Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Direct Democracy: Salvation for the Disaffected

"Who makes up a criminal conspiracy? If you go and look, [you'll find] they are made up of bankers, politicians, judges and, just perhaps, once in a while, a criminal" - Beppe Grillo

What kind of world has our vaunted system of Western democracy brought into being?

As well as several major wars there are at least seventy covert conflicts involving the US alone. This is set to increase with the recent incursions into Africa. Armed drones now murder children on an industrial scale in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Mali. Drones were also used in the recent Libya campaign. Israel has used (and will continue to do so) drones in Palestine, and other nations are now following the lead of NATO and developing their own drone technology, with China and Japan aiming to use them to monitor the disputed Senkaku Islands, raising the likelihood of tensions between the two Asian giants being ratcheted ever higher. Drones are not only for killing and causing wars, however: an enormous market for surveillance drones is opening up and the demand from so-called free democracies is voracious.

75% or more of people killed in modern wars are non-combatants. In World War I, it was 5%.

What else has our precious democracy brought about? From an earlier article on this blog (see original article for information sources):

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.

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.

From another article:

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).

Add to all this a massive for-profit prison system in the US that lobbies politicians for stricter drug laws to ensure ever more young (disproportionately black and male) people waste away in prison for victimless 'crimes' in the name of the horrifying war on drugs, all to make prison company executives fatter and please shareholders.

Etc. etc. etc. The list of human rights abuses and gross injustices could continue forever.

Many would argue that the West is not directly responsible for many of these ills but that does not fly. In particular, NATO powers along with the US, now the world's de facto imperial master, have invaded, looted and abused weaker and poorer nations, opening their markets for exploitation by their corporations, and created the social instability that has caused or exacerbated many of these problems. As an example, see how this was accomplished in South America over the last century by watching John Pilger's superb War on Democracy. This documentary alone exposes the decision-makers of our democracies as mendacious, arrogant and utterly amoral psychopaths, a fact that has not changed over time; people perfectly willing to remove democratically elected leaders by force via underhand means and implant their own puppets, who then go on to torture, rape, maim and kill thousands of civilians, all in the name of 'national security', which translates precisely as commercial, military and political hegemony. With Africa now on the agenda, resources and all, and the benign-sounding Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) designed to open the huge Asian market to many international corporations, the West really is on the verge of having a controlling stake literally everywhere.

Corporations are becoming more and more aggressive, as one would expect when corporations make up more than half of the richest entities on the planet (including nation states). George Monbiot explains here how they are using the law to intimidate protesters, often ruining their lives and finances in the process.

As Monbiot writes, without public protest, democracy is dead.

In the meantime, Europe is in the midst of a savage economic crisis, with sky-high unemployment in many nations tied by the dogma of 'austerity'. Greece is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster, falling into the hands of fascism and lawlessness. Spain and Italy, two of Europe's largest economies, could easily be next.

And in a devastating article in today's Guardian, Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson refreshed our memories of how the politicians 'we the people' voted into office engaged in a deliberate campaign through various media to distort and invent facts in order to mislead the public on Iraq: in other words they lied through their teeth to drag the US and the UK (with their Coalition of the Willing) into the illegal Iraq War, a conflict which has cost in excess of 655,000 civilian lives, according to a Lancet study.

All these terrible things...all enabled by our democratic system.

Simply by turning up to vote, we support a system that is democratic only in name, a system that has led to corruption, poverty, misery, murder and economic disaster on a global scale.

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

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

Whether or not this movement will make more waves in Italy remains to be seen, but Grillo has proved in spectacular fashion that direct democracy is now taken seriously by huge swathes of the population of a major European nation. This fact alone is an enormous victory for the direct democracy movement, something that must be built on. It proves also that the earlier successes of the Pirate Party, which also supports direct democracy, were no one-off.

Direct democracy, already utilized in Switzerland (recently chosen as number one in the world for quality of life), is a viable alternative to the current sham. Under direct democracy there is no need for politicians at all, and big money lobbyists would no longer have anyone to bribe. Expert committees formulate policy under the watchful eyes of elected and regularly replaced citizen committees (like the jury system), which is then voted upon directly by the general public two or three times a year via a secure internet system. Elected experts, true servants of the public, conduct diplomacy on their nation's behalf.

Twenty-five citizens in Iceland recently wrote a new constitution with the help of hundreds of volunteers via online collaboration. If such a complex task can be done by a small group of citizens, there is no limit to the wonders that could be achieved.

No more corrupt, lying politicians. No more ultra-powerful corporate lobbyists in the revolving door. Just imagine that.

Without these malignant elements, societies could begin to heal, could redirect spending from the trillions spent on arms every year to social programs and education. It would likely take decades to heal the damage done, but by removing the main offenders, change could begin. M5S and the Pirate Party have shown that when there is a real choice at the polls, the massive public disaffection for the system can be expressed by other means than spoiling ballots or refusing to vote.

History is on the side of change, and judging by the hysterical reactions of conventional German and other European organs to the Italian elections and their open derision toward Grillo, they are terrified at these developments. Do we allow the wars, corruption, poverty, the murder of children and economic insanity to continue or do we act? Direct democracy movements are beginning to proliferate as the world starts to realize that the grip of the political and financial elites must be broken. Help them in any way you can and educate those around you. The elites are starting to feel the hands of the people tightening around their throats.

Keep tightening.

'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 a year now 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, February 9, 2013

Pravda UK: Guardian's Assange Coverage Descends Into Farce

"News is something someone doesn't want printed. All else is advertizing.” - William Randolph Hearst

Those following the saga of Julian Assange, the founder (also editor-in-chief) of the transparency organization Wikileaks will be well aware of the long-running feud with the UK's Guardian newspaper. Initially partners in the explosive release of US diplomatic cables in 2010, the two suffered a very public falling-out. The period since then has been characterized by smear after hit piece after smear, and given that The Guardian's website is one of the most visited news sites in the world with millions of unique visitors every day, any misleading or negative article on Mr. Assange or his organization is certain to adversely influence public opinion on an enormous scale.

The smear is the standard response of establishment figures and entities to anyone who seriously challenges or stands outside the sphere of mainstream media orthodoxy, and it is nothing new. It serves both as a means of distracting from the points made by the target of the smear and of simultaneously skewing public perceptions against the 'outsider' and reinforcing those for the establishment. It does not require a conspiracy to effect, simply a self-reinforcing media culture of mutual praise and backslapping with unwritten laws regarding treatment of certain public figures (including other journalists), leading to descriptions of controversial establishment politicians like Tony Blair with 'nuanced' language while high-profile opponents of mainstream Western ideology like Hugo Chavez are labeled 'firebrands', 'dictators' and 'self-styled' 'revolutionaries'.

Smearing is extremely effective, and the proof of this lies in open view. Julian Assange has been called pretty much every name under the sun by journalists eager to ensure that their colleagues (and readers) know that they absolutely conform to the standard view of the Wikileaks founder as a 'narcissist', '(alleged) rapist', 'attention-seeker', 'trouble-maker' etc. etc. Thanks to this almost daily smearing by high-profile journalists and other figures, along with astroturfing techniques such as using sock-puppet accounts on Twitter and posting multiple comments on popular news sites, there is now a situation where millions of people around the world, most of whom are profoundly indifferent to political issues or media transparency, believe that Mr. Assange is a very naughty boy indeed, 'holed up' in the Ecuador embassy because he is a 'coward' who will not face his accusers in Stockholm.

That this, along with multiple other claims disseminated in countless media outlets and through the astroturfers' echo chambers, is actually a blatant falsehood speaks volumes about the need for reform of the dysfunctional media culture we are all forced to suffer twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

In most cases, the best response to smears is to ignore and refuse to engage the smearer, as that feeds into their desire to distract from the points being made by the target of the smear. However, it is occasionally useful to confront (in the form of a responding article or open-letter) smears when something comes along that is so disgustingly and offensively false that it highlights all that is wrong with corporate media group-think.

The Guardian today published a piece by Marina Hyde entitled: "Please-take-Assange-to-Stockholm syndrome. It's the diplomat's disease". In this piece, the final tattered remains of the Guardian's credibility on this particular issue were blasted into nothingness as Ms. Hyde proceeded to smear Mr. Assange with unsupported claims, ad-hominem attacks upon his character and credibility, and omissions of vital details.

It is illuminating to dissect some of the comments made by Ms. Hyde:

The poor Ecuadorian ambassador. After months with Julian Assange, she'll have had quite enough of insufferable narcissists

A blinding start to the piece - the subheading, no less - in which Ms. Hyde utilizes a vicious personal attack in a statement that is not supported by any evidence.

I've half a mind to rush out a very bad play set in a fictional version of that most claustrophobic-sounding embassy, in which everyone from cleaner to ambassador is driven to wielding the knife on perhaps the most rapidly oxidising figure of the age.

Translation: Mr. Assange is such a dick that anyone spending a significant amount of time with him would be filled with the desire to murder him. On reflection, it may well be worth Ms. Hyde spending the time on writing said play as there is little doubt that it would be heavily promoted by the Guardian in order to make more money out of the plight of Mr. Assange. As an aside, it is particularly telling that the book 'Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange's War On Secrecy' written by two Guardian journalists, David Leigh and Luke Harding, is prominently advertized near the top of the piece. Classy: many of the senior Guardian staff clearly hate Assange's guts, but they're certainly not beneath using their platform to make as much cash out of him as they can.

The work, if you could call it that, would be a rather farcical sort of tragedy, for who in all seriousness can continue to suppress the odd smirk at the thought of Assange, holed up with his sunbed and his computer and his radioactive self-regard...

Indeed - there is little doubt that sociopaths everywhere, encouraged by lies and smears propagated relentlessly by media organs, would have a bit of a chuckle at the thought of a man never charged with any crime being deprived of his freedom, possibly for the rest of his life, for publishing information that showed the mind-boggling criminality of nation states and corporate entities. Yes, I do believe my sides are splitting.

It's been a while since we heard from the Ecuadorian ambassador, initially so keen on her houseguest, but it is difficult not to read between the lines of Her Excellency's November suggestion that Assange must be allowed to leave for medical treatment, and not wonder whether by then she had the terminal ministrations of an NHS geriatric ward in mind.

The actual comments of the Ecuadorian ambassador were accessible via a hyperlink, which Ms. Hyde no doubt knows most readers do not follow, with most lacking the time, or simply not caring enough, to check every source and therefore far more likely to take a writer's comments in good faith.

The ambassador actually said:

"He has a chronic lung complaint that could get worse any time. The Ecuadorean state is covering Mr Assange's medical costs and we have arranged for regular doctor visits to check on his health(,)"

This is a simple statement of facts with no implication whatsoever that Mr. Assange has outstayed his welcome. Indeed, if anything, the ambassador's concern about his health is the most obvious feeling conveyed here.

Eventually the embassy staff may be revealed as suffering from a perversion of Stockholm syndrome, when those doing the house arresting fall so deeply out of love with their victim that the only cure is to extradite him to the Swedish capital.


Before we go any further, I'm warned that any criticism of Assange will land me in the doghouse with those somehow still able to take him 100% seriously, and may even cause a section of commentators to suspect I am part of some Guardian plot against him.

Getting the justifications in early for disgusting and unfounded personal attacks is always a good tactic and Ms. Hyde does not disappoint. She also reinforces the now prevailing media view that anyone who harbors sympathy for the plight of Mr. Assange is a 'cultist' or 'disciple', incapable of independent thought or anything beyond a worldview stipulated by the cultist-in-chief himself. It is a cowardly, passive-aggressive smear upon the millions of people who actually believe Wikileaks has done the public a great service, indeed the very same service that Ms. Hyde and her colleagues themselves should be providing, and that Mr. Assange is paying for his temerity of standing up to the US. She also misses the point that in fact many Wikileaks supporters do indeed have several concerns both about the organization and its founder, concerns that they would prefer to be debated honestly and openly in a neutral, informative media.

You see, I am dimly aware of all sorts of articles about this newspaper's break-up with Assange, but I have to confess to not being abreast of their import. I do look at the headlines and make quarter-arsed mental notes to read them later in order to stay au courant, but the inelegant truth of it is that I never do because it just sounds like such an absolutely massive bore-off.

Here Ms. Hyde displays her impeccable journalistic principles in agreeing to write an article about Mr. Assange while candidly admitting she does not know the details of important aspects of the background. As anyone familiar with the facts of the Assange case knows, the devil really is in the details, and many of the comments with misconceptions and false impressions one reads below the line in comments threads, whether from astroturfers or not, are written as a direct result of total ignorance of the true facts of the case. Modern media does not do details well, as details do not attract casual readers who want only the headline and basic outline of stories before moving on to the next drama in their busy lives. For a journalist to write on such an important issue, 'humor' piece notwithstanding, while admitting ignorance is simply shameful.

Assange ... the very name seems a sledgehammer hybrid of ass and angel, and with each balcony scene or face-saving desertion of a celebrity supporter, whichever CIA mastermind conceived Julian in a petri dish must be rubbing his hands with glee.

This speaks volumes about the journalistic integrity of the writer. While it is obviously her idea of humor, it once again relies on nothing but obvious and outright contempt for the subject of the 'joke'.

Quite where his narrative arc now goes is unclear. I suppose he might attempt to shoot his way out of his Knightsbridge bolthole like one half of Butch and Sundance, perhaps using a weapon fashioned from bits of his sunlamp and a USB stick. (It's certainly something The A-Team would have been able to come up with had they been holed up there for even an afternoon.) Certainly, if the attention continues to wane, the tractor-beam of the limelight will become harder to resist, and we should expect what Assange imagines to be the unexpected.

Translation: Mr. Assange has sacrificed his freedom and risked his life because...he wants attention. Congratulations, Ms. Hyde: you are now a certified propagandist.

"...but facts are sacred."

If one subscribes to the view that only an ultimately insufferable narcissist could have had the balls to do what he did, then it was always going to come to this. But when so very few come out of a story well, from star to supporters, perhaps a mirthless laugh is the only option left.

It is hard to fathom this sociopathic need to ridicule and demean a man who millions believe to be unjustly imprisoned and who has been granted asylum by a respected sovereign nation. No doubt Ms. Hyde would defend her comments, citing the fact that her columns almost always contain caustic humor. Indeed, in other pieces, Ms. Hyde has demonstrated real wit and an ability to comment cleverly. However, there is nothing in this piece but downright nasty and mean-spirited bashing of a man already beaten down by demonstrably corrupt powers. Clearly the very British pastime of supporting the underdog does not extend to serious critics of Western foreign policy and the behavior of trans-national corporations.

Before you ask why the author of this article is writing in support of an alleged rapist, it might be a good idea to check the facts of the case. When one does, one finds the inconvenient reality that neither of the women involved actually wanted to press charges for rape, but in fact wanted to know whether Mr. Assange could be forced to take an HIV test. In fact, both women in their own words said the sex was consensual. From the linked article:

The fact that the sex was consensual in all of the events is not disputed. One of the complainants, AA (Expressen, 21 August 2011), stated that both she and SW had consensual sex with Assange.

Complainant AA’s statements to the tabloid Aftonbladet (21 August 2010) also deny criminal intent on Assange’s side or threat/use of force.

"It is completely false that we are afraid of Assange and therefore didn’t want to file a complaint. He is not violent and I do not feel threatened by him." - Complainant AA

Many more misconceptions are addressed here along with more background of the case.

Without knowing the details, no one has the right to smear Mr. Assange as even an 'alleged' rapist, and the only people who in fact do so are either ignorant by stupidity, laziness or design, or are propagandists.

It is instructive to compare the treatment of Mr. Assange with that of editors of mainstream media organizations. Do we see personal smears of the former executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller after he sat on the NSA warrantless wiretapping story for over a year until G.W. Bush was safely re-elected at the request of the White House? Glenn Greenwald here lays out several instances of outrageous acts of suppression of information very much in the public interest by other editors just because the administration in power asked them to, including the recent suppression of the existence of a secret US drone base in Saudi Arabia.

No we do not see personal smears against them, and the reason is simple: these editors do not threaten the status quo, and the status quo is favorable for corporations, like the ones who own the vast majority of media outlets all around the world. By publishing secrets that are classified, not for 'national security', but because they betray vast criminality carried out in the name and with the tax dollars of the people of so-called democracies; by 'printing something someone doesn't want printed', Julian Assange is instantly identified and smeared as public enemy number one, and the criminality he brought to light ignored while the news-reading consumers are told instead that a 'narcissistic alleged rapist' cannot be assigned credibility.

Even if the smears were true, they would be a red herring. While the credibility of executive editors of traditional media outlets is certainly important, the beauty of Wikileaks is that it employs no journalists - the information released is in its original form, and speaks for itself as long as it is not fake or a forgery. There is no prism between the journalists and the readers with Wikileaks, and the reader can decide for themselves. Further, while Wikileaks is a nonprofit that survives on donations (despite a massive blockade), most media organizations depend on corporate advertizing, adding an automatic element of possible bias to editorial decisions.

In other words, because the information released by Wikileaks is in its original form, the character of Mr. Assange is utterly irrelevant. Any focus on personality is pure distraction, and anyone who does so either has an agenda or has been influenced by someone who has an agenda.

When confronting smear and propaganda, it is vital not to waste time and energy directly debating. Such people have zero interest in honest discussion, wanting only to stir up as much controversy as possible in order to distract from important issues. It is easy to spot the astroturfers: on Twitter, their timelines are overwhelmingly focused on one issue, with numerous instances of pedantic interactions with opponents of their view. They typically (but certainly not always in prominent cases) have few followers as their accounts are often sock-puppets, recently created with only one aim in mind. On message boards and comment threads, they also focus overwhelmingly on one topic. These people should be blocked instantly and ignored, and honest people who know the facts should simply go on airing and spreading those facts to all who will listen.

Propagandists know that only a tiny number of people who read the news actively comment on it beyond a few simple observations, either via comments below media articles or on Twitter and other social media, with most not commenting at all. Given that we know big media outlets like The Guardian have millions of readers, we can infer it is only a fraction of a hundredth of a percent. However, propagandists also know that a very large number of people who do not comment on threads often do read the comments below the line, perhaps in the hope of a reading a good ding-dong or even of learning something new. These ordinary people from all walks of life have one thing in common: a very long list of cognitive biases which can be easily manipulated in ways that create a false consensus. Notable among these biases is the well-known human tendency to follow and believe (consciously or unconsciously) what many others say to be true, even in the total absence of evidence: the so-called 'bandwagon effect'.

The obvious danger, therefore, is that astroturfers or just plain brainwashed or ignorant people will exert a form of peer pressure on formerly more neutral readers via emotive language, and articles like Ms. Hyde's act as fuel to the fire, adding the more credible influence of a paid journalist at a supposedly neutral media entity. Always keep in mind that comment thread contributors and social media astroturfers absolutely do not represent any majority view, simply because they are overwhelmingly one type of person: the type who spends a significant amount of time making comments on the internet - hardly the average citizen.

Several negative articles in the Guardian have now created a pattern of smears against Mr. Assange, a serious taint of the credibility of a newspaper with a proud history of journalism. Having Glenn Greenwald, a prominent and outspoken supporter of Wikileaks and Julian Assange, on the roster to provide 'balance' simply does not cut it. No articles at a serious media publication should contain personal attacks or misleading information for any reason, including humor. Those responsible for editorial control at The Guardian must provide an honest and open explanation of the pattern of abuse on this issue. Don't hold your breath; there are books and films to sell yet.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11