Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Benign Intent

"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it." - Ellen Goodman

In a healthy society governed by democratic principles and the rule of law, news media would be analogous to a powerful telescope, a roving, scrutinizing eye from which little or nothing can hide. Corrupt societies - ones that require the vast majority of the population to be passive, obedient, misinformed, ignorant, distracted and consumptive - require instead a media that acts as a kind of prism, a distorting lens that presents a perversion of reality.

The scale of this distortion varies greatly around the world, with some - mostly independent - media (sometimes lone journalists) laudably aiming to shine a torch as best they can on state and corporate power. At the other extreme, dictatorships like North Korea use state media to portray a false reality to help control their people, who nonetheless are surely aware that their freedoms are strictly limited.

Western corporate-owned media, however, is unique and quite remarkable in that while it depicts a reality as laughably false as that shown to the North Koreans, its readers/viewers - more accurately its consumers - are overwhelmingly unaware that they are being fed a pack of lies, that the picture given to them is - in key areas that concern corporate power and Western control of world resources - diametrically opposite to reality.

A person's worldview (a term borrowed from the German 'weltanschauung') refers in part to the 'framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it'. With a corporate media monopoly over the information that enters people's brains, information that is crucial to the formation of their worldview, reality is skewed with ease to serve the interests of capital and control, and in such a way that not only are consumers of such information not aware of this cynical manipulation; they are not even aware that they are not aware.

Various propagandistic methods, many drawing from the work on crowd behavior and social contagion of the French psychologist and sociologist Gustave Le Bon as well as techniques developed later by Edward Bernays and others, are employed to ensure that the worldview of the masses is conducive to the aims and objectives of those in power. Perhaps the most devastating tool, widespread throughout mass media (and hence unconsciously mimicked by other writers, bloggers and activists), is the assumption of unwavering benign intent on the part of Western institutions, powers and their allies. Simultaneously, current opponents of Western power and ideology must be unerringly portrayed as having malign intent.

This has had the devastating effect of making billions of people believe that the West is an altruistic force for good in the world, that the overriding priority of the officials they vote for in elections is the citizens under their care. It is only recently, thanks in great part to the rise of credible alternative media, that people on a mass scale have had a glimpse of the true nature of the corruption and illegality carried out in their name and with their taxes; that the truth has begun to come to light: the existence of an all-devouring corporate empire that has deeply infiltrated all the key strategic institutions that govern life on Earth.

Writer John Stanton in an article published at the Center for Research on Globalization lists the corporations that own the news and hence have such direct control over the worldview of billions:

Here is a sampling of the vertically integrated companies that make you not you, but them: Disney owns ABC News, ESPN, Touchstone Pictures, Marvel Comics, Cruise Lines, Hyperion Books and Reedy Energy Services. Comcastowns NBC Universal, the Philadelphia Flyers, and is attempting to acquire Time Warner Cable. Fox News Corporation owns the Dow Jones & Company (Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, DJX, etc.), Harper Collins Publishers, Move, Inc. (real estate news), 20th Century Fox, Fox News Channel, and Amplify (educational products for K-12). CBS owns Simon & Schuster, CNET, the Smithsonian Network, and 130 radio stations. Time Warner owns CNN, Time magazine, HBO, MAX, Sports Illustrated Kids, and People Magazine.Pearson influences the course of American education through its publishing houses, digital learning platforms, and a 50 percent interest in the Economist Magazine, Penguin Random House and the Financial Times.

He further muses:

Perhaps the day will come when the pundits, journalists, think tank mavens, and retired war machine veterans will be required to dress like NASCAR or Formula One race car drivers whose clothing is littered with patches advertising this and that corporation/sponsor.

Examples of this intentional upending of reality are numerous. The Edward Snowden revelations, for example, have proved devastating to the image of Western security and intelligence services. The British intelligence and security apparatus GCHQ, for instance, has been revealed to employ tactics reminiscent of those used by the Stasi.

From the article:

This is illustrated in the most insidiously devastating disclosure so far, published today in Glenn Greenwald's The Intercept. In it we discover that the until recently secret GCHQ JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group) unit created, among others, a training document called 'The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations' and presented it to the NSA and other partners.

Other recent documents covered in partnership with NBC news detailed a host of 'dirty tricks' used by British spies to "'destroy, deny, degrade and disrupt' enemies by 'discrediting' them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications". Tactics include 'releasing computer viruses, spying on journalists and diplomats, jamming phones and computers, and using sex to lure targets into honey traps'.

The newly published JTRIG document details state efforts to, in the words of Greenwald, "control, infiltrate, manipulate, and warp online discourse, and in doing so, [compromise] the integrity of the internet itself".


These tactics are in direct contradiction to the standard portrayal of the NSA and GCHQ as organizations that act within the law to protect national security.

International banks, depicted unquestioningly as crucial to the success of the world economy, are almost never described in straight reporting as the destructive, criminal, psychopathic, mafia-like enterprises they in fact are.

Global financial institutions like the IMF and the World Bank are portrayed as benign rescuers of states suffering economic difficulties. The reality, as John Pilger explains here, is the polar opposite, with these US-dominated organizations acting in fact as key tools of modern imperialism via the imposition on impoverished nations of the post-war form of colonialism - debt.

The hoarding by the rich of trillions of dollars in tax havens is rarely mentioned, let alone questioned, while the poor are lambasted for 'feckless benefit scrounging', despite the fact that benefit fraud is utterly dwarfed by the scale of the theft by corporations and the rich of public institutions and the world's resources. To illustrate: the North Korean government is (rightly) condemned for keeping back food for its troops while citizens starve, but this hoarding of unimaginably vast wealth in the West, against the backdrop of 22,000 children dying of poverty-related causes (according to UNICEF) every day, is barely, if at all, mentioned.

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are lauded and encouraged while those in the West are condemned, ridiculed and dismissed. Victims of brutality by current Western enemies (like Malala Yousafzai) are paraded before the media and given the Nobel Peace Prize, while victims of the West are figuratively (and literally) buried and forgotten, described at the time as 'suspected militants' if they are even mentioned at all. An earlier article on this blog described this phenomenon:

Ask yourself if you have heard the name of Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was gang-raped and murdered by US marines after her family (34-year-old mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 45-year-old father Qasim Hamza Raheem, and six-year-old sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza) were killed.

[]

How about Safa Younis Salim, a 13-year old girl who amazingly survived the Haditha Massacre, in which 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed including seven children, a 1-year-old girl staying with the family and a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair?

How did she survive?

"I pretended that I was dead when my brother's body fell on me and he was bleeding like a faucet."

A six-year US military prosecution ended with none of the eight Marines sentenced to jail, despite one of the men - Sgt. Sanick De La Cruz - testifying (in return for immunity) that he had urinated on the skull of one of the dead Iraqis. This outcome outraged the Iraqi people (as the attack on Malala outraged the West) but the name of Safa Younis Salim remains practically unknown.


Enemies of the West, especially Russia (the rogue du jour), are subjected to a tidal wave of condemnation, contempt, ridicule and lies. Any attempt to defend or mitigate the actions or words of Vladimir Putin or his officials is pounced upon as 'naive', 'deluded' or 'idiotic' by any journalist or critic who wishes to keep being taken seriously within the Western media establishment - anyone who wishes to rise higher and higher toward the holy grail: access to the rich and powerful.

Articles on Russia must contain the word 'oligarchs', while enemies of the Russian government such as fighters in Chechnya are 'rebels', not 'insurgents' - explained expertly here by Russia Insider. The irony of the fact that the US itself is a deeply corrupt oligarchy appears lost [it is not, of course] on some Western editorial writers.

Perhaps the most egregious rewriting of reality, however, concerns the actions of the CIA. The US Central Intelligence Agency, while often depicted as containing corrupt elements in both fiction and reality, is nonetheless characterised overall as an organization working in the interests of both US and global security for citizens. The true characterization of the CIA - as the greatest purveyor of criminality and terror in human history - is notably absent from mainstream narratives.

This week, we are informed by the corporate media, the CIA is 'braced' for 'one of the most damaging moments in its history' as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepares to release its report on the CIA torture and rendition network. Up to 54 partner nations are also 'braced' for flak as the depth of their involvement is exposed; at least they would be if the report was not heavily redacted, as reports suggest it is extremely likely to be.

Fortunately, while these redactions may obscure new details, we will still have other sources of information to show just how low the US and its allies have gone with torture. When Barack Obama withheld some of the pictures and videos from the Abu Ghraib scandal, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh provided some extra insight [from a Salon.com report by Alex Koppelman]:

"Some of the worst things that happened you don't know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib ... The women were passing messages out saying 'Please come and kill me, because of what's happened' and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It's going to come out."

It is clear little has changed over the years. Back in 1987, John Stockwell, a former high-ranking CIA officer delivered a lecture on the methods and operations of the CIA, revealing, among other things, that the agency ran massive drug running operations and directly caused the deaths through its operations of over six million people (as of 1987). His bestselling book In Search of Enemies contains an account of a CIA officer having Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba's body in the trunk of his car.

He says of CIA torture:

We had the `public safety program' going throughout Central and Latin America for 26 years, in which we taught them to break up subversion by interrogating people. Interrogation, including torture, the way the CIA taught it. Dan Metrione, the famous exponent of these things, did 7 years in Brazil and 3 in Uruguay, teaching interrogation, teaching torture. He was supposed to be the master of the business, how to apply the right amount of pain, at just the right times, in order to get the response you want from the individual.

They developed a wire. They gave them crank generators, with `U.S. AID' written on the side, so the people even knew where these things came from. They developed a wire that was strong enough to carry the current and fine enough to fit between the teeth, so you could put one wire between the teeth and the other one in or around the genitals and you could crank and submit the individual to the greatest amount of pain, supposedly, that the human body can register.

Now how do you teach torture? Dan Metrione: `I can teach you about torture, but sooner or later you'll have to get involved. You'll have to lay on your hands and try it yourselves.'

All they [the guinea pigs, beggars from off the streets] could do was lie there and scream. And when they would collapse, they would bring in doctors and shoot them up with vitamin B and rest them up for the next class. And when they would die, they would mutilate the bodies and throw them out on the streets, to terrify the population so they would be afraid of the police and the government.


Torture is illegal under international law and binding international treaties such as the United Nations Convention Against Torture and, for international conflicts, the Geneva Conventions III and IV. Condemnation comes from all quarters: the Catholic Church, no stranger to torture in its own history, unequivocally condemns torture in its Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows:

In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

The CIA and its Western counterparts will have damage limitation control measures in place throughout the media, where pet journalists will deflect the issue in whatever ways they deem best to defuse public outrage, most likely to frame it as: 'yes, they broke the law, but they did it to protect us'. Distraction will soon grab people's attention and the latest report will take its place among all the other forgotten (and redacted) indictments of Western crimes.

The ultimate aim of media assumption of benign intent is to make the extreme normal and the truth extreme. That this has been profoundly successful can be observed in the respect and gravitas accorded to Western war criminals like Tony Blair, and the venom, ridicule and ostracism dealt out to those who politely point out, with evidence, the truth ('activists' and 'dissenters'), or - heaven forbid - those who question official narratives based on suspicion ('conspiracy theorists').

In order to make sense of the world, to make oneself aware of just how extreme the 'mainstream' now is, one needs to fully reject the narratives imposed in the corporate media, as these narratives exist for one purpose alone: to serve corporate power, an endeavor that is always antithetical to the interests of ordinary citizens.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Haven and Hell

"The wealth, power, and illegality enabled by this hidden system are now so vast as to threaten the global economy’s legitimacy" - Jeffrey Sachs (2011)

"The magistrates are like sheriffs in the spaghetti westerns who watch the bandits celebrate on the other side of the Rio Grande… They taunt us—and there is nothing we can do." - Eva Joly

"We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." - Leona Helmsley (Property Heiress)

On hearing the term 'tax haven' many will picture idyllic locales with long beaches, palm trees and yachts belonging to multi-millionaires like the Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the Carribean Sea. The more mundane reality, however, is laid out in the 'financial secrecy index' compiled by the Tax Justice Network in 2013.

Unimaginably vast sums of financial wealth sit in the 82 jurisdictions listed. The Tax Justice Network explains:

An estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world. Illicit cross-border financial flows add up to an estimated $1-1.6 trillion each year. Since the 1970s African countries alone are estimated to have lost over $1 trillion in capital flight, dwarfing their current external debts of 'just' $190 billion and making Africa a major net creditor to the world. But those assets are in the hands of a few wealthy people, protected by offshore secrecy, while the debts are shouldered by broad African populations.

Yet rich countries suffer too: in the recent global financial crisis, European countries like Greece, Italy and Portugal have been brought to their knees by decades of secrecy and tax evasion.

A global industry has developed involving the world's biggest banks, law practices and accounting firms which not only provide secretive offshore structures to their tax- and law-dodging clients, but aggressively market them. 'Competition' between jurisdictions to provide secrecy facilities has, particularly since the era of financial globalisation took off in the 1980s, become a central feature of global financial markets.


Back in the early days of the Occupy movement, The Guardian's George Monbiot wrote an article detailing the practices of the undemocratic and unaccountable Corporation of the City of London and how it 'exists outside many of the laws and democratic controls which govern the rest of the United Kingdom'.

Monbiot asks: "What is this thing?"

Ostensibly it's the equivalent of a local council, responsible for a small area of London known as the Square Mile. But, as its website boasts, "among local authorities the City of London is unique". You bet it is. There are 25 electoral wards in the Square Mile. In four of them, the 9,000 people who live within its boundaries are permitted to vote. In the remaining 21, the votes are controlled by corporations, mostly banks and other financial companies. The bigger the business, the bigger the vote: a company with 10 workers gets two votes, the biggest employers, 79. It's not the workers who decide how the votes are cast, but the bosses, who "appoint" the voters. Plutocracy, pure and simple.

Several governments have tried to democratise the City of London but all, threatened by its financial might, have failed. As Clement Attlee lamented, "over and over again we have seen that there is in this country another power than that which has its seat at Westminster." The City has exploited this remarkable position to establish itself as a kind of offshore state, a secrecy jurisdiction which controls the network of tax havens housed in the UK's crown dependencies and overseas territories. This autonomous state within our borders is in a position to launder the ill-gotten cash of oligarchs, kleptocrats, gangsters and drug barons. As the French investigating magistrate Eva Joly remarked, it "has never transmitted even the smallest piece of usable evidence to a foreign magistrate". It deprives the United Kingdom and other nations of their rightful tax receipts.

Tax havens are a key means of escape for the rich and powerful from the rules that bind ordinary citizens, from the law of the land(s) itself. They enable rich people and companies to avoid paying their fair share for the very infrastructure they depend upon for their financial success: the roads that transport their products, the courts that protect and uphold their contracts, the education systems that prepare their work forces and the health systems that keep staff healthy.

And the police forces that protect their premises and persons from protestors.

According to a (highly recommended) website dedicated to providing information on this issue, there are 18,857 companies registered at one address in the Cayman Islands and 217,000 registered to a '1209 North Orange Street, Wilmington, Delaware', including Coca Cola, Google, Verizon, KFC, American Airlines and GM. We also learn that 83 of the largest 100 US companies use tax havens, as do 98% of the companies registered on the London Stock Exchange.

Aside from the fact that tax havens enable the rich to hide money that they are legally obliged to pay for the vital public services that societies need to survive, they also ultimately force the poor to pick up the tab. Tax havens further enable financial criminals to hide their booty; corrupt leaders or dictators to plunder the resources of poor and/or developing nations; and also allow banks to dodge financial laws. They create a private world of unaccountable power for the very rich, enabling them to do as they wish as the rest of the planet's inhabitants slide deeper and deeper into inequality, poverty and suffering.

In November 2011, when the Tackle Tax Havens campaign was launched, a study it carried out revealed that more than $3.1 trillion in tax is evaded, 4.9% of the world's GDP at that time. It also found that in the UK 'a staggering £69.9bn is illegally kept from the exchequer every year, equivalent to 79.8% of the NHS budget'. Meanwhile, a report in the Guardian last month warned:

NHS finances in crisis due to rising demand and budget cuts - double pressure on the service could cause £30bn deficit by 2020 – and parties’ extra cash pledges won’t be enough

The study further noted that 'the United States loses $337bn to tax evasion [] – more than any other nation. In second place is Brazil which loses $280bn and third is Italy losing $238bn'.

A neutral watchdog media would pounce on these shocking, criminal statistics and rightly declare them a crime against humanity, but the media was bought long ago by the very same people exploiting the legal loopholes that allow this travesty to occur. Instead, the tabloid media piles on the poor and vulnerable, smearing them relentlessly as lazy or 'feckless' people who thieve from the welfare system paid for by honest taxpayers, despite knowing that such smears are not only lies but dangerous, with six of the UK's largest charities reporting that they are regularly contacted by disabled people who are taunted on the street for faking benefits, leading some to live in constant fear and shame. Hate crimes have risen and disabled people have either thought about or actually committed suicide in this climate of poisonous, concocted persecution.

The editors of the Daily Mail and other tabloids are also perfectly well aware that benefit and tax credit fraud in the UK accounts for under £1.6 billion in total, less than 1% of the overall benefits and tax credits expenditure and less than benefits underpaid and overpaid due to error.

Compare these numbers with the tax evasion statistics to see precisely where the loyalties and priorities of the mainstream newspapers lie. The result: a study this year revealed the British people falsely believe that the rich pay most in tax.

The UK, one of the richest and most powerful nations on the planet and a self-proclaimed champion of human rights and democracy, saw this year a precipitous 163% rise in the use of food banks to a million children and adults, leading charities to accuse the UK government of violating the 'human right to food'. Meanwhile, as the UK government drives on with its 'austerity' cuts, tax evasion continues rampant and unchallenged.

Untenable.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Facebook: Here

Please also see my daily blog.

My articles are written freely. If you appreciate them, Paypal donations can be made at my free book's website.

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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 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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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 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

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