Question Time, cosy assumptions and misplaced fears

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A few years ago, I simply stopped watching Question Time, the BBC’s premier televised forum for ‘topical debate’.

For a journalist with an interest in current affairs, it was important, if not essential, viewing. A panel of politicians, joined by academic or cultural figures – all drawn from a comparatively narrow social and political class – discuss the issues of the day before a live audience, which both asks the questions and gets stuck into the answers.

Some time ago, I decided the BBC’s current affairs showcase was just a talking shop far removed from the real world. I found it rather depressing, not always because of the panel, I must stress, as leaders and experts have their professional territories to defend and, therefore, will always protect their worldview.

What really depressed me was how confined the audience’s opinions were – usually more so than the panel before them. We might test children from the age of four in the idiotic exam-fest that is Britain’s education system, and we might have thousands of TV channels to choose from.

But if the usual level of Question Time debate is anything to go by, then they are obviously failing in the most basic terms of identifying the challenges, threats and opportunities our society faces.

Partly through my own aversion therapy and partly as ongoing research for my book, Psychopath Economics, I returned to the programme a couple of years ago to find the same lack of inquisitiveness among our political leaders and newspaper leader writers.

The point was amply illustrated by a question about the government’s dithering over allowing a third runway at London’s overstretched Heathrow Airport during yesterday evening’s edition, broadcast from Slough.

Audience member Duncan Reid got the show on the road: “Will Heathrow’s expansion provide the promised number of jobs? And can this justify the cost to the environment?”

Interesting and well-put questions which Duncan backed up, when challenged, by stating: “Well, Heathrow Airport Limited has not complained that the Davies Commission Report has happily traded the shortening of people’s lives for profit. And that cannot be right.”

Duncan was, of course, referring to the effects of nitrogen dioxide pollution on the people who live near Heathrow, mainly caused by the traffic struggling to reach the airport from the A4.

UKIP’s Mark Reckless was the first on the panel to tackle the question. As has become a UKIP tradition, he used the question to vent his party’s obsession with the European Union. Reckless railed against the EU’s lack of clarity on air pollution regulations, on the one hand, and its promotion of diesel vehicles, on the other.

His solution was to expand Gatwick Airport, south of London, so it could compete with Heathrow, and that “we should get on with doing it”.

Reckless was followed by the impeccably turned out Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg. He was all for extending Heathrow because “we need a functional airport that is close to London, that is well connected, allows us to compete internationally, [and] has all the routes to China and the Far East.

“Every project we come up with is stopped by a particle, a bat, a badger or a newt,” he concluded. “Well, what about people and thinking of the needs of our economy?” Cue applause.

Labour’s Emily Thornberry was up next, refuting another audience member’s assertion that London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plan for an airport in the Thames Estuary was the best solution. But apart from saying Heathrow could not be expanded until the diesel threat was removed, we didn’t get to hear where she thought the new runway should go – if, indeed, it should go anywhere.

And then the debate made its inevitable foray onto the economic rationale when another audience member said Heathrow’s expansion would “add £100bn to the economy”.

Piers Morgan, a man never knowingly short of an opinion, took up this point with gusto. “In the time we have dithered over this, China has built 80 new airports, never mind just extra runways. The reason Europe seems to be in decline is precisely because of this kind of nonsense.

“Heathrow is a world-class airport. It’s a massive asset to this country. And, frankly, we should be looking at not just one new runway, but probably two.

“And I would build another spanking new airport just outside the M25 and with travel into central London. And I would make [us] the European hub for anyone coming from America or China or the Middle East or wherever. And I would do this fast so we can actually seize the moment and not let [businesses] – as Willie Walsh, the BA guy, [did] this week – say ‘we’ll take our business to other countries’.

“This is a dangerous situation for our economy.”

Stirring words, indeed. But, of course, if we’re talking really dangerous situations, then there’s a much bigger and more threatening context to this whole debate that didn’t get the slightest mention. Even from the SNP MP, Hannah Bardell, who had just enough time to say before the credits rolled that she’d happily have the new aviation capacity located in Scotland.

That unmentioned, more dangerous context is, of course, the environment. Or, more precisely, the effects of climate change, a topic which exercised world leaders’ minds in Paris last week – at least temporarily.

The UN’s 21st climate change conference since 1995 ended with a commitment to limiting the global average rise in temperatures to as close as damn it to 1.5 degrees centigrade as possible.

The Question Time panel could have been asked what they thought of this “historic, durable and ambitious” agreement and what it could mean for our lives, but they weren’t. Any one of them could have taken up the climate change angle to the question they were asked on Heathrow, but they didn’t.

No one challenged Morgan and Rees-Mogg et al on the existential threat posed by rising temperatures; or whether the 1.5 degree target is achievable or even necessary; or how expanding Heathrow fitted into the glorious low-carbon future that Britain has signed up to.

There was no mention, either, of the cuts in subsidies for solar installations revealed this week, or the 6,000 solar technicians’ jobs already lost as a result of similar cuts made since 2010 to an industry regarded as on the cusp of major growth.

In other words, the whole focus on ‘economic issues’ was a very narrow one indeed, given the commitments that our government made in Paris, and the likely effects that our continuing carbon emissions will have on our planet.

And if the climate scientists are right, this is where the very real threats to our wellbeing lie. The most dangerous trends are already clearly in evidence – from storm-submerged Carlisle and drought-hit California, to the tide of Syrian refugees risking their lives to reach Europe.

Yet far from confirming the sheer scale of the challenges we face, the Paris agreement seems to have reinforced our collective complacency and the notion that we are the masters of creation.

What the mainstream, corporate press and media do not generally tell us is that even containing global warming to the 1.5 degree limit is probably not achievable and would probably not save us even if it was.

For we have already set in train a series of long-term positive feedback loops that will almost certainly fuel rapid, uncontrolled warming and significantly higher sea levels. This much is clear, as this talk by world-renowned professor of economics and sustainable development, Jeffrey Sachs, shows.

So rather than the convenient settling of our climate that the celebratory statements around Paris suggest, we are on course for ever more serious droughts, storms and floods, along with the increases in conflict, migration and food shortages all this will entail.

In short, what we face is far worse than anything the likes of ISIS can do to us, yet it’s these albeit abhorrent threats from our human enemies that absorb our collective imagination. The gathering environmental storm we have stoked is emotionally neutralised by what Sachs describes as the “internationalisation of indifference”. The evidence is that our indifference will kill us – or, at least, our children.

The problem is that climate change doesn’t have a face; we can’t anthropomorphise the forces of flood and drought. What’s more, there are plenty of corporate interests that want to prevent the majority of us from visualising the symbols and narratives that reflect the existential threat that climate change poses.

That’s because much of the ‘elite’ doesn’t like what combatting climate change implies: the need for co-operation. The financial and corporate elite is too sold on its own symbols of status. It doesn’t like to think we humans are inter-dependent, because that would imply a moral imperative to reduce inequality.

And this is the point: human consciousness – the ‘reality’ we feel and believe – is nothing but a social and emotional construction. We inhabit a world of symbols and narratives, most of which are supplied ready-made by media and advertising executives. History shows that disaster ensues when the emotional and symbolic universe we inhabit becomes detached from the physical reality of living on a finite planet. Unfortunately, this is where we are today.

In other words, thanks to the all-pervading, multi-billion dollar infrastructure of ‘reality maintenance’, unprecedented in human history, we are repeating exactly the same terrible mistakes of previous civilisations – only, this time, on a global scale. We’ll have nowhere to escape when the proverbial really hits the fan.

Yesterday’s Question Time was but a microcosm of the consciousness straightjacket that political discourse is confined within. Worse reality distortion happens elsewhere – just watch Fox News on an average day.

But unless we somehow wake up to the terrible environmental debt we have created, then all we are doing is robbing and lying to our children, as well as ourselves. Without a stable climate, there will be no economy, period.

We need to deconstruct the entire set of institutions and belief systems that maintain our unreal and unsustainable lives, along with the interests that seek to enforce them. We need to repudiate the view that trade is sacrosanct whatever the cost. And we need to embark on this soon.

You won’t hear such things uttered on Question Time, but anything less and we’re surely signing our own death certificate.

Hilary Benn’s speech was a victory of style over substance

 

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Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn made what was, by widespread consent, an extremely powerful speech in support of bombing ISIS targets in Syria to conclude the marathon Commons debate on Wednesday.

According to most parliamentarians, it was one of the great speeches of recent times, and Benn junior has been lauded by commentators across the political spectrum – particularly in the right-wing press – for his stirring efforts.

And his evocation of Labour’s internationalist traditions in support of military action against ISIS “fascism” has marked him out in some quarters as the party’s leader in waiting.

But for all his craft, the drama and his obvious betrayal of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Hilary Benn’s speech failed to answer some pretty basic questions.

Benn failed to give any idea as to what would happen after the bombing stops. He didn’t give us a clue as to what the bombing would actually achieve, other than it would hider the free movement of ISIS fighters.

He didn’t acknowledge any misjudgement in supporting Tony Blair’s ill-conceived war in Iraq – a war that created the conditions under which ISIS would eventually thrive.

If ever there is an illustration of how the British political establishment can be so mesmerised by style over substance, then this is surely it.

Of course, the right-wing press lapped it up, particularly Dan Hodges in The Daily Terrorist – sorry, Telegraph – who described Benn as not only a real Labour leader, but as a future prime minister.

Such hyperbole is par for the course: The Terrorist will take any and every opportunity to undermine Corbyn. But even some on the Left praised it as a powerful, impassioned and intellectually rigorous performance akin to Robin Cook’s speech in opposition to the Iraq war in 2003.

However, by alluding to Britain’s comparatively distant victory over fascism in Europe, instead of its recent role in the Middle East, Benn seems to be attempting to claim ownership of Labour’s democratic traditions for himself and joined the media’s routine rubbishing of Corbyn.

In doing so, the shadow foreign secretary seems to have turned his back on the political inheritance from his own father. Tony Benn believed that those who fail to understand their mistakes are fated to repeat them. It seems his son is at risk of doing just that.

In voting with David Cameron, Benn junior ignored the failure of post-war reconstruction and state-building in Iraq that created the power vacuum into which ISIS poured. Put in those terms, his talk of humanitarianism and international solidarity seems horribly naïve. It’s a backstory that damns his analysis.

No one disagrees that ISIS is a murderous blot on the face of humanity, but Hilary Benn avoided any honest reflection on how it came into being and the wider agenda of Western involvement in the Middle East.

It can easily be argued, for instance, that ISIS is a product of Western policy – and by Western, I primarily mean the US and its closest allies, such as the UK. Hilary Benn has a track record of supporting that policy from the moment he supported Blair’s war in Iraq.

Only occasionally does the West take military action where it has no underlying strategic interest. But the very strong suspicion is that the US has not bombed ISIS effectively over the last year because it was happy for an insurgency to destroy the Assad regime.

So while the West does not condone Daesh’s enforcement of sex slavery, the dumping of older, less sexually-interesting women in mass graves, or the savage murder of anyone that isn’t as mad as it is, the terror and disruption ISIS spread across Syria seemed to serve a ‘useful’ purpose.

Even after it was obvious that ISIS had taken American munitions and military equipment that its forces had left behind in Iraq, the US kept funding, training and arming the anti-Assed Free Syrian Army. But most of the money and weaponry the US has supplied it over the last year have ended up in ISIS’ hands, along with the fighters who defected.

So what is the West’s underlying purpose here? Well, the cynics among us might put it this way: which Middle Eastern nation has the largest unexploited oilfield? Answer: Iraq. Which Middle Eastern nation has the second-largest unexploited oilfield? Answer: Syria. What links these two nations, other than a common border? Answer: the West has destabilised both.

Assad is a brutal dictator – no one disputes that. But the West tends to ignore the grotesque human rights abuses of its strategic partners, a point that Robin Cook made in his resignation speech. Saudi Arabia and Israel are given a relatively free ride. In fact, Hilary Benn recently criticised the BDS movement against Israel’s theft and genocide. So much for internationalism and the fight against fascism.

So, it would appear that Hilary Benn is happy for Britain to wage yet another ill-defined, probably unending, morally-dubious war that has at its root the Western need for oil, a topic that his father was often very exercised about, and protecting the petrodollar. Western oil interests – and especially US oil interests – have long wanted a pliant Syrian government, but Assad wouldn’t play ball. Those interests are keen on reopening and constructing new oil pipelines across Syria to the Mediterranean coast. A regime change agenda has helped create the conditions that allowed ISIS to thrive, and now the citizens of Raqqa are paying the price.

ISIS must be destroyed, but Britain’s involvement as currently defined by David Cameron is unlikely to achieve this. Those who voted against the government on Wednesday are right to argue that beating ISIS must be a truly international effort that includes significant numbers on the ground from its neighbours if it is to work and be seen to be legitimate.

Until that happens, those like Hilary Benn who plant their flag on the moral high ground should be treated with suspicion. If human rights was really an issue worth fighting for, the West would be challenging the Saudis over their bombing of Yemen and their beheading of dissidents. Instead, Britain has entered another murky theatre dominated by oil and a set of warring factions that the West has helped to create. Don’t let Hilary Benn’s fine words about democratic values and internationalism persuade you otherwise.

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Thanet’s mercy missionaries find Calais refugees clinging to shreds of hope

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“I don’t want to stay here because they’re horrible people. They’re horrible to us. They try to make our lives difficult – as if it’s not difficult enough. You English, you’re so kind. Are all people like that in England?”

Such was the recurring message that confronted Paula Erol at the makeshift refugee camp known as The Jungle, outside Calais, earlier this month (November).

She described a camp increasingly cut off from the outside world and patrolled by riot police “dressed like Transformers”. They block access and mount dispersal operations with the apparent intention of reducing its 6,000-strong population by two thirds.

The refugees’ view of the UK couldn’t contrast more starkly. While the French police fire stun grenades, rubber bullets and water canon to contain them, what relatively little comfort they do enjoy is largely thanks to British donors.

“That’s the impression they get,” said Paula. “Someone said to me: ‘Loads of English people come over to help us and they’re really kind.’ I didn’t want to burst his bubble. ‘The people are, yes,’ I said. ‘But the politics, no.’”

Paula, from Broadstairs, was one of a collection of Thanet people who have launched appeals for food, clothing, sleeping bags, shoes and other goods over the last few months and crossed the Channel to distribute them among The Jungle’s inhabitants.

She was joined on the trip earlier this month (November) by fellow Broadstairs residents Joyce Edling and Aram Rawf, who himself escaped war-torn Iraq with thousands of other Kurdish refugees.

What they saw was a mass of people from a variety of unstable and/or impoverished, mainly African and Middle Eastern nations who now face increasing political hostility, in addition to institutional isolation, in France.

Their actions belie the fact that just a few short months ago, Thanet looked likely to become Nigel Farage’s political bridgehead for UKIP’s anti-immigration, anti-EU message.

In a journal about her visit, Joyce wrote: “The Jungle is exactly how I imagined it would be: mainly scruffy tents and tarpaulins inhabited by desperate people, trying to make the best of their situation. The rain did nothing to enhance the appearance. Indeed, we were walking ankle-deep through mud.”

Last Friday’s ISIS attack on Paris has darkened the political climate further, raising the likelihood of a backlash against the refugees, even though it was such cold-blooded brutality that drove many of them to Calais in the first place.

“It’s moving how they get on and have a life,” Paula said. “People sitting around cooking together, making coffee together, children playing. Obviously, they’re not happy there but what choice do they have?

“The general atmosphere on the camp is stoic and friendly. I said ‘morning’ to everybody I passed, whether they looked or smiled at me or not, and I always got a good response. People always responded with a smile.”

Until recently, it was possible to rock up in a van to help out and deliver donations directly to The Jungle. However, in recent months, the French authorities have restricted access to only volunteers issued with passes, and even this limited contact with the outside world is under threat.

So now, the constant stream of donations are delivered to ‘The Warehouse’, a short distance away. Its location is not widely publicised to avoid far-right groups from targeting it – both the English Defence League and Pegida have been active in Calais.

With the exception of Médecins Sans Frontières and Doctors of the World, there are no recognised non-governmental organisations (NGOs) managing the site. Instead, Paula, Joyce and Rawf arranged access with a non-profit solidarity organisation working on the ground. They were emailed details of where and when to turn up, as well as the times of the briefings at which volunteers can choose which of the day’s projects to be involved in.

But despite the lack of NGOs, what system there is seems to function well.

Aram speaks Kurdish, Arabic and Farsi, and spent his time working as an interpreter. He was so busy that, once there, his compatriots barely saw him during their stay. Meanwhile, Paula and Joyce spent their first day helping to sort donations in The Warehouse, before they participated in cleaning and other projects on the camp itself.

“We unpacked the car and shared a cup of coffee with some friendly helpers,” wrote Joyce in a journal about her experiences there. “About 20 volunteers were sorting through a colossal mountain of clothes in cartons and bin-liners. The task looked unsurmountable.

“The variety of articles was astonishing. How could people imagine that DVDs, stiletto heels and electric toothbrushes could be useful for refugees living at best in tents and at worst in the open air?

“Having said that, there was a simply amazing amount of fantastic clothing, a lot of which seemed quite new or hardly ever worn.”

The following day, Joyce and Paula reported to The Warehouse for the 9am briefing. “We stood round in a circle [for] a sort of yoga session to loosen us up,” wrote Joyce. “We are really impressed by the organisation here. No one seems to be in charge and there is no real rota as such, but somehow it all works.”

They joined around 40 volunteers for yet more sorting, among them Jeff, who had travelled to Calais all the way from San Francisco. Then it was off to help the various communities clean their area of the camp, and leave gloves, bin bags, sanitation gel and litter pickers so they can manage it themselves.

“This was our first introduction to the camp’s inhabitants,” wrote Joyce. “At one point, I heard a shout ‘Hellooooo!’ I turned round and there was such a sweet little Kurdish girl, about four years old, who then launched into helping us with great gusto. Another girl about the same age joined in. The innocence of children! They thought it was a fun game.”

Joyce said she found the work “back-breaking, even though it doesn’t involve any hard labour at all”. And Paula definitely agreed: “We were so busy that we were totally and utterly knackered by the end of each day.”

Shoes are in great demand on the camp. Many of The Jungle’s inhabitants struggle around in flip-flops or walk the unforgiving, muddy terrain with their heels sticking out of shoes that are far too small.

Said Paula: “On the Friday morning, we sorted in The Warehouse before doing the clean-up. We were advised to take a shopping list if we saw anything that people needed, and to liaise with the communities to see if there was anything they wanted us to bring back.

“We came back with a shopping list of mainly shoes – they’re desperately in need of shoes. The next day, we sorted for another hour or two and made up our shopping list and went back to give them out. We went to visit the women’s centre, because we had a big box of Lego to donate, but Saturday was ‘beauty day’. I’m a masseur, so I got nabbed and spent the rest of the day giving massages to about 14 women. That was exhausting.

“On the Sunday, we took as many shoes as we could carry into the camp, but they were quickly gone. We were surrounded by people needing shoes. We wrote down people’s names and their shoe sizes and went back to The Warehouse, did some sorting and arranged to give them out at the water tap [on the camp].

“But, of course, people saw us carrying the bags through the camp, so they followed us. When we reached the tap, not everyone had turned up, so there were maybe eight pairs of shoes left. Lots of the people who had followed us wanted shoes, but how do you decide who gets a pair?

“You look around at this sea of faces and say ‘what size are you?’ They say ‘42’ and, as you get them out, there’s eight hands all trying to grab them.

“At one point, two guys grabbed one pair tied together with their laces and they were struggling. One of them was really angry.

“At the end of it, there were plenty of people who didn’t get. At one point I said: ‘Guys, guys, if it was possible, I’d open a shoe shop for you all.’ That kind of diffused the atmosphere. Some people laughed and tempers calmed, and some people came up and said ‘you’re really kind, thank you very much’.

“It was horrible to see people reduced to scuffling over something as simple as a pair of shoes.”

Both Paula and Joyce stress that the shoe incident was rather out of keeping with the rest of their time there, during which the desire for basic human dignity was clearly in evidence.

Said Paula: “As we were coming away from the shoe debacle, a couple of guys approached Joyce and said ‘I’ve got a €500 note, can you change it for me?’ She tried to give him a €250 note, but he just refused it. He was adamant he didn’t want it. He kept saying: ‘My friend, I just want change, please.’

“I’m sure a lot of British people think they’re criminals and crooks that would stab you in the back as soon as look at you, but even when someone tried to give him €250, he did not accept it.

“There might have been some cultural thing about taking money from a woman, but I think that was just stunningly admirable. He might not have been poor – after all, many of them have sold businesses and houses, and have left good jobs, cars and the rest of it.”

As if to emphasise the point, Paula and Joyce met Abdul Rahman, a linguist and university professor in his previous, more settled life. He helped them carry the bags of shoes, and insisted on being called by his first and last name.

“That really impressed me because, in the midst of all this crap, his loss of status – his loss of everything – he was holding onto his dignity,” said Paula.

“When Joyce and I were leaving the camp, he caught up with us again and thanked us for the shoes and for doing the distribution. I said to him: ‘Do you try to get on the lorries, Abdul Rahman?’ He said yes. And, I asked, if you get to Dover, what next? He said: ‘I don’t know.’”

The UK’s tightening border controls and the calls for reprisals against ISIS from the West makes this a particularly testing time for the refugees. Trying to maintain any hope of finding a better life – currently defined as getting inside or clinging to lorries and trains long enough to cross the Channel – is proving difficult.

The French police are becoming ever more punitive, not only when they catch a refugee near the ferry port or the Channel Tunnel, but also in The Jungle itself.

Joyce described how the police caught a teenage boy near the tunnel. They confiscated his shoes, so he had to walk bare-footed back to the camp. Next time, the officers told him, they would also take his trousers.

Encouraged by the sense that Britons are a generous breed, the bulk of the refugees still doggedly cling to the hope for a lucky break – if only because there appears to be no alternative.

Said Paula: “They’re very aware that it’s getting harder to get into the UK. Some Sudanese guys we met were upbeat, but they were saying ‘yes, I want to get to the UK, but I don’t think it’s going to happen’.”

Joyce also wrote: “I never cease to be astonished at the strength of the human spirit. So many people I met are doing so much to make the most of their miserable existence in the squalor. It is moving beyond belief.

“Along with this experience is my pride at all the help and support that so many from the UK are giving – from ordinary people to churches, schools, ex-army officers and charity organisations. The enormous mountains of clothes and food, the many vans which turn up loaded every day from all parts of the UK, the commitment of so many wonderful volunteers. It made me (uncharacteristically) proud to be British.

“One of the few French people there said he was ashamed at the paucity of helpers and donations from France. No wonder the refugees tell me – often with tears in their eyes – that they love the English.”

  • This article first appeared on Thanet Watch on November 19, 2015.

Current priorities

List created and updated weekly by L’Auberge + Help Calais

  1. Pre-made identical food parcels. For further information, please see this list.
  2. Volunteers – especially if you can stay longer than a day or two. Please complete the form for new volunteers or returning volunteers.
  3. Blankets
  4. Warm, four seasons sleeping bags
  5. Tents (preferably four-man or larger)
  • Tarpaulins
  • Sleeping mats
  • Firewood
  • Fire extinguishers (smaller, kitchen size – powder or foam)
  • Wind up or solar torches and lanterns – nothing that requires an electricity supply or batteries
  • Men’s waterproof walking boots with high ankle and trainers – especially sizes 42 and 43
  • Women’s boots or shoes up to size 39. No heels
  • Warm, waterproof winter jackets
  • Socks
  • Underwear – men’s, women’s and children’s
  • Goody bags of hats, gloves and scarves
  • Men’s jogging bottoms or jeans, especially black, from sizes 28 to 36
  • Flat pack cardboard boxes (size 60x40x32.5 or 90x60x48)
  • Builders
  • Building materials, including wood, nails, rope and tools

If you are taking any building materials or have building skills you’d like to put to good use, please email: calaisbuild@gmail.com.

  • Pallets

 

How to organise donated goods

Try to concentrate on one or two items as a large amount of one item is much quicker and easier to distribute than a mixed load of many items.

It is very important that goods are clean, pre-sorted and clearly labelled – for instance, a box of walking boots size 44, a bag of men’s jeans size 32 or pre-packaged food parcels.

If you want to be a real star, then the best box sizes are 60x40x32.5 or 90x60x48

 

How to donate

To deliver aid to The Warehouse and/or to arrange distribution in the camp with the support of experienced volunteers, please complete this form.

If you have any questions, please email them to calaisdonations@gmail.com.

Picture: Refugees with placards stating their name and where they want to end up. That was used by CalAid, the non-profit organisation.

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We are ruled by corrupt bankers and corporations. Only a debtors’ rebellion can rein them in

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Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last eight years, you’d surely find it impossible to avoid the conclusion that our political and economic rulers are taking us for fools and fleecing us blind.

The evidence is easy to find if you want to, and there are countless commentators and economists who argue persuasively for change  – from writers as diverse as Nomi Prins, Nicolas Shaxson and Andrew Ross, to campaign groups such as Positive Money and the Occupy movement, to public figures such as Russell Brand and TV commentators Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert.

But despite the wealth of evidence, our political and economic leaders’ obvious dishonesty and the resulting public anger and mistrust, there has been no effective response. Our elite has virtually free rein, and seems unconcerned at the social and environmental damage it is causing. The time is ripe for action. So I’d like to run an idea past you all in general terms to see if you think it has legs – and to see who might wish to be involved in taking it forward.

To start with, some background. I’m in the process of writing a book called Psychopath Economics, which is about the nature of economic power, belief systems and consumption patterns, and their combined effect on the rise and fall of civilisations. In it, I talk about – amongst many things – why ordinary people today should challenge the financial and corporate elite’s economic and political elite’s domination. The first of its four parts are currently available at Smashwords.

Specifically, my analysis looks at how today’s rentier elite uses money creation, advertising concepts and debt to create a framework of control that’s reinforced through central bank market manipulation, quantitative easing and austerity, and justified with a preposterous neoliberal rationale. I argue that the elite’s endgame is to ensure that the vast majority of us are both completely dependent on it as the only provider for human need and simultaneously unable to challenge its power. In other words, the elite’s goal is to ensure we have to trade with the bankers and multinationals on their exploitative terms, regardless of the social, economic or environmental costs that we incur. It’s a relationship of parasite and host.

But though writing the book was and remains important to me, my main aim is to add momentum as far as I can to a grassroots movement for change, for which there seems to be significant nascent demand. Indeed, grassroots movements seem to be all the rage at the moment: in addition to movements like Podemos, Bernie Sanders has stated many times that without a grassroots movement, his election as US president would do little to dent the overwhelming power of Wall Street and corporate America; and Jeremy Corbyn has launched Momentum to marshall the groundswell of anti-austerity opinion here in the UK. The problem is there is no guarantee that any of these reformers will achieve electoral success, or be free enough to tackle the elite’s grip on power even if they did. This would be a terrible failure when, certainly from my own experience of giving talks on the issues around my book, it is clear that many people are resentful of corporate impunity and are receptive to, if not actively seeking, a means of redressing the balance.

Indeed, the political climate is such that we cannot expect even our bravest politicians to say the sort of stuff that needs to be said. For most politicians – except Bernie Sanders, it would seem – doing so would be tantamount to electoral suicide. So the only way to effectively and consistently challenge the elite’s power is to create a focal point that provides not just support, information and resources, but also art and entertainment and, above all, the leverage to effect change independently of the traditional political system. Leverage is the key: psychopathic power makes no concession without a genuine threat. We can talk about all this stuff for as long as we like, but without the power to effect change, that’s all it will be: talk.

However, ordinary people have more leverage than they think. Take the issue of debt, for example. A campaign that challenges the false morality around debt not only has the potential to unmask it as the tool of social control that it is, but the threat of a widespread debt rebellion would immediately concentrate the banks’ minds. Any significant campaign of debt denial would threaten to destabilise an already unstable bond market – a bond market that has already packaged, sold, repackaged and resold our debts so many times that it has made its own collapse inevitable.

I might be wrong, but though there are many campaign organisations working in this space, it seems to me that they are not collaborating anywhere near effectively enough, if at all, and are instead talking mainly to themselves and their own supporters.

So what I’m suggesting is the creation of an umbrella organisation that can bring these various campaigns closer together in a loose alliance designed to add a coherence to their collective message, so as to help them appeal to a much wider audience – and not just here in the UK, but across the US, Europe and further afield. This loose alliance could also be flexible enough to allow these organisations to disagree on details, or at least debate them publicly to help raise awareness of the issues.

Having said that, the organisation must have a set of core campaign topics and goals, and these should include:

  • money, debt, the abolition of fractional reserve banking and the establishment of non-debt-based money systems;
  • the illegitimacy and unsustainability of today’s unpayable debts – world debt currently stands at more than $230trn, which is more than 300% of global GDP – along with the morality of debt, debt relief and cancellation;
  • anti-branding campaigns, such as those conducted by the Brandalism movement in the UK, to democratise corporate-generated ideas about our lifestyles, social status and consumption, all of which drive us to remain as passive consumers;
  • the atomisation of society that delivers the elite’s control via international trade deals – such as TTIP and TPPbig data and surveillance;
  • technology and the age of post-employment; and
  • the rush towards resource depletion and climate change.

The sort of partner campaigns I have in mind would include the Uncut and Occupy movements, 38 Degrees, Positive Money, the environmental movement, as well as writers, academics and public figures ranging from the likes of Steve Keen, David Graeber, Michael Hudson to Bill Moyers and Billy Bragg – whose work the alliance would also actively promote. This is not about left or right, or capitalism versus socialism – although this can obviously be discussed. It’s about counteracting the elite’s overwhelming and undemocratic exercise of power.

It may be that this umbrella organisation would merely be a brand that serves to bring people to the agenda (my working title for this is The Debtors’ Cartel – please like the Facebook page here if you’re interested). But even if this is the case, it could and should be used to organise events – talks, comedy, music and art – so that it’s not just a political organisation that presents concepts in a way that engages the mainstream. In my view, it must also present life-affirming and positive alternatives to the current system’s asphyxiating narratives of futile despair.

And, as part of this, it should be a business opportunity in its own right, acting as a marketing portal for partner organisations’ products and services, as well as contributors’ books, reports and events. It could promote new bitcoin and bitgold accounts, for instance, as well as support the ranks of entrepreneurs in the alternative space, along with crowdfunding platforms and others pursuing innovative new business concepts. This group should not be anti-business, just anti the exploitative and parasitic rentier business models that our leaders are happy to foist on us. This movement could also design and sell its own merchandise to promote its messages with artistry, wit and intelligence. To me, the potential of such an offering is immense.

I do, however, completely appreciate the difficulty of bringing the existing campaign groups together as there will inevitably be issues of personal and institutional politics that keep them apart. But there is surely an opportunity to change this, particularly where a grassroots movement has the potential to attract new recruits from the mainstream and use their leverage to change the facts on the ground.

Anyway, that’s the idea in the most general terms. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this. If you’re interested, I would like to discuss the ideas in more detail. I’m also keen to give talks on the issues raised by my book. I began my research on Psychopath Economics just over two years ago as it had long been obvious to me that the prevailing economic narrative was merely a cover for an elite pursuing its interests at the direct expense of everyone else. A whole host of writers and academics, along with the Keiser Report, were instrumental in helping me sharpen and develop my ideas, and inspired me to commit to this project. We have both the expertise and the numbers to make a difference.

So, the time for talking and getting angry about our increasing state of dependency is over. And our economic system will almost certainly collapse without our help. But doing nothing will merely leave us at the elite’s mercy when the next crash finally arrives. Is that a future you’d be content with? No? Well, in my view, we need to act to protect ourselves. I’m up for the challenge. Are you?

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Psychopath Economics: Should we attack the system to save ourselves?

psychopath economics2  psychopath economics cover v2.1 pt1

We live in a world of major threats. Growing inequality and austerity; government for bankers, by bankers; the march towards catastrophic climate change and resource depletion. And then there’s the backdrop of constant, far-away wars. It’s a slow-motion car crash we seem powerless to avoid, despite small victories such as Greece’s No vote yesterday.

But there’s a good reason why our political and economic system is failing to address these threats. It’s the same reason why we are increasingly oppressed by our own governments. And that is: our political and economic system is psychopathic.

What’s more, it will kill us if we don’t challenge it. And if we are going to challenge it, we must look beyond traditional forms of political campaigning and protest, which are little more than expressions of futile rage and have little effect.

This is not, however, a narrative of despair. If grassroots campaigns are really to make any difference across the range of critical issues, they must be smarter, more targeted and must explicitly seek to use economic power as leverage.

Ordinary people have much more power than they think, they just don’t see it, or are scared of using it – as I argue in my book, Psychopath Economics, before going on to outline some methods by which, I believe, could be more effective. Unlike a lot of writers, I don’t see the point of providing a critique of power without also offering ideas on how to change it.

The purpose of this article is to promote the book and the issues around the need to take power back from the elite. To summarise the book’s main points:

The challenge

  1. Power:
  • Economic power is inherently psychopathic. It actively creates victims and blames them for being its victims.
  • Elites relentlessly take more wealth and power. Today’s ‘One Percent’ owns half of all global wealth, but still wants more and doesn’t care if getting it means starving everyone else and destroying the planet.
  • The elite is seeking to neutralise all democratic alternatives to corporate power, by shrinking or subordinating the state – hence the widespread adoption of austerity and the secret negotiations on TPP and TTIP.
  • The elite wants to make societies completely dependant on corporations as the providers for all human need. If successful, they will enslave our economies.
  1. Economic growth:
  • Economic growth is sold to ordinary people as a promise of greater prosperity that has not been delivered for decades. Ordinary people are constantly exhorted to work harder to achieve it, but economic growth largely benefits only the elite.
  • Growth is increasingly a function of economic control, and one that’s environmentally unsustainable. The elite would rather shrink the population, destroy the planet and enforce its control than concede any power.
  1. The gulf gets wider:
  • Forget the trickle-down effect, it doesn’t exist – thanks in large part to a system in which money is created as debt by commercial banks.
  • The wealth pouring up to the elite more than outweighs any downward redistribution by the state and progressively empties the real economy of vitality and jobs. Ordinary people are encouraged to make up the difference by taking on ever more debt.
  • By definition, for every pound or dollar of net wealth, there’s an equivalent net debt held elsewhere. Getting rich means pushing someone else into debt. In this way, the elite’s wealth is bought at the direct cost of everyone else’s indebtedness, a gulf that interest payments, tax breaks, incentives and bailouts widens.
  • Unequal capitalist economies are less efficient and create less happy societies.
  1. Catastrophe, here we come…
  • We are being driven on a path of unsustainable consumption that relies on the exploitation of human and natural capital beyond their breaking point. Exponential growth rates mean resource depletion and catastrophic climate change will be with us in just a decade or so.
  • Humanity has been here before. Elites, their belief systems and psychopathic exercise of power are major drivers of the rise and fall of societies. Only, this time, our civilisation is global. The victims of collapse will have no escape.

Taking back power

  1. Challenging the system: There are risks to challenging the system, but overwhelming evidence suggests that failing to do so will simply guarantee our own destruction. Psychopathic power concedes nothing without a genuine threat, so traditional forms of political campaigning and protest, though important, will make little difference on their own. Instead, we need:
  • More imaginative and disruptive campaigns explicitly designed to leverage change by threatening to degrade, devalue or negate the elite’s assets.
  • More targeted campaigns against corporations, brands and organisations most closely connected with human exploitation, environmental destruction, corruption and lobbying.
  • A more explicit agenda that redefines and promotes what business is actually for.
  1. Campaign via the political system to:
  • Reinstitute downward redistribution of wealth while politicising debt. Capitalism works best when wealth is widely distributed. It makes societies happier, too.
  • Replace ‘debt-money’ with sovereign money that is democratically controlled in the interests of society, not of a parasitic banking sector.
  • Redefine debt-money as illegitimate or odious as a precursor to a campaign of debt cancellation.
  • Attack the moral and economic rationale for debt, which always grows beyond an economy’s ability to pay. Enforcing unpayable debts unnecessarily foists misery on ordinary people – just look at Greece.
  • Ensure risks emanating from the corporate and financial sector should remain there. Corporate risks should not be nationalised or underwritten by taxpayers. And, where they are, they should be subject to clear repayment criteria.
  1. Direct action:
  • Directly attack the rationale of debt – including its moral, economic and legal framework – as part of the wider campaign for cancellation. Debt strikes have the potential to destabilise an already vulnerable financial system. And where there’s vulnerability, there’s leverage.
  • Directly campaign for tax strikes as a counterweight to corporate lobbying power. No tax without representation; no representation without tax.
  • Threaten and launch class actions against governments and corporations engaged in exploitative practices and failure to address climate change.
  • Anti-branding and ‘brandalism’ – campaigns that ‘vandalise’ brands so as to reverse the ever-increasing corporate control of public mindshare through marketing and advertising.
  • Publicise and democratise short-selling campaigns through the stock markets that target specific corporations and degrade the value of their assets.
  • Disintermediate’ the corporate press, financial system and captured states by promoting a diverse media, non-debt digital money (such as bitcoin) and peer-to-peer technologies.

Fear is a major factor that inhibits grassroots movements for change, but whatever the risks might be, all the evidence suggests that the risks associated with doing nothing are much greater and more urgent.

One of the first lines of argument we will hear if any grassroots campaign does begin is how it will threaten to destroy the economic system. But history suggests otherwise and, in any case, the elite is as likely to crash the system itself to keep the wealth and power it already has.

Psychopath Economics comes in four parts. The first, The Bull & The Bewildered Herd, describes the book’s overall arguments before critiquing mainstream economics as a service industry that specialises in selling ideas and concealing basic truths behind a veil of science.

I’m not particularly into the salesman thing, but the book has been published by Smashwords and so, if you like its message, you can promote it as an affiliate and obtain a commission on each copy sold via a link on your Facebook page or website.

Meanwhile, if anyone out there is interested in collaborating with me, or would like me to give a presentation or talk on the issues contained in the book, then please drop me a line via the details below.

Contact

Email at info@peterbatt.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/peterbatt

Author profile at Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/peterbatt

Psychopath Economics Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/psychopatheconomics

Psychopath Economics blog at http://psychopatheconomics.com

Support the Psychopath Economics project by donating bitcoins to:
bitcoin wallet address

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