Tag: Capitalism

From Environmentalism to Ecologism, Part Two

Part Two of the three-part guest essay by Martin Lack.

The background to this major essay was covered yesterday, in the introduction to Part One.

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Can ecologism be regarded as an ideology in its own right? (Part 2)

A question of values

According to Carter (2007: 14-15), there is no consistent use of terminology regarding the value ascribed to different entities, so it would seem sensible to use that which he outlines:

  • Instrumental value: The value which something has for someone as a means to an end (also known as utility value).

  • Inherent value: The value which something has because it is considered desirable (e.g. precious metals such as silver, gold and platinum).

  • Intrinsic value: The value which something has because of what it is – typically essential for the existence of life (e.g. sunlight, clean air, and clean water).

As Carter points out (2007: 15), as well as being inconsistently applied to individual entities by those doing the valuing, these terms are not mutually exclusive (i.e. “being valuable in one way does not preclude being valuable in another way”). However, what is clear is that the value judgements that any individual makes will determine their attitude towards consumption and/or pollution of the Earth’s natural resources.

In setting out his “Green Theory of Value”, Robert Goodin boldly acknowledged that, ideally, it should “tell us both what is to be valued and why” (Goodin 1992:19). However, before explaining his own theory of value, Goodin identifies the two main alternatives as capitalist (consumer-based) value; and Marxist (producer-based) value (Goodin 1992: 23-4). Goodin’s green theory of value is thus distinct from both of these because the value-imparting properties are neither those of the consumer nor producer; they are (or at least should be) “natural resource based”; although he specifically does not claim that his theory “is correct utterly to the exclusion of all others” (Goodin 1992: 25-6).

Applying Carter’s typology of value (above) to Goodin’s argument, capitalists would appear to be focussed upon the inherent value of things they consume; and Marxists upon the instrumental value of the things they produce. In contrast to both of these, Goodin seeks to justify the assertion that nature itself should always be considered, independent of the presence or activity of humans, to have inherent – if not intrinsic – value. However, he seems to shy away from the logical conclusion of his argument; that all nature has intrinsic value that does not require the presence of valuers (Goodin 1992: 42-45). This is presumably part of an appeal to reason, which such an extreme view would probably not have.

A question of perspective

If anthropocentrism is a way of thinking “…that regards humans as the source of all value and is predominantly concerned with human interests”, then, in simplistic terms, ecocentrism is one “…that regards humans as subject to… ethical, political and social prescriptions… equally concerned with both humans and non-humans” (Carter 2007: 14). However, as with most things in life, it is not as simple as these definitions imply. For example, from an anthropocentric perspective, it is possible to be concerned about the welfare of individual domesticated animals; and yet not be concerned about the survival of entire endangered species.

Equally, one of the biggest debates in ecological politics may revolve around how one defines “moral persons” (Rawls, 1972: 504-5); or legitimate “recipients of justice” (Garner 2003: 11), although many would probably agree with what Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) said: “The question is not, can they reason? Not, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” (cited in Dobson 2006: 220-1). However, the contentious and unresolved nature of this debate has led to the appearance of terms such as “shallow” and “deep”; which may be applied to anthropocentrism and ecocentrism alike (with “deep” denoting a more extreme position in either case). Therefore:

Rather than define different perspectives according to which side of the ecocentric/anthropocentric divide they lie, they can be located along a continuum, which moves from ecocentrism through various gradations of anthropocentrism to ‘strong anthropocentrism’ (Carter 2007: 36).

Once it is recognised that there is a range of possible positions that may be adopted (rather than a choice that has to be made), it is possible – as Eckersley has done – to characterise at least five different positions, which are as follows:

  1. Resource conservation – the wise use of natural resources for human benefit: Eckersley suggests that the conservation movement was founded upon the Judeao-Christian notion of humans having “dominion” over the Earth; rather than any duty of “stewardship”, as exemplified by Gifford Pinchot (the first chief of the US Forest Service) (Eckersley 1992: 35).

  2. Human welfare ecology – an appeal to enlightened self-interest: Eckersley cites Barry Commoner’s “four laws of ecologyas (1) everything is connected to everything else; (2) everything must go somewhere; (3) nature knows best; and (4) there’s no such thing as a free lunch (Eckersley 1992: 37-8).

  3. Preservationism – seeking the aesthetic preservation of wilderness areas: Whereas Gifford Pinchot wanted to preserve nature for development (i.e. maximise the utility of natural resources for human benefit), John Muir (of the Sierra Club) wanted to preserve nature from development (i.e. minimise the human impact on the natural environment) (Eckersley 1992: 39).

  4. Animal liberationism – the prevention of cruelty to certain animals: A comparatively modern, radical, development; which can trace its heritage back to “humane” societies formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as the RSPCA (Eckersley 1992: 42).

  5. Ecocentrism – seeking the preservation of nature for its own sake (Eckersley, 1992: 46).

With regard to the latter, given that Eckersley recognised the fact that these positions lie upon a “wide spectrum of differing orientations towards nature”, whose end-points are anthropocentrism and ecocentrism (1992: 33), this could be better defined as deep ecocentrism. However, even using these five labels, it is not hard to see why it is difficult to categorise people: For example, the human welfare ecologists could be regarded as quite ecocentric (if they recognise the validity and/or importance of each and every one of Barry Commoner’s “four laws of ecology”); whereas animal liberationists could be regarded as quite anthropocentric (if they are only concerned about domesticated pets and/or individual animals).

The ecocentric end of the spectrum has also been described as that of “deep ecology” (Devall and Sessions 1985: 70), and “biospherical egalitarianism” (Naess 1989: 170). However, whilst preferring the term “biocentric egalitarianism” for the latter, Carter points out that – as indeed was conceded by Naess (1989: 28) – food is an essential requirement for life and, therefore, an entirely egalitarian position is untenable:

Certainly, any principle along the lines of biocentric egalitarianism would be impossible to implement. Taking it to the extreme, how could a human justify killing any animal or fish, or consuming a vegetable, bean or berry? All involve some restraint on another entity’s capacity to live and flourish (Carter 2007: 36).

So, it would seem that an entirely ecocentric position is hard to maintain, but can the same be said for an entirely anthropocentric position? This, as we shall now see, has been the subject of much debate.

A question of justice

When someone says, “I want justice!” it is normally because they feel they have been wronged in some way; and want what they feel they deserve (i.e. fairness). Hence, Paul Sterba opens his chapter in “Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge” on this subject by saying, “Justice requires giving what is deserved” (Sterba 2006: 148). However, within the sphere of environmental politics, when faced with difficult choices, human beings tend to ‘circle the wagons’ and protect their own kind.

In the introduction to his book “Theory of Ecological Justice”, Brian Baxter uses the example of Sir David Attenborough’s response to the prospect of humans causing species extinctions (i.e. “Surely, it is sad indeed that our descendants should inherit a natural world that is more impoverished than the one we inherited?”) to suggest that all humans are almost incapable of being anything other than anthropocentric (Baxter 2005: 1). However, Attenborough was probably deliberately making the question rhetorical; just as Baxter was probably being provocative in order to retain the interest of readers. Nevertheless, in a wide-ranging consideration of the subject, Baxter discusses the work of numerous authors, to advocate the case for “moral consideration” to be given to sentient non-humans (Baxter 2005: 45).

This would appear to be in accordance with Bentham’s conclusion that it is the ability to suffer that should confer the right to fair treatment. Indeed, one such author Baxter considered, David DeGrazia, proposed the principle of “equal consideration” for all sentient non-humans but pointed out that this could not guarantee justice; merely a fair hearing. He also pointed out that granting equal consideration would not automatically confer upon them the right to moral consideration, but it would be revolutionary; because much animal experimentation (he uses the term “exploitation”) would then seem to be unjustifiable (DeGrazia 1996: 37-38).

Dobson has written a great deal on the subject of justice. In a characteristically thought-provoking contribution to a recent collection of essays on the subject (regarding the difficulties of combining social justice and environmental sustainability; in effect asking “What is to be sustained and for whose benefit?”), he discusses who should be the legitimate “recipients of justice”; and what should be the consequential scope of the “community of justice” thus determined (Dobson 2003: 87-94).

Baxter sees the three main principled objections to the notion of ecological justice as being that justice need only be distributed to (1) those able to voluntarily co-operate to produce and/or preserve environmental benefits; (2) those with property rights; and (3) those capable of reciprocity (Baxter 2005: 77). Baxter deals with the first and last of these reasonably easily, as follows: (1) bacteria are beneficial and slaves were not volunteers (2005: 78-9); and (3) mentally-incapacitated people do not cease to be human because they cannot interact with their surroundings or respond to stimuli (2005: 77-8). However, objection (2) seems a little more intractable (2005: 86). Finally, Baxter concludes that if these objections can indeed be rejected, ecological justice represents a fundamental challenge to the laissez-faire attitude of liberalism (2005: 94).

However, for now, the final word on the question of justice will be given to Dobson, who almost seemed to be responding to Baxter, by saying: “Just who is throwing down the gauntlet here? Is political ecology a challenge for citizenship, or is citizenship a challenge for political ecology?” (Dobson 2006: 216). Whilst acknowledging the historical existence of at least two types of citizenship; namely liberal and civic republican (stressing right-claiming and responsibility-taking respectively), Dobson highlights at least two fundamental challenges to any notion of citizenship (i.e. feminism and cosmopolitanism) (2006: 217-8). However, much more space is given to the ways in which the notion of citizenship is a challenge to ecological politics. Again, this is indicative of the fact that ecologism should be regarded as a distinctive political ideology in its own right.

References

Baxter, B. (2005), A Theory of Ecological Justice. London: Routledge.

DeGrazia, D. (1996), Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Devall, B. and Sessions, G. (1985), Living as if Nature Mattered. Layton UT: Peregrine and Smith.

Dobson, A. (2003), ‘Social justice and environmental sustainability: ne’er the twain shall meet?’, in Agyeman, J., Bullard, R., and Evans, B. (eds.), Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. London: Earthscan, pp.83-95.

Dobson, A. (2006), ‘Citizenship’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.216-231.

Garner, R. (2003) ‘Animals, politics and justice: Rawlsian liberalism and the plight of non-humans’, Environmental Politics, 12 (2), pp.3-22.

Goodin, R. (1992), Green Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Naess, A. (1989), Ecology, Community and Lifestyle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Rawls, J. (1972), A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sterba, P. (2006), ‘Justice’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.148-64.

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The final part, Part Three, will be published tomorrow.

From Environmentalism to Ecologism, Part One.

A guest essay for today and the next two days.

A few days ago, I remarked that for the time being posts on Learning from Dogs were frequently going to be based on the material of others.  It was the only way that I could keep this blog going yet at the same time edit (code for re-write!) a 60,000-word novel that was completed, as a first pass, last November.

Martin Lack is one major step ahead of yours truly.  Not because he, too, writes a blog but because, unlike yours truly, he is a published author!  His book is called The Denial of Sciencehe blogs under the name of Lack of Environment.

DenialofScience

Thus I was extremely grateful when a short while ago, Martin offered a major essay of his as a guest post for Learning from Dogs.  Better than that, Martin happily accepted my recommendation to send me his essay in three parts.

It may not be the easiest read out in the ‘blogosphere’ but, trust me, Martin’s essay is profoundly important.

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Can ecologism be regarded as an ideology in its own right? (Part 1)

Introduction

Although it might well be assumed that one does not have to define what is meant by ‘socialists’ or – in UK terms at least – ‘conservatives’, it is certainly necessary to define ‘ecologism’: For the purposes of answering the above question, therefore, the latter should be understood as including thinking, behaviour, and the pursuit of policies that are concerned with the environment; but which are not merely or predominantly anthropocentric (i.e. those concerned with human needs and interests).

In a way, the question is nonsensical because use of the term ‘ecologism’, as coined by Andrew Dobson, appears to pre-suppose that ecological politics is indeed a “new political ideology” (2000: 163). If so, to respond to the above question by saying, in effect, ‘just because both socialists and conservatives (can) lay claim to ecological politics does not change the fact that ecologism is a distinctive political ideology in its own right’, would clearly be tautological. Therefore, to provide a defensible answer “Yes” to the above question – as is the intent herein – it is necessary to explain how and why:

  1. both socialists and conservatives can lay claim to ecological politics;
  2. the majority of both socialists and conservatives do not do so; and
  3. the ‘ecologism’ that both find so challenging must therefore be considered as a distinctive political ideology in its own right.

The Socialist claim

One does not have to be an eco-socialist in order to believe or appreciate that there is a great deal of common ground shared by socialist and environmental politics. Socialism is a broad left-of-centre church that, it could be argued, includes everything from social democrats to communists. However, if socialism can be summed-up in the tripartite “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” motto of France (with its origins in the French Revolution of 1789-99), whose English translation would be “Freedom, equality, and brotherhood”, then it is not hard to see why socialists would find common cause with those whose goal is, in effect, to seek equal rights for the environment.

The “four pillars” of ecological politics are – as cited by Neil Carter – those devised by the German Green Party in 1983: ecological responsibility, grassroots democracy, social justice, and non-violence (Carter 2007: 48). Clearly, grassroots democracy and social justice are part of the socialist agenda. Therefore, despite the global dominance of free-market economics, Mary Mellor has asserted that far from being a challenge to socialism, “ecology greatly enhances the case for a redefined and refocused socialism” (Mellor 2006: 35).

The Conservative claim

Although by no means a monolithic entity, environmental politics is usually seen as being a predominantly left-of-centre entity (e.g. Carter 2007: 78); and it is often seen as being easier to define what it opposes than to define what it seeks. If so, ecological politics is essentially a reaction against anthropocentric thinking and the selfish pursuit of individual gain without regard for others or the environment. However, some philosophers such as Roger Scruton have therefore tried to distinguish between such selfish, libertarian, goals and those of traditional conservatives who, as their name suggests, seek the preservation of the status quo for the benefit of both the current generation and those that will follow (Scruton 2006: 7-8). Indeed, as early as 1993, in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit, Scruton was advocating the need for a radical re-think of right-wing politics:

Conservatives need to explore, with greens and others, as yet unthought-of dilemmas of life in societies which are no longer buoyed up by the prospect of incessant economic growth or by modernist pseudo-religions of endless world improvement” (Scruton 1993: 173).

However, in 1993, the idea that there might be limits to growth was hardly new; being based on Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons article (1968); the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Limits to Growth report for the Club of Rome (Meadows et al., 1972); E. F. Schumacher’s highly influential book Small is Beautiful (1973). For example:

The illusion of [mankind’s] unlimited powers, nourished by astonishing scientific and technological achievements, has produced the concurrent illusion of having solved the problem of production… based on the failure to distinguish between income and capital where this distinction matters most… A businessman would not consider a firm to have solved its problems of production and to have achieved viability if he saw that it was rapidly consuming its capital… (Schumacher 1974: 11).

Therefore, although the dilemmas were not “as yet unthought-of”, Scruton had, nevertheless, identified the source of the challenge that does indeed, it is here argued, begin to transform ecological politics into the distinctive political ideology that is ecologism.

Limits to Growth – a political and economic challenge

Although much disputed (by those that point to the fact that commodity prices have generally fallen over time, or that dire predictions have not yet come true), the Limits to Growth argument is based on the reality of the physical constraints of the planet on which we live.

For example: “Infinite growth is impossible in a closed system. With continued growth in production, the economic subsystem must eventually overwhelm the capacity of the global ecosystem to sustain it” (Daly & Farley 2004: 64). However, this is merely a comparatively recent re-statement of (former World Bank economist) Herman E Daly’s longstanding belief in the need for steady-state growth.

Furthermore, Daly and Farley cite Rudolf Clausius has having “coined the term ‘entropy’ for the Second Law [of Thermodynamics], derived from the Greek word for transformation, in recognition of the fact that entropy was a one-way street of irreversible change; a continual increase in the disorder of the universe” (Daly & Farley 2004: 65).

This is a fundamental tenet of modern physics; one that Daly has been repeating (like a “voice in the wilderness” proclaiming a message that nobody wants to hear) for a long time: It was over 35 years ago that he began an article entitled ‘The Economics of the Steady State’ with a quote from the famous scientist Sir Arthur Eddington, who once said, “But if your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation” (as cited in Daly 1974: 15).

With this in mind, perhaps, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” on 18 November 1992, from which the following excerpt is taken:

The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth’s limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair (UCS 1992).

Today, we are now well beyond these limits. According to the Global Footprint Network (GFN), humanity is now using the resources of at least 1.5 Earth’s (GFN, 2010). The most recent update to the Limits to Growth report was produced in 2005 and, in a section entitled “why technology and markets alone can’t avoid overshoot”, the authors suggested that:

…the more successfully society puts off its limits through economic and technical adaptations, the more likely it is in the future to run into several of them at the same time… the [model] does not run out of land or food or resources or pollution absorption capacity, it runs out of the “ability to cope” [i.e. too much industrial output has to be diverted to solving problems]… Given enough time, we believe humanity possesses nearly limitless problem solving abilities. [However] exponential growth… shortens the time for effective action. It loads stress on a system faster and faster, until coping mechanisms that have been adequate with slower rates of change finally begin to fail (Meadows et al 2005: 223).

Arguably, it could be said that the evidence for this is already becoming clear in the form of widespread social unrest around the globe, as a result of the increasing cost of – or difficulty in gaining access to – food, water, and energy.

For Robyn Eckersley, the reality of limits to growth and the magnitude of the ecological challenge is something from which we need to be emancipated; and it is also the raison d’être for environmentalism:

The environmental crisis and popular environmental concern have prompted a transformation of Western politics… Whatever the outcome of this realignment… the intractable nature of the environmental problems will ensure that environmental politics… is here to stay (Eckersley 1992: 7).

The latest UN projections for global population (published on 3 May 2011) suggests that stabilisation at about 10 billion by 2100AD is still most likely; but use probabilistic methods to account for the uncertainty in future fertility trends. Therefore, depending on changes in fertility rates in differing countries, the press release also indicates that global population could also peak at 8 billion in 2050 and then fall to 6 billion in 2100, or reach 10 billion by 2050 and continue to rise to 15 billion by 2100 (UN 2011: 1).

The key question the UN press release does not address is, “How many humans is too many?” Furthermore, although it depends on average rates of resource consumption, it is quite probable that there are already too many. However, this raises philosophical and/or ethical issues that form the other main aspect of ecological politics, which ensures that ecologism is a distinct political ideology in its own right.

From Environmentalism to Ecologism – the philosophical and ethical challenge

What’s in a name?

In the introduction above, ‘ecological politics’ was, in effect, defined as being environmentally-friendly and ecocentric (i.e. ecologism). For the avoidance of any doubt, therefore, it should be noted that this implies that it is possible to be concerned for the environment but be anthropocentric (i.e. environmentalism). It is precisely because the two things are not the same that Dobson has asserted that “…environmentalism and liberalism are compatible, but ecologism and liberalism are not” (2000: 165). The reason for this is examined below. (Ed. As in tomorrow!)

References

Carter, N. (2007), The Politics of the Environment (2nd edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Daly, H. & Farley, J. (2004), Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications. Washington DC: Island Press.

Daly, H. (1974), ‘The Economics of the Steady State’, The American Economic Review, 64(2), pp.15-21.

Dobson, A. (2000), Green Political Thought, (3rd edition). London, Routledge.

Eckersley, R. (1992), Environmentalism and Political Theory. London: UCL Press.

GFN (2010), Living Planet Report 2010: Biodiversity, Biocapacity, and Development. [Online] GFN. Available at http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/2010_living_planet_report/> [accessed 18 April 201].

Hardin, G. (1968), ‘The tragedy of the commons’, Science, 168, pp.1243-8.

Meadows D, et al (1972), The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.

Meadows D, et al (2005), Limits to Growth: the 30-Year Update, London: Earthscan.

Mellor, M. (2006), ‘Socialism’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.35-50.

Schumacher, E.F. (1974), Small is Beautiful: A study of Economics as if Small People Mattered, London: Abacus.

Scruton, R. (1993), Beyond the New Right. London: Routledge.

Scruton, R. (2006), ‘Conservatism’, in Dobson, A. and Eckersley, R., Political Theory and the Ecological Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.7-19.

UCS, (1992), World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. [Online] UCS. Available at <http://www.ucsusa.org/about/1992-world-scientists.html> [accessed 14/04/2011].

UN (2011), World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision – Press Release. [Online] UN. Available at <http://esa.un.org/wpp/index.htm> [accessed 11/05/2011].

Synchronicity of minds, part one.

A collection of essays and ideas that unite in a common theme.

Back in those times before dogs became the domesticated friends of man, the leader of the pack, the alpha female, had two key pack roles.  One of them was having first pick of the males, for mating purposes, and the other was knowing when their territory was no longer conducive to her pack’s interests.  When that happened the ‘boss lady’ was the one to signal that the pack had to find another, more beneficial, homestead.

While mankind is in desperate need of learning so many of the qualities of dogs the one example that is beyond us is finding a new homestead. This planet is the only homestead we have.

This basic and fundamental concept seems to be missing from the minds of leaders and power-brokers.  Missing big time!

Coincidentally, over recent days there have been three essays from three different authors that scream out the madness, to put it nicely, of the way of our world just now. Let me dip into those three essays.

First, to a recent essay from Tom Engelhardt over at TomDispatch.

American Jihad 2014 
The New Fundamentalists 
By Tom Engelhardt

In a 1950s civics textbook of mine, I can remember a Martian landing on Main Street, U.S.A., to be instructed in the glories of our political system.  You know, our tripartite government, checks and balances, miraculous set of rights, and vibrant democracy.  There was, Americans then thought, much to be proud of, and so for that generation of children, many Martians were instructed in the American way of life.  These days, I suspect, not so many.

Still, I wondered just what lessons might be offered to such a Martian crash-landing in Washington as 2014 begins.  Certainly checks, balances, rights, and democracy wouldn’t top any New Year’s list.  Since my childhood, in fact, that tripartite government has grown a fourth part, a national security state that is remarkably unchecked and unbalanced.  In recent times, that labyrinthine structure of intelligence agencies morphing into war-fighting outfits, the U.S. military (with its own secret military, the special operations forces, gestating inside it), and the Department of Homeland Security, a monster conglomeration of agencies that is an actual “defense department,” as well as a vast contingent of weapons makers, contractors, and profiteers bolstered by an army of lobbyists, has never stopped growing.  It has won the undying fealty of Congress, embraced the power of the presidency, made itself into a jobs program for the American people, and been largely free to do as it pleased with almost unlimited taxpayer dollars.

The expansion of Washington’s national security state — let’s call it the NSS — to gargantuan proportions has historically met little opposition.  In the wake of the Edward Snowdenrevelations, however, some resistance has arisen, especially when it comes to the “right” of one part of the NSS to turn the world into a listening post and gather, in particular, American communications of every sort.  The debate about this — invariably framed within the boundaries of whether or not we should have more security or more privacy and how exactly to balance the two — has been reasonably vigorous.  The problem is: it doesn’t begin to get at the real nature of the NSS or the problems it poses.

If I were to instruct that stray Martian lost in the nation’s capital, I might choose another framework entirely for my lesson.  After all, the focus of the NSS, which has like an incubus grown to monumental proportions inside the body of the political system, would seem distinctly monomaniacal, if only we could step outside our normal way of thinking for a moment.  At a cost of nearly a trillion dollars a year, its main global enemy consists of thousands of lightly armed jihadis and wannabe jihadis scattered mainly across the backlands of the planet.  They are capable of causing genuine damage — though far less to the United States than numerous other countries — but not of shaking our way of life.  And yet for the leaders, bureaucrats, corporate cronies, rank and file, and acolytes of the NSS, it’s a focus that can never be intense enough on behalf of a system that can never grow large enough or be well funded enough.

It’s a long, deeply thoughtful essay that deserves your full read.  This is how it closes:

After 12 long years in Afghanistan and an Obama era surge in that country, the latest grim National Intelligence Estimate from the U.S. intelligence community suggests that no matter what Washington now does, the likelihood is that things there will only go from bad enough to far worse.  Years of a drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula hasstrengthened that organization; an air intervention in Libya led to chaos, a dead ambassador, and a growing al-Qaeda movement in northern Africa — and so it repetitively goes.

Similarly, intelligence officials brag of terrorist plots — 54 of them! — that have been broken up thanks in whole or in part to the National Security Agency’s metadata sweeps of U.S. phone calls; it also claims that, given the need of secrecy, only four of them can be made public.  (The claims of success on even those four, when examined by journalists, have proved less than impressive.)  Meanwhile, the presidential task force charged with reviewing the NSA revelations, which had access to a far wider range of insider information, came to aneven more startling conclusion: not one instance could be found in which that metadata the NSA was storing in bulk had thwarted a terrorist plot. “Our review,” the panel wrote, “suggests that the information contributed to terrorist investigations by the use of section 215 telephony meta-data was not essential to preventing attacks.” (And keep in mind that, based on what we do know about such terror plots, a surprising number of them were planned or sparked or made possible by FBI-inspired plants.)

In fact, claims of success against such plots couldn’t be more faith-based, relying as they generally do on the word of intelligence officials who have proven themselves untrustworthy or on the impossible-to-prove-or-disprove claim that if such a system didn’t exist, far worse would have happened.  That version of a success story is well summarized in the claim that “we didn’t have another 9/11.”

In other words, in bang-for-the-buck practical terms, Washington’s national security state should be viewed as a remarkable failure.  And yet, in faith-based terms, it couldn’t be a greater success.  Its false gods are largely accepted by acclamation and regularly worshiped in Washington and beyond.  As the funding continues to pour in, the NSS has transformed itself into something like a shadow government in that city, while precluding from all serious discussion the possibility of its own future dismantlement or of what could replace it.  It has made other options ephemeral and more immediate dangers than terrorism to the health and wellbeing of Americans seem, at best, secondary.  It has pumped fear into the American soul.  It is a religion of state power.

No Martian could mistake it for anything else.

Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

Now let’s move from the USA to the UK.  George Monbiot penned an essay on the 6th January about the growing loss of freedoms in my old home country.  He opens:

Dead Zone

January 6, 2014

A shocking new bill threatens to make this country feel like a giant shopping mall.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 7th January 2014

Until the late 19th Century, much of our city space was owned by private landlords. Squares were gated, streets were controlled by turnpikes. The great unwashed, many of whom had been expelled from the countryside by acts of enclosure, were also excluded from desirable parts of town.

Social reformers and democratic movements tore down the barriers, and public space became a right, not a privilege. But social exclusion follows inequality as night follows day, and now, with little public debate, our city centres are again being privatised or semi-privatised. They are being turned by the companies that run them into soulless, cheerless, pasteurised piazzas, in which plastic policemen harry anyone loitering without intent to shop.

Streetlife in these places is reduced to a trance-world of consumerism, of conformity and atomisation, in which nothing unpredictable or disconcerting happens, a world made safe for selling mountains of pointless junk to tranquilised shoppers. Spontaneous gatherings of any other kind – unruly, exuberant, open-ended, oppositional – are banned. Young, homeless and eccentric people are, in the eyes of those upholding this dead-eyed, sanitised version of public order, guilty until proven innocent.

Then a few paragraphs later, the essay continues:

The existing rules are bad enough. Introduced by the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, anti-social behavour orders (Asbos) have criminalised an apparently endless range of activities, subjecting thousands – mostly young and poor – to bespoke laws. They have been used to enforce a kind of caste prohibition: personalised rules which prevent the untouchables from intruding into the lives of others.

You get an Asbo for behaving in a manner deemed by a magistrate as likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to other people. Under this injunction, the proscribed behaviour becomes a criminal offence. Asbos have been granted which forbid the carrying of condoms by a prostitute, homeless alcoholics from possessing alcohol in a public place, a soup kitchen from giving food to the poor, a young man from walking down any road other than his own, children from playing football in the street. They were used to ban peaceful protests against the Olympic clearances.

Inevitably, over half the people subject to Asbos break them. As Liberty says, these injunctions “set the young, vulnerable or mentally ill up to fail”, and fast-track them into the criminal justice system. They allow the courts to imprison people for offences which are not otherwise imprisonable. One homeless young man was sentenced to five years in jail for begging: an offence for which no custodial sentence exists. Asbos permit the police and courts to create their own laws and their own penal codes.

All this is about to get much worse. Tomorrow the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill reaches its report stage (close to the end of the process) in the House of Lords. It is remarkable how little fuss has been made about it, and how little we know of what is about to hit us.

The bill would permit injunctions against anyone of 10 or above who “has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.” It would replace Asbos with Ipnas (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance), which would not only forbid certain forms of behaviour, but also force the recipient to discharge positive obligations. In other words, they can impose a kind of community service on people who have committed no crime, which could, the law proposes, remain in force for the rest of their lives.

The bill also introduces Public Space Protection Orders, which can prevent either everybody or particular kinds of people from doing certain things in certain places. It creates new dispersal powers, which can be used by the police to exclude people from an area (there is no size limit), whether or not they have done anything wrong.

Please read the original essay in full as well as refer to background links that were included in that original.  I will offer the closing paragraphs.

The Home Office minister, Norman Baker, once a defender of civil liberties, now the architect of the most oppressive bill pushed through any recent parliament, claims that the amendments he offered in December will “reassure people that basic liberties will not be affected”(11). But Liberty describes them as “a little bit of window-dressing: nothing substantial has changed.”(12)

The new injunctions and the new dispersal orders create a system in which the authorities can prevent anyone from doing more or less anything. But they won’t be deployed against anyone. Advertisers, who cause plenty of nuisance and annoyance, have nothing to fear; nor do opera lovers hogging the pavements of Covent Garden. Annoyance and nuisance are what young people cause; they are inflicted by oddballs, the underclass, those who dispute the claims of power.

These laws will be used to stamp out plurality and difference, to douse the exuberance of youth, to pursue children for the crime of being young and together in a public place, to help turn this nation into a money-making monoculture, controlled, homogenised, lifeless, strifeless and bland. For a government which represents the old and the rich, that must sound like paradise.

www.monbiot.com

The last of the three essays was about Europe, being an essay on Naked Capitalism two days ago.

Written by Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain who also publishes the blog Raging Bull-Shit, the essay was originally posted at Testosterone Pit.

Death By A Thousand Cuts: The Silent Assassination Of European Democracy

As is gradually dawning on more and more people across the old continent, the European Union is riddled with fatal flaws and defects. Chief among them is the single currency which, rather than serving as the Union’s springboard to global dominance, could well be its ultimate undoing.

Another huge problem with the EU is its acute lack of transparency. Staggering as it may seem, in the last 20 years the Union has not passed a single audit. Indeed, so opaque is the state of its finances that in 2002 Marta Andreasen, the first ever professional accountant to serve as the Commission’s Chief Accountant, refused to sign off the organization’s 2001 accounts, citing concerns that the EU’s accounting system was “open to fraud.” After taking her concerns public, Andreasen was suspended and then later sacked by the Commission.

However, by far the EU’s greatest — and certainly most dangerous — structural flaw is its gaping democratic deficit. To paraphrase Nigel Farage, the stridently anti-EU British MEP, not only is the EU undemocratic, it is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Yet again, the essay must be read in full.  As with the others, I will include the closing paragraphs:

Of course none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the abject failure of modern nation-state democracy — not only in Europe, but across the globe. As Mair wrote in the first paragraph of his book, although the political parties themselves remain, “they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”

The European elites have masterfully exploited this crisis of representative democracy and the resultant voter disaffection and apathy to enshrine a new system of rule by bureaucrats, bankers, technocrats and lobbyists (as I reported in Full Steam Ahead For the EU Gravy Train, Brussels is home to the second biggest lobby industry in the world, just behind Washington). If anything, we can expect this trend to accelerate in 2014 as the Eurocrats seek to consolidate their power grab through the imposition of EU-wide banking and fiscal union. Once that’s done, the quest for the holy grail of full-blown political union will begin in earnest.

Whether the EU is able to pull of this ultimate coup de grace in its decades-long coup d’état will depend on two vital factors: its ability to continue preventing economic reality from impacting the financial markets; and the willingness of hundreds of millions of European people to be herded and corralled into a new age of technocracy.

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the abject failure of modern nation-state democracy — not only in Europe, but across the globe.

Don Quijones wrote that with a focus on Europe.  But also a recognition that right across the world the rights and safeguards of everyday citizens are being dangerously undermined.  I will return tomorrow with Part Two and an insight into the growing power of those everyday citizens.

 

Three years on, and ….

Nothing much changes.  This post first published on the 4th November, 2009!

Debt stress in Middle Class America – how may this play out?

On Saturday, October 24th Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism ran a Post on her Blog about an anonymous couple who were over their heads in debt.  (Yves has given me written permission to reproduce the Post.) The story of this couple then generated a huge response of comments. Read the comments, each and every one of them.

Then ask yourself abraham-lincoln-picturewhere this is all heading?  These comments may, almost certainly are, just be the tip of the iceberg.  Seems a long way from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in which he was reputed  to have used the words: “… government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Some days I worry; worry a lot!

The extract from Yves Post about this couple is reproduced below but far better is to go and read the whole Post and all the comments.

UPDATE: Since writing this Post Yves has published a further Post on the topic again generating a huge volume of comments.  That was Sunday, November 1st.  Then bright and early on November 2nd James Kwak of Baseline Scenario weighs in with his version, Do smart, hard-working people deserve to make more money? 150 comments (at the time of writing) for that one.  Interestingly, as the days have gone on the mood of the commentators has become more reflective and thoughtful thus partly negating the theme behind this Post.

This is the original Post from Naked Capitalism:

Some readers like to demonize those who get in over there heads with debt as people who lived high on the hog and had their day of reckoning come upon them. This story, forwarded from a reader, shows the picture is more complicated.

When I was young, savings of six months of living expenses was considered to be a good cushion against risk. Is that true any more? I doubt it. Although this couple didn’t even have that much stashed away, the sort of buffers that worked a generation ago are insufficient now. People spend longer between jobs than in the past, and if/when they do find new work, it is often at a lower level of pay than before.

Job loss and major illness rather than an overly lavish lifestyle are still the biggest causes of bankruptcy. And now that the average tenure at a job has shrunken considerably, people need to have more in the way of savings, yet the high cost of unemployment means it is even harder than before to build up a big enough kitty.

Via one a correspondent:

Just like most everyone I know, my husband and I are in big debt with our credit card companies. My husband was laid off on New Year’s Eve last year. We were in total shock. I am retired from the USAF and receive a small monthly check, and my husband began collecting a meager unemployment check. He searched all over the US and made several trips out west knocking on doors and handing out his resume. NOTHING. Anyway, we had no saving and a little bit of stock which was cashed in at an all time low. No help there. Then we started living off our credit cards. Without them, we would have not made it, period. Our daughter and her family moved in upstairs and her husband was working of a whopping $8.50 an hour. No help there. So basically we were supporting them as well.

We have a mortgage payment of $1175 and $30,000 equity still in our home, but we are unable to refinance at a lower rate BECAUSE my hubby was unemployed!

Getting back to my B of A card, I have NEVER been late on a payment in 10 years (until last month). I have always paid more than the minimum (until January 1st). BUT, my interest rates have inched up and up in the last few months and then, BOW! I tried to use my card about 3 weeks ago at the grocery store and it was denied. Needless to say, I walked out without the food. We don’t waste anything, not money, not food, not heat or lights, nothing, but we are going down fast. The good news is that my husband got a job this week (at a much, much lower wage) and will finally get a pay next week after almost 10 months. The bad news is that B of A is killing me and will ruin me soon. I sent them a “token” $10 payment on the $450 monthly that I owed. The payment was on time, but the $10 sure didn’t make them happy. They slapped a “LATE FEE” of $39 even though my “payment” was not late AND of course the dreaded overdraft fee of $39. Yesterday I got a statement from them saying that my next payment due 11/11 is $950. I can see the snowball at the top of the hill ready to roll. What do I do? Do I revolt and refuse to pay? Do I keep sending them $10 as a promise to pay? OR do I write Kenneth Lewis and say I want some of their TARP/bonus money back so I can apply it to my B of A account? It’s not fair, although I know we lived off our credits cards and much of what I owe is money that I spent on essentials, BUT, the ultrahigh interests rates combined with their slap-on-every-extra-fee-we-can mentality is outrageous. We have worked all our lives to have and keep our excellent credit ratings and now all that is shot.

What do I do? What do we do? Like I mentioned before, my husband just got a job, but he will be making much, much less than he used to. Our mortgage is behind, the bank is on us about that, our credit cards a behind and they want even MORE blood, our kids and their families aren’t making it even though they work and pinch every penny, no insurance is within reach for them or their babies, so we have been shuffling payments to help our grandchildren, the list goes on and on and on and on…

Please, what do we do? How can we stop the madness that has engulfed us? We are good citizens, worked hard all our lives, paid all our bills on time and paid more than the minimum – until lately -, penny pinch, reheat the reheated leftovers, eat toast, never go out, never hurt anyone, love our family and served our country, and now this.

Please, what do we do?

oooOOOooo

Could have been written yesterday!

Anniversary message from Paul

Learning from Dogs has been running for one year.

On July 15th, 2009 a post called Parenting lessons from Dogs started what has now become a bit of a ‘habit’.  But more reflections tomorrow.

Reach for the Skies

Today I want to voice something that has been running around my mind for some time.  It is whether we give in to the mounting doom and gloom at so many levels in our societies (and it can be a very compelling draw) or whether we see this as a painful but necessary period where slowly but surely the desires of ordinary people; for a fairer, more truthful, more integrous world are gaining power.

And I’m going to use Richard Branson to voice it for me!

(Now this is an unusually long Post so I’ve inserted the Read More divider to prevent the Post visually swamping your browser.)

Read the rest of this article

Pass the parcel

Congratulations to Martin Wolf of the Financial Times

An article was published in the FT on the 29th June that beautifully describes the ways in which we are all being so beautifully ‘screwed’ by the world of finance.  (Note, you may need to register to see this article, but please do.  Registration is free and the FT is full of great content.)

It starts like this:

This global game of ‘pass the parcel’ cannot end well

By Martin Wolf

Published: June 29 2010 23:31 | Last updated: June 29 2010 23:31

Paul here. Pass the parcel is a game for kids’ parties that involves passing a multi-wrapped ‘present’ around where the kid holding the parcel when the music stops gets to unwrap one sheet, then passes it on, etc., etc., until the kid holding the parcel with just one wrapper on it when the music stops gets the present.

Martin continues:

Our adult game of pass the parcel is far more sophisticated: there are several games going on at once; and there are many parcels, some containing prizes; others containing penalties.

So here are four such games. The first is played within the financial sector: the aim of each player is to ensure that bad loans end up somewhere else, while collecting a fee for each sheet unwrapped along the way. The second game is played between finance and the rest of the private sector, the aim being to sell the latter as much service as possible, while ensuring that the losses end up with the customers. The third game is played between the financial sector and the state: its aim is to ensure that, if all else fails, the state ends up with these losses. Then, when the state has bailed it out, finance can win by shorting the states it has bankrupted. The fourth game is played among states. The aim is to ensure that other countries end up with any excess supply. Surplus countries win by serially bankrupting the private and then public sectors of trading partners. It might be called: “beggaring your neighbours, while feeling moral about it”. It is the game Germany is playing so well in the eurozone.

It’s an article that really does need to be read in full. Martin concludes thus:

Yet it is quite clear that an isolated discussion of the need to reduce fiscal deficits will not work. These cannot be shrunk without resolving the overindebtedness of damaged private sectors, reducing external imbalances, or both.

The games we have been playing have been economically damaging. We will be on the road to recovery, when we start playing better ones.

Now I really don’t want Learning from Dogs to focus on ‘doom and gloom’. There’s more than enough of that to go round twice and thrice.

But when someone writes in such a great clarifying way – then it deserves the widest promulgation. The more we all know about the games being played, the better we can change the rules to benefit society.  Well done, Martin.

By Paul Handover

BP and Congress

Truth – 0, Lawyers – 1

Hayward of BP taking the oath

I can’t possibly add anything of substance to the hours and millions of words spoken about this tragic event.

All I felt as I watched the Congressional Hearing live on CNN was both embarrassment and sadness as a fellow Englishman demonstrated how the lawyers have won.

Hayward, from the couple of hours that I saw, said nothing of substance, nothing of real value and nothing that recognised how the American people, and the world in general, deserved openness and in-depth answers.

Very poorly advised, in my opinion.

Tragic.

By Paul Handover

Watch, and learn! Concluding parts

Growth is good?  Good for what?

[Apologies to our readers but a consistent error in all the links to previous posts within this and earlier posts has now been corrected.  You can view all the previous sections of his lecture by clicking the links in this Post. Ed.]

We live on a finite Earth.  But really understanding what that means is difficult.  I guess because most of us think that in our own little way we can’t really be doing any harm to the planet – I mean what’s another few grams of CO2?

Al Bartlet, University of Colorado

Well here’s Dr Albert Bartlett of the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado chatting about arithmetic!  And if you go to his website, you will come across this quote on the home page:

“Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?”

Want to sit in on his famous lecture, “Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101”?  Well you can.

The lecture is broken down into 8 10-minute videos, each of them on YouTube.  The first two instalments are here , Part Three and Four here

Parts Five and Six were in this post. These are the concluding two parts.

Part Seven

Part Eight

By Paul Handover

Watch, and learn, Part Three

Growth is good?  Good for what?

We live on a finite Earth.  But really understanding what that means is difficult.  I guess because most of us think that in our own little way we can’t really be doing any harm to the planet – I mean what’s another few grams of CO2?

Al Bartlet, University of Colorado

Well here’s Dr Albert Bartlett of the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado chatting about arithmetic!  And if you go to his website, you will come across this quote on the home page:

“Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?”

Want to sit in on his famous lecture, “Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101”?  Well you can.

The lecture is broken down into 8 10-minute videos, each of them on YouTube.  The first two instalments are here , Part Three and Four here and Parts Five and Six in this post. The concluding two parts are tomorrow.
Part Five

Part Six

By Paul Handover

Watch, and learn, Part Two

Growth is good?  Good for what?

We live on a finite Earth.  But really understanding what that means is difficult.  I guess because most of us think that in our own little way we can’t really be doing any harm to the planet – I mean what’s another few grams of CO2?

Al Bartlet, University of Colorado

Well here’s Dr Albert Bartlett of the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado chatting about arithmetic!  And if you go to his website, you will come across this quote on the home page:

“Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?”

Want to sit in on his famous lecture, “Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101”?  Well you can.

The lecture is broken down into 8 10-minute videos, each of them on YouTube.  The first two instalments are here with Part Three and Four in this post. The remaining four parts over the next two days.

Part Three

Part Four

By Paul Handover