Friday, December 19, 2014

The great David Nelson on- Gillard, Julia: The Shakedown

By my dear friend the witty talented very funny David Nelson

Gillard, Julia
Cannot figure our Dyson Hayden, ex HC Judge.
He once wrote a textbook on evidence. He is describing "circumstances of grave suspicion" yet does not refer the matter to Western Australian Department of Public Prosecutions for further investigation.
I have known Dyson Hayden slightly, but for years, hearing him talk in the NSW Bar refectory and lounge. My guess is that "raison d'etat" has in his mind decided that an ex-PM should not be put on trial. There has always been a naive element about him.
If an ex-leader of the Socialist Alliance (read Mocow aligned Communists and fellow travellers) do not know in advance how a union shakedown of a capitalist construction company works and always did I will eat my hat.
And to suppose that the company officers doe not know how it works I will eat my hat. The matter should have been hnded over to various DPP's and police forces or a Crime Commission for futher examination, Those who paid should run the full legal gauntlet as well as those who took or conspired.
I have voted Labor all my life despite the crazy secret Left infiltrators. Has Dyson Hayden merely confirmed that those who profit (including the bosses) can get away with it again. Like I said Dyson Hayden always struck me as a very learned, highly intelligent legal scholar who was also naïve.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Developers at beach resort face closure threat from Mexican government

When state government selling land is challenged by the federal government.
A planning issue which has resulted in uniformed soldiers showing up at exclusive eco-boutique hotels and closing them is the start of a major push against development on some of Mexico's beaches, it is feared.According to Federal government officials the hotels in Tulum have been built on a National Park where no development is allowed despite property owners having 'clean' titles issued by the State Government.
Just 80 miles from the tourist resort of Cancun, the hotels are popular with those visiting nearby Mayan archaeological sites and ruins. They have managed to obtain a court injunction allowing them to stay open while the dispute is resolved.
The Tulum beaches are some of the most beautiful and underdeveloped in the area. But hotel owner John Kendall, an American who owns Mezzanine, one of the hotels targeted for closing, said he and other owners are stunned.
Before he bought his property in 2003 it was a backpacker establishment that had been in business for more than 10 years. Once he took over, he transformed it into a high-end eco-lodge that caters to a well heeled clientele.
He has been told by officials an Environmental Impact Study needed to be done before Mezzanine was remodeled, but according to Kendall, the law requiring it for work on existing properties didn't come into effect until 2005, two years after he took over the hotel. In addition, he said he was given a permit to renovate the place by the local government.
Mexico's Federal Environmental Prosecutor, Patricio Patron, wants the buildings not just closed down, but ultimately removed from land the Federal government says is protected. The hotels are not only too near to the historical ruins, but they are also on land reserved for protected species, he said.
However the State government stands by the titles it had issued to the owners of the properties. The problem centres on the fact that the National Park was decreed in 1981 but the legal process was never completed properly by the Federal government. The State government then titled and sold parts of the Tulum beach to different investors.
'The bigger issue, which has not yet surfaced, is a fight between the Federal and the State governments on whether the State illegally titled land that was protected in a National Park,' Kendall said.
It is not just individuals that are affected. Kor Group, a Los Angeles-based real estate investment and management company, has apparently paid some $50 million for the beach next to Mezzanine and has not, so far, been able to develop it. 'If a giant, sophisticated investor can be fooled, what hope is there for the little guys like me?' Kendall added.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


2014 has been a turbulent year - with the rise of ISIS, the outbreak of Ebola, the shooting down of a fully laden passenger jet … and closer to home, a general election that was hijacked by dirty politics and scandalmongers. While opposition parties have tried to revive the pre-election scandal and rouse public concern, New Zealanders believe there are far more pressing issues to worry about.

Meanwhile, the machinery of government rolls on. After each general election, briefing papers are prepared by public agencies for the incoming government. They provide us with a snapshot of New Zealand in 2014.

According to the
State Services Commission, the government agency charged with overseeing the performance of the state sector, New Zealand’s government is bigger than ever before – and more expensive. With total Crown expenditure set at $73.1 billion for this financial year, the per capita cost of running the New Zealand government exceeds $16,000.

Some 229,631 people are employed in the wider state sector - an increase of almost 10,000 since National took office in 2008. Of those, 44,500 work in the core public service. The Ministry of Social Development employs the most staff with 9,931, followed by Corrections with 7,555, and Inland Revenue with 5,641. The agency with the fewest staff is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs with 23.

The state sector is made up of literally hundreds of government agencies. In their briefing to the incoming government, the Commission highlights that poor performance is a key challenge. They point out that while the functions of state sector agencies have been placed at arms length from Ministers, “Improving Board performance is the major way that Ministers have of driving for results in the wider State sector. Board performance has a range of determinants, a major one being the quality of Board appointees.”

Yet outside of the school sector, “There is no overall system to manage the candidate pipeline for the Crown and no standard appointment process. Some agencies interview potential candidates and some don’t; some advertise, some do background checks, but there is no consistent approach.”

Since Ministers are responsible for appointing between 2,000 and 3,000 members to more than 520 boards - at a cost in excess of $43 million in annual board fees - this is a serious issue of concern. 850 board appointments will be made in 2014 alone.

The briefing by the
Ministry of Education to the incoming government reports that while education is a major public investment, accounting for one dollar in every five of total government spending, failing students and falling standards remain major concerns.

They explain that the education sector is divided into three distinct areas. The early childhood sector receives $1.6 billion in government funding, to provide services to over 200,000 children, delivered by 22,000 teachers, in over 5,000 centres - including kindergartens, kohanga reo, playcentres, and day care establishments. The primary and secondary sector receives $5.8 billion for over 750,000 students and 52,000 teachers, in over 2,500 state, integrated, independent and partnership schools. And the tertiary sector receives $4.2 billion in government funding for over 565,000 students and 600 providers - including universities, polytechs, industry and private training organisations, and community providers.

The Ministry of Education - which employs 2,610 staff - explains that, “International studies show that results for nine and ten year olds are declining in maths and science and that fifteen year olds are not doing as well as they have previously in reading, maths and science. In these studies and in these learning areas, New Zealand is not keeping pace with other high-performing countries.”

They outline key areas of failure – “In 2012, for example, 79% of Year 8 students were below the expected curriculum level in science” – and of successes: “The ECE [Early Childhood Education] sector has increased participation, so that now approximately 96% of children starting school have attended ECE. The persistent gap in take-up of ECE between children from European and higher socio-economic status backgrounds, and other children is reducing, but not quickly enough.”

The briefing by the
Ministry of Health explains that current health expenditure of $15.1 billion, accounts for more than a fifth of all government spending: “Real spending has increased from $583 per person in 1950 to $2,987 per person in 2011.”

The country’s 20 District Health Boards play a pivotal role in New Zealand’s health care system. Along with the Ministry of Health and the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), the DHBs are the main purchasers of public health services, with PHARMAC working on their behalf to prioritise and procure pharmaceuticals.

The DHBs provide hospital care and purchase primary and community health services for their local populations. While general practice and aged care services are funded by DHBs, they are provided by non-government organisations and private businesses. The Ministry of Health also purchases health services directly, including some disability support services. And as part of its no-fault injury insurance cover, ACC provides medical treatment and rehabilitation services through bulk funding arrangements with DHBs. Services that are not subsidised include optometry, orthodontics and most adult dental care.

The Ministry of Health’s three key goals are ensuring, “New Zealanders are healthier and more independent; high-quality health services are delivered in a timely and accessible manner; the health and disability system is sustainable.”

New Zealand Police briefing explains that, in addition to the 12,000 staff located in 12 Districts around New Zealand, there is a small international Police presence in China, Singapore, London, Washington, Fiji, Australia, Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Tonga, and Pitcairn Island. The broad range of activities they are involved in includes keeping the peace, law enforcement, crime prevention, maintaining public safety, national security, and emergency management.

With crime at a 35-year low, and last year’s road toll the lowest ever recorded, the main challenges faced by the Police relate to changes in criminal activity. This includes gang-related activities, the increase in violent crime (especially family violence, child protection and adult sexual assault), and the over-representation of Maori offending and victimisation. In addition, there is growing concern over the rapid growth in non-crime demand - including mental health - that requires more complex and intensive multi-agency responses: “In 2013 alone, the Police Communications Centre fielded 32,000 attempted suicide and mental health related calls for service, 22,000 of which Police employees subsequently attended. The standard two Police officers per event response cost the Police an estimated $10 million.” 

Of the Police’s $1.5 billion budget, 72 percent funds personnel, 19 percent is used for operating costs including fuel and forensic expenses, and 9 percent for asset operating and ownership costs. Around $300 million – 21 percent of the budget - is used for road policing.

As the government’s lead economic and fiscal advisor, the
Treasury has provided a number of briefing papers - including on health, ACC, and climate change. Their report to the Minister of Finance focuses on lifting New Zealand’s economic performance and living standards: “New Zealand needs to reduce its foreign debt levels and shift the balance of economic activity towards the investment and export growth needed to support higher living standards over the long-term”. 

They discuss a range of matters including the vexed issue of how to improve the country’s poor productivity performance: “While there is a wide range of potential explanations, three main themes emerge from the debate. One set of arguments emphasises a weakening in the pace of economic policy reform over time and the role of the state sector in restraining economic performance. Another set focuses on the links between New Zealand’s lower productivity, high real interest rates and exchange rate, low level of saving and consequential lower level of investment and exports. And a third line of argument focuses on the constraints to New Zealand’s economic performance from our small population and distance from international markets.”

Their analysis identifies three key strategic challenges – improving our international markets, moving towards export-led growth, and “enabling all New Zealanders to participate in the economy and society”. On this point they note, that while New Zealand’s overall employment rates are high, some groups are under-represented, including those with no or low qualifications, Maori, the disabled, and solo parents: “New Zealand is particularly unusual in terms of the high proportion of our children in sole parent households and our low employment rates for solo mothers. In many OECD countries solo mothers have similar or higher employment rates than partnered mothers. However, solo mothers have significantly lower employment rates than partnered mothers in New Zealand.”

They state that since welfare is the main source of income for two out of three children living in low income households, paid work is an important route out of poverty. While such families often face multiple barriers to work, overcoming them “can bring wider personal and social benefits to the parents, their children and the community. These include the long-term economic, social and fiscal costs from the related impacts of joblessness, like crime or anti-social behaviour, and poor housing, health, and educational achievement.”

Treasury supports the welfare system’s new focus on investing in those who are most likely to remain on benefits in the long-term: “Policies that assist beneficiaries to move out of long-term welfare dependency and participate in the labour market are not only likely to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged families, including children, but will also enhance economic growth.”

Reserve Bank plays a central role in New Zealand’s financial system. Its briefing to the incoming government, explains that it “manages monetary policy to maintain price stability, promotes the maintenance of a sound and efficient financial system, and supplies New Zealand banknotes and coins”.

As part of its monitoring role, the Reserve Bank issues comprehensive reports on a regular basis. This week’s NZCPR Guest, economic commentator Frank Newman, has examined the Reserve Bank’s half yearly Financial Stability Report and shares his analysis - including his concerns about the Governor’s proposed new restrictions on property investors:

“Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler commented on the possibility of regulations to curb buying by larger property investors (those owning more than five rentals). The Reserve Bank’s proposal would require banks to treat loans to residential property investors owning more than five properties as commercial lending.

“SME [small and medium sized enterprise] bank lending is considered to be higher risk lending and is charged a higher interest rate. To target larger residential property investors is a truly absurd notion given the diversification of a large residential property portfolio actually lowers risk – larger investors should pay lower interest rates than the single property owner.

“The true purpose of the regulation is obviously to put the brakes on house prices by targeting existing property investors, just as they targeted first home buyers when they changed the loan to value ratios last year. At this stage the Reserve Bank is still considering the proposal.”

In this newsletter, we have provided just a taste of the extensive information available in the briefing papers from over 60 government agencies on the Beehive website. We encourage those with an interest in any of the organisations listed below* to follow this link to their briefings. 

*ACC, Callaghan Innovation, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, Careers New Zealand, Civil Aviation Authority, Creative New Zealand, Crown Law Office, Department of Conservation, Department of Corrections, Department of Internal Affairs, Earthquake Commission, Education New Zealand, Education Review Office, Electricity Authority, Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, Environmental Protection Authority, Fair Way Resolution Limited, Families Commission, Housing New Zealand Corporation, Inland Revenue, Land Information New Zealand, Maori Television, Maritime New Zealand, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Education,  Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Women's Affairs, Natural Resources Sector, New Zealand Artificial Limb Service, New Zealand Customs Service, New Zealand Defence Force, New Zealand Police, New Zealand Productivity Commission, New Zealand Qualifications Authority, New Zealand Teachers Council, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, NZ on Air, NZ Transport Agency, Office of the Children's Commissioner, Parliamentary Counsel Office, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, Serious Fraud Office, Social Workers Registration Board, Sport New Zealand, State Services Commission, Statistics New Zealand, Te Mangai Paho, Te Papa, Te Puni Kokiri, Tertiary Education Commission, Transport Accident Investigation Commission, Treasury, Veterans' Affairs New Zealand, Work Safe New Zealand.

"The world has lost 52% of its vertebrate wildlife over the past 40 years" Where is the law of protection?

Posted: 09 Dec 2014 02:00 AM PST
We are pre-tuned to the natural world; wired to respond to nature.

By George Monbiot, published on BBC Earth, 8th December 2014
This is the first of BBC Earth’s longform essays about our relationship with the natural world.
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds,” the pioneering conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote. “An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”(1)
I remembered that when I read the news that the world has lost 52% of its vertebrate wildlife over the past 40 years(2). It’s a figure from which I’m still reeling. To love the natural world is to suffer a series of griefs, each compounding the last. It is to be overtaken by disbelief that we could treat it in this fashion. And, in the darkest moments, it is to succumb to helplessness, to the conviction that we will keep eroding our world of wonders until almost nothing of it remains. There is hope – real hope – as I will explain later, but at times like this it seems remote.
These wounds are inflicted not only on the world’s wildlife but also on ourselves. Civilisation is but a flimsy dust sheet that we have thrown over a psyche rich in emotion and instinct, shaped by the living planet. The hominims from whom we evolved inhabited a fascinating, terrifying world, in which survival depended on constant observation and interpretation. They contended not only with lions and leopards, but with sabretooths and false sabretooths, giant hyaenas and bear dogs (monstrous creatures with a huge bite radius).
As the work of Professor Blaire van Valkenburgh at UCLA suggests, predators in the pre-human past lived at much greater densities than they do today(3). The wear and breakage of their teeth show that competition was so intense that they were forced to consume the entire carcasses of the animals they killed, bones and all, rather than just the prime cuts, as top carnivores tend to do today. In other words, the animals with which we evolved were not just bigger than today’s predators; they were also hungrier.
Navigating this world required astonishing skills. Our ancestors, in the boom-and-bust savannahs, had to travel great distances to find food, through a landscape shimmering with surprise and hazard. Their survival depended upon reacting to the barest signals: the flicker of a tail in the grass, the scent of honey, a change in humidity, tracks in the dust. We still possess these capacities. We carry with us a ghost psyche, adapted to a world we no longer inhabit, which contains – though it remains locked down for much of the time – a boundless capacity for fear and wonder, curiousity and enchantment. We are pre-tuned to the natural world; wired to respond to nature.
In computer games and fantasy novels, we still grapple the monsters of the mind. In the film of Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers, the orcs rode on giant hyaenas(4). In the first Hunger Games film, bear dogs were released into the forest to prey on the contestants(5). I don’t believe these re-creations were accidental: the directors appear to have known enough of our evolutionary history to revive the ancestral terror these animals provoke. The heroic tales that have survived – tales of Ulysses, Sinbad, Sigurd, Beowulf, Cú Chulainn, St George, Arjuna, Lạc Long Quân and Glooskap – are those that resonate with the genetic memories lodged in our minds. I suspect that their essential form has remained unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years; that the encounters with monsters recorded in writing were a consolidation of stories we have been telling since we acquired the capacity to use the past tense.
You can see how such tales might have originated in a remarkable sequence in the BBC’s Human Planet series(6). Three men in southern Kenya, described by the programme as Dorobo people (though this is not a designation many ethnographers accept) stalk to within about 50 metres of a lion kill. Fifteen lions, blood dripping from their jaws, are eating the carcass of a wildebeest. The men suddenly stand and walk towards the pride. Rattled by their astonishing confidence, the lions flee. They watch from the bushes, puzzled and indecisive, as the three men walk up to the carcass, hack off one of the hind legs, then saunter away. That night, the adventurers roast the meat in their cave. “We really robbed those lions”, one of them boasts. “How many do you think there were?”, another asks. “Fifteen, but there might have been more.”
This, surely, is how sagas begin. Those men, led by a veteran of such ruses, are heroes of the old stamp. They outwitted a party of monsters, using guile and audacity, much as Ulysses did. A few hours later, they tell the first version of a story that might echo down the generations, every time with new flourishes and embellishments. Now imagine that, thousand of years hence, lions are long extinct, and the descendants of the Dorobo have only the haziest notion of what they were. They have become monsters even bigger and more dangerous than they were in life, and the feat becomes even more outrageous and unlikely. The saga remains true to its core, but the details have changed. We are those people, still telling the old stories, of encounters with the beasts that shaped us.
The world lives within us, we live within the world. By damaging the living planet we have diminished our existence.
We have been able to do this partly as a result of our ability to compartmentalise. This is another remarkable capacity we have developed, which perhaps reflects the demands of survival in the ever more complex human world we have created. By carving up the world in our minds we have learnt to shut ourselves out of it.
One of the tasks that parents set themselves is to train their children in linearity. Very young children don’t do linearity. Their inner life is discursive, contingent, impulsive. They don’t want to walk in a straight line down the pavement, but to wander off in the direction of whatever attracts their attention. They don’t begin a task with a view to its conclusion. They throw themselves into it, engage for as long as it’s exciting, then suddenly divert to something else.
This is how all animals except adult humans behave. Optimal foraging, the term biologists use to describe the way animals lock onto the best food supply, involves pursuing a task only for as long as it remains rewarding. Our own hunting and gathering would have followed a similar pattern, though it was complicated by our ability to plan and coordinate and to speculate about imagined outcomes. Broadly speaking, ours was a rambling and responsive existence, in which, by comparison to the way we live today, we had little capacity or inclination to impose our will on the world, to lay out a course of action and to follow it without deviation or distraction.
Only with the development of farming did we have to discipline ourselves to think linearly: following a plan from one point to another across weeks or months. Before long we were ploughing in straight lines, making hedges and ditches and tracks in straight lines, building houses and then towns in straight lines. Now almost every aspect of our lives is lived within grids, either concrete or abstract. Linearity, control and management dominate our lives. We fetishise progress: a continuous movement in the same direction. We impose our lines on the messy, contradictory and meandering realities of the human world, because otherwise we would be completely lost in it. We make compartments simple enough, amid the labyrinths we have created, to navigate and understand.
Thus we box ourselves out of the natural world. We become resistant to the experiences that nature has to offer; its spontaneity and serendipity, its unscripted delights, its capacity to shake us out of the frustrations and humiliations which are an inevitable product of the controlled and ordered world we have sought to create. We bully the living world into the grids we impose on ourselves. Even the areas we claim to have set aside for nature are often subjected to rigid management plans, in which the type and the height of the vegetation is precisely ordained and, through grazing or cutting or burning, nature is kept in a state of arrested development to favour an arbitrary assemblage of life over other possible outcomes. Nothing is allowed to change, to enter or leave. We preserve these places as if they were jars of pickles.
The language we use to describe them is also rigid and compartmentalised. In the UK we protect “sites of special scientific interest”, as if the wildlife they contain is of interest only to scientists. The few parts of the seabed which are not ripped up by industrial trawling are described as “reference areas”, as if their only value is as a baseline with which to compare destruction elsewhere. And is there a more alienating term than “reserve”? When we talk about reserve in people, we mean that they seem cold and remote. It reminds me of the old Native American joke: “we used to like the white man, but now we have our reservations.” Even “the environment” is an austere and technical term, which creates no pictures in the mind.
It’s not that we have banished our vestigial psychological equipment from our minds, or lost our instinct for engagement with wildlife. The tremendous popularity of nature programmes testifies to its persistence. I remember sitting in a café listening to a group of bus drivers talking, with great excitement and knowledge, about the spiders they had seen on television the night before, and thinking that, for all our technological sophistication, for all the clever means by which we shield ourselves from our emotions, we remain the people we have always been.
But we have suppressed these traits, and see the world through our fingers, shutting out anything that might spoil the view. We eat meat without even remembering that it has come from an animal, let alone picturing the conditions of its rearing and slaughter. We make no connection in our compartmentalised minds between the beef on our plates and the destruction of rainforests to grow the soya that fed the cattle; between the miles we drive and the oil wells drilled in rare and precious places, and the spills that then pollute them.
In our minds we have sanitised the world. WH Auden’s poem Et in Arcadia Ego describes how “Her jungle growths / Are abated, Her exorbitant monsters abashed, / Her soil mumbled,” while “the autobahn / Thwarts the landscape / In godless Roman arrogance”(7). But the old gods, the old fears, the old knowledge, have not departed. We simply choose not to see. “The farmer’s children / Tiptoe past the shed / Where the gelding knife is kept.”(8)
Civilisation is boring. It has many virtues, but it leaves large parts of our minds unstimulated. It uses just a fraction of our mental and physical capacities. To know what comes next has been perhaps the dominant aim of materially-complex societies. Yet, having achieved it, or almost achieved it, we have been rewarded with a new collection of unmet needs. Many of us, I believe, need something that our planned and ordered lives don’t offer.
I found that something once in Cardigan Bay, on the west coast of Wales. I had stupidly launched my kayak into a ten-foot swell to fish a couple of miles from the shore. As I returned to land, I saw that the tide had risen, and ugly, jumbled breakers were smashing on the seawall. From where I sat, two hundred metres from the shore, I could see that the waves were stained brown by the shingle they flung up. I could hear them cracking and soughing against the wall. It was terrifying.
Behind me I heard a monstrous hiss: a freak wave was about to break over my head. I ducked and braced the paddle against the water. But nothing happened. Then a hooked grey fin, scarred and pitted, rose and skimmed just under the shaft of my paddle. I knew what it was, but the shock of it enhanced my rising fear. I glanced around, almost believing that I was under attack.
Then, from the stern, I heard a different sound: a crash and a rush of water. A gigantic bull dolphin soared into the air and almost over my head. As he flew past, he fixed his eye on mine. I stared at the sea into which he had disappeared, willing him to emerge again, filled with a wild exaltation, and a yearning of the kind that used to afflict me when I woke from that perennial pre-adolescent dream of floating down the stairs, my feet a few inches above the carpet. I realised at that moment that I had been suffering from a drought of sensation which I had come to accept as a condition of middle age, like the loss of the upper reaches of hearing.
I found that missing element again in the Białowieża Forest in eastern Poland. I was walking down a sandy path between oak and lime trees that rose for perhaps one hundred feet without branching. Around them the forest floor frothed with ramsons, celandines, spring peas and may lilies. I had seen boar with their piglets, red squirrels, hazel grouse, a huge bird that might have been an eagle owl, a black woodpecker. As I walked, every nerve seemed stretched, tuned like a string to the forest I was exploring. I rounded a curve in the path and found myself face to face with an animal that looked more like a Christian depiction of the Devil than any other creature I have seen.
I was close enough to see the mucus in her tear ducts. She had small, hooked black horns, heavy brows and eyes so dark that I could not distinguish the irises from the pupils. She wore a neat brown beard and an oddly human fringe between her horns. Her back rose to a crest then tapered away to a narrow rump, from which a black tail, slim as a whip, now twitched. She flared her nostrils and raised her chin. I fancied I could smell her sweet, beery breath. We watched each other for several minutes. I stayed so still that I could feel the blood pounding in my neck. Eventually the bison tossed her head, danced a couple of steps then turned, trotted back down the path then cantered away through the trees.
Experiences like these are the benchmarks of my life, moments in which dormant emotions were rekindled, in which my world was re-enchanted. But such unexpected encounters have been far too rare. Most of the lands in which I walk and the seas in which I swim or paddle my kayak are devoid of almost all large wildlife. I see deer, the occasional fox or badger, seals, but little else. It does not have to be like this. We can recharge the world with wonder, reverse much of the terrible harm we have done to it.
Over the past centuries, farming has expanded onto ever less suitable land. Even places of extremely low fertility have been cultivated or grazed, and the result has been a great disproportion between damage and productivity: the production of a tiny amount of food destroys the vegetation, the wild animals, the soil and the watersheds of entire mountain ranges. In the face of global trade, farming in such areas is becoming ever less viable: it cannot compete with production in fertile parts of the world. This has caused a loss of cultural diversity, which is another source of sadness.
But at the same time it means that the devastated land could be restored. In Europe, according to one forecast, 30 million hectares – an area the size of Poland – will be vacated by farmers by 2030(8). In the United States, two thirds of those parts of the land which were once forested, then cleared, have become forested again(9), as farming and logging have retreated, especially from the eastern half of the country. Rewilding, the mass restoration of ecosystems, which involves pulling down the redundant fences, blocking the drainage ditches, planting trees where necessary, re-establishing missing wildlife and then leaving the land to find its own way, could reverse much of the damage done to these areas. Already, animals like lynx, wolves, bears and moose, on both continents, are moving back into their former ranges.
There are also possibilities of restoring large parts of the sea. Public disgust at a fishing industry that has trashed almost every square metre of seabed on the continental shelves is now generating worldwide demands for marine parks. These are places in which commercial extraction is forbidden and the wildlife of the seas can recover. Even fishing companies can be persuaded to support them, when they discover that the fish migrating out of these places greatly boost their overall catches, a phenomenon known as the spillover effect. Such underwater parks are quickly recolonised by sessile life forms. Fish and crustacea proliferate, breeding freely and growing to great sizes once more. Dolphins, sharks and whales move in.
In these places we can leave our linearity and confinement behind, surrender to the unplanned and emergent world of nature, be surprised once more by joy, as surprise encounters with great beasts (almost all of which, despite our fears, are harmless to us) become possible again. We can rediscover those buried emotions that otherwise remain unexercised. Why should we not have such places on our doorsteps, to escape into when we feel the need?
Rewilding offers something else, even rarer than lynx and wolves and dolphins and whales. Hope. It offers the possibility that our silent spring could be followed by a raucous summer. In seeking to persuade people to honour and protect the living planet, an ounce of hope is worth a ton of despair. We could, perhaps, begin to heal some of the great wounds we have inflicted on the world and on ourselves.
George Monbiot is the author of Feral: rewilding the land, sea and human life. There’s an archive of his articles at

Monday, December 8, 2014

George Monbiot: The great political question of our age is what to do about corporate power.

Posted: 07 Dec 2014 08:45 PM PST

The great political question of our age is what to do about corporate power. It’s time we answered it.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th December 2014
Does this sometimes feel like a country under enemy occupation? Do you wonder why the demands of so much of the electorate seldom translate into policy? Why the Labour Party, like other former parties of the left, seems incapable of offering effective opposition to market fundamentalism, let alone proposing coherent alternatives? Do you wonder why those who want a kind and decent and just world, in which both human beings and other living creatures are protected, so often appear to find themselves confronting the entire political establishment?
If so, you have already encountered corporate power. It is the corrupting influence that prevents parties from connecting with the public, distorts spending and tax decisions and limits the scope of democracy. It helps to explain the otherwise inexplicable: the creeping privatisation of health and education, hated by almost all voters; the private finance initiative, which has left public services with unpayable debts(1,2); the replacement of the civil service with companies distinguished only by their incompetence(3); the failure to re-regulate the banks and to collect tax; the war on the natural world; the scrapping of the safeguards that protect us from exploitation; above all the severe limitation of political choice in a nation crying out for alternatives.
There are many ways in which it operates, but perhaps the most obvious is through our unreformed political funding system, which permits big business and multimillionaires effectively to buy political parties. Once a party is obliged to them, it needs little reminder of where its interests lie. Fear and favour rule.
And if they fail? Well, there are other means. Before the last election, a radical firebrand said this about the lobbying industry(4): “It is the next big scandal waiting to happen … an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money. … secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics.” That, of course, was David Cameron, and he’s since ensured that the scandal continues. His lobbying act restricts the activities of charities and trade unions, but imposes no meaningful restraint on corporations(5).
Ministers and civil servants know that if they keep faith with corporations while in office they will be assured of lucrative directorships in retirement. Dave Hartnett, who, as head of the government’s tax collection agency HMRC, oversaw some highly controversial deals with companies like Vodafone and Goldman Sachs(6,7), apparently excusing them from much of the tax they seemed to owe, now works for Deloitte, which advises companies like Vodafone on their tax affairs(8). As head of HMRC he met one Deloitte partner 48 times(9).
Corporations have also been empowered by the globalisation of decision-making. As powers but not representation shift to the global level, multinational business and its lobbyists fill the political gap. When everything has been globalised except our consent, we are vulnerable to decisions made outside the democratic sphere.
The key political question of our age, by which you can judge the intent of all political parties, is what to do about corporate power. This is the question, perennially neglected within both politics and the media, that this week’s series of articles will attempt to address. I think there are some obvious first steps.
A sound political funding system would be based on membership fees. Each party would be able to charge the same fixed fee for annual membership (perhaps £30 or £50). It would receive matching funding from the state as a multiple of its membership receipts. No other sources of income would be permitted. As well as getting the dirty money out of politics, this would force political parties to reconnect with the people, to raise their membership. It will cost less than the money wasted on corporate welfare every day.
All lobbying should be transparent. Any meeting between those who are paid to influence opinion (this could include political commentators like myself) and ministers, advisers or civil servants in government should be recorded, and the transcript made publicly available. The corporate lobby groups that pose as thinktanks should be obliged to reveal who funds them before appearing on the broadcast media(10,11), and if the identity of one of their funders is relevant to the issue they are discussing, it should be mentioned on air.
Any company supplying public services would be subject to freedom of information laws (there would be an exception for matters deemed commercially confidential by the information commissioner). Gagging contracts would be made illegal, in the private as well as the public sector (with the same exemption for commercial confidentiality). Ministers and top officials should be forbidden from taking jobs in the sectors they were charged with regulating.
But we should also think of digging deeper. Is it not time we reviewed the remarkable gift we have granted to companies in the form of limited liability? It socialises the risks which would otherwise be carried by a company’s owners and directors, exempting them from the costs of the debts they incur or the disasters they cause, and encouraging them to engage in the kind of reckless behaviour that caused the financial crisis. Should the wealthy authors of the crisis, like Fred Goodwin or Matt Ridley, not have incurred a financial penalty of their own?
We should look at how we might democratise the undemocratic institutions of global governance, as I outlined in my book The Age of Consent(12). This could involve the dismantling of the World Bank and the IMF, which are governed without a semblance of democracy, and cause more crises than they solve, and their replacement with a body rather like the international clearing union designed by John Maynard Keynes in the 1940s, whose purpose was to prevent excessive trade surpluses and deficits from forming, and therefore international debt from accumulating.
Instead of treaties brokered in opaque meetings between diplomats and transnational capital (of the kind now working towards a Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership), which threaten democracy, the sovereignty of parliaments and the principle of equality before the law, we should demand a set of global fair trade rules, to which multinational companies would be subject, losing their licence to trade if they break them. Above all perhaps, we need a directly elected world parliament, whose purpose would be to hold other global bodies to account. In other words, instead of only responding to an agenda set by corporations, we must propose an agenda of our own.
This is not only about politicians, it is also about us. Corporate power has shut down our imagination, persuading us that there is no alternative to market fundamentalism, and that “market” is a reasonable description of a state-endorsed corporate oligarchy. We have been persuaded that we have power only as consumers, that citizenship is an anachronism, that changing the world is either impossible or best effected by buying a different brand of biscuits.
Corporate power now lives within us. Confronting it means shaking off the manacles it has imposed on our minds.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Brilliant ! The blind pursuit of economic growth stokes a cycle of financial crisis, and wrecks our world.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 19th November 2014

Another crash is coming. We all know it, now even David Cameron acknowledges it(1). The only questions are what the immediate catalyst will be, and when it begins.
You can take your pick. The Financial Times reports today that China now resembles the US in 2007(2). Domestic bank loans have risen 40% since 2008, while “the ability to repay that debt has deteriorated dramatically”. Property prices are falling and the companies that run China’s shadow banking system provide “virtually no disclosure” of their liabilities. Just two days ago, the G20 leaders announced that growth in China “is robust and is becoming more sustainable”(3). You can judge the value of their assurances for yourself.
Housing bubbles in several countries, including Britain, could pop at any time. A report in September revealed that total world debt (public and private) has reached 212% of GDP(4). In 2008, when it helped to cause the last crash, it stood at 174%. The Telegraph notes that this threatens to cause “renewed financial crisis … and eventual mass default.”(5) Shadow banking has gone beserk, stocks appear to be wildly overvalued, the Eurozone is bust again. Which will blow first?
Or perhaps it’s inaccurate to describe this as another crash. Perhaps it’s a continuation of the last one, the latest phase in a permanent cycle of crisis, exacerbated by the measures (credit bubbles, deregulation, the curtailment of state spending) which were supposed to deliver uninterrupted growth. The system the world’s governments have sought to stabilise is inherently unstable, built on debt, fuelled by speculation, run by sharks.
If it goes down soon, as Cameron fears, in a world of empty coffers and hobbled public services, it will precipitate an ideological crisis graver than the blow to Keynesianism in 1970s. The problem that then arises – and which explains the longevity of the discredited ideology that caused the last crash – is that there is no alternative policy, accepted by mainstream political parties, with which to replace it. They will keep making the same mistakes while expecting a different outcome.
To try to stabilise this system, governments behave like soldiers billeted in an ancient manor, who burn the furniture, the panelling, the paintings and the stairs to keep themselves warm for a night. They are breaking up the post-war settlement, our public health services and social safety nets, above all the living world, to produce ephemeral spurts of growth. Magnificent habitats, the benign and fragile climate in which we have prospered, species that have lived on earth for millions of years, all are being stacked onto the fire, their protection characterised as an impediment to growth.
David Cameron boasted on Monday that he will revive the economy by “scrapping red tape”(6). This “red tape” consists in many cases of the safeguards defending both people and places from predatory corporations. Today, the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill is passing through the House of Commons(7), spinelessly supported, as ever, by Labour. The bill seeks to pull down our protective rules to “reduce costs for business”, even if that means increasing costs for everyone else, while threatening our health and happiness. But why? As the government boasted last week, the UK already has “the least restrictive product market regulation and the most supportive regulatory and institutional environment for business across the G20.”(8) And it still doesn’t work. So let’s burn what remains.
This bonfire of regulation is accompanied by a reckless abandonment of democratic principles, not least of equality before the law. In the House of Commons on Monday, Cameron spoke for the first time about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership(9). If this treaty between the EU and the US goes ahead, it will grant corporations a separate legal system to which no one else has access, through which they can sue governments passing laws that might affect their profits. Cameron insisted that “it does not in any way have to affect our national health service”(10). (Note those words “have to”.) Pressed to explain this, he cited the former EU trade commissioner, who claimed that “public services are always exempted”(11).
But I have read the the EU’s negotiating mandate(12), and it contains no such exemption, just plenty of waffle and ambiguity on this issue. When the Scottish government asked Cameron’s officials for an “unequivocal assurance” that the NHS would not be exposed to such litigation, they refused to provide it(13). This treaty could rip our public services to shreds for the sake of a short and (studies suggest(14,15)) insignificant fizzle of economic growth.
Is it not time to think again? To stop sacrificing our working lives, our prospects, our surroundings to an insatiable god(16)? To consider a different economic model, which does not demand endless pain while generating repeated crises?
Amazingly, this consideration begins on Thursday. For the first time in 170 years, parliament will debate one aspect of the problem: the creation of money(17). Few people know that 97% of our money supply is created not by the government (or the central bank), but by commercial banks in the form of the loans they issue(18). At no point was a democratic decision made to allow banks to do this. So why do we let it happen? This, as Martin Wolf has explained in the Financial Times(19), “is the source of much of the instability of our economies”. The parliamentary debate won’t stop the practice, but it represents the opening of a long-neglected question.
This, though, is just the beginning. Is it not also time for a government commission on post-growth economics? Drawing on the work of thinkers like Herman Daly, Tim Jackson, Peter Victor, Kate Raworth, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, it would investigate the possibility of moving towards a steady state economy: one that seeks distribution rather than blind expansion; that does not demand infinite growth on a finite planet. It would ask the question that never gets asked: why?
Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity? Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all over outcomes? Why, despite failures so great and so frequent, have we not changed the model? When the next crash comes, these questions will be inescapable.
3. G20, November 2014. Brisbane Action Plan.
4. Luigi Buttiglione et al, September 2014. Deleveraging? What Deleveraging? Geneva Reports on the World Economy 16.
8. G20, November 2014. Comprehensive Growth Strategy – United Kingdom.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Supreme Court of Canada has created a new duty of good faith

Honesty isn’t just the best policy — it’s the law, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.
In a case released Thursday called Bhasin v. Hrynew, the court said Canadian contract law comes with a duty of good faith that requires parties to perform their contractual obligations honestly.
“Finding that there is a duty to perform contracts honestly will make the law more certain, more just and more in tune with reasonable commercial expectations,” wrote Mr. Justice Thomas Cromwell wrote in the unanimous seven-judge decision.
Commercial lawyers have been following the case closely. Some specific areas of law, such as employment and insurance, come with implied terms of good faith. The question was whether the court might apply the doctrine of good faith to all deals made in Canada.
“I think this is the most important contract case in 20 years,” said Neil Finkelstein of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, counsel for Harish Bhasin, the plaintiff who won the case. “We’re going to find another series of jurisprudence arising out of this case over time about how far this duty of good faith and duty of honesty goes.”
Justice Cromwell acknowledged that the common law has long resisted acknowledging a general duty of good faith in contracting outside those specific areas. The piecemeal approach of Canadian common law is out of step with the civil law in Quebec and in most U.S. jurisdictions, he wrote.
“In my view, it is time to take two incremental steps in order to make the common law less unsettled and piecemeal, more coherent and more just. The first step is to acknowledge that good faith contractual performance is a general organizing principle of the common law of contract which underpins and informs the various rules in which the common law, in various situations and types of relationships, recognizes obligations of good faith contractual performance. The second is to recognize, as a further manifestation of this organizing principle of good faith, that there is a common law duty which applies to all contracts to act honestly in the performance of contractual obligations.”
Mr. Bhasin, the plaintiff, had a business that sold RESPs. He struck a deal to sell his customers RESP products provided by the defendant. The contract automatically renewed every three years. Either party had a non-renewal right on six months’ notice. The written agreement did not require the company to provide a reason for ending the deal.
Mr. Bhasin argued that the contract was terminated in bad faith. He won a judgment in an Alberta trial court, but that decision was overturned by the Alberta Court of Appeal. The provincial appellate court found that the trial court had erred by implying a term of good faith in a deal that contained a clear, unambiguous termination clause.
The Alberta appellate ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which heard the case last February.
Justice Cromwell said the respondent RESP company, which was formerly known as Canadian American Financial Corp. (Canada) Ltd., misled Mr. Bhasin about the circumstances involving the termination of the agreement in May 2001. The judge awarded him damages of $87,000 plus interest.
Eli Lederman of Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP, counsel for the defendants, said the case fills a gap in Canadian law by creating a general organized principle that parties are to act honestly in the performance of all contractual obligations. Yet that does raise questions, he said.
“What does it mean if you have a generalized duty to act honestly in your contractual obligations? When you exercise a contractual right not to renew an agreement, does that you mean you have to explain your reason for doing so?”
Counsel for Mr. Bhasin argued in their factum that the freedom to contract comes with reasonable limits. Good faith should exist when a party is exercising a discretionary power that can devastate a counter party, they wrote. He was represented by Mr. Finkelstein and Brandon Kain of McCarthy Tétrault LLP,  John McCamus of Davis Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP and Stephen Moreau of Cavalluzzo LLP.
“The law of contracts is not exempt from basic requirements of honesty and fairness,” Mr. Bhasin’s lawyers argued. “One need look no further than the existing jurisprudence of this court, which recognizes the duty of good faith in employment, insurance and tendering agreements, in addition to cases like this one where a discretionary power is exercised for an improper purpose so as to defeat a party’s legitimate contractual objectives.”
Mr. Lederman, Jon Laxer and Constanza Pauchulo of Lenczner Slaght, counsel for the defendant RESP company, countered that the first principle of common law contracting is that parties are bound by the terms they have agreed to, not what they ought to have agreed to. “To succeed in this appeal, Mr. Bhasin must persuade this Court to adopt a radically new contract model which would give effect to new, unbargained for rights and obligations,” they wrote.