Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Neoliberalism has Brought out the Worst in Us

by , The Guardian.com: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/29/neoliberalism-economic-system-ethics-personality-psychopathicsthic

City of London and Canary Wharf
'We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited' (Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

We tend to perceive our identities as stable and largely separate from outside forces. But over decades of research and therapeutic practice, I have become convinced that economic change is having a profound effect not only on our values but also on our personalities.

Thirty years of neoliberalism, free-market forces and privatisation have taken their toll, as relentless pressure to achieve has become normative. If you’re reading this sceptically, I put this simple statement to you: meritocratic neoliberalism favours certain personality traits and penalises others.

There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.

It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can - you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project.

Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour.

On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behaviour, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare, the best-known specialist on psychopathy today.

This description is, of course, a caricature taken to extremes. Nevertheless, the financial crisis illustrated at a macro-social level (for example, in the conflicts between eurozone countries) what a neoliberal meritocracy does to people.

Solidarity becomes an expensive luxury and makes way for temporary alliances, the main preoccupation always being to extract more profit from the situation than your competition. Social ties with colleagues weaken, as does emotional commitment to the enterprise or organisation.

Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak - in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other.

Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers”.

Adults display childish outbursts of temper and are jealous about trivialities (“She got a new office chair and I didn’t”), tell white lies, resort to deceit, delight in the downfall of others and cherish petty feelings of revenge. This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults.

More important, though, is the serious damage to people’s self-respect. Self-respect largely depends on the recognition that we receive from the other, as thinkers from Hegel to Lacan have shown. Sennett comes to a similar conclusion when he sees the main question for employees these days as being “Who needs me?” For a growing group of people, the answer is: no one.

Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed.

We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system.

A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal.

For those who believe in the fairytale of unrestricted choice, self-government and self-management are the pre-eminent political messages, especially if they appear to promise freedom. Along with the idea of the perfectible individual, the freedom we perceive ourselves as having in the west is the greatest untruth of this day and age.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman neatly summarised the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” We are indeed freer than before, in the sense that we can criticise religion, take advantage of the new laissez-faire attitude to sex and support any political movement we like.

We can do all these things because they no longer have any significance - freedom of this kind is prompted by indifference. Yet, on the other hand, our daily lives have become a constant battle against a bureaucracy that would make Kafka weak at the knees. There are regulations about everything, from the salt content of bread to urban poultry-keeping.

Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful - that is, “make” something of ourselves. You don’t need to look far for examples.

A highly skilled individual who puts parenting before their career comes in for criticism. A person with a good job who turns down a promotion to invest more time in other things is seen as crazy - unless those other things ensure success. A young woman who wants to become a primary school teacher is told by her parents that she should start off by getting a master’s degree in economics - a primary school teacher, whatever can she be thinking of?

There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity.

The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Washing Oil Off Creative Hands

By Anna Branthwaite/LNPby , Transition Free Press: http://transitionfreepress.org/2014/09/27/art-oil-sponsorship/

As London prepared to host the People’s Climate March on the morning of 21st September, a group of ‘BP or not BP?’ activists recreated the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster at the British Museum.

Their surprise theatre performance, entitled “Gross Negligence”, was to challenge BP’s sponsorship of the Museum and highlight the comments of a US judge who recently decided that BP bore 67% of responsibility for the disaster.

BP or not BP are part of the Art Not Oil Coalition, along with groups like Platform London, Shell Out Sounds and Liberate Tate.

In the current issue of Transition Free Press, Tara Clarke outlines their call for cultural organisations to reject funding from fossil fuel companies:

To mark the publication of Platform London’s recent report, Picture This - A Portrait of 25 Years of BP Sponsorship, 25 performers smeared oil on their faces and stood as exhibits around the National Portrait Gallery to represent 25 environmental catastrophes associated with the company since the BP Portrait Award began in 1989.

“How bad does a company have to be before an arts organisation refuses to be associated with it or take its money?” Platform London’s June publication asked as it detailed BP’s relationship with the National Portrait Award. “The association with BP is deeply problematic and unethical, and in effect endorses climate change,” says Jane Trowell from the arts activist group.

The discontent around the Portrait Award is part of a wider movement to delegitimise the fossil fuel industry. In June, 200 ‘Vikings’ from the performance group BP or not BP? invaded London’s British Museum to protest at BP’s sponsorship of an exhibition about the Scandinavian warriors. BP or not BP? are also targeting the oil giant’s relationship with the Tate galleries and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Gross Negligence from rikki on Vimeo.

Radical choir Shell Out Sounds, who’ve conducted numerous choral ‘flashmobs’ during concert intervals at the Southbank Centre, have been celebrating the venue’s announcement that its sponsorship relationship with Shell is to end.

“It’s clear that our actions, as part of a long-running campaign, had created the ethical shift we had long been hoping for, where Shell no longer gains respectability by nestling its name next to concerts with some of the world’s best musicians,” says Chris Garrard from the group. “Music and art are incredibly powerful tools for challenging greenwash and the fossil fuel industry.”

These creative activist groups, along with others such as Liberate Tate and the UK Tar Sands Network, are part of the Art Not Oil Coalition who have been mobilising against oil company sponsorship of cultural institutions since 2004.

One of the most recent members, Science Unstained, has been highlighting the fact that Shell have sponsored the Science Museum’s permanent climate change exhibition since 2010.

The Art Not Oil Coalition argues that public museums are acting as a public relations vehicle for oil companies.

According to research by Platform London, fossil fuel sponsorship constitutes a minimal proportion of cultural institutions’ total budgets, compared to the social value companies such as BP and Shell extract from having their logo associated with Britain’s top artists and performers.

In the case of the National Portrait Gallery, BP’s sponsorship money represents 2.9% of the Gallery’s total income - for the British Museum it is under 1%.

The National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Tate Britain and the Royal Opera House have a five year sponsorship deal with BP, which is due for renewal in 2016. The stage seems set for more artistic activism.

Tara Clarke is a climate change activist and member of Science Unstained. She is Programme Delivery Officer at Science Oxford and is studying for an MA in Science Communication at Imperial College.

Coal on Counter-Attack Over Fossil Fuel Divestment

Coal on counter-attack over fossil fuel divestment
Photo: Glen McCurtayne
by Amanda Saunders, Australian Financial Review: http://m.afr.com/Page/Uuid/efc3b036-2e56-11e4-857a-df3799f4dea8

The global anti-coal movement’s latest local target is Australian super fund members, whom it is trying to convince to switch into “clean” funds.

Anglo American chief Mark Cutifani is calling on the Australian coal industry to mount a counter-attack against the global divestment effort urging investors to dump holdings in fossil fuels.

His urgings add to a growing chorus of senior coal executives calling for a concerted response to the increasingly sophisticated divestment movement. The divestment campaign, spawned by ethical investors three years ago, is gaining mainstream traction and looks to be spooking the coal industry.

Cutifani says the divestment movement is “unfortunately very vocal”, and the coal industry has to fight back through its industry bodies “to make sure we don’t let these people back the world into a corner”.

“I think we have a big job to do,” he tells The Australian Financial Review. “I don’t think we are doing enough and we have got to outreach more effectively.” Anglo American is the second-biggest metallurgical coal producer in Australia, with a portfolio of six mines, mainly in Queensland.

Super funds, banks targeted

After a lacklustre start in Australia, backers 350.org and activist investment group Market Forces have notched up a string of wins in the past few months, with local institutions agreeing to freeze or review their investment in fossil fuels. The movement’s chief aim is to stop the progress of fossil fuels by forcing a wedge between the industry and debt and equity investors.

The movement, which enjoyed early success in the United States and northern Europe, claims that 650 global investors controlling over $55 billion in assets have committed to divest their holdings in fossil fuels. Institutional commitments to dump fossil fuel holdings have doubled since January this year, to 168 institutions.

The global movement’s latest local target is Australian super fund members, whom it is trying to convince to switch into “clean” funds.

Future Super, a new fund which does not invest in fossil fuels, was launched this month and has already attracted about $15 million in savings.

It came hot on the heels of 350.org and Market Forces launching a website listing the fossil fuel exposure of 35 of the bigger funds in Australia. But the ultimate local targets are Australia’s big four banks.

The movement has won support from Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, AMP Capital, education industry fund Uni­Super, health and community services fund HESTA, and a collective of smaller Australian deposit takers including bankmecu, Credit Union Australia, Beyond Bank and Defence Bank.

Resources bankers say the divestment movement is spooking banks and other investors on investing in coal projects, particularly thermal coal.

University under pressure

The University of Sydney last month revealed this week it was halting further ­investments in coalmining, becoming the first institution of its type in Australia to do so. The university is a shareholder in Whitehaven Coal, with a stake of about $1 million, and is under pressure to take its commitment a step further by divesting its holding.

Following news of the Sydney University freeze on fossil fuels investments, Whitehaven boss Paul Flynn described the divestment movement as “green imperialism at its worst”.

He said proponents of the global div­estment movement were “very selective” with their case, and the coal industry needed to dedicate more time and money to countering it. “This is green imperialism telling us what to do,” Flynn said.

“I wouldn’t tell people how to invest their money and they shouldn’t purport to be doing that either. Obviously that side is very selective in the facts that they use. It doesn’t suit them to have a broader discussion about all the facts.”

His comments echo those of Greg Boyce, chief of US coal giant Peabody Energy, who said in July that coal producers must spend more time and money fighting ­symbolic movements like the divestment campaign.

“If as an industry if we spent more time educating, if we all spent more money, we would have less of these symbolic moves, which are really done without a full knowledge of the ­equation,” Boyce said in an ­exclusive interview.

A recent Minerals Council of Australia report claimed that the fossil fuel divestment case was based “on false premises and unsubstantiated claims, and may breach ­Australian law”.

Mining executives bullish

Coal bosses are united in their bullishness on the long-term future of fossil fuels. Cutifani, like BHP Billiton boss Andrew ­Mackenzie, Flynn and Boyce, says coal is ­crucial to addressing “energy poverty”.

“For anyone to suggest that the world can turn off, or not invest in, fossil fuels, what you are saying is 50 per cent of the world’s population is going to be denied energy,” Cutifani says.

“I mean, they can’t be serious. You cannot ditch 50 per cent of the world and say, ‘You make it on your own.’ Coal as one of the fossil fuels, the other two [being] gas and oil, are absolutely critical to the energy mix of the future.”

The world will rely on fossil fuels as its dominant source of energy for at least 30 years, he says. “In 30 years’ time, 70 per cent of the world’s energy will come from fossil fuels because we can’t develop enough renew­ables and uranium has still got a fairly flat trajectory,” he adds.

Flynn is scathing of proponents of the movement being from developed countries. “The wealthy people of the world telling the less fortunate in the world that they can’t have access to cheap energy? That is green imperialism at its worst,” he says.

However, Greenpeace countered that the majority of Whitehaven’s coal was exported to Japan, so “they’re just exporting coal to rich people on the other side of the world, which means his argument is misleading at best”.

VIDEO: A Beautiful Weekend - Climate Mobilisation

English: Bill McKibben speaks at Rochester Ins...
Bill McKibben
by Blair Palese, 350.org Australia


Friends,

Last weekend, the world stood tall. What I saw on the streets of Australian cities, in pictures from New York and from around the world, was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in its scale, unity and beauty. 

This is a short video, but it’s a taste of what I mean:


This past week, over 125 world leaders met at the UN for the big climate summit. The headline was that more leaders than ever had gathered to talk about this particular issue - but here is what I think is just as important:

When those heads of state walked into the UN, they had the sounds of the largest climate mobilisation in world history still ringing in their ears.

A huge number of our allies were still in the streets in New York, laying out a strong vision for a transition away from fossil fuels, bringing the fight to polluters, and identifying solutions that are already in progress. The politicians themselves spoke to our power in the opening statements of the summit.

World leaders gathered in New York City didn’t plan to sign a new agreement this week. The next important UN gatherings will be in Lima in December 2014 and in Paris in December 2015.

Our hope is to use people-power to ratchet up the pressure on these talks, to channel the voices of millions around the world to increase the accountability and ambition of world leaders in these negotiations.

If they are serious at all about doing their democratic and moral duty, they will need to be ambitious - committing to transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy which benefits everyone, and quickly.

The struggle is not around these summits alone. We’ll have to keep pressure on climate polluters and those who invest in them; we’ll have to turn our communities into models for solutions; and we’ll have to convince politicians that their careers are on the line if they don’t act.

Our purpose in marching around the world last weekend was to show that, without a doubt, there is a mandate to act at the level science and justice demand. Our purpose was also to build the global network of people needed to work together to do what we can do - at home, with our investments, in our coummunity and internationally.

After this weekend, we can look world leaders in the eye and insist that they join us on the march towards action in the months and years ahead.

Thank you, so many times over. It’s an honour to fight alongside you.

Blair

P.S. Just this week, we got news that 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben won the "right livelihood award," which is known as the 'alternative Nobel Prize' - click here to watch a video from him thanking you all.

Naomi Klein: ‘We Tried it Your Way and We Don’t Have Another Decade to Waste’

Naomi Klein at her home in Toronto.
Naomi Klein at her home in Toronto (Photo: Anya Chibis)
by , The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/14/naomi-klein-interview-capitalism-vs-the-climate

The climate-change movement is making little headway against corporate vested interests, says the author of Shock Doctrine. 

But how does she think her new book, This Changes Everything, will help galvanise people? 

Naomi Klein is the star of the new American left. At 44, the writer and activist has twice written blockbusters combining ground-level reporting and economic analysis that challenged people to take a hard look at what they took for granted: their shopping choices, America’s place in the world, and the devastating effects of arcane trade policy and rampant free market ideology.

Along the way she gained a following that spans academics, celebrities and street and factory protesters.

Her first book, No Logo, about the power of brands over sweatshop workers in Asia who made the products (and the consumers in America and Europe who consumed them), politicised a generation of twentysomethings. It became the handbook of the anti-globalisation protests, and inspired two Radiohead albums.

Seven years later, her second book, Shock Doctrine, analysed how wars, coups and natural disasters were used as a pretext to impose so-called “free market” measures.

Now Klein is back, writing about capitalism, only this time the fate of the entire planet is at stake. With her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, Klein hopes to set off the kind of powerful mass movement that could - finally - produce the radical changes needed to avoid a global warming catastrophe and fix capitalism at the same time.

She argues that we have all been thinking about the climate crisis the wrong way around: it’s about capitalism - not carbon - the extreme anti-regulatory version that has seized global economies since the 1980s and has set us on a course of destruction and deepening inequality.

“I think we are on a collision course,” she says. Twenty-five years ago, when the first climate scientist was called to testify to Congress and make global warming a policy challenge, there might have still been time for big industries to shrink their carbon footprints.

But governments at the time were seized with the idea that there should be no restraints on industry. “During that time,” Klein writes, “we also expanded the road from a two-lane, carbon-spewing highway to a six-lane superhighway.”

When we meet in her Toronto home, Klein is juggling a schedule that combines the standard author book readings and television interviews and planning for an event in New York City billed as the biggest climate march ever seen. Her husband, film-maker Avi Lewis, is out shooting a companion film due for release in January. The two text back and forth during our chat.
Klein in 1999.
Klein in 1999. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/Suki Dhanda
Klein does not easily fit into most people’s view of a committed environmentalist. She drives a car (it is a hybrid). She flies, already a lot more than most people, and is set to rack up air miles that would make her, by her own admission, “a climate criminal”.

There is a brightly coloured plastic playhouse in the garden that was probably made in China. Yet she confesses to getting weepy when she thinks about the future under climate change.

In a long conversation over the dining table, Klein says she is not about to purge her life of plastics or fossil fuels. She says she is not going to be trapped into “gotcha games” about personal habits. And she is definitely not going to subscribe to the idea that climate change ranks above all other causes.

“I think there has been this really bad habit of environmentalists being insufferably smug, where they are sort of saying: ‘This is the issue that beats all other issues’ or, ‘Your issue doesn’t matter because nothing matters if the earth is fried.’”

Klein says committed environmentalists aren’t her target anyway. “What I hope is less about what the greens will do, but what people who don’t consider themselves part of the green movement will do,” she says. “This book is not written for the environmental movement. It is written much more for people who would never read a book about climate change but are engaged with economic justice of other kinds.”

That is where Klein believes she can do the most good. “I want to act, if I can, as a bridge for people who read Shock Doctrine or No Logo. People who are sitting out for whatever reasons.”

Klein admits that even with her reputation for producing brainy economic analysis, and a crack research team to which she gives generous credit in the book and in conversation, it took three years of “marinating” in the material.

“I have amazing research help. Basically what I spend my money on is research,” she says. “The way in which people talk about climate is just so wonky and so abstract and such a boys’ club that it makes a lot of women just roll their eyes or feel that they are somehow not qualified,” she says. “I certainly had to fight that feeling in myself in order to write about it.”

The idea of writing about climate change took hold of Klein around the time of the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit - legendary now as a failure of international diplomacy. The summit of world leaders, convening soon after the US had its first “green president” in Barack Obama, was supposed to put the major economies on a glide path to cutting emissions.

Klein came to the meeting planning to write about the great fight between rich and poor countries over the historic responsibility the US and Europe bore for causing climate change.

She had dared to hope at one point that a climate deal would be the great equaliser - compensating Africa and Asia for colonialism. But the summit collapsed under the weight of those expectations.

Leaders from Africa and small south Pacific Island states, which are slowly drowning under rising sea levels, wanted a more aggressive action that would limit the temperature rise to 1.5C; leaders from rich countries deemed the proposal bad for businesses and rejected it for fear it could cost them votes.

“I wasn’t prepared for the naming of that inaction by the industrialised world as racism,” Klein says. “I was struck by the fact that African delegates were using words such as genocide, describing a two-degree temperature target as allowing Africa to burn.” She pauses. “I found the Copenhagen experience pretty devastating.”
Naomi Klein in her office in Toronto.
Naomi Klein in her office in Toronto. Photograph: Anya Chiblis/Anya Chiblis
It was a difficult time for Klein personally as well. After the publication of Shock Doctrine, she was on the road for almost two years. She barely saw her husband.

While she was travelling the world giving speeches and being hailed as an inspirational figure, Klein found herself in a rut. “I think I was profoundly depressed about 2008-2009,” she says.

“I have always told myself that I would not spread hopelessness. There are figures on the American left who just get up on stage and do these doom and apocalyptic presentations and it can be quite compelling. But I have seen it enough that I have told myself that if I ever get to that point, I will stay home.”

She became convinced it was time to retreat, at least for a while. “I just didn’t feel that I had anything to offer, where I wasn’t just indulging my own despair.”

There were other difficulties. Klein writes in the book of the surprising realisation that she did want children after all, and of her struggles through what she calls the “fertility factory” and miscarriages before she finally became pregnant.

Her son, Toma, turned two this summer. The book is dedicated to him. But as she was preparing for publication, Klein was diagnosed, and operated on, for thyroid cancer; she says flatly she will not discuss the illness beyond that.

For readers of Klein’s earlier works - or of Thomas Piketty’s analysis of inequality - the central message of the book will sound familiar.

Capitalism, since it was unshackled by the deregulation of the 1980s, has widened the gap between rich and poor. The top 3% held 55% of all wealth last year, up from 45% in 1989. The bottom 90% controlled 24.7% of wealth, according to statistics released this month by the Federal Reserve.

“It is not like everything is fine except for the problem that the temperature is going up a little bit,” Klein says. “If the only problem with capitalism was this slight temperature increase, we would really be cooked. But the fact is that there are lots of problems with this system, and on top of all of those problems, it is destabilising our planet’s life support system.”

Klein believes the gap between the 1% and everyone else and the powerlessness of local governments to take control are casualties of global capital. To follow the course of action she prescribes would require a hostile takeover of large parts of the environmental movement. But that would be entirely warranted, it seems.

Environmental groups have wasted time trying to recruit big business and billionaires to adopt pro-climate measures, she says. In the meantime, economies have continued to spew out carbon pollution, making a climate fix far more difficult.

“We need an ideological battle. It is still considered politically unthinkable just to introduce straight-up, polluter-pays punitive measures - particularly in the US.” To Klein, environmentalists should have just gone to war on business, and on the whole concept of capitalism.

In a devastating chapter, she details how the US’s biggest environmental group, the Nature Conservancy, earned money from oil and gas drilling on a parcel of Texas land it had set aside for conservation.

She writes about the nightmarish scenarios surrounding geoengineering, or hacking the planet, by spraying seawater into the sky to create cloud cover, or simulating a volcanic eruption to fill the lower atmosphere with ash.

Elsewhere, Klein takes on Richard Branson for failing to live up to his promise to set aside $3bn to fight climate change. “So much hope was put in this parade of billionaires to try and reconcile capitalism with climate,” she says.

“When Branson entered the climate game, he posited it specifically as an alternative to regulation. He said ‘the governments aren’t going to do this, we’re going to do this. Go to the UN climate summit in a couple of weeks and it’s all going to be the new green economy and the head of Bank of America sitting down with the president of Mexico - and we are all going to do it together.’”

She remains irritated. “That is a dangerous idea at this stage of history. We now have two decades to measure that model. We are not talking about a theory here, we are talking about a track record. I think it’s fair to say: ‘OK, we tried it your way and we don’t have another decade to waste.”

In truth, Klein is vague in her book and our conversation about exactly how this would come about. In the book she talks about “an effervescent moment” - when popular protests converge to bring about real change - which comes after a section in the book titled “Magical Thinking”.

There is a curious failure to really get to grips with questions about a real-world solution - Klein must have anticipated being asked.

Especially given that she has often been acutely focused on what popular movements need to do to bring about concrete change; her message to Occupy, for instance, was that the movement needed to impose clear structures and institutions. If capitalism is going to destroy the world, why wouldn’t capitalism fix itself - if only for its own survival?

“I don’t know if capitalism wants anything. The system itself doesn’t think as an entity - it thinks as a collection of self-interested profit-seeking units.” Asked why Obama is such a peripheral figure in her book, Klein is ambiguous.

“I do think Obama is interesting but more in the sense of an absence,” she says. “Obama should have used the economic bailout of 2009 to impose new rules on car companies,” she says (in fact, Obama used the bailout to spend up to $100bn on home retrofits, subways, and other climate-friendly measures. Klein overlooks these entirely). “The fact that Obama blew that moment, to me, is one of the great tragedies of our times.”

The fix she proposes broadly relies on scattered groups of climate organisers, grassroots and indigenous people’s groups that have been ready to take on corporate power in a way that Big Green is not.

Klein admits that most environmental groups are too white, male, and middle class to connect with women, African-Americans, Latinos and the poor who will bear the brunt of climate change. She recalls that in their first manifestos, the Occupy protesters never even mentioned global warming.
naomi klein at occupy
Naomi Klein at Occupy in 2011. Photograph: David Shankbone
Klein is on the board of one of those emerging grassroots groups: 350.org has played a lead role in reframing a mundane pipeline project, the Keystone XL, until it was seen as one of the most critical environmental decisions of Obama’s presidency.

The Keystone XL project, meant to transport tar sands crude from the vast Alberta tar sands, would probably be well on its way to completion, if the protests by 350.org and Nebraska landowners had not made the project a national issue.

Obama has repeatedly put off making a decision about the pipeline. But the deciding factor in that delay was almost certainly the wealthy Democratic donors pushing behind the scenes, and threatening to cut off election funding.

Even so, Klein continues to sees the Keystone fight, widespread local protests against fracking and campus divestment campaigns as the way forward on climate change.

She argues there is little scope for individuals on their own to accomplish much, giving the examples of Toronto’s impressive carbon-cutting efforts. “It’s been kind of disastrous,” she says. “While we are all doing these green things, our country’s emissions are soaring because of the tar sands. People start feeling kind of like jerks. We are just sort of like suckers.”

She goes so far as to lump centrist environmental leaders together with groups such as the Heartland Institute, which denies the existence of climate change.

“Between the Heartlanders who recognise that climate change is a profound threat to our economic and social systems and therefore deny its scientific reality, and those who claim climate change requires only minor tweaks to business-as-usual and therefore allow themselves to believe in its reality, it’s not clear who is more deluded,” Klein writes in the book.

Those are fighting words. Over the past few years, the oil and coal lobbies and, increasingly, super-rich ultra-conservatives in America have spent close to $1bn a year building a network of rightwing organisations that have blocked efforts to cut the emissions that cause climate change - often by claiming that climate change is not even happening. More than half of the Republicans elected to Congress now deny the existence of climate change.

There are already signs of a pushback on Twitter from some environmental bloggers, even before the book’s release.

But Klein - who over the years has endured pro-corporate backlash of her two earlier books and a ferocious assault for criticising Israel’s conduct against the Palestinians, says she is ready for it. “I think I have been through attacks that are far more personal and far more intense than what I am going to experience with this book.”

She says she sees a new breed of climate activist, ready to go after corporate power in a way that Big Green is not. “They are going after the fossil fuel companies directly as opposed to just trying to go into business with them and gently cajole them into doing the right thing,” she says.

At the same time she argues there has been a shift in attitudes about how people treat one another. “I am not in despair. I am excited by what I am seeing. I think that the task is enormous. I think we are nowhere close to where we need to be, but I think we are on a track. There is a track,” she says.

• This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate by Naomi Klein is published by Allen Lane on 16 September.

Friday, 26 September 2014

People Places: Localism, Social Enterprise and the Practicalities of a Popular Environmentalism

English: Community gardens Garden plot in Clis...
Community gardens in Clissold Park (Wikipedia)
by Shared Assets: http://www.sharedassets.org.uk/inspiration/people-places-localism-social-enterprise-and-the-practicalities-of-a-popular-environmentalism/

Community involvement in the environment is a people, planet and place-enriching strategy that has gained currency in planning and environmentalism circles in recent years, but how does one translate popular theory into lasting change?

Practically Popular

The mounting interest in community involvement in the environment from think tanks, universities and government is matched by enthusiasm from communities themselves.

There is a rapid rise in demand for land from communities, be it for food growing, renewable energy generation, woodland management, greater control over a local area, or space for cultural and wellbeing events. A diverse and expanding landscape of communities and enterprises are trying out what ‘local participation in place-making’ means on the ground. 

Getting on With It

There are many organisations that are ‘just getting on with’ this work, without legislative backing or strong political support. The community food enterprise sector, for example, though bolstered by funding schemes and political interest in recent years, was formed by an assortment of grassroots citizens’ initiatives.

From food- co-ops to distribution hubs to community farms, sustainable squats or urban guerrilla gardening, it was small, practical organising and action amongst local communities that brought ‘popular environmentalism’ to life in this instance. Even in the face of obstructive policies ordinary people are not just calling for change, they are creating it.

This kind of direct action is shifting practice amongst landowners, too. For many public landowners, the pressure of austerity is cause for a re-think about the best methods available to manage the spaces they own.

Despite legislative support for these difficulties, change often takes place outside of the suggested framework, through new partnerships or ways of working. So it was when Wycombe District Council leased its woodlands to the Chiltern Rangers, a social enterprise that now manages the woods and runs educational, training and rehabilitation programmes onsite.

Shifts in approach, culture and practice can be highly effective tools for igniting local environmental participation. Indeed, as previously argued on this blog, the one-size-fits-all approach of national legislation may fail to take into account, and could even inhibit, the diversity and creativity that makes local environmental participation innovative, effective and enjoyable. 

Making It Last

This patchwork of shifting practice is becoming integrated into broader frameworks for change. Movements for ‘social enterprise’ and a ‘social economy’ have gained traction in recent years. Proponents are working to construct political, financial and legislative conditions that can help create ‘a UK economy that is better for society’.

Greater community access to, involvement in, and gains from land are often discussed as a part of this agenda, which recognises the importance of the UK’s natural assets to its people.

As with the Chiltern Rangers, social enterprises such as Hill Holt Wood- making an annual turnover of £1.2m and running educational programmes, sustainable design practice and hospitality services on their woodland site - integrate conservation with fundamental societal needs: food, fuel, jobs, knowledge and shelter.

This kind of deep integration of the social with the environmental moves beyond traditional environmental volunteerism and conservation based on enclosure, even highlighting a pathway for the short-term creative interventions of ‘place-making’ to be cemented into long term change that builds with current local populations, rather than drawing in newcomers that transform areas in excluding ways.

Forging connections between communities and place through fundamental needs can chain popular environmentalism to everyday life. The challenge is for the social economy and place-making agendas to work beyond the surface here, installing frameworks that create robust, lasting changes for our society. 

Common Barriers:

There are a host of barriers, however, to realising this dream. Most land- based projects remain informal. Structures and processes to move forward are all too rare. For many ‘popular environmentalists, the lack of established protocols amongst landowners - be they public, charitable or private - leads to broken promises.

With staff changes, budget cuts, or in instances when land management is fragmented across departments, even the best ideas for community involvement in the environment can fall apart as individuals’ commitments fail to materialise. Consolidating frameworks is key.

A connected issue is that of ownership. Much interest in community environmental involvement, the Localism Agenda included, is focused on communities owning the spaces they are to care for. These models may be useful in some cases.

Yet land and environmental assets are often not suitable for sale or transfer of ownership, and the added value that sharing management between an owner and the community can provide are rarely specified in green space management contracts.

Local authorities and the planning system, as well, play a pivotal role in shaping the UK’s land situation. In local planning, land is regarded simply as ancillary to buildings, protected for leisure or biodiversity, designated as agricultural, or seen as ‘green infrastructure’, often meaning a route for cycling or walking.

This prevents the flexibility and mixture of activities that many environment-focused community projects rely on, restricting the diversity, and potential viability, of projects.

Lastly, as our research into the management of local authority owned woodlands demonstrates, there is rarely good quality information on the land local authorities own and its management is often fragmented across departments. This results in a planning system that gives little consideration to community use of land or productive shared management arrangements.

It’s great to see excitement building around community involvement in the environment, but we’ve a long way to go before the vision of popular environmentalism is realised. Let’s get to work.

Righting a Wrong: Huge Land Handover to Traditional Cape York Owners

Andrew Picone, left, and Michael Ross
Michael Ross (r) with Andrew Picone (Photo: K Trapnell)
by , The Guardian.com: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/23/cape-york-land-handover-to-traditional-owners-repairs-a-historical-wrong

With barely any fanfare, an enormous transfer of land is currently under way in Australia. The vast Cape York peninsula is the setting for a steady, determined handover that is repairing a historical wrong.

Huge tracts of Cape York’s landscape are being returned to traditional owners under a process that started in 1996. In the past decade, the Queensland government has spent more than $50m on pastoral land to return it to traditional owners.

At the latest tally, 2.2m hectares of land has been returned to people who often had it forcibly ripped away from them. Traditional owners were previously banished to work in towns or farms far from their country.

The returned land includes about a million hectares of national park, with Indigenous rangers bringing back ancient but largely ignored techniques on how to control feral pests and weeds and protect endangered species.

Just one group, the Olkola people, is set to become the largest non-government landholder in the region later this year, with the handover of five former pastoral slabs of land in south-central Cape York totalling 800,000 hectares.

The Olkola already jointly manage the Alwal National Park. Alwal is a name used for the threatened golden-shouldered parrot, a totem for the Olkola.


Olkola country
Part of the 800,000 hectares that is Olkola country. Photograph: Kerry Trapnell/Kerry Trapnell
Michael Ross, a traditional Olkola owner, says he is proud of how Alwal has been tended since it was handed back. He’s now looking forward to doing the same with the five new properties.

“There are historical and cultural values there,” he says. “We have our burial grounds in there, you can see them from the air, placed in circles. We want to get the cattle and feral pigs off there because they are shifting the stones around.”

Dr Jeff Shellberg, a Griffith University academic, has been working with the Olkola and the Kunjen, a neighbouring tribe, on land management.

Shellberg says that once traditional owners are let back on the land, the fire regime changes. Land managers burn patchworks of landscape early in the fire season, to prevent huge bushfires that can destroy habitat and threatened species.

“This will really benefit small mammals such as the sugar glider and northern bettong, which are in huge decline in northern Australia,” he says. “Traditional owners know a huge amount about the land and some of that cultural knowledge is held quite tightly. They don’t want to give it up.

“That’s fair enough really because after getting their land back after forced removal, they don’t always want outsiders telling them what to do.”


A creek in Olkola country
A creek in Olkola country. Michael Ross wants ecotourism on the land and other nature-based activities. Photograph: Kerry Trapnell/Kerry Trapnell
Ross could have pushed for a land use agreement that would allow mushrooming development on the Olkola land, but he would rather it be conserved.

“It’s on the backbone of the great dividing range where the east and west waters come out,” he says, joining his fingers to form a pyramid. “You can’t do much there. You’ve got a lot of cultural values there and you’ve got Alwal himself there. That’s his home and he plays a major part there as one of our totems.

“You’ve got to keep that backbone in place. Mining is coming close but you have to leave it where it is. I really don’t want mining because I know what it does to country.”

Instead, Ross is eyeing more incremental goals. He wants ecotourism on the land and other nature-based activities. Crucially, the land hand-backs also allow Indigenous people to return to their ancestral home, to tend to the land and the rivers.

It’s a pattern being replicated across Cape York. Rather than seize the chance to cash in via mining, traditional owners are focusing on land management and species conservation.

It is, potentially, a whole new way of generating economic, as well as cultural, rewards for Australia’s first people - rewards that aren’t harmful to the environment or dependent upon a fluctuating commodity price.

“I think we could offer tourists something different,” Ross says, warming to his theme. “I mean, the cape changes all the time as you travel it.”

Larissa Hale is also in search of a viable business for the area handed back to her people in 2006. Archers Point, a wedge of undulating hills, bluffs and coast 20km south of Cooktown, is Yuku Baja Muliku land.

Before the handover, Archers Point was a place “people came to get lost in”, as Hale puts it. Squatters tried to blend in among the trees. Some tried to build houses without planning permission. It took about three years to clean up the rubbish they left.

Government funding has delivered about 12 Indigenous rangers, who have mapped the area. To their surprise they found Bennett’s tree kangaroos and started eradicating weeds. Hale, who heads things up, wears a number of hats - there’s an environmental education program for visiting schools and a sea turtle hospital for injured animals.


Larissa Hale and some of the Indigenous rangers
Larissa Hale and some of the Indigenous rangers of Yuku Baja Muliku country. Photograph: James Norman/James Norman
Things have, generally speaking, improved. The land is in better shape and the regular poaching sorties that picked off sea turtles and led to ugly confrontations with traditional owners have dwindled.

“It’s been a learning process of bringing in the knowledge of the older people who know this land and how to burn it [for fire management],” Hale says.

“I’d talk to my aunties to ask how they’d do the traditional burns, how to watch the wind patterns and see what’s flowering. If the government had its way we’d burn 90% of it each year, but we want to leave some of it to protect the wildlife.”

But not everything is perfect. Hale says she is unhappy because the local council is ramming a new road through the edge of her people’s land in order to access a quarry.

The area is rich in cultural significance for Hale’s people, yet the road is going ahead regardless. We later visit the spot and can see a strip of flattened trees, ready for the diggers.

“They said they had a walk around and couldn’t see anything important,” Hale says. “I said ‘you wouldn’t even know what you’re looking for, you’re a white man, not a traditional owner, you don’t know the stories for this area.’”

The issue is a raw one for Hale. Her grandfather was removed from Archers Point to work for a family when he was eight years old. Other family members were sent to look after racehorses.

“Sometimes when we’re sitting by the fire my grandmother will open up a little bit until she gets too emotional and then stops,” says Hale. “It was pretty full on.

“We know families were buried here. I wasn’t meant to know that, as it wasn’t women’s business. But a lot of families were massacred, starved to death or moved. I’d love to bring the families back so they could see this country again.”

Right now, there’s a struggle to get funding from state and federal governments keen to cut back on such things. Ultimately, Hale wants, in the politician’s vernacular, to stand on her own two feet, to run a viable business. Balkanu, a non-profit organisation that facilitates such things, may be able to help her get there.

Until then Hale has to deal with issues it’s hard to imagine that non-Indigenous landowners in the southern states would have to grapple with.

“The council complains that we are shutting up all the beaches and that they want access for everyone, but we’ve said we want a camping resort down there so it will be open,” she says.

“Hopefully someone can take my job so I can just be a ranger for a while. I’m sick of all the arguing.”

A bone of contention is the level of protection that the land tenure provides to traditional owners. While Ross doesn’t want mining on Olkola land, he admits that he can’t do much about the exploration licences that are strewn across the properties his people are set to receive.


Paperbarks line a creek in Olkola country
Paperbarks line a creek in Olkola country. Photograph: Kerry Trapnell/Kerry Trapnell
Andrew Cripps, as Queensland’s minister for natural resources and mines, signs off on the indigenous land handovers. He has around 1.5 million hectares set to go through the lengthy process of identifying land, legitimate owners and sale conditions.

“Once it is handed over there are opportunities that can be unlocked, such as grazing and tourism,” Cripps says. “Where there’s a proposal for resource projects, landholders have the right to be informed and object. There are plenty of chances to object.”

Cripps says the process is going well and that he’s “personally very satisfied” by further measures brought in by the Queensland government that allow Indigenous people to apply for freehold land and own their own home.

Further, sustained support is required from state and federal governments if the land handovers are to fulfil their glittering promise, according to groups who work with traditional owners.

The Working on Country Indigenous ranger initiative may have survived the axe, but with $500 million removed from Indigenous programs in this year’s federal budget, nervousness abounds.

“The return of land to traditional owners on Cape York is one of the most progressive land tenure initiatives in the country,” says Andrew Picone, northern Australia campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation.


Yuka Baja Muliku
Sign of ownership. Photograph: James Norman/James Norman
“It rights a wrong from past injustices, delivers social and economic outcomes, while ensuring cultural and environmental management of the landscape.

“It is absolutely critical that the successes of the Working on Country program are built on and not undermined by changes in funding priorities and approaches.”

For Olkola traditional owner Ross, the land handovers are crucial, but he’s reticent to dwell on the dispossession and trauma that requires the ledger to be settled.

“Every now and then I drift back to the past with my young ones, to let them know that this can’t happen again,” he says.

“But we want to build this country up together. I don’t want to go back on old times. My mum used to tell me ‘don’t worry about it, it happened and we can’t fix it up’. It’s like a scar. You look down at it, it’s there, but you move on.”

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Photos: Thousands Flood Wall Street to Fight Climate Change

Post image for Photos: thousands flood Wall Street to fight climate changeby ROAR Collective: http://roarmag.org/2014/09/flood-wall-street-climate-march/

IN PHOTOS: Up to 400.000 people marched in New York to demand immediate action on climate change, as thousands more staged a sit-in near Wall Street.

Photos by Jenna Pope

This Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people marched in New York in the city’s largest social demonstration in over a decade and the biggest-ever mobilization on the issue of climate change.

On Monday, thousands more poured into Lower Manhattan for the #FloodWallStreet action, set to coincide with the start of an important climate summit at the UN headquarters in New York.

Protesters demanded immediate action by world leaders to halt man-made climate change and, especially on Monday, sought to highlight the close connection between capitalism and climate change - an issue that is discussed at length by Naomi Klein in her new book, This Changes Everything.

Scores of activists were arrested as the NYPD tried to forcefully remove hundreds of peaceful protesters - including a polar bear - from their sit-in around the bull of Wall Street. Photographer Jenna Pope was in New York to document both the People’s Climate March on Sunday and #FloodWallStreet.
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Jenna Pope is an award-winning freelance photographer and social media strategist living in New York City. Follow her on Facebook or check out her website for more photos.

Pressure Builds on World Leaders to Act on Climate Change

climatemarchby Sustainable Cities Collective: http://sustainablecitiescollective.com/dirt/554661/pressure-builds-world-leaders-act-climate-change

In the wake of the world’s largest global protest on climate change - with some 300,000 people marching in New York City this past weekend and another 300,000 more marching in 2,000 locations across the world, 120 world leaders met at the United Nations in an effort to build political momentum for a legally-binding global agreement on climate change next year in Paris.

The meeting was the first large-scale meeting of world leaders on climate change in five years.

The meeting occurs amid new reports that carbon dioxide emissions are at their highest levels yet, with 2.3% growth in emissions this past year, and the world is at its hottest since global temperatures have been recorded.

The UN summit may have raised pressure on countries to act, particularly China, which has long stated that it will move on climate change once the United States does.

Well, the U.S. has acted, with President Obama moving to curtail emissions from coal power plants and taking other measures in order to reduce emissions by 17% by 2020 and make “further ambitious cuts by 2050,” reports the The New York Times.

In response, a representative from China, whose leader, Xi Jinping, decided not to attend, said China will reduce its carbon intensity by 40% by 2050. The Guardian quotes Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, who said: “As a responsible major developing country, China will make an even greater effort to address climate change and take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with our national conditions.”

Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore said the meeting was a “net positive.” “There is no question that a considerable amount of momentum was generated here. I think it was a tremendous boost to the whole movement that is towards the Paris agreement.”

Some European countries agreed to support the efforts of developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. France, which will host the big climate negotiations, announced $1 billion for a global climate change fund. South Korea and Switzerland pledged $100 million and other countries also agreed to contribute $100 million. Last year, Germany committed $1 billion as well. Critics say the $2.3 billion in commitments falls far short of the $15-20 billion needed.

Much of the heavy lifting on climate change will be done at the local levels. News on that front was promising.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced an ambitious new plan to cut his city’s emissions by 80% by 2050. Boston, San Francisco, and Stockholm have made similar pledges. If only all the world’s other cities, which account for 70% of total carbon dioxide emissions, follow suit.

There were also agreements among companies and non-profits to change business as usual. The Guardian reports that “more than 400 companies from 60 countries all signed on to support putting a price on carbon.”

Furthermore, in two particularly environmentally damaging sectors - palm oil and paper manufacturing - some of the biggest firms agreed to stop “destructive logging by 2030, and restore an area of forest equivalent to the size of India.”

However, criticism abounded about the lack of concrete commitments among the world leaders. The Elders, a group of esteemed wise men and women from around the world, who even put out a full-page ad in The New York Times to support the global climate marches, were dismissive of the usual talk.

One of The Elders, Graça Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandela, said in her speech at the UN: “There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today. The scale is much more than we have achieved.” Of the protesters, she said: “can we genuinely say we are going to preserve their lives, and ensure their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren inherit a planet which is safe and sustainable?”

Sunday, 21 September 2014

How Argentina's Government Has Drawn New Energy From the Vulture Fund Crisis

Cropped from a larger image showing Argentine'...
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Wikipedia)
by Pia Riggirozzi, University of Southampton

Sovereign debt, crises and default have been regular features of the Argentine economy for years – but the latest debt crisis, involving the government and the so-called “vulture funds”, has thrown up new questions about the state’s capacity versus the ethics of capitalism.

Vulture funds are private creditors who deliberately took up cut-price Argentine bonds after the 2002 collapse, then refused to renegotiate their terms in 2005 and 2010 when the country entered a process of debt restructuring - all with the aim of eventually litigating against default and reaping exorbitant profits.

Accordingly, these creditors had been demanding the full value of the debt on which they had originally speculated.

At the end of July this year, in the latest twist in its fiscal saga, Argentina was declared to be in default for the second time in 12 years.

Defaults are always economically damaging and politically destabilising, particularly in a context of inflation and growing political and social malaise.

But the irony this year is that, unlike December 2001, today’s markets seem relatively untroubled by the event - and that rather than putting the government on the ropes, the current financial crisis is apparently shoring up the dominance of the Kirchnerist project.

The bad old days

The background to all this is Argentina’s financial crisis of 2001-2002, precipitated by what was then the biggest sovereign debt default in history.

Argentina was at a critical juncture; its public debt as a percentage of GDP reached 166%, the nation was facing abrupt pauperisation, road blocks, and factory takeovers; its leaders were struggling to preserve social cohesion. Two months after Argentina defaulted, the value of the peso dropped by more than a third.

Cross-class demands for more inclusive and responsive democracy screamed “¡Que se vayan todos!” (“Out with all of them”), expressing the enormous gap that had opened up between government and society.

As the country’s whole political economic order collapsed, presidents came and went in quick succession - until a temporary parliament-led government under the Peronist former leader of Congress, Eduardo Duhalde, assumed some degree of institutional command. That administration eventually gave way to the elected government of Nestor Kirchner in May 2003.

Fixing it up

The challenges facing the new government were huge. A judicious devaluation of the peso in January 2002, however, led to a considerable expansion of exports, especially agro/industrial ones, greatly boosting state revenues.

Systematic renegotiations of the terms of privatised companies and nationalisations followed suit. Negotiations also began with creditors of 152 different bonds series, issued under several jurisdictions.

In 2005 and 2010, a deal brought the country’s default to a successful close, with 93% of creditors accepting new bonds worth 30 cents on the dollar. The remaining 7% of “hold-out” creditors rejected the offer, demanding payment in full.

The government also sought independence from the IMF, cancelling off the debt and creating an image of a sovereign state, with greater room for manoeuvre than was possible in the previous decades.

A more confident and better-resourced government was often accompanied by controversial forms of social and political incorporation. Like Menem in the 1990s, the administrations of Nestor Kirchner, followed by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, concentrated heavily on reinforcing executive authority, took timely yet bold initiatives and advanced controversial forms of government interventionism.

This strategy paid off by doing something to alleviate widespread poverty, inequality and exclusion. But whatever the social gains, the cost has been economic stress, distributional pressures and badly weakened political institutions.

Betting the farm

The political strength of the government has been tested to the extreme by two main forces: farmers and vulture funds.

In 2008, during a state decision to increase agro-export taxes to reflect fluctuating commodity prices, landowners and farm-based groups organised lock-outs, road blocks and the destruction of crops bound for market, until the export tax was settled.

To this day, conservative and reactionary rural factions play a massive and direct role in shaping policy, even while supporting the political opposition. In a flailing economy that has failed to diversify its industrial base and is highly dependent on the primary sector, this is not a minor concern.

Argentina is now stuck with recession, high inflation and, over the past year, the pressure of an unstable peso and the black market for dollars. All this, combined with the gloomy global environment, leaves the country increasingly dependent on foreign capital to maintain growth, employment and price stability.

Under pressure

Factions outside the government have increasingly joined forces in the renewed legal battle being waged on behalf of the vulture funds - and litigation from hold-out creditors, which has persisted for more than a decade, now carries the weight of the US Supreme Court, which in July upheld a decision ruling that Argentina is legally obliged to repay its American hold-out creditors in full.

This took a Kafkaesque turn when the Argentine government deposited the bondholders’ payment into US-based financial intermediaries, only to be blocked by US district judge, Thomas Griesa, alleging that payments could not be processed at all unless settled directly with the vulture funds. As a result, Argentina defaulted.

Legally, Judge Griesa’s sentence is widely believed to be impracticable: agreement with vultures means last-to-come-in creditors get the best deal, which would send Argentina into an economic tailspin based on an contorted interpretation of the legal principle of pari passu.pdf) (equal treatment of creditors).

So, full payment: politically unlikely and economically impossible. The government will need to weigh Argentine laws and citizens versus US laws and investors - a fiendish balancing act for a government that has invested all its political capital in opposing the vultures at all costs.

Paradox

The case against the vulture funds has had a huge impact on the economic agenda not just in Argentina, but also internationally: in early September, the United Nations General Assembly began work to establish a new international convention regulating the restructuring of sovereign debt.

Meanwhile, the political fallout of the crisis at home has paradoxically been largely to the benefit of term-limited president Cristina Kirchner, reasserting her centrality in politics just as she was losing her clout in the run-up to the 2015 elections.

The struggle against the hold-out creditors is being played out electorally through social mobilisation. This is just what happened in the 2008 conflict with the farmers; Cristina Kirchner’s strategy was to appeal to the urban working class.

She pointed out farmers' relative prosperity and stoked fears that popular social programmes would have to be eliminated if they got their way - even publicly calling them “greedy” and “coup-plotters”.

The Kirchner administration is now once again back on its old mettle, appealing to citizens with the slogan “Patria o Buitres” (“homeland or vultures”), a binary definition that suits her barnstorming rhetoric and mocks casino capitalism and those who support it.

Her political opposition is back on the defensive - and her government perhaps reinvigorated - even as she grapples with the thorniest crisis of her tenure.
The Conversation

Pia Riggirozzi receives funding from ESRC-DfID grant Poverty Reduction and Regional Integration: SADC and Unasur Health Policies (PRARI)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What Has Happened to the Public Good?

The influence of money on politics in the United States has led to a corruption of the political process. by Mike Stout, Inequality.org: http://inequality.org/happened-public-good/

The interests of the market - and the wealthy elites and corporate interests that have taken control of it - generally don’t align with the interests of the general public.

Over the past several decades, we as a society have disproportionately emphasized market-based solutions to social problems.

The influence of money on politics in the United States has led to a corruption of the political process.

As a result, when we debate policies at the local, state, and national levels we start with the assumption that “free markets” are the answer, and that government should do as little as possible to regulate or interfere with the market. This discourse has been widely adopted by both major political parties in the United States.

The problem with this approach to policymaking is that the interests of the market, and the small number of wealthy elites and corporate interests that have taken control of it, generally don’t align with the interests of the general public.

The market has one objective - to produce profits. Profits are generated through competition.

However, profitability and competition often come at the expense of the natural environment in the form of pollution, at the expense of living wages for low-skill workers, and at the expense of opportunity, which becomes more highly concentrated into a relatively small proportion of people’s hands as they accumulate wealth at a rate that is faster than economic growth (as Piketty so elegantly illustrates in his book Capital in the 21st Century).

As wealth and income have become increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, so have political power and influence over the policymaking apparatus. The influence of money on politics in the United States is staggering and has led to a corruption of the political process. The result is crony capitalism.

In the current political and economic climate, the only time the general public benefits from the policymaking process is when their interests are aligned with the elites who control the policymaking apparatus.

These elites, who make up less than 1 percent of the American population, are able to control policy through their disproportionate influence in the selection of candidates (who need tons of money to increase their chances of being nominated and winning the election), and through the employment of an army of lobbyists to make sure elected officials never forget how they got elected in the first place.

This has resulted in a system where policies are proposed that disproportionately benefit wealthy elites and corporations who essentially own our elected officials.

The deregulation of financial markets, the lack of enforcement of environmental protections, and the dismantling of the progressive tax code through loopholes that lead to lower effective tax rates for wealthy individuals and corporations, all come at the expense of the public good.

The discourse surrounding free market policies has placed a greater emphasis on the private sector, and has made “government” a bad word. It has also made rational debate about the most appropriate way for policymakers to actually address the needs of the general public virtually impossible.

As if that weren’t bad enough, free market ideology has also had a disastrous effect on civil society. Individualism and competition have become increasingly engrained in our ways of thinking and talking about the causes of, and solutions to, pressing social problems.

This has allowed the market to have a disproportionate influence on our political system, and has degraded civil society and civic engagement. It has therefore become nearly impossible to even discuss or debate policies that promote collaboration and cooperation, which would strengthen civil society and advance the public good.

My point here isn’t that the market is good or bad, or that the government should solve all of our problems. That’s a false dichotomy. My point is that we need a better balance among the market, the state, and civil society.

The disproportionate influence of the market on the state and civil society has created problems for the functioning of our economy, as the benefits of economic growth have disproportionately gone to wealthy elites. And as money has taken over our politics, our citizens have become less trusting, more alienated, and more socially isolated. 

If we want to solve the pressing issues of our time, we need to change our political discourse from one which focuses solely on competition, the market, and the individual, to one which focuses on the value of community, civil society, and the public good.

The market and the government should distribute resources in ways that support civil society and empower communities. Civil society, in turn, should use those resources to promote opportunity and to empower citizens, so that their needs are adequately addressed through the policymaking process.

In a social system where the market and the state operate in the interest of civil society, everyone benefits.