Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Your Money And Your Life

What we do is what we do
It's all the same, there's nothing new
What we do is what we do
'Cause all we do is what we do

Gaming, praying, believing, maintaining
Texting, electing, rejecting, infecting

My lights do what I say
I say 'on' and they snap on
My car does what I say
I say 'start' and it jumps out

But my dog doesn't do what I say
My girl doesn't do what I say
My mind doesn't do what I say
I don't know what to do

"What We Do" - Devo

Author's note: Apologies for the long break in posting. Normal service will now be resumed.

As 2013 begins it is clear to anyone paying attention (about 0.000001% of the human race) that this year is going to be, in corporate speak, 2012 ver. 2.0. The vicious ideology described euphemistically in recent years as economic neoliberalism will further demoralize, impoverish and destroy the most vulnerable among us, all the way from the poorest in war-torn 'developing' countries (partly due to wars made inevitable by Western colonialism past and present) to their counterparts in the so-called 'developed' nations.

The theory behind representative democracy - that citizens freely elect officials to represent their interests - is simple enough. However, as has been proven again and again throughout history, humans possess an undeniable flaw - namely: power is very VERY bad for them. Once a person possesses power, unless he or she is an exceptionally moral, focused and self-aware individual, that person will go to great lengths to both keep power and, if possible, expand it. And if some people they've never met get hurt along the way, well...shit happens, right?

One time-tested and effective method of obtaining enormous power is to game the system. Electoral systems in modern democracies are often hopelessly corrupt, unfair and unrepresentative, the US and the UK, self-described beacons of democracy, being shining examples.

In the microcosmic case of the UK, this has led directly to a political party (Conservative) with only 36.1% of the vote forcing extremely radical 'austerity' policies (Orwellian term) upon a population, aided and abetted by their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.

What these policies translate to in real terms are misery, inequality and poverty on a massive scale, with the UK government itself recently admitting, for example, that one million more children will have been forced into poverty as a direct result of this 'austerity'.

All in it together.

In order to halt this raid of state assets, a blatant shifting of state wealth to private entities, awareness of what is actually happening along with active spreading of this knowledge among ordinary people is essential, not least to combat the mendacious and divisive propaganda being spread by the coalition's spin doctors: the infamous workers versus shirkers lie.

And the very first thing is to stop assuming good faith. When the latest outrages perpetrated by government officials or corporations comes to light (almost daily) in the media, the near universal reaction can be summed up in the following common phrases: "I can't believe this" and "How could they do that?"

And my personal favorite: "How do they sleep at night?"

"Very well, thank you" is the answer, and this may provide some insight into the mindset of those responsible for the aforementioned 'outrages'. Ordinary people will try to assume good faith, because that's what good people do, but with the corporate and financial elites currently holding the reins of state and global power, good faith needs to be thrown out of the window.

Why? Try a Google search containing the name of any transnational corporation that springs to mind along with the words 'controversy', 'illegal' or 'criminal'. HSBC, for example, committed (in the words of the excellent Matt Taibbi), the 'worst behavior that any bank can possibly be guilty of' when certain staff deliberately and with full knowledge of their actions provided money laundering services for drug cartels responsible for the deaths of up to 60,000 people in Mexico. For this despicable crime the bank settled for $1.9 billion, small change for a huge entity like this, and you can be quite sure that none of the executives responsible for this crime are losing any sleep at all about the thousands of warm, breathing people who are now corpses because of their greed.

Those corpses used to have sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, lovers and friends. More lives damaged or destroyed.

Governments are no different. The recent spotlight on British atrocities in Kenya and Iraq are just two more chapters in a long book of murderous behavior by elected (and unelected) officials operating in utmost secrecy, people who may publicly espouse the concepts of accountability and transparency while rejecting them contemptuously in private.

Aside: chapter four of my free book on human rights and direct democracy also provides a whistle-stop tour of the horrors of US foreign policy for those who are interested.

Instead of assuming good (or bad) faith, it is necessary instead to keep an open mind, to educate oneself from various sources - including viewpoints one may reflexively disagree with - and to search for the true motives behind the actions of governments and large corporations with one truth firmly kept in mind: that the goals of political and financial elites will almost never coincide with the needs of ordinary citizens.

Gone are the times of Beveridge and Atlee, who understood that a happy, successful and prosperous society requires the state to support the mental, physical and emotional health of its citizenry. Fast forward to modern times and we see that that citizens are seen by government not as people to be supported and cared for, but as consumers.

Education, once free to university level in the UK, is now so expensive that the poor cannot obtain a degree without racking up debts equivalent to a small mortgage. The National Health Service (NHS) is being taken apart and given out to voracious private interests who have ensured their piece of the pie by donating generously to political parties and campaigns.

There is bad news for supporters of 'neoliberalism', however: this theory, upon which these economic 'policies' are based, has now been proved a complete failure, leading to results opposite to those predicted. The Guardian's George Monbiot here details how policies which have led to the insane situation of having (according to Oxfam) the 100 richest people in the world earning enough last year to end extreme poverty suffered by the poorest on the planet four times over are in fact bunkum.

From Monbiot's article:

Last year’s annual report (pdf) by the UN Conference on Trade and Development should have been an obituary for the neoliberal model developed by Hayek and Friedman and their disciples. It shows unequivocally that their policies have created the opposite outcomes to those they predicted. As neoliberal policies (cutting taxes for the rich, privatising state assets, deregulating labour, reducing social security) began to bite from the 1980s onwards, growth rates started to fall and unemployment to rise.

The remarkable growth in the rich nations during the 1950s, 60s and 70s was made possible by the destruction of the wealth and power of the elite, as a result of the Depression and the second world war. Their embarrassment gave the other 99% an unprecedented chance to demand redistribution, state spending and social security, all of which stimulated demand.

The neoliberals also insisted that unrestrained inequality in incomes and flexible wages would reduce unemployment. But throughout the rich world both inequality and unemployment have soared(8). The recent jump in unemployment in most developed countries – worse than in any previous recession of the past three decades – was preceded by the lowest level of wages as a share of GDP since the second world war(9). Bang goes the theory. It failed for the same obvious reason: low wages suppress demand, which suppresses employment.

As wages stagnated, people supplemented their incomes with debt. Rising debt fed the deregulated banks, with consequences of which we are all aware. The greater inequality becomes, the UN report finds, the less stable the economy and the lower its rates of growth. The policies with which neoliberal governments seek to reduce their deficits and stimulate their economies are counter-productive.

Any continued pursuit of these policies based as they are on a now-debunked theory must end immediately.

Another inhuman prong of the assault by the wealthy on the poor is the latest manifestation of rule from a standpoint of endless fear and crisis: the so-called War on Terror. Although an American is 25 times more likely to drown in a bathtub than die in a terrorist attack, the public is assured, aided expertly by relentless corporate media fearmongering, that vast funds and resources are required to defeat this deadly and shadowy enemy, that the borderless Earth itself is the battlefield, that any military age male in a 'strike zone' is defined as a 'militant', and that civil liberties need to be greatly curtailed in order to defeat this threat.

One can also not help but notice that the children of politicians and financial elites are not the ones sent off to die in wars; that noble duty is for your kids, not theirs.

Your money AND your life.

Endless war against an enemy that is difficult to define is the perfect cover for the enrichment of those involved in both the legal and illegal arms industries, the Military-Industrial Complex, and the politicians who receive generous 'donations' to ensure their support for arms deals and other beneficial measures.

As the former South African politician Andrew Feinstein pointed out in this 15-minute, must-watch speech at the 2012 Oslo Freedom Forum, these arms deals are driven by profit, are worth billions upon billions of dollars, and are decided behind closed doors, far from democratic accountability, shielded by the all-encompassing justification of 'national security'.

This deadly collusion between the arms industry and political parties and officials is made possible by a revolving door set-up, much like the one involving executives in the financial industries and political figures. According to Feinstein, 84% of retiring senior officers in 2010 went into executive positions of companies they had helped throughout their careers.

And the world spends $200,000,000 on arms every hour...that's $55,555 for every time the second-hand of the clock on your wall moves.

The result: war, chaos, poisoned environments and human misery on an unimaginable scale; all of it either outright ignored by the major media or brought to you in sanitized 'special reports' designed to give the very erroneous impression that CNN and its ilk are actually doing cutting-edge reporting from the most dangerous and deprived regions of the world.

In other words, 99.99999% of the world's population have not the slightest clue what damage their elected officials and the corporations they directly support through consumerism have done and are continuing to do. Worse, because they do not know, they are therefore utterly indifferent, and on the rare occasions they are confronted with even the slightest hint of the horrific reality, the person who delivers that news is automatically labelled a dangerous 'radical', a 'firebrand' or 'activist'. And then it is back to Lance Armstrong or Beyonce miming the Star Spangled Banner.

To recap:

People vote for officials in demonstrably flawed and intentionally skewed elections designed to ensure that there is no serious alternative to the entrenched political powers.

These officials receive massive levels of funding from various private corporations, all of whom have a vested interest in keeping public awareness of this unhealthy and destructive relationship to a minimum.

By extension, therefore, the officials also have a vested interest in keeping the public uninformed and constantly distracted.

In order to do this, people are subjected to a media deluge of pure bullshit, from what the latest diets are, to the sexual misadventures of the rich and famous; from manufactured outrage over the latest Daily Mail offering to the slow brain-death of reality television.

The corporations get richer; the expense-fiddling politicians get richer, too. You, sadly, get poorer and lose more and more of your freedoms. But don't worry - it's OK - you can vote this terrible party out and put the 'alternative' back in, can't you? Forgetting of course that many of the members of the 'alternative' party were culpable in war crimes like the invasion of Iraq, not to mention the ravaging of the NHS (via Tony Blair's Private Finance Initiative contracts) and education on the home front.

This all begs a rhetorical question: what action would you take against a person (or group of people) who were abusing your children?

We all know the answer: somewhere between severe anger to murder.

And yet this is exactly what is happening every day. Your children are being abused, and so are you, by a relentless commercial assault on your brains from all angles along with endless ads for easily obtainable loans to finance the purchase of things you don't actually need. This assault skews your perceptions and values. You and your kids are being abused by the politicians who, in return for donations that funded their election, agree, for example, to lower environmental standards for huge chemical companies: allow the excellent Greg Palast to talk you through that one here.

You're also being abused by the big food and drink companies who lobby for laws that make it more likely you will get fat or binge drink, meaning you are far more likely to be afflicted by heart disease and diabetes. That's great news for the drug companies as well, by the way. You're being abused by the billion-dollar supplements and diet industries which make you feel constantly anxious about your figure, your weight and your health, all in order to make you buy products that any serious doctor will tell you are completely unnecessary.

And you keep on voting these people in. Are you mad?

One would hope to believe that the people with the most power are possessed of wisdom beyond that of ordinary people. This is a laughable idea, however, as Boris Johnson demonstrates here, and he is far from the only one. George Osbourne, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, has no background in economics, and yet he ignores the pleas of hundreds of academic experts in the field, refusing to back down on his failed 'austerity' program, regardless of the cost in human suffering and lives. The list of idiots in power past and present would fill a book the size of War and Peace.

Why do we grant people this ignorant possession of such enormous power over our lives?

The bankers are having a party at your expense as well. Goldman Sachs, for example, are to award themselves $8.3 billion in bonuses, just four years after their criminal culpability in the financial crash of 2008, while millions of people even in so-called rich nations are having to choose between food and heating.

It should be clear therefore that a great number of those holding the reins of power anywhere, the corporate and political elites, have no qualms about consolidating power and enriching themselves and their friends no matter what the cost in human suffering.

No? Think Abu Ghraib. North Korea with its prison camps. Myanmar's military junta until just recently. Karimov in Uzbekistan. Pol Pot. Hitler. Israel's inhuman treatment of the Palestinians. Think about the fake malaria drugs sent from China that are directly causing the preventable deaths of African children. Think about the quarter of a million Indian farmers [YouTube link contains strong language] who have committed suicide since 1995 due to crushing debt and hopelessness because Monsanto genetically modifies the seeds they sell to them so that they have to be bought again year after year. And on and on...and so it goes.

The list is endless. Just about any government or major corporation in the world is committing or has committed grievous crimes against helpless people, just because they can, in order to take their land and resources with varying justifications (spreading Christianity, civilization, democracy etc.)

One striking tale told by Andrew Feinstein in the speech linked above and described passionately here is of how South African politicians took huge bribes to enrich themselves and in return pushed through a huge arms deal for military equipment the nation did not need and never used, all while 2.2 million people died (according to Harvard researchers) because the government said it was too poor to buy retrovirals for the HIV epidemic there. Ironically, the author of the linked article also asks in his title: "How do you sleep?"

"Very well, thank you."

The inescapable conclusion therefore is that a significant number of those who hold power over the world are sociopaths. How else would one describe people who make decisions to enrich themselves in the full knowledge that innocent people are going to be harmed or killed?

From an earlier article on this blog:

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.

One has to wonder where the outrage is? When are people finally going to say enough is enough? It will likely happen when a critical mass of people reach levels of personal despair so bad that they have nothing to lose...and then the riots will come. As that critical mass may have already been reached, this could happen anytime, most likely during the summer when the weather is warmer and the schools are closed.

The London riots of August 2011 provided the authorities with invaluable strategic information of how to respond to future such social unrest. The reactions of the various newspapers, the public mood, the search for an explanation, the reception of the public and the media to the idea of shutting down the BlackBerry Messenger network: all of vital strategic value, a dress rehearsal, for future containment.

'Mindless thugs', 'those too lazy to get a job' and 'people who want a free lunch' will be blamed. The real issues of social deprivation and desperation will be shot down in waves of vitriol wherever they are raised in public. The battle for public opinion will be waged in the media, on talk radio, on television and in widely-read newspapers, especially the tabloids, which are concerned only with making money out of any dramatic news event. The result will be an overwhelmingly negative reaction against the rioters, regardless of their true motives.

Further, violent protestors will stand no chance against an increasingly militarized police force with a record of institutionalized racism throughout its ranks. People will inevitably get hurt...and people will be killed.

Making it all the more vital that these sociopaths are removed from positions of power as soon as possible. It is way past time to talk about 'changing' or 'improving the system incrementally. The dirty dishwater has to be thrown out - all of it - and the people need to be smart about how they go about it. Violence is not the answer...it will only feed the justification of an even more repressive state.

The root issue at hand in the short-term is how to remove the influence of big money lobbyists from the political process. Representative democracy can be corrupted no matter how many checks and balances are put into place - we already know that sociopaths are particularly adept at Machiavellian manipulation of systems and people in order to get what they want.

In the medium and long-term, the root issue is education, along with electoral and media reform.

Many are unaware that there already exists a system that can achieve all this, one that is more viable by the day with the technological advances of the internet. Direct democracy is the system used in Switzerland, a clean, safe and economically prosperous nation recently voted number one in the world for quality of life. This system takes money out of politics and removes even the need for politicians. A grassroots movement toward this goal is vital in order to return government to its appropriate role: protecting and serving its people while interfering as little as possible in their lives.

Direct democracy is still perceived by many as 'radical', 'naive' and 'unworkable' yet none of these descriptions are remotely true. Spread the word to people you know; encourage them to become active in the fight for a free and fair society, where there is no longer one rule for the rich and another for the poor. Read about direct democracy for free at the link below, and then do your part, however small, to get other people interested.

As a bonus, helping others brings its own rewards.

The alternative is a continued progression of the cancer. Soon enough, when the mega corporations get their way (as they eventually will if no one stands up to them), the real-life tragedy occurring right now in nations like Greece will occur much much closer to home.

Your money and your life.

Author's note: In order to preemptively counter accusations of gross generalization, I would like to make it clear that I do not believe all corporate and political elites are sociopaths. There are many very honorable people in public service and, yes, occasionally even in corporations. However, the examples cited in this article make it clear that there are far too many sociopaths in positions of huge power, and that they need to be stopped.

'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 almost a year 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.