Greece: Exposing The Media Myths

April 21 is a notorious day in Greek history. It was on this day in 1967 that a US-led authoritarian military coup overthrew socialist democracy in the country. It was US support for this authoritarianism, predicated on the illusion that socialism undermined democracy, that was said to be the cause of rising anti-American sentiment in Greece during and following the junta’s rule (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,903399,00.html).

April 21, 2010 is also a day now embedded in Greek history. It was on this day that a delegation from the IMF, European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB) arrived in Athens to implement what they term as planned economic ‘stabilization’ measures, characterized by cuts to public services and reductions in living standards.  The Greeks hatred of this modern form of imperialism that stem from the events of April 21 1967, is manifested on the streets of Athens in the form of mass protests against the austerity measures imposed by the bankers. As one Greek activist contrasting the events of 1967 with the present put it: “We suffered from the military then. We suffer from the bankers now” (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11258).

As I illustrated in my last article, the debt crisis presently sweeping Greece and throughout the globe has its roots in the credit boom period in the US a decade ago, the ideological justifications of which have been legitimized as a result of the capitalist logic that underpins it. But one would be hard pressed to arrive at this conclusion by reading the mainstream media, the vast majority of whom have characterized the crisis essentially as a trajedy that is specific to Greece and where the public response to the crisis is unjustifiably deemed to be negative rather than positive. It is hardly surprising then, that Greece is presented not as a beacon for democracy, but as a “junk country” getting its comeuppance for its alleged “bloated public sector” and “culture of cutting corners” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/09/greece-debt-crisis-euro-imf). 

The reason why the media are attempting to tarnish Greece in this way is because the Greek people have mobilized on mass against the bankers’ attempts to insist the people pay for the so-called “rescue” of their country by way of massive austerity programmes, without a fight. The memories of 1967 allied to the accompanying acts of popular resistance, remain a feature of the collective Greek consciousness in a way that is for example, absent in a country like Britain. Such resistance is anathema to Europe’s central bankers and regarded as an obstruction to German capital’s need to capture markets in the aftermath of Germany’s troubled reunification. In this sense, the Greece of today is a microcosm of a modern class war that is rarely reported as such and is waged with all the urgency of panic among the imperial rich. Ordinary people are not cowed by the corrupt corporatism that dominates the European Union (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=576).

The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the present Pasok (Labour) government of George Papandreou, was described by sociologist Jean Ziegler as “a machine for systematic pillaging the country’s resources” (http://socialistworker.org/2010/05/24/the-modern-class-war).

This “machine” whose functionaries included Goldman Sachs and other US hedge fund operators, are currently being investigated by the US Federal reserve Board for their alleged speculating of public asset stripping by the Greek government and the resulting haemorrhaging of capital by way of capital flight which the ECB facilitates. This has prompted some mainstream commentators to question the apparent hitherto God-given logic which insists upon cuts as a means to appease financial markets as an unaviodable feature of system where such markets, instead of being our servants, are our masters (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/02/greece-default-debt-choice).

The reason why financial markets are perceived as masters in this way is due to the structural weaknesses of monetary union. All countries have the same access to the money markets, but they do not have the same access to credit, which is obtained at a different price by each country (http://researchonmoneyandfinance.org/media/reports/eurocrisis/fullreport.pdf).

The main problem highlighted by the Greek crisis is that the EU is at most a monetary union not a fiscal union. Fiscal policy—dependent on the power to tax and spend—remains, for reasons of self-interest, firmly in the hands of the nation-states. Governments’ only means of saving the capitalist system from itself was to bail out the financial institutions from which they could then borrow as a means to enact the fiscal measures necessary to rescue the market (Callinicos, Alex, 2010, Bonfire of Illusions, Polity).

Governments’ obsession with appeasing the market means that weaker capitalist states like Greece are not given the luxury of being able to choose the timing of their austerity programmes. Greece has been targeted by the financial markets and their facilitators – the unelected and unaccountable ECB – for reasons of speculative profilagcy to the extent that the country has become threatened with bankruptcy. As a response, the financial markets didn’t just force up the interest rates on the bonds of the weaker eurozone economies, they also pushed down the euro. This made the Greek crisis a problem for the entire eurozone (http://www.allbusiness.com/economy-economic-indicators/economic-conditions-deflation/14489907-1.html).

The dominant continental states, France and Germany, were divided over how to respond: France supporting a coordinated loan to keep Greece afloat, Germany resisting. Greece threatened to humiliate the EU by going to the International Monetary Fund for help, a bluff that was called by Germany. A few weeks ago, European leaders signed up to an unprecedented 750 billion euro ($920 billion) joint rescue package for the euro which has been proven to be inadequate to stabilize it. Instead, the European single currency has continued its dramatic fall, recently hitting a four-year low against the dollar (http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,697098,00.html).

The eventual agreement on the joint IMF-eurozone rescue reflected the fact that a Greek default would not be in the interest of the German banks, which have lent heavily to Greece and the other weaker eurozone economies. But the debate within Angela Merkel’s chronically weak conservative-liberal coalition in Berlin (which was accompanied by ferocious nationalist exchanges between the German and Greek media) tilted towards the hard line taken by Wolfgang Schäuble, the finance minister (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36981501/ns/business/).

He proposed setting up a European Monetary Fund that could come to the rescue of eurozone members in Greece’s plight, in exchange for a tightening up of the Growth and Stability Pact, under which EU states are not supposed to run budget deficits greater than 3 percent of national income. Greece’s budget deficit is currently running at 13 per cent which is close to that of the UK and the US. But ministers want to reduce Greece’s deficit to 3 per cent within the next three years. Moreover, penalty clauses are to be inserted allowing states that broke the rules to be deprived of access to EU cohesion funds or even to have their voting rights temporarily suspended (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c36bf126-2d41-11df-9c5b-00144feabdc0.html).

The message is clear. If Greece fails to implement the required austerity programmes, it will be ditched. The so-called rescue of the country is essentially an effort to rescue the French and German banks. If Greece defaults, it would deal a blow to the banks that are already weakened by the broader crisis (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21313).

This explains the nature of the anti-Greek propaganda that is pumped out by the media. This is the same media which claims that the Greek people have artificially high standards of living that must be brought down. But research by investigative journalists expose these lies and distortions. For example, figures show that the cost of living in Greece is one of the highest in Europe with the average shopping basket of food costing 66 per cent more than in Germany. Around 1 in 5 Greeks live on or below the poverty line of 6,648 euros per year. Unemployment stands at around 11 per cent. Public expenditure is equal to 40 per cent of gross domestic product. In Britain it accounts for 45 per cent. There is no “bloated public sector” (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=21241).

Despite what the media portray, the crisis in Greece is connected to the broader crisis which will lead to increasing pressures on the euro. This will worsen the problems in Portugal, Ireland and Spain – the countries that along with Greece make up the so-called PIGS. According to leading Greek activist Panos Garganos, the intervention of the IMF and EU will not calm this crisis – it will make it worse because the example of Greece shows they have failed there, so they will fail to save Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The markets know this and will move quickly (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11258).

What all this indicates is that the Greek people are clear that it is the system which is responsible for the crisis and are standing up to fight back against the bankers and politicians who insist that they, along with other ordinary folks in countries like the US and UK, repay the debts of the rich and powerful who incurred them. Jobs, pensions and public services are to be slashed and burned, with privateers in charge. For the European Union and the IMF, the opportunity presents to “change the culture” and dismantle the social welfare of Greece, just as the IMF and the World Bank have “structurally adjusted” (impoverished and controlled) countries across the developing world (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=576).

As the illusionary Tweedledee and Tweedledum versions of parliamentary democracy throughout much of the world play to the fiscal tune of ruling class interests, the inspiration for the rest of us are the ordinary folk in Greece.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain

The Economic Crisis: What’s Going On?

Following the recent election result in Britain, the people of that country decided they did not want any one of the traditional three main political parties to rule over them. Throughout the election campaign, the public were fed an almost constant stream of propaganda from a big business perspective.

The mainstream corporate media acted as a kind of echo chamber for this propaganda by reporting ad-nauseum the politicians’ belief that the failure of the people to assign an overall majority to any one particular party would effectively undermine “the national interest”. But when politician after politician speaks about “the national interest”, they mean the interests of those who own and control industry and those who move trillions around the money markets.

What the British people have been witnessing since the election, in the full glare of publicity, is the three main parties jostling and manoeuvring over how this notion of the national interest can be best accommodated in the interests of corporate power.

Sir Martin Sorell, chief executive of the advertising empire WPP, voiced the view of the major capitalists when he said that a hung parliament was the “worst possible” result:

http://blogs.news.sky.com/kleinman/Post:40de91a6-b227-432e-90c5-fe5869ab1a1d

Alan Clarke of BNP Paribas commented that “the UK could lose its top triple A credit status because of its failure to deliver a majority government with the authority to tackle the country’s public finances with immediete effect.”:

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/news/article.html?in_article_id=495612&in_page_id=2

This is code for the insistence that ordinary people bear the brunt for the economic crisis by way of a series of austerity programmes and savage cuts to public services, while the rich get off scot free.

Sub-prime and the credit crunch

Let’s remind ourselves how we got here. The roots of the current crisis go some way back. After the 9/11 attack in New York, instability and fear pervaded financial markets. In order to steer the US and world economy out of a tight corner there was a reduction in interest rates and loosening of credit, encouraging people to borrow to sustain demand.

Banks took advantage of this and started to push mortgages. Initially the banks were lending on fairly good terms but then competition set in and those with money found they could expand their wealth by borrowing at low interest rates in order to lend to those prepared to pay higher interest rates. One of the main groups prepared to pay these higher rates were poorer sections of the population desperate to get somewhere to live and those who were previously regarded as uncreditworthy. As long as house prices continued rising, they seemed a safe group to lend to, since there was always a profit to be made by repossessing their homes if they failed to pay up on time. This lending became known as the “subprime mortgage market”.

Although on the surface this appeared to be a form of secure lending, in reality it was risky. Why? Because by 2006 the US economy began slowing down and profits in the US started to fall. As profits declined, firms got rid of workers and poor American’s could no longer keep up with their rising mortgage payments. Borrowing at one end of the chain could not be repaid. Repossessions led to falling house prices, and the “collateral” that supposedly guaranteed (provided security) against the loans, fell in value as well. An enormous 400 billion US dollars in lending was suddenly not repayable. 

A whole host of new institutions emerged that began specialising in the same manner as the banks. They would obtain cheap credit in the environment of low interest rates after 2001, use it to make loans, and then ‘securitise’ them. Other financial institutions would also use cheap credit to buy the new securities. Still other financial institutions would combine several of these securities to create even more complex, “synthetic” Collateralised Debt Obligations, which give their holders the right to interest accruing on the earlier securities, and so on.

In this baroque and opaque world, fuelled by cheap credit, it did not take long before just about all the major financial institutions across the world found themselves holding securities that contained bits of subprime mortgages. What was originally a small sickness within the US economy grew enormously because of the way capitalist credit works. In the end, governments’ were forced to intervene by bailing out vast swathes of the capitalist system as a precursor to saving it:

http://www.isj.org.uk/?id=395

In spring 2008, Bear Sterns became an early high profile casualty of the crisis on Wall Street which was followed by the next big Wall Street bank to collapse – Lehman Brothers. The meltdown in Greece followed shortly after. Speculators are already looking for the next domino set to topple after Greece. It might be one of the other weak eurozone countries, with Portugal tipped as the most likely, but it might well be Ireland, Britain or even the US, all of whom in 2010 have a higher projected budget deficit than Greece:

http://www.infiniteunknown.net/2010/05/05/uk-budget-deficit-to-surpass-greeces-as-worst-in-eu/

All this is happening despite the fact that the major economies are technically out of recession. The recovery can be characterised in three words: “weak”, “fragile” and “uncertain”. The recovery is weak because the crisis, in spite of its severity, has not resolved the underlying problems the global economy faces. These problems were created by three decades of sustained low profitability. A recent column in the UK’s Financial Times pointed out that after the Second World War profit rates held up at about 15 per cent in the US. By the 19080s it was 10 per cent, and today it is just 5 per cent:

http://www.permanentrevolution.net/entry/2976

This would appear to indicate that the underlying problems of the global economy are systemic.

Marx’s explanation

Marx’s basic line of argument was simple. Individual capitalists can increase their own competitiveness by increasing the productivity of their workforce. The way to do this is by using a greater quantity of the “means of production”—tools, machinery and so on—for each worker. There is a growth in the ratio of the physical extent of the means of production to the amount of labour power employed, a ratio that Marx called the “technical composition of capital”.

But a growth in the physical extent of the means of production will also be a growth in the investment needed to buy them. So this too will grow faster than the investment in the workforce. To use Marx’s terminology, “constant capital” grows faster than “variable capital”. The growth of this ratio, which he calls the “organic composition of capital”, is a logical corollary of capital accumulation.

Yet the only source of value for the system as a whole is labour. If investment grows more rapidly than the labour force, it must also grow more rapidly than the value created by the workers, which is where profit comes from. In short, capital investment grows more rapidly than the source of profit. As a consequence, there will be a downward pressure on the ratio of profit to investment—the rate of profit.

Each capitalist has to push for greater productivity in order to stay ahead of competitors. But what seems beneficial to the individual capitalist is disastrous for the capitalist class as a whole. Each time productivity rises there is a fall in the average amount of labour in the economy as a whole needed to produce a commodity (what Marx called “socially necessary labour”), and it is this which determines what other people will eventually be prepared to pay for that commodity. So today we can see a continual fall in the price of goods such as computers or DVD players produced in industries where new technologies are causing productivity to rise fastest:

http://www.isj.org.uk/?id=340

As the rate of return on investment declines in its totality, so it is the weakest companies financially – but not necessarily technologically – that go out of business. In turn, this results in an increase in unemployment. Thus workers are able to purchase fewer goods and services. This inevitably leads to a downward spiral of economic slump and crisis within the system as a whole.

But Marx argued that there were countervailing factors which mitigated against a total collapse of the system. For example, the diversion of investment from the production of goods and services to the production of arms – a process that is governed by states that are in constant competition with one another – provided a very important role in producing the long boom after the Second World War.

Also, Marx argued that profitability could be restored by crisis itself, through what he called “the annihilation of a great part of the capital”. During a recession some companies fail and are bought up by rivals, and others have to sell off parts of their business or dump their stock on the market to meet their obligations. Those companies that survive can take advantage of this, grabbing assets at a fraction of their real value and putting them to highly profitable use in the recovery that follows. Depressed wages and high unemployment also allow capitalists to squeeze more out of workers. A process of “creative destruction” may lead to a boom following a slump:

http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11255

But this is not some automatic process that pushes the economy back towards some natural equilibrium. The post-war boom followed only after the prolonged horror of the 1930s slump and the destruction of the Second World War, which also forced states to intervene to reorganise whole national economies.

Comparing the present with the Great Depression

There are significant differences between the situation at the beginning of the present crisis and that in 1929.

First, state expenditure has for nearly 70 years been central to the system in a way in which it was not in 1929. In that year federal government expenditures represented only 2.5 per cent of GNP. In 2007 federal expenditure was around 20 percent of GNP:

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/

And the speed and vigour with which the government has moved to intervene in the economy has been much greater this time. The Hoover administration (March 1929-February 1933) did make a few moves aimed at bolstering the economy, so that state spending rose slightly in 1930, and federal money was used to bail out some banks and rail companies through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932. But the moves were very limited in scope—and the state could still act in ways that could only have exacerbated the crisis in 1931 and 1932.

The Fed increased interest rates to banks and the government raised taxes. It was not until after the inauguration of the Roosevelt administration in March 1933 that there was a decisive increase in government expenditure. But even then the high point for total federal government spending in 1936 was only just over 9 percent of national output—and in 1937 began to decline.

By contrast, the cost of bailouts pushed through by the Bush government in its dying days, just as the credit crunch began to turn into a recession, could amount to an extra 10 percent of GNP:

http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=506&issue=121#121harman_65

Figure 1: Net federal expenditure as a percentage of GDP
Source: Éric Tymoigne, “Minsky and Economic Policy: ‘Keynesianism’ All Over Again?”, Levy Economics Institute, working paper

Figure 1

Figure 2: Composition of federal expenditure
Source: Éric Tymoigne, “Minsky and Economic Policy: ‘Keynesianism’ All Over Again?”, Levy Economics Institute, working paper

Figure 2

The increased importance of state expenditures—and the willingness of central banks and government to spend rapidly in trying to cope with the crisis—means there is a base level of demand in the economy which provides a floor below which the economy will not sink, which was not the case in the early 1930s. In this way, military expenditure, at $800 billion twice the level in current dollars of 2001, plays a particularly important role guaranteeing markets to a core group of very important corporations. Such spending can clearly serve to mitigate the impact of the crisis.

But there is an important second difference that operates in the opposite direction. The major financial and industrial corporations operate on a much greater scale than in the inter-war years and therefore the strain on governments of bailing them out is disproportionately larger. The banking crises of the early 1930s in the US was a crisis of a mass of small and medium banks—”Very big banks did not often become insolvent and fail, even in periods of widespread bank failures:

http://www.questia.com/library/book/too-big-to-fail-policies-and-practices-in-government-bailouts-by-benton-e-gup.jsp

This time we have seen a crisis of many of the biggest banks in most major economies. Within a day of Lehman Brothers going bust, banks such as HBOS in Britain, Fortis in the Benelux countries, Hypo Real Estate in Germany and the Icelandic banks were all in trouble. From there the crisis spread to affect other major banks and the “shadow banking system” of hedge funds, derivatives and so on. The most recent estimate of the total losses so far, from the Bank of England, amounts to a staggering $2,800 billion:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/oct/28/economics-credit-crunch-bank-england

Despite this, global industrial production now shows clear signs of recovering. This is a sharp divergence from experience in the Great Depression, when the decline in industrial production continued fully for three years. Paradoxically, staving off a catastrophic slump may have simply guaranteed that problems linger on, ensuring that recovery remains weak.

The recovery is also uneven. Initial estimates suggested that British growth slowed to just 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2010. The US is growing faster, and is also faring better than Germany and Japan, which are more export-oriented and have suffered more from the decline in world trade than from the initial financial meltdown. China was also hit by falling demand for its exports but has continued to boom due to a massive state-sponsored domestic investment programme:

http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11255

This has revived the fortunes of some of the developing economies that supply it with raw materials. But even in China there are fears that growth is unstable, with widespread concerns about an emerging property bubble, a glut of lending raising the prospect of colossal levels of bad debt, and the danger that too much is being produced for still-limited markets.

The weakness of the global recovery means that workers will continue to suffer. In some countries this takes the form of high unemployment and attacks on wages, as in the US, Spain and Ireland. In others, such as Germany and Japan, where unemployment has not risen as fast, companies have sought to hold on to workers but have cut pay rates, reduced hours or shifted workers onto part-time contracts. Britain lies somewhere between the two extremes. ibid.

Unemployment and underemployment will persist well into any recovery. A recent IMF report argues that employment falls further and takes longer to recover during recessions that have a significant financial component. The report indicates that it could take a year and a half from the end of the recession for any substantial improvement, assuming that the recovery continues:

http://www.dailymarkets.com/economy/2010/04/22/imf-global-recovery-stronger-than-expected-but-strength-varies/

Finally, any recovery is and will remain uncertain. State interventions replaced private borrowing and investment with mountains of public debt, and falling tax revenues made it difficult to recover the money spent. Now governments everywhere face a dilemma. Do they cut back to pay off their debts, risking a “double-dip recession” as the stimulus is withdrawn? Or do they continue spending and risk a run on their currencies, as the eurozone experienced amid fears of a Greek default?

Copyright: Daniel Margrain.

Wanted – The Novel (A Work In Progress)

They hadn’t come for him yet. He was safe,  for the time being anyway, at least that’s what Jack said. Few people trust Jack but then what do they know? They hadn’t anticipated the outbreak of madness that was beginning to grip the city, but Jack had. Neither had they anticipated the day they would confiscate the paintings and writings that came to symbolize the underground movement, the only form of communication to the outside world that kept many of us sane, but Jack had. We had heard unconfirmed reports from Green Room number 77 that Marshall had blown his brains out with a pistol he had apparently purchased from a market trader on the day before his suicide.

Jack claimed that he had seen Marshall in Sector Two south east of the city just before dusk fell on the 23rd,  but nobody listened. Nobody wanted to hear was probably closer to the truth. It was easy to understand why many of the people in the Ministry of Information distrusted Jack, that’s if you can call these sharp-suited men and women who mechanically undertake their duties with all the devoted rigour of false consciousness patriots, people. I prefer to call them subservients. Technically they are people in as much as the blood that pumps through their veins and arteries is red, but as far as Jack is concerned, they are not people at all. Amongst this group the feeling was mutual.

I trust Jack for the same reasons that those who stalk the corridors of the Ministry of Information do not.  Jack is as passionate and considerate as they are cold, calculating and manipulative. He is a person of integrity and strength of character that I think is very rare. I like Jack precisely because of these qualities but many others dislike him for the same reason. They only appear to like him on a  superficial level during the odd occasion when the jovial side of his personality emerges. It is the dual nature of his character that so unnerve the plastic people of the Ministry of Information. They cannot understand how somebody could possibly burst into spontaneous laughter after recounting a scene from a Laurel and Hardy movie in one breath, and then talk passionately about the lyrical depth and beauty of a mid-1970s Joni Mitchell or the sheer joy of living in times past, in virtually the next. Such beauty, laughter and passion elude them completely and give rise to their distrust.

On the Wednesday morning following Marshall’s untimely and tragic death, the city was uncharacteristically covered in a blanket of grey-slated cloud and the vibrancy and colour of the cities main square, usually a hub of activity, was strangely quiet. It was almost as though the people of the city and God himself had somehow anticipated Marshall’s suicide. According to the news reports, the blood stained sucide note was short and there appeared to be no indications of foul play. Marshall used to be a well-respected employee of the Ministry of Interior, and the shock waves that spread throughout the corridors of power were palpable. His blood splattered body was discovered on Tuesday morning by office cleaners who naturally reported the discovery to their supervisor who then informed the police.

The entire city appeared to be in a state of shock as the news of the death slowly crept out. But this shock soon turned into anger. On a freezing Wednesday afternoon a handful of people had spontaneously gathered by the ornate fountain in the centre of the main city square holding crude home-made placards with the words ‘State Cover Up: We Want Answers’ emblazoned across them. Jack had maintained a close and long-standing friendship with Marshall, and the news of his death hit him particularly hard.

Jack is a man of 38 years who lives a reasonably comfortable life, meaning that he spends most of his cash on home comforts. He earns his money playing trumpet in a jazz band mainly at the weekend at a local bar called Cafe Paris which happens to be regularly frequented by the dullards of the Ministry of Information. He plays a good trumpet, well that’s what the dullards of the Ministry of Information keep telling him which to his mind meant that they were just saying this to please him rather than for any reason that they happened to be think that his playing was genuinelly good. The truth is that Jack was an accomplished player but lacked the range which could of propelled him to the top, not that he was particularly interested in striving for those grandiose heights anyway. Jack’s real passion is for painting. His art resembles a kind of detached style of an Edward Hopper and the freshness and vibrancy of  the Joni Mitchell album covers he loves so much.

Jack lives in the centre of the city in an old style crumbling apartment block  pretty close to the main square where the demonstration had taken place on the Wednesday. It’s a three storey building with a shared communal doorway and stairwell that has an old ornate art deco open style elevator than runs through the buildings spine. The floor is made of marble and Jack’s murals line the walls of the twisting stairway that lead to the hallway of  the first floor where a brightly painted red door and a huge number three emblazoned on it, await the visitor. To the right on entering the apartment is a small kitchen and to the left is the sitting room which ajoins a bedroom that Jack converted into a studio. It was here at precisely 2.28pm on Tuesday of the 24th of the 3rd month that Jack heard the news of his best friends untimely death.

Marshall’s body was discovered slumped over his desk in the early hours of that morning and the tragic news was subsequently relayed to Jack by telephone. The policeman who called him on that fateful afternoon broke the news to him in the only way that police officers can do. On hearing the news, he staggered back in shock and then crouched onto the varnished wooden floor of his studio with his head clasped tightly in his hands. The phone that he had held crashed to the floor. After a few seconds he stood up, and glanced over at the clock on the far wall beside the bay window which opened up to a small balcony.  24th of March, 2.28pm will be forever etched in the memory of  this humble yet intelligent artist and musician by the name of Jack T Burnham.

Charlotte, Jack’s neighbour, had just returned from taking her dog for a walk and the sound of the animal scuttling frantically up the marble stairway awoke Jack from a deep sleep. This was the first decent nights sleep he had had in a few weeks and he had slept for a full 12 hours. A dark shadow of stubble had grown on his face and his general appearance was unkempt and dishevelled. He glanced over at the clock by the bay window and was surprised to see the time was close to 1.30 in the afternoon. This was the time Charlotte, just like clockwork, returned from walking her dog. But somehow, on this particular ocassion and on this particular afternoon, Charlotte’s movements had not registered with Jack. His entire body-clock was out of synch and that made him feel uncomfortable and uneasy.

Jack is the kind of person who likes a certain amount of order and structure to his life which is mirrored in his apartment. This is not say that he is meticulous to the enth degree that is anyway unhealthy or anything, but he knows what is important to him and insists on avoiding what he considers to be bad habits. For Jack, his apartment represents a sense of order and structure in an otherwise chaotic world in which for him, human beings have no or very little control over. His apartment in other words, is a kind of ordered oasis – a space where he is able to find comfort in relaxtion which order implies. This explains why Jack spent a relatively high amount of his earnings on his apartment. The world outside was chaotic and disorderly but his apartment represented the anthesis of this chaos and disorder. For Jack it is a space for refuge and retreat from the madness of the vast space outside. This also explains why Jack doesn’t feel at home in a big metropolis like New York or London but is more of a provincial person. That’s not to say he dislikes the hussle and bussle of urban life and all of the cultural baggage that comes with it, but just that he appreciates an overiding sense of proportionality which for him impacts directly on his state of well-being. The fact that he slept in until the afternoon on this particular Sunday morning upset this equilibrium and thus unsettled him.

His usual routine involves waking at 7am, taking a shower, eating a light breakfast of toasted muffins with jam followed by a swift cup of filtered Colombian coffee. Then, after scanning what passes for news from the paper that is delivered to him every morning, he takes to the bathroom to brush his teeth……..

(To be continued)

Copyright: Daniel Margrain.

United States: The Unmentionable Dictatorship

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist” (1).

As US president Barack Obama became the latest in a long line of former US president’s in denial, by blaming China for the Copenhagen climate change talks fiasco (2) (3), many in the informed world looked on incredulously at the audicity of the man (4).

It was clear that no government in the world would have ceded to the unreasonable demands the US put on the table, particularly as they was offering nothing tangible in return (5).

But one would have had difficulty in arriving at this conclusion from reading the the vast majority of a compliant corporate media’s parroting of Obama who was clearly trying to convince the rest of the world of his innocence whilst deflecting blame on to China. 

Obama’s attempt at shifting the blame was therefore a conjuring trick – a deception.

The historical reality is the US’s role post WW2 has been one of imperialist overseer that characterizes and demonises all of its potential competitors and “enemies” as “dictatorships” (or derivations thereof) as the basis for its propaganda of control (6).

This has, for example, involved the US characterizing the Vietnamese nationalist struggle for self-determination and independence as “communist” (7).

Similarly, more recently, the US has characterized the resistance in Afghanistan under the umbrella term “Taliban”, and routinely attempts to undermine the legitimate results of democratic elections throughout the world if they happen not to coincide with global US geopolitical and economic strategic interests (8).

The Western media was up to its usual tricks in reproducing US government propaganda in their attempts to undermine China during the 2008 Olympic Games. During this time, the Western media sensationalized stories about pollution and the murder of a US citizen in Beijing (9), and then accused the Chinese of attempting to censor them (10). 

The media also focused a disproportionate amount of attention on Obama’s predecessors’ comments emphasizing China’s alleged human rights record whilst ignoring the US’s. Bush was widely reported as saying the following shortly before he arrived in Beijing for the Games:

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labour rights not to antagonise China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential” (11).

But what the media rarely highlights is the US’s close ties to the regime in Egypt, whose respect for “freedom of assembly and labour rights” is shown by its internal repression, and to the Saudi royal family, who ruthlessly crush the slightest flickering of democratic sentiment (12).

They also ignore, with the odd exception, the continuing scandal of the US gulag at Guatanamo Bay which remains intact under Obama with at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice (13). President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on Tuesday.President Barack Obama speaks at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Also unmentionable in the media is the fact that since coming to power, Obama has opposed habeas corpus, demanded more secret government and excused torture. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist (14). ibid.

In Pakistan, the number of civilians killed by US missiles called drones has more than doubled since Obama took office, and all over the world America’s violent assault on innocent people, directly or by agents, has been stepped up. (15).

In Afghanistan, the US “strategy” of killing Pashtun tribespeople (the “Taliban”) has been extended by Obama to give the Pentagon time to build a series of permanent bases right across the devastated country where, says Secretary Gates, the US military will remain indefinitely (16). ibid.

In Iraq, the country that has been reduced to a river of blood, as many as 70,000 troops will remain “for the next 15 to 20 years” (17).

US criticisms of China are therefore hypocritical.

What the media hides from the public, is the fact that the world’s imperial power, albeit a rapidly declining one, is representative of brutal form of dictatorship that US author Naomi Wolf argues is characteristic of fascism (18).

Some dictatorships are overt and others less so. Some, like the ex-Stalinist USSR, was totalitarian in nature, whilst others rely on a compliant media as a way to convince the populace that they are free and therefore not living in a dictatorship (19).

In this way, the idea is that the powerful within society who control what Karl Marx termed the “means of production”, convince  people within “democracies” that they are free, worthy and deserving, by virtue of the fact that they have the right to vote for either Tweedledee or Tweedledum once every five years, whilst simultaneously reinforcing the idea that other people who live in what the democratic world deem as “dictatorships” are not free, not worthy and are thus undeserving (20).

This illustrates that populations can be, and indeed are, controlled and manipulated to act on behalf of the rulers whose interests they ultimately serve.

Within the unspoken US dictatorship, vast armies of wage slaves toil for giant Western corporations who profit from the cheap labour that the other major dictatorship, China, delivers.

In this way, the US benefits from its relationship with China.

So why all the fuss?

The answer is that China isn’t just any old dictatorship, it is now an imperial rival to the US (21).

China’s rapid economic growth is destabilising the existing global balance of power. Measured by market exchange rates, China’s share of global national income has risen from 2.6 percent in 1980 to around 6 percent today (22).

On another measure that is better at capturing the absolute size of national economies, China’s share is more like 11 percent (23). ibid.

This is still way below that of the US which, on the same two measures, accounts for 25 and 21 percent of global economic output. Nevertheless, China’s economic rise is reshuffling the relations between states. For example, Third World states producing raw materials needed by China no longer need to go cap-in-hand to the US-dominated World Bank for loans and accept intrusive “conditionalities” that require them to reshape their economy and policies along neoliberal lines (24).

This doesn’t mean that Chinese investment in Africa or Latin America is benevolent or disinterested. It is a highly state-controlled capitalist country securing its supplies of natural resources (25). ibid.

But the fact remains that a lot of the hullaballoo about China is motivated less by concern for human rights, or Tibet or the environment for example, but by fear of Chinese power (26). ibid.

Obama’s stance in relation to China, as evidenced by his attitude at Copenhagen, appears to be one of engagement, but the real hidden message seems to be also – remember who’s boss and don’t throw your weight around (27).

In all this, it seems to be that Western powers are in denial. They behave as if things are still as they were immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the US and its allies could do what they liked.

But things have changed. US power is now in decline. The West faces challengers increasingly confident of their own strength. If they’re pushed too hard, then, as the fighting in the Caucasus showed, they’ll bite back (28). ibid.

Vast swathes of central and South America are doing just that.

The days when the US could dismissively refer to central America as their back-yard to be exploited, are over.

A few years ago Donald Rumsfeld when describing Venezuela with all of the self-appointed arrogance of an imperial overseer, said: ” Why did God put our oil in other people’s countries?” No US politician will dare repeat such words.

Venezuela’s crime in the eyes of the US was that the people of that country democratically elected somebody who was prepared to stand up to US power and the economic imperatives and ideology that underpin it. The fact that the president of the country, Hugo Chavez, has been recalled for election on numerous separate ocassions and won every one of them, is largely unmentionable in the western corporate media.

Chavez, perceived by the US as a dictator, achieved his successive election victories despite a campaign of vilification within a privatized media largely controlled by oligarch’s sympathetic to US imperialism who openly backed a coup attempt against him in 2002 (29).

At the recent Summit of the America’s, Chavez, briefly came face-to-face with the devil who attempted to pursuade the rest of the world of his non-existence. During his brief meeting with Obama, Chavez proposed that the two men “work for peace” suggesting that they “get a team together to analyze the problem of the planned construction of US military bases in Colombia” (30).

The result of the meeting?

Obama plans to install seven military bases in that country (31). ibid.

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, Obama continues Bush’s policies of war, domination and subjugation. Meanwhile, poverty, unemployment and inequality that grow daily in the land of the free, are unmentionables. But despite this, a compliant media continue to feed the myth that it is only the official enemies of the US which are the dictatorships.

Hugo Chavez’s respone to the US accusation that he is a dictator?

“I laugh. I laugh. It is the empire calling me a dictator. I’m happy. And I remember Don Quixote, Quixote who was with Sancho, you know, and the dogs start to bark, and Sancho says, “They are going to bite us.” And Quixote wisely answers, “Take it easy, Sancho, because if the dogs are barking, it is because we are galloping.” I will be very sad and worried if the imperialist government was calling me a great democratic man. No, it is them, the empire, who attack those who are truly contributing to the real democracy (32). ibid.

References

1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114814/quotes 

2. http://earthblips.dailyradar.com/story/dismal-outcome-at-copenhagen-fiasco/

3. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/obama-accord-a-good-thing-amid-copenhagen-fiasco-20091221-l9yj.html

4. http://newsrealblog.com/2009/12/20/germans-blame-obama-for-copenhagen-failure/.

5. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/21/us_led_copenhagen_accord_decried_as

6. http://www.cdi.org/adm/Transcripts/923/

7. http://www.globalissues.org/article/402/media-propaganda-and-vietnam

8. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=6.

9. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/aug/09/olympics2008.china3

10. http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/summer08/columns/story?id=3535638 

11. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

12. ibid.

13. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530.

14. ibid.

15. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530

16. ibid.

17. http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=530

18. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/24/usa.comment

19. http://www.wayneandtamara.com/manufacturingconsent.htm

20. http://www.medialens.org/alerts/07/071120_invasion_a_comparison.php

21. http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/7/0/9/5/p70953_index.html.

22. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

23. ibid.

24. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

25. ibid.

26. ibid.

27. http://www.socialistworker.org.uk/art.php?id=15754

28. ibid.

29. http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/listeningpost/2009/08/2009814105043427586.html

30. http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/21/venezuelan_president_hugo_chavez_on_how

31. ibid.

32. ibid.

Post Copenhagen: Slavery In A Disappearing World

The sociologist Ulrich Beck once claimed that the effects of (smog) pollution were democratic (1). By this he meant that the world was flat in terms of the evenness with which the costs and risks borne by individuals from the effects of environmental degradation of the planet were democratically shared by all of its people. The Copenhagen conference on climate change that ended yesterday, finally nailed the lie to the proposition that the environmental and financial costs involved in helping to negate the crisis are to be shared on a similar basis.

Global warming, for which the rich world is largely responsible for, will continue to be disproportionately paid for by the poor nations in the global south. As with all previous conferences on global warming, Copenhagen will mostly likely be remembered for the economic interests of the powerful and their representatives in government taking precedence over and above the interests of the mass of people who inhabit the planet.

As I predicted would happen a fortnight ago, two diametrically opposing conceptions of “success” had emerged at the conference.

For the wealthy world “success” was principally about taking moderate deviations in their emissions, where they take on slightly reduced emissions targets. Allied to this was the presentation of a series of gimmicks as a substitution for the implementation of meaningful policies to tackle global warming.

This approach was evident during the second week of the conference following a speech by the US secretary of energy, Steven Chu which was regarded by environmental activist and writer George Monbiot as “pathetic” and “pitiful” which added nothing to the most fundamental issue facing humanity (2).

For developing countries however, the conference was not about deviations and the presentation of gimmicks, but about recognizing how to share the atmosphere fairly (3).

The rich world – as has been the case in previous conferences – set the agenda for Copenhagen by denying the poor world the space to develop their economies, on the basis that the carbon emissions necessary to maintain this growth, is not sustainable, even though the rich themselves followed this path in the past (4).

The fact that the rich world set the agenda at Copenhagen was further illustrated by their trademark deceptions.

For example, the US stated that they would reduce their emissions by 17-20 per cent, which is not only widely accepted as being an insufficient measure, but they also used a different standard to everybody else (5).

What does this mean?

The US proposal of a 17-20 per cent cut that was on the table at Copenhagen. However, unlike the rest of the world which uses 1990 levels, the world’s principle polluter uses 2005 as the basis for its calculations.

The Bolivian leader, Evo Morales, stated that this was unacceptable and argued that the US follow the rest of the world and base the above percentage cut on 1990 level, which in real terms would have translated into a far more equitable 49 per cent cut in emissions. In reality though, the US proposed a cut of just three to four per cent based on the 2005 terms (6).

Moreover, the sums the rich world proposed as a means of helping the developing nations leapfrog the dirty technologies of the past were proven to be totally inadequate. The rich offered the poor a fraction (10 billion) of the estimated 500 billion a year that is required (7).

COP15: A Haitian delegation during second-day session at the Bella center in Copenhagen
A Haitian delegation rests before the second-day session begins in Copenhagen. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images
Evo Morales put this in context in a speech he made on the Wednesday of the second week of the conference:

“Obama asked the US Congress for 4o billion dollars more than what has already been spent. The budget of the United States is $687 billion for defense. And for climate change, to save life, to save humanity, they only put up $10 billion. This is shameful. The budget for the Iraq war, according to the figures we have, is $2.6 trillion … to go kill in Iraq. Trillions of dollars. But directed towards paying the climate debt, $10 billion”. (8).

All this came on the back of the scandal involving a leaked Danish text, the contents of which undermined the entire deliberative democratic process that supposedly underpinned the conference.

What did this scandal amount to?

The Danish prime minister betrayed the UN process of multilateralism by consulting with a rich select few countries – the UK, the US and Denmark – and created a text that is essentially a marriage of the EU and the US proposal. The text set unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals. (9).

An attempt was made by the rich countries to conceal the text from the poor. When the developing countries eventually got to see it during the second week of the conference, they were furious that it was being promoted by rich countries without their knowledge and without discussion in the negotiations (10).

One nameless diplomat who was privy to the texts’ contents during the first week of the conference, said:

“It is being done in secret. Clearly the intention is to get [Barack] Obama and the leaders of other rich countries to muscle it through when they arrive next week.”

“It effectively is the end of the UN process”, said another.

Antonio Hill, climate policy adviser for Oxfam International, said:

“This is only a draft but it highlights the risk that when the big countries come together, the small ones get hurting. On every count the emission cuts need to be scaled up. It allows too many loopholes and does not suggest anything like the 40 per cent cuts that science is saying is needed.” (11).

The text was clearly an attempt by the rich countries to engineer an agreement in secret, designed to favour them as well as an attempt to sideline the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations. In essence, the leak highlighted an attempt by the rich to superimpose an “agreement” without discussion that amounted to a fundamental reworking of the UN balance of obligations.

Further, the clear intent was the abandonment of the principles set in place by the Kyoto protocol, handing effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank. The aim is that the World Bank makes money as a result of enforcing the flawed EU [carbon] Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) upon the poor nations (12).

Matthew Stilwell of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development – one of the most influential advisers in these talks – says the negotiations were not really about averting climate change but were a pitched battle over a profoundly valuable resource: the right to the sky.

There is a limited amount of carbon that can be emitted into the atmosphere. If the rich countries fail to radically cut their emissions, then they are actively gobbling up the already insufficient share available to the south. What is at stake, Stilwell argues, is nothing less than “the importance of sharing the sky” (13).

Europe, he says, fully understands how much money will be made from carbon trading, since it has been using the mechanism for years. Developing countries, on the other hand, have never dealt with carbon restrictions, so many governments don’t really grasp what they are losing.

Contrasting the value of the carbon market – $1.2 trillion a year, according to leading British economist Nicholas Stern – with the paltry $10bn on the table for developing countries for the next three years, Stilwell says that rich countries are trying to exchange “beads and blankets for Manhattan”. He adds: “This is a colonial moment. That’s why no stone has been left unturned in getting heads of state here to sign off on this kind of deal … Then there’s no going back. You’ve carved up the last remaining unowned resource and allocated it to the wealthy.” (14).

So this was a summit whose “negotiations” were predicated on a scheme that the environmentalist James Lovelock describes as “a scam”…. that… “is destined to be distorted by business pressures.” (15).

Lovelock described similar market mechanisms that attempt to put a price on “services” provided by the natural world as akin to “slavery”. Lovelock was uniqivocal in saying that the scheme had “failed.” (16).

Former UK environment minister, Michael Meacher added:

“In principle [carbon trading] is not a bad idea but in operation it’s been disastrous. Business has frankly made billions out of artificial reductions of what is called hot air with absolutely no environmental benefit at all.”

Singling out the ETS for being distorted by commerce, he added:

“Government’s come under pressure from industry – the worst example is Germany –  which gave away far more allowances than industry actually needed.”

As a result, he said, the carbon price collapsed and the ability for companies to claim carbon credits by investing in developing world emissions-cutting projects meant western economies had done little to de-carbonise their industries.(17).

Despite this, many well-meaning people are under the misguided belief that the ETS is a first step in the right direction. Some of these people include, for instance, the friends of the film-maker Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff), who, she says, “really care about our future but support cap and trade. A lot of environmental groups that I respect do too. They know it’s not a perfect solution and don’t love the idea of turning our planet’s future over to these guys [The World Bank], but they think that it is an important first step and that it’s better than nothing.”

However, as Leonard’s film demonstrates, carbon trading is not better than nothing, it’s far worse than nothing. As the US’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, insisted in the New York Times last week, a Senate bill or Copenhagen deal based on cap-and-trade are indeed worse than no bill, no deal: carbon trading “actually perpetuates the pollution it is supposed to eliminate” (18).

Thus, according to Hansen, any basis for an agreement centred on carbon trading would be so deeply flawed that it would be better to start again from scratch. “I would rather it not happen if people accept that as being the right track because it’s a disaster track.”  (19).

James Hansen

‘We don’t have a leader who is able to grasp [the issue] and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual,’ say James Hansen. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

For Hansen, dealing with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world of elected politics. “This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill,” he said.

“On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can’t say let’s reduce slavery, let’s find a compromise and reduce it 50 per cent or reduce it 40 per cent.”

He added: “We don’t have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual.” (20).

The outcome of the conference?

As widely anticipated, Copenhagen ended up as a farce. Once again, the politicians failed to deliver on activists demands, which included large emissions cuts, the payment of ecological debt to climate victims, and the decommissioning of carbon markets. No binding agreement was forthcoming. In this sense, it was “business as usual”.

The fault for this can be laid fairly and squarely with the rich world who sidelined the developing world from the discussions from the beginning. Thus, the limitations of a non-transparent decision-making process which granted a disproportionate amount of leverage to the rich developed world – principally the US – was brought to bear on the conference from the outset.

As the Indian environmentalist and activist Sunita Narain put it:

“The breakdown” [in the negotiations] happened because “the United States…wants to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol. They want to dismantle the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is based on the notion of equity…and replace it with a completely different multilateral system [designed to suit their interests]” (21).

This much was apparent to the discerning observer. In this regard, it was clear the rich world were motivated by a very different set of negotiating conditions than the poor world – the template for the former being the implementation of a non-binding arrangement that the poor were urged to sign up to. This explains why, for example, the US was able to put on the table a very small number, three percent cut in emissions below 1990 levels, when it needs to cut 40 percent.

That’s the deal they wanted which is a totally unacceptable proposition for the world. But in the last days of the conference there was enormous pressure on governments to sign on the dotted line backed by the coercive power of money and the logic of the market which the rich world is tied to.

From the environmentally sustainable aspect, the conference was a failure irrespective of whether an agreement was to be eventually signed up to or not, because a previously good agreement had been undermined. (22).

In effect, the US didn’t budge on its totally inadequate offer of a three per cent cut in emissions. This was on the back of U.S. climate negotiator Jonathan Pershing’s comment that the Obama administration is willing to pay its fair share, but that donors “don’t have unlimited largesse to disburse.” (23).

Indian scientist and activist Vandana Shiva responded:

“I think it’s time for the U.S. to stop seeing itself as a donor and recognize itself as a polluter, a polluter who must pay. … This is not about charity. This is about justice.” (24).

The countries that Shiva had in mind for whom justice needs to be served, include the least-developed countries, or LDCs; African nations; and nations from AOSIS, the Alliance of Small Island States. These are places where millions live on the edge, directly impacted by climate change, dealing with the effects, from cyclones and droughts to erosion and floods. Tuvalu, near Fiji, and other island nations, for example, are concerned that rising sea levels will wipe their countries off the map. (25).

It didn’t have to be this way. The position of the G77 negotiating bloc, including African states, had been clear: a 2C increase in average global temperatures translates into a 3-3.5C increase in Africa. That means, according to the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, “an additional 55 million people could be at risk from hunger”, and “water stress could affect between 350 and 600 million more people”.

That is precisely what the leaders of the rich world at Copenhagen have condemned Africa too. (26).

What can be done?

The fact that the conference was undemocratic, unrepresentative and non-transparent in nature, reflects the undemocratic organizational structure of the UN that oversaw it.  A workable alternative has been argued by George Monbiot. (27).

Within a fully democractized UN of the kind conceived by Monbiot, the amount nations pay towards combating global warming could be made according to the amount of carbon they produce per capita, coupled with their position on the human development index, as envisaged by Oxfam. (28).

On this basis, the US should supply over 4o per cent of the money and the European Union over 3o per cent, with Japan, Canada, Australia and Korea making up the balance. (29).

But however desirable this potential solution appears to be in theory, in reality, the chances of nations voluntarily committing themselves through agreement to these kinds of sums are highly unlikely.

What is needed is global enforcement. But who will do the enforcing in what would the effective bucking of the very economic system that the rich are tied to?

Further, this is the same failed unregulated capitalist orthodoxy that has seen crisis follow crisis and fudge follow fudge. And it is an orthodoxy and a logic that the politicians in the rich world seemingly adhere to unquestioningly.

Worse, they apparently fail to comprehend that the market is not only not the solution to the issue of global warming, but rather it is the problem. The people of the world urgently need a new radical shift away from the reliance on the market as a way of solving the biggest crisis facing humanity.

In this regard, the leaders of the rich world would do well to heed the speech of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez who, in echoing the sentiments of many of the 100,000 protestors in Copenhagen, cited capitalism as the cause of the greatest threat to humanity:

“Capitalism is threatening to eradicate life as we know it on this planet.” (30).

He complemented his charge with the protests two main motto’s:

“If the environment were a bank, they would have saved it by now.”

And:

“Don’t Change the Climate, Change the System.” (31).

His speech was similar in content and spirit to that of the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, who said to the press and to the convention that “the cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to solve this problem, we’re going to have to do away with the capitalist system.”

Morales also called for the formation of a “climate justice tribunal to prosecute those countries,” which pollute too much. Only that way, he said, would it be possible for a place like Africa to avoid the horrors of “a climate holocaust.” (32).

Today the battlelines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments to economic growth and the logic of capitalism that overrides it, and those who believe that we must live within limits.

Even if we manage to prevent climate breakdown, growth means that it’s only a matter of time before we hit a new constraint, which demands a new global response: oil, water, phosphate, soil.

We will lurch from crisis to existential crisis unless we address the underlying cause: perpetual growth cannot be accommodated on a finite planet (33).

The failure of the politicians at Copenhagen to tackle the underlying cause, is akin to bidding Africa, south Asia, the world’s glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforests, a final “goodbye,”… “not that we really cared.” (34).

In the end, if we continue on the path we are heading, it will not only be the developing world who will be the slaves to capitalism and the process of global warming that is induced by it, but it will be all of us.

References

(1). Beck, Ulrich (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.

(2).monbiot.com.

(3).http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/11/rich_poor_north_south_divide.

(4). ibid.

(5). ibid.

(6). http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/23402

(7). http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/23402

(8). http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/16/bolivian_president_evo_morales_shameful_for

(9).www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/08/copenhagen-climate-summit-disarray-danish-textibid.

(10). ibid.

(11). ibid.

(12). http://www.prisonplanet.com/copenhagen-climate-summit-in-disarray-after-danish-text-leak.html

(13). http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/23402

(14). ibid.

(15). http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/10/lovelock-meacher-slam-carbon-trading

(16). www.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/opinion/07hansen.html).

(17). ibid.

(18). ibid.

(19). http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/02/copenhagen-climate-change-james-hansen

(20). ibid.

(21). http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/16/if_bush_was_in_kindergarten_obama

(22). ibid.

(23). http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/23389

(24). ibid.

(25). ibid.

(26). http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/23402

(27). Manifesto for a New World Order (2004, The New Press) ISBN 1-56584-908-6

(28). Oxfam, May 29, 2007.

(29). http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/03/17/a-self-fulfilling-prophecy/

(30). http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/23399

(31). ibid.

(32). ibid.

(33). http://www.zmag.org/zspace/commentaries/4079

(34). http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/18/scramble-for-the-atmosphere/

Copenhagen: The Great Global Warming Deal Swindle?

From today (December 7), some of the most powerful people on the planet will meet in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), the stated aim of which is for the government’s of the world to agree to a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997.

For many, the fate of humanity rests on the outcome of the conference. Will any agreed global climate deal at Copenhagen, of which Kyoto is the template, be sufficient in curbing runaway climate change and who will bare the brunt of the costs involved?

Previous conferences have widely been regarded as having been fudged and have failed to address the underlying issues in respect to the climate change and its effects (1).

Many see Copenhagen as a turning point. But is there any justification for this optimism?

For Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and incoming COP 15 president (pictured below), failure is not an option: “If the world fails to deliver a political agreement at the UN climate conference … it will be the whole democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is, and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.” She calls Copenhagen a “window of opportunity” which should not be missed, arguing that it may take years to rebuild the momentum (2).

Ivo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), while apparently optimistic of a “successful” agreement, expressess what he considers to be the reservations from the business community:

“I get the impression talking to business people that they still want clarity from Copenhagen. If you’re making investments now, for example in the energy sector, in power plants that are going to be around for the next 30 to 50 years, you can’t really afford to keep waiting and waiting and waiting for governments to say where they’re going to go on this issue (3).

What do the official pronouncements of Hedegaar and de Boer and the the pro-business solutions implied by the comment of the latter, tell us about the current state of play in respect to global warming?

For the answer to the question, we need to examine the issues that underpin Copenhagen.

Undoubtably, one of the main reasons why previous conferences have failed to deliver is due to any effective political pressure from mainstream society. Although grass-roots activism has been a constant feature of successive conferences, awareness of the underlying issues amongst the general public in respect to global warming appears to a large extent to be lacking, characterized in no small part by a general feeling of apathy.

Arguably, the basis for much of this apathy is the misguided belief amongst a significant minority that global warming is a myth. Many of the sceptics appear to have been taken in by either the mis-information and propaganda emenating from certain individuals, most of whom are the paid hirelings of the fossil fuel corporations or their front organizations which have a vested interest in propagating climate change denial (4).

Further, documentaries such as The Greenhouse Conspiracy and The Great Global Warming Swindle, have played a significant part in fuelling public cynicism. Indeed, the latter had a huge impact, persuading many people that manmade climate change is not taking place. Both films used misrepresentation, distortion or fabrication to sustain claims that environmental problems do not exist and are the fantasies of a self-serving group of mendacious and fanatical scientists (5).

A spokeswoman for pollster Ipsos Mori, showed that there had been a decline in the number of people who believed that global warming was a real phenomenon – primarily, she said, as a result of The Great Global Warming Swindle (6).

Another major factor adding to growing public scepticism, was the recent Climate Research Unit e-mail hacking incident, also known as Climategate, that involved the hacking of a server used by the UK’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) in which sceptics have selectively quoted words and phrases out of context in an attempt, it has been argued, to sabotage the Copenhagen summit (7).

Global warming denial has undoubtably become a growing industry against a background of consensus within the scientific, political and environmental fields, affirming that global warming is a reality. This is underlined by the authoratative Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which states that there is a 90 per cent certainty that the causes of global warming are man-made (8).

The “very high confidence” the IPCC expresses in the global warming thesis, is the strongest statement any reputable scientist would make about his area of study. The thesis that an increase in global temperature (which has been increasing over the past 50 years) is primarily human induced, is unequivocal (9).

The consensus stretches to heads of government and even heads of (some) of the very corporations most responsible for global warming.

A useful summary of this consensus came in a speech made in September 2004:

The emission of greenhouse gases [principally carbon dioxide]…is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long term. And by long term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence…
Let me summarise the evidence: the ten warmest years on record have all been since 1990. Over the last century average global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius: the most drastic temperature rise for over 1,000 years in the northern hemisphere.
Extreme events are becoming more frequent. Glaciers are melting. Sea ice and snow cover is declining. Animals and plants are responding to an earlier spring. Sea levels are rising and are forecast to rise another 88cm by 2100 threatening 100 million people globally who currently live below this level.
The number of people affected by floods worldwide has already risen from 7 million in the 1960s to 150 million today… By the middle of this century, temperatures could have risen enough to trigger irreversible melting of the Greenland icecap – eventually increasing sea levels by around 7 metres.

The man delivering the speech was Britain’s former New Labour prime minister Tony Blair (10).

News headlines about severe storms, cold snaps, heatwaves, floods or hurricanes certainly focus debate and attention on climate change. It is impossible to link individual short term weather events with global warming. The earth’s climate system is far too complicated for such a simple mode of causation and prediction. But when such events coalesce into a general pattern, as seems to be happening today, the causal link with global warming is much clearer.

Global warming is caused by the growing concentration in the atmosphere of a series of gases which act as a blanket, trapping the sun’s heat. By far the most important of these greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, and the main source of the extra carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in power stations and in internal combustion engines.

The concentration of greenhouse gas in the earth’s atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide, has increased at an unprecedented rate as measured by air samples taken year on year in Hawaii over recent decades, and further back from ice core samples taken in polar regions. This growing concentration of carbon dioxide is directly correlated with a systematic rise in global mean surface temperatures over the last century, and especially over the last few decades. Beyond question the general effect of heating up a system like the earth’s climate will be an increase in extreme weather events across the globe (11).

The consequences of global warming are already evident. The science informs us that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted immedietly, global temperatures are likely to rise by another half a degree Celcius and sea levels could be two or three times as great as the IPPC has predicted by the end of the century. This equates to between approximately 20-30 centimetres (12).

As Gerald Meeh, a lead scientist on the definitive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, argues:

“Many people don’t realise that we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere” (13).

A recent paper shows that “climate change … is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop” (14).

Climate-related changes are already observed, for example, in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change.

Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions of the US. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage (15).

The threat posed by global warming is not restricted to the US but is global, and many of the unusual weather patterns which have marked the last decade may be linked to the rise in global temperatures.The result will be a major increase in storms, heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes across the planet, with all the human and social consequences that brings. Dealing with this will be among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades (16).

But far from halting all carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s major states and corporations are pumping out ever-increasing amounts with little sign of any meaningful cuts. The potential consequences are that extra heat in the earth’s atmosphere will melt glaciers and polar ice caps at some point (possibly rapidly, on a timescale of years and decades). Significantly raised sea levels could submerge whole areas that are now land, wiping out whole states from Bangladesh to the Netherlands, and destroying major world cities, including New York and London (17).

Continued global warming will at some point have large-scale, relatively sudden and unpredictable impacts on global rainfall, wind and temperature patterns and on the related ocean water and heat circulation patterns. The details of these shifts are inherently unpredictable, but that they will occur with dramatic impact on global and local climate, agriculture and much else is beyond doubt.

Changing climate will also see shifts in the global distribution of disease-carrying insects, with potentially huge impacts on human health. The consequences of all of these effects would be catastrophic causing untold misery and immense social upheaval if the growth of emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, due to human activity, is not halted and reversed. Arguably, such a scenario represents a threat to the future viability of civilization on the planet (18).

So, these are the realities and potential consequences posed by runaway climate change. The science is clear. But what does the science indicate needs to be done to curb and reverse the situation, and why is the current negotiating process apparently unable to translate the science into affirmative action?

The Blair quote that I cited above – although specific to the UK, is supported by the science and gives an indication of what is required on a global scale – the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 (19).

The international framework by which countries are legally bound to cut C02 emissions is the Kyoto protocol which came into effect in February, 2005. As of November 2009, 187 states have signed and ratified the protocol. Kyoto is a complex deal, but its centrepiece is a general commitment by signatories to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2012. Some countries went further, with Britain for example pledging a 12.5 percent cut by 2012.

A major problem is that the state responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other, the US, with a quarter of all global emissions, refuses to sign the Kyoto agreement or any other international agreement on climate change.

But that is not the only thing wrong with Kyoto. All the fanfare around the deal is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It is utterly worthless. The cuts in carbon dioxide emissions envisaged under Kyoto will do nothing significant to halt global warming and climate change even if fully implemented.

The European Union claims to be leading the rest of the world on climate change, yet when its governments met during the time of Kyoto’s implementation in 2005, they too refused to set any post-2012 targets for emissions cuts at all (20).

Business and many governments argue that there is nevertheless a key feature of Kyoto which will deliver real emissions cuts – ‘emissions trading’, a market where companies and countries buy and sell the right to pump out quotas of carbon dioxide. And some NGOs which have a good record of campaigning on climate change have accepted this as part of the solution. It is not.

One of the most important emissions trading schemes was formally launched by the European Union in January, 2005. The theory is that the market will set a price on the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent amount of five other greenhouse gases). Companies will then have to buy a permit for the amount they pump out. The idea is that if the price is high enough market pressure will cause companies to find ways to cut emissions.

The idea at first glance can have an easy appeal, as is often the case with theories based on the market – but in reality is an illusion. When the scheme was piloted in January 2004 the price of the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide was around 12 euros. By the time the scheme came into full operation in January 2005 it had fallen to around 7 euros.

Currently there is little market pressure to change behaviour at all. Even enthusiasts for the scheme acknowledge that the price needed to rise, not fall, to force any switch. The Green Alliance think-tank, in a study of the scheme, concludes bluntly, ‘The first phase of emissions trading from 2005 to 2007 is not going to deliver emissions reduction’ (Quoted on BBC news report, 16 February 2005. (21).

The scheme only applies to a limited number of establishments. Some 12,000 are included in the scheme, accounting for less than half of the European Union’s emissions.

It is also open to crude manipulation. For example, in 2005, Britain’s government attempted to increase by 3 percent the baseline emissions for the 1,000 establishments big enough to be included in the trading scheme. It then claimed that under Kyoto targets its own quota should be set 5.2 percent below this increased baseline, in effect watering down the Kyoto cut from 5.2 percent to just 2.4 percent. Even the European Union thought this New Labour scam a little too blatant and blocked it. The British government, a supposed global champion of action on climate change, launched legal action against the European Union to win the right to fiddle its emissions figures (22).

Things get worse still when you find out that an absolutely central role in the emissions trading process will be played by an entity called the Prototype Carbon Fund – an arm of the World Bank. The Transnational Institute and Carbon Trade Watch argue in a definitive report on emissions trading:

“Trading programmes in effect privatise the problem of air-pollution. Government and communities lose control over environmental protections, placing it in the hands of the polluters. When the incentive to reduce emissions is profit and cost-effectiveness, there is incredible pressure to cheat by overestimating reductions, while underestimating emissions” (23).

In this way, “carbon markets create a muddle” and “…leave much room for unverifiable manipulation” (24).

Carbon Trade Watch argue that it places disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change (25).

The report is a devastating critique of emissions trading, based on schemes that are already under way. It concludes that emissions trading schemes remove any credibility at all from the Kyoto protocol:

“A country will be able to meet 100 percent of its Kyoto reduction commitments through purchasing credits in the market rather than reducing climate change emissions at source… Unfortunately the protocol’s market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading allow countries and companies to escape their responsibilities to reduce their own emissions. With the inclusion of these ‘flexible mechanisms’ this hard-fought agreement may actually be a first step backwards.”

An indication of how flawed the system is, relates to a scandal that erupted in April 2005 around one of the first schemes backed by the Prototype Carbon Fund. This involved the Plantar corporation setting up a massive eucalyptus plantation in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil to produce wood for making charcoal to be used in pig iron production. The corporation argues that otherwise it would have used coal, producing even more carbon dioxide, and is claiming a carbon credit under the Kyoto scheme with the backing of the World Bank.

A whole series of Brazilian and international NGOs and social movement groups have united to slam the fraudulent scheme, which involves the forcible eviction of people from land in the area to establish a huge monocultural plantation. These organisations have signed an open letter calling for the Prototype Carbon Fund to be shut down. They draw out more general arguments about emissions trading which those climate change campaigners who have accepted emissions trading as part of the solution would do well to heed:

“The Prototype Carbon Fund was born out of the World Bank’s efforts to promote neoliberalism. It is an instrument to commodify the atmosphere, promote privatisation and concentrate resources in the hands of a few, taking away the rights of the many to live with dignity. The PCF is not a mechanism for mitigating climate change.
Having followed the PCF’s activities and projects to date, we have learned by its doings that it does not avert dangerous climate change but instead increases hardship for local communities. This exposes inherent flaws not only in its own projects, but in project-based ‘carbon trading’ as a whole and the offset culture underpinning it. Any other similar fund or trading regime will systematically replicate these flaws.
The PCF extends the World Bank’s unacceptable political activities into a new sphere with its own special technical impossibilities. The PCF accordingly must be closed down as a first step in the right direction. It is neither ‘carbon’ nor pollution that is being traded, but people’s lives and paper certificates claiming to be carbon credits. Offset culture and pollution trading must be rejected as false solutions to climate change” (26).

Emissions trading is not the only scam. In recent years, many businesses and governments have latched on to what is dubbed “carbon sequestration” as the answer. Oil companies, in particular Norway’s Statoil and Britain’s BP, have been particularly keen to push this idea, and both have major projects under way. In essence the idea is to capture some of the carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels and store or “sequestrate” it in secure deep rock formations or in exhausted undersea oil reservoirs.

Ron Gueterbock, one of Greenpeace’s climate change experts, rightly argues: “This whole approach is the wrong way to tackle climate change” (27).

It diverts resources away from measures to cut emissions and is an attempt by the giant fossil fuel corporations to say we can have business as usual while they come up with a technical fix which will get us off the hook of climate change.

With the creation of a market for mandatory trading of carbon dioxide emissions within the Kyoto Protocol, the London financial marketplace has established itself as the centre of the carbon finance market, and is expected to have grown into a market valued at $60 billion in 2007 (28).

23 multinational corporations came together in the G8 Climate Change Roundtable, a business group formed at the January 2005 World Economic Forum. The group included Ford, Toyota, British Airways, BP and Unilever. On June 9, 2005 the Group published a statement stating that there was a need to act on climate change and stressing the importance of market-based solutions. It called on governments to establish “clear, transparent, and consistent price signals” through “creation of a long-term policy framework” that would include all major producers of greenhouse gases (29).

By December 2007 this had grown to encompass 150 global businesses (30).

All the major oil companies, with the exception of Exxon, may now talk of the need to take action on climate change, as do the car, tyre, power and other corporations responsible for pumping out greenhouse gases (31), and Shell and BP may have moved into renewable energy. But no one should be fooled into thinking this is a strategic shift away from fossil fuels. Behind the greenwash it is business as usual.

Whatever the views of those at the top, and however genuine their concern over climate change, they are prisoners of the remorseless logic of profit by which corporations live or die. On average all the oil companies still depend on fossil fuels for 95 percent of their revenues and profit. So renewables account for just 0.8 percent of Shell’s global investment, and for just 1 percent of the $8 billion BP spends a year on fossil fuel exploration and production. It is the same story with the car firms. Ford, for example, makes lots of green noises about climate change. But it is utterly committed to selling more and more cars, expanding into newer markets like India and China, and so contributing even more to global warming (32).

It may be argued that the measures needed to tackle climate change are not necessarily incompatible with capitalist society. And it is quite easy to imagine how the giant polluting corporations can profit by adapting to the production and sale of renewable energy. Indeed, there is no reason in abstract why capitalism has to be dependent on fossil fuels and industries linked to them. Capitalism can profit from anything it can turn into a commodity-and the history of capitalism is one of showing a remarkable facility for turning just about anything imaginable into commodities (33).

The future of civilization literally depends on the extent to which capitalism is able to break from the relationship it has with fossil fuels and the speed at which any transition to renewable sources of energy takes place. But in doing so, agreements must be meaningful and genuinely deliver.

Up until now, the figures climate talks have set bear no relationship to the science and are negated away by loopholes and false accounting. Some countries like the UK are meeting their obligations, but outsource their pollution to other countries, whilst a country like Canada, flouts them with impunity as a result, for example, of its practice of extracting tar sands that involve the biggest open cast mining operation on earth (34).

Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell (35), a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment.

The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it (36).

The British bank RBS, 70 per cent of which belongs to the government, has lent or underwritten £8bn for exploiting the tar sands (37).

A radical departure from the kinds of deceitful practices described in this article is needed if politicians are serious about saving the planet – practices which have seen opportunities squandered by denial and delay, and have led to the current situation whereby the years in which more than two degrees of global warming could have been prevented, have passed (38).

Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, suggests that even global cuts of three per cent a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with four degrees of warming by the end of the century(39).

At the moment emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate. If this continues, nobody knows what will be the effects in terms of temperature rises.

What all this illustrates, is that mitigating the effects of global warming (limiting greenhouse gas pollution), has failed.

Moreover, when one considers that the costs of mitigation have apparently been underestimated (40), the need for a shift away from the present orthodoxy becomes an urgent necessity.

This shift would arguably involve the governments of the world either exiting from the capitalist system altogether – a system that necessarily prioritizes the competitive logic inherent to the accumulation process which is at the root of the global warming crisis – or finding ways to restrict the worst of the projected devasting impacts of global warming, through a policy of adaption.

As the environmental activist George Monbiot points out, the costs of stopping climate breakdown – as high as they are – are far lower than the costs of living with it. Germany is spending E600 m just on a new sea wall for Hamburg. The Netherlands will spend E 2.2 bn on dykes between now and 2015; both of which are likely to be inadequate (41).

The UN suggests that the rich countries should be transferring $50-75bn a year to the poor ones now to help them cope with climate change, with a massive increase later on (42). But nothing like this is happening.

The rich nations have promised $18bn to help the poor nations adapt to climate change over the past seven years, but they have disbursed only 5 per cent of that money (43).

In real terms, this amounts to a net gain for the poor of nothing (44).

Oxfam has made a compelling case for how adaptation should be funded: nations should pay according to the amount of carbon they produce per capita, coupled with their position on the human development index (45).

On this basis, the US should supply over 40 per cent of the money and the European Union over 30 per cent, with Japan, Canada, Australia and Korea making up the balance.

But there appears to be no chance of them ever meeting these obligations.

Regardless of whether they meet there obligations or not, there is a limit to what this money could buy anyway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “global mean temperature changes greater than 4°C above 1990-2000 levels” would “exceed … the adaptive capacity of many systems.”(46).

At this point there’s nothing that can be done, for example, to prevent the loss of ecosystems, the melting of glaciers and the disintegration of major ice sheets. Elsewhere it spells out the consequences more starkly: global food production, it says, is “very likely to decrease above about 3°C” (47).

The IPCC also finds that, above three degrees of warming, the world’s vegetation will become “a net source of carbon” (48).

This is just one of the climate feedbacks triggered by a high level of warming. Four degrees might take us inexorably to five or six: the end – for humans – of just about everything.

So the situation facing humanity is critical. But who is going to pay for the global warming crisis?

A relatively new framing set by Copenhagen, is the growing demand for the repayment of climate debt which is coming predominantly from the developing world, led by the government of Bolivia and other Latin American governments, and it has been joined by the coalition of least developed countries which are primarily in Africa.

What they are saying is that the climate crisis as we know was created in the industrialized world.

There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what the Western world calls development) and carbon emissions. In fact, 75 per cent of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20 per cent of the world’s population.

There is a geographical irony to this, which is that the effects of climate change are felt overwhelmingly in the developing world, and the parts of the world that are least responsible for creating the crisis (49).

According to the World Bank, 75-80 per cent of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world (50).

So, there is an inverse relationship between cause and effect.

It is in this context that we see a growing movement from the developing countries that really are on the front lines of climate change, saying those who created the crisis (the rich world), owes them a debt – tangible reparations for the creation of this crisis. And those reparations should be paid in three forms.

Firstly, through deep emissions cuts in the developed world – at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

Secondly, they are saying the rich world, the G-8  industrialized countries, should pay for the huge costs that poor countries face in adapting to climate change.

Thirdly, they are arguing that they would like to leapfrog over the dirty energies, the fossil fuels that are fueling the climate crisis.

But they point out that this is expensive, and more expensive to shift to cleaner green technology than it is to develop with cheap, dirty fuels, which is the way we did in the rich world.

So, the developing countries are committed to positive changes, but they don’t think they should have to pay this additional cost because the problem, they argue, is not of their creation.

Essentially the climate debt arguments is the “polluter pays” argument, which is a familiar argument to people in the United States, its a basic principle of jurisprudence. Another way of putting this is “you broke it, you bought it” (51).

But judging by the previous conferences, it is unlikely these demands of the poor will be heard by the rich.

What for activists, will be regarded as the measure of success for the conference?

For writer and activist Naomi Klein, the definition of success has been lowered and lowered. She states:

“A few months ago the definition of success in Copenhagen was countries agreeing to lower emissions, to levels that climate scientists were demanding. And the science is very clear that we really do need cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

The other definition of success was rich countries coming to the table with levels of funding for the developing world that once again meet the actual need. And we know what those types of figures are. The World Bank for instance, has estimated the cost faced by developing countries to simply adapt to a changing climate dealing with droughts, dealing with increased flooding, is $100 billion a year. The cost of leapfrogging over those dirty energies is $500 billion-$600 billion a year. That’s a figure from independent UN researchers. But now what we hearing from the UN is there hope for Copenhagen is that they can get developed countries, rich countries, to agree to $10 billion a year” (52).

At Copenhagen, will the decision-makers continue on the path of hoodwinking the public into believing that something meaningful is being achieved, or will they commit to the required C02 emission cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels as argued by Klein? Further will they insist that the rich world pays for the costs of the pollution that they are fostering onto the poor?

What is certain, is that the consequences for the planet are catastrophic if we continue on the path that we appear to be committed to at present.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain, 2009.

References:

(1) www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/03/17/a-self-fulfilling-pr0phecy/

(2) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=2257

(3) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=876

(4) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107)

(5) www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/07/21/distortions-falsehoods-fabrications/

(6) Dr Lucy Arnot, October 18, 2007.

(7) https://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2009/nov/CRUupdate

(8) www.ipcc.ch

(9) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(10) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/sep/15/greenpolitics.uk(11). (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(11) (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(12) www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/11/sea-level-rises-climate-change-copenhagen

(13) www.ens-newswire.com

(14) www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html

(15) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(16) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(17) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(18) http://www.isj1text.ble.org.uk/pubs/isj88/mcgarr.htm

(19) www.rcep.org.uk

(20) The Guardian, 10 February 2005

(21) www.bbc.co.uk

(22) The Guardian, 12 March 2005

(23) www.tni.org/reports

(24) www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4680ee18-f393-11db-9845-000b5df10621.html/?nclick_check=1

(25) www.carbontradewatch.org/

(26) www.tni.org

(27) The Guardian, 5 September, 2003

(28) www.pointcarbon.com/

(29) www.weforum.org/pdf/98_climatechange.pdf

(30) www.epa.gov/climateleaders/partners/

(31) The Observer, February 20, 2005

(32) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(33) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(34) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/30/canada-tar-sands-copenhagen-climate-deal

(35) http://peopleandplanet.org/tarsands/localimpacts

(36)  ibid

(37) The Financial Times, November 16, 2009

(38) http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-urgent-threat-to-world-peace-is-%e2%80%a6-canada/

(39) www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/journal_papers/fulltext.pdf

(40) Dieter Helm, Tanner lecture, Oxford, February 21, 2009

(41) www.monbiot.com

(42) John Vidal, The Guardian, February 20, 2009

(43)  ibid

(44) (Oxfam, May 29, 2007

(45)  ibid

(46) www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter19.pdf

(47) ibid, Table 19.1

(48) IPCC, 2007b, ibid

(49) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(50) http://beta.worldbank.org/climatechange/

(51) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(52) ibid

The Rise of the BNP: Time To Question Freedom?

The BBC’s long-running political debating programme, Question Time, entrenched itself in controversy recently, following the decision by BBC executives to allow on to the show the  British National Parties (BNP’s) leader Nick Griffin. In western liberal democracies like Britain, which supposedly value democratic free speech, is it right that Griffin be granted a major political platform such as the BBC as a vehicle with which to air his organizations views?
The intention in the first half of this article, is to provide the reader with an outline of the nature of the party, its historical trajectory and what the implications are for granting the BNP the oxygen of media publicity. In the second half, the educational and professional backgrounds of those responsible for the decision-making process which allowed Griffin on to the programme, in addition to the possible grounds by which he was invited, will be evaluated.
The BNP is widely regarded to be a far-right fascist political organization (1) (2) (3). In this sense, the party represents a unique threat to all forms of democracy at every level of society. This includes the removal of the rights of all working class people – black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish, Muslim and non-Muslim (4).
The Standards Board for England ruled in 2005 that describing the BNP as Nazi was “within the normal and acceptable limits of political debate” (5). The Daily Mirror newspaper described the party’s MEP’s as “vile prophets who preach a Nazi-style doctrine of racial hatred” (6).
An editorial in The Guardian characterizes the BNP as “a racist organization with a fascist pedigree that rightfully belongs under a stone” (7).  The European Parliament’s Committee on racism and xenophobia described the BNP as an “openly Nazi party” (8). When asked in 1993 if the party was racist, its deputy leader Richard Edmonds, who has been convicted for racist violence, said: “We are 100 percent racist, yes.” (9).
The BNP was formed in 1982 in Britain under the leadership of John Tyndall, one of the countries foremost post-war fascists, who proclaimed that “Mein Kampf is my bible” (10). At that time the BNP remained in the shadow of the larger National Front (NF). The NF split, torn as they were by internal conflict, created a space which the BNP filled (11).
One of the BNPs main activists in 1985 was Tony Lecomber. Lecomber was sent to prison for attempting to detonate explosives at the offices of a rival political organization. He was also caught with hand-grenades and was jailed for three years for assaulting a Jewish teacher (12). He was propaganda director at the time of the latter conviction (13).
Lecomber is not alone:  Many other BNP members  have been convicted for racially-motivated violence.  Kevin Scott, the BNP’s North East regional advisor, for example, has two convictions for assault and using threatening words and behaviour against ethnic minorities (14). In addition, Joe Owens, a former BNP candidate, has served eight months in prison for sending razor blades to Jewish people in the post, and another term for carrying CS gas and knuckledusters (15).
Other BNP members and supporters, that include Stephen O’Shea and Simon Briggs, have been convicted for violent racist attacks (16). In 1998, Nick Griffin received a nine-month prison sentence for inciting racial hatred (17). Griffin subsequently became leader of the party in 1999.
During the early 1990s, much of the BNP”s activities were focused on East London, where, in 1993, it secured a council by-election victory in the Tower Hamlets ward of Millwall. The price to pay was a massive rise in racial attacks (18).
At about the same time, the BNP spawned the violent Combat 18 (C18) as its security force. C18 later emerged as a Nazi terror group, responsible for a letter bomb campaign and a series of murders. C18 thugs, made up of football hooligans and Nazi skinheads, protected both BNP meetings and the BNP leadership during party marches.
In 1993, the BNP became increasingly embarrassed by Combat 18 violence. After its victory in Millwall, it decided it no longer needed the street thugs and banned dual membership. However, most BNP members ignored this plea. In September 1995, four of the five London BNP branch organizers attended a C18 meeting (19).
The Millwall seat was lost eight months later. The BNP lost momentum, with younger members going over to C18. Tyndall reversed the slide by adopting a more hardline strategy, which included bringing veteran US Nazi leader, William Pierce, to London.

William Pierce
Pierce penned the tract, The Turner Diaries, which inspired both the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the politicised BNP supporter, David Copeland, who was convicted for the bombing of a London pub (20).
During this period in the mid-1990s, the organization began to adopt a more respectable image:
It campaigned on rural issues and, publicly at least, watered down some of its more overt racism, co-opting many of the policies which have traditionally been the domain of the political left (21).
In 1999, it  exploited the debate in relation to proportional representation as an opportunity to begin the biggest racist recruitment drive ever to have taken place in Britain, launching a new party political broadcast and delivering 15 million leaflets (22).
Since this apparent surface shift in strategy in the mid 1990s, the BNP’s support has relatively increased, albeit intermittently. In 2002, for example, the BNP won three council seats in Burnley, and averaged 28 per cent of the town-wide vote. In Oldham, the party came second in four of the five wards it contested, and took an average 27 per cent.
Across the country, the BNP averaged 16 per cent in the council wards it contested – the best election results in its history. However, this must be offset against the fact that it only challenged less than one per cent of all seats up for election. Since then, they have added further seats, a total that currently stands at 46 out of around a possible total of some 21,000.
In the 2005 General Election, the BNP stood 119 candidates across England, Scotland and Wales. Between those candidates, they polled 192,850 votes, gaining an average of 4.2 per cent across the several seats it stood in and 0.7 per cent nationwide – more than three times its percentage at the 2001 election (23). Of these votes, half originated from disaffected New Labour voters (the governing party) consisting of semi-skilled manual workers, pensioners and the unemployed (24).
However, it is important not to exaggerate the overall reach of the BNP: It did not stand nationwide, meaning its national share of the vote was substantially lower than that of other minor parties and exit poll predictions of 3 per cent (25).
Still, indications are that relatively the BNP is increasing its support amongst sections of the UK voting population (26) (27), against a background and climate of increasing racism (28). Consequently, the ugly face of racially-motivated violence appears to be never far away.
In October 2006, for example, Robert Cottage, an BNP candidate to represent Colne and Pendle Council earlier that year, was arrested under the Explosives Act on suspicion of possessing chemicals that may be capable of making an explosion (29).
Cottage was also reported has having in his possession the largest quantity of explosives of its kind found in the country (30).
On 31st of July 2007, Cottage was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment for the charge of possessing explosives (31).
Electorally, the European elections of 2009 resulted in the BNP attracting one million votes, which translated into them winning two seats in the European parliament. One of these seats was won by Griffin, who was elected for the North West region with 8 per cent of the vote (32).
So, how can the current growing relative popularity amongst sections of the British people for the BNP, be reconciled with the organizations historical tendency for racially-motivated violence?
For the answer to that question we need to examine the specific socioeconomic circumstances and conditions which arguably provide the catalyst for such violence.
Historically speaking, the defining characteristic of fascist parties has been their apparent propensity to be able to exploit prevailing unstable economic conditions. To a large extent, fascism thrives on the support it receives from what are frequently perceived as the disenfranchised in society, who suffer disproportionately from any global downturn in the economic cycle.
Thus, the uneven growth or decline in the fortunes of fascist political parties such as the BNP, is mirrored by the economic conditions in society at any given time. In short, during periods of low unemployment and relative economic stability, workers are less likely to vote for, and support, fascist political parties. On the other hand, when workers feel socially and economically vulnerable during periods of economic downturn, then some people are prone to translate their internal frustrations and anger in an external way by terrorizing minority and immigrant communities and/or towards supporting fascist political parties who cynically channel this anger and frustration into violent actions themselves (33) (34) (35).
Moreover, support for parties like the BNP appears to be predicated on the perceived failure of mainstream established political parties in addressing many of the legitimate concerns that working people face in their everyday lives as evidenced by half of the BNP’s support (as of 2005) originating from the New Labour government as highlighted above. One of the main concerns is the lack of availability of affordable social housing in the UK, the construction of which have dropped by 99 per cent in the last 12 years of the New Labour government (36).
The BNP are a major beneficiary of this kind of disaffection which they are able to exploit electorally, as evidenced for example, by their by-election victory in Kent which stemmed from fears over unemployment and issues around immigration and race (37). In this regard, the BNP have been able to play on mainstream concerns about the economy, crime, housing and unemployment, while also exploiting more traditional far right subjects such as immigration and fears about Islamist extremism. Their use of the issue of migrant workers in particular, combines fears about immigration with the reality of rising unemployment (38).
So a direct correlation appears to exist between economic crisis or downturn, the inability of established governing political parties to address the legitimate concerns of a large proportion of the electorate, and the rise of political parties like the BNP. Given that the current global economic downturn is predicted by many experts to be a medium to long-term problem (39), the consequences for ethnic minorities who are the brunt of the BNP’s message (40), appears to be less than a rosy one. The growing popularity for the BNP is echoed in respect to the corresponding mainstream and corporate media coverage and publicity they have increasingly garnered in recent years – coverage that nevertheless, is seemingly disproportionate to the relatively small number of votes they receive (41).
In a democracy, ought not all views, no matter how potentially repugnant, be heard by the population at large, particularly if such views are apparently representative of an increasing amount of people?
If the level of support for the BNP has grown to the extent as to warrant their exposure on the popular television debating programme, Question Time, what possible grounds could there be to censor such views?
This might be a valid argument, if it was the case that the BNP are a political organization whose ideology was not fascist. As distinct from all other UK political parties, the BNP’s leader has denied the reality of the existence of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews, alongside millions of others, perished (42). Further, unlike any other party, the BNP discriminate against people on the basis of their ethnicity over which they have no control, and openly advocate the repatriation of “non-whites” (43). Up until October, 2009, the BNP required that all members must be of the “Indigenous Caucasian” racial group (44). This requirement was challenged legally by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) who won their case against the BNP. Since October, 2009, ethnic minorities have been allowed to join the party (45).
It is for these, and other reasons, such as their use of intimidation and racial violence, that the claims for the legal legitimization of the BNP have been called into question – the case being that the agenda of the BNP is not a political, but a criminal one. All the evidence points to the fact that where the BNP have been politically active, have targeted its election campaigns or have otherwise had a presence, the resulting publicity has resulted in an increase in the amount of race attacks (46) (47).
In 1993, following their local council by-election victory in the Tower Hamlets ward of Millwall, for example, racial incidents increased by 300 per cent in the three months following the election (48). Barking in East London, has seen a 30 per cent rise in racist attacks since the BNP’s successful campaign in the borough (49). Two years ago, Griffin generated a significant amount of publicity following the controversy surrounding Oxford universities decision to allow him a public platform to address students at the universities campus. In the days following his speech, racist attacks in the Oxford area increased significantly (50).
At the time of  Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, the BBC attracted an audience of almost 8 million viewers, three times its average (51). Following the publicity generated by Griffin’s appearance, The Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed the results of a UK Gov opinion poll which indicated that 22 percent of British people would “seriously consider” voting for the BNP (52). Moreover, the BNP claimed that 9,000 people applied to join them after the programme aired (53).
It is usual for the BBC to announce the line-up of the show one or two days prior to broadcast, but on this occasion it stated that Griffin would be appearing many months in advance of it going to air. This generated further interest from amongst others, BBC Radio One and Channel 4 News.
Was this a deliberate cynical attempt by the BBC to increase their viewing-figure ratings in the almost certain knowledge that such an increase would by turn increase the profile of the BNP?
What does appear inconceivable, is that BBC management would have been unaware of the consequences for Britain’s ethnic minority population of granting the BNP this “gift horse” amount of public exposure.
Was the decision by the BBC to invite Griffin on to the show based partly on the shared professional and educational backgrounds of those concerned?
Many of the individuals who were directly responsible for overseeing Oxbridge-educated Griffin’s appearance, had themselves been educated at one of two of Britain’s elite educational establishments – Oxford and Cambridge. For example, BBC director-general, Mark Thompson was educated at Oxford, where Griffin was granted a public platform to speak. Following his appearance on the show, Griffin, who graduated in law, told the Guardian newspaper that he admired Thompson’s “personal courage” by inviting him (54).
Nicholas Kroll, director of the BBC Trust – an organization that supposedly represents the interests of the viewing public – was educated at Oxford. At least three of the 12 members of the government-appointed trustees, were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, while the remainder have a background in either law, business or economics (55).
So what were the grounds for the BBC inviting Griffin on the the Question Time programme?
BBC deputy director-general Mark Byford defended the BBC’s decision on the grounds of impartiality, insisting that Griffin’s invitation was not based on boosting viewing figures. Byford said it was “not for the BBC” to engage in censorship, echoing the views of his boss, Thompson, by saying that such issues were a matter for government (56). The Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was also educated at an elite university, Edinburgh, responded that the responsibility to allow Griffin on to the programme was the BBC’s (57).
In words that would have been music to the ears of Griffin, Brown said:
“I think the days of Britain having to apologize for our history are over….I think we should celebrate much of our [imperialist] past rather than apologize for it, and we should talk, rightly so, about British values” (58).
The “values” that Brown was referring to were not made clear.
After having the ‘buck’ passed back to them by Brown, the BBC were effectively compelled to pass the issue over to the government-appointed business-friendly and Oxbridge-educated BBC Trust, after cabinet minister Peter Hain and others, appealed against the decision to allow Griffin on to the programme (59).
Although in principle the BBC Trust is able to intervene in cases like this, in practice the body never interferes in individual programme content prior to transmission. A BBC Trust spokeswoman told MediaGuardian:
“The trust is the sovereign body of the BBC and could, in principle, intervene before a programme is broadcast. However, there is a long-established convention that it does not take a view on the editorial content of individual programmes before transmission, but only reviews them after transmission” (60) – cold comfort for Britain’s ethnic minorities, many of whom would have been verbally and racially assaulted as a direct result of the programme airing.
Does the decision to allow Griffin on to the programme on the grounds that not to do so, would break the corporation’s alleged impartiality guidelines, stand up to scrutiny?
The BBC frequently break their “impartiality” guidelines. This often takes the form of  BBC journalists  accepting the views and pronouncements of those in political power uncritically and as a given. In 2007, for example, Justin Webb, then the BBC’s North America editor, rejected the charge that he is a propagandist for US power, saying:
“Nobody ever tells me what to say about America or the attitude to take about the United States. And that is the case right across the board in television as well” (61).
Webb began a radio programme from the Middle East thus:
“June 2005. US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice flies to Cairo and at the American University makes a speech that will go down in history: “For sixty years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East; and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.”
Webb told his listeners in all seriousness:
“I believe the Bush administration genuinely wanted that speech to be a new turning point; a new start” (62).
Nobody had to tell Webb to say these words; he genuinely believed them.
Consider too, the pronouncements of one BBC correspondent, reporting from Iraq:
“This is not promising soil in which to plant a Western-style open society.”
And:
“The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights” (63).
When investigative journalists challenged BBC news director Helen Boaden on whether she thought this version of US-UK intent perhaps compromised the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting, she replied that such “analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many of the speeches and remarks of both Mr Bush and Mr Blair” (64).
In March, 2009, BBC reporter Reeta Chakrabarti was asked why she had claimed that Tony Blair had “passionately believed” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. After all, an alternative thesis – based on a mountain of compelling evidence – is that Blair was lying. Chakrabarti responded:
“I said Mr Blair passionately believed Iraq had wmd because he has consistently said so” (65).
In other words, for the BBC it appears to be a given that the unchallenged pronouncements of Western political leaders who speak on behalf of powerful economic interests, are the truth.
In 1999, the BBC  made the clear political decision to allow its own high-profile newsreader, Jill Dando, to present a DEC appeal for Kosovo at the height of NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign against Serbian “genocide” in Kosovo (claims that have since been quietly abandoned). Shortly after broadcasting the appeal, with bombing still underway, the BBC reported:
“Millions of pounds of donations have been flooding in to help the Kosovo refugees after a national television appeal for funds” (66).
This article linked to related reports on the conflict, which included comments from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair:
“This will be a daily pounding until he [the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic] comes into line with the terms laid down by NATO” (67).
This contrasts with the BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Gaza Charity Appeal in response to Israel’s violent 22-day attack on Gaza late last year. The attack resulted in the killing of a minimum 1,300 people and the wounding of 4,200 others. Israeli forces repeatedly bombed schools, medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, UN buildings, power plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes. The BBC’s refusal to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, breached an agreement that dates back to 1963 and left “aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations” (68).
The BBC apparently had no concerns that this might damage its alleged reputation for impartiality. The BBC argument is made absurd by its consistent and very obvious pro-Israeli bias. An early version of January 28 BBC online article (since amended) commented:
“Israel has carried out an air attack in the Gaza strip and launched an incursion with tanks and bulldozers across the border….The incursion follows a bomb attack which killed one Israeli soldier and wounded three near the Gaza border” (69). As usual, the BBC presented the Israeli attack as a response to Palestinian violence in which it was falsely claimed that they (the Palestinians) had broken an earlier ceasefire. In fact, Israel forces had already violated the ceasefire at least seven times (70).
The BBC’s claims of impartiality, are further compromised in relation to the nature of their senior management appointments. These are made by the government of the day. At the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, both the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies and his director-general, Gregg Dyke, were supporters of, and donors to, the Labour Party. Davies’s wife ran Gordon Brown’s office; his children served as pageboy and bridesmaid at the Brown wedding. Tony Blair has stayed at Davies’s holiday home. “In other words”, noted columnist Richard Ingrams, “it would be harder to find a better example of a Tony crony” (71).
BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan lost his job after intense government flak in response to Gilligan’s report that the Blair regime had manipulated intelligence over Iraq’s supposed WMD (72).
Consider too, the establishment links of the members of the BBC Trust whose duty it is to uphold its public obligations, including impartiality. Notwithstanding the unrepresentative nature of the trust, as reflected in its members educational and professional backgrounds (see above), the BBC’s claim for impartiality cannot be sustained on the grounds of ideology alone.
One of these trustee worthies is Anthony Fry, formerly of Rothschilds and later the ill-fated Lehman Brothers where he was head of UK operations. Fry boasts on the BBC website:
“Having spent my career in the City as an investment banker, for over a decade specializing in the media industry, it’s a great privilege to bring my commercial understanding of the sector to help the BBC deliver value for licence fee payers in today’s rapidly changing broadcasting environment” (73).
Are we to believe that these individuals are independent of the government that appointed them and of the elite corporate and other vested interests in which they are deeply embedded?
Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, was honest in his assessment of the corporation and its relationship to the establishment:
“They know they can trust us not to be really impartial” (74).
What these clear examples of double standards and bias illustrate, is that the notion the BBC were obliged to invite Griffin on to the Question Time programme on the spurious  grounds that to deny him an invitation could conceivably undermine their claims for impartiality, are clearly bogus.
The BBC’s close ties to the British establishment undermines their credibility for impartiality at the first hurdle.
To recap: Many of their top executives were educated at one of the two elite universities Griffin was educated at and allowed to speak at. Moreover, having clearly made contradictory and politically-motivated decisions in the past – the latest of which was to invite the leader of a fascist political organization, whose existence is legally open to question, on to one of their flagship-political debating programmes – further undermines the BBC’s credibility.
The kind of cosy relationship the corporation has with the government of the day and with people like Nick Griffin and the BNP, makes sense when one considers the British establishments well documented historical links with the political far-right. The Daily Mail newspaper, for example, whose then owner Lord Rothermere, was both a supporter and friends of Hitler and Mussolini (75), propagated anti-Jewish sentiment at the end of the Second World War, as a catalyst for the then government to stem the flow of Jewish immigration into the country (76) (77).
This is the same establishment newspaper which, under the guise of the “war on terror”, regularly sensationalizes anti-Muslim stories on to its front pages, whilst relegating the relatively higher amount of terrorist activities of the far-right in its inside pages (78) (79).
Were the BBC justified in granting Griffin a slot on the programme on the grounds of freedom of expression?
This brings into sharp focus the concept of freedom in a liberal democracy like Britain. Unlike the First Amendment of the US Constitution, Britain does not regard unconditional freedom of expression as a right. In this sense, Britain (and most of Europe) regards such freedoms as necessarily restricted by the interventions of the state. The aim of such intervention is the restriction of some freedoms which are deemed to undermine the public good and society in general. In this regard, a persons freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded public space like a theatre, is limited by the right of other people not to be crushed to death in the resulting stampede.
In theory, existing UK law is designed to restrict the freedom of individuals like Griffin to publicly use inflammatory language that is intended to incite religious and/or racial hatred and violence. Perhaps the BBC thought Griffin’s arguments would be sufficiently ridiculed by the other panelists on the show?
Indeed, this kind of argument is often used by those who defend the right of people like Griffin to be heard. In theory, this might appear to be a plausible position to take. Clearly though, Griffin’s arguments were not adequately challenged by members of the panel on the Question Time programme (80).
Government minister Jack Straw’s performance, for example – whose position on race relations had itself been compromised by his refusal to meet with a female Muslim constituent at his Blackburn surgery – was regarded by many as inept and ineffectual (81) (82).
This begs the question as why it was the government hierarchy made the decision to use Straw as their representative (and therefore, by extension, the people) on the programme?
Could it of been that in the almost certain knowledge of Griffin’s arguments surviving the programme unscathed, they would have been aware of the likelihood of an increasing potential for racial tension and social conflict in the country?
The social policy objective of  “divide and conquer” implied by such a strategy, has served various governments both past and present very well (83). Thus, there is no reason to believe why such a strategy would not be repeated.
But Straw was not the only guest on the show who failed to expose the policies of the BNP. Many of the audience would have felt alienated by what seemed to be an attack by the whole establishment on one individual. Griffin was attempting to tap into this alienation. The biggest problem with Question Time was the lack of a genuine workers’ representative that could have punctured this attempt. Instead, Griffin was on a panel with establishment politicians, all of whom support anti-working class and pro-big business policies (84).
Whatever the reasons were for the government and BBC establishment deciding on their choices to confront Griffin, the fact that the latter effectively side-stepped the laws relating to conditional freedom of expression by granting him the platform of Question Time, highlights the limitations of applying existing British law in what clearly is a legal “grey area”.
Such a controversy would not be an issue in a country like the US, on the basis that one of the principles of the US constitution is the notion of unconditional or unlimited freedom of expression. Many people clearly remain convinced of the merits of unlimited freedom of expression and the First Amendment that overrides it, on the basis that all views in a “free” society, no matter how potentially offensive and repugnant, ought to be heard. The American, Michael Harrison, editor of “Talkers Magazine” is one such person.
When questioned by talk show host and British MP George Galloway on this subject, Harrison defended the rights of Nazis and their supporters to provocatively goose-step up and down the streets of a Jewish community in a major city, openly preach support of Hitler and to deny the Holocaust in which the relatives of the people living their would have probably been gassed to death (85).
For Harrison, the clear potential for civil unrest and violence resulting from the state legitimization of such behaviour, was a price he considered was worth paying in the defence of unconditional unlimited freedom of expression (86).
It is worth remembering that Hitler, under the guise of unlimited freedom of the kind espoused by Harrison, came to power as Chancellor in Germany in 1933 with one-third of the vote, only for him to abolish freedom altogether. Democratic freedom and the right to vote was only restored following the overthrow of the fascist regime by the allies over a decade later.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in countering this unlimited notion of freedom from which emerged Hitler fascism, put it well when he said:
“One is free to move ones fist in the direction of my face, but ones freedom ends at the point at which the fist makes contact with it” (87).
Sadly, for many of Britain’s ethnic minorities, the price to be paid for allowing people like Nick Griffin on to programmes like Question Time, is an increase in the incidence of the fascist fist and jackboot to their faces.
Copyright: Daniel Margrain, 2009.
For details of specific references applicable to the above article, contact the author at: margrain.daniel@yahoo.co.uk
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