Copyright © LeftCentral. All Rights Reserved

Copyright ©  LeftCentral. All Rights Reserved

The Politics of Pressure in a global context

Image © Adam Weiz for SumOfUs.org

Legal Eagle

`We have to pick campaigns that are not too big and not too small. And the target of eight is large enough that as long as we vary our tactics from campaign to campaign we should be able to begin to see patterns about what`s working and what`s not. That’s the science strategy and as we learn more about how to change corporate behaviour we will be able to ratchet up the difficulty of our campaigns`. Taren Stinebricker-Kauffman  Read more of this post

The corporate campaign to produce a stupid nation

Nora Connolly

Image © Andrew Rusk

In 1925 the state of Tennessee passed an Act forbidding the teaching of evolutionary theory, the law was tested when John Scopes from Dayton was put on trial. Clarence Darrow defended Scopes against a prosecution team led by William Jennings Bryan. The trial put religion and first amendment rights under the legal microscope but there was also an economic subtext to this cause celebre, Bryan was after all, the man who made the remarkable Cross of Gold speech in 1896. Regarding the Scopes trial, Bryan got it wrong, though his position was not without merit. Darwinism had been misappropriated and incorrectly applied at the turn of the twentieth century and used to undermine the position of US workers. Social conservatives at the time justified economic inequality on the grounds that it was a natural consequence of the `survival of the fittest`. This clashed with Bryan`s democratic outlook, while wrong he challenged science for the noblest of humanitarian/economic reasons, he remembered the poor and the downtrodden whose grievances he powerfully articulated in 1896. Read more of this post

The trouble with billionaires (book review) by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Left Central Book Review 

Image© Andy Mitchel

I am indebted to the British Welfare state; the very one that Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, the safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major`s government, was there to break the fall…J.K. Rowling… Cited in `the trouble with billionaires`

This book is a fusion of rigorous academic analysis and sharp, witty journalism. The humour a necessary antidote, given the unconscionable economic detail outlined. Facts linked to the rapacious appetite of the super elite, gorging on tax avoidance. Aided and abetted by supine legislators in the UK and USA. Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks explain how the political right, adroitly undermined the post-war consensus of Beveridge and Keynes in the UK, the same result achieved in the USA with the gradual destruction of the New Deal consensus. Criticism articulated by Frederick Von Hayek who feared that benevolent government intervention would lead us down the road to serfdom. A ridiculous idea, predicated on the notion that social security; full employment, legal aid, economic growth and an NHS somehow reduced liberty. As this book points out, when Hayek required assistance from the social security system, he was not shy about utilising its collective provisions. It is indeed a strange sort of serfdom, which provides a hospital bed for the sick, a bizarre understanding of liberty that disregards the need of a safety net, when boom turns to inevitable bust. All those tens of thousands of post-war Higher Education students benefitting from free education in the UK or through the GI Bill in the States – hardly resemble serfs. But their counterparts today do; a bizarre twist on the Hayek model. The exchange of correspondence between Hayek and Charles Koch outlined in the text, makes for illuminating revisionist reading. Read more of this post

Question Time – Democracy Lite?

Lincoln Green 

BBC Question Time

Copyright UK Parliaments photostream

I was an audience member in the BBC Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013, when David Dimbleby chaired a panel which included Mary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Nigel Farage MEP (Leader of UKIP), Caroline Flint MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe) and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative Party Chairman).

Whilst the aim of the programme is to entertain and to provoke, attendance prompted thoughts about broader issues and about the underscoring attitudes which inform opinion and which programmes such as Question Time by their very nature fail to address.

Perhaps the most well debated issue was not actually broadcast but took place earlier, chaired by the floor manager to warm up the audience and to check the broadcasting systems.  The theme of responsibility for diet was discussed for almost an hour, raising issues such as personal responsibility, education for change, busy working parents and child care, and most pertinently the nature of the food industry.  Even with the luxury of extra time allotted only hints of the real issue were addressed – that the function of the food industry is to make a profit, and the easiest way to do this is to create something on which people will spend plenty of money (junk food) which is very cheap to produce and highly addictive (fat, sugar and salt).  Read more of this post

The Failure of Rio+20 is a Wake-Up Call for People Power‏

 Adam Parsons 

Image © CGIAR Climate

Almost a week since the Rio+20 Earth Summit ended, civil society is coming to terms with the ‘epic failure’ of global leaders to agree meaningful action for addressing the worsening planetary and social crises. Campaigners were near unanimous in decrying the inertia and lack of urgency shown by governments for tackling issues related to sustainable development, with national self-interest overriding any possibility of dealing with global problems in a genuinely cooperative and global manner.

Of particular concern was the ambiguous concept of a ‘green economy’, which many activists fear is the latest attempt of corporations to use the environmental crisis as an opportunity for making greater profits. Many NGOs observed the growing influence of major corporations and business lobby groups within the United Nations – one of the biggest differences between the first Rio Summit in 1992 and the latest gathering twenty years later, which is reinforcing policies that support the commercial interests of companies and preventing critical measures that serve the public good.

The real talk and action at Rio last week was not among ministers and heads of state, but in the parallelPeoples Summit for Social and Environmental Justice that was held over a 10 day period to propose real solutions to the serious problems that humanity is facing. This was the forum where the true meaning of ‘sustainable development’ was discussed and understood, with obvious implications for our current way of life and patterns of production and consumption. Clearly, long-term sustainability requires an acceptance that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. And living conditions can never be equalised around the world unless the over-consuming nations – the 20 percent of the world population that consumes 80 percent of the Earth’s resources – learn to live more simply and embrace the principle of sharing.

Sadly, the Rio+20 Declaration in no way reflected the global level of sharing, unity and cooperation that is needed to set humanity on a sustainable path. For example, instead of acknowledging that the solutions to poverty and inequality lie in ‘sustainable’ growth, the Declaration pledged 16 times over to pursue ‘sustained’ growth – i.e. growth at all costs, the root cause of ecological destruction – with only a vague call for “fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce”. The U.S. lobbied to remove the word “equitable” from the text, along with any mention of the right to food, water, healthcare and gender equality.  Read more of this post

Guest Blog: The third of May will be a decisive day

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Image © Matt Hobbs

Tom Vine

The week did not begin well for the mayoral contest. After a debate on radio channel LBC, Boris distastefully called Ken Livingstone a “f***ing liar” after Livingstone accused him of using similar tax arrangements as have been causing much controversy over Livingstone’s candidacy. Livingstone was quoted afterwards saying he and Boris are in “exactly the same situation” concerning their earnings.

Yet, what is frightening about this whole situation is not the fact that these men are choosing to pay corporation tax on their earnings over income tax but that our current Mayor of London feels he has the right to call Livingstone, let alone anyone, a “f***ing liar.” What’s also coincidentally convenient for Boris is the way in which the contest has been transformed into criticising Livingstone over taxation on his earnings. Admittedly, I felt as though Livingstone had, in a way, betrayed the left. But as I began to doubt the security of my Ken Livingstone vote, I realised how puny this issue is compared to what really matters for Londoners: housing, crime levels and the amount it costs you to get to school or work each day.

These are the very issues the mayoral candidates (of which a full list can be found here) have been debating for the past few weeks in an attempt to win our votes. These are issues which effect us Londoners directly. Knowledge of Ken and Boris’ tax arrangements isn’t going to reduce my tube or bus fares, so why should I care?

Read more of this post

Guest Blog: Why we disagree: but where to go from here?

Cameron Dron

Our class had a very interesting set of lectures the week before last. Given by Heiko Roehl from the German Development Agency (the GIZ), we were introduced to a number of knowledge and organizational learning concepts. It touched upon a lot of the things that I have been thinking about recently, like the nature of truth, why it is that people – even intelligent ones – can disagree so vehemently about such a wide range of issues and how it is that we as individuals can come to make more of an effort towards understanding each other.

Something that really crystallized all of this rather well was a wee diagram explaining a concept called ‘Relevance Systems’. This theory or way of thinking about individual beliefs and knowledge can help us to understand why and how it is that we can come to have such radically different views of the world. This struck me powerfully because I have been trying for a while to get a better idea of why it is that people disagree about climate change. This helped me to understand the why a bit better, but I’m still not sure if it helps to form any solutions. Time will tell. Read more of this post

Feed-in Tariff: An excellent project in need of long-term confidence

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(c) ukycc.org

Tom Youngman is a member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition‘s delegation to the United Nations climate change negotiations and part of the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Youth Advisory Panel

Last Sunday I watched the first episode in the new series of ‘Dragon’s Den’. At around 9:45 came the serious proposition, the project that (we’ve all now pretty much sussed the show’s structure) will definitely get investment. As a sustainability activist, it pleased me greatly to see Chris Hopkins, MD of Ploughcroft, a solar panel installer, occupying this slot.  Read more of this post

A new green revolution?

With all the cruel cuts being undertaken by this Tory-led government it has become very difficult to fight, or to blog, on all fronts. The barrage has seen the losing of EMAs, hiking of tuition fees, cuts to the poorest local councils, job losses, the restructuring of education and the NHS and above all the general dismantling of some of the most important parts of our social infrastructure. I don’t believe that the private sector will pick up the extra workforce, as David Cameron seems to. I don’t believe the ‘Big Society’ can plug all the gaping holes in services, in fact, I’m rather suspicious that the ‘Big Society’ is a convenient fabrication that allows government to renege on their responsibilities. I do believe, however, in the power of people and community action, not to fulfil the functions that the state should be providing, but to work in their own way to create a better society.

It is heartening to look to community groups that are making a real difference and to this end, I’d like to blow the trumpet of the Transition movement. These are local groups who work to make their area, and their lives, greener and more sustainable to fight climate change and to improve local life. Their organisation is highly democratic and inclusive and their aims largely altruistic, improving their society and aiding the environment. They share best practise with other groups in a cooperative network. Many towns have signed up to this and it has made a difference. In London, for example, just this month trees are being planted, Haringey has launched its sustainable food strategy and tropical vegetable gardening has become the new vogue. The Sussex town of Lewes has even invented it’s own currency for local trading.

To link this back to the cuts, at the risk of being too obviously allegorical, I’d like to consider the example of the selling (or felling) of England’s forests as an area where resistance could prevail. These could be cuts we can stop. Half a million people have signed a petition to save the threatened 258,000 hectares of English forestry estate. 84% of the public as a whole are opposed to the measure. MPs have rebelled on this issue, and David Cameron has been forced to declare himself ‘open to ideas’ as he recognised the importance this land held for the communities. Although this ‘green and pleasant land’ bit, may be more about preserving particular vistas, a valuable aim in itself, than halting climate change, it does demonstrate that many people do value nature and therefore green policies can be popular and effective.

If the government insists on its commitment to community, it should look to the movements who have engaged and empowered people to improve society. The green movement has a long history of being democratic, inclusive and progressive. Additionally, their values are vital for our time; we should learn to live without excess, without exploitation of people or the natural world, respecting the world around us and looking towards a better, more sustainable future.

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