Note to readers: This article is intended partly as an antidote to the plethora of inane, space-filling, end-of-year news summaries found throughout the media at this time. The list below is not exhaustive, failing to touch, for example, on evils like the global arms trade, big-money lobbying and vulture funds, due to prohibitive length. These topics will be covered in the coming months in detail.
"The self is only that which it's in the process of becoming" - Søren Kierkegaard
We are often reminded by democratically elected leaders that we live in free societies. This is just another in a long line of lies. People are free only to a certain extent: do anything that seriously threatens the status quo maintained by the political, corporate and financial elites - only then does one discover how truly free one is.
If you inform the public of the CIA's secret and illegal torture rendition program, as Jack Kiriakou did, you go to prison, but if you run or authorize the program, you are left in peace. If you tell the world, in an act of conscience and not profit, about the obscene and secret lawlessness of the US government, you are kept for years in conditions described as torture by Amnesty International and the UN's own top torture official even before being given a trial. Carry out or authorize those very same acts and you will be made immune to any investigation or prosecution. The Obama administration has in fact waged what can only be described as a war against whistleblowers, courageous heroes of democracy willing to risk their livelihoods, even their lives, in order to expose corruption, illegality or wrongdoing that is in the public interest.
Billions of people falsely believe that they have a choice at the ballot box about who they choose to lead them. The reality could not be further from the truth. These electoral systems serve only to legitimize and mandate public officials who are almost all in thrall to their financial benefactors, upon whom they completely depend for success in their political careers.
Put simply, if politicians and officials toe the line and give their donors what they want, they will be greatly rewarded with wealth and future success, but if they deny or oppose them on principle, they can easily be finished or made an example of. There are plenty who are happy to follow orders waiting in line to replace them.
Ordinary citizens living in these 'democracies' will, in the main, defend their electoral systems as not perfect but the best we can hope for. Again, this is an erroneous perception. We can in fact do far better, but it is instructive first to examine what our vaunted, supposedly democratic systems have achieved for the world.
From my book:
Even the most basic human rights violations occur every day. The practice of slavery, for instance, has existed for thousands of years, and although it is now universally illegal - the last country to abolish it was Mauritania in 1981 - according to varying estimates, between 12 and 27 million people (equivalent to the population of Malaysia) 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.
Human trafficking is also alive and well. Although there is debate about the numbers, the United Nations estimated 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 as forced laborers. It is extremely profitable, making it a priority for international criminal gangs – an estimated 32 billion dollars 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.
As can be seen here, near slavery occurs even in rich democracies. If our vaunted and celebrated democracies can not eliminate something which is so basically evil and against basic human rights, is it not time to try something new?
From an earlier 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 [down from 15 at the end of 2003], with as many as two dozen "lesser" conflicts ongoing with varying 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.
So it seems that sixty-seven years after the horror and carnage of World War II, humanity (or at least those who have gained power over it) has reverted to its default mode of death and destruction, proving yet again that we never ever learn. Our 'democratic' systems of government have allowed entrenched commercial interests and political/financial corruption once again to control our destinies.
This topic has been covered extensively on this blog but the article which received easily the most attention was the one which detailed some of the personal testimonies of victims and their families. Reading the words of real people whose lives have been shattered by drones provides a perspective scandalously missing from mainstream corporate media outlets, where ordinary people blown to pieces are tacked on to the end of perfunctory drone strike reports, referred to euphemistically as 'militants' or 'others'.
The outpouring of emotion from around the world that followed the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was possible because all media outlets reported round the clock on the tragedy. How are the deaths of these poor kids any different to the hundreds of little children killed as 'collateral damage' in drone strikes ordered personally by Obama? Yet the amount of media attention they receive is negligible to zero, and the man who directly orders the strikes that kill them does not intone their names on live television, wiping away a tear as he does so.
From a recent article by Naomi Wolf:
The New America Foundation's report on drone use in Pakistan noted that the Guardian had confirmed 193 children's deaths from drone attacks in seven years. It noted that for the deaths of ten militants, 1,400 civilians with no involvement in terrorism also died. Not surprisingly, everyone in that region is traumatized: children scream when they hear drones. An NYU and Stanford Law School report notes that drones "terrorize citizens 24 hours a day".
The US in true Orwellian fashion calls itself a democracy and a force for peace in the world. If this were true, this illegal drone bombing campaign that has murdered thousands of completely innocent people, many of them young children, would never have been permitted.
So what is the justification for this campaign? The 'War on Terror', now officially known as 'Overseas Contingency Operation', has cost trillions of dollars and countless civilian lives. The damage to affected societies and infrastructures is incalculable, as is the psychological trauma it has caused on all sides of the conflict.
Can we infer, therefore, that terrorism is the single most serious threat to mankind?
This is predominantly a US war - necessary, officials say, to protect the homeland. So just what are the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack in the US. According to this article, which uses data from the Global Terrorism Database and National Counterterrorism Center, the chance is one in twenty million.
Bearing in mind that the chances of drowning in a bathtub are 1 in 800,000, perhaps Obama should declare a War on Bathtubs. It would make a lot more sense, given the level of the threat.
So this means the War on Terror must therefore be working? From the same article:
Of course, the police and politicians will cite the lack of deaths from terrorism as evidence that their protective measures are working. Earlier this year, the conservative Heritage Foundation compiled a list of 39 terror plots that had been foiled since September 2001. Going through the list, about 23 of the plots might plausibly have resulted in terror attacks of one sort or another. Several were aimed at subways, military bases, and shopping malls. To get a feel for the number of people that might be killed in typical terrorist attacks, consider that four subway bombs killed 52 people in London in 2005; the deadliest attack on a military base killed 13; and blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killed 187 people in 1995.
Making the huge assumption that all 23 plausible plots would have succeeded in killing an average of 100 Americans each, that means that 2,300 would have died in the last 10 years, or about 230 per year. (This implies a rate that is 10 times higher than the rate between 1970 and 2010, excluding the 9/11 attacks, by the way.) Even at this higher rate, your chances of dying in a terrorist attack would be about 1 in 1.7 million.
Recall also that some of those plots are fake, manufactured by the FBI to help justify the obscene spending on this tragic campaign.
The War on Terror is in fact a pretext to bring about a savage curtailing of civil liberties, a ploy designed to ensure that it is far more difficult to organize resistance to the status quo desired by those entrenched in power, as the Occupy movement recently discovered.
From an earlier article dealing with this topic:
The 2001 September 11th attacks were the catalyst for the Patriot Act, passed opportunistically a month later when the nation was still reeling with panic and fear, and barely even read by members of Congress and the Senate. It has massively curtailed civil liberties in the United States under the pretext of fighting the War on Terror. Restrictions on law enforcement have been drastically cut and police or government agencies are authorized to indefinitely detain immigrants. Searches of a person's home or office are permitted even without the owner's knowledge and law enforcement agents are further enabled to search email, telephone and financial records without a court order. This savage attack on individual freedoms has led to widespread abuse and disruption of society and the lives of ordinary civilians.
On New Year's Eve 2011, when most Americans were drinking in the new year, Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), making history as the first American president to officially make the US an authoritarian state. This law contains a provision which gives the US military the power to pick up any US citizen anywhere in the world and detain them indefinitely without trial.
In addition to this, a massive database which, according to NSA whistleblower William Binney, can record every single communication on social media, telephones and in emails of every single American is already operational.
Even more alarmingly, the market for domestic spy drones is exploding. As Naomi Wolf explains, it will not be long before drones the size of hummingbirds will be peeking in the windows of private houses where activists may be meeting, and indeed it is only a matter of time before domestic drones are weaponized.
Add to this CCTV cameras all over the place that have advanced facial recognition technology, meaning you can be tracked by the authorities wherever you go. Literally, the only place to hide would be a private house.
But if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about, right?
These are steps far down the road toward the dystopian nightmare imagined by authors, philosophers and thinkers alike for generations. It is clear that the systems we have in place, designed to protect our rights, security, privacy and dignity have utterly failed.
Police Corruption, Brutality and Militarization
The police are a constituted body empowered by the state to enforce laws, protect property and limit civil disorder. It is clear that power has gone to the head at all levels of police forces around the world with corruption and brutality commonplace. Andrew Gilligan explains the corruption destroying what little remains of the public trust in the UK police and as many members of the Occupy movement will tell you, police in US cities take a dim view of the democratic right to protest. Peaceful protests themselves are becoming more and more hazardous as the police receive weapons and other equipment more at home in an army unit.
Banks and Other Major Financial Institutions
Even the Wall Street criminals and their ilk in the financial industries responsible for the 2008 world economic crisis might have been expected to show a little humility and started to behave themselves, especially after being bailed out with enormous sums of taxpayers' money. This, we now know, was never going to happen.
The recent LIBOR and HSBC scandals are truly horrific. In the former case, traders worked together to rig the LIBOR rate simply to make money in the full knowledge that this rate could fraudulently deprive ordinary people of large sums of money. HSBC went even lower, laundering billions of dollars of drug money for the huge drug cartels that have killed tens of thousands of civilians in Mexico and other places, cartels which are now deeply embedded in government, police forces and the judiciary.
The US is the world's largest prison state, most of the prisoners being poor or from racial minorities. The vast majority of prisoners are serving sentences for drug violations.
As an aside, all this is good news if you are a capitalist: this mass incarceration has led to a huge windfall for the large number of for-profit prisons throughout the US. Congratulations to the stockholders.
The point here is that a person, almost always from a racial minority, can be incarcerated for a significant time, suffering all the horrors of prison life that go with it, but if a high-level executive in a bank directly enables drug cartels in their trade of murder and violence, even admits to it, he will be shielded from prosecution, the only punishment being a fine against the bank, a fine that can easily be paid - around a month or so worth of business. It is like asking an ordinary member of the public to pay a fine equivalent to a month's wages for a rape and murder spree.
The arrogance and criminality of some of these people in finance cannot be overstated, and yet almost none have been punished in any meaningful way. Once again, and the point cannot be stated often enough, the democratic systems we support have enabled these disgusting injustices that destroy millions of lives to come about. They must be rebuilt from the ground up.
Poverty and Inequality
The world's rich hoard up to $31 trillion in offshore accounts. Just a tiny proportion of this wealth, which the rich surely do not need for any meaningful purpose, could solve almost every single human rights issue on this planet.
In many nations around the world, even in rich 'democracies', poverty is increasing and the gap between the rich and the poor is widening at alarming rates. In the UK, the harmless, responsible-sounding euphemism 'austerity' is being used to justify the 'tightening of our belts' to curb irresponsible state spending.
The reality, of course, is that the poor and vulnerable are being forced overwhelmingly to shoulder these cuts, while the rich along with large corporations continue to get away with massive tax avoidance and evasion on scales that dwarf regular tabloid targets like benefits fraud. Two articles here and here cover this issue in detail and I strongly recommend them to the reader in the hope that the magnitude of this injustice sinks in.
People in Western societies and those modeled on them (like Japan) are immersed in a flood of commercialism, a constant urging from all angles to spend and consume, regardless of the effect on poor countries, the poor themselves, and the environment. Many go into debt, forced by peer pressures and 'tradition' to spend beyond their means, especially during Christmas or around Thanksgiving in the US. Intentionally rejecting this commercial hell would go a long way toward helping matters, but hopes should not be ratcheted up too high - a quick scan through the comments below the line of this perfectly sensible and reasonable piece in The Daily Telegraph will remind the reader just how brainwashed the vast majority of people are, and also the difficulty of changing their minds thanks to the phenomenon known as system justification.
The corporate media itself fuels this shallow and inane view of life and society. Marvel at this Guardian editorial urging its readers to consume consume consume, averring that it is a patriotic duty to do so, buying fully into the erroneous idea that GDP growth is necessary for a healthy society.
Shocking as all these issues are, they all pale in comparison to the single true existential threat to humanity, that of climate change. This truly terrifying report should bring home the danger we are in to all but the willfully blind. This means that the conservative estimates of serious climate scientists could well be violently torn up as climate change occurs far more swiftly than expected thanks to the mass release of methane formerly trapped below melting permafrost.
Given that the International Energy Agency a year ago warned in a detailed analysis of the world's energy infrastructure that any more use of fossil fuels over the next five years will lead to irreversible climate change. The idea that the extra methane now being released will only add to the obvious inaction of the world on curbing fossil fuel use is frankly terrifying.
This is no conspiracy theory. A huge consensus of the serious scientific community (97%) affirms man-made global climate change, but thanks to long and concerted misinformation campaigns by the major oil and gas companies, the general public has been slow to catch up. The good news is that, even with the corporate US media barely mentioning climate change in comparison with other meaningless topics (like Kim Kardashian etc.), 70% of Americans now believe climate change is occurring, and 54% believe it is caused by man-made activities.
There can be no dithering. Climate change is already affecting the planet significantly and it may only be a matter of damage control at this stage. To see just how bad things are, an article here details the likely consequences of inaction. Meanwhile the corporate media gave the ludicrous Mayan apocalypse story far more attention than the true threat to us all. Tongue in cheek though the commentary was in almost every case, it nonetheless highlights an unforgivable dereliction of duty with regard to the need to inform the public relentlessly on a topic which is of vital importance to us all. Publishing a few articles (informative as they are) here and there on the issue by George Monbiot simply does not cut it.
One thing is clear, however: all these issues plague us despite our 'democratic' systems. While the causal factors are many and complex, the backdrop nevertheless consists of false democracies brought about through flawed, easily manipulated electoral systems that do not reflect true public opinion, combined with an utterly corrupted form of deregulated and exploitative capitalism. The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that the 'democratic' systems we continue to champion and support do nothing to alleviate these problems, and indeed have exacerbated them in almost every case.
It is therefore time, in the words of the band Orange Juice, to rip it up and start again. Direct democracy is a system which is easy to implement and has been proven to work - indeed, Switzerland, the only nation which employs a form of direct democracy in national politics, was recently named the best nation to be born in, due to high quality of life, on the planet. Direct democracy further has the enormous advantage that it removes big-money lobbyists from the equation; indeed the bought politicians we are forced to endure would become a thing of the past at a single stroke. My free book details a method of making this system reality.
Given the litany of nightmares in this article, it seems strange to wish my readers a happy holiday or new year, as this article was written in the knowledge that for the vast majority of people on Earth, the holiday period will be as thoroughly miserable as any other time of the year.
People who suffer in slavery and human trafficking; the starving and those dying of easily preventable diseases; those in poverty or forced labor and those dying (or losing a loved one) due to lack of health coverage; victims of addiction, domestic violence, abuse and discrimination; families who have lost their daughters in honor killings; girls who have suffered genital mutilation; political prisoners; those who have suffered due to official corruption, persecution and war; families whose children were blown to pieces by drones; male, female and child victims of rape and genocide; people displaced by climate change, pollution, desertification, drought, famine and war; those needlessly and illegally tortured; people who have lost life or limb due to cluster bombs or land mines; mothers whose children have been born with leukemia or genetic deficiencies thanks to the use of chemical weapons and depleted uranium (by the US and its allies)...saying happy holiday or happy new year to these poor people is not likely to lighten their burdens.
But to the loyal readers of my blog, I do wish you a happy holiday and new year, with two simple messages: firstly, that the victims in the list of horrors above need your help as they are too traumatized or weak to help themselves in most cases; and secondly to keep in mind that the only truly important things in life are not money, status, cars, nice houses and great clothes - the only important things are those that money cannot come close to buying: compassion, friendship, loyalty, freedom, justice, courage, shared prosperity, good health, meaningful personal fulfillment, contentment and love. Freely give as many of these things as you can while rejecting contempt and negativity and you may be surprised to discover that the rewards for all, yourself included, will be immeasurable.
'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 eleven 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.