Joanne Knight

January 16, 2014

Corporate Climate Capture

The Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) has been pure spectacle. Not only were energy companies invited to sponsor the conference, corporate front groups ran panels and made submissions. This conference is clearly not an opportunity for governments to come to an international agreement on climate change but another PR opportunity for polluting corporations to improve their environmental responsibility credentials. Real action is blocked at every turn.

Little was achieved at COP19. No money committed to the Climate Green Fund, still no commitment to compulsory greenhouse gas cuts and no definite action to assist developing countries to cut emissions. Another talkfest for the global elite to pat each other on the back.

Even David Hone, Climate Change Advisor for Shell, expressed frustration:

 “After the first week of the Warsaw COP, an observer could be excused for wondering what exactly the thousands of delegates meeting here were actually discussing. The closest the assembled negotiators, NGOs, business people and UN staff came to seriously talking about CO2 mitigation was when Japan announced its new 2020 target, an increase of 3% in emissions vs. 1990…”

Debord explains that the spectacle reduces all attempts at social action to “mere appearance.”

“Understood on its own terms, the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance. But any critique capable of apprehending the spectacle’s essential character must expose it as a visible negation of life and as a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself.”

COP19 was the first UN climate talks to have corporate sponsorship, with some huge energy companies as official ‘partners’, including Alstom, ArcelorMittal, and BMW. The Polish Ministry of Economy also teamed up with the World Coal Association to put on a parallel “International Coal and Climate Summit,” whose joint “Warsaw Communiqué” was little more than a veiled call for more coal and CCS.

French conglomerate Alstom Power built the Belchatów coal-fired power plant, the single biggest source of carbon emissions in Europe. ArcelorMittalis the world’s leading steel and mining company and the leading supplier of steel products in automotive, construction, household appliances and packaging production. These corporations clearly have an interest in ensuring that reductions in GHGs needed to tackle climate change do not occur.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) was active at events around COP19. President, David Rothbard, and Executive Director, Craig Rucker, “are two of the primary voices seeking to provide a positive alternative to major environmental groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth,” according to the CFACT website. Major sponsors of CFACT have been ExxonMobil, the Carthage Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which supports other prominent right-wing think tanks.

CFACT’s so-called “climate realists” addressed a Polish Independence Day rally during the conference in Warsaw. They argued that UN programs to restrict energy options in the name of fighting global warming, impoverish people and strip away important freedoms. David Rothbard told the crowd that UN global warming programs are attempting “a complete economic transformation of the world.”

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was an key organiser at COP 19. WBCSD activities at COP 19 were sponsored by Shell. Other members of the Council include BMW, GE, Bayer, and Entergy. On 15 November they hosted a high-level panel discussion focused on the “role of the GCF [Global Climate Fund] in catalysing investment into clean energy by facilitating the deployment of capital at the scale and in the direction required to stay inside 2degrees C.” In other words, how corporations can get their hands on the GCF.

Peter Bakker President of WBCSD has declared climate change to be “the greatest new business opportunity to appear in decades…” Business is beginning to realize that climate change may be, well, bad for business. “The cost of climate change adaptation is frighteningly high. Since climate change mitigation is cheaper than adaptation, the business case for taking concrete steps sooner rather than later is much clearer.”

The steps to be taken involve using carbon capture and storage and other technologies. Unfortunately investment in CCS has been falling and the technology has not been successfully implemented commercially. A CCS demonstration coal-burning power plant in West Virginia shut down its carbon capture equipment in 2011 because it could not sell the carbon dioxide or recover the extra cost from its electricity customers. The equipment consumed so much energy that, at full scale, the project would have sharply cut electricity production.

Such fundamentalist belief in this failed technology explains why the business community is involved in ensuring that no binding emission reduction targets are ever set. These people are unable to break out of the spectacle which generates an unswerving belief in the efficacy of the commodity form. They are convinced that they can keep safely using fossil fuels because carbon capture will save us.

Another body very active at COP19 was the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Its members include BP, Dow Chemicals, Alstom Power, Citigroup. Through this body, the most powerful energy, financial and pharmaceutical companies in the world were making submissions to COP. This must be the most powerful lobby group in the world.

The IETA Submission to UNFCCC, stated:

“IETA is convinced that a global carbon market is the most efficient way for governments to achieve the necessary emissions reductions in the longterm.”

This reflects more fundamentalist belief in commodity solutions, revealing, according to Debord, that “social space is continually being blanketed by stratum after stratum of commodities.” Corporations believe that “alienated consumption is added to alienated production as an inescapable duty of the masses.”

“The entirety of labor sold is transformed overall into the total commodity. A cycle is thus set in train that must be maintained at all costs: the total commodity must be returned in fragmentary form to a fragmentary individual completely cut off from the concerted action of the forces of production.”

The trading of carbon as a commodity is an intensification of the spectacle which now dominates all social life. It is now almost inconceivable to imagine a life where consumption of commodities is not at the center.

Corporate solutions for addressing climate change involve trading our dependence on one type of commodity, oil, for carbon as an alternative commodity, maintaining control by the same corporations. Turning carbon into a product to be traded has done little to address climate change. A conversion of our society away from dependence on commodities, which actively interfere with our capacity to address real social conditions, is the only way we can save ourselves. The society of the spectacle and our dependence on commodities blinds us to our danger.

November 15, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan and the Economics of the Spectacle

Those who heard the impassioned plea of the Naderev Saño, head of the Philippines climate delegation at COP19 in Warsaw, could not fail to be moved. The Philippines has been battered by record breaking typhoons twice in the past year. Climate scientists have shown that such extreme weather events are brought on by climate change. The IPCC report earlier this year announced that global concentrations of CO2 emissions had reached 400 ppm. The threshold for catastrophic climate change is 350-450ppm. The paralysis of the international community in relation to the clearly accelerating instability of the global climate is extraordinary. This inability to act is another side effect of the society of the spectacle.

Full article at http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/11/15/typhoon-haiyan-and-the-economics-of-the-spectacle/

November 8, 2013

Image Warfare and the Civilian Drone Deaths in Pakistan

Former Air Force pilot, Brandon Bryant, has now added his name to the growing list of whistle blowers on US government overreach. His story highlights the ways that the “society of the spectacle” interacts with the media and the image escapes the control of the government. Bryant humanizes the victims of drone bombings when the military would rather they remain distant inhuman enemies. Similarly Amnesty International’s report brings the area of northwest Pakistan from the realm of image into reality and provides a picture of people caught in the middle of warring forces Taliban, war lords, the armies of Pakistan and US attempting to scratch a living from the earth and avoid running afoul of these powers.

Full text available with a subscription of Counterpunch at counterpunch.org

Hybrid Labour Activism: OUR Walmart and US anti-unionism

Filed under: Uncategorized — joanneknight @ 7:27 pm
Coming from Australia with its history of labour representation in Parliament, reflected in a liveable minimum wage and an adequate welfare system, it was a shock to comprehend the disempowered position of labour in the US. The creation of the body OUR Walmart highlights the anti-unionism rife in the political and economic system. It amounts to the type of networked, flexible political body which is the antithesis of the enormous Walmart Corporation. Some have declared it a new type of organization which draws on the tactics of a union but sets out to avoid being legally defined as such. Unions are so constrained by legal requirements that they have been made largely ineffective in the US. Like networked terrorism and some social movements, OUR Walmart seeks to operate beneath the radar.
Full article available for purchase at arena.org.au

October 7, 2013

Foreign Policy by Batman!

Filed under: Uncategorized — joanneknight @ 5:33 pm

The drums of war have faded into the distance and once more the people can breathe a collective sigh of relief or disappointment. Every few weeks the media ramps up war hysteria against one of the gallery of international villains. It’s like a game show: spin the wheel, which rogue regime is the Administration debating action against this week? Last week it was Egypt; this week it’s… Syria!

Over the past 12 months the government has deliberated bombing North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Foreign policy has become dominated by a cartoon-like view of certain countries as a rogue’s gallery of villains: Iran, North Korea, Syria.

Read the full article at http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/07/foreign-policy-by-batman/

September 5, 2013

Surveillance and Leakage

Filed under: Uncategorized — joanneknight @ 5:24 pm
I have followed the activities of Julian Assange for some years with interest and, at times, with bemusement. However when the media spotlight swung onto Edward Snowden, the significance of these individuals and their fight against the electronic panopticon became clearer.
 
In the panopticon, each human is rendered visible due to the central locus of surveillance. Safety for the majority of individuals in the electronic panopticon involves remaining an anonymous piece of data in the electronic stream. Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have turned the light upon the authorities in their acts of interfering with other governments and collecting private data. But the vast, detailed, and ongoing scrutiny of individual information conducted by corporations as part of their daily activities continues with impunity. The activities of these activists present an opportunity for disruption to this massive system of surveillance and social control.
 
See the full text at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/05/surveillance-and-leakage/

August 30, 2013

Bombing go round

Filed under: Uncategorized — joanneknight @ 5:11 pm

I’m confused–which rogue regime is the US debating “action” against this week. Last week it was Egypt, this week… oh yes… Syria! So the debate is not ‘should the US intervene in Syria’ but ‘is there a justification for bombing Syria?’ Should the US bomb Syria or simply arm the rebels? People on NPR debated whether this should be the US’s go to position on foreign policy but there is no doubt apparently that the US has a right, a duty even, to interfere militarily in the affairs of another country. This is the main assumption underlying the debate.

Over the past 12 months the US has debated bombing North Korea, Iran and now Syria. It’s strangely like 1984 with the ever-rotating enemies of Eurasia and East Asia. How prophetic that book was!

It’s a glaringly contrast to the hands off approach to the military coup in Egypt which massacred hundreds of civilians and yet could still be described as a democracy!

March 25, 2013

Captain, my Captain

The failure of the US economy in 2008 led to its fall as the dominant power. So is there potential for a more even distribution of power globally or will it simply lead to a Hobbesian war of all against all? People talk about ‘leadership’ but what do they mean. The US no longer leads the world. The President no longer leads the country. We have a crisis of ‘leadership’.

Joseph Stiglitz warns of the dangers of a leaderless world:

“In the last 25 years, we have moved from a world dominated by two superpowers to one dominated by one, and now to a leaderless, multi-polar world. While we may talk about the G-7, or G-8, or G-20, the more apt description is G-0. We will have to learn how to live, and thrive, in this new world.”

When we talk about leadership, we seem to mean whoever has the power to make others fall into line with their interests. After WWII the US situated itself to dominate the globe, politically and economically. The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ushered in a new era of increased US dominance which led to the current World Recession. The behavior of our leaders leaves little hope for the future.

Corporate leaders are so autistically-focused on short term profits, they cannot begin to imagine a world working towards a common goal. Their rhetoric of ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’ do not match their actions based in greed and ruthless competition.

Leaders of the financial world (or Masters of the Universe as they used to be known) like hedge fund billionaires, William A. Ackman, Daniel S. Loeb and Carl C. Icahn, have indulged in some dubious practices (to say the least) in regard to Herbalife. Hedge funds, in the course of normal behavior, try to stack the deck in their favour through manipulative media behavior in order to influence the stock price of a company up or down. Their standard business practice demonstrates the worst excesses of corporations.

These hedge fund managers acquired large interests in Herbalife. In December last year, William Ackman made a presentation at an investor conference, claiming that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme, even though no one appears to be doing an actual investigation. In February, Mr. Icahn and Mr. Ackman appeared on CNBC. Mr. Icahn noted that if someone tried to acquire Herbalife, it would spell trouble for Mr. Ackman because “if that happens, that stock could rush to $100.” Daniel Loeb then sold a portion of his 8.9 million shares.

William D. Cohan, in Bloomberg, speculated whether Loeb’s action, while perfectly legal under current law, could be characterized as “pump and dump”, whereby an investor publicly announces a large stake in a company, the market moves up on the announcement, and then the investor sells the position, or a portion of it after the market moves. None of these people give a damn about the company or its employees. If the company crashes and they make a profit, well that’s just market forces at work. In 2008, hedge funds were also responsible for crashing Northern Rock, a major British bank.

World leaders flounder around in the trough. The world is governed by an elite so profoundly cut off from the experiences of most people’s everyday lives that they are too complacent to deal with the real problems facing us. We’ve just watched as Congress and the White House allowed billions of dollars be removed from federally-funded government programs. Nobody really seemed to care that this would be detrimental for many people.

A member of the US elite, Mary Jo White, has just been appointed the head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. White has alternated between Debevoise & Plimpton and the federal government for three decades. At Debevoise, she has defended nearly every big bank on Wall Street. Her clients included JP Morgan Chase, UBS and Michael Geoghegan, the former head of HSBC.

White defended the fraudulent lending practices of JP Morgan Chase. After the 2008 subprime loan meltdown, a free-for-all of foreclosures occurred where banks frenziedly tried to recover their losses by foreclosing on as many homes as possible. In August 2010 alone, lenders took possession of a record 95,364 U.S. homes and issued foreclosure filings to 338,836 homeowners, or one of every 381 U.S. households.

An investigation by all 50 state attorneys general and state banking regulators of foreclosure practices found widespread fraudulent activity, such as using falsified documents to foreclose on homes, foreclosing on properties on which banks did not hold titles, use of false affidavits, and deceptive practices in the loan modification process (such as telling borrowers that a loan modification was imminent while simultaneously foreclosing).

Mary Jo White now heads up the major securities regulator. This is more than a revolving door, there is no door between Wall Street and the government regulator. The regulator is just providing cover for corporate criminals. My prediction is that White will be dismissed or it will be revealed at the end of her tenure that there was a major cover up of illegal corporate practices. Things can only get worse. This is the sort of leadership we are investing in. People with no moral compass.

Barack Obama is closely implicated in the facilitation, at least, of this type of rampant corruption. The self-style ‘community activist’ has simply revealed himself to be the leader of the corporate mafia.

So what does this behavior tell us about the leaders of today. Their values seem to revolve around actions which will serve their personal short term material interest, regardless of the damage it does, not only to other people’s lives, but to the operation of the system itself.

October 22, 2012

The God Sacrificed

Filed under: Nature of Belief — joanneknight @ 11:14 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

In the play Freud’s Last Session at the San Jose Repertory theatre, Freud and CS Lewis rehash the 19th century debate between rationalism and religion. The thing I find frustrating about the ‘does God exist?’ debate is that it’s framed in such dichotomous terms: religion vs rationality. According to the rationalists, religion is irrational and according to the religious, rationality (or non-believers) do not accept mystery. There is no position which encompasses a non-rational secularism or a religious rationality. It seemed to me, when the characters were discussing religion as myth they stopped at an impasse that myths were either lies or truth. There was no middle ground. You either accept God as real (the CS Lewis/ Tolkein position) or you dismiss the whole of religion as superstition (Freud). There is a position which says that we accept myth as a symbolic truth but not as a literal truth. One does not need to believe in a supernatural being with a concrete existence in order to accept the validity of myths.

Zizek argues with the claim that with the death of God, everything is permitted. Rather than leading to hedonistic excess, he claims that the death of God has led to self-imposed restrictions, such as we see in political correctness. It refers to the idea as to whether one perceives an ultimate external authority or not. Christians who recognise God as an ultimate authority may commit any atrocity in his name. Those who do not, hedge themselves about with all sorts of moral restrictions. Even the Godless Communists, mobilised a sacred cause in the name of historical progress.

Many imply that consumerism is a result of hedonistic excess and propose that we need a new limit, such as the environment as the sacred, to impose external limits on our consumption. Zizek warns against such absolutist thinking as it may lure us into a ‘perverse, self-destructive rapture.’ We must take a stance where the disaster, such as environmental devastation, may be eternally postponed. I think that as an activist or a reformist, this means that, even though there is no hope of an ultimate victory or devastation, no final ending, we must continue to act as if there is hope of victory. If we fall into despair, any atrocity may be committed in the name of environmental preservation. We see some advocating such things as a scientific dictatorship to force all of us to act in the interests of the environment or the imposition of charges to prevent people from buying fuel and driving cars, which would impact poor and middle income workers most severely. It could potentially create barbaric situations such as hoarding, stealing and rioting. Zizek’s proposition of an ‘apocalyptic’ mindset, in which we are eternally engaged in postposing disaster, engaged in a never-ending negotiation to prevent worst-case scenarios arising, is effective in democracies. Extremists of the left and right (although leftwing extremists are not the danger these days) are usually thrown out of office in time or forced to modify their positions through negotiation.

Zizek also engages in a discussion of ‘sacrifice’. He discusses Lacan’s theory of sacrfice. The subject offers a sacrifice to fill in for the missing Big Other, ie God, to sustain the appearance of the Other’s omnipotence. One sacrifices oneself to maintain the appearance of the Other’s honour, to save the Other from shame. However this requires the constant staging of a self-humiliation of the subject in order to demonstrate their sacrifice, their lack of jouissance (the inability to attain their ultimate desire). Thus ‘through sacrifice, the Big Other, the transcendent agency which poses limits to our activity is sustained.’

Chrisitanity introduced a world-historical rupture by removing the subject of the sacrifice. In Christ, the story of the sacrifice is told from the point of view of the one sacrificed, thus removing our ability to scapegoat, to create evil personages who we may sacrifice to maintain order and contain violence. The rituals of Christianity, such as the Mass, stage the profaning of the sacred, eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ, in order to remind us of the sacrifice of the victim, keep in our mind the pain of the one sacrificed. For example, the story of the massacre of indigenous peoples help us to understand their anger at Western society. To tell the story of the sacrificed from the point of view of the victim, helps us to understand the experience of victimhood and to refuse to enter into the creation of it. The impact of this knowledge is deeply ambiguous. We cannot completely remove the need for authority or the sacrifice and so the sacrifice is contained within ritual, such as the conferring of awards, titles and elections, to invest those in power with the authority they require. But this authority is contested and ambiguous, not absolute. Thus the constant negotiation required in democracy and Christian society. This is the force which opposes capitalism and its constant movement towards absolutism. Not just the opposing force of Christianity and the sacred (which is deeply ambiguous), but its own constant tension of creation and destruction, which does not allow it to solidify into an absolute dominance of corporations and the rich over everyone else.

The knowledge of the suffering of the victim which pervades our society through the story of the suffering of the Christ and which is reinforced through the stories of the suffering of other victims, such as the Jews in World War 2, can provide a limit to the pursuit of power, the urge of hedonistic, self-destructive excess. It is not enough on its own, for we can see such stories mobilised in the name of violence and the pursuit of excess, but if we continue to assert the compassion necessary to enter into these stories, we resist the temptation to hate the victim because of their weakness and to worship power, we may endlessly postpone our ultimate self-destructive impulses. But the process is never-ending. We constantly fall into sin to be redeemed, to sin again.

April 11, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Death of the rule of law

Filed under: human rights — joanneknight @ 10:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

George Zimmerman has finally been charged with the shooting of Trayvon Martin, not by the police but by the State Attorney’s Office. By allowing Zimmerman to walk away and remain free for 44 days, the rule of law and due process have been fundamentally undermined. The Florida police have failed in their duty to the law, to the community and to Trayvon Martin’s family, hiding behind the Florida Stand Your Ground law.

Zimmerman made a fateful decision that night when he chose to disregard the police dispatcher’s statement to await the arrival of the police and not to follow his “suspect.” A 911 call records the voice of someone screaming for help outside of the caller’s home. Video released from the police station where Zimmerman was taken in handcuffs on the night of the shooting, shows Zimmerman with no marks on him, throwing into doubt his claims of self defense. Sanford Police claim that they could not charge Zimmerman under the 2005 Florida Stand Your Ground law. Florida police seem to have been convinced that Zimmerman managed to escape from a violent attack, where he was screaming desperately for help, without a mark.

The Stand Your Ground law, created in response to fierce lobbying by the National Rifle Association, has coupled immunity from being arrested, detained in custody, charged, or prosecuted with a presumption of reasonable fear when a person acts in self-defense when attacked in their own home. To claim self-defense and immunity for a violent act occurring outside their home, the accused individual needs to establish the reasonable use of force in response to an attack. The Florida statute prohibits law enforcement from arresting a person for using force unless there is probable cause that the injured or deceased party had not unlawfully or forcefully entered the accused person’s home.

Unfortunately for Trayvon Martin’s family and for justice in the United States, there is no way to review a grant of immunity once granted. Barry University Assistant Professor of Law Elizabeth Megale argues that when law enforcement decides a person is entitled to immunity, the statute does not provide a way for the prosecutor to review the case and withdraw that immunity, if warranted. Megale contends that there are no guidelines for police to apply in exercising this judgment to grant immunity.

The rule of law means that no one is above the law, but it appears that under certain circumstances that certain individuals who take the law into their own hands and meet out their own justice are in fact above the law. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter said: There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny.’ (United States v. United Mine Workers (1947)) George Zimmerman decided what the law was in relation to Trayvon Martin that fateful night. Since the law was enacted, justified homicides in Florida have jumped threefold, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Due process is a fundamental right and the backbone of the rule of law. It means that everyone is entitled to a fair and impartial hearing to determine their legal rights. The accused enjoys a presumption of innocence. This presumption is not a right, but a privilege that is attached to the way various “burdens” are laid out in evidence law. The State bears the tough standard of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed. The State bears this burden to protect the accused from arbitrary prosecution. However, if the State refuses to discharge this burden by failing to arrest someone we are in danger of descending into anarchy.

The testing of evidence is closely entwined with due process. In criminal justice, fairness in procedure and the testing of evidence, connects with fairness in outcome. If the State fails to carry out its responsibility to gather sufficient evidence to establish probable cause, there is no opportunity to test the evidence in court.

The police have now handed the case over to the State Attorney’s office and abdicated all responsibility. It appears there are serious questions as to whether the police discharged their responsibility to the community in investigating Treyvon Martin’s death. In granting George Zimmerman immunity without questioning witnesses and investigating phone records, it seems unlikely that they could determine whether sufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman. The balance of powers doctrine, in which the branches of government, the executive, judiciary and legislature act as checks on one another, has been subverted in this case. The courts act as a check on the power of the police, as well as the government.

Some argue that the Florida Stand Your Ground law has no application in this case. Tim Lynch, Director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, contends that the law only applies to very narrow situations such as home break in or being attacked on the street. Lynch reasons that in pursuing Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman became the aggressor. Under these circumstances, if Martin became aggressive towards Zimmerman, it could in fact be seen as being in response to Zimmerman’s provocation. In addition, because Martin was not armed, a gunshot in response to a thrown punch could be deemed outside the laws of self-defense. Tim Lynch postulates that in the use of a gun against an unarmed man, the police could establish probable cause and arrest Zimmerman. It seems in failing to do so they have perverted the rule of law and the right to due process.

The police turned a blind eye to Zimmerman’s crime and finally washed their hands of making a decision to arrest him. It seems to display a contempt for the rule of law and willingness to, at best, wink at vigilante violence. The Stand Your Ground law seems to allow such attitudes to flourish.

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