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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [http://www.monbiot.com/2015/12/08/a-storm-of-ignorance// A Storm of Ignorance]</center> ===
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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [https://www.monbiot.com/2019/01/06/the-mind-hackers/// Owned]</center> ===
<center><span style="color:grey">Censoring official advice, stripping the hills and rivers, the government ensures that disasters like the Cumbria floods will keep recurring</span></center>
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<center><span style="color:grey">As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.</span></center>
  
8th December 2015
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8th July 2019
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All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.
  
It’s as if it had come to remind us of what’s at stake. While the climate negotiations in Paris trudge their dreary road, Storm Desmond takes a great boot to our backsides. Yet still we fail to make the connection. The news records the spectacle and ignores the implications.
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So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.
  
Rainfall on this scale used to be described as a one-in-100 year, or 200-year, or 1000-year event. But in Cumbria, where some 30cm of rain fell in 24 hours, this is the third such catastrophe since 2005. Exceptional events are, perhaps, no longer exceptional.
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They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.
  
If so, we should scarcely be surprised. More heat means more energy in the system, and more moisture in the atmosphere. An [https://www2.ametsoc.org/ams/index.cfm/publications/bulletin-of-the-american-meteorological-society-bams/explaining-extreme-events-from-a-climate-perspective/ analysis by scientists at the Met Office], published last month, found that global warming raised the odds – by a factor of seven – that a string of storms of the kind the UK suffered two winters ago would result in exceptionally wet weather.
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It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called [https://landforthemany.uk Land for the Many.] It proposed [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/04/tackle-inequality-land-ownership-laws a set of policies] that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.
  
Just as remarkable is the collective lack of interest in what happens when rain hits the ground. The [https://www.gov.uk/government/news/23-billion-to-be-spent-on-new-flood-defences government boasts that] “we are spending £3.2 billion in flood management and defences over the course of this parliament – half a billion pounds more than in the previous parliament.” Yet almost all the money devoted to freshwater flood relief is being spent at the bottom of river catchments. This means waiting until the wall of water arrives before seeking to contain it; a perfect formula for disappointment.
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Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7171049/Report-lays-Corbyns-proposal-grab-inheritances-tax-profits-family-house-sales.html A week ago], the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2019/06/23/labours-wealth-grab-would-iniquitous-country/ the Telegraph explained], that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.
  
A rational policy would aim to prevent the flood from gathering in the first place. It would address the problem, literally and metaphorically, upstream. A [http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hyp.9826/abstract study in mid-Wales] suggests that rainwater’s infiltration rate into the soil is 67 times higher under trees than under sheep pasture. Rain that percolates into the soil is released more slowly than rain that flashes over the surface. But Cumbria’s hills are almost entirely treeless, and taxpayers, through the subsidy regime, [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/03/rich-landowners-farmers-welfare-nfu-defra pay farmers to keep them that way].
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But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.
  
Rivers that have been dredged and canalised to protect farmland rush the water instead into the nearest town. Engineering works of this kind were [http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/wild-ennerdale-cumbria removed a few years ago] from the River Liza in Ennerdale. It was [http://www.wildennerdale.co.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/GIS-Analysis-of-the-River-Liza.pdf allowed to braid, meander] and accumulate logs and stones. When the last great storm hit Cumbria, in 2009, the Liza remained clear and fordable the following day, while other rivers roared into furious spate. The Liza’s obstructions held the water back, filtered it and released it slowly. Had all the rivers of Cumbria been rewilded in this way, there might have been no floods, then or now.
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There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7105601/James-Brokenshire-blasts-Labours-planned-tax-raid.html “an extra £374 a year] on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.
  
During the last deluge, in the winter of 2013-2014, the government’s Environment Agency published a presentation called River Dredging and Flood Defence. It remarked that “Dredging of river channels does NOT prevent flooding during extreme river flows.” Dredging, it noted, makes rivers more dangerous, destabilises bridges, banks and weirs and requires endless expense to maintain.
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The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.
  
All copies of this presentation have now been deleted from the web (we republish it exclusively [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/07/hide-evidence-storm-desmond-floods-paris-talks on the Guardian’s site today]). It is not hard to see why. In June 2014, in pursuit of its primary mission – appeasing the farming industry – the environment department [https://consult.defra.gov.uk/flooding/flood-defence-consents/supporting_documents/consultation%20document.pdf proposed to deregulate dredging], allowing landowners to strip the structure and wildlife habitat out of ditches and rivers. It will also permit them, with minimal oversight, to extract gravel from the riverbed and to build culverts. There could be no better formula for disaster downstream. Once water is in the rivers, it has to go somewhere. If you don’t hold it back in the fields, it will bowl up instead in people’s homes.
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We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.
  
But no one in power seems interested in the causes; all focus is on the outcomes. For the past three years, Cumbria’s two most prominent MPs, Rory Stewart, now a minister at the environment department, and Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems, have denounced those who call for the better management of watersheds to prevent flooding. In 2013, Rory Stewart [http://greenallianceblog.org.uk/2013/10/14/green-conservatism-the-market-vs-the-environment/ blasted the National Trust] because it “allows water to ruin the lowland pastures of their small tenant farms, apparently on the advice of the Environment Agency.” In 2014, [http://www.rorystewart.co.uk/swindale-future-landscape/ he mocked the RSPB] and the water company United Utilities for managing their land “in a way that ‘increased biodiversity, decreased flooding, increased carbon capture.’”
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It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.
  
In 2013, Tim Farron [http://timfarron.co.uk/en/article/2012/0588403/farron-meets-environment-chief-to-demand-support-for-upland-farmers pronounced himself] “delighted that Natural England are readjusting their approach to the uplands, with the recent dropping of their Uplands Vision”. This vision ([http://www.yhref.org.uk/system/files/yhref_documents/uplands.pdf called Vital Uplands]) proposed that there should be more vegetation in the hills to reduce “the risk of downstream flooding”. It noted that “Intensive grazing can cause soil erosion and compaction, and prevent regeneration of scrub and trees, thus speeding water run-off.” The report [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/04/wildlife-land-aristocracy was publicly denounced] by the head of the government body that had commissioned it, Natural England, who happened to make his living as a farmer. Once again, the online version was deleted and the hard copies were pulped. Is this how democracies behave?
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The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.
  
Now Messrs Stewart and Farron wring their hands and wring out their clothes, lamenting this inexplicable act of God. On Saturday, Tim Farron was [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/12036152/Lib-Dem-leader-Tim-Farron-stranded-in-Cumbria-floods.html trapped in the floodwaters] while driving his car, and had to be rescued. The car, apparently, is a write-off. There is relief that he and his four children came to no harm. Still, parables have been told about men like him.
 
 
Meanwhile the talks in Paris have become a festival of empty gestures. The pledges governments have brought fall short of those required to prevent disasters on a much greater scale, and even they are broken as they are made. By pursuing a new dash for gas, while closing down its carbon capture and storage, renewable power and energy efficiency programmes, David Cameron’s government [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/02/climate-change-david-cameron-bomb-syria-global-warming makes a mockery of its promises]. Worse still, the collective refusal even to discuss keeping fossil fuels in the ground [http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/10/keep-fossil-fuels-in-the-ground-to-stop-climate-change condemns the talks to futility].
 
 
Nothing is learnt, crucial discussions are avoided or buried. We are drowning in ignorance; ignorance manufactured by an illiterate media and a hostile government. Every time disaster strikes we respond with bewilderment. Our understanding of what confronts us seems scarcely to have advanced since we responded to catastrophe by burning old women.
 
 
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
  
 
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Featured article(s)

Boris Johnson

George Monbiot: Owned

As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.

8th July 2019

All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.

So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.

They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.

It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called Land for the Many. It proposed a set of policies that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.

Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. A week ago, the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, the Telegraph explained, that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.

But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.

There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add “an extra £374 a year on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.

The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.

We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.

It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.

The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.

©www.monbiot.com

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