Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Ian Welsh writes about the concentration of wealth and economic control:
Money is permission: you can’t do squat in a market economy without it.  Those who can create it, or who have excessive profits, control what other people can do.

It is for this reason that Jefferson said that banks were more dangerous to democracy than even standing armies.

Money making and differential profits lead to differential power. Over time, if your rate of return is higher than everyone else’s you will gain so much more money than them that you can buy them out, or out-bid them.  The first thing you will do, if you have any sense, is take control of government, because government, which controls the rules of the game (legislation) and violence, is the only other power which can destroy you.  Once they are under control (and the bailouts proved Western governments are under the control of financial institutions), the only remaining threats are your own ability to drive yourself off a cliff, and the very small chance of revolution, which is likely to happen only after you’ve destroyed yourself in any case.
- Emily Atkin reports on another environmental disaster caused by fracking - this time a blowout and spill in North Dakota. Rachel Maddow looks at the West Virginia chemical spill as an example of how the corporate sector will happily use its privileged access to set up inexplicable loopholes even in the wake of a highly visible public safety disaster. And George Monbiot likewise observes that massive flooding in the UK can be traced back to the Conservative government's choice to let industry write its own rules:
Almost as soon as it took office, this government appointed a task force to investigate farming rules. Its chairman was the former director general of the National Farmers' Union. Who could have guessed that he would recommend "an entirely new approach to and culture of regulation … Government must trust industry"? The task force's demands, embraced by Paterson, now look as stupid as Gordon Brown's speech to an audience of bankers in 2004: "In budget after budget I want us to do even more to encourage the risk takers."

Six weeks before the floods arrived, a scientific journal called Soil Use and Management published a paper warning that disaster was brewing. Surface water run-off in south-west England, where the Somerset Levels are situated, was reaching a critical point. Thanks to a wholesale change in the way the land is cultivated, at 38% of the sites the researchers investigated, the water – instead of percolating into the ground – is now pouring off the fields.
The previous government also saw it coming. In 2005 it published a devastating catalogue of the impacts of these changes in land use. As well as the loss of fertility from the land and the poisoning of watercourses, it warned, "increased run-off and sediment deposition can also increase flood hazard in rivers". Maize, it warned, is a particular problem because the soil stays bare before and after the crop is harvested, without the stubble or weeds required to bind it. "Wherever possible," it urged, "avoid growing forage maize on high and very high erosion risk areas."

The Labour government turned this advice into conditions attached to farm subsidies. Ground cover crops should be sown under the maize and the land should be ploughed, then resown with winter cover plants within 10 days of harvesting, to prevent water from sheeting off. So why isn't this happening in Somerset?

Because the current government dropped the conditions. Sorry, not just dropped them. It issued – wait for it – a specific exemption for maize cultivation from all soil conservation measures.

It's hard to get your head round this. The crop which causes most floods and does most damage to soils is the only one which is completely unregulated.
- Meanwhile, Jeff Rubin discusses how the unexplained and apparently unstoppable seepage of bitumen from should raise serious questions for the oil industry and public policy alike. And sadly, there's an obvious parallel to the UK's flooding story - as in situ production is precisely the type of oil extraction which the Cons have declared to be immune from federal environmental assessment.

- Alison points out a few of the obvious abuses the Cons are setting up in their selective elections legislation. And Robyn Benson highlights the unfairness of the Cons' plans.

- Finally, Blacklocks reports that a review of Canada Post showed that it could be far more useful and more profitable if it pursued postal banking. But naturally, the Cons preferred a lose-lose service cut plan than a win-win plan to do more and make money in the process.

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