Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Exponential Rise of Modern Slavery

"Workers of the world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains." - The Communist Manifesto (1848) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The practice of slavery has existed for thousands of years. Although it is now universally illegal - the last country to abolish it was Mauritania in 1981 - according to the inaugural global slavery index over 29 million people (equivalent to the population of Venezuela) are currently held in slavery. Most are bonded laborers in Asia - notably Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal – people whose bodies are collateral for debts which, in many cases, will never diminish or be paid off. Many modern slaves are children, who are particularly susceptible to sexual abuse, while those aged younger than ten are often trained to commit crimes in order to take advantage of the fact that they fall below the age of criminal responsibility. It is estimated that the slave trade generates around $35 billion annually.

Human trafficking is also thriving. Although there is debate about the numbers, the United Nations estimated (pdf) in 2008 that 2.5 million people from 127 countries are being trafficked into 137 countries at any time, pressed into the sex industry or being used for forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Organ or tissue removal is also common. It is extremely profitable, making it a priority for international criminal gangs – an estimated $31.6 billion a year is brought in, only slightly less than that made from arms trading or drug smuggling. This industry is growing and is expected to overtake drug trafficking as the most profitable criminal industry in the future.

The Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations met in Washington, DC on April 29. In the opening statements, it was observed that experts say there are more slaves in the world now than at any time in human history.

These are damning statistics which make a mockery of any claim that humanity follows an equitable system of rights and justice. Mass slavery requires a high population density to be viable. The rapidly increasing world population combined with the mass influx to major urban centers ensures this. Efforts against human trafficking by the UN and other agencies are doomed to fail, lacking significant political will and support against an ever rising human tide of misery and need.

Slavery can be defined as a system under which humans are regarded as property that can be bought and sold. Every slave is therefore a prisoner, denied the freedom that most of us take for granted. However, the classical definition of slavery is insufficient to encompass certain developments that have taken shape over recent decades.

Consider, for example, the rise of private prisons in the US. Matt Taibbi, a writer who mostly covers major Wall Street financial scandals, was interviewed on Democracy Now about his new book which describes the justice divide in the US, an enormous scandal in itself. He began by pointing out the different ways the rich and the poor are treated:

[...] I was in a law office in Brooklyn, and I was actually waiting to speak to a lawyer about another case, when I met this 35-year-old African-American man, a bus driver. And I asked him what he was there for, and he told me that he had been arrested for, quote-unquote, "obstructing pedestrian traffic." And I thought he was kidding. You know, I didn’t know what that meant. And I asked him to show me his summons, and he pulled out a little—little piece of pink paper, and there it was. It was written, you know, "obstructing pedestrian traffic," which it turns out it meant that he was standing in front of his own house at 1:00 in the morning, and the police just didn’t like the way he looked and arrested him.

And this is part of the disorderly conduct statute here in New York, but this is one of these offenses that people get roped in for. It’s part of what a city councilman in another city called an "epidemic of false arrests," basically these new stats-based police strategies. The whole idea is to rope in as many people as you can, see how many of them have guns or warrants, and then basically throw back the innocent ones. But the problem is they don’t throw back everybody. They end up sweeping up a lot of innocent people and charging them with really pointless crimes.

Yeah, and this is something that I encountered over and over and over again, is that people who were charged with these minor sort of harassing offenses, they—when the state discovers that the case against them is not very good, they start offering deals to the accused. And when people protest that "I’m not going to plead, because I didn’t do anything wrong," they keep offering better and better and better deals. And no one can understand why they won’t plead guilty, because, in reality, most people do.


Taibbi then talked about what happens when bankers commit major crimes:

So, HSBC, again, this is one of the world’s largest banks. It’s Europe’s largest bank. And a few years ago, they got caught, swept up for a variety of offenses, money-laundering offenses. But one of them involved admitting that they had laundered $850 million for a pair—for two drug cartels, one in Mexico and one in South America, and including the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico that is suspected in thousands of murders.

And in that case, they paid a fine; they paid a $1.9 billion fine. And some of the executives had to defer their bonuses for a period of five years—not give them up, defer them. But there were no individual consequences for any of the executives. Nobody had to pull money out of their own pockets for permanently. And nobody did a single day in jail in that case.

And that, to me, was an incredibly striking case. I ran that very day to the courthouse here in New York, and I asked around to the public defenders, you know, "What’s the dumbest drug case you had today?" And I found somebody who had been thrown in Rikers for 47 days for having a joint in his pocket. So—


The documentary 'The House I Live In' by Eugene Jarecki and featuring David Simon of The Wire fame, summarized in an earlier 99.99998271% article here, detailed the devastating effects on American society of the 'war on drugs'. A major theme of the documentary is the number of human beings incarcerated for long periods of time for relatively minor, victimless crimes. Some relevant points from the article (in note form):

The US has more prisoners than any other nation: 2.3 million prisoners in 2012. Russia a bit below in second. China a long way behind in third. Around a million are black Americans, most male, many for non-violent drug offenses.

Since Nixon announced the drug war in 1971, it has cost over $1 trillion and resulted in over 45 million arrests. In this period, illegal drug use has remained unchanged.

US has 5% of world’s population. Has 25% of all prisoners. 500,000 incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes.

More poor black people incarcerated or on probation/parole than there were slaves in 1850.

2.7 million kids had a parent behind bars in 2012.

Crack cocaine was punished 100 times more severely than powder cocaine use. White execs used powder cocaine, crack cocaine used on the streets.

Judge says a defendant with 5g of crack is given 5 years - the same as someone with 500g of powder cocaine.

Most users of cocaine are white, but 90% of defendants in federal system are black.

One guy has life without parole for three grams of meth...three strikes and you’re out.

Prison services are big business. Many corporations - health providers, taser manufacturers, etc. need prison industry.

In order to keep prisons successful businesses, you need a constant stream of prisoners.


These prisoners, almost all no danger to society and denied their human right to life and freedom, are essentially slaves, subjected to sexual abuse and utilised as cheap labor for corporations already awash in money but sociopathically content nonetheless to use a miserable subclass of humanity to increase their quarterly profits.

Is this slavery? From a recent article [see original for sources]:

While cheap sweatshop labor is becoming increasingly common across the country, no one takes better advantage of the system than prisons.

Alternet reports that almost 1 million prisoners are doing simple unskilled labor including “making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.” They continue:

“Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance — unless, that is, you traveled back to the nineteenth century when convict labor was commonplace nationwide…. It was one vital way the United States became a modern industrial capitalist economy — at a moment, eerily like our own, when the mechanisms of capital accumulation were in crisis.”

Compare the cost of less than $5 a day with the cost of a minimum wage worker at $58 a day and you begin to see the perverse influence on the entire labor market.

CNN Money reports that prison inmates are now directly competing for jobs in the rest of the economy, and employers are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. Lost jobs are the result. They cite one company, American Apparel Inc., which makes military uniforms. They write:

“‘We pay employees $9 on average,’ [a company executive] said. ‘They get full medical insurance, 401(k) plans and paid vacation. Yet we’re competing against a federal program that doesn’t pay any of that.’

[The private prison] is not required to pay its workers minimum wage and instead pays inmates 23 cents to $1.15 an hour. It doesn’t have health insurance costs. It also doesn’t shell out federal, state or local taxes.”

The new influx of cheap, domestic labor will inevitably drive down wages for both skilled and unskilled jobs.


More:

According to the 2011 report from Department of Justice, nearly one in 10 prisoners report having been raped or sexually assaulted by other inmates, staff or both. According to a revised report from the US Department of Justice, there were 216,000 victims of rape in US prisons in 2008. That is roughly 600 a day or 25 every hour.

Those numbers are of victims, not instances, which would be much higher since many victims were reportedly assaulted multiple times throughout the year. Excluding prison rapes, there about 200,000 rapes per year in America, and roughly 91 percent of those victims are women. If these numbers are accurate, this means that America is the only country in the world where more men are raped than women.

Even if the number of unreported rapes outside of prison were substantially larger than most experts believe, the fact that many victims in prison tend to be raped repeatedly would indicate that rape against men is at least comparable to rape against women.

Kendell Spruce was one such inmate, sentenced to six years for forging a check for which he hoped to purchase crack cocaine. In a National Prison Rape Elimination Commission testimony, Spruce said:

“I was raped by at least 27 different inmates over a nine month period. I don’t have to tell you that it was the worst nine months of my life… [I] was sent into protective custody. But I wasn’t safe there either. They put all kinds of people in protective custody, including sexual predators. I was put in a cell with a rapist who had full-blown AIDS. Within two days, he forced me to give him oral sex and anally raped me.”

Spruce was diagnosed with “full blown AIDS” in 2002 and died three years later.


Perception is a key issue. The standard image invoked of slavery is that of black men in cotton fields, a tale with a 'happy' ending: freedom ultimately granted. There is a prevailing view, however, that anyone in prison deserves whatever abuse they suffer (even if that means multiple instances of rape, labor exploitation and solitary confinement); that if they didn't want to 'do the time' they shouldn't have 'done the crime'. This grotesque simplification of the deep complexities of each individual case reflects a general dumbing down of social realities throughout modern media, creating desensitization to human suffering on a massive scale and consequently little or no public interest in reform.

It is not only the incarcerated who are slaves or prisoners: the definition can be extended to almost every human being.

The poor and unemployed, many living day to day in a brutal battle for survival, despised by many of their compatriots as a result of vulgar, cynical media campaigns of division and deception, depend in many cases on food banks and possess no hope whatsoever for the future. In the UK, benefits can be stopped for minor transgressions, leading to serious life repercussions for the 'offender'. Few jobs are available as demonstrated by the huge numbers applying for even menial work. With rents, transportation costs and energy bills soaring, there can be no other description for this than a form of prison. Indeed, there seems to be more chance of escaping from a real prison.

Consider the UK's Help To Work scheme, described in an article by Suzanne Moore:

The rules now in place were announced last year by Osborne and are now fronted by Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. The harshest sanctions apply to the long-term unemployed (one in 30 claimants, who have been out of work for more than three years). These people – living the life of Riley, presumably – will now have to attend a jobcentre every day or commit to six months of voluntary work or a training scheme, or payments will be stopped.

This is called Help to Work. Doublespeak. For it doesn't help and it won't work. Jobcentres are not geared up to cope with such numbers, and many leading charities such as Oxfam are boycotting mandatory work placements because they think the key word in voluntary work is, er, voluntary. If it isn't, we are basically talking about community service, which you would get for being found guilty of an offence.

The government's own research indicates that unpaid work placements are not increasing the chances of claimants finding work. But, yet again, this policy is not about finance (it will actually cost money if travel fares to jobcentres are paid); it is an ideological assault that seeks to undermine the very idea of unemployment benefit.

As Cameron said on a visit to a jobcentre this week: "The day of giving people benefit cheques and not asking for anything in return – those days are gone." Forcing people to work for free will push people into "proper" work, he reckons. McVey suggests that forcing people to sign in at jobcentres every day will improve their lives. They make such statements with straight and shiny faces.

I know what they are, but what have we become? Has the "skivers" narrative taken such root that we now all accept that the unemployed are Untermenschen who personally steal from us via state benefits when there are perfectly good jobs they are refusing to do?


Work or lose the meager benefits you have: coercion. Slavery.

Even the more financially comfortable are not truly free, though most may think they are. Sure, you can walk down the street wearing whatever you like; you can choose your hobbies and interests without interference. As Bill Hicks once pointed out, however, try going somewhere without money to find out how truly free you are. Try shining a light on illegal activities of powerful corporations or governments, as Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou and many others have done, to see how democratic your society really is.

Further, which candidate is a US citizen who opposes murdering Muslim children with drones in nations that pose no threat to him or her supposed to vote for, given that both major parties have identical foreign policies? Voting for a third party might be a popular suggestion here, but with third parties routinely sidelined, derided even, by the media, this is not viable. What should our hypothetical US citizen do if they do not wish their tax dollars funding the war machine or the illegal activities of the NSA?

One is 'free' as long as they submit to a system that rewards only the very rich and they are brainwashed to believe throughout their lives that this is indeed freedom, with some even drawing comparisons with those in far worse situations and believing that they are therefore somehow 'lucky' to be so 'free', as if freedom were some kind of sliding scale. Hint: it is not.

In a more intangible but no less devastating fashion, almost all of us exist in a mental prison, kept distracted by a corporate-owned media with a vested interest in presenting a false view of reality, one that not-at-all-coincidentally benefits them greatly. The many layers of distraction and lies deployed daily work effectively at keeping the restless billions under control, misdirecting their despair, frustration and anger into harmless channels that do not threaten those in control of the planet's resources and key institutions.

The so-called 'austerity' drive, yet another propaganda term that invokes the positive, traditional idea of tightening belts and living frugally, is in fact an ideologically-driven profit grab for the rich. The speed of the break-up of the UK's National Health Service, for instance, can be explained easily by this mind-boggling list of corrupt Conservative Lords with links to private healthcare firms that stand to profit. The Equality Trust thinktank in March released a report saying that inequality costs Britain £39 billion a year due to the 'impact on health, wellbeing and crime rates'. If austerity were truly about cutting spending, solving inequality would be a priority (behind tackling tax havens) as that would save far more money. Meanwhile, there is always plenty of cash available for war adventures all over the world in nations that pose no threat, or, say, £200 million for a new polar research ship.

On International Worker's Day, known to many as May Day, when we are to celebrate workers and their rights, it is hard to find enthusiasm. The evil of slavery thrives unseen behind walls of deflection. Lament this...then stand up and act. One increasingly wonders how bad things will have to become before the realization sets in that life is not the Hollywood version of reality: that some kind of superhero is going to appear in the nick of time and save the planet. The people and their corrupt elected officials are in an abusive relationship like any other: for many it is hard to imagine life without the abuser and they therefore keep accepting the abuse. But when enough courage is raised to make a clean break; when one realises that these deeply limited, banal individuals are not in fact needed at all; that there are far better alternatives available (like this and this for starters)...the result is pure liberation.

Acting upon this will engender a further realization: that the human spirit is being tamed, wasted, wracked utterly by virulently aggressive cancers: 'growth', profit, capitalism. Take the first steps toward leaving the mental prison: turn off the television. Boycott the corporate media and support reliable independent sources of news both financially and with clicks. Do not vote for any candidate that is part of the existing paradigm. And discover that you have been systematically misled since the day you were born. In short, stop playing the game, because the game is certainly playing you.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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Friday, April 4, 2014

A Blueprint for Revolution

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities" - Voltaire

[Author's note: This article has been written in solidarity with the Wave of Action movement, a three-month effort (starting today) to protest corruption and bring about meaningful change. Given the complexity of the subject matter, it is a little lengthy, but hopefully worth the effort to read]

Asked to imagine a nation without elected officials, one is likely at first to picture either a state of autocracy or disorder - a state of affairs anathema to the common understanding of democracy. But how would a real (or nominal) democracy fare without elected officials like Obama, Abbott, Hollande, Merkel or Cameron at the helm? Would society come crashing down, the streets suddenly full of people looting and pillaging as they wished, their suppressed barbarism liberated? Would the infrastructure collapse? Would the vital supply chains be fatally compromised, leading to panic, chaos and violence?

For 589 days between 2010 and 2011 the sovereign nation of Belgium, an advanced social democracy, went without an elected government - a world record. Day to day affairs were tended to over this period by a temporary (unelected) administration run by a former prime minister with no major changes to primary policies. No problems occurred whatsoever.

This begs a key question: given that people in 'democracies' are subjected to a literally daily deluge of tales of corruption, cronyism, greed and despicable behavior in general, what would be involved in getting rid of elected officials forever? Do societies really need these deeply limited people running vital institutions when they have so obviously declared their allegience, not to you - the person on the street - but instead to the corporate entities with wallets deep enough to fund their parties, campaigns and media allies? Is such a system optimal for democracy? Can we find something better?

To quote one of the most successful confidence artists in history: 'Yes, we can'.

Before detailing how this vision can be brought about, it is necessary to know why it is so urgently needed.

Part I: Why?

Under representative democracies and the auspices of the United Nations, the following on this (non-exhaustive) list of treatable, preventable tragedies have been allowed to fester and grow:

Poverty, hunger and starvation. Illiteracy, human trafficking, animal trafficking, debt slavery, sexual slavery, forced labor, inadequate healthcare, preventable diseases and epidemics, drug abuse, addiction, drug trafficking, discrimination, genocide, ethnic cleansing, genital mutilation, violence against women, honor killings, torture, political prisoners, corruption, persecution, depleted uranium munitions, land mines, cluster bombs, climate change, pollution, desertification, drought, famine and war.

To cite one particularly depressing example in detail, our 'democracies' have permitted the existence of deeply psychopathic enterprises known as 'vulture funds'. A vulture fund refers to a private equity or hedge fund that invests in debt believed to be at extreme risk of default. Investors profit by buying the debt at a reduced price on a secondary market and then suing the debtor for a larger sum than the buying price. Debtors can be anything from individuals, companies or even whole nations. Think 'basket case' economies of Africa, desperately poor and often with corrupt governments. Now think already obscenely rich white sociopaths in New York high-rises making enormous amounts of cash they don't need off nations that are unable even to provide chairs or books in schools, or basic medical services for the population. In many cases, these nations are also rich in resources.

From Wikipedia (see original for sources):

Vulture Fund FG Hemisphere run by financier Peter Grossman [attempted] to enforce an ICC arbitration award for $116 million owed by the Democratic Republic of Congo. The award was originally issued by an arbitral panel of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in favor of Energoinvest DD of Bosnia in the amount of $39 million and then sold to FG Hemisphere. The award was issued by the ICC in respect of unpaid construction contracts pursuant to which Energoinvest supervised construction of high-tension power lines for transmission of power from the Inga–Shaba dam in Congo; the power lines are still in service. Sales of assets by Energoinvest have been criticized by opposition parties in Bosnia as having been "an abuse of power" by the management who defend themselves on the basis that the company had to sell assets in order to pay salaries after it was impoverished and broken up in the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

Millions of people have died due to inadequate healthcare in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a stricken nation in which, among so many heart-rending tragedies, rape is used as a weapon of war.

From an earlier article on The 99.99998271%:

An estimated 2 million women are victims of rape and many are raped again, sometimes more than once, after returning home from what little treatment is available. 48 Congolese women are raped every hour (almost one every minute). Dr. Mukwege explains in his speech that women are raped, enslaved and tortured by soldiers of both rebel groups and government forces. Children born of rape often become victims of rape themselves, while victims are in many cases infected with HIV, as are any babies that are conceived.

The causes of this conflict are partly colonial, but consumerism is driving the conflict because of massive demand for coltan, used in the production of tantalum capacitors, which are found in almost every kind of electronic device; not only smartphones as is commonly cited.

Yet nothing is being done apart from the paltry efforts of scattered activists around the globe, many of whom are consumed by the particular cause they have chosen, therefore ineffectual in the grand scheme.

What accounts for this failing?

In addition to the systematic propaganda campaign aimed at keeping all of humanity distracted, deceived and divided, it is worth noting that human beings are curious creatures. There is an erroneous and damaging belief that the human brain works something like a computer database, that when faulty information is corrected (by access to accurate input) it will somehow work properly henceforth and the false data will be gone forever. In reality, due to the cognitive bias of 'system justification' (and others), people tend to support and defend the status quo, even if they know it is bad for them and others, out of an instinctive desire for stability and order. Modern research suggests that humans can embrace radical change, but only when it is seen as inevitable or unstoppable.

This bears out in reality, as noted in the latest article on the Daily 99.99998271% blog about cryptocurrencies and Auroracoin:

[]...it is a lesson in human nature; namely that people generally do nothing until they absolutely have no choice. A recent illustration of this can be found in Turkey, which saw a massive increase in the use of Tor software to get around a Twitter ban put in place by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Tor has been around for quite a while, and Turkey's government is infamously repressive, but few bothered to explore the option until they had no choice.

In practice most pick a person, team or side they identify with for whatever reason and stick with it or them through thick and thin. This relieves them of the messy job of sorting out the glaring contradictions between media-projected reality and reality reality (AKA the truth).

And glaring is really what they are. Over to Glenn Greenwald (see link for sources):

Selecting the year’s single most brazen example of political self-delusion is never easy, but if forced to choose for 2013, I’d pick British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public condemnation of George Galloway. The Scottish MP had stood to question Cameron about the UK’s military support for Syrian rebels. As is typical for Western discourse, criticizing western government militarism was immediately equated with support for whatever tyrants those governments happened to be opposing at the time: “Some things come and go,” proclaimed the Prime Minister, “but there is one thing that is certain: wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of [Galloway].”

What made Cameron’s statement so notable wasn’t the trite tactic of depicting opposition to western intervention as tantamount to support for dictators. That’s far too common to be noteworthy (if you oppose the war in Iraq, you are pro-Saddam; if you oppose intervention in Libya, you love Ghaddafi, if you oppose US involvement in Ukraine, you’re a shill for Putin, etc. etc.). What was so remarkable is that David Cameron – the person accusing Galloway of supporting every “brutal Arab dictator” he can find – is easily one of the world’s most loyal, constant, and generous supporters of the most brutal Arab despots. He has continuously lavished money, diplomatic support, arms and all sorts of obsequious praise on intensely repressive regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Egypt. That this steadfast supporter of the worst Arab dictators could parade around accusing others of supporting bad Arab regimes was about as stunning a display of western self-delusion as I could have imagined

...

The Obama administration for which [Tommy] Vietor was a spokesman repeatedly supplied arms to the regime in Bahrain as they brutally crushed democratic protesters. They vigorously supported the repellent Mubarak regime, the long-time US ally, until his downfall became inevitable; Hillary Clinton, upon being named Secretary of State, gushed: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.” Obama has continually embraced the anti-democratic Gulf monarchs ruling Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. And all of that is independent of the unparalleled political, financial, diplomatic and military support which the US lavishes on Israel as it engaged in all sorts of decades-long occupation, repression and aggression.

And then there’s the closest US ally of them all, which also just happens to be one of the world’s most brutally repressive regimes: the House of Saud. During Vietor’s tenure, the administration revealed “plans to offer advanced aircraft to Saudi Arabia worth up to $60 billion, the largest US arms deal ever, and is in talks with the kingdom about potential naval and missile-defense upgrades that could be worth tens of billions of dollars more.” Five months ago, the Pentagon announced “plans to sell Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates $10.8 billion in advanced weaponry, including air-launched cruise missiles and precision munitions,” a package that “includes the first US sales to Middle East allies of new Raytheon and Boeing weapons that can be launched at a distance from Saudi F-15 and UAE F-16 fighters.” The Obama White House has repeatedly affirmed its “strong partnership” with the Saudi tyranny.


Someone (possibly Carl Sagan) once said: 'If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth'.

Worse even than the formidable obstacles of cognitive biases and blanket imposed propaganda is a fact rarely expressed: the entire population of planet Earth - with only a tiny fraction of enlightened exceptions - have been made sociopaths by default, zombified into a 'shit happens' mentality. It is the commonly expressed (and correct) belief that a large number of those in control of our societies are sociopaths, but it is far more than that, with media overkill and entertainment normalizing abnormal behavior or extreme violence, leading to societies that this expert says are 'fertile breeding ground[s] for psychopathic behavior'.

Few bat an eyelid in the knowledge that people (including kids) are starving to death in their thousands daily. Shit happens. Almost no one outside activist circles is making a noise about the CIA drone program, which is responsible for the murder of little children in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and other nations, with Obama or his staff ordering strikes on Muslim weddings and funerals. Yet those same people spend enormous amounts of time fussing over the kids of their own families and friends on Facebook or elsewhere, sparing not a thought for nameless Muslim children blown to pieces in some far-off land.

One can argue, of course, that one is not morally responsible for those deaths. That is fair enough - it's an honest argument. But by definition that still makes one a sociopath. Sociopathy is a mental condition in which the normal human capacity for empathy for the plight of another sentient being is absent. When one euphemizes the cold-blooded murder of drone victims with 'shit happens', whether one is morally responsible or not, that is sociopathic. [Note that sociopaths can be enormously empathic within their social circle, simply because they need to exhibit such behavior in order to avoid social trouble or awkwardness - it's what they need to obtain the desired state of affairs.]

Desmond Tutu: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."

It does not have to be this way. With children properly educated in honest, sensible ways that take into account their uniqueness and creativity, not raised simply to be productive/consuming drones; with corporate media brought under control so it can not lie, twist, omit and spin the truth for its own ends; with media monopolies outlawed so corporate-owned media and conflict of interest is no longer possible. With even simple measures like these, great progress can be made toward mitigating such evils.

We find ourselves now in a sort of sick, Kafka-esque Mexican standoff: both sides of the fake democracy chasm know that the other side is their enemy. One side - the people - know, to varying degrees of accuracy (0-100%), that the other side - those with the power and the money - use them to garner ever more power and money by making them both productive workers and avid consumers while keeping them distracted. Those in power know that the people know that but they can safely laugh their head off at the fact that electoral systems are gamed to present the illusion of choice, when in reality - on the issues that matter to the financial/political classes - there is consensus between all the major political parties. Any candidate or party offering anything that deviates from this status quo is ignored, smeared or ridiculed throughout the mass media, which - incidentally - is almost wholly owned by the very same financial/political classes.

On one side, the people are deluded into thinking that voting in an 'opposition' party (that we have already established is not in opposition at all, except on cosmetic issues that the 'elites' don't give a rusty damn about but nonetheless arouse significant passions like abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, abstinence and so on) will somehow bring about a brave new dawn, despite this proving emphatically not to be the case all the time. Obama, who came in on a tide of hope for real change that quickly turned into a Noah's flood-like deluge of secrecy, obfuscation, authoritarianism and murder version 2.0 should have put that argument to bed forever. But it has not been put to bed, and - without radical changes in consciousness - it never will be. This endlessly repeated cycle of fake democracy is destined to buy corporate power all the time it needs to bring in laws like TPP and TAFTA that will entrench it as the pre-eminent, unassailable power on Earth until the sun expands into its red giant stage.

On the other side, it is well-understood that this illusion of democratic choice has to be maintained while more invasive means of control (state spying on civilians, laws against dissent etc.) are brought in under the public's nose, making sure the media confuses the issue so almost no one realises the freedoms that previous generations fought and died for are being flushed down the toilet, all the while dismissing anyone raising the alarm as a conspiracy nut.

Both sides know this is a scam and - even worse - both sides know the other sides know; and they all know they know they know. If people weren't suffering and dying on a massive scale, this situation would be surreally comical, like the script to a movie in which every scene takes you down veering corridors of nightmarish hallucinations. Even the tools that enforce control - the police and the army - come from the ranks of those on the other side but they are 'just following orders' and are, in the main, among the most brainwashed of the populace, genuinely believing that they are protecting freedom, unaware (sometimes wilfully) that they are in reality the guardians of the outer borders of a monstrous, voracious, fascist, corporate empire of control, capable of ignoring the fact that the 0.00000001% of humanity they actually protect despise and fear them just as much as they do the general populace these unwitting tools belong to.

And will the corporations somehow end up saving us? Allow Noam Chomsky to answer that:

"Destruction of the environment is an externality: in market interactions, you don't pay attention to it. So take tar sands. If you're a major energy corporation and you can make profit out of exploiting tar sands, you simply do not take into account the fact that your grandchildren may not have a possibility of survival - that's an externality. And in the moral calculus of capitalism, greater profits in the next quarter outweigh the fate of your grandchildren - and of course it's not your grandchildren, but everyone's."

We live in a world in which up to 27 million people are slaves (not including those petty criminals - not even criminals from any sane viewpoint - locked up for private prison company profits); where endless war is engendered by corporate psychopaths in the boardrooms of the arms industry; where $200 million is spent on arms EVERY HOUR (making a total mockery of the need for 'austerity); where $600 billion is to be spent by the US on nuclear weapons systems in the next decade; where climate change, now - according to massive scientific consensus - a potentially catastrophic global emergency, is nigh on ignored and even dismissed or ridiculed by public figures and the establishment media; where thousands of kids die daily in unnecessary ways; where inequality and financial misery for millions is gleefully brought about by the wilfully callous and self-interested actions of the leaders of Goldman Sachs and financial corporations like it.

This will continue if we allow the systems that have permitted this to happen to persist. It is up to us, ordinary people, the non-psychopathic among us who feel great sorrow for every single child who dies or suffers needlessly...it is up to us and us alone to bring about the change that the world desperately needs.

We can do better.

Part II How?

In Western nations, especially the US and the UK, the form that revolution has traditionally taken throughout history - millions on the streets demanding change or overrunning the vital instutions of society and removing governments by force - can no longer succeed on its own. Any significant protest, if it seriously threatens the status quo, will inevitably turn violent, and if it does not, you can be sure that agent provocateurs will ensure that it does. Such protests will be brutally crushed by police forces that now possess military equipment and employ military strategy (US and UK).

Therefore the assault must come on multiple fronts, the most important of which is awareness - consciousness. The more ordinary people become aware of this nightmare...the more people that realise that the endless soap opera 'news' narrative, the World Cup, the Olympics, Malaysia Airlines, Oscar Pistorius etc. etc. have a singular purpose: to distract...the more that people realise this, the more likely it will be that real change can come about.

Education is vital, but it must be gentle. Don't call people 'sheeple'. That is an insult to a probably nice, intelligent person who is simply a victim of a devious campaign of deceit and propaganda, and telling such people they are idiots sets back the struggle as it serves only to solidify their belief that anyone who contradicts their worldview is unhinged or intolerant and hence should be ignored. Anyone can be brainwashed - anyone - no matter how smart they think they are - so there is a need to show patience and gently introduce people to the idea that things are not as they seem, that they really are plugged into a real-life matrix, as it were. The journey to realisation can only come from within a person's own mind, but they can at least be nudged in the right direction. It might take weeks, it could take years, but if even one person is ultimately snapped out of it, it's worth the effort.

In addition to spreading awareness, for which enlisting celebrity help at any opportunity would be useful, it is long past time for civil disobedience. The time is coming for general strikes and refusal to pay taxes that fund wars or the murder of innocent children on the other side of the world in drone attacks. At all times, respect for people, property, safety and just laws must be paid. Any deviation from this will not only contradict the philosophy of a peaceful, democratic movement but will also provide the perfect excuse for the iron fist to come crashing down...exactly what the authorities have long prepared for. There can only be one winner in such a scenario.

"There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all... One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly...I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law." - Martin Luther King, Jr. (Letter from the Birmingham Jail)

Crowds must begin to gather regularly in sustained peaceful protests outside (inside?) the intitutions of power - not just government institutions, but areas occupied by the real powers: global banks and transnational corporations. As noted, significant protests will be crushed and therefore enormous numbers will be required to legitimise the protests even in the eyes of a paid-to-be-hostile media. If millions hit the streets in a 'democracy', even the corporate media may be forced to state in print that something is wrong (although that may never happen). Numbers in the thousands or even tens of thousands will be ignored, ridiculed or smeared, reported as a footnote if at all. Just ask the BBC.

Efforts must be simultaneously made to bring about change from within the system. In May 2013 The 99.99998271% published the founding document of The Movement, and in October the philosophy and manifesto of the People First Party. The latter article (which should be read in full) explains in detail one vision of how to bring about lasting change.

[Author's note: This is not a perfect vision and obviously required modification in multiple ways. It is intended as a foundation on which to build, not a finished product]

To summarize, the People First Party aims to bring about a system of direct democracy, one which ensures corporate money and influence can never again threaten the welfare of ordinary people. There are (unsurprisingly) many false claims about direct democracy floating around the Internet, most stating it is 'mob rule' or some other such smear.

Switzerland - an advanced, safe, prosperous nation recently chosen as the best place in the world to be born - is a shining example of direct democracy. In fact, the nation uses a system of representative democracy as well, but there is a final line of defence against corrupt government: any citizen can collect signatures against any government law or decision, and if enough signatures are collected, a referendum must be held and the final decision of the people upheld, even if it is in direct opposition to the will of the ruling administration.

What this means is that if the UK had had this system when Tony Blair lied his way into Iraq, there would have been no UK involvement, as the people were squarely against it.

In the US, however, due to the level of media and government misinformation (lies) on WMDs, even this line of defence may have failed to halt the invasion, as 47-60% of US citizens supported it (varying depending on UN approval). This example clearly shows that any move to direct democracy necessitates a media that actually tells the truth and does not simply report official government views and policy as fact.

For this reason, one of the founding principles of The Movement states:

Commercial media monopolies will be outlawed, and a plurality of media ownership enforced. Further, as a free press is essential, journalists and whistleblowers will be protected by law, and encouraged to speak out on abuse of power wherever it is found. An independent civilian oversight committee will be formed to ensure media organizations do not lie, distort or omit vital information in their reporting. Those that do will be subject to prohibitive punitive measures, and repeated transgressions would lead to closure. The Daily Mail and its repugnant ilk would be finished.

[Note: See also the 'media reform' section in the People First Party manifesto]

Direct democracy can go a lot further than Switzerland. Modern technology now allows every citizen access to e-voting. Even further, it is now possible to set up a system that would provide every citizen with their own 'democracy' account, in which they can submit their views on any and all issues, and - obviously - have the freedom to change their view at any time. If millions of people submitted their views to such a system, an accurate snapshot of public opinion on all issues would be there for all to see. There would be no need to vote at all beyond ratification of important new laws or initiatives, as policymakers would know what the public mood is and could plan according to consensus.

There are obviously all kinds of issues with such a concept, but - like all issues - they can be addressed. The attempt must at least be made. First, surely anything at all is better than the current state of affairs, where corporations literally write public policy themselves, inevitably in ways that benefit themselves and only themselves. Second, humanity is blessed with a significant number of geniuses (genii?), people capable of creating complex systems far beyond anything mere mortals like you and I can possibly imagine and employing advanced cryptography to protect them. Why not find and employ the greatest minds among our seven billion for the creation of failsafe society systems instead of using such rare treasures to build weapons or extend corporate power?

Rocket science it is not. Ask yourself why we have such advanced technology for gadgets that take all your time and attention like smartphones but still have antiquated electoral systems. The reason is simple: if electoral systems had the same levels of technology applied to them, the reign of the corporate criminals could be brought to an abrupt halt - and that, of course, must be avoided at all costs.

The People First Party is a political party that has one purpose if elected: to bring about electoral reform and utilize direct democracy, cutting out corporate power forever. Once this aim is achieved, the party will disband in that nation along with every other party, as they would all be obsolete. No more Camerons, Obamas, Cleggs, Millibands. Just imagine...

In order to achieve this, the PFP needs candidates to stand in national elections in as many constituencies as possible. In most democracies it is reasonably easy to register as a candidate. In the UK (last time I checked) one pays a registration fee (returned if a certain percentage of the vote is won) and must be nominated by ten voting citizens. It is not necessary to have political experience or skills...recall that the only purpose of candidates is to use their vote in parliament to bring about electoral reform, after which they will be able to go back to their lives.

The raising of the registration fee (in the region of 500 pounds) may be problematic. One suggestion is to raise sponsorship from the people of your local community in return for some kind of act, much as people raise money for cancer research by cycling around the country or whatever. The act should ideally be something that is likely to catch media attention, as the Artist Taxi driver did when he pushed a pig with his nose from Downing Street to the Bank of England. No laws should be broken, and ideally humor and imagination should be employed, as these two qualities are distinctly lacking in the world of corporate power, and should therefore be enthusiastically embraced.

People are literally dying due to poverty and the 'austerity' charade, and these people are your fellow citizens, fellow human beings. You have been divided, told they are scroungers and lazy benefit cheats, or that they are faking their disabilities. These are lies. What you are never told is that the problem of benefits fraud is dwarfed by that of tax avoidance by corporations and the rich. The reason for this is quite simple: those very same corporations and rich people own the media organs that tell you to blame the most vulnerable in society for a problem (debt/deficit) they are wholly and directly responsible for.

So it is call-to-arms time. Who has the integrity to stand up for those weaker than them, those who desperately need help yet have never asked for it? It may seem far-fetched to expect a party like the PFP to have any success, but for such a success story, one need only look as far as Italy:

From an earlier 99.99998271% article:

[]...how long are we going to continue to support and empower corrupt, dishonest, expense-fiddling, out-of-touch, sexually-harrassing, rich politicians? How much more abuse will they get away with before the endlessly-distracted, celebrity-obsessed masses finally crack?

Millions in Italy answered this question yesterday with a resounding 'no longer' as Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement (M5S) - co-founded with Gianroberto Casalaggio - stunned political analysts by attracting a massive 25% of the vote, potentially handing him the balance of power in the nation. M5S became popular thanks to a series of comic diatribes by Grillo attacking the technocratic government of Mario Monti, tapping into widespread anger at the corrupt and elitist establishment political parties. M5S promises direct democracy; to put the people in direct control of their destinies, and this resonates with a public who are sick to the back teeth of buffoons like Berlusconi, the scandals, and the disastrous economic policies they have been mercilessly subjected to.


Imagine if 25-30% of the popular vote in a democratic nation were captured by anti-corporate forces. Imagine what could be done.



ADDENDUM

Part III - People First Party Manifesto (short version) and FAQ

[Author's note: this additional section is included specifically for those interested in the People First Party concept, especially those wishing to stand as candidates or become otherwise acively involved. The aim is to provide a short, simple reference to the aims and policies of the party]

Manifesto.

Please note that this is the basic manifesto in a shortened list format. For details as to why these policies were selected, please read the original PFP manifesto document.

GENERAL POLICIES

1. Immediately set up expert taskforces to develop viable solutions for every societal and social issue.

2. All expert taskforce committee deliberations will be subject to full observation by civilian watchdog/oversight committees.

3. The private sector will be excised from all state human services.

SPECIFIC POLICIES

4. Electoral reform will move politics and voting into the modern technological era and away from the corrupted systems we now have.

5. Education reform to create societies of active and informed citizens, not unthinking drones for use by corporations.

6. Media reform will outlaw corporate media monopoly and strictly enforce mandatory following of journalistic guidelines and ethics.

7. High quality health services, as a human right, will be made freely available for all citizens.

8. Immediate switch from a fossil fuel-based economy to a green economy, creating millions of jobs and generations of people with new skills.

9. Immediate switch to full employment, making use of the 'job guarantee' system in order to control inflation.

10. Implementation of tax policy reform to ensure tax justice and incentives for small businesses.

11. Criminal charges will be filed against any financial executives responsible for the 2008 crash, and all other serious transgressions.

12. Investment and high street banking will be irrevocably separated.

13. War will be made constitutionally illegal except in self-defense, and non-aggression pacts will be offered immediately to every nation on the planet.

14. Whistleblowers will be protected by law, encouraged to come forward with any information about abuse of power or corruption and rewarded for their civic service.

15. Civil liberties and privacy will be restored. The NSA, GCHQ and their illegal spying will be reined in, with only 'probable cause' allowing access to private data.

16. Retroactive justice will be utilized to criminally prosecute for war crimes any public official found complicit in the invasion of Iraq (and other atrocities).

17. Active sponsorship on the international stage for a reformed United Nations, one without a veto system and with immunity from powerful state influence.

FAQ

1. Isn't making a new party just creating the same problem we already have - political parties?

All parties are ripe breeding grounds for corruption and they must all be disbanded in favor of one of the various forms of direct democracy, the only way to ensure entities with access to significant funds cannot gain a foothold within democratic institutions for their own ends. However, the fact remains that the party political system is all we have at the moment. It is possible, if done correctly, that it can be turned against those who have twisted it into the dysfunctional, deeply flawed state of affairs we see today. For this reason, the People First Party (PFP) has only one aim: to bring about electoral reform and systems of direct democracy. On the attainment of this, the PFP in that particular nation will disband immediately along with all other parties.

2. What do you mean when you say the PFP is a 'global template'?

This means that this concept belongs to everyone in the world, and its creator is just one of those people. It means the concept can be freely used by anyone in any nation in any way as long as the broad philosophy is adhered to and not abused.

3. Who is the leader of this party?

One of the major problems in modern societies is the erroneous belief that we need 'leaders', people vested with authority that is inevitably abused for the ends of those in power to try to ensure that they remain in power. This can be seen everywhere, via the Snowden disclosures that show the NSA and GCHQ behaving like the Stasi, with the militarization of the police and the violent, abusive tactics they employ against peaceful protestors - you, the citizens who voted these abusers into power in the first place.

For this reason the PFP has no leader, and its strategies will be guided by democratic input by active members of the party, strictly adhering at all times to the founding principles. For the purposes of communication to and from the media and the general public, a spokesperson will be utilized.

4. Is there a place where all candidates can be found in one place online?

This concept is still quite new so few candidates have been found so far. If you are interested in standing for election, please follow the Twitter account @PeopleFirstMPs. This will make communication easier. All followers will, of course, be followed back. Further, The Movement and the People First Party both have Twitter accounts: @1themovement and @People1First. Again, all followers will be followed back.

These are the most common inquiries. I will be happy to answer any other questions, and if the same question occurs often enough, it will be added to this FAQ. I can be contacted on Twitter, Facebook or at swooddda@gmail.com

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Please also see my 'daily' blog.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Distraction, Deception, Division

"I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace. And propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it so what I did was to try and find some other words, so we found the words 'Council on Public Relations'." - Edward Bernays

"Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban" - George Orwell

Any serious attempt to build a just and successful society must first take into account the myriad contradictions, flaws and biases intrinsic to human nature. Humans are capable of potentially anything, including acts of great good or evil. It is known that giving any human great power is potentially disastrous, just as it is also known that humans voluntarily support policies that do not benefit them, even those that damage them, while the list of cognitive biases all possess to some degree goes on seemingly forever.

In an era when democracy has been entirely subverted for use by major banks and corporations, literally billions of people are either ignorant of this fact, or they passively accept that they are serfs, useful only as workers, consumers or both.

Yet this ignorance and passivity can not be explained simply by the cognitive biases and flaws in human nature. It stems instead from a conscious and concerted campaign, the nature of which is described in this informative 35-minute documentary on the history of propaganda and its proponents. [Note: Please take the time to watch this]. It describes how experts on human psychology and propaganda techniques have actively aided governments and other agencies in taking advantage of the dynamics of social contagion and conformity to bring about desired results, most notably mass public support (or indifference) to the continuation of the status quo, one which not at all coincidentally benefits only the richest and most powerful.

When one takes a closer look at the many layers of misdirection that lie between the worldview of the average citizen and what is actually happening in the world, it is not difficult to appreciate why there are almost no people actively fighting; why the streets are not full of furious people surrounding Parliament, setting up gibbets and guillotines after each new outrageous act of corruption and deceit perpetrated with impunity by the very people we vote for as well as their bosses: the ones who fund the political parties and make donations to campaigns.

Indeed most never get past the very first layer: distraction. There are four major types of distractions, situations and events that ensure attention is focused not on the looting of our societies but on other 'stuff':

1. Unavoidable factors: The everyday things that affect us personally and can't easily be avoided like illness, old age, obligations toward family and kids, or simple survival from day to day, which requires time spent shopping, cooking and cleaning. Most of us have to work, and this takes up a great deal more of our time, while mortgages and other debts ensure that we have to keep working. Further, when one comes home tired from work, enthusiasm for any activity other than leisure is extremely low.

2. Perceived positive factors: Most people have interests or hobbies, and while many can be extremely rewarding and enjoyable, these also serve to take up yet more of our time. Major distractions in this area are computer games, music, television, movies and sport, especially football (both varieties), baseball and the Olympics. One need only take to Twitter to find various sport-related topics endlessly trending even after only minor controversies. Sport is an especially powerful distraction in that not only is it viewed throughout society in a positive way, people can get heavily involved in it personally, whether as an athlete or a fan. And it works: millions of people spend literally months of their lives reading and talking about sporting trivia.

3. Society factors: Social media is an enormous boon for activism, and is in no small part responsible for the mass awakening to corporate crimes and corruption. However, it is used by the overwhelming majority for time-wasting: exchanging pictures of cute animals, doing pointless quizzes on sites like Buzzfeed, and engaging in banal, inane conversation with others who have nothing else to do. [See the extent of 'pointless babble' on Twitter here.] Here all forms of media also contribute with waves of celebrity gossip, manufactured controversy and other drivel designed to simultaneously maximize the number of website hits and deflect attention from issues that citizens actually need to know about. Political leaders themselves here serve as a focus of public anger and outrage, with hordes of people screaming obscenities at David Cameron or whoever else is the villain of the hour, in the full knowledge that this is indeed one of their roles: to misdirect public hostility away from the true enemy.

4. Escape factors: Drugs (prescribed, legal and illegal) are common ways of escaping the depressing realities of life, and their side effects do much to keep people distracted. Other forms of escape involve overdoing things and may even be destructive: food, shopping, gambling, sex and so on.

As if these factors, which affect everyone to a significant degree, were not enough, we also have to deal with deception on a massive scale.

At all levels of society and in more ways than can be counted citizens are bombarded with lies. Politicians make promises before elections and go on to do the precise opposite once safely ensconced; teachers fail to inform you of the past crimes of your nation; and parents feed you all kinds of nonsense as they seek to protect you. Ads tell you that the product being hawked is somehow essential for your continued existence; celebrities say and do things that sponsors and PR handlers tell them to: like endorsing health or diet products that you don't actually need. Most are well aware of this more direct form of deception yet remain susceptible, particularly to marketing and advertising techniques.

A most insidious and damaging form of deception is achieved through the utilization and deployment of fear. Professors George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s researched the effect of television on viewers in the United States in the belief that in the few decades since its appearance and mass acceptance the medium had come to wield a power over humanity comparable to that of religion.

They developed a hypothesis known as Cultivation Theory and found through their research that over time the perception of reality of heavy, long-term viewers is subtly changed, eventually coming to closely resemble the televised version. Crucially, it was found that the more often such viewers were told or shown something, the greater significance they attached to it. Conversely, issues rarely or never encountered on television were attached relatively little or no importance in comparison.

These findings have far-reaching consequences. As TV delivery has become more and more violent and dramatic, heavy viewers tend to see the world as a more dangerous place than it actually is, particularly with regard to personal safety. Gerbner labelled this 'Mean World Syndrome', and found that affected people tended to believe, for instance, that violent crime was prevalent even if it was falling, and that they felt more likely to be a victim of a crime. Gerbner et al. developed a Mean World Index, which comprises three statements:

Most people are just looking out for themselves.

You can't be too careful in dealing with people.

Most people would take advantage of you if they got the chance.


Familiar?

In the real world, as anyone who has met people outside their default social circle will tell you, by and large the opposite is true as long as you treat others with politeness and respect.

These findings can be extended beyond the realm of fear and television. If a narrative is adopted, repeated and reinforced throughout various media, this can only cement the perceptual reality adopted through the distorting lens of the mass media.

As the overwhelming majority of media is owned by corporations, a narrative that serves the purposes of such entities and their proxies can be hammered home literally twenty-four hours a day (with lashings of celebrity and other manufactured distraction for both starter and dessert).

As discussed, Cultivation Theory shows that the greatest significance is attached to issues that are most relentlessly repeated, and that the converse is also true. No surprise then that, to cite a recent example, the British public is woefully ignorant of the reality of...well, pretty much everything:

From the article:

Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates: we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%.

Foreign aid: 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year. More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn).

Benefit fraud: people estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates: the public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100.


[Aside: the linked article contains a lot of other useful information and links].

Those who believe it is a conspiracy theory to suggest that there is a corporate media agenda to frame a narrative that serves corporate interests need to ask themselves why every single massively skewed perception held by the public works to the advantage of those who wish to promote condemnation of the poor and those eligible for benefits (like single mothers); why it serves to enhance public support for the break-up of state services, which are then handed out to private corporations, especially generous donors to political campaigns and party coffers. One or two skewed perceptions? Maybe. Every single one? Something is wrong. And when you know that the mass media is overwhelmingly owned by corporations who benefit in one way or another...that's an agenda right there.

Conspiracy theories are not even required. By an unhappy coincidence, the very system that creates this mass distraction and confusion relies on keeping consumers engaged via an endless stream of manufactured ever-increasing drama, shock, scandal and crisis in order to drive up ratings and clicks and increase potential advertising revenue. Employees of media entities, in order to keep getting that monthly salary, need in almost every case (with a few honourable exceptions) to tow the editorial line, churning out wave upon wave of what is often pointless nonsense, even in the so-called serious press.

Within media bodies that consider themselves serious analysts of national and global affairs like the BBC and CNN and newspapers like the New York Times and the Guardian, narratives are adopted (on Syria, for example, as explained by Media Lens) that benefit the interests of their owners and - by extension - the (actions of) national governments 'elected' with their funding. This can apply to any field, including foreign policy. War, for example, is desirable for large corporations in that it drives up clicks and viewership for the media; creates heightened fear and hence greater public support for more draconian surveillance measures or reduction of civil liberties; and obviously benefits the arms companies. It further provides opportunities to test new military equipment while simultaneously extending Western hegemony and neoliberal economic ideology more and more deeply into resistant areas (currently Ukraine, Syria, Iran and Venezuela among others in varying forms).

The employees of these bodies also, in the main, come in various shapes and sizes, from outright apologists for corporate interests to servile careerists desperate to associate themselves with the denizens of the halls of power. When faced with any threat to establishment narratives, the questions and challenges to the threat literally write themselves, with all corporate media journalists well aware that any major digression from the establishment line may result in waves of derision and condemnation from peers, potentially damaging chances for career advancement.

Consider the case of BBC Hardtalk presenter Stephen Sackur when faced with uber-threat Glenn Greenwald who - via the disclosures of Edward Snowden - is aggressively engaged in removing the petticoats of power one by one with seemingly a new NSA/GCHQ codename every week. Sackur, knowing full well he was facing the establishment's version of the antichrist, knew he had to put on a show, to ask questions that made it clear that the establishment utterly condemns this upstart 'stealing' and publishing secrets and hence greatly damaging the fight against terrorism etc. At the same time, from a personal point of view, Mr Sackur needed, in order to protect his own standing and career within the establishment media, to make it very clear on which side he stood.

The result is a train wreck that is well worth watching. Sackur's unashamedly establishment line, loaded terminology and weak arguments are pulled apart with contemptuous ease by a journalist who has has demonstrated on multiple occasions his disdain for double standards in MSM reporting. Informed viewers will come away feeling vindicated. Less informed ones, the large majority who have mostly swallowed the establishment implication that Greenwald and Snowden are easing the facilitation of terrorist plots, may or may not have been turned off by Greenwald's combative style. And the BBC gets away with yet another dose of establishment disapproval.

And this disapproval is important as it plays into cognitive biases like the bandwagon effect, confirmation bias and system justification, which all serve to increase the likelihood that the view of a person will have been distorted by the media's skewing of reality...

...Leading to the most dangerous way people are kept lost, distracted and confused: The War on Community. Divide and rule may indeed be the oldest trick in the book, but that's because it works. It is not much of an exaggeration to say every single injustice on Earth ultimately comes from the idea that some humans (or groups of humans) are perceived to have or portrayed as having more value than others. The concept of equality of value of human life is fundamental to human rights laws and democracy; it is Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And it has been ripped to pieces by relentless division via manufactured conflict in every single area of life throughout our education systems and media.

Religion, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, rank, occupation, you name it - all serve to conceal the fundamental truth that we are all equal in value; that we differ only in cultural background and other environmental factors - cosmetic concerns against the fundamental truth of our shared humanity. The purpose of this division is clear: to ensure people are less able to organize as a community or unify effectively against those who rule them. To cite an example, demonization of the poor makes it more palatable to the middle classes when vital benefits are stopped, as they have been in the UK under the coalition government, leading demonstrably to the wholly unnecessary deaths of those found 'fit to work'.

What can we do about this assault on human dignity and unity? The very first thing is to educate oneself and others about how people are led around by the nose by entities with the huge resources necessary to do the job on the scale required. Then one must take the major step of abandoning the corporate media completely and instead focusing attention on the 'truthtellers': independent or freelance news sources. Find out who they are, share their work as widely as you can, and give them encouragement and support.

Most vitally, they can be trusted not to mislead you because they are judged only on their honesty and record; they know that any attempt to lie or mislead will lead to readers abandoning them, something paid journalists are less concerned about because, unless they really mess things up for their employers, they know they will always get their pay check.

And do not only give them moral support. Many truthtellers are independent journalists, bloggers or activists forced to give up their limited free time after work and other obligations. Unlike the big-name journalists who are contributing to the debacle described in this article with their apathy, their servile submission to corporate power, and their wilful denial of the deadly fruits of their journalistic failure...unlike these people, many truthtellers write or act with no financial reward whatsoever.

If you really appreciate what these independents do for you, reward them financially, even if it is just a bit of loose change. Calculate how much money you currently give to corporate media, to Rupert Murdoch and his ilk with Sky etc. - the very entities that are lying to you and causing this mess. If you're British, get rid of the TV so you no longer have to fund the establishment-serving BBC. You can even boycott the products advertized on the channels you have been watching. Calculate how much you spend in total and give that money instead to the 'truthtellers' of your choice, the ones who survive only on donations and refuse to run corporate ads.

In this way, not only do you reward the right people and make it more likely that other like-minded, talented writers or activists will enter the fray, you also starve the corporations of the only two things corporations want from you: your cash and - more vitally - your attention. You will also benefit enormously from living a life suddenly free of television: endless advertising and brainwashing.

This is not to say that corporate-owned media should be abandoned completely: there are good people there whose work should be followed and shared. However, fundamentally changing your default sources of information - making the corporate media a fallback option only, and supporting instead independent, ad-free sources of information may at least begin to tip the scales back toward sanity.

If there is to be any hope of making humans a community again, one where everyone shares the world's resources and helps each other, where the default options are no longer war, misery, inequality and destruction, and where such a suggestion is not sneered at dismissively as a hopelessly naive pipe dream, ordinary citizens must begin to take matters into their own hands in as many ways as they can. One way is to flatly reject the mind control foisted upon almost always unsuspecting news consumers - your family and friends - by entities that have only their own interests at heart.

And those interests - profit, control, entrenchment of power, suppression of democracy and progress - are antithetical to those of you and yours.

Distraction, deception and division are extremely powerful weapons that have been used since the dawn of civilization to keep the masses down; fighting themselves or each other. With so many layers to get past, is it any wonder so few are out on the streets demonstrating? The overwhelming majority are either too distracted (ignorant), deceived or divided to even know the true face of the enemy: trans-global corporate power and its aim of eternal, unchallengable hegemony.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Please also see my 'daily' blog.

Read more on the Global Corporate Coup D'Etat, and also how the situation we are in is a Hell Of Our Own Making.

[Author's note (1): The two 99.99998271% blogs have had to take a break for a while...apologies for that...but normal service is now resumed. Please visit each blog regularly and - if you believe the articles are informative or useful - please feel free to re-blog or post on Twitter/Facebook/Reddit etc.]


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[Author's note (2): In order to fight this corporate corruption, people must stand up and fight by themselves. Please read the manifesto for the People First Party and if you broadly agree with the philosophy and would be willing to stand as a candidate, please follow (for convenience) the Twitter account: @PeopleFirstMPs. All followers will be followed back.]

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Blood of the Earth

"We have the obligation to stand up when other human beings suffer" - Dr. Denis Mukwege

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the second largest nation in Africa with a population of 75 million. Today it is home to the deadliest conflict since the Chinese Civil War, killing over 5.4 million people. More than 90% of the deaths have come about not in combat but from preventable causes like malaria, malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhea, a direct result of communities displaced and forced to live in overcrowded conditions without access to water, food or medicine. 47% of the deaths are children under five years old, despite them making up only 19% of the overall population.

As is so often the case with tragedies like this, colonial factors and interference by the major Western powers in addition to massive corruption within the national government have played an enormous role. A summary from a 2003 Amnesty International report explains:

From the time of Belgian colonial rule, the inhabitants of the region have derived little if any benefit from its natural wealth. Instead, they have suffered an unbroken succession of abusive political administrations, military authorities and armed political groups that have looted the region and committed human rights abuses with impunity. King Leopold II accrued vast personal wealth without ever setting foot on Congolese soil. The Belgian rulers of the then Belgian Congo, from 1905 to 1960 used slave labour to plunder its rubber, ivory and timber.

After independence in 1960, the long presidency of Mobutu Sese Seko made the newly named Zaire notorious for cronyism and corruption. When President Mobutu came into office in 1965, a sustained period of institutionalised corruption and misappropriation of state resources began. Large proportions of the revenues from state-owned companies, such as the copper and cobalt company G├ęcamines, went not to the state treasury but straight into the pockets of President Mobutu and his closest allies.


A detailed summary of the conflict (including the above excerpt) can be found at the globalissues.org website.

From the summary:

[]...there have been many internal conflicts where all sides have been supported from various neighbors. The conflict has also been fueled by weapons sales and by military training. The weapons have come from the former Soviet bloc countries as well as the United States, who have also provided military training.

The United States military has been covertly involved in the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a US parliamentary subcommittee has been told. Intelligence specialist Wayne Madsen, appearing before the US House subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, also said American companies, including one linked to former President George Bush Snr., [] are stoking the Congo conflict for monetary gains.

When Congolese President Laurent Kabila came to power in May 1997, toppling Marshall Mobutu, with the aid of Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Burundi and Eritrea, it was hoped that a revival would be seen in the region. Instead, the situation deteriorated. Kabila, also backed by the US, had been accused by rebels (made up of Congolese soldiers, Congolese Tutsi Banyamulenge, Rwandan, Ugandan and some Burundian government troops) of turning into a dictator, of mismanagement, corruption and supporting various paramilitary groups who oppose his former allies. As the conflict had raged on, rebels controlled about a third of the entire country (the eastern parts). Laurent Kabila had received support from Angolan, Zimbabwean and Namibian troops.

Up to the assassination of Laurent Kabila in January 2001, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia supported the Congolese government, while the rebels were backed by the governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.

The reasons for different regions getting involved are all murky. Rwanda is one example, summarizing a Daily Telegraph news report (31 August 2002): The role of Rwanda, though small, has had a number of forces in large areas of the country. This has been in the backdrop of the genocide when more than 800,000 mainly Tutsi Rwandans were slaughtered. Hutu interahamwe militia carried out most of the massacres and fled to neighboring Congo in the eastern region of the DRC after the genocide. From there, they often launched attacks into their home country, prompting a Rwandan invasion. As a result, Rwanda has justified its role in the four-year war by saying it wanted to secure its border, while critics accused it of using the interahamwe attacks as an excuse to deploy 20,000 troops to take control of Congolese diamond mines and other mineral resources.


As stated, the conflict is indeed in large part a battle for control of the DRC's vast mineral wealth, with both external and internal groups taking part in a bloody free-for-all for treasure, which includes diamonds and coltan. Coltan in particular is in huge demand as it is used for the production of tantalum capacitors, which are found in almost every kind of electronic device; not only smartphones as is commonly cited. With the massive surge in global demand for such products over the last decade, coltan is now much sought after. A very high percentage of young men in the DRC now work mining this material, even for just $1 a day, as a means of steady and quick income far preferable to farming.

The human cost of this conflict is obviously harrowing, but perhaps the most devastating element is the strategic use of rape as a weapon of war. In this 15-minute video, Dr. Denis Mukwege details atrocities of mind-numbing cruelty and savagery. [Aside: this video will reduce non-sociopaths to helpless tears, but it must be watched, as you will witness an example of the best of humanity when we so often only hear about the worst.]

An estimated 2 million women are victims of rape and many are raped again, sometimes more than once, after returning home from what little treatment is available. 48 Congolese women are raped every hour (almost one every minute). Dr. Mukwege explains in his speech that women are raped, enslaved and tortured by soldiers of both rebel groups and government forces. Children born of rape often become victims of rape themselves, while victims are in many cases infected with HIV, as are any babies that are conceived.

In explaining why rape is used as a strategic weapon, Dr. Mukwege explains that as rapes are often committed publicly, in many cases in front of husbands and family members (who are then killed in front of the rape victim), unimaginably deep psychological trauma results which terrorizes communities and undermines traditional authority structures, which are proven ineffective as they cannot protect the women of the community. Rape is an 'inexpensive and efficient weapon', in that it can be used to drive communities out of certain areas, and dominate those who remain.

As if there was not enough horror in this nation, the more than 600,000 Mbuti pygmies living in the forests of the DRC have faced a campaign of extermination. A representative of the pygmies told the UN's Indigenous People's Forum in 2003 that his people were 'hunted down and eaten as though they were game animals'. In North Kivu province there have been reports of cannibalism by a group known as Les Effaceurs (the Erasers) who wanted to clear the land of people to open it up for mineral exploitation.

There was once a brief ray of hope for this stricken nation: Patrice Lumumba was a Congolese independence leader and the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the then Republic of the Congo after he helped win independence from Belgium in 1960. He was deposed after twelve weeks in a coup during the Congo Crisis, imprisoned and later executed by firing squad, becoming a key martyr in the African independence struggle. Lumumba had opposed the secession (backed by Belgium) of mineral-rich Katanga province.

Declassified documents have implicated the Belgian government (which has since apologized), MI6 and the CIA via a plan known as Project Wizard, authorized personally by President Dwight Eisenhower. It is an object lesson for all those who reflexively believe that government officials always speak the truth that all parties for decades steadfastly denied any involvement.

It is tempting for many commentators to appeal to a sense of guilt on the part of Western consumers, whose voracious demand for the latest electronic gadgets fuels this tragedy, perhaps in the hope that some will boycott such devices and hence in some manner aid the people of the DRC (while helping to assuage any residual feelings of guilt). This misses the point. The true causes of this conflict, like so many around the world, lie in colonialism and the unquenchable greed of multinational corporations, acting under cover of the professed interests of powerful nations; usually the need to confront communism or terrorism or whatever the enemy du jour happens to be.

The issue is systemic, meaning it can never be resolved by piecemeal measures or gradual reform from within, and at the root, the nations and corporations responsible are led by human beings, a very special subset of our species motivated only by profit and power, helpfully equipped with utter disregard for the gargantuan trail of human carnage they leave behind; in psychological terms: 'sociopaths'.

The struggle now is as it has always been and the enemy is within. Until corporate power is confronted en masse and decapitated forever, the world will simply never be rid of genocide and all the other horrors witnessed within the borders of the DRC, in West Papua, in Burma and elsewhere.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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