Thursday, 13 January 2011

Getting Rid of All Those Poor People

When evictions become routine
There's far too much funny money sloshing around the crazy world of finance, greedily seeking high returns and excessive profits now. Are we in the last phases of a centuries-long, ever intensifying global exploitation binge?

Whatever, it's quite clear who are the real misanthropists: the transnational land grabbers taking advantage of poverty, war, corruption, failing governance and inadequate land rights, turning the poor off their land and taking it to grow agribusiness monocultures, often for export.

The BBC radio have at last started to catch up with the trend with their feature today on ‘Crossing Continents’ about stomach-turning events in Cambodia, where “an estimated 15% of the country is now leased to private developers and stories are filtering in from the country's most impoverished farmers who tell of fear, violence and intimidation as private companies team up with armed police to force them from their land.”

They talk with Loun Sovath, a monk from Siem Reap province where peasants have been "victims of a high-profile land grab by rich and powerful people earlier this year [2009] which saw them lose 100 hectares. Some villagers were shot and wounded during a protest at the disputed site. The monk said the police arrested and handcuffed villagers just as the Khmer Rouge had done, then jailed them" according to the Ki-Media blog which reported on villagers' attempts at petitioning the government.

Already between 2006 and 2007 Adhoc, a Cambodian rights watchdog reported that "about 50,000 people throughout the country were evicted for development projects" and the problem just seems to be getting worse, with land in the capital being seized from the poor by a government working hand in glove with private companies to build luxury apartments and shopping malls.

Happy and Docile

How are we all kept in our place? Simple.

1. Consumerism. This brilliant idea was invented following the industrial slaughter of two world wars by Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays. The aim was to sublimate all those nasty wild and unruly human emotions into one single, easily manipulable emotion: greed.

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis.

2. Built in Obsolescence. This is added insurance. Just in case the lure of consumerism isn’t enough to keep profits flowing in as well, manufacturers ensure that we must keep on buying, by making the things we buy break down and not be able to be repaired easily or cheaply.

Buy and Throw video.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Heinz Fifty Million Varieties Award

Now that we’re all warm and cosy leafing through our seed catalogues, it’s a good time to remember the brilliantly resourceful and ever inventive ancestors who provided us with all these lush varieties we enjoy growing - and eating today.

Here’s the Global Crop Diversity Trust’s Cary Fowler, quite a useful heritage variety himself, enthusing about seeds. Happy news that he won a Heinz Award recently as it’s very much deserved for the life's work that he’s put into saving our food crops from monocultural doom (eg here).

All the Heinz Awards last year were devoted to global change, and the year before that to environment; recognising the uncomfortable fact to some, that these are the most important issues we at last must start facing up to.

Crisis Committee Coming to Britain

In case we had forgotten, Britain is on the list of STUPID, heavily indebted countries, and later this month we can expect a visit from the EU’s Special Committee on the Financial, Economic and Social Crisis (CRIS) headed up by Wolf Klinz, onetime partner at McKinsey & Co and board member of the East German privatisation agency the Treuhandanstalt, so says Wpedia.

Herr Klinz opines (here pdf) that Europe is at a crossroads needing a "deepening of integration in the economic, budgetary, and social fields, more investments in infrastructure, a functioning labour market as well as a completion of the internal market ... a standstill of reforms in Europe would mean regression."

And on his blog he writes that:

"Reforms of the EU treaties are essential to master the crisis. By failing to address this issue, European leaders are pulling the wool over the eyes of European citizens. The heads of state should be honest to the citizens and they must act rapidly to address their concerns.

The solutions lie in more European integration. What Europe needs is a strengthening of the Community method and less intergovernmentalism."

I wonder if we will hear much about this visit from our media?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

What a Lot of Bankers!

The Daily Mirror and Ann Pettifor have been investigating, and found that, guess what, the government which is very anxious that we shouldn't be so down on bankers, is made up of .....

Friday, 7 January 2011

It's Socialism for Corporations, Stupid

Philip K Dick may have taken too much whizz, but he sure could cut through the crap of post-war America to see the nasty reality underneath all the hypocritical posturing of politicians. Interesting to find that 2010 saw the debut of a film of his book Radio Free Albemuth. Very timely.

And as ever in politics, plus ca change. Here's Kevin Carson at the Centre for a Stateless Society:

“If Obama’s such a socialist and all,” ask these know-it-alls, “How come he’s got an economic policy team made up entirely of investment bankers and hedge fund managers?”

"Well, I’ll tell you, Mr. Smarty-Pants Intellectual. It’s because he’s the worst kind of Marxist: a deep undercover Marxist. And all this seeming flirtation with Wall Street elites and corporate CEOs is just part of his master plan to destroy capitalism and turn the great Representative Republic of our Founding Fathers into a People’s Democratic Republic."

Read more here ...

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Fracking Mad

It's a Gold Rush

One of the biggest environmental stories in the United States right now is "fracking"; the extraction of gas from shale rocks by a process of hydraulic fracturing. Just google "frack off", "what the frack" or "fracking up" and you'll get the lead on thousands of web-pages expressing horror and outrage at what's going on. It's the Wild West all over again.

Scientific American article explains that "It all comes down to the fact that fracking involves a lot of water. There's the at least 11.5 million liters involved in fracking a well in the first place. There's the brine and other fluids that can come to the surface with the natural gas. And there's the problem of what to do with all that waste fluid at the end of the day."

Regulatory Vacuum

Given gas-guzzling America's desperation for cheap, foreigner-free fossil fuels, not to mention the Big Huge Money involved, no surprise to find that so far fracking mostly seems to be having a free ride in many states, with oversight and regulation distinctly lagging. Congress helpfully exempted it from the 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act, and an in depth study by the EPA into the potential human and environmental risks will not be completed for another two years. So if and when large-scale fracking is officially demonstrated to be harmful, the damage would already be done over substantial areas.

Associated Press has already uncovered widespread abuses of what regulations do exist, for example:

"Of the roughly 6 million barrels of well liquids produced in a 12-month period examined by The AP, the state couldn't account for the disposal method for 1.28 million barrels, about a fifth of the total, because of a weakness in its reporting system and incomplete filings by some energy companies."

It should also give pause for thought that while frackers have over the years taken the trouble to do extensive research into the technical suitability of various chemicals, they've been very reluctant to investigate the possible environmental and health impacts. According to a June 2004 study that the EPA has so far managed (pdf), frackers use a varying cocktail of many different chemicals, depending on the nature of the rock. Substances mixed into the water can include acids, diesel (with components like benzene, toluene) polyacrilates, acetone and pesticides / bactericides to kill bacteria that grow when organic polymers are used within the fracking fluid, of which as much as a third may remain unrecovered under the ground, and therefore a potential contamination risk to groundwater. As well as all this there is also the problem that the fracturing process can release harmful minerals from the rock strata, before then flushing them out into the wider environment in the fracking fluid.

Coming to Somewhere Near You?

Within the last month or so news has been broken, rather quietly, that frackable rock exists under Lancashire, in the Bowland shale.

The Independent on January 2nd 2011: "Blackpool Green Party is demanding an immediate moratorium on drilling and further work at the Blackpool site" and Friends of the Earth spokesman Mike Childs said "We need to see much more research on the impact on groundwater and a clear strategy from government." While the Lytham St Anne's Express today reported "plans to extract natural gas from below Lytham Moss. A well is being drilled at land on Anna’s Road, off North Houses Lane, St Annes, to determine the scale of shale gas reserves there. It is one of three Fylde Coast sites identified, with tests also being carried out at Singleton, after successful samples were taken from Preese Hall Farm in Weeton."

Whatever Michael Economides' taunts in the Energy Tribune about "European energy grinches" I don't think we should be at all complacent about the massive impact the global gas rush could have on us here.

PDF of European Target Zones

Gasland - where you can light your water tap!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Hungary Leads, But Whither?

Hungary, like Europe as a whole perhaps, is a place with a great heritage, but a distinctly uncertain future. After the Death of Communism, Hungarians fell in with a lot of dodgy loans in foreign currencies like Swiss francs, of all things. With predictable results. Two years ago they were already “on the verge of bankruptcy”, so their EU leadership now is surely beautifully apposite, given that the whole zone teeters there today.

Oh well, time to shoot the messenger of ill tidings!


Ht: IPwatch

End of the Free Ride for Motorists?

Residents parking schemes - where car-owners are asked to contribute just a little bit towards the cost of the road-space that they occupy - do still seem to be all too rare, if a quick google is any judge. The only ones I could find mention of were Westminster, Camden, Edinburgh and Seattle.

Well now Bristol has joined the sensible few removing some of the motoring subsidy, with the Kingsdown RPZ. And £30 pa does look like a very small rent for the ground area taken up by the average motor vehicle.

 As Niall comments drily on the Bristol Traffic blog:

"the RPZ streets are presently eerily empty of cars, whilst the neighboring non-RPZ streets have cars parked on the pavements, too close to junctions and on double yellows.

Not a particularly surprising outcome..."

Soon all the neighbours will want one!

Ht: Bristol Traffic

Sunday, 2 January 2011

In Their Common Cause

Is corruption a “political right” ... wtf? says Kalsoom at Chup blog.

While over in Europe you might be forgiven for thinking that this guy had escaped from a Panto.

Oh no. He’s a Minister.

 'Zero pointe' from Massimo for Minister La Russa then, while the hero of the performance, Luca Cafagna - when he can get a word in edgeways - puts his case, in devastating contrast with good-humoured dignity, while the Minister yells him down as "coward" :

“The event [December 14th] … was the 'expression of social rage of a generation that has always [been] kept out and that is not represented politically. We take to the streets to demand rights and the answer is always a turn away … there is a blockage at the institutional level, a separation between what happens in Parliament and what happens outside. … you can not talk about the reaction of a lunatic fringe, "The incidents that happened - he said - were, even by very young people who live this locked state.” Google translation.

And over the great divide, in Yankeeland here's senator Mike Pence proclaiming the Gospel that the saintliest richest Americans must not, under any circumstances, relinquish the tiniest bit of their wealth to help poor Americans - we are all the same after all:

"The minimum that we have to do right now for Americans that are struggling in unemployment in this economy is make sure that no American sees a tax increase ..."

And to cap it off, before anybody thinks we're any better here, those clever MPs have discovered a new ploy:

“Some are earning thousands of pounds by letting out the second homes they bought with public funds, then moving into a rented third home nearby – and claiming Commons expenses on that instead.”

That Trillion Dollar Food Bill

"With the pressure on world prices of most commodities not abating, the international community must remain vigilant against further supply shocks in 2011" FAO (pdf).

According to the Washington Post: “In the 10 years before the 2007-08 food crisis, the global bill for food imports averaged less than $500 billion a year.” But now, since that initial Shock, the crisis, if too little remediating action is taken, seems likely to escalate further causing more major global repercussions in the form of gnawing hunger and destabilisation.

The FAO food price index tells the story in stark terms. From a baseline of 90 in 2000 it rose to 115 in 2005, soaring through 154 in 2007 and up to 191 in 2008. It then dropped back a little in 2009, but by October 2010 it had leapt up again to 198, reaching a peak of 205 in November 2010, the last month so far recorded.

We Have to Admit that Western “Development” Models Have Failed

These higher than ever food prices in a deliberately globalised, commoditised world, mean that the burgeoning numbers of impoverished peoples - who let’s not forget, have been effectively encouraged to become dependent on imports of their very basic sustenance - will be pushed closer to starvation ever more frequently and over wider areas.
"The import dependance has become quite devastating, the expenditure for Less Developed Countries on food imports rose from 9 billion dollars in 2002 to 23 billion in 2008" reported Supachai Panitchpakdi, The Secretary General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

And as if all that wasn't bad enough, you'd hardly believe it, but even now rulers of poor nations, with the connivance of the wealthy transnational community, are pursuing wilful asset-stripping and sell-off of vital farmland, which will exacerbate hunger and dependence even further, entrenching it ineradicably into future decades if no-one acts to stop it.

As delegates told ENInews at a recent conference in Nairobi covering the global land-grab: "... corporations are using land for intensive farming, leaving it badly degraded for use by local communities when contracts end ... Global food market price volatility affecting countries depending on imports is a key factor driving the rush ... A surging demand for bio-fuels by oil companies," and perhaps most shockingly "the expectation of subsidies for carbon seizure through plantations and the avoidance of deforestation are the other factors."

IFPRI Report, 'Reflections on the Global food Crisis:  How Did It Happen? How Has It Hurt? And How Can We Prevent the Next One?'