Category: Culture

Return to Predators!

The critical value of predators.

Not so long ago there was some discussion about how important it was for the natural way of things to include predators. I mentioned how this had been the topic of a post published some time ago in this place.

It was back in February, 2014 and I have republished it today.

oooo

The critical value of predators in our wild lands.

February 24th, 2014

The consequences of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

I have two people to offer my thanks to for today’s post: Suzann and Ginger. Both of them within hours of each other sent me an email recommending the following video. So, without further ado, here is that video. (Oh, would you believe this. The video was released on February 13th, 2014 and, at the time of me writing this post, has been viewed 1,453,345 times! Wow!)

Published on Feb 13, 2014

Visit http://sustainableman.org/ to explore the world of sustainability.

For more from George Monbiot, visit http://www.monbiot.com/ and for more on “rewilding” visit http://bit.ly/1hKGemK and/or check out George Monbiot’s book Feral: rewilding the land, the sea and human life: http://amzn.to/1dgdLi9

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable “trophic cascade” occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix.

Narration from TED: “For more wonder, rewild the world” by George Monbiot. Watch the full talk, here: http://bit.ly/N3m62h

B-Roll Credits:
“Greater Yellowstone Coalition – Wolves” (http://bit.ly/1lK4LaT)
“Wolf Mountain” (http://bit.ly/1hgi6JE)
“Primodial – Yellowstone” (https://vimeo.com/77097538)
“Timelapse: Yellowstone National Park” (http://bit.ly/1kF5axc)
“Yellowstone” (http://bit.ly/1bPI6DM)
“Howling Wolves – Heulende Wölfe” (http://bit.ly/1c2Oidv)
“Fooled by Nature: Beaver Dams” (http://bit.ly/NGgQSU)

Music Credits:
“Unfoldment, Revealment, Evolution, Exposition, Integration, Arson” by Chris Zabriskie (http://bit.ly/1c2uckW)

FAIR USE NOTICE: This video may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes only. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 106A-117 of the US Copyright Law.

For any concerns or questions, you may contact us athttp://sustainableman.org/contact/

If you want to read more on a general level, then my post on the 11th January, 2014, An echo in the hills! may be worthwhile. It included this from William Ripple, of Oregon State University:

ooOOoo

Top dogs keep ecosystems in order

Many of these large carnivore species are endangered and some are at risk of extinction, either in specific regions or entirely. Ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects, which is what led us to write a new paper in the journal Science to document their role.

From a review of published reports, we singled out seven species that have been studied for their important ecological role and widespread effects, known as trophic cascades. These are the African lion, leopard, Eurasian lynx, cougar, gray wolf, sea otter and dingo.

Based on field research, my Oregon State University co-author Robert Beschta and I documented the impact of cougars and wolves on the regeneration of forest tree stands and riverside vegetation in Yellowstone and other national parks in western North America. Fewer predators, we found, lead to an increase in browsing animals such as deer and elk. More browsing disrupts vegetation, reduces birds and some mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem. From the actions of the top predator, widespread impacts cascade down the food chain.

Similar effects were found in studies of Eurasian lynx, dingoes, lions and sea otters. For example in Europe, absence of lynx has been closely tied to the abundance of roe deer, red fox and hare. In Australia, the construction of a 3,400-mile dingo-proof fence has enabled scientists to study ecosystems with and without dingoes which are closely related to gray wolves. They found that dingoes control populations of herbivores and exotic red foxes. The suppression of these species by dingoes reduces predation pressure, benefiting plants and smaller native prey.

In some parts of Africa, the decrease of lions and leopards has coincided with a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten crops and livestock. In the waters off southeast Alaska, a decline in sea otters through killer whale predation has led to a rise in sea urchins and loss of kelp beds.

Predators are integral, not expendable

We are now obtaining a deeper appreciation of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that can be traced back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The perception that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated. Many scientists and wildlife managers now recognise the growing evidence of carnivores’ complex role in ecosystems, and their social and economic benefits. Leopold recognised these relationships, but his observations were ignored for decades after his death in 1948.

op carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith
Top carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith

Human tolerance of these species is the major issue. Most would agree these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but additionally they provide economic and ecological services that people value. Among the services documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, restoration of riverside ecosystems, biodiversity and disease control. For example, wolves may limit large herbivore populations, thus decreasing browsing on young trees that sequester carbon when they escape browsing and grow taller. Where large carnivore populations have been restored – such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland – ecosystems appear to be bouncing back.

I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is, and while ecosystem restoration isn’t happening quickly everywhere in this park, it has started. In some cases where vegetation loss has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration may not be possible in the near term. What is certain is that ecosystems and the elements of them are highly interconnected. The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how species affect each another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to witness this interconnectedness of nature.

My co-authors and I have called for an international initiative to conserve large carnivores in co-existence with people. This effort could be modelled after a couple of other successful efforts including the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a non-profit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the Global Tiger Initiative which involves all 13 of the tiger-range countries. With more tolerance by humans, we might be able to avoid extinctions. The world would be a scary place without these predators.

William Ripple does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

ooOOoo

The ConversationMan! We are a strange species at times!

Starting Out on The Meditation Journey

If meditation really works then we want to engage in it.

Those who watched the video that was the central component of yesterday’s post will not have missed the references by Ted Meissner that scientific, double-blind evidence shows that meditation offers benefits for us humans.

Both Jean and I are especially interested in learning more and, hopefully, finding an appropriate meditation group in our nearest town, Grants Pass.

We would also welcome feedback and advice from any of you good people who have trod this path before.

For example, when one conducts a quick internet search into the different forms of meditation there are dozens of websites that are returned in the search findings. Almost choosing one website at random, the Visual Meditation website declares there are 7 Types of Meditation.  As in:

  • Transcendental Meditation (TM)
  • Heart Rhythm Meditation (HRM)
  • Kundalini
  • Guided Visualization
  • Qi Gong
  • Zazen
  • Mindfulness

To my uneducated eye, not one of those types seems to accord with the type supported by the American Meditation Society:

OUR MISSION

  • To provide instruction in meditation as taught by the founder of AMS, Gururaj Ananda Yogi.
  • To preserve and share the universal teachings of Gururaj with integrity and wisdom.
  • To provide a place where those who wish to unfold the inner self may do so in the company of other like-minded people.

Back to the plot! For this post is about the science.

The following video seemed worthy of sharing with you.

I watched the first 10 minutes before deciding it should be shared. By the time this post is published Jean and I will have watched it to the end. [20:45 yesterday evening. Jean and I have just finished watching the Bob Roth video below. It was both fascinating and very helpful!!]

The Aspen Institute

Published on Jun 26, 2016

Published studies have documented the many physical and mental health benefits of meditation, including decreased pain, better immune function, less anxiety and depression, a heightened sense of well-being, and greater happiness and emotional self-control. Google Scholar turns up almost 700,000 research documents on meditation, among them imaging studies that show increased activity in brain regions associated with attention, a higher volume of grey matter, and lessened amygdala response to emotional stimuli. What actually happens in the brain when we meditate? Why is meditation so nourishing to the mind, body and spirit?

Perri Peltz, Interviewer
Bob Roth

But a search of the YouTube website using the search term “meditation science” brought up many other links to shorter videos.

I selected the following (2:23 mins) because it is presented by Ferris Jabr who is an Associate Editor with Scientific American magazine.

Bottom line to my way of thinking is that this is something worth committing to once we know much more about engaging in meditation.

Your experiences most welcomed.

(And, of course, when it comes to chilling out for hours regularly each day then there’s another thing we can learn from our beloved dogs! No better demonstrated than by Brandy yesterday morning in the following photograph!)

Buddhism and Humanism

Reflections on a very interesting meeting of our local Freethinkers group.

Last Saturday was the regular monthly meeting of our local Rogue Valley Freethinkers and Humanists. Many know that Jean and I are secular humanists and go as often as we can to these meetings in Grants Pass, Oregon.

Saturday’s meeting was all about Buddhism or more accurately as Jerry Reed, the group’s administrator, put it in a recent email:

For Saturday, Aug 5: Brenda will be our presenter/discussion leader. She will introduce us to Secular Buddhism, including comments on basic principles of Buddhism, and how traditional and secular Buddhism compare with each other, as well as on overlapping philosophical views of Buddhism and Humanism.

This video link provides a discussion between a humanist, Scott Lohman, and a secular Buddhist, Ted Meissner, which may help to familiarize you with Brenda’s topic prior to our meeting. It is about 29 minutes long, all interesting, but if you are cramped for time, especially the segment from about 10:30 to 16:30 which discusses basic Buddhist principles that might also relate to humanism, and another segment from about 19:30 to 27:00 on advice to a beginner who might want to try meditation, and how Star Trek borrowed from Buddhism, and also about the similarity of ethical focus of Buddhism and Humanism.

What I would hope is that if any of you are interested in this subject, then do watch the interview with Ted Meisser conducted by Scott Lohman .
Here it is.

Here follow links to the organisations represented by Scott and Ted Meissner. For Scott the Humanists of Minnesota, and for Ted the Secular Buddhist Association.

If you do watch the video you will undoubtedly pick up on the science now discovering that meditation does change the brain … for the better!

More on that tomorrow!

Give the Mexican Wolf a single chance!

Picking up on Annie

Remember Kristin’s guest post just two days ago? Annie’s Second Chance?

I’m sure you do.

Well the reason I am using that connection is because I want to share with you an email that was received yesterday.

Paul

The Mexican gray wolf (also called lobo) is the rarest subspecies of gray wolf in the world.  With just 113 individuals in the wild, this federally endangered species needs your voice now.

Tell the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to draft a science-based recovery plan for endangered lobos!

Despite recommendations by the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s own scientists, they have released a highly politicized Draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which we fear will lead these severally endangered wolves to extinction.

Ask the USFWS to revise their Draft Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan to protect endangered lobos instead of protecting special interests.

The draft recovery plan ignores science, gives special interests controlling power over recovery, and outlines criteria which will prematurely remove Endangered Species Act protections from the wolf.

Already plagued by mismanagement, poaching, and declining genetic diversity, the Mexican wolf needs your help more than ever.  We only have until the close of the comment period on August 29th to generate opposition to this flawed plan. Please submit your comment today to ask the US Fish and Wildlife Service to draft a recovery plan that’s based on science, not politics!

Thank you for your commitment to wildlife and wild places.

Sincerely,

Hailey Hawkins
Southern Rockies Representative
Endangered Species Coalition
www.endangered.org

PS. Links not working? Take action for wolves at this URL: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/comment-on-the-draft-mexican-wolf-recovery-plan-sciencenotpolitics

Of course I wrote in support of the Lobo! And was delighted to notice that Action Network had set a goal of 3,200 letters and, as of yesterday morning, only a further 275 letters were needed to make that goal.

Please, dear reader, add your name. Thank you!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Annie’s Second Chance.

My very great pleasure to publish today’s guest post.

Regulars of this place know that I am always open to any one of you sending in a guest post. Indeed, any involvement that comes to mind is welcome.

A couple of days ago in came an email from Kristin. She blogs about her shared life with very large dogs. Kristin’s email was an offer of a guest post for you dear readers. Of course, I said ‘yes’.

In reply to me asking for some background information, Kristin responded with the following:

I don’t really have a preference about what to say about me. Basically, as my kids get older and more independent I keep bringing in another dog!

Newfoundlands are my breed of choice, I love their sweet dispositions, the way they look, the bonds they form and the way they love to work.  I’ve learned a lot about rescue as well as ethical breeding practices since I adopted Annie and my greatest wish is to see all puppy mills shut down. I started writing Annie’s story, which led to the blog, and at some point would love to work with someone to make it better and figure out how to make it a fundraising tool for rescue organizations.

I’m not a trained writer, I just write from the heart. I write about anything that happens to be going on with me and the dogs which covers a lot of subjects. I just try to keep the focus on the dogs and my relationship with them.

Forget about Kristin not being “a trained writer” and just immerse yourself in this beautiful guest post.

ooOOoo

Oh happy day!

August 1, 2017

Annie and I had a big day today.  A day that changes everything! It was time for her rabies shot so our big date was a trip to the vet.  Annie and I have made many of these trips over the last year-and-a-half, but this time was very different.

When Annie was surrendered to rescue, the only document that came with her was her 2014 rabies certificate.  By the time she came home with us a year later, the rabies tag was long gone and the certificate we received was in pretty rough shape but the story it told was clear to me.

It’s a copy of a fax and is crooked and faded. On multiple occasions I’ve had to pull it out of her file when asked to show proof of vaccination.  Each time I pull it out, the anger bubbles up because it is a reminder in black and white of her life before us.

The owner’s name and address belongs to the man that operated the kennel/puppy mill.  It’s easy for me to say that even though I’ve never met him, I hate him.  Her name is listed as Anne, but “Paris” is written next to it. Why does she have two names? I don’t know.  Her age is listed as 7, although she had just had a birthday and was actually 8. Her weight is listed as 00. Record keeping was obviously not a priority with these dogs.  There are other notes that are hard to read, but are the vaccinations that she received after she was rescued. At the top are the words Annie Paris, blaze and orange collar.  The final glaring bit of information is the list of vaccinations done which only includes 2 things, the one she received that day and another rabies shot she received May 23, 2008!

(Names and addresses have been edited)

These are all broad strokes that paint a picture of neglect. After 6 years, what compelled him to seek out a vet to administer a 3 year rabies vaccination? Who knows, but what really bothers me concerns the veterinarian. There is no way he could have examined her and thought that she or any of the other dogs from that kennel were receiving proper care. The conditions they were forced to live in were unsanitary and disgusting. Knowing Annie as I do, they would have had to drag her to him, with her trembling and cowering.

So now, here’s the good news. Annie came to us with a broken spirit on the mend thanks to her rescuers and now she is a completely different dog. She’s happy and loving, she has a spring in her step and a twinkle in her eye. She regularly approaches me and nudges my hand for a scratch behind the ear. She walks on leash beautifully and loves our neighborhood patrols. She comes running when she hears the scoop in the dog food or the word “treat”. She doesn’t hide in her crate anymore but instead sprawls out all over the house, moving around, finding a comfy spot on the cool tile or under my feet or on the rug in the next room. She’s quick to come when I’m having training time with Winn and she will do her two tricks, sit and down, with precision so she can also get treats. She joins me in the kitchen when I’m cooking, confident that she will get a nibble now and then. At the end of every day, we climb the stairs together, I give her her eye drops and then she collapses on her Big Barker bed and lets out a sigh of contentment.

So this time going to the vet was different. Yes, she trembled as we were waiting, it took a lot of gentle coaxing to get her into the room and she wasn’t overly enthused about the attention she was getting but we both eagerly left with a treasure in my hands. I now have a proper certificate with both of our names in print. It is signed by a Dr. who lovingly cares for her and is genuinely invested in her well-being. The final reminder of her previous life can go in the trash. We belong to each other, and we have no reason to ever look back again!

ooOOoo

I’m not going to take anything away from Kristin’s most beautiful story. All I will do is to repeat her last sentence: “We belong to each other, and we have no reason to ever look back again!

That is perfect! Thank you, Kristin and Annie!

Dog rescues a fawn!

Just had to share this with you!

The following story was published on Mother Nature Network a few days ago. I chose to republish it today because it fits in after one of the photographs I presented yesterday. This one:

Now to the MNN article.

ooOOoo

Golden retriever rescues drowning fawn (because dogs are awesome)

Mary Jo DiLonardo   July 18, 2017

Storm was walking with his owner around the Long Island Sound when he went tearing into the water on a serious mission. The English golden retriever had spotted a tiny baby deer in the water that was drowning, so he dove in after it.

“Storm just plunged into the water and started swimming out to the fawn, grabbed it by the neck, and started swimming to shore,” Storm’s owner Mark Freeley told CBS New York.

Freeley caught the amazing rescue on the video above.

When the two of them finally made it to shore, Storm laid down next to the baby deer.

“And then he started nudging it, and started pulling it to make sure she was gonna be OK, I guess,” Freeley said.

(Because Storm is a retriever, some people might wonder if he was just following his genetic instincts and retrieving.)

Freeley called a rescue group to come check on the fawn, but when they arrived, the little deer darted back into the water.

Frank Floridia of Strong Island Rescue waded into the water, while his partner Erica Kutzing ran about a mile down the beach to help.

Floridia got a rope around the fawn, eventually carrying her to shore — blowing out his knee in the process. But check out the smile on his face when he managed to finally corral the deer:

He handed off the fawn to Kutzing, who carried her the long way back to the rescue van.

“It felt like an eternity,” the group posted on Facebook. “The deer kicked and thrashed but they knew they couldn’t stop. She was already stressed enough. Time was fragile at this point.”

The fawn was taken to an animal rescue center where she’s being treated for a few superficial wounds. When she recovers, she’ll be released back into the wild.

You’re a good dog, Storm.

ooOOoo

What a fabulous story with which to start the week!

 

Help Stop the use of dogs for medical testing!

Sometimes I wonder about the human race!

Sorry for the outburst above but in the last ten minutes I read this over on Lady Freethinker’s blog: Sign: Pass Bill to Ban Cruel VA Medical Testing on Dogs It made me very angry!

It has to be shared with all you good people.

ooOOoo

Sign: Pass Bill to Ban Cruel VA Medical Testing on Dogs

Getting old? Get a dog!

Yet another wonderful reason to grow old with a dog or two!

Despite the fact that we rarely take our dogs for a walk, in the full meaning of the word, they still receive much exercise. For the straightforward reason that we are fortunate to have sufficient room around the house for the dogs to take themselves for a walk.

So when I first read a recent essay on Mother Nature Network about the benefits of people walking their dogs as they age my first reaction was not to read it too carefully! Thankfully, the article supported the benefits of having dogs as we age whether or not they are taken for walks. Read it for yourself.

ooOOoo

Dogs are the key to staying active as we age

People who walk their dogs tend to get more exercise, especially in winter, study finds.

Mary Jo DiLonardo    July 24, 2017

Saving dogs big time

This is really what matters!

Well it does in the worlds of Jean and me and many of you who frequent this place.

Whatever is going wrong in the world around us, all we need is examples of people putting animals in front of them.

No better illustrated than by a recent news item released by Humane Society International. Albeit, I am using the story as it was presented on the Care2 site.

ooOOoo

Nearly 150 Dogs Saved From the Dog Meat Trade in South Korea

Get ready for some happy news: 149 dogs who were destined to be turned into food have been successfully rescued and will now be starting their new lives in peace.

These dogs, who were rescued by a team from Humane Society International (HSI), are among millions who are raised and killed for their meat in South Korea. According to HSI, more than one million dogs are killed and eaten during Bok Nal days – the three hottest days of the summer – mainly as a soup that’s mistakenly believed to improve stamina and virility.

Fortunately, their fate changed when the farmer who was raising them turned to HSI for help. The organization has been working in partnership with those in the industry who express interest in getting out to help them close their farms and transition into other lines of work.

This latest rescue marks the ninth dog meat farm that HSI has permanently closed since 2014, which has resulted in saving the lives of nearly 1,000 dogs who would have otherwise been brutally slaughtered.

The dogs from this farm will now be free from the cages and chains that confined them, and are headed to HSUS Emergency Placement Partner shelters in the U.S. located in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where they’ll be prepared to be adopted into homes where they’ll become members of a family.

The first few have already arrived, and the rest will be on their way in the coming weeks. A group of 15 puppies who were too young to fly are being fostered with their moms until they’re ready to make the trip.

“With every dog meat farm we close, we are not only saving the lives of these poor, terrified dogs caught up in this cruel trade, but we are also presenting a successful blueprint for change that we hope the government will follow. Eating dog is a dying practice in Korea, especially among young people. However, the Bok Nal days of summer still lead many to eat dog meat soup in the mistaken belief that it will invigorate the blood in the sluggish heat. Our campaign shows them the disgusting conditions in which the dogs are forced in live in their own feces, and their pitiful suffering, and it is changing hearts and minds,” said Nara Kim, HSI’s South Korea dog meat campaigner.

While millions of dogs are still at risk, attitudes among the public are changing for the better, particularly among younger generations who are eschewing dog meat.

“Some people say that dog eating is Korean culture, but you won’t find many young people who feel it’s a cultural habit we want to hold on to. It’s intellectually lazy to use culture as an excuse for cruelty because all cultures evolve over time and we often shed practices of the past. We are hopeful that things will change, and that the new Korean president will advance a new culture of compassion to animals. I am so happy that for these dogs the dog meat trade is over, but we have to fight on for the millions who are still suffering,” added Kim.

HSI is continuing to urge the government to act to end the trade ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be hosted in South Korea, and will be heavily campaigning this summer to raise more awareness about the issue locally.

For more info on how to help, and updates on the dogs, check out Humane Society International.

Photo credit: Friends of Oregon Zoo Elephants/IDA

ooOOoo

The Care 2 version also included a number of very moving photographs but this one, in particular, seemed a great one to share with you. The rest will form the next Picture Parade.

Well done HSI!

 

Never taking democracy for granted!

Cold-water shower time again!

All you good people who stick with this blog know that the majority of the posts are to do with dogs or cats in one form or another.

Yet, I am cognizant of the fact that no one can completely hide, metaphorically speaking, in the warm fur of our favourite dog or cat and let the rest of the world go tits up. From time to time I read an article or an essay that touches on something fundamentally important to a civil society and am compelled to share same with you.

That was the case on July 5th when I published a post called The Implications of Inequality.

OK – moving on!

Regulars know that I am a great admirer of the writings of essayist George Monbiot. He is a very regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper. Just a few days ago, Mr. Monbiot published an essay that really does need to be read as widely as possible. It is called Missing Link and is republished here with George Monbiot’s very kind permission.

ooOOoo

Missing Link

21st July 2017
How a secretive network built around a Nobel prizewinner set out to curtail our freedoms

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 19th July 2017

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains: the deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year, whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She writes that the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.

Buchanan was strongly influenced by both the neoliberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and the property supremacism of John C Calhoun, who argued, in the first half of the 19th century, that freedom consists of the absolute right to use your property – including your slaves – however you may wish. Any institution that impinges on this right is an agent of oppression, exploiting men of property on behalf of the undeserving masses.

James Buchanan brought these influences together to create what he called “public choice theory”. He argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes are forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between what he called “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wished) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was what he called a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he develop both a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like and a strategy for implementing it.

He explained how attempts to desegregate schooling in the American South could be frustrated by setting up a network of state-sponsored private schools. It was he who first proposed the privatisation of universities and the imposition of full tuition fees on students: his original purpose was to crush student activism. He urged the privatisation of Social Security and of many other functions of the state. He sought to break the links between people and government and demolish trust in public institutions. He aimed, in short, to save capitalism from democracy.

In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship to write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse in its entirety. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend its programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982.

None of this troubled the Swedish Academy, that, through his devotee at Stockholm University, Assar Lindbeck, in 1986 awarded James Buchanan the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics. It is one of several decisions that have turned this prize toxic.

But his power really began to be felt when Charles Koch, currently the seventh richest man in the US, decided that Buchanan held the key to the transformation he sought. Koch saw even such ideologues as Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan as “sellouts”, as they sought to improve the efficiency of government rather than destroying it altogether. But Buchanan took it all the way.

MacLean says that Charles Koch poured millions into Buchanan’s work at George Mason University, whose law and economics departments look as much like corporate-funded thinktanks as they do academic faculties. He employed the economist to select the revolutionary “cadre” that would implement his programme (Murray Rothbard, at the Cato Institute that Koch founded, had urged the billionaire to study Lenin’s techniques and apply them to the libertarian cause). Between them, they began to develop a programme for changing the rules.

The papers Nancy Maclean discovered show that Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential.” Instead of revealing their ultimate destination, they would proceed by incremental steps. For example, in seeking to destroy the Social Security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical “reforms”. (The same argument is used by those attacking the NHS over here). Gradually they would build a “counter-intelligentsia”, allied to a “vast network of political power” that would eventually become the new establishment.

Through the network of thinktanks that Koch and other billionaires have sponsored, through their transformation of the Republican Party, and the hundreds of millions they have poured into state congressional and judicial races, through the mass colonisation of Trump’s administration by members of this network and lethally effective campaigns against everything from public health to action on climate change, it would be fair to say that Buchanan’s vision is maturing in the USA.

But not just there. Reading this book felt like a demisting of the window through which I see British politics. The bonfire of regulations highlighted by the Grenfell Tower disaster, the destruction of state architecture through austerity, the budgeting rules, the dismantling of public services, tuition fees and the control of schools: all these measures follow Buchanan’s programme to the letter. I wonder how many people are aware that David Cameron’s free schools project originated with an attempt to hamper racial desegregation in the American South.

In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called “economic freedom” and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.

Buchanan’s programme amounts to a prescription for totalitarian capitalism. And his disciples have only begun to implement it. But at least, thanks to Maclean’s discoveries, we can now apprehend the agenda. One of the first rules of politics is know your enemy. We’re getting there.

http://www.monbiot.com

ooOOoo

I found it very difficult to write these closing thoughts; as is obvious as you read this sentence!

Looking up quotations online under the headings of fairness or equality brought up many that could have worked here. Yet they seemed too trite, too obvious, too remote from the reality of what Mr. Monbiot describes here today.

So let me leave you with this: US income inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928. (Source: Pew Research.) But worse than that, US wealth inequality is even greater than income inequality. (Source: Pew Research.) (I’m certain that this is not exclusive to the USA.)

That is wrong! Plain and Simple!