In the United States, increasingly stringent automobile fuel-efficiency standards will require that cars sold in 2025 achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, reducing U.S. oil demand by 2.2 million barrels per day. (Of course, the Republican-controlled Congress — heavily subsidized by Big Oil — will do everything it can to eradicate curbs on fossil fuel consumption.)

Still, however inadequate the response to the dangers of climate change thus far, the issue is on the energy map and its influence on policy globally can only increase. Whether Big Oil is ready to admit it or not, alternative energy is now on the planetary agenda and there’s no turning back from that. “It is a different world than it was the last time we saw an oil-price plunge,” said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven in February, referring to the 2008 economic meltdown. “Emerging economies, notably China, have entered less oil-intensive stages of development… On top of this, concerns about climate change are influencing energy policies [and so] renewables are increasingly pervasive.”

The oil industry is, of course, hoping that the current price plunge will soon reverse itself and that its now-crumbling maximizing-output model will make a comeback along with $100-per-barrel price levels. But these hopes for the return of “normality” are likely energy pipe dreams. As van der Hoeven suggests, the world has changed in significant ways, in the process obliterating the very foundations on which Big Oil’s production-maximizing strategy rested. The oil giants will either have to adapt to new circumstances, while scaling back their operations, or face takeover challenges from more nimble and aggressive firms.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Michael T. Klare

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Both yesterday’s essay from George Monbiot and Michael Klare’s essay above are not quick reads.  But reading them thoroughly is rewarding because it underlines the degree to which the lives of millions of hard-working citizens comes to naught when big money, power and politics are involved.

Voting for hope.

with 14 comments

Considered reflections to yesterday’s post.

Yesterday, I published Bitter Lake ripples, a post that, in turn, was my response to the fabulous comments left by readers of my earlier post Oil, money, banks, guns and blood.  The overall feeling I read in those comments was one of terrible uncertainty about these present times. Or in the words of Sue Dreamwalker in response to a comment left by Patrice Ayme.

I have to say Patrice.. I agree with your comment here… And yes people are not understanding the whole of what is going on.. The Truth of it would seem unbelievable..

Patrice, in a post published on Monday entitled Arm Ukraine, Disarm Bankers sent shivers down my spine with the suggestion, the strong suggestion, that Ukraine, if not handled properly by ‘the West’ could be a tipping point into another major war between Europe (and the USA?) and Russia.  Here’s an extract from Patrice’s post:

The way it was said, in conjunction with Putin’s recent admission that Russian “volunteers” were fighting in Ukraine, is basically a declaration of war. On top of this, the head of the Eastern Ukraine rebels declared that he was raising a 100,000 men army. This means he expect tens of thousands of Russian troops (Putin’s “volunteers”) to cross the border.

This is not contained. Putin is billowing out of control, all by himself. One has to see what the combination of Putin’s dictatorial powers, media control, psychology and sinking economy leads to. Let me spell it out.

Once Putin has conquered Ukraine, he will push for more: he is already partly occupying Moldavia, WEST of Ukraine. Putin is also messing up with Hungary: there were street demonstrations about this, just yesterday, in Budapest. Putin uses the fact that Hungary is extremely dependent upon Russia’s fossil fuels. Merkel, who desperately wants to avoid war with Putin, flew to Budapest in emergency, to sort the situation out.

Patrice continues the warning of possible terrible times ahead in a subsequent post: Mental Inertia, Evil’s Friend, published yesterday.

Just as it takes a long time to erect, or change a vast building, so it is with the brain. The brain has inertia. Thus psychological inertia.

This mental inertia is why human beings tend to go on with a task, or with an attitude, once they got launched into it (a Jihadist laden with explosives just flew by).

Once a force is applied to an object, for example a propaganda to a brain, it tends to gather momentum, and develop ever more inertia.

Putin of course creates his own propaganda, and then can listen to it, reinforcing his deviance, in a self-reflective way. It’s all the more efficient if others repeat his ideas, and he listens to them. Actually that’s not just a problem with Putin, but with all Great Leaders. (And that’s one reason why Great Leadership has to be discontinued, and replaced by Direct Democracy.)

This amplifies the inertia.

By not fiercely opposing Putin, one collaborates with him. It is not just a question of sanctions. Putin is a liar, and an aggressive one, he should be publicly called for what he is.

Thus in terms of my own personal ideas, I freely admit to struggling to see things clearly.  Simply because I find it very difficult to get to the heart of these international issues through not having access to clear, impartial commentators who know what they are speaking about. As Patrice infers much of the media is corrupted by self-serving agendas.

However, on balance, despite Patrice Ayme being a ‘nom-de-plume’ and me having no idea who the person behind the label really is, I do trust his (?) writings and believe that Patrice writes from a position of having very good access to the inner workings of the US Government. (I am not privy to anything to support my proposition; just my guess.)

The other commentator whose opinions and judgements are trusted by me in equal fashion is George Monbiot. Mr. Monbiot has been gracious to grant permission to me for his essays to be republished here on Learning from Dogs.

On the 28th January, Mr. Monbiot published an essay that in words better than I could write encapsulates my response to the comments left on my Bitter Lake ripples post. Here is that post from George Mobiot.

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The Lamps Are Coming On All Over Europe

28th January 2015

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 28th January 2015

Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse(1). And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want, rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Fein, the SNP; now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter. On Tuesday morning, its membership in England and Wales passed 50,000(2); a year ago it was less than 15,000. A survey by the website voteforpolicies.org.uk reports that in blind tests (the 500,000 people it has polled were unaware of which positions belong to which parties), the Green Party’s policies are more popular than those of any other. If people voted for what they want, the Greens would be the party of government.

There are many reasons for this surge, but one of them must be a sense of popular ownership. Green party policies are determined democratically. Emerging from debates led mostly by younger members(3), they feel made for their time, while those of the major parties appear trapped in the 1980s.

Let me give you a flavour of the political transformation the Green Party seeks. There would be no prime minister of the kind we have today, no secretaries of state. Instead, Parliament would elect policy committees which in turn appoint convenors(4). It would also elect a First Minister, to chair the convenors’ committee. Parliament, in other words, would be sovereign rather than subject to the royal prerogative prime ministers abuse, leaders would be elected by the whole body and its various parties would be obliged to work together, rather than engage in perennial willy-waving.

Local authorities would set the taxes they chose. Local currencies, which have proved elsewhere to have transformative effects in depressed areas (see Bernard Lietaer’s book The Future of Money(5)) would become legal tender(6). Private banks would no longer be permitted to create money(7) (at the moment they issue 97% of our money supply, in the form of debt). Workers in limited companies would have the legal right, following a successful ballot, to buy them out and create cooperatives(8), with funding from a national investment bank.

The hideously unfair council tax system would be replaced by land value taxation(9), through which everyone would benefit from the speculative gains now monopolised by a few. All citizens would receive, unconditionally, a basic income(10), putting an end to insecurity and fear and to the punitive conditions attached to benefits, which have reduced recipients almost to the status of slaves.

Compare this vision of hope to Labour’s politics of fear. Compare it to a party so mesmerised by the City and the Daily Mail that it has promised to sustain the Tory cuts for “decades ahead”(11) and to “finish that task on which [the Chancellor] has failed”: eradicating the deficit.

Far too late, a former Labour minister, Peter Hain, now recognises that, inasmuch as the books need balancing, it can be done through measures like a financial transaction tax and a reform of national insurance(12), rather than through endless cuts. These opportunities have been dangling in front of Labour’s nose since 2008(13), but because appeasing the banks and the corporate press was deemed more important than preventing pain and suffering for millions, they have not been taken. Hain appears belatedly to have realised that austerity is a con, a deliberate rewriting of the social contract to divert our common wealth to the elite. There’s no evidence that the frontbench is listening.

Whether it wins or loses the general election, Labour is probably finished. It would take a generation to replace the sycophants who let Blair and Brown rip their party’s values to shreds. By then it will be history. If Labour wins in May, it is likely to destroy itself faster and more surely than if it loses, through the continued implementation of austerity. That is the lesson from Europe.

Fearful voting shifts the whole polity to the right. Tony Blair’s obeisance to corporate power enabled the vicious and destructive policies the Coalition now pursues(14). The same legacy silences Labour in opposition, as it pioneered most of the policies it should oppose. It is because we held our noses before that there is a greater stink today. So do we keep voting for a diluted version of Tory politics, for fear of the concentrate? Or do we start to vote for what we want? Had the people of this nation heeded the noseholders a century ago, we would still be waiting for the Liberal Party to deliver universal healthcare and the welfare state.

Society moves from the margins, not the centre. Those who wish for change must think of themselves as the sacrificial margin: the pioneering movement that might not succeed immediately, but that will eventually deliver sweeping change. We cannot create a successful alternative to the parties that have betrayed us until we start voting for it. Do we start walking, or just keep talking about the journey we might one day take?

Power at the moment is lethal. Whichever major party wins this election, it is likely to destroy itself through the pursuit of policies that almost no one wants. Yes, it might mean five more years of pain, though I suspect in these fissiparous times it won’t last so long. And then it all opens up. This is what we must strive for; this is the process that begins in May by voting, regardless of tactical considerations, for parties offering a genuine alternative. Change arises from conviction. Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/09/labour-tories-vote-osborne

2. Green Party office, by email, 27th January 2015

3. http://bright-green.org/green-movement/how-the-green-party-changed-itself-to-make-the-greensurge-possible/

4. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/pa.html

5. http://www.lietaer.com/writings/books/the-future-of-money/

6. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html#EC678

7. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

8. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/in.html

9. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

10. http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html

11. http://press.labour.org.uk/post/87284550049/long-termism-in-public-finance-speech-by-chris

12. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/22/labour-radical-counter-greens-peter-hain

13. I was not the first to propose these alternatives to austerity Peter Hain has just discovered, but even I had got there by 2011: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/06/march-26-protest-aims-first-draft

14. http://www.monbiot.com/books/captive-state/

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I said that Mr. Monbiot’s words were much finer than my own. No better illustrated than by his closing three sentences:

“Change arises from conviction. Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.”

A breath of common-sense.

with 6 comments

George Monbiot perfectly spells it out.

Regular readers of this place will know that it is a rare couple of weeks without a republication of a George Monbiot essay.  His voice seems so often to be a ray of common-sense shining into a dark cave of present-day madness. None more obvious than this essay that was published last Monday under the title of There Is An Alternative.

It’s a huge honour to be able to share this with you, dear readers.

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There Is An Alternative

December 8, 2014

The great political question of our age is what to do about corporate power. It’s time we answered it.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th December 2014

Does this sometimes feel like a country under enemy occupation? Do you wonder why the demands of so much of the electorate seldom translate into policy? Why the Labour Party, like other former parties of the left, seems incapable of offering effective opposition to market fundamentalism, let alone proposing coherent alternatives? Do you wonder why those who want a kind and decent and just world, in which both human beings and other living creatures are protected, so often appear to find themselves confronting the entire political establishment?

If so, you have already encountered corporate power. It is the corrupting influence that prevents parties from connecting with the public, distorts spending and tax decisions and limits the scope of democracy. It helps to explain the otherwise inexplicable: the creeping privatisation of health and education, hated by almost all voters; the private finance initiative, which has left public services with unpayable debts(1,2); the replacement of the civil service with companies distinguished only by their incompetence(3); the failure to re-regulate the banks and to collect tax; the war on the natural world; the scrapping of the safeguards that protect us from exploitation; above all the severe limitation of political choice in a nation crying out for alternatives.

There are many ways in which it operates, but perhaps the most obvious is through our unreformed political funding system, which permits big business and multimillionaires effectively to buy political parties. Once a party is obliged to them, it needs little reminder of where its interests lie. Fear and favour rule.

And if they fail? Well, there are other means. Before the last election, a radical firebrand said this about the lobbying industry(4): “It is the next big scandal waiting to happen … an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money. … secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics.” That, of course, was David Cameron, and he’s since ensured that the scandal continues. His lobbying act restricts the activities of charities and trade unions, but imposes no meaningful restraint on corporations(5).

Ministers and civil servants know that if they keep faith with corporations while in office they will be assured of lucrative directorships in retirement. Dave Hartnett, who, as head of the government’s tax collection agency HMRC, oversaw some highly controversial deals with companies like Vodafone and Goldman Sachs(6,7), apparently excusing them from much of the tax they seemed to owe, now works for Deloitte, which advises companies like Vodafone on their tax affairs(8). As head of HMRC he met one Deloitte partner 48 times(9).

Corporations have also been empowered by the globalisation of decision-making. As powers but not representation shift to the global level, multinational business and its lobbyists fill the political gap. When everything has been globalised except our consent, we are vulnerable to decisions made outside the democratic sphere.

The key political question of our age, by which you can judge the intent of all political parties, is what to do about corporate power. This is the question, perennially neglected within both politics and the media, that this week’s series of articles will attempt to address. I think there are some obvious first steps.

A sound political funding system would be based on membership fees. Each party would be able to charge the same fixed fee for annual membership (perhaps £30 or £50). It would receive matching funding from the state as a multiple of its membership receipts. No other sources of income would be permitted. As well as getting the dirty money out of politics, this would force political parties to reconnect with the people, to raise their membership. It will cost less than the money wasted on corporate welfare every day.

All lobbying should be transparent. Any meeting between those who are paid to influence opinion (this could include political commentators like myself) and ministers, advisers or civil servants in government should be recorded, and the transcript made publicly available. The corporate lobby groups that pose as thinktanks should be obliged to reveal who funds them before appearing on the broadcast media(10,11), and if the identity of one of their funders is relevant to the issue they are discussing, it should be mentioned on air.

Any company supplying public services would be subject to freedom of information laws (there would be an exception for matters deemed commercially confidential by the information commissioner). Gagging contracts would be made illegal, in the private as well as the public sector (with the same exemption for commercial confidentiality). Ministers and top officials should be forbidden from taking jobs in the sectors they were charged with regulating.

But we should also think of digging deeper. Is it not time we reviewed the remarkable gift we have granted to companies in the form of limited liability? It socialises the risks which would otherwise be carried by a company’s owners and directors, exempting them from the costs of the debts they incur or the disasters they cause, and encouraging them to engage in the kind of reckless behaviour that caused the financial crisis. Should the wealthy authors of the crisis, like Fred Goodwin or Matt Ridley, not have incurred a financial penalty of their own?

We should look at how we might democratise the undemocratic institutions of global governance, as I outlined in my book The Age of Consent(12). This could involve the dismantling of the World Bank and the IMF, which are governed without a semblance of democracy, and cause more crises than they solve, and their replacement with a body rather like the international clearing union designed by John Maynard Keynes in the 1940s, whose purpose was to prevent excessive trade surpluses and deficits from forming, and therefore international debt from accumulating.

Instead of treaties brokered in opaque meetings between diplomats and transnational capital (of the kind now working towards a Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership), which threaten democracy, the sovereignty of parliaments and the principle of equality before the law, we should demand a set of global fair trade rules, to which multinational companies would be subject, losing their licence to trade if they break them. Above all perhaps, we need a directly elected world parliament, whose purpose would be to hold other global bodies to account. In other words, instead of only responding to an agenda set by corporations, we must propose an agenda of our own.

This is not only about politicians, it is also about us. Corporate power has shut down our imagination, persuading us that there is no alternative to market fundamentalism, and that “market” is a reasonable description of a state-endorsed corporate oligarchy. We have been persuaded that we have power only as consumers, that citizenship is an anachronism, that changing the world is either impossible or best effected by buying a different brand of biscuits.

Corporate power now lives within us. Confronting it means shaking off the manacles it has imposed on our minds.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.dropnhsdebt.org.uk/

2. http://www.monbiot.com/2010/11/22/the-uks-odious-debts/

3. http://www.monbiot.com/2014/05/05/land-of-impunity-2/

4. https://tompride.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/lobbying-camerons-deleted-speech-and-his-jaw-dropping-hypocrisy/

5. http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org/

6. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/22/vodafone-tax-case-leaves-sour-taste

7. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2011/oct/11/goldman-sachs-interest-tax-avoidance

8. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/may/27/deloitte-appoints-dave-hartnett-tax

9. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/may/27/deloitte-appoints-dave-hartnett-tax

10. http://www.monbiot.com/2013/11/29/hidden-interests/

11. http://www.monbiot.com/2011/10/17/show-me-the-money/

12. http://www.monbiot.com/books/the-age-of-consent/

Breaking the silence

with 4 comments

The second essay this week from George Monbiot

Part of me feels that I am being sucked in to too much ‘doom and gloom’ with the republication of this recent essay from George Monbiot.  I guess it’s a fine balance between spreading the word about the reality of life, in this case in the United Kingdom, or living in sweet innocence of the current state of affairs of ‘man’. But I found George Monbiot’s essay so shocking, in terms of the terrible inequality in British life, that it really did deserve the widest promulgation.

All I can offer in mitigation is that in thirty minutes time, I publish the next chapter of my book: How humans view dogs However, because this chapter is nothing more than setting the scene for the main chapters in Part Five, thirty minutes later comes leading chapter, specifically on Love, under the overall theme of Part Five: What we need to learn.

Your feedback, as always, would be wonderful.

ooOOoo

Breaking the Silence

December 2, 2014

It’s time to bring the Highland Spring south, and, like Scotland, introduce democracy to this quasi-feudal nation.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 3rd December 2014

Bring out the violins. The land reform programme announced by the Scottish government is the end of civilised life on earth, if you believe the corporate press. In a country where 432 people own half the private rural land(1), all change is Stalinism. The Telegraph has published a string of dire warnings, insisting, for example, that deer stalking and grouse shooting could come to an end if business rates are introduced for sporting estates(2). Moved to tears yet?

Yes, sporting estates – where the richest people in Britain, or oil sheikhs and oligarchs from elsewhere, shoot grouse and stags – are exempt from business rates: a present from John Major’s government in 1994(3). David Cameron has been just as generous with our money: as he cuts essential services for the poor, he has almost doubled the public subsidy for English grouse moors(4), and frozen the price of shotgun licences(5), at a public cost of £17m a year.

But this is small change. Let’s talk about the real money. The Westminster government claims to champion an entrepreneurial society, of wealth creators and hard-working families, but the real rewards and incentives are for rent. The power and majesty of the state protects the patrimonial class. A looped and windowed democratic cloak barely covers the corrupt old body of the nation. Here peaceful protestors can still be arrested under the 1361 Justices of the Peace Act. Here, the Royal Mines Act 1424 gives the Crown the right to all the gold and silver in Scotland(6). Here the Remembrancer of the City of London sits behind the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons(7), to protect the entitlements of a Corporation that pre-dates the Norman conquest. This is an essentially feudal nation.

It’s no coincidence that the two most regressive forms of taxation in the UK – council tax banding and the payment of farm subsidies – both favour major owners of property. The capping of council tax bands ensures that the owners of £100 million flats in London pay less than the owners of £200,000 houses in Blackburn(8,9). Farm subsidies, which remain limitless as a result of the Westminster government’s lobbying(10), ensure that every household in Britain hands £245 a year to the richest people in the land(11). The single farm payment system – under which landowners are paid by the hectare – is a reinstatement of a mediaeval levy called feudal aid(12): a tax the vassals had to pay to their lords.

If this is the government of enterprise, not rent, ask yourself why capital gains tax (at 28%) is lower than the top rate of income tax. Ask yourself why principal residences, though their value may rise by millions, are altogether exempt(13). Ask yourself why rural landowners are typically excused capital gains tax, inheritance tax and the first five years of income tax(14). The enterprise society? It’s a con, designed to create an illusion of social mobility.

The Scottish programme for government(15) is the first serious attempt to address the nature of landholding in Britain since David Lloyd George’s budget of 1909. Some of its aims hardly sound radical until you understand the context. For example it will seek to discover who owns the land. Big deal. Yes, in fact, it is. At the moment the owners of only 26% of the land in Scotland have been identified(16).

Walk into any mairie in France or ayuntamiento in Spain and you will be shown the cadastral registers on request, on which all the land and its owners are named. When The Land magazine tried to do the same in Britain(17), it found that there was a full cadastral map available at the local library, which could be photocopied for 70p. But it was made in 1840. Even with expert help, it took the magazine several weeks of fighting official obstruction and obfuscation and cost nearly £1000(18) to find out who owns the 1.4 km2 around its offices in Dorset. It discovered that the old registers had been closed and removed from public view, at the behest of a landed class that wishes to remain as exempt from public scrutiny as it is from taxes. (The landowners are rather more forthcoming when applying for subsidies from the rural payments agency, which possesses a full, though unobtainable, register of their agricultural holdings). What sort of nation is this, in which you cannot discover who owns the ground beneath your feet?

The Scottish government will consider breaking up large land holdings when they impede the prospects of local people(19). It will provide further help to communities to buy the land that surrounds them. Compare its promise of “a fairer, wider and more equitable distribution of land” to the Westminster government’s vision of “greater competitiveness, including by consolidation”(20): which means a continued increase in the size of land holdings. The number of holdings in England is now falling by 2% a year(21), which is possibly the fastest concentration of ownership since the acts of enclosure.

Consider Scotland’s determination to open up the question of property taxes, which might lead to the only system that is fair and comprehensive: land value taxation(22). Compare it to the fleabite of a mansion tax proposed by Ed Miliband, which, though it recoups only a tiny percentage of the unearned income of the richest owners, has so outraged the proprietorial class that some of them (yes Griff Rhys Jones, I’m thinking of you(23)) have threatened to leave the country. Good riddance.

The Scottish government might address the speculative chaos which mangles the countryside while failing to build the houses people need. It might challenge a system in which terrible homes are built at great expense, partly because the price of land has risen from 2% of the cost of a house in the 1930s to 70% today(24). It might take land into public ownership to ensure that new developments are built by and for those who will live there, rather than for the benefit of volume housebuilders. It might prevent mountains from being burnt and overgrazed(25) by a landowning class that cares only about the numbers of deer and grouse it can bag and the bragging rights this earns in London clubs. As Scotland, where feudalism was not legally abolished until 2000(26), becomes a progressive, modern nation, it leaves England stuck in the pre-democratic past.

Scotland is rudely interrupting the constructed silences that stifle political thought in the United Kingdom. This is why the oligarchs who own the media hate everything that is happening there: their interests are being exposed in a way that is currently impossible south of the border.

For centuries, Britain has been a welfare state for patrimonial capital. It’s time we broke it open, and broke the culture of deference that keeps us in our place. Let’s bring the Highland Spring south, and start discussing some dangerous subjects.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://bit.ly/1vi0kuK

2. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/11262856/Future-bleak-for-grouse-shooting-and-deer-stalking.html

3. http://www.andywightman.com/?p=3975

4. Defra has tried to pass this off as payments for “moorland farmers”, but all owners of grazed or managed moorlands, of which grouse moors are a major component, are eligible. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cap-boost-for-moorland

5. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/22/cameron-blasted-battle-shotgun-licence-fees

6. The Land Reform Review Group, 2014. The Land of Scotland and the Common Good.
http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Review/land-reform/events/FinalReport23May2014

7. http://www.monbiot.com/2011/10/31/wealth-destroyers/

8. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/29/why-do-we-pay-more-council-tax-than-knightsbridge-oligarchs

9. This assumes that a house in Blackburn valued at £69,000 in 1991 would cost around £200,000 today. http://www.blackburn.gov.uk/Pages/Council-tax-charges.aspx

10. http://www.monbiot.com/2014/03/03/the-benefits-claimants-the-goverment-loves/

11. Defra, 31st August 2011, by email.

12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feudal_aid

13. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/sep/22/charge-capital-gains-tax-main-residencies-says-housing-expert

14. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/99ae5756-1d89-11df-a893-00144feab49a.html#ixzz3Kexs2dL2

15. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/11/6336

16. http://www.andywightman.com/?p=3816

17. http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/issue/land-issue-14-summer-2013

18. http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/issue/land-issue-14-summer-2013

19. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/11/6336

20. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/policy/capreform/documents/110128-uk-cap-response.pdf

21. Compare the figures, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2013: http://bit.ly/1vLQSi4
to the figures in the 2011 version: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/agriculture-in-the-united-kingdom-2011

22. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/21/i-agree-with-churchill-shirkers-tax

23. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/04/griff-rhys-jones-mansion-tax-soft-option

24. The Land Reform Review Group, 2014. The Land of Scotland and the Common Good. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Review/land-reform/events/FinalReport23May2014

25. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/may/19/vote-yes-rid-scotland-of-feudal-landowners-highlands

26. http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/law/17975/Abolition

Written by Paul Handover

December 5, 2014 at 00:00

Vested interests, perhaps.

with 7 comments

I’m being very brave and stepping into the climate change cauldron!

Learning from Dogs has been posting a wide range of items for well over five years. Indeed, today’s post is number 2,238!

Over those five years, my position regarding climate change or global warming has been pretty clear: a belief in the proposition that man’s behaviours are changing the very climate of our planet.  For instance, a little over a year ago I posted under the title Sceptical about global warming?  It opened:

Learning from Dogs is not a blogsite about climate change!

Why, you may ask, do I start today’s post with that sub-heading?  Because, I am conscious that many of my posts do touch on this subject.  For example, just two days ago there was Breaking news.  Then there was the piece about the climate implications for Phoenix, Arizona.  Followed the next day by the changes in the flow of the jet stream across the North Atlantic with all the weather implications for North-West Europe.

Indeed, as the heading to today’s post makes clear, this is also about the changes going on to our planet.

Learning from Dogs is about a different way of living and behaving.  A campaign, if one wants to call it that, to show that the way that modern man is living is corrupt.  Not with a big ‘C’ but still in the sense of living a dishonest life.  Learning from Dogs attempts to show that our wonderful dogs, a source of so much love and pleasure for so many millions, offer us an example of a life in and of this planet.

If there was ever a time in the history of man when we needed being reminded of our frailty and vulnerability, it is now.  As the following so starkly illustrates.

Peter Sinclair of Climate Crocks recently republished an item from Skeptical Science that opened up as follows:

A new study of ocean warming has just been published in Geophysical Research Letters by Balmaseda, Trenberth, and Källén (2013).  There are several important conclusions which can be drawn from this paper.

  • Completely contrary to the popular contrarian myth, global warming has accelerated, with more overall global warming in the past 15 years than the prior 15 years.  This is because about 90% of overall global warming goes into heating the oceans, and the oceans have been warming dramatically.

Then last week-end, Dan Gomez, friend for over 40 years, sent me the following:

Weather Channel Founder: Global Warming Science ‘Not Valid’

Meteorologist John Coleman, who co-founded The Weather Channel, says the claim that human activity is leading to global warming is no longer scientifically credible.

Instead, the “little evidence” there is for rising global temperatures points to a “natural phenomenon,” Coleman asserts.

In an open letter to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he wrote: “There is no climate crisis. The ocean is not rising significantly. The polar ice is increasing, not melting away. Polar bears are increasing in number.

“Heat waves have actually diminished, not increased. There is not an uptick in the number or strength of storms.

“I have studied this topic seriously for years. It has become a political and environmental agenda item, but the science is not valid.”

Coleman says he based his views on the findings of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (not to be confused with the U.N. panel), a body of scientists and scholars who assess the science of global warming.

“There is no significant man-made global warming at this time. There has been none in the past and there is no reason to fear any in the future,” says Coleman, who was the original meteorologist on “Good Morning America.”

“Efforts to prove the theory that carbon dioxide is a significant greenhouse gas and pollutant causing significant warming or weather effects have failed.

“There has been no warming over 18 years.”

The U.N.’s IPCC argues that their research shows man-made global warming will lead to extreme weather events becoming more frequent and unpredictable, the Express in Britain reported.

Climate expert William Happer, a professor at Princeton University, expressed support for Coleman’s claims.

“No chemical compound in the atmosphere has a worse reputation than CO2, thanks to the single-minded demonization of this natural and essential atmospheric gas by advocates of government control [of] energy production,” Happer said.

“The incredible list of supposed horrors that increasing carbon dioxide will bring the world is pure belief disguised as science.”

What Dan had seen was an article in the UK Daily Mail that, in turn, was echoed on the US WesternJournalism blogsite.  Here’s how that Daily Mail story opens:

Climate change has been proven to be a lie, according to a leading meteorologist.

John Coleman, who co-founded the Weather Channel, claims that the belief humans are causing climate change is not backed up by science.

In an open letter attacking the UN, the 80-year-old from San Diego, said that what ‘little evidence’ there is for global warming points to natural cycles in temperature.

‘There is no climate crisis,’ he wrote. ‘The ocean is not rising significantly. The polar ice is increasing, not melting away. Polar bears are increasing in number. ‘Heat waves have actually diminished, not increased. There is not an uptick in the number or strength of storms.

‘I have studied this topic seriously for years. It has become a political and environment agenda item, but the science is not valid.’

The WesternJournalism post runs with the story explaining (in part):

John Coleman, the original meteorologist for ABC’s Good Morning America and the founder of The Weather Channel, which launched in 1982, wrote an open letter to the UCLA’s Hammer Forum urging them “to re-examine their plan” for their forum, scheduled for this past Thursday, after they announced their experts, both of whom believe in climate change science.

Coleman has made his position against climate change science clear in the past.

“There is no significant man-made global warming at this time, there has been none in the past and there is no reason to fear any in the future. Efforts to prove the theory that carbon dioxide is a significant ‘greenhouse’ gas and pollutant causing significant warming or weather effects have failed. There has been no warming over 18 years.”

The Weather Channel founder cites professors from Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard Smithsonian Observatory, and the University of Alabama, along with “9,000 Ph.D scientists” who agree with him.

“Yet at your October 23 Hammer Forum on Climate Change you have scheduled as your only speakers two people who continue to present failed science as though it is the final and complete story on global warming/climate change. This is a major mistake.”

Coleman urged the UCLA group to reconsider, noting he is not a “flat Earther,” or a “paid shill of the Koch Brothers.”

In a discussion yesterday with Dan, he was of the clear mind that, yes, the climate is changing, as it always has over eons of time, but that the degree of change that is directly attributed to man’s affairs is minute.  Then all around me I see sign after sign, read article after article, that we, as in mankind, are relentlessly ‘fouling our own nest’ and the time left for us to learn how to live sustainably on this planet is fast running out.

Can we get to the truth? The topic will be continued tomorrow!

Being proud to be a deviant!

with 8 comments

A powerful essay from George Monbiot.

Many will be aware that on a fairly regular basis, I repost essays here from George Monbiot, the last being Monbiot Unmasked on the 6th August.

I do so because in a world where much of the media is ‘bought’, and do understand that I use the term loosely, solid and trustworthy correspondents are to be applauded and, in turn, their views shared.  Mr. Monbiot is a classic example of someone who adheres to a truthful perspective. I am more than grateful for the blanket permission given to me by GM for the republication of his essays.

Thus with no further ado, here is George Monbiot’s essay Deviant and Proud published in the UK’s Guardian newspaper on the 6th August, 2014.

ooOOoo

Deviant and Proud

August 5, 2014

Do you feel left out? Perhaps it’s because you refuse to succumb to the competition, envy and fear neoliberalism breeds.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th August 2014

To be at peace with a troubled world: this is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration. This column is for those who feel at odds with life. It calls on you not to be ashamed.

I was prompted to write it by a remarkable book, just published in English, by a Belgian professor of psychoanalysis, Paul Verhaeghe (1). What About Me?: The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society is one of those books that, by making connections between apparently distinct phenomena, permits sudden new insights into what is happening to us and why.

We are social animals, Verhaeghe argues, and our identity is shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own normality – and its own abnormality – according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don’t.

Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power (2). It’s rapidly colonising the rest of the world.

Verhaeghe points out that neoliberalism draws on the ancient Greek idea that our ethics are innate (and governed by a state of nature it calls the market) and on the Christian idea that humankind is inherently selfish and acquisitive. Rather than seeking to suppress these characteristics, neoliberalism celebrates them: it claims that unrestricted competition, driven by self-interest, leads to innovation and economic growth, enhancing the welfare of all.

At the heart of this story is the notion of merit. Untrammelled competition rewards people who have talent, who work hard and who innovate. It breaks down hierarchies and creates a world of opportunity and mobility. The reality is rather different. Even at the beginning of the process, when markets are first deregulated, we do not start with equal opportunities. Some people are a long way down the track before the starting gun is fired. This is how the Russian oligarchs managed to acquire such wealth when the Soviet Union broke up. They weren’t, on the whole, the most talented, hard-working or innovative people, but those with the fewest scruples, the most thugs and the best contacts, often in the KGB.

Even when outcomes are based on talent and hard work, they don’t stay that way for long. Once the first generation of liberated entrepreneurs has made its money, the initial meritocracy is replaced by a new elite, which insulates its children from competition by inheritance and the best education money can buy. Where market fundamentalism has been most fiercely applied – in countries like the US and UK – social mobility has greatly declined (3).

If neoliberalism were anything other than a self-serving con, whose gurus and think tanks were financed from the beginning by some of the richest people on earth (the American tycoons Coors, Olin, Scaife, Pew and others) (4), its apostles would have demanded, as a precondition for a society based on merit, that no one should start life with the unfair advantage of inherited wealth or economically-determined education. But they never believed in their own doctrine. Enterprise, as a result, quickly gave way to rent.

All this is ignored, and success or failure in the market economy are ascribed solely to the efforts of the individual. The rich are the new righteous, the poor are the new deviants, who have failed both economically and morally, and are now classified as social parasites.

The market was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom. Instead it has delivered atomisation and loneliness. The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafka-esque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition, known in Russian as tufta. It means the falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power.

The same forces afflict those who can’t find work. They must now contend, alongside the other humiliations of unemployment, with a whole new level of snooping and monitoring. All this, Verhaeghe points out, is fundamental to the neoliberal model, which everywhere insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification. We find ourselves technically free but powerless. Whether in work or out of work, we must live by the same rules or perish. All the major political parties promote them, so we have no political power either. In the name of autonomy and freedom we have ended up controlled by a grinding, faceless bureaucracy.

These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia; both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors, the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us. The infantilising diktats of the workplace destroy our self-respect. Those who end up at the bottom of the pile are assailed by guilt and shame. The self-attribution fallacy cuts both ways (5): just as we congratulate ourselves for our successes,we blame ourselves for our failures, even if we had little to do with it.

So if you don’t fit in; if you feel at odds with the world; if your identity is troubled and frayed; if you feel lost and ashamed, it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Paul Verhaeghe, 2014. What About Me?: The struggle for identity in a market-based society. Scribe. Brunswick, Australia and London.

2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/oct/18/conservative-financial-crisis-opportunity

3. http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/may/22/social-mobility-data-charts

4. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/aug/28/comment.businesscomment

5. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/07/one-per-cent-wealth-destroyers

ooOOoo

What powerful observations; what common-sense written by Paul Verhaeghe, and beautifully reported by Mr. Monbiot in an incredible essay.

You have probably guessed where I stand! ;-)

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