Thursday, 28 June 2012
An interview between Chris Williams and David Barsamian.
Chris Williams (left) is a long-time environmental activist based in New York City. He is professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University and chair of the science department at Packer Collegiate Institute. Williams is also a frequent contributor to the International Socialist Review (ISR), and The Indypendent, an online newspaper that looks at news and culture through a critical lens, exploring how systems of power—economic, political and social—affects the lives of people locally and globally.
Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis is Williams’ first book.
David Barsamian is the founder and director of Alternative Radio, an independent award-winning weekly series based in Boulder, Colorado. He has been working in radio since 1978 where he has interviewed the likes of Angela Davis, Ralph Nader, Vandana Shiva, and Carlos Fuentes. The one-hour program is broadcast on public radio stations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries. His publications include Targeting Iran, What We Say Goes with Noam Chomsky, Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics with Howard Zinn, Imperial Ambitions with Noam Chomsky, and Speaking of Empire & Resistance with Tariq Ali. His earlier books include The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile with Arundhati Roy, Propaganda and the Public Mind with Noam Chomsky, Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire, and The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting.
The Institute for Alternative Journalism named him one of its “Top Ten Media Heroes.” Barsamian lectures throughout the U.S. on foreign policy, the media, propaganda, and corporate power. In 2003 he received the ACLU’s Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism and the Democracy Media Award, and in 2006, the Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center Award. Barsamian interviewed Andrew Bacevich for Lannan’s Readings & Conversations in 2010.
This video first published on http://www.lannan.org/
Monday, 25 June 2012
With unintentional hilarity, John Prescott once declared: "The green belt is a Labour achievement - and we mean to build on it." The fear among some rural campaigners is that the Conservatives really do.
Attempting to reduce more than 1,000 pages of English planning guidelines to just 50, the government has attracted the ire of the National Trust (which has over three and a half million members), the CPRE, Greenpeace and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, all of which warn that the reforms threaten the future of the countryside. The banally named Draft National Planning Policy Framework includes a reference to the need for "decision-takers at every level" to "assume that the default answer to the development proposal is 'yes'." It is this sentence, with its hint of a development free-for-all, which has so troubled campaigners.
It was not supposed to be this way. When the Tories adopted a green oak tree as their logo in 2006, it was regarded as symbolic of a renewed commitment to the environment. It was a nod to a strain of thought, dating back to Edmund Burke, which believes that mankind has a duty to preserve natural resources for future generations. The party's rural supporters, after 13 years in which they felt neglected by Labour, assumed that they would, at last, have a government that spoke for them. Yet from the attempted privatisation of the forests to high-speed rail and, now, the biggest changes to planning laws in 60 years, the Tories have taken the opposite side of the argument to its rural base. It has been left to Labour, loathed for banning fox hunting with dogs in 2004, to speak up for the shires.
Thatcher's dreamThere are already uncomfortable echoes of the forests fiasco, when a campaign led by Rachel Johnson forced David Cameron to perform the biggest U-turn of his premiership and abandon the planned sell-off of 637,000 acres of publicly owned woodland. Mindful of this, the government, which had dismissed the protesters as "semi-hysterical" (Vince Cable), has agreed to listen to positive suggestions.
Is this a prelude to another U-turn? Unlikely. The Tories, fearful that Margaret Thatcher's dream of a "property-owning democracy" is in reverse, are determined to build more houses. Cameron and George Osborne believe that home ownership is vital to promote what Shirley Letwin once called the "vigorous virtues" of Thatcherism: "Being upright, self-sufficient, energetic, adventurous, independent-minded".
The reforms are also seen as central to the government's growth strategy. Whether you favour Keynesian stimulus or Hayekian austerity, the grim truth is that the UK faces reduced levels of economic growth. The reality that the economy has expanded by just 0.2 per cent over the past nine months means that the reforms have become more, not less urgent. In the words of the planning minister, Greg Clark, the government believes that it "can't be ambivalent about growth". Because of this single-mindedness, the Conservatives could yet become the enemies of conservation.
Written by George Eaton
First published at the New Statesman
Friday, 22 June 2012
Well, obviously we need a Green government, but sadly that will not come about at the next general election, which is planned to be held in 2015. It could be that we win a few more parliamentary seats, and if the result is close, possibly get some influence on a minority government. For me though, this could not be with the Conservatives, because they are just too right wing, and I think most Greens would agree with me on that.
So, that means that it would need to be a Labour led government, given the likely arithmetic, they are the only other party capable winning enough seats to be in with a chance of forming a government. It could well be that Labour wins an overall majority and doesn’t need to strike any deals with other parties, but even this is preferable to the present ConDem government, for two main reasons, one partisan the other not so.
Firstly, in general, it would be good for the country to have a Labour government, or at least not as bad as it is under the disastrous rule of the current incumbents, the coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who have driven us into a double dip recession with their ideological obsession of cutting back the state. I say at least not as bad, because they too would be cutting almost as much and as fast as the government is, should they have won the last general election.
The best thing that you can say about a Labour government, and it is pretty much what they say about it themselves, is that they would be slightly better than the Tories, and I suppose that is about right. I think a lot of other people are thinking this too, as they struggle with the consequences of present economic policies, and so Labour has become a more attractive proposition.
Take the recent London Assembly elections for example. Labour did very well as a ‘brand’ and only lost the mayorality to the Conservatives because Ken Livingstone was portrayed as shifty and hypocritical over his tax affairs. Which he was! Everywhere else they did well, mostly at the expense of the Lib Dems. The Green vote did increase slightly, but it looks as though Labour have swallowed up much of the disaffected Lib Dem vote, in London anyway.
So, let’s get rid of this ConDem government, and replace it with a Labour one.
Secondly, and in more partisan terms, I think the Green party does better under a Labour government. Hopes are always soon dashed by an incoming Labour administration, and the left type voters start looking for a credible alternative party to support, which was mainly the Lib Dems in recent years, but is less likely to be in the future.
Yes, it does take time to build into a party that can be taken seriously as an alternative government, a commodity we don’t have much of given the small window of time left to seriously tackle climate change, and the need to achieve real improvements to social justice for the people.
But if you keep making the arguments, particularly in a world where the status quo has clearly failed, and will continue to fail, you can bring people around. Admittedly, the UK is not in as bad a shape as Greece at the moment, but the spectacular rise of the Syriza left coalition which includes greens, from 4% to 27% of the vote in just three years, making them now the main opposition party in Greece, is an inspiration to us all.
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Raymondo (a nom de plume) who provided us with his tips for surviving Work Capability Assessments (WCA) by the private healthcare provider and arbiter of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claims, tells us his story.
Raymondo recently underwent his third Work Capability Assessment. When he first applied for ESA he had been awarded 0 eligibility points at the medical three months after the ESA50 form completion. That 0 eligibility points score was turned into 21 eligibility points at the tribunal that he later attended with an advocate from a local disability charity, and the tribunal panel also placed him in the Support Group, ensuring no ‘back to work’ sanctions and such bullying, but not exempting him from the stressful experience of being systematically retested.
It took the Disability Benefits Centre’s Assessments & Appeals Section of Department for Work & Pensions two months to wade through the ‘sandbags’ of correspondence to get to his tribunal outcome and pay the back money he was owed, and yet just six months after getting the back money, he was summonsed to re-apply for ESA, with six weeks before the deadline for receipt of the ESA50 application form. Diligent devotion to getting the form content as strongly in his favour as possible, and attending with a McKenzie Friend (i) that he had become well-acquainted with in the intervening period helped ensure that he secured Support Group status for the second time. But his third WCA was conducted under a revised ‘simplified’ test that allowed fewer point scoring options toward the eligibility threshold of 15 points awarded him by the tribunal.
The newer test had been proposed by the last Labour DWP Secretary Yvette Cooper as more and more people won their tribunals in order to get what was rightfully theirs. (ii) So the then DWP Secretary who is now Labour’s Equalities Spokesperson decided that the law needed to be changed. (Atos and its staff seem to be above the law, but tribunal panels have to abide by it.) The ESA tribunal panel consisting of judge and doctor had awarded Raymondo 15 of his eligibility points on account of the time it takes him to execute tasks. The ‘simplified’ WCA has completely removed that relevant descriptor which has been a major bugbear of Raymondo’s ‘working life’. So how did he manage to overcome that difficulty?
Raymondo’s preparation this time around was increased.
With an enhanced relationship with a legally qualified advocate and disability rights activist who he first contacted as a friend of a friend, he felt less embarrassed about ‘telling it like it is’ than he did when originally going through the form in an interview with a vocational support adviser with whom he lacked a true rapport and who was too blasé and ignorant about the nuances of ESA compared to Incapacity Benefit. Getting it out as an electronic document in his own time helped enormously for shaping the document to text boxes for copying and pasting onto the actual form. And his anticipation of the changes brought in by the revised test cued him to take a real diagnostic battery of tests with Camden Learning Disability Services before undergoing his third WCA.
The report from that test helped explain and outline how, say, slow mental processing speed made him more inclined to experience ‘information overload’ and accident proneness in real world work situations. He also emphasised that as a genuine jobseeker from November 1977 till early 2009 he only acquired only 17 MONTHS total waged employment, 11 months of which had been for less than ten hours per week.
Now a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group that meets 40 minutes bus ride away, Raymondo realises that while he is still very poor and has extremely limited career prospects in his 59th year, he has much to contribute to helping make the world a fairer place, and has been helped to feel more human through being a member of that group.
“Those like Liz Sayce of Radar who talk of ‘integration of disabled people into the workforce’ as they smash Remploy communities with factory closures get paid for giving government-for-market-forces-by-market-forces what it wants. ‘State-subsidised’ Remploy factories are more sustainable and sustaining than transporting sweat shop produce around the globe from China where 600,000 die per year from intolerable working conditions that operate under the name of ‘competitiveness’.
“I might not get paid as much for helping people to the truth, but being a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and Social Work Action Network London activist gives me a greater sense of purpose while making new friends.”
Notes and Sources
Friday, 15 June 2012
Below is a copy of the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s submission to the government consultation on same-sex marriage.
Lynne Featherstone MP
Minister for Equalities
Government Equalities Office
14 June 2012
Dear Lynne Featherstone,
Submission to the government consultation on marriage equality
We welcome and thank the government for its commitment to legalise same-sex marriage by 2015. We see this issue as a simple matter of equality and non-discrimination.
In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. There should be no exceptions, not even on the issue of marriage.
Barring same-sex couples from marriage is unjust discrimination that serves no public good. It signals that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are deemed inferior, second class and unworthy of marriage.
In contrast, legalising same -sex marriage is the recognition that LGBT people are of equal worth, equally part of humanity and have the right to the equal validation of their love and commitment.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone is entitled to equal treatment and protection against discrimination, including the right to marry. UK equality legislation enshrines this same principle: equal human rights for all.
Marriage equality is consistent with these human rights values and principles.
The Coalition for Marriage has amassed 559,000 signatures against same-sex marriage; many of whom signed in the false belief that the government was going to forces religious institutions to marry same-sex couples.
This issue is not about numbers. It’s about principles.
Even if there was only one same-sex couple in the whole of the UK and everyone else opposed their right to get married, that one couple would still be entitled to equal human rights.
Majorities, no matter how large or loud, do not have a right to ride roughshod over minorities. Human rights, including the right to get married, trump all other considerations.
In a free society, people of faith are entitled to believe that homosexuality is wrong and to not marry a person of the same-sex. However, they are not entitled to demand that their particular interpretation of holy text is enshrined as the law of the land and imposed on everyone else.
One of the litmus tests of a democracy is respect for the human rights of minorities. LGBT people are a minority but minority status is not a rational or moral reason to discriminate against them - or against anyone else.
Accordingly, we support full equality, not mere LGBT equality, and urge the government to legalise:
• Same-sex civil marriages
• Opposite-sex civil partnerships
• Religious same-sex marriages by clergy who wish to conduct them.
In a democracy, it is very important that there is equality for all, including for LGBT couples who wish to get married, for heterosexual couples who want a civil partnership and for same-sex couples who’d like a religious marriage.
All needless, unjustified restrictions should be repealed. The state should not impede individual choice. It should empower couples to make the choice that is right for them.
The UK's current twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships are unjust discrimination. Equality in law is a fundamental principle of a democratic society.
Heterosexual civil partnerships
Equally as important as legalising same-sex marriages is the legalisation of opposite-sex civil partnerships. Equal human rights should be applied universally and without bias. Heterosexual equality is just as important as LGBT equality.
We are disappointed that the government has, thus far, not agreed to lift the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. It is our hope that as a result of this and similar submissions you will reconsider and embrace the principle of equal rights for all.
Under the government’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage, but not opposite-sex civil partnerships, LGBT couples will end up with two options: a civil marriage or a civil partnership; whereas straight couples will have only one option: marriage. This is unfair and discriminatory.
From talking to people all over the country, we have amassed considerable evidence that a sizeable number of heterosexual couples would prefer a civil partnership. Some dislike the sexist, patriarchal history of marriage. They regard civil partnerships as more modern and egalitarian.
If this is the way they feel, the law has no legitimate grounds for impeding their wishes. They should be given a choice: a civil marriage or a civil partnership, identical to what the government proposes to offer same-sex couples.
Regardless of the number of straight people who would like a civil partnership - whether it is large or small - the fundamental issue is that the law should treat everyone equally.
Heterosexual couples should be able to have a civil partnership if they wish. Let them decide, not the state.
For the last decade, the Netherlands has had both civil marriages and civil partnerships open and available to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Two-thirds of Dutch civil partnerships are now between straight men and women.
We believe there would be a similar take-up of civil partnerships by heterosexual couples in the UK if the current ban was lifted.
For all these reasons, we urge that both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be accessible to gay, bisexual and heterosexual couples, with no discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Religious same-sex marriages
We very much regret the government’s apparent intention to maintain the ban on religious same-sex marriages in all circumstances, even if people of faith want to conduct them.
This is not only homophobic discrimination against religious LGBT couples, it is also an attack on religious freedom. We urge the government to think again on this issue and to legislate fully for LGBT equality and religious autonomy.
In contrast to many other organisations, we go beyond urging that religious same-sex marriages should be permissible for faith organisations that wish to conduct them.
It is our contention that any individual minister of religion licensed to conduct marriages should be free to perform a same-sex marriage in their place of worship, if they wish to do so.
The license to conduct marriages is conferred on individual clergy and therefore the decision to conduct same-sex marriages should rest with him or her - not with the leadership of their faith organisation.
Allowing faith bodies to veto the conscience of individual clergy is wrong. It confers unjustified power on religious hierarchies to the exclusion of the individual minister of religion who holds the license to conduct marriages. It usurps his or her moral judgement.
This is why we urge the government to legalise religious same-sex marriages for licensed minsters of religion who want to perform them.
In addition to the aforementioned points, we urge:
- Civil partnerships should be retained for LGBT and straight couples who want an alternative to marriage.
- Existing civil partners should be given the option to convert their civil partnership into a civil marriage, with a special ceremony if they desire this.
- Married transgender people should not be required to divorce their spouse before they can receive a gender recognition certificate.
Thank you for giving consideration to our submission.
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Peter Tatchell, Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
0207 403 1790
Thursday, 14 June 2012
I reported here on Haringey council’s changes to refuse and recycling in the borough earlier this year. Basically, a new regime of waste collection is being rolled out across Haringey, whereby ‘residual’ waste (that put into black bags) is being reduced from weekly to fortnightly collection, but ‘dry’recyclables (paper, tins, plastics and glass), food and garden waste remain as before on weekly collection. Where garden space allows, 240 litre wheelie bins are being provided to aid the change in emphasis to recycling.
Veolia Environmental Services, the private contractor who won the bid to supply these services, has promised an increase in recycling rates from the current 25% to 40% by 2015, with an ‘aspiration’ to try to increase this further to 50%. The council says that early indications are that recycling rates have risen since the changes started to take place in March this year, although I’ve not been able to find the exact figures.
The local Lib Dems, desperate to tap into some sort of popularist issue to reverse their own unpopularity with residents, as demonstrated by their disastrous showing in the recent London Assembly elections, are waging a campaign against the new collection scheme. Just before the said elections, I received a copy of a Lib Dem leaflet through my door that had the headline, ‘ANGER at fortnightly refuse collection’. It went onto say that bins were overflowing (with one or two photos) which was increasing the amount of vermin in the borough.
I have to say, around my way, I have seen a few over stuffed bins, but by and large, the new system seems to have passed off remarkably smoothly. I have certainly not seen any ‘anger’ from residents, and can only assume that the Lib Dems are trying to whip something up, in the hope of profiting from it in the next council elections in 2014.
Haringey Green party is broadly in favour of the move to more recycling, as it reduces collection carbon emissions and reduces waste being sent to landfill, which is not only good for the environment, but saves the council (and council tax payers) money on landfill taxes levied by central government. I did raise fears that vermin might be problem after the introduction of the new system, and education of residents was the key to reducing this risk. I still think this very important, and is the only area that the Labour council has been remiss in, in this whole operation.
I recently did some work for the neighbouring London borough of Hackney, talking to residents there about (particularly) food recycling. I found most people interested in recycling and very willing to talk about the service. What I found was that many people didn’t understand how the system works for various reasons. One thing I came across was that many of the people who were worried about increased vermin, didn’t know that the food waste bins were lockable. They complained that foxes knocked them over, with food spilling out onto the street, and had given up on recycling food. A simple demonstration from me of how to lock the bins, brought surprise from these people and a promise to try the service again.
I really think Haringey should try this approach, it should pay for itself and more in landfill tax savings. Hackney has reported an early increase in over 30% of food waste recycling, so this kind of engagement with residents clearly works.
Monday, 11 June 2012
What Every Environmentalist Needs To Know about Capitalism: A Citizen’s Guide to Capitalism and the Environment
by Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster
Recently, President Obama rejected the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline—a 1,700-mile oil pipeline that would have run from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. This is undoubtedly a huge victory for the environmental movement. However, Bill McKibben—activist and founder of 350.org—was quick to give away the credit: “This isn’t just the right call, it’s the brave call. The knock on Barack Obama from many quarters has been that he’s too conciliatory. But here, in the face of a naked political threat from Big Oil to exact ‘huge political consequences,’ he’s stood up strong.”
McKibben did go on to give credit to the thousands of grassroots activists who are the real brave ones working for environmental justice. However, they are presented as a partner to the president, working together for a common goal against an intransigent Republican, big business, and oil company based opposition. McKibben seems to have discovered, in his estimation, the form that victories can take in the battle for the environment, and it is an inside-outside strategy that is as old as the hills and has far more failures than victories. This focus on form and strategy precludes any discussion of what is at the root of the environmental catastrophe—our economic system.
As any good activist knows, the ultimate goals of the movement should guide the strategy and tactics. This is why it is so important to correctly identify the problem, else your solutions will be ineffective or actually counter-productive.
This is where the new book by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism, shines. The book was adapted from an article originally published in Monthly Review magazine under the same title. Readers of Monthly Review or other leftwing environmental sources will be familiar with most of the issues and problems explored in this book. Despite this, the book is still very useful. For those not as familiar with the current environmental problems, things are worse than you think.
Between climate change, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, global freshwater use, loss of biodiversity, and chemical pollution our planet and all life on it is in big trouble unless things change—and change soon.
In addition to the problems, the authors discuss and ultimately discount various mainstream environmental solutions. These include both those proposed in corporate boardrooms and those proposed by well-meaning and committed activists. What all these solutions have in common, though, is that they are wholly inadequate or incapable of dealing with the problem of global climate change. The reason these solutions will not work is all a function of their inability (or in some cases, specific unwillingness) to identify and confront capitalism as the source of all environmental ills.
A real positive with this book is that while it debunks what it calls “utopian reformist” solutions (like technocratic solutions or personal consumption choices), it does so without insulting the generally well-meaning people who care deeply about the problem and truly believe those are the solutions. This is valuable because it is important not to alienate or unnecessarily antagonize those struggling for environmental justice now who can be won to an anticapitalist view later.
The main drawback with the book is that it is somewhat disorganized. There is no fault with the information, but if you are looking for a clear explanation of the specific environmental problems and/or an in-depth look at why mainstream solutions will not work then there are better books for that — some even by Foster and Magdoff.
Where this book stands out, though, is in the prescriptions for action provided at the end.
What has been lacking in some Marxist discussions of the environment are real, tangible medium-term goals or issues to work behind. Commonly, the argument for why capitalism is the problem is very compelling, but the overly simple solution of socialist revolution, while correct, can be too intangible for environmentalists new to Marxism.
Foster and Magdoff do the heavy lifting of convincing the reader that capitalism is the problem, but they don’t just stop at “organize for socialism.” They provide a veritable laundry list of things to get involved in, all with the ultimate goal of replacing capitalism—a barbaric system based on exploitation and destruction—with a socialist society based on cooperation and sustainability.
This list of issues and ideas is clear and easy to understand and could even be used as an organizing tool to launch a specifically anticapitalist environmental activism group that could work around specific local and national issues, while always keeping an eye on fighting against and ultimately replacing the capitalist system.
It could also be a valuable primer or discussion tool within the Occupy movement where environmental issues as well as anticapitalist politics have both received a positive reception.
What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know is useful for people who care about the environment but don’t know what to do or where to look for the root problems, as well as for Marxists looking to plug into environmental struggles in their own community.
Reviewed by Dan Sharber
International Socialist Review, March-April, 2012
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Regular readers will remember that I reported here on this blog the dramatic loss of votes for the Lib Dems in the recent Greater London Assembly elections. Well, more chickens are coming home to roost as reported in The Independent on Sunday this week. One in five members has left the party in the last year in disgust at the Lib Dems propping up of the Tory minority government by their continued participation in the coalition at Westminster.
Furthermore, the Independent report goes on to say that over half of the Lib Dem student wing, Liberal Youth, have ditched the party and in some areas even remaining members are refusing to campaign for the Lib Dems at elections.
In London, Sarah Teather, the Children’s minister has lost a whopping 42% of members in her local party in Brent. In Haringey, Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities minister has lost 21% of activists in her constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, with numbers dropping below 300, which makes them not much bigger than Haringey Green party. I’d give you pretty long odds on her retaining her seat at the next general election, which she won in 2005 from Labour on the back of local opposition to the Iraq war, and general dissatisfaction with the Labour government.
How could the Lib Dems have expected anything less? The ConDem coalition has presided over extremely damaging austerity policies, the privatisation of the NHS, the rolling back of the welfare state and tax cuts for the richest people in the country.
I think we have here a classic case of politicians wanting important jobs in government, and all that goes with it, rather than sticking with what principles they had and is surely a lesson to us Greens should we ever get into a position of power nationally.
So, where now for the Lib Dems? Can they avoid a wipe out of their MP’s (not to mention local councillors) in the coming years? Personally, I doubt it. The writing is on the wall now, and they will take big hits to their elected representatives whatever they do in the near future.
Interestingly, Polly Toynbee writes in The Guardian that they should replace Nick Clegg with Vince Cable as leader, and then leave the coalition government. This might save them some Westminster seats, although it would likely lead to an early general election, at which they will lose seats, but the alternative is just hanging on and hoping something will turn up in their favour to change their fortunes.
At least by ending the coalition with the Tories, the Lib Dems could start to re build the party, and Nick Clegg can then join the Tories, which is where he should have been in the first place.