July 21st, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] monbiot_feed at 02:59pm on 21/07/2017

Posted by monbiot

How a secretive network built around a Nobel prizewinner set out to curtail our freedoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


July 17th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] therestisnoise_feed at 12:57pm on 17/07/2017
July 15th, 2017

Posted by Adriaan Pels

Colin Greenwood from Radiohead is the guest presenter of ‘The Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show’ on BBC 6 Music for 3 hours of bass heavy, funky tunes. On taking...

July 13th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] monbiot_feed at 02:00pm on 13/07/2017

Posted by monbiot

The Lake District’s world heritage status reveals a widespread betrayal of the living world, by both conservation groups and the UN

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th July 2017

Everything that has gone wrong with conservation is exemplified by this decision: the cowardice, the grovelling, the blandishments, the falsehoods. The way in which conservation groups rolled over is shameful, but also familiar. They did nothing to prevent the Lake District, England’s largest and most spectacular national park, from being officially designated a Beatrix Potter-themed sheep museum.

On Sunday, the UN agency Unesco granted the Lake District world heritage status. This, according to the report on which the decision was based, will correct an “imbalance” between “natural values” and “the cultural values of farming practices”.

As the entire high fells have been reduced by sheep to a treeless waste of cropped turf, whose monotony is relieved only by erosion gullies, exposed soil and bare rock, as almost all the bird, mammal and insect species you might expect to find in a national park are suppressed or absent and 75% of wildlife sites are in unfavourable condition, you could be forgiven for thinking that the balance should be tilted back towards nature. Oh no. Apparently it’s “the cultural values and benefits of the farming activities” that have been neglected.

Given that sheep worship is the official religion in the Lake District and that sheep exist here only because of lashings of public money (hill farming is sustained entirely through subsidies), it’s not easy to see what more can be done. But world heritage status will make attempts to defend our natural heritage much harder. It will be used to block efforts to reduce grazing pressure, protect the soil and bring back trees.

The Lake District’s new designation is based on a fairytale: a fairytale with great cultural power. For 3,000 years this story has presented sheep farming as the seat of innocence and purity; an Arcadian refuge from the corruption of the city, an idyll in perfect harmony with the natural world.

The reality couldn’t be more different. Sheep farming is now characterised by land consolidation, subsidy harvesting, ranching on a scale that looks more like Argentina than anything Wordsworth would have recognised, quad bikes, steel barns and absentee ownership. But the myths persist, and they blind us to some brutal realities.

Sheep, by nibbling out tree seedlings and other edible species, are a fully-automated system for ecological destruction. They cleanse the land of almost all wildlife. In the UK, they occupy some 4m hectares of our uplands. Compare this to the built environment (houses, factories, offices, roads, railways, airports, even parks and gardens) that covers 1.7m hectares.

Yet this vast area, which is roughly equivalent to all our arable land, produces around 1.2% of our food (probably a good deal less, as the figure includes lamb from lowland farms). Our infertile uplands, including most of our national parks, would be better used to protect and restore the wonders of the living world. If we are to spend £3bn a year of public money, it should be deployed for ecological restoration rather than destruction. But the cultural power of this industry is so great that hardly anyone dares challenge it.

In trying to contest the bid for world heritage status, I found myself almost alone: only a handful of independent ecologists spoke out. Privately, the major conservation groups might have expressed misgivings, but in public they not only failed to oppose this attack on everything they claim to defend; they actually put their names to it. The National Trust, the RSPB, the Lake District national park authority and Cumbria Wildlife Trust are members of the partnership that petitioned for world heritage status. These turkeys not only voted for Christmas; they canvassed for it.

It’s not hard to see why. There’s a tangible atmosphere of fear in the Lake District: any environmental group that speaks out knows it will be Thorneythwaited. In other words, it will be treated as the National Trust was when it bought a farm at Thorneythwaite, in Borrowdale, without the farmhouse. This seeded the suspicion (which sadly turned out to be baseless) that it intended to remove the sheep.

If there was a fault, it surely lay with the seller, who had split the house from the land, rather than the buyer. But the entire national media, taking its cue from the sheep farmers it fetishises, subscribed to this concocted controversy and lambasted the National Trust. Its chastisement stands as a ghastly warning to anyone who questions the holy cult.

But appeasement only empowers your opponents. What makes the collaboration of these groups so grisly is that the Lake District was where the British conservation movement began. It is here that the circle has been closed, with the comprehensive betrayal of their own legacy.

From the beginning, the world heritage bid was slanted. The Lake District partnership commissioned its economic evaluation from a company called Rebanks Consulting. It is owned and run by James Rebanks, a Lake District sheep farmer. He was paid £30,000 to promote his own industry’s interests.

The bid was riddled with falsehoods and omissions: the claim that the park is in “good physical condition”, that the relationship between sheep and wildlife is “harmonious”, that farming there is “wholly authentic in terms of … its traditions, techniques and management systems”. Leaving the European Union – on which, through subsidies, sheep farming is wholly reliant – wasn’t mentioned.

These fables passed unchallenged into Unesco’s own report. Some were even compounded: Unesco’s consultants claimed that while overgrazing damaged wildlife “in the past”, it has now been “corrected”. It doesn’t say how, because no such thing has occurred. Even the bid documents acknowledged that sheep numbers in the Lake District have risen by 9% in four years, leading to “issues such as overgrazing”.

I tried to warn Unesco, but everyone I wrote to passed the buck to someone else (on my website I detail the comical ways in which I was fobbed off). I discovered that accountability, transparency and public engagement are alien concepts: Unesco is a black box. But without the support of NGOs, my efforts were bound to fail.

Groups like the National Trust, the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts publish pungent reports documenting the rapid loss of wildlife and ecosystems. But they have failed to mobilise their vast memberships in defence of the living world. On the contrary, they bamboozle their members through their display boards and pamphlets, describing devastated landscapes as “wild” and “unspoilt”, even celebrating cutting, burning and grazing, which are the major causes of environmental destruction.

The culture of deference in the countryside afflicts almost everyone. Those who own and farm the land are treated as heroes, while anyone who challenges them is denounced as an “extremist”: this is what Eric Robson, who presents Gardeners’ Question Time on Radio 4, called me on Monday, for raising objections. Our national parks are wiped clean, our natural heritage is erased for the sake of an ersatz farm fantasy. And there is nowhere to turn.



July 12th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] therestisnoise_feed at 02:01pm on 12/07/2017

Posted by Alex Ross

Red Cross 1944

A Cultural Comment at the New Yorker website, July 12, 2017.

The photograph, which appeared in the program booklet for Toscanini's 1944 Red Cross benefit at Madison Square Garden, is by Sgt. Stanley Smith. It shows a 1943 mission by the 390th Bombardment Group. See a larger image here.

July 11th, 2017
posted by [syndicated profile] monbiot_feed at 04:39pm on 11/07/2017

Posted by monbiot

Unesco’s tragicomic aversion to public engagement.

By George Monbiot, published on monbiot.com, 12th July 2017

This is supporting material for my column on the Lake District’s acquisition of World Heritage status, that will be published on this site under the title The Lie of the Land.

What do you do if you discover that the documents supporting a major decision that a United Nations agency is about to make are seriously flawed? It seems to me that good citizenship demands that you should bring these problems to the attention of the people making the decision. This is what I sought to do, respectfully and in good faith, only to find myself trapped in a labyrinthine bureaucracy with an almost comical aversion to assuming responsibility.

In challenging the Lake District National Park Partnership’s application to UNESCO for world heritage status, I discovered that the bid misrepresented the state of wildlife and ecosystems in the Lake District, the nature of farming and the political context. I then found that UNESCO’s own consultants had reproduced and exacerbated these falsehoods. So I tried to find someone – anyone – who might take an interest in these issues. You might imagine, in the 21st-century, that this would be an easy task. If so, you have not had any dealings with UNESCO.

So that you can follow this extraordinary exercise in buck-passing more easily, I have colour-coded the names of the people I wrote to.

I started by writing to my own government, detailing my concerns to Hannah Jones at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which was sponsoring the bid. I received no reply.

I then wrote to Sam Rose, chair of the organisation World Heritage UK. He advised me to write to Mechtild Rossler, the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, who, he assured me, “is thorough, knowledgable and very approachable. The great thing about UNESCO is that anyone and his / her dog are free to write to express their concerns about World Heritage Sites”.

So I wrote to Dr Rossler, explaining the problem. She told me I should write to my own government. I wrote back, explaining that I had done so. I then received a note from her office advising me … to write to my own government. It helpfully furnished a name: Hannah Jones.

I pointed out to Dr Rossler’s office that even if I were to get a response from Hannah Jones, it wouldn’t take me very far, as the British government is promoting the bid, not determining it. It’s a bit like a trading standards officer telling you to take your complaint about a used-car dealer to the used-car dealer.

Dr Rossler’s office at the World Heritage Centre then told me it had nothing to do with the decision anyway, guv: instead I should be writing to the World Heritage Committee. Unhelpfully, however, her office failed to provide me with an address for the committee.

I tried again, and received no response. I tried once more, and was eventually told that I should write to the chair of the World Heritage Committee, Jacek Purchla. But Dr Rossler’s office still would not provide me with an email address for him. Instead, it suggested I could write to him care of Dr Rossler’s postal address.

By now, time was running out, and my trust in her office had evaporated, so I dug around online, and found Professor Purchla’s academic email address. I wrote to him there.

Professor Purchla replied, informing me that the appropriate place to address my complaint was the secretariat of the World Heritage Centre: in other words Dr Rossler’s office. He kindly offered to forward my email to her office where he was convinced that my remarks “will be duly considered under the procedures to follow in such a case.”

I wrote back, pointing out that Dr Rossler’s office had advised me to write to him. Professor Purchla then informed me that it had nothing to do with him, guv, as it’s the committee that makes the decisions, and he as the chairperson does not have the right to vote. But he assured me that “all the complex procedures of the World Heritage Committee are transparent.”

To illustrate this transparency, he failed to provide me with contact details for the committee. I asked again, without success. I asked Dr Rossler‘s office. They did not reply, either.

But a correspondent at the International Union for Conservation of Nature told me where I could find them. I then wrote separately to the 21 members of the committee. I did not receive a single reply.

So yes, people – and their dogs – are “free to write to express their concerns about World Heritage Sites”. And we are free to be ignored, fobbed off and funnelled into a farcical bureaucratic roundabout.

This is how UNESCO operates. There are no formal channels for public engagement, no established means of challenging misrepresentations and falsehoods, no accountability, no transparency, no concessions to anything resembling democratic legitimacy. So it leads me to ask, on whose behalf does it operate?



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