Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dysfunctional World

"Remember, any state, any state, has a primary enemy: its own population" - Noam Chomsky

A significant incident occurred in 2010 during a football match between Germany and England at the World Cup finals in South Africa. England midfielder Frank Lampard's shot hit the crossbar and the ball bounced clearly over the line, but then span back out into the German goalkeeper's grateful grasp. The referee and linesmen all missed what the entire world could see in replays and supporters of England cried foul.

The German goalkeeper later admitted he had seen the ball cross the line, but deliberately 'conned' the referee by disguising his reaction. Any desire for sportsmanship or honesty on his part was clearly eclipsed by a desire to win the game at all costs, coupled with the obvious disincentive of likely condemnation from team mates, fans and the German media.

Every kid and indeed adult watching the game was faced with a cognitive dissonance: on one hand, they had heard from teachers and parents throughout their lives that lying is wrong and that sportsmanship is an admirable quality, while on the other, many would approve of the goalkeeper's actions, likely stating that the football world is already full of simulation and players bending the rules as far as possible in order to sway results in their favor so it would be foolish to act otherwise and risk defeat.

This justification is a standard human reaction to cognitive dissonance, namely the alteration of one of the opposing beliefs so that it becomes morally acceptable. Such justification is extremely simple because the idea of cheating to 'get results' is now ingrained as normal - in some cases, admirable - in almost every aspect of modern society.

Such is the power of this in the world of professional football that on the extremely rare occasions that a player acts honestly, the establishment itself reacts with incredulity, as in this case when one pundit opined that the sportsmanlike player in question should have had a 'clip round the ear'.

This week a CIA whistleblower, Jack Kiriakou was sentenced to two years in prison for informing the world of the CIA's torture rendition program (known as the Rendition, Detention, Interrogation (RDI) Program). On the other hand, the head of the program, Thomas Fletcher, a man who allegedly oversaw and actually took part in horrendous abuse of detainees is free to enjoy his retirement in Virginia.

Torture is illegal under international law.

Bradley Manning, the young US private who allegedly passed hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, has been detained for two and a half years in conditions described as 'torture' by both Amnesty International and Juan Mendez, the UN's top torture official. The perpetrators of the multiple criminal acts detailed in the cables remain free of even a whiff of investigation.

These are but two examples of literally thousands of cases of human rights abuse, political persecution and gross injustice, but from them the message is crystal clear: act in good conscience in order to inform your fellow citizens of corruption, illegality or criminality on an industrial scale and you will be punished and persecuted; actually commit the crimes and you will be left alone; indeed, you may be rewarded.

The world is upside-down. The level of dysfunction is such that true justice, democracy, equality and freedom for all is now a distant ideal, a romantic concept espoused by the naive, contemptuously dismissed by the Machiavellian advocates of realpolitik.

What allows this poisonous climate to prevail?

The answer to this can be found in a tour of the world's key institutions, entities presented in the media as benign which are in fact strategically vital for maintaining the status quo.

Public perception of the nature of governance is based on outdated concepts; the average citizen quite reasonably believes that they live in a country, and that nation is ruled by a government, which, if it is a so-called 'representative democracy', they feel lucky enough to have voted for (or against).

The reality is far more complex: governments are increasingly defined by their relationship with (and subservience to) trans-national corporations, lobbyists, thinktanks, media, and certain influential and extremely rich individuals. When Joe Public votes for a political party, he is in fact helping to maintain an extremely complex web of mutual back-scratching, where politicians act far more in the interests of their financial backers than the general public.

All systems are open to abuse and elections are no different: flawed voting systems lead to all manner of anti-democratic ills like tactical voting and disenfranchisement and can ultimately allow minority governments to unleash vicious reforms upon entire populations based on ideologies only a small minority share.

Corporate lobbyists can easily outdo ordinary citizens in getting the ear of the most influential people in power, and are used to getting results that will benefit them. Thinktanks, presented neutrally by so many media outlets as groups of benign and concerned experts, are in many cases biased with particular axes to grind.

These are the bare bones for an infrastructure in which financial and power elites can get what they want. The genius of it all is this: they make you a complete sucker. The vast majority of people living in even democratic societies are under the mistaken impression that they are free to do what they want.

"But I am free!" you insist. "I can buy what I want, go where I want, marry who I want (as long as it is not someone of the same sex)..." This is true, because none of these things threaten the status quo. However, as an experiment, try doing something that actually does challenge the entrenched elites. Try publishing some diplomatic cables that show immoral and criminal acts by your own government in files that have no business being classified under any interpretation of the that and then you will see how free you are. Try peacefully demonstrating in a major US city about broad inequality and see what the police think of your democratic right to protest.

The Occupy movement tried this and were taken to pieces, ridiculed and now ignored by the establishment, perceived by even mildly sympathetic observers as a bunch of worthless hippies who have no idea what they are even protesting. Chalk that perception up as a victory for establishment forces, particularly the media, who went all out with contemptuous criticism and dismissal of the seriousness of the aims of the movement.

Forgotten is the idea that the people out braving the New York winter were actually trying to do something to help ordinary people: you and me; attempting to bring attention to the gross corruption of the Western political system which does not serve the people it claims to.

This is how free we really are. If you are a good little citizen who keeps your mouth shut and nose clean, you can certainly buy what you want and go where you like. Speak out in any way that threatens the establishment and you will pay, depending on how much damage you actually or may potentially cause.

What is then required for the aforementioned elites is something to keep people ignorant of and distracted from what is actually going on. Corporate establishment media and its enabling journalists: take a bow. The vast majority of people on the planet get their news from the major media outlets. Because of the combination of profit motive in the media and the human desire for instant gratification, we are duly drenched with trivialities, an endless deluge of thin, watery horse shit: celebrity scandals and gossip, 'controversial' incidents involving public figures, sports dramas, sensational (and therefore unrepresentative) crimes, and manufactured outrage.

To illustrate this, I will list a sample of the current headlines from the US Yahoo news site:

Tsunami warning for Hawaii after Canadian quake

'Frankenstorm': Worse than sum of its parts

R&B singer Natina Reed struck by car in Georgia

Marines, police prep for mock zombie invasion

Magnitude-7.7 quake strikes off western Canada

Tsunami warning issued for southern Alaska

Romney wins major newspaper endorsement in Iowa

Navy replaces admiral leading Mideast strike group

Rubio's daughter in fair condition after accident

The earthquake and tsunami warnings certainly belong here as they represent vital information to the public. The Romney story also deserves its place, as does the navy one, although these stories are far from cutting to the heart of the malaise in US society. The rest is pointless drivel.

What about independent media outlets? The Raw Story describes itself as 'progressive, bringing attention to stories that it sees as downplayed or ignored by other media outlets'. (from Wikipedia). Sounds good? Here is a sample of today's headlines:

MIT student wins competition by suggesting paintball pellets could save Earth from asteroids

Former Powell Chief of Staff: ‘My party is full of racists’

Maher: Romney thinks a blow job is how the Pep Boys clean out a carburetor

Ann Coulter defends 'retard' comment, downplays Roe v. Wade on Piers Morgan

GOP Rep. says working mothers should have stayed at home

Conservative pollster: Nate Silver is wrong because he is ‘thin and effeminate’

Poll: Majority of Americans are racist against blacks

The last story is mildly interesting and certainly in the public interest. The rest is a waste of everyone's time.

The role of the media is to inform the public in an accurate and neutral fashion how the world around them works, and to present its readers or viewers with all the choices and information available in a way that is understandable to people who are unlikely to be experts. The sensationalist nonsense listed above serves only as a distraction, dumbs everyone down, and in fact gives rise to mass confusion. This confusion, mixed in with the myriad cognitive biases we are all as humans cursed with, is toxic to healthy democracy.

Even worse, high-profile journalists, who are supposed in a democracy to act as checks against abuses of power, are all too often subservient to it. Glenn Greenwald explains here how some stenographers will agree to literally anything in order to have 'access' to the president or other key figures in power.

Let's take a look at some other societal cogs in place to ensure the long-term continuance of the status quo:

1. Allow Glenn Greenwald to talk you through the utter sham popularly known as the US presidential debates, a corporate-sponsored process to insulate candidates from being forced to discuss topics that are politically risky while at the same time presenting the debates as some kind of vital expression of a healthy democracy.

2. In the US and increasingly the UK, a vast surveillance society apparatus has been constructed post 9/11. This is justified by the need to 'combat terrorism'. The idea that if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear is aggressively marketed, despite the fact that this ranks as one of the all-time most stupid assertions, as explained here.

3. While mendacious politicians like the UK Conservative Party's Iain Duncan Smith vilify the poor and fan the populist flames of anger about benefits fraud, the fact that benefits fraud accounts for less than 1% of funds lost due to the so-called 'tax gap', namely tax revenue lost due to tax evasion and avoidance, something the rich are overwhelmingly responsible for, is lost in the noise generated by widely read newspapers like the Daily Mail which march in lockstep with the Conservative Party on issues like this.

4. Two streams of justice seemingly exist: one for ordinary people, another for the rich and powerful. While the criminal bankers who brought about the 2008 financial crash get to continue to work in the same industry and keep receiving obscene bonuses and pay-offs, the poor are punished severely for offenses that did not bring down the world's financial system.

5. International institutions like the UN have been rendered powerless to stop the spread and escalation of war and the malign influence of the arms industry, which has its tentacles wrapped lovingly around the key decision makers in governments around the world.

6. Vaunted international bodies like the IMF, the World Bank and NATO, and even international law itself, in reality serve as arms of the US empire and its allies, a means on multiple fronts to enable and maintain Western hegemony.

7. Even organizations that exist explicitly to aid the world's poorest and most helpless are in crisis, with enormous amounts of aid swallowed up in costs. A lack of consistent regulation leads to horror stories like this:

From an article by Craig Murray:

Of 110 containers of pharmaceuticals entering West Africa searched in a special operation coordinated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), 84 were found to contain fake pharmaceuticals. 82 million doses of fake medicine were confiscated which included anti-malarial and anti-HIV drugs and antibiotics.

Here in sub-Saharan Africa, over two children die every minute of malaria – which in 98% of cases can be cured with US $6 worth of genuine drugs. A spokesman for the WCO on BBC World Service radio last night said that the number of deaths caused directly by counterfeit medicine in Africa every year was in the hundreds of thousands. He called it 'genocide'.

This dysfunctional world system is able to persist because the entire human population has been made simultaneously a consumer of products and services offered by the major corporations (having bought up or closed down almost all competition from small businesses) and also unwitting supporters of this very system via perceived free elections.

Worse, it is self-perpetuating. Inequality will grow, injustices will increase, war will spread, all to serve the aims of the tiny elite minority that is in control. Basic human rights like higher education and health are becoming available only if you can afford them, and this trend is increasingly excluding the poor in particular in nations that have succumbed to neoliberal economic methodology.

In nations like the US and the UK with their militarized police forces and ubiquitous surveillance, it is already too late for direct revolutionary movements to change anything - the Occupy movement being an object lesson. Nevertheless as the US in particular has enormous influence on the world as a whole, it is vital that the corruption of its political process, its lack of any third-party option, and the rigid control of powerful corporate lobbyists be broken.

A massive grassroots movement toward direct democracy to take power out of the hands of politicians (and by extension the lobbyists) is both essential and possible. This system has been implemented successfully in Switzerland, a safe nation with a strong economy. It can be done simply with mass participation, as described in my FREE book linked below.

Time has run out for all other options. To make things worse, we have a global climate emergency looming over all our heads that is being studiously ignored by almost every government on the planet. We no longer have the luxury of choice.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Author's note: For nine months I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Punishing Integrity

"If you're in the military, and - I have to abide by certain classified information. If I was to release stuff, information that I'm not authorized to release, I'm breaking the law. We're a nation of laws. We don't individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate...he broke the law" - Former civil rights attorney Barack Obama on Bradley Manning

Back in 2008 the phenomenal success of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, fueled by the 'Change we can believe in' slogan and 'Yes we can' chant, had millions of people, including seasoned commentators and other public figures, swooning in adulation. After eight years of the unpopular George W Bush, the US and the world finally had, it seemed, a man who stood for the real democratic principles of justice, transparency and accountability.

The last four years have shown us how spectacularly the world was hoodwinked; indeed, the Obama administration has presided over savage curtailing of civil liberties and human rights, and extended even the worst abuses of the Bush administration.

There are many candidates for the most Kafkaesque policy or action of this administration, notably Obama's kill list, his drone bombing program in general, and his signing into law of the NDAA provision which allows indefinite detention of anyone suspected of terror activities, but perhaps the most insidious threat to democracy lies in his aggressive and unprecedented pursuit of whistleblowers.

Whistleblowers are essential to a true democracy, but they are a rare breed as they are fully aware of the potential repercussions of their actions, often against extremely powerful entities who have the resources to destroy their lives in retaliation. Ordinary mortals learn to keep their head down and look the other way in the vast majority of cases of corruption or abuse in their occupation field as they are legitimately concerned that losing their jobs might be the least of their problems if they speak out.

It is therefore even more crucial that the courageous souls who stick their necks out for the benefit of society as a whole be not only protected, but also encouraged, praised and rewarded. It is a measure of the strength of a democracy if it provides a measure of protection for those who blow the whistle on serious abuses of power or criminal acts perpetrated by those elected to serve us or within the corporate world.

Imagine for a moment that you are a principled and conscientious young member of the US military, and that on being posted, you discover within classified government files acts so flagrantly wrong, so evil, that you feel compelled to take the matter to your superiors. Imagine then that on informing your commanding officer of one of these abuses, he tells you to keep your mouth shut. You realize then that you have been naive and that part of your job, an unwritten rule, is to turn the other way and avoid raising a stink.

You believed that the word 'classified' means kept secret in order to protect national security or the identity of intelligence agents and their contacts. You realize to your horror that in a huge number of cases, the word means kept secret to avoid embarrassment or unwanted scrutiny, usually because some form of illegal behavior is involved, in some cases of the most serious variety: namely, murder.

What does a person of conscience do? You have gone through the chain of command but have been rebuffed. What other course of action lies open to you? At this point, you understand you have a choice: keep your head down or speak out through another medium, knowing full well that in doing so you will be inviting a holy shitstorm on yourself.

If this scenario were a movie, where would your sympathies lie? You, the viewer, are also aware that the word 'classified' in this case is a sham, a wall to protect dishonorable men and women who have committed terrible crimes and hurt innocent people. If the man on the screen, our young soldier, rejected the option of doing nothing, any principled viewer would likely feel a surge of approval for his actions, and would hope for his success against the corrupt and far more powerful establishment.

These were the choices allegedly faced by Private First Class Bradley Manning. He made the honorable choice after a titanic battle in his own mind. His own words, via logs of his chats with the man who turned him in, Adrian Lamo, speak most eloquently of his state of mind:

Bradley Manning: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
Bradley Manning: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…
Bradley Manning: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people
Bradley Manning: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?

Adrian Lamo: What sort of content?
Bradley Manning: uhm… crazy, almost criminal political backdealings… the non-PR-versions of world events and crises… uhm… all kinds of stuff like everything from the buildup to the Iraq War during Powell, to what the actual content of “aid packages” is: for instance, PR that the US is sending aid to pakistan includes funding for water/food/clothing… that much is true, it includes that, but the other 85% of it is for F-16 fighters and munitions to aid in the Afghanistan effort, so the US can call in Pakistanis to do aerial bombing instead of americans potentially killing civilians and creating a PR crisis
Bradley Manning: theres so much… it affects everybody on earth… everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed… Iceland, the Vatican, Spain, Brazil, Madascar, if its a country, and its recognized by the US as a country, its got dirt on it

Adrian Lamo: what kind of scandal?
Bradley Manning: hundreds of them
Adrian Lamo: like what? I’m genuinely curious about details.

Bradley Manning: uhmm… the Holy See and its position on the Vatican sex scandals
Adrian Lamo: play it by ear
Bradley Manning: the broiling one in Germany
Bradley Manning: im sorry, there’s so many… its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized

Bradley Manning: Apache Weapons Team video of 12 JUL 07 airstrike on Reuters Journos… some sketchy but fairly normal street-folk… and civilians

Bradley Manning: at first glance… it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter… no big deal… about two dozen more where that came from right… but something struck me as odd with the van thing… and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory… so i looked into it… eventually tracked down the date, and then the exact GPS co-ord… and i was like… ok, so thats what happened… cool… then i went to the regular internet… and it was still on my mind… so i typed into goog… the date, and the location… and then i see this

Adrian Lamo: what do you consider the highlights?
Bradley Manning: The Gharani airstrike videos and full report, Iraq war event log, the “Gitmo Papers”, and State Department cable database

These are the words of an unusually intelligent, well-informed, thoughtful and principled man wrestling with his conscience. These logs also make it clear that he has no interest in self-promotion or notoriety and that his concerns are for others: 'It affects everybody on earth'.

In Obama's 2008 presidential campaign literature (pdf), he had this to say regarding his policy on whistleblowers:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

Bradley Manning has been detained now for 881 days in conditions described by Juan Mendez, the UN's top torture official, as 'cruel and inhumane'. Amnesty International also accused the US of inhumane treatment.

Change we can believe in.

If Bradley Manning is indeed the source of the diplomatic cables eventually published by Wikileaks, we have him to thank for bringing to our attention the mendacious and criminal actions of our governments and those affiliated (corporations/mercenaries etc.) with or controlled (the military) by them.

For this, he should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is a measure of how establishment-serving the famous institutions of the world have become that Bradley Manning's captor instead was given this prestigious award.

In a sane or just world, Bradley Manning would be immediately released and the perpetrators of the criminal actions exposed by the diplomatic cables charged and tried. We do not live in such a world. Instead we allow ourselves to be ruled by a lawless elite elected in demonstrably flawed elections, people who have no qualms about keeping a true hero of democracy and transparency (assuming he was the leaker) in torturous conditions for years.

A massive public outcry and sustained pressure on public officials can have an effect. When you put your feet up in your house tonight and pour yourself a beer, spare a thought for a man who may have put his own liberty and well-being at risk for 'everybody on earth'. Follow his admirable support group on Twitter and Facebook, call your local representative, and make a real fuss. You have far less to lose than a certain brave young soldier had.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Author's note: For nine months I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Fruits of Modern Democracy

"We're human...and we're killing ourselves...and no-one seems to see that...and it bothers me..." - PFC Bradley Manning

In this short but informative article at, we learn some unsettling facts about the nature and consequences of war in the new millennium.

From the article:

The United Nations defines "major wars" as military conflicts inflicting 1,000 battlefield deaths per year. In 1965, there were 10 major wars under way. The new millennium began with much of the world consumed in armed conflict or cultivating an uncertain peace. As of mid-2005, there were eight Major Wars under way [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen "lesser" conflicts ongoing with varrying (sic) degrees of intensity.

We also learn that civilian deaths now greatly outweigh military ones:

Most of these are civil or "intrastate" wars, fueled as much by racial, ethnic, or religious animosities as by ideological fervor. Most victims are civilians, a feature that distinguishes modern conflicts. During World War I, civilians made up fewer than 5 percent of all casualties. Today, 75 percent or more of those killed or wounded in wars are non-combatants.

In addition the US alone has covert operations in at least seventy nations and the number of countries blighted by Obama's drone bombing campaign is now seven and counting.

In an era where medical science can perform miracles, where we can conceivably put humans on Mars, where we have the scientific and technical expertise to map the human genome or build supercomputers that can execute trillions of operations in the blink of an eye, how can one explain this regression into violence and human misery?

War is not the only area in which humanity has de-evolved. Much of the world, including the so-called rich Western nations, now suffers huge inequality, with a small rich elite controlling vast resources while the large majority endure an ever diminishing quality of life, with more and more struggling simply to survive from day to day.

The UN said in 2010 that more people die due to a lack of access to clean water than violence. One in seven, almost a billion people, suffer from hunger; 80% of the world live on less than $10 a day, with 50% on $2.50 a day; 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. Read that again. Twenty-two thousand kids die every day. The fact that this preventable disgrace is permitted to continue speaks volumes about the priorities of leaders, democratically elected or not.

Again, war is a major culprit. Food production in war zones becomes impossible and famines are therefore common. Refugees put massive strain on the infrastructures of neighboring and often resentful states, leading to multiple other serious issues.

The progression of the ratio of those in poverty to the wealthy also demonstrates humanity's failure to care for its own:

1820: 3 to 1

1913: 11 to 1

1950: 35 to 1

1973: 44 to 1

1992: 72 to 1

Any fool can see that we are going in the wrong direction at an increasing pace.

These basic issues can be addressed, but unfortunately there is a problem; one so enormous that serious measures aimed at eradicating these evils are unlikely ever to be enacted. It is a problem so pervasive that many do not even consider it an issue, and will likely even spout it uncritically as a virtue.

And here it is: the yardstick by which societies are measured and judged is what the establishment media labels 'economic growth', namely the increase of GDP per capita. While it is true that economic growth is essential for poor countries in order to improve quality of life to a decent level, after that level is attained, overall welfare will no longer necessarily improve. Further, as it is a broad measure of society as a whole, it tells us nothing of internal wealth distribution or inequality. Even worse, GDP makes no distinction between production that is positive or negative; in other words, a disaster like an oil spill can actually drive up GDP, although this will obviously have a detrimental effect on welfare, not to mention the environment.

This obsessive focus on economic growth provides governments who preside over gross inequality and poverty for significant portions of their populations with a ready-made excuse and mask for their failure. It is vital that instead of adopting such a limited measure of welfare of a society, we instead utilize a more accurate measure, one that is based on quality of life, universal access to decent health care and education, a minimum wage that allows people to live with a measure of dignity, and other factors that are directly linked to happiness. Using GDP as a measure of an entity as complex as society is as preposterous as using a single number (IQ) to measure human intelligence.

Human rights and welfare must become the default measure of human happiness and societal success throughout the media. Until it does, the public at large will only be vaguely aware that people are suffering from preventable calamities all over the world, and their only exposure might come from the occasional TV documentary about a dying kid in Africa that will bring tears to their eyes for a brief time.

However, under current democratic systems, particularly in Western Europe and the US, endless war is likely to be just that: endless, thanks to a massive arms industry which has ultra-cozy ties to the governments of these nations, giving arms manufacturers enormous lobbying power via contributions to political campaigns and a pervasive revolving door policy that is the very epitome of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

Allow the excellent Andrew Feinstein to talk you through the tragedies of the (legal and illegal) global arms industry. I defy anyone to watch his short speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum and not feel outrage.

A major problem with modern governance is that people who want power can easily gain power in society and in the business world, and it should be obvious that the last person we need in any executive position is someone who wants or craves power. Indeed, via various studies, it is becoming increasingly clear that a significant percentage of humans display traits associated with the psychiatric condition known as psychopathy.

Psychopaths are all around us - they appear perfectly normal and are possibly even popular in their circle, as they are particularly adept at manipulating their environment in order to get what they want. Recent estimates from psychiatric professionals are that 1% of the population (3 million people in the US) display such qualities, one of which is an inability to feel guilt or remorse at causing suffering to others. The popular idea that psychopaths are mindless and violent killers is a concept that needs prompt revision.

Reliable data on this issue is scarce as most studies on psychopathy concern prison populations but we can draw our own conclusions. Human history is replete with examples of government and business leaders being party to unspeakable acts causing death and misery for thousands, even millions of people. As a modern example, consider the behavior of the Wall Street criminals who sold cleverly repackaged financial products that they knew were toxic in full awareness that their gains would potentially lead to misery on an industrial scale for people whose homes were foreclosed upon or who otherwise suffered in the 2008 financial collapse. So adept are these psychopaths that they have successfully made governments not only bail them out so they can continue their obscene practices, but have also escaped any meaningful punishment or regulation.

Our democratic systems actively encourage and permit these people to attain positions of power from which they exert great influence over the welfare of populations, something which is obviously undesirable. One way to neuter these people is to utilize a system of direct democracy, a system that is eminently workable and is actively used in Switzerland, a clean, safe society with a strong economy. Under such a system, psychopaths are unable to thrive because instead of an elite elected in demonstrably flawed electoral systems, the people at large vote on policy, aided by a neutral and informative media and a strong education system, two societal elements without which true democracy cannot function.

Various methods of implementing direct democracy exist, and I have written about one in my free book. Pay no heed to the ignorant people who dismiss direct democracy as 'mob rule', something it absolutely is not. Such a system, combined with strict adherence to the rule of law based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and backed up by a United Nations with real power to bring rogue nations into line, not the current impotent mess, is the real key to tackling the root societal issues that allow war, poverty and injustice; the root issues being education and a media without a profit motive.

We live in a world in which up to 27 million people are slaves, where endless war is engendered by corporate psychopaths in the boardrooms of the arms industry; where climate change, now a serious 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 willfully 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 is up to us to bring about the change that the world
desperately needs.

Author's note: For nine months I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Killing By Remote

This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers - Martin Luther King, Jr.

The US is to extend its drone war to Mali, where it intends to 'halt the advance' of 'al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb' (AQIM) and also to Libya, in what CNN today described as 'military payback' for the deaths of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Drones will very soon have been used by the US or NATO forces in seven countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia, along with the two new sovereign nation targets.

As this report from 2009 in the Guardian explains, Israel also is not shy of using this technology. It is hardly a major scoop that Israel would partake. However:

The Guardian asked the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) about their use of armed drones but they declined to be interviewed on the subject. Instead they issued a written statement: "The IDF operated in accordance with the rules of war and did the utmost to minimise harm to civilians uninvolved in combat. The IDF's use of weapons conforms to international law."

Let's take a closer look at international law. The Third Geneva Convention states that a so-called 'unlawful combatant' is a civilian who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war.

Targeted killing, often executed by drone aircraft, is the intentional killing of a target deemed to be an 'unlawful combatant' not currently in the custody of the attacking power. This assumes that the person has allegedly lost the immunity granted by the Third Geneva Convention because they are allegedly engaged in terrorism or another form of armed conflict. Note that under the most basic concepts of most legal systems, such intent can only be surmised in a court of law or similar tribunal.

In a speech entitled "The Ethics and Efficacy of the President’s Counterterrorism Strategy" John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, explained the use of combat drones to kill members of al-Qaeda by the Obama administration. Mr. Brennan stated for the first time that the US government uses drones to kill selected members of al-Qaeda.

Mr. Brennan defended the use of drones from the standpoint of both domestic and international law. From the speech:

The United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces, in response to the 9/11 attacks, and we may also use force consistent with our inherent right of national self-defense.There is nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided in August 2010 a succinct FAQ of what is wrong with targeted killing which stands in stark contrast to the assertions of Mr. Brennan.

From the FAQ:

Both the Constitution and international law prohibit the use of lethal force against civilians outside of armed conflict except in very narrow circumstances: as a last resort to prevent an imminent attack that is likely to cause death or serious physical injury.

Allowing the use of warlike tactics far from any battlefield — using drones or other means — turns the whole world into a war zone and sets a dangerous example for other countries which might feel justified in doing the same. If the U.S. claims it can kill suspected enemies of the U.S. anywhere — using unmanned drones or otherwise — then other countries will regard killing their enemies within our borders as justified. We wouldn't be okay with the prospect of other countries executing their suspected enemies within U.S. borders.

The targeted killing of individuals who are suspected — but not proven — to be guilty of crimes also risks the deaths of innocent people. Over the last decade, we have seen the U.S. government wrongly imprison hundreds of men as terrorists based on weak, wrong or unreliable evidence, only to eventually free them. The consequence of such mistakes is far greater when the end result is death; there is no recourse for killing the wrong person.

International law allows such tactics to be used as a last resort only when hard intelligence makes it certain that an attack which will cause death or serious injury is 'imminent'. According to official NATO data quoted in this article, this year in Pakistan alone there have been 36 drone strikes and 448 'militant' casualties. Civilian casualties figures are not provided. Are we really expected to believe that in every single case, there was an imminent threat to a NATO country or citizen?

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that CIA tactics include the targeting of rescuers in so-called 'double tap' strikes, and even funerals. Imagine for a moment that a foreign power bombed a funeral in the US? Would that not be (rightly) condemned as a most despicable act of terrorism? If so, how is it acceptable for the CIA to do exactly that in a sovereign country on the other side of the globe? And how does this fit into any possible interpretation of 'acceptable' under international law?

Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve wrote in The Guardian of the case of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old boy from Waziristan, North Pakistan:

Last October I was at a jirga in Islamabad where 80 people from Waziristan had assembled to talk about the US Predator drones that buzz around overhead, periodically delivering death by Hellfire missile. A jirga is the traditional forum for discussing and resolving disputes, part parliament, part court of law. The turbaned tribal elders were joined by their young sons on a rare foray out of their region to meet outsiders and discuss the killing. The isolation of the Waziris is almost total – no western journalist has been to Miranshah for several years.

At our meeting I spoke as the representative westerner. I reported the CIA claim that not one single innocent civilian had been killed in over a year. I did not need to understand Pashtu to translate the snorts of derision when this claim was translated.

During the day I shook the hand of a 16-year-old kid from Waziristan named Tariq Aziz. One of his cousins had died in a missile strike, and he wanted to know what he could do to bring the truth to the west. At the Reprieve charity, we have a transparency project: importing cameras to the region to try to export the truth back out. Tariq wanted to take part, but I thought him too young.

Then, three days later, the CIA announced that it had eliminated "four militants". In truth there were only two victims: Tariq had been driving his 12-year-old cousin to their aunt's house when the Hellfire missile killed them both. This came just 24 hours after the CIA boasted of eliminating six other "militants" – actually, four chromite workers driving home from work. In both cases a local informant apparently tagged the car with a GPS monitor and lied to earn his fee.

Was Tariq an imminent threat to a NATO country? How about the four chromite workers? In this case alone, the egregiously cavalier approach NATO forces have to international law, not to mention their contemptuous disregard for it, is on grisly and tragic display.

The Obama administration has recently embraced a new definition of 'unlawful combatant', namely one that is based on 'behavior patterns' instead of actual intelligence.

What could go wrong?

From the article:

Drone attacks against suspected militants in Afghanistan, Sudan and Yemen are often based on what [are] called 'signature strikes' - strikes that target individuals based on patterns of behavior identified by US intelligence. Without an understanding of the local context, power dynamics, and cultural practices, drone operators may interpret routine behavior as suspicious, and mistakenly target civilians, according to an empirical study on the use of attack drones by the C.I.A. authored by the Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and Center for Civilians in Conflict.

Surely even the most rabid proponent of drone warfare can see that this is a shambolic decision-making process, and that real, actual, ordinary people, including kids, are being blown to pieces based on 'behavior patterns'. Under such a vague definition, even someone taking a rest by a roadside could be bombed - after all, he could be laying a land mine...or he could just be tired.

The concept of innocent before proven guilty is dead, just like Tariq Aziz. Justice has been turned on its head. International law is now a quaint concept for naive fools like human rights or peace activists who simply do not understand how dangerous those 'terrorists' are. The US and its puppets can do whatever the hell they like, wherever they like, to whomever they like, and justify it with some woolly bullshit about behavior patterns. And with these lawless precedents set, you can be sure that other states with powerful military forces like China and Russia will feel perfectly justified to do the same.

Inurement to civilian casualties has long set in for the vast majority of the world's population, even those who watch establishment media news programs seriously. For them, these tragedies are sanitized, reduced to virtual afterthoughts, tagged on at the end of reports. One may hear, for example: 'Local media outlets report several civilian casualties'. Translation: a bunch of amateur Pakistani news hounds say some locals are dead - hardly likely to bring Westerners out onto the streets in outrage.

The worst expression in the English language is this: 'Shit happens'. This concept, so commonly opined, is the perfect excuse for not doing anything, for not speaking out, for getting on with your lives and putting the crimes of your own government funded by your tax dollars out of your mind. After all, what can you do? Shit happens, right? That's the way of the world.

These people, and they are the vast majority, do not appear to realize that just expressing opposition to these terrible crimes can make a huge difference, as others will hear you and it contributes to incremental change of societal values. The more you can do, the better; but staying silent is a betrayal.

Instead of saying that shit happens, believe instead the words of Voltaire: 'Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do'. Otherwise, this era in human history will come to be known as The Era When Shit Happened.

Note: The Drone Campaign Network has a week of action from Saturday 6th to 13th of October. Support them in any way you can.

'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy’ by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)