September 8th, 2018 by Andy Miles
In the human body, sometimes a single cell seems to forget that it is part of an organized colony of cells, all working together for a common purpose. That cell begins to see itself as a single-celled organism separate from the rest of the body, no longer interested in following its proper role. It sees its purpose in life to gain as much as it can for itself, and to grow, multiply, and prosper. That cell then divides and multiplies to become a tumor, a useless and deadly cancer, first disrupting and then finally destroying the body in which it grows, and ultimately bringing about its own destruction.
Our society is in some ways like an organized body of cells, each cell having its allotted function, making a contribution to the well-being of the whole body, and in return receiving sustenance and protection. The equivalent of a cancer cell in our society is a corporation that has lost all sense of social responsibility. It is an entity which has forgotten that it is part of an organized society where all of its members work together for the benefit of all. That cancerous corporation sees its purpose in life as only to gain as much as it can for itself, and to grow, multiply, and prosper, at the expense of the society it is meant to serve.
Crimes Against Humanity
We see so many examples of this every day. For example, the tobacco companies, knowing that their products caused death and ill-health, deliberately spread misinformation to the contrary and did everything in their power to continue their moneymaking schemes, to the detriment of society and humanity. Likewise, various fossil fuel corporations knew that their products could bring about the destruction of the entire life support system of our planet, and so cause at least the end of civilization, and at worst the end of all life on Earth. Still, like a cancerous cell, they continued in their obsession with their own profit, caring nothing for the well-being of all of us on this beautiful and unique world. They seem sufficiently obsessed with money to be willing to burn the entire planet like a lump of coal to release the heat of profit. They deliberately spread misinformation against climate change science, and did everything in their power to continue their moneymaking schemes without any hindrance. Their actions, in my view, are the greatest crime against humanity — perpetrated by anyone in the entire history of the human race — which gives you a large scope of evil to compare their actions with.
When certain corporations were taken to court to seek compensation for the damage fossil fuels have caused to states, cities, and individuals, their defense was that it was not the supply of their products which was the cause of the problem, but people choosing to use those products, over which the corporations had no control. The corporations were only responding to demand from the public, and they were merely fulfilling their obligation to give the public what it wanted, and are in no way responsible for the consequences of people using those products. Perhaps drug dealers should take note of that line of defense.
These corporations are not alone, as we found out from certain European carmakers. They seemed to think that the best way of meeting those pesky emissions standards was to write sneaky software designed to come into play during the emissions testing, to make the engines appear to meet the standards. This way they could get their green credentials while their cars belched out deadly pollution just as much as ever. However, it might appear that the main fault of Volkswagen was to get found out. A recent investigation by the UK Consumers Association has shown that about 80% of diesel vehicles certificated as reaching Euro-6 emissions standards, all emit pollution beyond the limits, with one particular vehicle emitting 25 times the permitted level of pollution.
However, my purpose is not to talk about the specific transgressions of specific corporations, but more to paint a picture of the general malaise from which our societies are suffering at the hands of these cancerous business organizations.
The Rise of the Neo-Liberals
It would take more than a short article to analyze the history of the phenomenon and pinpoint any precise origins. Somewhere along the way, at the time of Ronnie Reagan and Maggie Thatcher, neo-liberalism came to the forefront of politics. People became sold on the idea that for everyone to be prosperous and wealthy, all that was needed was to remove all the obstacles from corporations making profits. It was obvious, wasn’t it, that when all the corporations can make big profits, everyone would share in the wealth, and everyone would be prosperous. That was the idea, and people voted for it. For everyone to be wealthy, all we had to do was to get rid of environmental laws, abolish workers’ rights, throw out consumer protections, and just generally get rid of government and pesky regulations. “Over-regulated” and “to much government” became the phrases of choice.
That was the big idea, but it didn’t quite work out in the way that it was sold to people. Free from the burdens of social responsibility, the corporations were definitely able to make plenty of money. Unfortunately the money did not trickle down to anyone, but just generally flowed out to tax havens to avoid making a contribution to society in the form of tax. Money trickled down, or even flowed down in gushes, to chief executives, board members, shareholders, and accountancy firms and lawyers. Ordinary citizens lost the benefit of environmental laws, consumer protections, and their rights as workers. Expenses went up and incomes came down, and still the corporations prospered, and income differences and wealth inequalities reached gargantuan proportions. That is where we are today.
Defeating the Enemy
I suppose it would be as well at this stage to pre-empt some of the likely comments. I have seen them before, under articles where CleanTechnica writers have taken a dive into the murky waters of politics. My view is very simple — you cannot believe in neo-liberalism and be concerned for the environment at the same time. Neo-liberalism means letting off the brakes, and allowing the corporate steam roller freedom to crush all that lies before it. Neo-liberalism means that money, and making money, is the only priority, and that where it comes to a choice between preserving the environment — or any part of it — and preserving profits, then profits win every time. So, defeating neo-liberalism is just as important as any new technology for renewable energy, energy efficiency, or zero-carbon transport, if we are to avert the looming danger of climate catastrophe. Protecting our environment and our planet are something that we all need to do, and all need to work on together if we are to achieve success. I therefore make no apologies for the political nature of this article. It has been made necessary by the politicians themselves, for anyone wanting to protect our environment to oppose any political forces that work against us.
So, that is as much explanation as I’m willing to give as to why I am writing this article, and now continue with doing so.
With so much wealth and power now in the hands of such a small elite, those people look to entrench their position and ensure the continuance of their wealth, power, and privilege. I do not subscribe to any conspiracy theories: I do not believe there is any “Illuminati” organization systematically working in secret to take over the world. I believe that the people behind the neo-liberal idea are far too self-centered, materialistic, and egotistical to be able to work cooperatively in an organized way, or have loyalty to an organization. But as unprincipled opportunists they give their support to what ever will further their own interests.
There are 6 main ways in which the elite work towards protecting and increasing their wealth and power.
In many countries there are these neo-liberal political parties. For the avoidance of lawsuits I will not mention any particular names of individuals or parties. It is a chicken and egg question to say which comes first, the wealthy elite or the neo-liberal party. Suffice it to say that they grew up together like brother and sister. The message of the neo-liberals, whether a genuine belief or just a front for acquisitiveness and self-interest, is to reduce taxes for the rich, reduce spending on public services, and remove regulations which would protect citizens and the environment from the ravages of the corporations. Any political party embracing this philosophy would be a natural ally of the rich and powerful.
One thing the wealthy elite are not short of is money, and money is influence in politics. Politicians are expected to show gratitude to the people who put up the money for their election campaign, and provided they make the right decisions, and do things that please their wealthy donors, they can look forward to more financial support in the future. Wealthy corporations send out their lobbyists to provide politicians with lavish corporate entertainment, while the politicians are fed not only a good dinner, but also the point of view their wealthy patrons would like them to adopt.
As time goes on, the wealthy elite and the politicians merge together to become almost indistinguishable — and readily interchangeable — so that a former Chief Executive becomes a secretary of state, or a former secretary of state becomes a Company director, in whichever company they were most helpful to in their term of office. It is all a very cozy arrangement in which everyone prospers, in accordance with the neo-liberal philosophy.
The Mainstream Media
One little problem to be overcome in all this is democracy. Currently at least, it is still at the stage of one person one vote. This is a very privileged position for everyone, and has not always been so. In Britain, at the beginning of the reign of Queen Victoria, which was not that long ago, only landowners were allowed to vote, and it was only the great courage of the Chartist movement that earned every man the right to vote. Women, on the other hand, had to wait until the time of the Great War before they were allowed a vote.
With all of these people voting, where few of whom are wealthy, and few that would benefit in any way from neo-liberal policies, how are they going to be persuaded to vote against their own interests, and in the interests of the wealthy elite? The answer is simply to use newspapers and television channels owned by members of the elite, and fill their pages and airtime with political propaganda, otherwise known as lies and deceit. They extol the virtues of getting rid of “Big Government,” pose as supporting the aspirations of hard-working families, claim that the party they support is the party that understands business, which will bring prosperity to all. At the same time they run negative stories and smear campaigns against anyone who might actually do any good — Hillary’s e-mails, Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic, Bernie Sanders is a champagne socialist, etc..
Also there is a subtle psychology at work. People get sold on the idea that if they vote for the party of the rich, then they are joining the club, and through hard work and their own talent will become wealthy too. Sadly, they are like the donkey led by the carrot on a stick, which though dangled before them in all its tempting sweet juiciness, always remains just out of reach. The mainstream media will be there to feed them all the right propaganda to keep them voting for the neo-liberal party in whichever country they live.
The media is also full of commercial advertising, which is designed to make people materialistic and acquisitive, and so less concerned with more important things. People are conditioned to want the bright shiny things in the advertisements, and so are less worried that their shiny new SUV is polluting the air and making an unwelcome and unnecessarily large contribution to global warming.
In the USA, for example, the Trump administration and some of the mainstream media seem to work together to try to convince people that there is no such thing as global warming. We have the Orwellian situation where the EPA seems to have gone from being the Environmental Protection Agency to the Fossil Fuel Protection Agency, and any reference to climate change has been expunged from its website pages.
That is just a particular instance in the USA, and this unholy alliance of the wealthy elite, the politicians, and the mainstream media all colluding together is something that exists in many Western democracies.
Social media has weakened the influence of the traditional mainstream media, and is also a potential new weapon for the neo-liberals to employ, and also for foreign governments looking to damage Western democracies. While the printed page falls, the internet “news” site rises, with Breitbart “News” being one of the worst (or best) examples of a right-wing propaganda site.
Think tanks started out as legitimate bodies of knowledgeable, and able people to discuss “cutting-edge” issues of the day, and come up with opinions and solutions. What they had to say could well influence the politicians in formulating new policy, and legislation. Their musings might well be reported in the media to influence public opinion. However, the device soon became a new weapon of influence for the wealthy elite to further their interests. Anyone following the climate change discussions will have heard of the notorious Koch Brothers and The Heartland Institute, as an example. Think tanks can easily be set up purely as a generator of false information and heavily biased opinion based on half truths and distorted facts, to sway public and political opinion in the direction which best suits the business interests of the wealthy sponsors.
Lobbyists are the bridge between the corporations and the politicians. Wherever politicians are discussing new policy and legislation that might affect the interests of the corporations, we can be sure that the lobbyists will be right there behind closed doors pushing for any restrictions on corporate activities to be watered down or reversed. Where legislation affects the interests of the people, theoretically individual voters can seek contact with their elected representatives, but they are not going to be having dinner with the Secretary of State putting over their personal view of how things should go. They will not be having secret meetings with the government of the day to have their say. They will not have $millions in corporate funds behind them to hire lawyers, and practically write the legislation the corporations want for the lobbyists to present. We really need to ban professional lobbying, but while we have neo-liberal governments in power, the lobbyists will find a warm welcome in the corridors of power.
The Magna Carta, in England, was one of the first attempts at establishing some kind of citizens’ rights. The story goes that King John was something of a despot, and that the noble Lords of England demanded his signature on the Magna Carta. Apart from all manner of strange and trivial rights that it established, the most important principle was that no one was above the law, not even King John, and that judges must be appointed on the basis of their knowledge of the law and their commitment to properly enforcing it. From that day, the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law has been a cornerstone of our system of government. During the days of the British Empire, those traditions of democratic government and an independent judiciary were established in many countries in the world, and were perhaps one of the few good things that empire achieved.
In the United Kingdom, there have been times where, even recently, governments have tried to take actions contrary to the law, and the independence of the judiciary has prevented those excesses of government power, declaring them ultra vires, or beyond permitted powers.
The judiciary should be the last line of defense against irrational and despotic governments. However, in the USA, it appears that the Trump administration might have sought to appoint judges at all levels, who, contrary to the principle of the Magna Carta, might not be the best qualified of candidates but whose views appear to be sympathetic to the neo-liberal ideology. Where the federal government under Trump has attempted to sweep aside protections for the people and the planet, our last line of defense would be an independent judiciary that would hold Trump to the letter of the law and ensure that his despotic regime followed due process in accordance with the law and the constitution. But if the judiciary were to become politicized by appointments based on politics rather than judicial ability, the independence of the judiciary would be undermined and democracy damaged.
Trade Agreements and Kangaroo Courts
Trade agreements between countries can be a good thing. An agreement can create a basis of trust between countries so that goods can flow freely from one to the other, adding to each other’s prosperity. Such agreements are based on mutual respect, mutual trust, and shared interest.
However, for reasons which are not clear, a number of so-called trade agreements have within them a clause which allows corporations to sue governments for loss of profits. The clause provides for the existence of a special tribunal, operating behind closed doors, to settle such cases. This is called an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause. The worst of it is that it allows a corporation to sue a government which is acting to protect its own people from the rogue actions of the corporations.
The only purpose of an elected government is to represent the interests of the people. If a government enacts legislation to protect the people and the environment, and is subsequently sued for large amounts of money by a corporation which claims to lose profits because of that legislation, that is clearly a direct attack on democracy itself. In effect it means un-elected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments.
All governments have both the right and a duty to protect the environment and the interests of the people. When we elect governments into office, it is with the expectation that they are able to enact laws and create regulations to protect our interests. Our voting for one party rather than another is usually on the basis of a preference for their policies and the assumption that they will be able to carry out those policies: that is the nature of democracy. We do not expect governments to be unable to carry out their policies because of the interference of the corporations. We do not elect corporations and expect them to be subject to the power of national government. We do not expect national government to be subject to the power of the corporations. It is utterly outrageous that these so-called trade agreements have ever been allowed to come into existence in our democratic societies. I feel utterly incensed and incandescent with rage that such a situation should ever have been allowed to come about. Any so-called trade agreement which attempts to undermine democracy in this way must be rejected at all costs.
Not long ago there was an attempt to impose a trade agreement called TTIP between the USA and the EU. At one time it seemed to be making good progress, but then people smelled a rat, and it became clear that the ISDS clause in this so-called trade-agreement would undermine the right of the EU to enact legislation for the benefit of European Union citizens. It would expose European Union citizens to the same appalling lack of proper regulation that has come to exist in the USA, where corporations are king and restrictions on their pursuit of profits are few.
It was fortunate that this came to light early enough to prevent TTIP from being agreed. Since then, our neo-liberal government has engineered Brexit to remove the UK from the protections enjoyed by other European citizens, and to expose us to the same lax regulatory regime that American corporations — but not its citizens — enjoy.
Sinister Attack on Democracy
We have to ask where this whole bizarre idea came from, and the source seems to be the same neo-liberal establishment of politicians, corporations, and their lobbyists and lawyers, working together to further the interests of the corporations. The agreements are drawn up by corporate lawyers purely for the benefit of the corporations. To me, this imposition of trade agreements seems the most sinister element of the neo-liberal assault on our democratic societies, as it is extending the influence of corporations to a global level, and providing corporations with power over democratically elected national governments. Where TTIP may have been prevented, ISDS clauses are already in operation in many other international trade agreements, and have led to many injustices. According to an article in the Independent newspaper in the UK:
There are around 500 similar cases of businesses versus nations going on around the world at the moment, and they are all taking place before ‘arbitration tribunals’ made up of corporate lawyers, appointed on an ad hoc basis, which according to War on Want’s John Hilary, are “little more than kangaroo courts” with “a vested interest in ruling in favour of business.”
Attack of the ECT
As people with a special interest in the environment, there is one particular trade agreement that you will all be interested in. I had not heard of it before reading an article a few days ago, which specifically allows corporations to attack environmental protection enacted by national governments. It was reading about this which prompted me to write this article.
The agreement in question is called the Energy Charter Treaty, or ECT, which also includes an investor-state dispute settlement clause that allows energy corporations to sue national governments for loss of profits arising out of measures to prevent catastrophic climate change.
The ECT international agreement came into force 20 years ago, and like most others, was negotiated behind closed doors without any public knowledge or debate. TTIP was being foisted on us in secret, but details were leaked, and so a huge public opposition was formed very quickly to prevent its coming into force. Obviously, there was no such leak in the case of the ECT agreement. I have never heard of it before, and I’d be surprised if many of you reading this article have heard of it either.
Some examples of cases brought under ECT were given in the article I read, and here I quote directly from the article:
Swedish energy giant Vattenfall … sued Germany for €1.4 billion in compensation over environmental restrictions imposed on a coal-fired power plant. The lawsuit was settled after the government agreed to relax the restrictions protecting the local river, and its wildlife. Since 2012, Vattenfall has been suing Germany again, seeking €4.3 billion plus interest for lost profits from two nuclear reactors, following the country’s phase-out of atomic energy after the Fukushima disaster. Several utility companies are pursuing the EU’s poorest member state, Bulgaria, seeking hundreds of millions of euros because the government reduced soaring electricity costs for consumers., and these are only a few examples.
Under this vile agreement the corporations have made 117 claims against national governments for a total of $51 billion. The money held by national governments comes from taxpayers, so this $51 billion is money stolen from the pockets of taxpayers by these greedy corporations. That tax money is given by citizens for the provision of all the many public services performed by government, and not to line the pockets of corporations. There is a further $35 billion in pending lawsuits under the ECT.
Another example from 2017 is where the UK oil and gas corporation Rockhopper has been suing Italy because it refused to allow them to drill for oil in the Adriatic Sea. The Italian parliament has banned all new oil and gas operations in coastal regions of the Adriatic Sea because of environmental concerns. The worst of this case is that they sued for $200 million for the theoretical profits that they might have made had they been allowed to drill for oil. These claims of hypothetical future profits are quite common under the ECT and other similar trade agreements. It is outrageous enough that these corporations are taking money from taxpayers for money they have actually lost, but to expect taxpayers to provide their imaginary loss of profits from operations they have not even undertaken beggars belief.
It would seem that if national governments are to enact legislation to save our planet from the rogue actions of dirty energy corporations, and to demand that all fossil fuels are left in the ground, then these corporations will have the temerity to expect taxpayers to pay them the price of all the fossil fuels left on the planet.
It seems clear that the time has come to say “enough is enough.” The neo-liberal politicians who allowed this appalling state of affairs to come into existence must be swept aside and replaced with rational government representing the interests of the people and the planet we all live on. All of these trade agreements must be revised, and these ISDS clauses and their Kangaroo courts removed. Professional lobbying must be ended, and the “revolving door” of cozy interrelations between corporations and politicians must be closed. It seems clear that if we are to win the war against climate change, we must first win the war against the corporations and their neo-liberal puppet politicians.
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