A fairer society means breaking the big business stranglehold on politics


Labour’s challenge to fight inequalities and rebuild democracy rests on addressing Britain’s ‘finance curse’

If the next Labour leader wants a fairer society, they must break the big business stranglehold on politics.

by Nick Dearden Re-posted from openDemocracy 10.09.15

In just a few weeks, the Labour leadership contest has substantially shifted the political debate in Britain, challenging the policy of austerity, raising inequality as the defining issue of our times, highlighting the erosion of democracy.

Fighting inequality and rebuilding democracy depend on breaking the stranglehold of big business and finance on politics in this country.  And this means reassessing Britain’s role in the world, because the prestige of this country is based upon London as a financial hub and a corporate HQ.

We live in an offshore centre for corporate interests, and this has not only fuelled poverty and inequality around the world, it has done so at home too.  Britain’s prestige has not translated into benefits for ordinary citizens here.  Despite this, political leaders have for decades failed to tackle the vested interests that have captured this country.

If they want to really change Britain, top of the list for the next Labour leader is the dependence of our economy on finance.  We have a ‘finance curse’, in the same way oil-rich nations can develop a ‘resource curse’.  Far from harnessing resources to build a fairer society, finance’s dominance has undercut other sectors of our economy.  Today, governments of every shade jump to the tune of finance, as we experiment in ever greater forms of deregulation, allowing the banks to transform everything we value into a derivative to be gambled on.

Britain has been captured by financial interests, which use this island to avoid taxes globally, to unsustainably inflate debt bubbles, and to speculate on the air we breathe.  There is no path to rebuilding democracy which doesn’t involve an almighty battle to ‘tame the City’ – with robust mechanisms to make companies pay their taxes internationally, levy taxes on speculation, restrict stock market listings, cancel unjust debts and reform the Corporation of London.

But finance is only the most obvious case of corporate capture in Britain.  In fact big business has a stranglehold on our politics.  On the one hand our government is aggressively pushing forward a ‘new generation’ of trade agreements like the EU-US investment deal known as TTIP.  TTIP threatens to water down social and environmental standards across the board, seeing such regulations as little more than ‘trade obstacles’.  TTIP will even give multinational corporations a special ‘right’ to sue our government for passing laws which threaten their profits.

On the other hand the British government is obstructing attempts by Latin American countries to hold multinational companies accountable for abusing real human rights, meaning that people have no access to effective legal redress for harm done to them by British-based corporations.  So far is the British state in the pocket of corporate interests that even our aid budget is used to privatise and deregulate economies in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Aid money is thrown at free market think tanks to privatise energy supplies; agribusiness conglomerates get a helping hand to control seed markets; education multinationals find new markets in some of the poorest countries on the planet.

The rule of multinational corporations, which places a higher value on profit than human rights, is a key factor driving inequality. Combatting inequality means the next Labour leader needs to be prepared to use the British veto in Europe to halt TTIP and its sister deals, limit the influence of multinational corporations over the UK political process, establish a commission to tackle corporate abuse of workers’ rights and environmental sustainability, and overhaul the aid budget as a form of redistributive taxation which can help countries across the world develop decent public services.

These proposals form part of a manifesto of policies which we launch today, the first step in beginning to rebuild our democracy and properly fight inequality.  It also includes reducing carbon emissions and giving substantial reparations to help developing countries build democratically-controlled energy systems in low carbon economies.  And supporting small scale, organic agriculture, rather than industrial farming.

If we really want a fairer society, there is no alternative to taking on vested interests.  We can’t just decide to exercise a ‘nicer’ form of global power, because our power is built on a base that necessarily erodes democracy.  A powerful financial sector, unfair trade practices, ideologically-driven privatisation, and many other policies, which we inflict on the world, also serve to make our own country more unequal.  So these policies must be changed not just for the millions of people around the world affected, but for the British people too.

True, it may make our country less ‘important’ at the top table, but that is a price well worth paying for a fairer world, and a happier society

This article is cross posted from Global Justice Now and appears here.

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They Knew – They Lied: ExxonMobil and Climate Change


They Knew, They Lied: ExxonMobil and Climate Change

By Daniel Ross, Truthout | Report

Between 1956 and 1964, Bell Laboratories produced a number of television specials titled “The Bell Laboratories Science Series.” The topics ranged from an examination of the Sun, to human blood, deep space, the mind, the nature of time and life itself. The programs were produced by Frank Capra, whose films include It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so the production value of the series was notably superior. Even 30 years later, schools all across the US were still showing these Bell Labs films to students.

In 1958, a chapter in this series titled “The Unchained Goddess” was broadcast. The topic was the weather, and it starred Richard Carlson and a USC professor named Dr. Frank C. Baxter. At one point in the program, Carlson asked Dr. Baxter, “What would happen if we could change the course of the Gulf Stream, or the other great ocean currents, or warm up Hudson Bay with atomic furnaces?” The “atomic furnaces” bit is a quaint throwback to the atom-crazy 1950s, but the response given by Dr. Baxter is what makes this particular film notable.

“Extremely dangerous questions,” replied Dr. Baxter, “because with our present knowledge we have no idea what would happen. Even now, Man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization. Due to our release, through factories and automobiles every year, of more than 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide – which helps air absorb heat from the Sun – our atmosphere seems to be getting warmer. It’s been calculated that a few degrees rise in the Earth’s temperature would melt the polar ice caps, and if this happens, an inland sea would fill a good portion of the Mississippi Valley. Tourists in glass-bottomed boats would be viewing the drowned towers of Miami through 150 feet of tropical water.”

Again, this was broadcast in 1958. The fact that climate concerns were being voiced almost 60 years ago is likely surprising to many, but the history and beginnings of the environmental movement in the US date even earlier. Ten years before, in 1948, the first piece of federal legislation to regulate water quality – the Federal Water Pollution Control Act – was passed. President Eisenhower spoke to the issue of air pollution, which had killed nearly 300 people in New York City two years earlier, in his 1955 State of the Union Address. That same year, the Air Pollution Control Act was passed.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, a watershed event many consider to be the official beginning of the environmental movement. In 1963, the Clean Air Act was passed. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb was published, which argued that the world’s pollution problems were due to overpopulation. In 1970, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency, and the first Earth Day protest – an event that included some 20 million people nationwide, then the largest protest in US history – was held.

In 1974, the first detailed scientific research connecting chlorofluorocarbons to the depletion of the ozone layer was released, and was augmented two years later. In 1979, President Carter pledged to embark upon a program to ensure that the US would get 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2000. That same year, he installed solar panels on the White House, which President Reagan removed after he took office. Reagan, in his first year, slashed the EPA’s budget by more than half. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established.

The struggle to identify, diagnose and deal with climate change has been ongoing for almost seventy years, involving presidents and scientists and millions of ordinary citizens who recognized the dangers inherent in a climate affected by our actions … which is what makes this report so thoroughly maddening.

ExxonMobil, it seems, was fully aware of the existence and dangers of global climate change as early as 1981, a fact revealed by a number of recently-released internal memos. The company was looking to exploit a massive natural gas field in Indonesia, but their pet in-house scientist warned against it, because the field was 70 percent carbon dioxide, and drilling for the gas would release the CO2, which would be dangerous to the environment.

For the next 27 years, despite knowing better, ExxonMobil spent millions of dollars to promote “scientists” and think tanks who worked hammer and tongs to promulgate the idea that climate change was a myth. Climate-deniers like Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics made mad bank by spraying scientific falsehoods into the polluted wind, thanks to the largesse of a number of energy corporations, including ExxonMobil.

They knew. They lied. They paid others to lie. They deranged the conversation, perverted bedrock science into a muddle of greed-inspired opinion-based nonsense, and maybe, or probably, humanity might have missed its window to fix all this because of the long delay they created in the name of profit.

Vast swaths of the US West, including Alaska most significantly, are on fire. Many parts of the world, including Europe, are boiling in unprecedented heat waves. California is basically out of water, with no relief to come in the foreseeable future. Half of Greenland’s ice sheet is now liquid. Pink salmon, mussels, oysters, clams and scallops are about to disappear from the menu because the oceans are turning to acid. Those oceans are rising 2.5 times faster than originally estimated. Fracking persists, tar sands oil extraction continues to scar the air and the sure-to-leak Keystone XL pipeline marches inexorably toward delivering poison to the world.

People have been working for nearly 70 years to warn us of the dangers inherent in fossil fuels and the unchecked release of CO2. Since 1981 at least, ExxonMobil and other energy interests have known what these dangers represent, but spent money hand over fist to obscure the truth in order to line their pockets.

The ocean is coming. Many very smart people have been warning us of this for seven decades. As for the people who bent their shoulders to the task of denying this inexorable tidal truth for so many years that could have been spent checking and averting this looming disaster, well … I hope their cash can act as a flotation device. They believe themselves to be so powerful, but the ocean brooks no challengers.

For the rest of us: the aftermath of lies. The tobacco companies tried this denial number, and it killed millions of people. The lies of ExxonMobil and the cohort of energy companies who paid through the nose to deny the damage they were doing may well have cashed the final check for life on Earth as we know it. They knew. They lied. How many will die for their profit margin? How many have died already?

Mind the tides. The brutal reality of consequences is coming up the beach.

Copyright, Truthout. Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

Naming Names – Ninety Companies Destroying the Planet


Naming Names: The 90 Companies Destroying Our Planet

 Jon Queally,
Previously Published by Common Dreams

Analysis highlights the small number of profit-driven entities that are driving us towards destruction, but can a climate revolution from below challenge their rule?

90 companies

Chevron Texaco was the leading emitter among investor-owned companies, causing 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to date, with Exxon not far behind at 3.2%. In third place, BP caused 2.5% of global emissions to date. (Guardian)

Narrow it down to the real power-brokers and decision-makers—the CEO’s of fossil fuel companies or the energy ministers from the largest petro-states—says climate researcher Richard Heede, and the actual individuals most responsible for the political world’s continued refusal to address the planetary crisis of climate change “could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”

In a newly compeleted study by Heede and his colleagues at the Climate Accountability Institute, their analysis shows that a mere 90 companies, some private and some state-owned, account for a full two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions that are now driving perilous rates of global warming.

Offered in advance to the Guardian newspaper, which created an interactive representation of the study’s findings, the report comes as climate negotiators from around the world continue talks in Warsaw, Poland this week in the latest (what looks so far like a failed) attempt to solidify an emissions agreement designed to stave off the worst impacts of climate change this century.

As the Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg reports:

Between them, the 90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751 to 2010, amounting to about 914 gigatonne CO2 emissions, according to the research. All but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.

The list of 90 companies included 50 investor-owned firms – mainly oil companies with widely recognised names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP , and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton.

Some 31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom and Norway’s Statoil.

Nine were government run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland, the host of this week’s talks.

Though the global public has been flooded with one scientific research paper after another warning of the perils of not addressing the role of carbon emissions, experts agree that the political will on the state, national, and global level has simply not been created.

The reason for that, of course, is the stranglehold that the very profitable fossil fuel companies—whether state-owned  entities or private corporations—retain on the political systems within which they operate. At the global level, that political system is known as the United Nations, but so far the talks taking place in Warsaw are seeing almost no progress on a deal. On Wednesday, the world’s poorest nation’s walked out of the COP19 talks and the wealthiest nations—including the US, Canada, Australia, and the EU states—showing less and less courage despite the increasingly dire warnings from experts and scientists.

Michael Mann, a U.S. climate scientist who spoke to the Guardian about the possible impact of the list, said he hoped it would bring greater scrutiny to the gas, oil and coal companies who are most responsible for past emissions because these are the same companies poised to continue burning the vast carbon reserves still in the ground. “What I think could be a game changer here is the potential for clearly fingerprinting the sources of those future emissions,” he said. “It increases the accountability for fossil fuel burning. You can’t burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it.”

And Al Gore added: “This study is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the evolution of the climate crisis. The public and private sectors alike must do what is necessary to stop global warming. Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution.”

The alternative, however—as almost zero progress, and possibly lost ground, has been the result of the last several rounds of international climate talks—is a global uprising from below, led by social justice organizations, environmentalists, and civil society who are willing to act where governments and the private sector have refused.

As Michael T. Klare, an energy expert and professor at Hampshire College, wrote earlier this week at TomDispatch:

If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment.  Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support.  With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floodsfiresdroughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions.  Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.

In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others.  Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet.  While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy.  And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Grangemouth and the EU/WTO


Grangemouth and the EU/WTO

By Syzygysue

Also published here  on Politics and Parasites

The dispute at Grangemouth is the old trick of provoking industrial action – then holding the workforce to ransom by threatening their jobs unless they agree to the draconian changes in their employment packages that the bosses wanted all along.  It’s exactly what Margaret Thatcher did to the Miners, and it is what Ratcliffe, a private Hedge Fund owner, has done to his employees.

But it is not just those who were threatened with job loss, Ratcliffe was also holding the UK and Scottish governments to ransom.  70% of Scotland’s fuel is processed at Grangemouth, and represents 8% of Scotland’s manufacturing capacity or 2% of its GDP.

Isn’t about time, the politicians turned the tables and called a halt to these blackmailing tactics by private energy providers?

For example, Ed Miliband’s announcement at LP conference which identified the public anxiety and anger about energy prices, has been met by the energy providers increasing their bills by 10%, in spite of OVO reports that wholesale prices have not increased.

The energy companies’ action is nothing short of a provocative Vs-up to the public and politicians.

Cameron et al have nowhere to go because they are caught between the public anger and their ideological commitment to the corporates.  Meanwhile, Ed Miliband’s proposal to freeze prices for 20 months is criticized as not being able to prevent price hikes both before and after (as indeed, the current show of strength on the part of the energy companies is intended to demonstrate).

Too rarely reported, however, is Labour’s intention to regulate the wholesale energy market by pooling electricity prior to its being sold on to the energy companies.

But why on earth go to all that bother?

We’ve already seen the energy providers disregard for the public good; their indifference to increasing the numbers of cold-related deaths this winter, and people forced to choose between eating and heating.

How much further do the energy companies have to go, in clearly demonstrating that the UK needs to be able to control supply and energy prices on behalf of its people, the economy and the environment?

The political-bullying alone, is reason enough to curb the energy companies power by taking them into public ownership asap.

But on top of that, climate change and transforming energy provision away from fossil fuels will never be achieved through the markets.

… the project of sustainable capitalism was misconceived and doomed from the start because maximizing profit and saving the planet are inherently in conflict and cannot be systematically aligned even if, here and there, they might coincide for a moment. That’s because under capitalism, CEOs and corporate boards are not responsible to society, they’re responsible to private shareholders. CEOs can embrace environmentalism so long as this increases profits. But saving the world requires that the pursuit of profits be systematically subordinated to ecological concerns…


Profits depend on increasing sales and prices not on reducing energy consumption and supporting cheaper renewable energy.  The first duty of a private company is to maximize the return to its shareholders.

However, taking the refinery into public ownership is not so easy given the EU/WTO legislation, negotiated and signed in secret by the EU Commission and Council of Ministers… and the UK government will be even further constrained by the US-EU FTA (Free Trade Agreement) currently being rushed through for 2014.

Once a country is locked into the GATS regime, the right of its government to regulate liberalized service sectors is diminished, paving the way for foreign transnationals to enter the domestic market. Any attempt to reverse the situation would be subject to WTO disciplines and penalties.

The same holds true for Royal Mail and the NHS.  As an unelected Corporate Tribunal, the WTO has the power to overturn UK sovereignty on employment and environmental protection legislation, and many other decisions.

Unravelling the spin: a guide to corporate rights in the EU-US trade deal

But as Michael Meacher writes:

… this disaster reveals the desperate need for a proper industrial strategy to safeguard and steadily enhance the nation’s manufacturing capacity.   This dispute reveals the appalling consequences which flow from unconditional belief in private markets and the need for a strong supportive State role as exists in all successful economies today.

So how can we take back our public services and utilities into democratic ownership?

We are never going to dismantle this free trade regime with negotiation tactics… if we want to defeat the free trade regime or an institution like the WTO we need to build a new balance of forces led by social movements.

Essentially we need to organise/support a united anti-capitalist Battle-for-Seattle-on-Thames  and reject the ever-increasing stranglehold of liberalisation, financialisation and the Washington Consensus.  After all, none of us were even told about this, let alone voted for it.  We certainly are already in the post-democratic era.