Well done Panorama… but shame on you

Last night’s episode of Panorama portrayed high-class investigative journalism, in contrast to much of the programme’s recent output. But its timing was shameful, and a dagger to the heart of journalistic integrity.

The BBC is right to expose corruption within FIFA. Anyone with a stake in professional football has long recognised just how opaquely the beautiful game is governed, and I for one applaud, in theory, the BBC starting to tackle this head-on rather than simply indulging the glamorous side of the game.

I would go as far as saying this: the FA should not have bid for the World Cup. The FA should be leading by example in trying to fix football’s problems, and the UK government should be fully behind such a stance. My feeling is that the government wants the World Cup because it will provide a boost during an expected downturn in popularity halfway through Cameron’s second term in office. In fact I find it quite sickening that the UK Prime Minister has gone to Zurich to beg for favours from a man like Jack Warner.

So what’s the problem? For journalists, it is most important to be right. But it is also crucial to maintain independence. Journalists must also lead by example – or else how can we trust them to tell us the truth about the lies of politicians? This is why we should be concerned about Murdoch’s growing monopolisation of the media. Media organisations will of course always be swayed one way or another by proprietors, editors, individual reporters’ interests, public mood, etc – which is precisely why we need plurality in media output.

It is also why we should be concerned about the decision on when to screen Panorama. The BBC has been holding this back for weeks, waiting for the moment to strike. Shameful. The moment they chose was the moment it would have the greatest political impact (causing harm only to the England bid, which had committed no act of corruption whatsoever). The truth is the truth is the truth. When you know it, speak it. These revelations should have been on BBC news bulletins as soon as the information was discovered (and verified) by the Panorama team – irrespective of political implications.

And once the decision was made to make the report a Panorama exclusive (which may provide an ego boost to Jeremy Vine, but means zero to most TV licence payers), it should have been broadcast at a time which avoided direct political implications. With 3 days before the vote, there was obviously no possibility at all that FIFA would suspend the accused individuals before the World Cup decision was made. So the decision on timing was not made in order to prevent allegedly corrupt politicians from deciding the destiny of the various bids. Instead, it was taken because this is when the bid’s profile in the public consciousness is at its highest, so the journalists who make Panorama will get as much fame as possible for their work. A dagger to the heart of journalistic integrity.

US foreign policy helps no one, least of all the Iranian people

by Sohail Jannesari

US foreign policy towards Iran achieves little for the US. Worse still, it also harms the Iranian people. 

The mystifying nature of US foreign policy was recently exemplified when Iran was denied a seat on the new UN “super-agency” for women’s rights, UNIFEM. It seemed as if Iran’s candidacy to the agency’s board was to go uncontested. Then, the US-orchestrated pressure took hold. The American ambassador to the UN, as well as many American state ambassadors, put in a solid shift to take votes from Iran. It culminated with the success of East Timor’s conspicuous last minute candidacy.

But the agency isn’t being created for countries to show off their wonderful human rights record. It is there to practically improve women’s rights and the action against Iran was a loss for women’s rights. Iranian participation would have provided a depoliticised forum in which to discuss women’s rights in Iran.

It may also have helped solve a pertinent problem. The new agency will operate from the areas in which UNIFEM is currently based, but there is no outline for how to expand into other countries. UNIFEM has no offices or programmes running in Iran. Iran’s presence on the board may have been followed by a presence on the ground.

These benefits would have occurred without Iran having any real influence on setting “global policy” as it would only have been 1 of 41 board members.

Even if these arguments do not convince you, it must be conceded that American action only seems to have made Iran more determined to have a say in international women’s rights. Iran’s deputy ambassador to the UN made a point of stating that Iran would still be actively involved in the UN’s work on women’s rights. A board membership would have assigned some regulation, responsibility and maybe even reciprocity to this involvement. Now we are in a position where women’s rights in Iran are unlikely to benefit but UN proceedings will have to endure erratic Iranian input. Such an outcome should have been obvious given Iran’s penchant for Western defiance. So what did the US really hope to achieve? 

All the Americans wanted to and succeeded in doing, was scoring a cheap diplomatic victory. This assertion is supported by their relative silence on Saudi Arabia’s ascension. Of course, speaking out against the Saudis would have lost precious weapons contracts.

The US strategy is partly concerned with humiliation. It is part of the reason why nuclear talks have failed thus far. Assuming Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, trust is essential for an agreement. This was demonstrated by the Turkish and Brazilian brokered agreement, which although exhumed under pressure, appeared to be a positive and concrete step forward in negotiations.

Iran will now be more likely to see transfer of uranium to Western hands as another method of humiliation rather than an understandable precautionary measure. Surely such action is against US interests, especially in light of the upcoming resumption of nuclear talks.

And, if the assumption of peaceful nuclear ambitions does not hold then why give Iran an excuse not to cooperate?

The rest of US strategy entails isolating Iran in the hope that it will be forced to accept US positions in negotiations. However, it is highly dubious that the Iranians will be affected by exclusion into what should be a politically neutral body. If anything, the conduct of the US has once again demonstrated a disturbing imbalance of power at the UN.

In rejecting Iran’s candidacy the US have made miniscule if not non-existent gains. These “gains” are contrasted by costs mainly to the Iranian people also to the legitimacy of the UN. Such actions can be explained as the backfiring and imprudence of a childish foreign policy of isolation and humiliation. Inevitably, the Iranian people will continue to lose out.

The election of Len McCluskey as the new leader of Unite must herald a new period in organised labour

by Alex Mair

The election of Len McCluskey as the new leader of Unite has caused a stir of resentment around the conservative press, within hours of the vote being counted on Sunday, The Spectator has already posted an attack on the new union leadership, on their “coffee house” blog bringing up McCluskey’s record as an organizer in Liverpool as evidence of his alleged unsuitability for the job. Len McCluskey defies the criticism saying; ‘If the right-wing media didn’t hate me, I’d think I would be doing something wrong’. This is precisely the time for trade unions to show what real political power they have. The coalition government has begun a process of sweeping social change, which will do away with large sections of the public sector, with the intention for them never to return.

The Conservative-Liberal government has planned 30-40% cuts in the public sector. Local Futures reports that the Office for Budget Responsibility sees 600,000 workers made unemployed as a result of the cuts. This fact is made all the more grim in the knowledge that in large towns and cities across the north of England, the public sector is the main employer. In Bolton and Trafford in Lancashire the public sector employs 30% of the workforce. In Middlesbrough for instance, the percentage of the work-force that is employed by the public sector is 43%, which will mean over 14,000 people out of work in a public sector that employs that employs 47,000 ordinary men and women. For Middlesbrough alone, this is another blow to an area of the world which has seen more than its fair share of difficulties and challenges. The area has struggled to recover since the devastating blows dealt to the region’s shipbuilding industry during the Thatcher years of the 1980s, and the reforms of New Labour have been slow to reach this part of the world. In 2009, Channel 4 property-lifestyle show Location, Location, Location put Middlesbrough top of its poll to find the worst place to live in the UK, an episode which launched an Ofcom report

 And yet this is the moment the trade unions can prove that, in spite of the manifold attacks on them under Margaret Thatcher, that organized labour can still make a difference to the lives of ordinary working men and women. Notice the government does not have a mandate for its reform. David Cameron has taken the Tories to their worst election victory since the 19th century; meanwhile party membership has plummeted from 250,000 under Michael Howard’s party in the 2005 General Election to just 177,000 under David Cameron. The coalition is placing the future of all of us on a wilful act of economic sadomasochism which shows every sign of making the hard times worse.

The trade unions cannot afford to be timid at this moment of crisis. Len McCluskey said that he “relishes” the challenge ahead. He must be true to his word. McCluskey narrowly beat Les Bayliss, from the right-wing of his union, who has made disparaging comments about the union’s leadership under Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley. McCluskey has run as the “unity” candidate, looking to unite the two sections of the union composed from the old Amicus and T&G unions. He must prove that he can build bridges with other area of the public sector. A majority of people did not vote for this government, and already other sectors of the population have come out to protest at the cuts ahead. Already, Britain has seen the biggest rise in student protests since 1987 when the Thatcher government introduced tuition fees. If the trade unions can establish strategic alliances with other areas of British public life it could build a formidable opposition to the ConDem government. 

Despite the attacks from the Tory press on McCluskey’s character, the opportunities for effective industrial action are numerous. Despite the short-comings of New Labour, there has been some kind of social democratic recovery over the last fifteen or twenty years; cancer waiting lists have gone down; class sizes in schools have shrunk; and there are more doctors, nurses and university graduates than at any time before 1997. There has been more investment in schools, hospitals and the arts, and there have been significant inroads into sexual, racial and cultural equality. The new Unite leadership should not let this be torn up.  Currently there are 7 million trade unionists in the UK: this is their moment.

Re-thinking the global economy: the case for sharing

by Rajesh Makwana and Adam Parsons

As the 21st Century unfolds, humanity is faced with a stark reality. Following the world stock market crash in 2008, people everywhere are questioning the unbridled greed, selfishness and competition that has driven the dominant economic model for decades. The old obsession with protecting national interests, the drive to maximise profits at all costs, and the materialistic pursuit of economic growth has failed to benefit the world’s poor and led to catastrophic consequences for planet earth.

The incidence of hunger is more widespread than ever before in human history, surpassing 1 billion people in 2009 despite the record harvests of food being reaped in recent years. At least 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, a number equivalent to more than four times the population of the United States. One out of every five people does not have access to clean drinking water. More than a billion people lack access to basic health care services, while over a billion people – the majority of them women – lack a basic education. Every week, more than 115,000 people move into a slum somewhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Every day, around 50,000 people die needlessly as a result of being denied the essentials of life.

In the face of these immense challenges, international aid has proven largely ineffective, inadequate, and incapable of enabling governments to secure the basic needs of all citizens. Developed countries were cutting back on foreign aid commitments even before the economic downturn, while the agreed aid target of 0.7 percent of rich countries’ GDP has never been met since it was first conceived 40 years ago. The Millennium Development Goals of merely halving the incidence of hunger and extreme poverty, even if reached by 2015, will still leave hundreds of millions of people in a state of undernourishment and deprivation. When several trillion dollars was rapidly summoned to bail out failed banks in late 2008, it became impossible to understand why the governments of rich nations could not afford a fraction of this sum to ‘bail out’ the world’s poor.

The enduring gap between rich and poor, both within and between countries, is a crisis that lies at the heart of our political and economic problems. For decades, 20 percent of the world population have controlled 80 percent of the economy and resources. By 2008, more than half of the world’s assets were owned by the richest 2 percent of adults, while the bottom half of the world adult population owned only 1 percent of wealth. The vast discrepancies in living standards between the Global North and South, which provides no basis for a stable and secure future, can only be redressed through a more equitable distribution of resources at the international level. This will require more inclusive structures of global governance and a new economic framework that goes far beyond existing development efforts to reduce poverty, decrease poor country debt and provide overseas aid.

In both the richest and poorest nations, commercialisation has infiltrated every aspect of life and compromised spiritual, ethical and moral values. The globalised consumer culture holds no higher aspiration than the accumulation of material wealth, even though studies have shown that rising income fails to significantly increase an individual’s well-being once a minimum standard of living is secured. The organisation of society as a competitive struggle for social position through wealth and acquisition has led to rampant individualism and the consequences of crime, disaffection and the disintegration of family and community ties. Yet governments continue to measure success in terms of economic growth, pursuing ever-greater levels of GDP – regardless of the harmful social consequences of a consumption-driven economy.

Although the crises we face are interlinked and multidimensional, the G20 and other rich nations offer no vision of change towards a more sustainable world. The old formula, based on deregulation, privatisation, and the liberalisation of trade and finance, was unmasked by the economic crisis and shown to be incapable of promoting lasting human development. Multilateral institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have failed the world’s poor, and the myth that economic growth will eventually benefit all has long been shattered. As we also know, endless growth is unsustainable on a planet with finite resources. This impasse is further compounded by ecological degradation and climate change – the side-effects of economic ‘progress’ that disproportionately affect the poorest people who are least to blame for causing these multiple crises.

Humanity’s ability to effectively address these interrelated crises requires governments to accept certain fundamental understandings that are instrumental to securing our common future. Firstly, that humankind is part of an extended family that shares the same basic needs and rights, and this must be adequately reflected in the structures and institutions of global governance. And secondly, that many basic assumptions about human nature that inform the thrust of economic decision making – particularly in industrialied nations – are long outdated and fundamentally flawed. The creation of an inclusive economic framework that reflects our global interdependence requires policymakers to move beyond the belief that human beings are competitive and individualistic, and to instead accept humanity’s innate propensity to cooperate and share. This more holistic understanding of our relationship to each other and the planet transcends nations and cultures, and builds on ethics and values common to faith groups around the world. It also reflects the strong sense of solidarity and internationalism which lies at the heart of the global justice movement.

International Unity

The first true political expression of our global unity was embodied in the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. Since then, international laws have been devised to help govern relationships between nations and uphold human rights. Cross-border issues such as climate change, global poverty and conflict are uniting world public opinion and compelling governments to cooperate and plan for our collective future. The globalisation of knowledge and cultures, and the ease with which we can communicate and travel around the world, has further served to unite diverse people in distant countries.

But the fact of our global unity is still not sufficiently expressed in our political and economic structures. The international community has yet to ensure that basic human needs, such as access to staple food, clean water and primary healthcare, are universally secured. This cannot be achieved until nations cooperate more effectively, share their natural and economic resources, and ensure that global governance mechanisms reflect and directly support our common needs and rights. At present, the main institutions that govern the global economy are failing to work on behalf of humanity as a whole. In particular, the major bodies that uphold the Bretton Woods mandate (the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation) are all widely criticised for being undemocratic and furthering the interests of large corporations and rich countries.

A more inclusive international framework urgently needs to be established through the United Nations (UN) and its agencies. Although in need of being significantly strengthened and renewed, the UN is the only multilateral governmental agency with the necessary experience and resources to coordinate the process of restructuring the world economy. The UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been adopted by all member states and embody some of the highest ideals expressed by humanity. If the UN is rendered more democratic and entrusted with more authority, it would be in a position to foster the growing sense of community between nations and harmonise global economic relationships.

Being Human

Establishing more inclusive structures of global governance will only remedy one aspect of a complex system. Another key transformation that must take place is in our understanding and practice of ‘economics’ so that government policies can become closely aligned with urgent humanitarian and ecological needs.

The economic principles that have fashioned the world’s existing global governance framework – particularly in relation to international trade and finance – can be traced back to the moral philosophy of Enlightenment thinkers during the emergence of industrial society in Britain. Drawing on the ideas of these early theorists, mainstream economists have assumed that human beings are inherently selfish, competitive, acquisitive and individualistic. Such notions about human nature are now firmly established as the principles upon which modern economies are built, and have been used to justify the proliferation of free markets as the best way to organise societies.

Particularly since the 1980’s, these basic economic assumptions have increasingly dominated public policy and pushed aside ethical considerations in the pursuit of efficiency, short-term growth and profit maximisation. But the ‘neoliberal’ ideology that institutionalised greed and self-interest was fundamentally discredited by the collapse of banks and a world stock market crash in 2008. As a consequence, the global financial crisis reinvigorated a long-standing debate about the importance of morality and ethics in relation to the market economy.

At the same time, recent experiments by evolutionary biologists and neuro-cognitive scientists have demonstrated that human beings are biologically predisposed to cooperate and share. Without this evolutionary advantage, we may not have survived as a species. Anthropological findings have long supported this view of human nature with case studies revealing that sharing and gifting often formed the basis of economic life in traditional societies, leading individuals to prioritise their social relationships above all other concerns. As a whole, these findings challenge many of the core assumptions of classical economic theory – in particular the firmly held belief that people in any society will always act competitively to maximise their economic interests.

If humanity is to survive the formidable challenges that define our generation – including climate change, diminishing fossil fuels and global conflict – it is necessary to forge new ethical understandings that embrace our collective values and global interdependence. We urgently need a new paradigm for human advancement, beginning with a fundamental reordering of world priorities: an immediate end to hunger, the securing of universal basic needs, and a rapid safeguarding of the environment and atmosphere. No longer can national self-interest, international competition and excessive commercialisation form the foundation of our global economic framework.

The crucial first step towards creating an inclusive world system requires overhauling our outdated assumptions about human nature, reconnecting our public life with fundamental values, and rethinking the role of markets in achieving the common good. In line with what we now know about human behaviour and psychology, integrating the principle of sharing into our economic system would reflect our global unity and have far-reaching implications for how we distribute and consume the planet’s wealth and resources. Sharing the world’s resources more equitably can allow us to build a more sustainable, cooperative and inclusive global economy – one that reflects and supports what it really means to be human.

Rajesh Makwana is the director of Share The World’s Resources and can be contacted at rajesh(at)stwr.org. Adam Parsons is the editor at Share The World’s Resources and can be contacted at adam(at)stwr.org.

This post was originally published here.  This work is published under a Creative Commons License.

The Irish bail out: lost money and the hidden social relation

A guest post by Jovy Leal

Considered from a broad context, the origin of the EU-led “bail out” of the Irish economy could be traced through its various metamorphoses to the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. Various estimates of the financial cost of the crisis have been forwarded, yet for all the humour needed to reassure an understanding of the disparities between them, one is left with the unavoidable question: where did all the money go, and who will bear the burden of this loss?    

Interpretations of the crisis vary and cannot be situated within a single viewpoint. Whatever the differences, each explanation shares some reference to money, the definition of which is essential to informing our understanding of the crisis’ nature. Common definitions include money as “medium of exchange”, or “store of value”.

Money then is not sought for its intrinsic material value, but by virtue of it being a means for attaining something else. Paper money could be burned to generate heat, or for even more vulgar ends that would be appropriate for those who were perhaps left loose throughout the crisis; but it is rarely if ever sought for these reasons, rather for the food, property, or security (the list being endless) to which it provides access.

All these goods share the quality of having a relation to human labour (even where some, such as security, may not be tangible) – fish have to be caught; wines cultivated; buildings constructed; and national security, secured, through a trained military and plethora of technical experts whose contribution is said to be worth its “weight in gold”. 

Unlike the pre-first world war political economy when the monetary system was organised upon the “gold standard”, and nations measured their wealth in terms of gold stocks, modern money takes on a multiplicity of forms that are not tangible. A distinguishing feature of modern money as credit, traded as bonds, swaps and various derivatives in the financial markets is that it can be fabricated as a type of “I owe you”, allowing institutions to raise capital upon the confidence that the market has of them paying this back (with accrued interest). It also enables debt to be passed on without the exchange of a good or service, separating it from human labour which produces real value.

Perceived in this way, the Irish bail out constitutes a transfer of private debt, accrued by Irish banks, via the Irish state to the EU (sovereign debt), which will culminate in its inevitable proliferation to parts of society which had no direct influence over how and to whom the money was irresponsibly lent in the first place. This exploitative redistribution of debt, understood as placing responsibility in the hands of those who are not responsible, manifests itself as a stimulus package provided upon the condition that specific austerity measures are simultaneously implemented by the Irish state to shore up its current account, and restore the markets confidence in its banks and bonds.  

Many “experts” claim that to actually clear the debt – which now rests with the European Central Bank – it will have to be “inflated away”. In simple terms this amounts to printing money, raising liquidity in markets to stimulate spending. This in turn causes inflation, devaluing money and the living standards of the general population, by restricting their access to genuine value (embedded in material goods like food and clothing, and services such as education and healthcare).

And so it follows that our ability to understand the Irish debt crisis and quantify the money lost cannot be achieved by considering it in isolation, nor without a definition of money. Given the capacity of the financial markets to separate the fabrication of credit from labour and the real economy, before their subsequent intertwinement in the form of bailouts and austerity measures that frustrate production and burden society with a private debt that must be paid back through productive activity, money cannot have gone missing during the financial crisis – rather qualitatively transformed and transferred.

Money then is a “social relation”, which is at present inherently exploitative. This social relation determines an individual or groups economic status, by delineating who is empowered to fabricate credit, the rate at which interest must be paid back, and who in fact does make repayment (which need have no relation whatsoever to whom it was lent to originally). This process can unfairly manipulate productive value, by using it to reduce the sovereign/EU wide debt, that burdens the tax payer with the cost of the mistakes made by others.

Critical thinking therefore makes no small difference to how we understand the Irish bail out, allowing us to locate the hidden and exploitative social relation inherent in money, specific types of debt, and the qualitative nature of the political economy itself.

The Wisdom of Indigenous Cultures

A guest post: Share the World’s Resources in conversation with Freddy Treuquil and Victor Lem Masc.

In late October 2010 a group of eight indigenous elders travelled to London, UK, to share the message that it is time to re-connect with Mother Earth in order to overcome a global environmental disaster. Motivated by a deep concern for humanity and the planet, their visit formed part of a wider movement in which indigenous peoples are calling on the world community to urgently rethink modern notions of progress and development.

Share The World’s Resources (STWR) interviewed two of the elders during their stay in London to further explore the indigenous call for people to reconnect with the basic community and ecological values that should define what it means to be human. Freddy Treuquil is an artist and longstanding prominent member of the indigenous Mapuche community in Chile. He also founded and directs the Native Spirit Foundation, a non-profit charitable organisation which promotes the knowledge and preservation of indigenous cultures and supports education in indigenous communities. Victor Lem Masc is the Mayan spiritual guide of his Mayan Community in Guatemala. The spoken interview was translated from Spanish by Augustin Bazzini.

STWR: Could you explain in more detail what you have referred to as the spiritual ‘cosmology’ of the indigenous people you represent. What is the relevance of this cosmology to the modern, consumer-driven economy that shapes the lives of increasing numbers of people around the world?

Victor Lem Masc: The indigenous people that we are representing in this visit are the Aymara, the Mapuche, the Kuna, and the Maya. We have come to the conclusion that there are common elements that unite us in our vision, no matter the distances between the different people. The distinctive characteristics of each people and each community are very similar, especially in relation to their cosmology or the way that we each see life, to our spirituality, and to the concept that everything that exists has life and energy.

The great effort that we and the elders have made to come here is to share the wisdom of the indigenous people. We have faith that the knowledge we bring based on our ancestral traditions and our ancestral practices of life can contribute to the equilibrium of the universe. The most important aspect of this process is the spiritual part, the search for a balancing of the energies of the earth. This is something that we can now see in the science world through their discussions about quantum physics. The indigenous people already know all of this – it is the way that they have understood life for thousands and thousands of years. The only difference is between visualising and conceptualising these ideas. Because we try to live close to nature, we experimented and developed our approach to life that is harmonious and in balance with the universe. We are now telling other people in the cities of Europe about our view of life, because we believe it is necessary that all the people around the world should wake up and that we should work together.

In each city that we have visited, we have found that people are interested in change and have a desire for a new way of living. However, as reality is so immense, we see this willingness to change as a single seed in a big grain silo. There are many people who are in need of that change or that transformation. The only problem is that they cannot see how to sustain or realise it. We have many tools, many elements that are within their reach, but what they need is this spiritual relationship and connection. That is what it has to do with – mass unity. For the indigenous people, the concept of spirituality is all-encompassing and integral, a wholeness, we don’t see it as separate from our daily activities. Everything is equal; culture, economy, spirituality, social life, work – everything forms a part of this wholeness and is interrelated.

For example, in our culture the economy has its spiritual component. But the consumerist society dominates people and makes them subservient to the consumer culture. People become dominated by consumerism and they get stuck in this way of life; the accumulation and possession of material things. People caught up in this process, in this consumerist way of life, are not happy, not satisfied. They have everything, but at the same time they are empty because they don’t see the spirit in things. In our culture, balance and equilibrium is therefore encouraged. We should only consume what is really necessary. In that way we are contributing to the sustainability and equilibrium of the universe.

Part of our work in this visit to Europe is to share with society the many worries and problems that we have seen and been told about by other people. There is a need for people to reconnect with their spirits. So we share with them that it is important to come back to oneself, to go back to our origins, to find out your own culture. Because we notice that history has been fragmented, so there are many people who are not strong in their identity. We don’t come here to impose our cultural values. We simply want to share what we think is important, which is to invite people to reflect on and find their spirituality and to connect with the universe, with everything that exists, with the sacred.

Freddy Treuquil: We don’t see with the same eyes that you see. You might see what is apparent, the material part, but if you ask me about the people, the humans that live here, I can tell you what I see. There are many people that want to be forever young – to party. They are empty, they have built in themselves an emptiness from their vanity. They are in competition on all the different levels of the material world, like sexuality, all the clothes, everything that you have; all the different material aspects. Here [in London], for example, they spend double what they earn.

But we also find people and organisations that are different from what I just described; they are educating their children in a different way, they work the land, they are searching for ways of living a sustainable life. Like working in the community, collaborating with each other. In fact we are here with some old indigenous people, one of whom is 115 years old, and when he met with some of the different groups, he said ‘But these people are indigenous, like us’. Because we share food, we share singing, we dance together in a great human community.

Rather than just observing, what we try to do is reflect on what we have seen, because we also have a lot of work to do in our community. The other important point that we have to work on in our community is our indigenous culture, because our culture is still alive. Many people talk in the name of the indigenous, but it is never the indigenous who can speak for themselves. This is our contribution to this great rainbow movement for change that is growing at the moment.

So we work on an individual level, we talk with people and help discover the power inside each one of us as individuals. The same way you feed your body, the same way you have to feed your spirit. And that helps produce a balance in life. As Victor was saying, for the indigenous people everything is connected. If we don’t make a change in the balance of our individual life, we won’t be able to see that the earth is also out of balance. We cannot be conscious of how our individual behaviour and actions in life also create bad effects to other people around us. The indigenous people are culturally and spiritually rich. We can also build on our materialistic wealth, but it has to be in balance, without harming the other. That should be done from our humanity, from us as human beings, because life is very fragile. This is something that people generally cannot perceive – that life is very fragile.

So this is the message that we have been sharing, this is what we came to share with the different people, communities and organisations in Europe. One of the Elders said “My heart is going back home full, because we have identified that there are other people who see the same way as we do”.

A longer version of this interview is published at Share The World’s ResourcesNative Spirit Foundation is a non-profit, charitable organisation operated entirely by volunteers, which promotes the knowledge and preservation of Indigenous Cultures and supports education in indigenous communities.

This work is published under a Creative Commons License. When reproducing this item, please attribute Share The World’s Resources as the source and include a link to its unique URL. For more information, please see the organisation’s Copyright Policy.

News Corp’s bid for Sky risks media plurality

A guest post by Sean Eames

Two weeks ago, Vince Cable utilised powers available to him under the 2002 Enterprise Act, to refer News Corp’s offer to purchase the remaining 61% of BskyB, to Ofcom, who now have until the 31st December to report to the Government whether the acquisition would be ‘in the public interest’. The European Commission meanwhile will declare whether the bid complies with EU competition laws by the 8th December. This episode again raises important questions concerning the ownership of media sources and how the plurality of media can be protected.

In October 2009, Labour MEPs, supported a joint motion for a resolution denouncing the lack of press freedom in Italy and calling for EU proposals to greater protect/enhance media pluralism in member states. The resolution was defeated by three votes. The debate was in light of the conflict between Mr Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi concerning the Italian Prime Minister’s immense and prejudicial media influence in Italy. This current affair now sees Mr Murdoch attempting to increase his already substantial media influence in the UK, which could potentially see the Murdoch family enjoy media influence here, similar to that of Berlusconi in Italy. 

If the deal is approved by Ofcom, News Corp will then have direct access to BskyB funds/revenues. (Currently News Corp only receives funds from BskyB in the form of dividends). Last year, BskyB’s UK revenues totalled nearly £6 billion, compared to BBC’s global revenues of £4.8 billion. By 2016, BskyB’s income is projected to be 220% that of the BBC’s. BskyB currently enjoys a 35% share of the UK TV audience. News Corp, through The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World, already has a 37% share of the UK newspaper market. News Corp would be able to pool commentators/journalists and resources across its newspapers and Sky, if the deal goes through. Ofcom, formed as a result of the 2003 Communications Act, brought in by Labour,- which states that the regulator should, prevent unacceptable media dominance that affects plurality and/or diversity’, must therefore now decide whether News Corp’s offer is in accordance with the Act.

Under EU laws, news channels must be regulated by a European based regulator. In the UK, that regulator is Ofcom. Thanks to the powers granted to Ofcom by the Labour government, impartiality in our news channels is assured. However, although a regulator must in be in place under EU laws, Governments are free to legislate how much power/influence a regulator may have. The Tories have already set about stripping Ofcom of its decision making powers, as Cameron promised last year to the delight of Mr Murdoch, who just so happened to be the first major figure to visit Number 10 in May!

If the Government decides to reform Ofcom, removing the requirement for newsroom impartiality, there is the strong possibility that Sky News could well become our version of Fox News, allowing the likes of Jeff Randall to become our equivalent of Bill O’Reilly (the horror!). Given that Richard Desmond, owner of The Express and Daily Star was allowed to purchase Channel Five earlier this year, as his share of the media market was still considered to be ‘relatively small’, if News Corp’s bid for BskyB is successful, we would have two immensely powerful media operators in Mr Murdoch and Mr Desmond, owning a extensive share of the media market in the UK.

The influence of Berlusconi however, must serve as a warning the affects undue media influence and the concentration of media ownership can have. In an open democracy, it is vital to ensure that concentration of media ownership and influence, does not reside with a small number of individuals, explicitly broadcasting certain political viewpoints in a highly (un)fair and distinctly (un)balanced nature.

Bush’s comments on torture deserve nothing but condemnation

In the same way that Tony Blair’s book suddenly brought him to back into the international spotlight, so has George W. Bush been catapulted once more onto the headlines and discussion columns due to his newly released autobiography/memoir ‘Decision Points’. Amongst the most nasty facets of the book is his boasting claim that the use of waterboarding foiled would-be terror attacks in the US and UK due to information being gathered from this technique.

When discussing these claims during a recent interview, Bush flippantly replied “damn right” when asked if he had ordered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be waterboarded in order to gain information.

While the UK is unequivocal in its view that waterboarding is torture (and hence has laws against it) in the US the debate seems to drag on as if it somehow weren’t settled. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney and Republican strategist Karl Rove made similar remarks earlier this year. Rove went so far as to say he was “proud” of America’s use of this technique while Cheney’s remarks elicited tiresomely long news coverage in the US media and a string of responses from opponents.

Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens, a long-time opponent of torture, decided in 2008 to undergo waterboarding himself so he could speak with authority about just how traumatizing it is. He said of the experience “everything completely goes on you when you’re breathing water, you can’t think about anything else.” After describing how he had hallucinated during the ordeal and suffered nightmares since, he concluded “if waterboarding isn’t torture then there’s no such thing as torture.”

Right-wing commentators are certain to seize on Bush’s statements and his supposed authority on this subject as a defence of its continued use. It is an easy game for them to portray the opposition as naive, confused, wimp-like or, worst of all, supportive of the enemy. It plays perfectly into the “common sense” public misperception of ethics. It is imperative therefore to remind ourselves why torture is so thoroughly unacceptable whatever the alleged gains.

No entity can credibly enforce a moral code without having its own house in order. It goes without saying that terrorism should be addressed as a governing priority and fought accordingly. But in order for America to be in a position to condemn this behaviour and to take it on, it must hold its policies, practices and institutions to the highest standards of decency, fairness and ethics.

The argument is much the same for the criminal justice system and incarceration. The fact that people are given a fair trial, a chance to defend themselves and decent treatment while awaiting trial are among the main reasons why these systems have the authority to pass judgement over people. For those that end up convicted, the system gives to criminals the fair treatment that they denied to their victims. The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson discusses in an essay on morality the way that our ethical system is based on a mutual recognition of the fact we all have interests as human beings. People who claim that no such system exists have no way of posing a serious complaint once they are detained and dealt with accordingly, because by complaining they are tacitly entering into the ethical arena and recognizing that exactly these mutual interests exist. Likewise, if we wish to condemn the immoral actions of terrorists, how can it be done if we are allowing practices that are themselves immoral?

It ultimately comes down to credibility: if American politicians wish to criticise countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba for the human rights violations that these countries’ governments commit against their own people, then they must use the authority of their positions to oppose torture by the US government at every opportunity.

The consequences of not doing so can actually be dangerous. By allowing torture, America gives ammunition to terrorists and others who seek to bring harm to the West. It is potentially calamitous to pass over material for radical Islamists to pump into their propaganda machine, after all the war against these people is above all a war of ideas.

The institutionalisation of torture also serves to undermine America and its allies more generally since America will lose good will in the international community as long as torture is permitted. The US ruling class simply cannot afford to fan the flames of anti-Americanism any further given some past actions of American administrations. As much as the right may say otherwise, holding high standards of behaviour for public institutions and practices is not being weak and nor is it capitulation, it is an imperative if America wishes to maintain the respect of the world.

Certainly, the election of Barack Obama signalled hope in this area. After stating last year that he was opposed to the use of waterboarding, citing Churchill’s refusal to use torture during World War II as informing his views, he moved to ban the practice. However, opponents need to continue to hold this and future US administrations to account on this issue.

The outcome couldn’t be clearer: if an American government again allows waterboarding to masquerade as an acceptable practice for incarcerated individuals then it will be behaving in ways frighteningly similar to those which it condemns.

Back to the drawing board: localism and economic growth

The clocks have gone back, plunging the nation into self imposed darkness at 4.30 kicking off the annual, “Greenwich Mean Time, what’s that all about then?”

And a similar debate is emerging as worried local authority chiefs, business leaders and even Coalition ministers wonder if the government’s plans to stimulate regional economic growth will be able to lighten the darkness of public sector job losses and spending cuts.

Local government is undoubtedly one of the least sexy topic in politics, especially when it comes to the issues of……YAWN, administrative structures. Please bear with me now, because the radical reorganisation of local government currently taking place will have a very real impact on the biggest issues facing the country, deficit reduction and the Coalition’s economic holy grail, private sector growth.

The Coalition’s embrace of localism is not just about the devolution of political control, it is a promise of a new era of economic growth lead by a new spirit of private enterprise in towns and cities across the country. This spirit is typified by the noise about decentralisation and a new era of civic radicalism at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, replete with references to the great figurehead of that city’s original municipal revival “radical Joe” Chamberlain. The Coalition’s plans to create modern day Chamberlains; executive Mayors in the 12 largest regional cities have been undermined by local opposition over the confused details and contradictory nature of the proposals and have been described by one council leader as “totally undemocratic.”

The Coalition’s policy for local economic growth has been defined in the Comprehensive Spending Review and the recent BIS White Paper on Local Economic Growth.

The Comprehensive Spending Review has reshaped how local government will operate in Britain; the eye watering cuts of 51% to the Department of Communities and Local Government and the annual 7.1% reductions in Local Authority funding are going to have a profound affect and lasting affect on how councils operate, and the relationship between central and local government. For most departments the CSR was a struggle to minimise their losses, fighting for every line of expenditure, but for Eric, if not his department it has been welcomed as the start of a bold new experiment in localism.

There are two forces at work in this experiment, and it’s a potentially volatile mix; firstly local authorities have been identified as a major source of readily available spending cuts. This is local government as a land of town hall fat cats, equality and diversity bureaucrats, health and safety jobsworths, environmental enforcement non jobs, all with their gold plated public sector pensions. They are bloated bureaucratic organisations that grew fat under the Labour tax and spend years, riddled with duplication and inefficiency that have become a burden, crowding out private sector growth.

But there is another local government, a local government that is a potential source of dynamism and innovation that was strangled under Labour’s central control. Freed from the tyranny of Whitehall councils will be free to create innovative solutions to local problems that reduce the costs of central programs like welfare, criminal justice and health service by taking on a greater responsibility for commissioning of local services through place based budgeting. Councils can also drive local economic growth by cooperating with each other and private enterprise to coordinate local economic growth.

Localism is an attempt to balance these contradictory visions of local government. Deep spending cuts will force to make very difficult decisions about what services to prioritise and where to make inevitable cut backs; in effect they will decide who losses out. This will involve stark and painful choices.

In exchange for taking a big slice of the pain of public spending cuts councils will have an increased scope to respond in their own way, with less responsibility to meet targets from central government and less restrictions on how they spend their money as the level of ring fencing by central government is slashed. As Eric Pickles sets out in his letter to Local Authority Chief Executives, this is an era of “new financial freedoms and flexibility” for councils.

The upcoming Localism Bill will build on this trend, and while the finer details aren’t yet clear, the drive towards will be towards increasing powers and competency of councils while reducing their statutory responsibilities to provide some of the services that at the moment they have a legal responsibility to deliver.

As councils cut back on services, as they make redundancies, as unemployment increases the government is banking on a new era of private sector growth to compensate for the contraction in the public sector economy. BIS’s White Paper on Local Economic Growth has set out the Coalitions strategy of rebalancing local economies and stimulating private sector growth using the tools Regional Growth Fund and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to fill the void left by Regional Development Agencies

However there are big questions marks over the whether this approach can really make a substantial economic impact given the lack of funds and strategic coordination. The confusion around the creation of LEP’s raises a number of serious questions about how such an uneven group of organisations, with no additional funding will be able to coordinate an economic miracle on the scale that the Coalition is banking on to absorb the impact of public spending cuts.

These problems are a telling illustration of tensions in the government’s localism approach, as a total of 62 proposals were submitted to fill the void of the 9 Regional Development Agencies, a number that far exceeded the Coalition’s expectations. The 62 bids were a motley assortment; some are fully formed proposals building smoothly on existing city regions and multi area agreements began under the Labour government.

Other proposals were hastily constructed, with squabbling local authorities unable to come to an agreement, resulting in a number of contradictory and overlapping bids disgruntled partners in the local private sector and no clear mechanism for local accountability. The White Paper approved 24 of these proposals, while the remaining areas have been sent back to drawing board by the government, to produce proposals that reflect both local priorities and the requirements of the national government. The map of current LEP proposals makes an interesting jigsaw, with the North East conspicuously blank.

As yet no functions of Regional Development Agencies have been transferred to LEP’s, either they have returned to BIS or they will just cease to function, LEP’s will have the right to bid for greater powers but given the early experiences this is far from guaranteed.

LEPs are backed up by the Regional Growth Fund, a transition fund to help areas bridge the economic chasm opening up as the public sector economy contracts, but will it have a significant impact? The RGF will allocate £1.4 billion over 3 years, which is less than the annual budget of the RDA’s, and while the Conservatives have incessantly criticised RDA’s as wasteful and bureaucratic repeated evaluations demonstrated they were among the most cost effective government organisations, spending less than 10% of their budgets on administration. It’s hard to see how a three year fund will be able to compensate for the impact of public spending cuts, let alone kick-start a dynamic economic miracle in areas where the existing private sector is correspondingly weak.

The scale of the economic challenge facing many regions is set out in a recent report by Price Waterhouse Coopers that painted a grim picture of the impact of the public spending cuts on employment and economic growth, especially in the North of England:

“Whilst symbolically important, we also question whether on its own the Regional Growth Fund (RGF)… will provide enough incentive or access to funds to make a material difference, as the proposed scale of the RGF is less than 25% of the annual Regional Development Agency (RDA) outturn for 2009/10. We also question whether local authorities and the newly created Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) will have the resources, fiscal powers and capacity to mitigate the impact of cuts and promote growth locally.” 

This is the challenge facing the Coalition’s strategy for economic growth outside London and the South East, an entire administrative layer of well funded government bureaucracy devoted to stimulating economic growth has been removed, replaced with a temporarily funded collection uncoordinated bodies.

In setting out its localism agenda the Coalition has recognised that devolving power will be unpredictable, even messy. This is either a deliberate strategy to avoid responsibility for the ensuring mess as councils “slash and burn” services and local economies decline, or it is a genuine willingness to let go of the reins of political control in order to allow different areas to try substantively different approaches to suited to their areas, or most likely, a bit of both.

The electoral reform referendum is long overdue

Though it is still early days regarding what the outcome of the referendum on electoral reform for the House of Commons will be, there are already signs that the pro lobby will be disappointed. A YouGov poll early this month reported that 43 per cent of those surveyed would vote to keep the first-past-the-post system and only 32 per cent would vote for change to an Alternative Vote system. Meanwhile, Andy Burham, Labour’s election coordinator, stated in an interview that the sole priority of his party next May will be the Scottish, Welsh and local elections set to take place on the same day.

The Liberal Democrats may or may not get their way with the proposed change in the electoral system. Whatever the outcome, however, a referendum on electoral reform in the UK is long over due and it is perhaps the greatest failing of the previous Labour governments not to have acted.

What is most disappointing about Labour’s failure in this area is that they had amble opportunity to act and a clear mandate to do so. If we travel back to December 1997, the Labour government was fresh in power following a landslide election victory. As one of their first acts they established the Independent Commission on the Voting System, popularly known as the Jenkins Commission after its chairman Roy Jenkins, the great social reformer and Home Secretary under Harold Wilson’s administration in the mid-1960s. Its establishment, supported by the Liberal Democrats, was the fulfillment of a 1997 manifesto pledge. It stated:

We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.

The commission was instructed to take proportionality, the need for stable government, extension of voter choice and geographical links between MPs and voters into account. When it reported its findings in 1998 it proposed an AV+ system, a form of Additional Member System where there are both constituency contests and a party list. The party list is used to ‘top-up’ the constituency MPs in a way that makes the member allocation proportional to the votes cast for each party.

A similar Additional Member System had already showed promise in the German Bundestag and in the majority of Germany’s State legislatures. Furthermore, later into Labour’s rule the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were established and were quick to adopt AMS.

The main criticism of the proposed system was that it can to lead to an increased tendency towards hung parliaments rather than stable one-party government and hence the need for coalition governments. Skeptics were quick to point out that at least the FPTP system has created strong single party governments. This reservation, however, has been exploded by the outcome of the last general election and it hardly needs to be said that this advantage can no longer be claimed for the current set-up.

By the time of the 2001 election, no referendum had been held. Most contemptible about the Labour’s stalling on this issue was that it continued to posture that it was going to make a move on reform, yet continued to place the issue at the back of the shelf. Their 2001 manifest stated:

The government has introduced major innovations in the electoral systems used in the UK – for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the London Assembly. The (Jenkins) Commission on the Voting System made proposals for electoral reform at Westminster. We will review the experience of the new systems and the Jenkins Report to assess whether changes might be made to the electoral system for the House of Commons. A referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster.

By 2005, nothing had been done. The Labour leadership had by this point realized that its Party was now the chief beneficiary of the status quo due to demographics and the distribution of constituencies. Rather than stand by its promise, reference to the report was cynically dropped from the 2005 manifesto and its statement on the issue was cowardly hyperbole:

Labour is committed to reviewing the experience of the new electoral systems – introduced for the devolved administrations, the European Parliament and the London Assembly. A referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster.

By 2010, Labour’s pledge was to hold a referendum on an Alternate Vote system (the very system being proposed in May’s election which only real change consists of casting multiple ballots to ensure 50% of votes go the winner). The manifesto stated:

To ensure that every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents voting at each election, we will hold a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons.

Jenkins was one of the great reformers of recent history and there was certainly no better person to head the commission. There can be little doubt that the question was well-researched and the recommendations fair. The reaction of the Labour administrations to its findings was one of the unfortunate tendencies of their behaviour: establishing independent bodies to investigate an issue, then ignoring them if the leadership didn’t like the suggestions. The same situation transpired when Prof. David Nutt, a university academic and psychiatrist, was appointed to head an independent commission on narcotics classifications. When the body presented some findings and recommendations that weren’t to the liking of the government, Prof. Nutt was dismissed. Rather than have the courage to go by evidence, reason and neutrality, the government in the case of Nutt and the Jenkins Commission backed down if the consequences were politically disadvantageous.

The British public will have a choice next May on whether the House of Commons should adopt AV – a minor change that won’t address the underlying lack of proportionality in the current system. The change is so trivial it is hardly worthy of a referendum. What the British people deserve is a referendum on the original proposal from the Jenkins Commission that was a promise Labour made but failed to keep.