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George Monbiot

John Dolva

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http://www.monbiot.com/ By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th April 2014 Loved to Death
April 8, 2014

By embracing their critics and colonising governments, corporations engineer a world of conformity and consumerism.

How do you engineer a bland, depoliticised world, a consensus built around consumption and endless growth, a dreamworld of materialism and debt and atomisation, in which all relations can be prefixed with a dollar sign, in which we cease to fight for change? You delegate your powers to companies whose profits depend on this model.

Power is shifting: to places in which we have no voice or vote. Domestic policies are forged by special advisers and spin doctors, by panels and advisory committees stuffed with lobbyists. The self-hating state withdraws its own authority to regulate and direct.

Simultaneously, the democratic vacuum at the heart of global governance is being filled – without anything resembling consent – by international bureaucrats and corporate executives. The NGOs permitted, often as an afterthought, to join them intelligibly represent neither civil society nor electorates. (And please spare me that guff about consumer democracy or shareholder democracy: in both cases some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to press for change).

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please visit George Monbiots website and read the many thoughtprovoking articles : http://www.monbiot.com

“Cleansing the Stock”
October 21, 2014

How our governments now talk about human beings.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 21st October 2014

To blot people out of existence first you must blot them from your mind. Then you can persuade yourself that what you are doing is moral and necessary. Today, this isn’t difficult. Those who act without compassion can draw upon a system of thought and language whose purpose is to shield them – and blind us – to the consequences.

The contention by Lord Freud, a minister in the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions, that disabled people are “not worth the full wage”(1) isn’t the worst thing he’s alleged to have said. I say “alleged” because what my ears tell me is contested by Hansard, the offical parliamentary record. During a debate in the House of Lords, he appeared to describe the changing number of disabled people likely to receive the employment and support allowance as a “bulge of, effectively, stock”(2). After a furious response by the people he was talking about, this was transcribed by Hansard as “stopped”(3), rendering the sentence meaningless. I’ve listened to the word several times on the parliamentary video(4). Like others, I struggle to hear it as anything but stock.

If we’re right, he is not the only person at his department who uses this term. Its website describes disabled people entering the government’s work programme for between three and six months as “3/6Mth stock”(5,6). Perhaps this makes sense when you remember that they are a source of profit for the companies running the programme. The department’s delivery plan recommends using “credit reference agency data to cleanse the stock of fraud and error”(7). To cleanse the stock. Remember that.

Human beings – by which I mean those anthropoid creatures who do not receive social security – often live in families. But benefit claimants live in “benefit units”(8), defined by the government as “an adult plus their spouse (if applicable) plus any dependent children living in the household.” On the bright side, if you die while on a government work programme, you’ll be officially declared a “completer”(9). Which must be a relief.

A dehumanising system requires a dehumanising language. So familiar and pervasive has this language become that it has soaked almost unnoticed into our lives. Those who do have jobs are also described by the function they deliver to capital. These days they are widely known as human resources.

The living world is discussed in similar terms. Nature is “natural capital”. Ecological processes are ecosystem services, because their only purpose is to serve us. Hills, forests and rivers are described in government reports as green infrastructure(10). Wildlife and habitats are asset classes in an ecosystems market(11). Fish populations are invariably described as stocks, as if they exist only as moveable assets from which wealth can be extracted – like disabled recipients of social security. The linguistic downgrading of human life and the natural world fuses in a word a Norwegian health trust used to characterise the patients on its waiting list(12). Biomass.

Those who kill for a living employ similar terms. Israeli military commanders described the massacre of 2,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians (including 500 children), in Gaza this summer as “mowing the lawn”(13). It’s not original. Seeking to justify Barack Obama’s drone war in Pakistan (which has so far killed 2,300 people, only 4% of whom have since been named as members of Al Qaeda(14)), Obama’s counterterrorism adviser Bruce Riedel explained that “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”(15) The director of the CIA, John Brennan, claimed that with “surgical precision”, his drones “eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al-Qaida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it”(16). Those who operate the drones describe their victims as “bug splats”(17).

During its attack on the Iraqi city of Falluja in November 2004, the US army used white phosphorus to kill or maim people taking shelter in houses or trenches(18). White phosphorus is fat-soluble. Even small crumbs of it bore through living tissue on contact. It destroys mucous membranes, blinding people and ripping up their lungs. Its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention, as the US Army knows: one of its battle books observes that “it is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets.”(19) (Personnel targets, by the way, are human beings). But never mind all that. The army has developed a technique it calls “shake ‘n’ bake”(20): flush people out with phosphorus, then kill them with high explosives. Shake ‘n’ bake is a product made by Kraft Foods for coating meat with breadcrumbs before cooking it.

Terms like these are designed to replace mental images of death and mutilation with images of something else. Others, such as collateral damage (dead or wounded civilians), kinetic activity (shooting and bombing), compounds (homes) and extraordinary rendition (kidnapping and torture by states), are intended to prevent the formation of any mental pictures at all. If you can’t see what is being discussed, you will struggle to grasp the implications. The clearest example is “neutralising”, which neutralises the act of killing its describes.

I doubt that many people could kill and wound if their language accurately represented what they were doing. It is notable that those who are most enthusiastic about waging war are the least able to describe what they are talking about, without resort to metaphor and euphemism. Few people have nightmares about squashing insects or mowing the lawn.

The media, instead of challenging public figures to say kill when they mean kill and people when they mean people, repeat these evasions. Uncontested, their sanitised, trivialised, belittling terms seep into our own mouths, until we are all talking about operatives or human capital or illegal aliens without stopping to consider how those words resonate and what they permit us not to see. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are buried, dehumanising metaphors in this article that I have failed to spot.

If we wish to reclaim public life from the small number of people who have captured it, we must also reclaim the language in which it is expressed. To know what we are talking about: this, in more than one sense, is the task of those who want a better world.



1. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/15/tory-message-disabled-lord-freud-minimum-wage

2. http://www.parliamentlive.tv/main/Player.aspx?meetingId=9328&player=silverlight

3. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/111108-gc0001.htm#11110875000146

4. At 17:44:20: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/main/Player.aspx?meetingId=9328

5. http://bit.ly/1nxGgCJ

6. http://bit.ly/10hnUf2

7. http://bit.ly/1t7FCOb

8. http://bit.ly/1ziWK73

9. http://bit.ly/1opki5G

10. http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=PESFinalReport28September2011%28FINAL%29.pdf

11. http://www.defra.gov.uk/ecosystem-markets/files/EMTF-VNN-STUDY-FINAL-REPORT-REV1-14.06.12.pdf

12. http://www.nrk.no/hordaland/gjer-vanskeleg-uttrykk-forstaelege-1.10951646

13. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/israelgaza-conflict-israels-mowing-of-gazas-lawn-is-an-unjust-war-9659364.html

14. http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/namingthedead/only-4-of-drone-victims-in-pakistan-named-as-al-qaeda-members/?lang=en

15. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-10-23/world/35500278_1_drone-campaign-obama-administration-matrix

16. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/the-efficacy-and-ethics-us-counterterrorism-strategy

17. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-rise-of-the-killer-drones-how-america-goes-to-war-in-secret-20120416

18. http://www.monbiot.com/2005/11/22/a-war-crime-within-a-war-crime-within-a-war-crime/

19. Chapter 5, Section III. http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/army/docs/st100-3/c5/5sect3.htm

20. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2004/apr/11/violence-subsides-for-marines-in-fallujah/3/?#article-copy

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Trade Secrets

January 13, 2015

Why will no one answer the obvious, massive question about TTIP?

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 14th January 2015

When a government proposes to abandon one of the fundamental principles of justice, there had better be a powerful reason. Equality before the law is not ditched lightly. Surely? Well read this and judge for yourself.

The UK government, like that of the US and 13 other EU members(1), wants to set up a separate judicial system, exclusively for the use of corporations. While the rest of us must take our chances in the courts, corporations across the EU and US will be allowed to sue governments before a tribunal of corporate lawyers. They will be able to challenge the laws they don’t like, and seek massive compensation if these are deemed to affect their “future anticipated profits”.

I’m talking about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its provisions for “investor state dispute settlement”. If this sounds incomprehensible, that’s mission accomplished: public understanding is lethal to this attempted corporate coup.

The TTIP is widely described as a trade agreement. But while in the past trade agreements sought to address protectionism, now they seek to address protection(2). In other words, once they promoted free trade by removing trade taxes (tariffs), now they promote the interests of transnational capital by downgrading the defence of human health, the natural world, labour rights and the poor and vulnerable from predatory corporate practices.

The proposed treaty has been described by the eminent professor of governance Colin Crouch as “post-democracy in its purest form.”(3) Post-democracy refers to our neutron bomb politics, in which the old structures, such as elections and parliaments, remain standing, but are uninhabited by political power. Power has shifted to other forums, unamenable to public challenge: “small, private circles where political elites do deals with corporate lobbies.”

Investor-state dispute settlement means allowing corporations to sue governments over laws which might affect their profits. The tobacco company Philip Morris is currently suing Australia and Uruguay(4), under similar treaties, for their attempts to discourage smoking. It describes the UK’s proposed rules on plain packaging as “unlawful”(5): if TTIP goes ahead, expect a challenge.

Corporations, like natural persons, can use the courts to defend their interests. But, under current treaties, investor-state dispute settlement lets them apply instead to offshore tribunals operating in secret, without such basic safeguards as third-party standing, judicial review and rights of appeal. As Colin Crouch notes, this is not just post-democracy, but “post-law.”(6)

On Wednesday, the TTIP is debated in the House of Commons. Next month negotiations resume between the US and the EU. So you’d have imagined that our government might, by now, have sought to justify it.

There is only one possible justification for a separate judicial system: a failure by the existing courts fairly to arbitrate the legal claims that businesses make. So which judicial systems in the US or the EU discriminate unfairly against corporations?

I have asked this question (via Twitter) to the business secretary Vince Cable, his deputy, Lord Livingstone and the Conservative leader in the European Parliament, Syed Kamall. Resounding silence. I have asked it in this column, three times(7,8,9). Nothing. I have asked the business department by phone. After an attempt by its spokesperson to suggest that there could be something wrong with the US system, and a subsequent failure to explain what this might be, he sent me this statement: “Investor protection is needed as domestic courts are not the typical route for investors to seek redress”(10). Not the typical route? That’s it?

In the House of Commons, Zac Goldsmith MP asked the business minister to name the occasions in the past five years in which companies in the EU or US have been discriminated against in courts across the Atlantic. Answer: the government “does not have access to relevant information.”(11)

The European Commission argues that “the main reason for having an ISDS mechanism is because in many countries investment agreements are not directly enforceable in domestic courts.”(12) Perhaps. But none of those countries are in the proposed trading bloc. A condition of EU membership is “an independent and efficient judiciary” with “legal guarantees for fair trial procedures”(13). What is a provision designed to protect investors in failed states doing in a treaty between the EU and the US?

David Cameron has attempted a different argument. At the G20 summit last year, he said “we’ve signed trade deal after trade deal and there has never been a problem in the past.”(14) It’s the dangerous driver defence: I’ve done 100mph loads of times, and I’m still alive, aren’t I?

Yes, we’ve been lucky so far; luckier than other nations in Europe, which so far have been sued 127 times under investor-state clauses in other treaties(15). The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have had to pay out enough money to have employed 380,000 nurses for a year(16). Investor-state cases are escalating rapidly(17): as corporations begin to understand the power they’ve been granted, they will turn their attention from the weak nations to the strong ones.

No one will provide a justification because no one can. To protect transnational capital from a non-existent risk, our governments are recklessly abandoning the principle of equality before the law.

I believe that we can win this. We have won it before, when the treaty they now call TTIP was the Multilateral Agreement on Investment(18,19). After a massive public response it was defeated in 1998. Now they are trying again, with a different name.

Already, two petitions have gathered 2.5 million signatures between them(20,21). In response, the EU has frantically been making concessions. For the first time in its history, it has made its negotiating positions public(22). It has launched a consultation on investor-state dispute settlement (though still, after 6 months, not published the results)(23)*; promised protections for public services(24) and proposed to improve the offshore arbitration system(25) – while still failing to explain what’s wrong with the courts we already possess. These are desperate concessions from an organisation that knows the window is closing: if it can’t secure an agreement before the next US election, TTIP is probably finished.

So keep marching, keep signing, keep joining the campaigns that have come together under the Stop TTIP banner(26). Ask yourself whether, in an age of ecocide, food banks and financial collapse, we need more protection from predatory corporate practices or less. This is a reckless, unjustified destruction of our rights. We can defeat it.


*An hour after I posted this article, the results were published. They show an overwhelming rejection of investor state dispute settlement among the 150,000 people who responded. Surely ISDS must now be struck out?


1. http://blogs.ft.com/brusselsblog/2014/10/23/leaked-letter-14-ministers-take-on-juncker-over-trade/

2. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/28/opinion/krugman-no-big-deal.html

3. http://www.ippr.org/juncture/democracy-at-a-ttiping-point-seizing-a-slim-chance-to-reassert-democratic-sovereignty-in-europe

4. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/big-tobacco-puts-countries-on-trial-as-concerns-over-ttip-deals-mount-9807478.html

5. http://civitas.org.uk/newblog/2014/08/big-tobaccos-11bn-uk-attack-could-send-eu-us-deal-up-in-flames/

6. http://www.ippr.org/juncture/democracy-at-a-ttiping-point-seizing-a-slim-chance-to-reassert-democratic-sovereignty-in-europe

7. http://www.monbiot.com/2013/11/04/a-global-ban-on-left-wing-politics/

8. http://www.monbiot.com/2013/12/02/managing-transparency/

9. http://www.monbiot.com/2014/11/04/a-gunpowder-plot-against-democracy/

10. By email, 12th January 2015.

11. http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2014-11-20/215459

12. http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/html/151916.htm

13. See Chapter 23: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/policy/conditions-membership/chapters-of-the-acquis/index_en.htm

14. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/david-cameron-press-conference-g20-brisbane-australia

15. https://www.foeeurope.org/hidden-cost-eu-trade-deals

16. https://www.foeeurope.org/hidden-cost-eu-trade-deals

17. http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21623756-governments-are-souring-treaties-protect-foreign-investors-arbitration

18. http://www.monbiot.com/1997/04/15/making-government-redundant/

19. http://www.monbiot.com/1998/08/13/running-on-mmt/

20. https://stop-ttip.org/

21. https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/eu-ttip-petition#

22. http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1230

23. http://trade.ec.europa.eu/consultations/index.cfm?consul_id=179

24. http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1115

25. http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/html/151916.htm

26. https://stop-ttip.org/about-the-eci-campaign/

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