Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

"I sometimes feel like I'm caught in a vice. Some people feel like I'm some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction, like I'm a fool for believing in peace." - Rodney King

When Jack Nicholson - playing President James Dale in Mars Attacks! - utters the plaintive words: "Why can't we all just get along?" to the Martian ambassador, it is hard to suppress a laugh at the idea of the real world's leaders ever saying those words. Indeed, using this phrase as anything but a joke is likely only to attract mockery, as Rodney King, a victim of excessive police violence, discovered when he famously posed the question.

Yet it is a valid and vital question. As most who have lived abroad will tell you, the vast majority of people one meets, even those with vastly different customs and cultures, are kind, helpful and friendly when one engages them in a respectful way. Even from the evolutionary/survival standpoint it is logical for humans to avoid violence for the simple reason that there is a risk of defeat, injury or even death - it basically makes more sense to solve differences in a non-violent way if it is possible.

Put simply, order is greatly preferable to chaos. Only special factors such as poverty, mental illness, or societal (national or local) dysfunctionality trump this.

Why, then, do we live in a climate of violence and war? From an earlier article on this blog:

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.

How have human instincts been so overridden and subverted?

In this long (and highly recommended) speech about his book, The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University noted especially for the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971, it is made clear that humans cannot be defined as 'good' or 'evil', and that in fact every human, perhaps with some special exceptions, possesses the potential for both in great quantities. The choices made by an individual depend on multiple factors but situational ones are particularly powerful. In the wrong situation, a person with no sadistic tendencies or history of 'evil' can do terrible things, as demonstrated at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and countless other sites throughout history.

Zimbardo explains that these situational factors are particularly powerful when they are given a legitimate legal framework. The guards who abused at Abu Ghraib were given the green light for certain actions on prisoners (stress positions, sleep deprivation and so on) directly down the chain of command all the way from top generals and Donald Rumsfeld himself. Their actions led on from that legitimacy. The same applies when society (or subsections of it) itself gives legitimacy to immoral actions, when it punishes ordinary citizens but not the powerful, even when the crimes are egregious, and when the establishment protects itself with secrecy and the persecution of those who seriously dissent.

This human corruption - sickness if you like - is not limited to any race or culture. It has been with us since time immemorial and will continue forever unless something is done. To take a recent example, the Muslim Rohingya people of Burma have recently suffered torture, rape and mass killings. The Rohingya people have in fact suffered for a long time, not only due to local issues, but also under British colonial rule, followed by the Japanese occupation when countless incidents of rape, torture and murder were also committed. The recent massacres are clearly connected to the plans of the Burmese government to open bidding in April for thirty offshore gas and oil 'blocks', with bids likely to come from major Western corporations like Chevron and Total among others. The strategic port of Sittwe, which is being developed as a deep sea port for oil tankers, is apparently being cleared of the local Rohingya population. Observers are systematically being followed and harassed.

It is hardly surprising that the Rohingya people have been described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted in the world.

A group of human beings - be they Burmese officials or corporate agents (it doesn't matter) - with vested interests in these oil bids sat down one day and made the decision to persecute, maim, torture, rape and kill these vulnerable people. No doubt when the decision was made, euphemisms were used - 'clearing the area', for example. They can do so because for such people, profit trumps human suffering without question...because they exist and work within a system that consistently fails to punish such actions, in fact rewards them via material gain or in-house promotions. This decision is particularly easy because these suit-wearing, high-flyers in government and/or corporations will never have to actually look in the eyes of the people that are murdered or meet traumatized and bereaved family members - that's what their hired thugs are for.

This is what Professor Zimbardo meant by situational factors. There is no need for dark conspiracies - simply a self-reinforcing culture which rewards evil and punishes those who attempt to expose it. Those who ordered the 'cleansing' of the Rohingya are no different to those who ordered torture in Iraq and around the world in the 'War on Terror', those who knowingly defrauded millions of people in the 2008 financial crisis, and those who ordered the extermination of the Jews. They are human beings in dysfunctional systems, all invested with enormous power, all therefore capable of acts of great evil justified in various ways like 'the greater good', the need to 'get the job done' and 'national security', further aided by delusional concepts like 'don't let the team down' and 'shit happens'. At the corporate/establishment level, big lies like this become second nature to officials because they know their predecessors have done such things using the same justifications and gotten away with them to boot. Witness Obama's refusal to prosecute Bush-era officials: refusing for one simple reason - precedent: if he allowed such prosecutions, knowing the Bush officials were guilty as hell, the next administration might do the same. This means, of course, that Obama knew at the time that his administration would go on to act controversially or even illegally - and this has been borne out by reality with the illegal drone bombing campaign and the clearly unconstitutional indefinite detention provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) etc.

Can't we all just get along?

Yes, we most certainly can, but only after a thorough cleansing of our own. It is particularly saddening when even decent commentators in the media still pathetically cling to the idea that society can be improved through incremental reform to corrupted institutions like the judiciary and the media etc. This is delusional. For all his populist flaws, Beppe Grillo, who refuses to work with establishment officials and parties, has the right idea - what is needed is a new beginning, a new New Deal for human rights and justice, something on the scale of change seen in the latter half of the 1940s when the evil and reality of war was still at the forefront of the minds of the people of the world.

There is a war going on right now - not only the endless war perpetuated by the horrendously corrupt arms trade, but also an ideological, economic war on the poor, the disabled, the sick and the helpless. This war is being waged by people who have no concept or experience of poverty or suffering, people who see state institutions and civilian populations simply as things to be exploited for profit, and indeed see nothing wrong with such a view.

In order to win this war people need to mobilize and rise up on a massive scale. However, a revolution in the traditional mold is not enough - what is the point of removing the current regime only to replace it with other people just as potentially corrupt? Look at Egypt. No, there must be an honest reckoning with human nature, a manifesto written with checks and balances designed to ensure any new system is immune to corruption, immune to the infinitely destructive vagaries of human nature. Indeed, no one individual must be allowed anywhere near significant power.

In order to achieve this, radical changes need to be made.

And the first is to abolish all political parties and introduce systems of direct democracy. Political parties have been comprehensively outed as easily corruptible, with cronyism, greed, hunger for power, and desire for personal gain rampant. Parties, therefore, are just about the most destructive entities one could imagine for a true democracy. As an essential bonus, in the absence of political parties, rich and corporate lobbyists will be suddenly bereft of targets for their nefarious goals: corporations would be unable to gain any kind of foothold over policy. Gone at a stroke would be the days of corporations actually writing policy themselves.

With these corrupt institutions out of the way, a reformed media with no profit motive, and education systems that train people to think critically and to actively participate in their democracies, not simply to parrot 'facts' learned at school, and with ordinary people deciding by consensus upon policy with the guidance of committees of scientists, philosophers and experts in all other fields...with all these things, world peace, equality and justice really would be a giant step closer to reality. Although it would likely take generations to heal the damage already done, at least humanity would be moving in the right direction once again.

To even voice such a suggestion is to invite ridicule and accusations of naivete. Ignore anyone who does so. This, also, is a propaganda tactic designed to make one feel foolish for even believing peace is possible, just as Rodney King was made to feel.

It will not be easy. We have a mortal enemy - namely the establishment: a pliant media which is almost completely owned by corporations. There are ideological lobby groups, thinktanks, and other tools of establishment power like the IMF and the World Bank. Serious opponents of the prevailing orthodoxy are persecuted and imprisoned by the establishment (Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and others) and at the same time ridiculed and defamed by the corporate press. Beppe Grillo is treated with contempt even by the so-called serious newspapers, just as Hugo Chavez was. Their crimes? Trying to create just societies that provide for all people, no matter how poor or vulnerable. The Occupy Movement tried to change things but was swatted down and is now subjected to near-universal ridicule throughout the media (when it is mentioned, which is rarely). It is clear in modern society that classical protest movements have a next to zero chance against violent, militarized police forces, mass-media condemnation and the soon-to-be-ubiquitous spy drones.

One thing may prevail, however: a leaderless grassroots movement that builds a vast network of sympathizers. Like-minded groups like The Zeitgeist Movement, The Pirate Party, Anonymous, Wikileaks, protest groups in Greece, Spain and Italy and other nations blighted by neoliberalism are attracting more followers daily. The people already have great power, albeit currently splintered. Most just don't know it yet.

Social psychology and countless tragedies throughout history have demonstrated beyond doubt that humans are capable of great evil. Until we build systems (one possibility is posited in my forthcoming book) that shield humanity from its own dark, destructive potential, endless war, human rights abuses, inequality, injustice, poverty and human misery are inevitable.

'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 over 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.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Iraq War Could Have Been Prevented

Yes and how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
Yes and how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes and how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

- Blowin' in the Wind (Bob Dylan - written in 1962)

The tenth anniversary of the invasion by the US and its supporters has brought the inevitable slew of retrospective articles on the Iraq War: good ones here from Mother Jones and here from Seamus Milne, and a typically idiotic one here from Nick Cohen.

This article could go on all day about the lies that were eagerly swallowed and regurgitated for public consumption by our fourth estate guardians of democracy. I could talk about forged documents, uranium yellowcake, aluminium tubes, Valerie Plame, smallpox, weapons inspections, dodgy dossiers but what would be the point? Anyone who paid even the slightest attention to the outrageous public relations campaign leading up to the invasion already knows that they were fed a gigantic tissue of lies.

Lies and fear. It wasn't just the Republicans, the Democrats were just as guilty. It is important to watch the two short clips linked in the previous sentence in the knowledge that all the claims were made by people who knew they were lying and exaggerating, who were in fact intentionally doing so in an attempt to build up public support. For this, the complicity of high-profile media figures was vital...and easily obtained. Watch their faces as they feed the media their lies, words that ultimately led to deaths of innocents numbering in the hundreds of thousands at the very least, possibly more than a million.

Read a typically devastating Media Lens analysis of the betrayal of the public by the corporate UK media here.

The Media Lens piece concludes:

It is a bitter, even surreal, irony that the media 'failure' on Iraq is being lamented by journalists who have since repeated the same performance on Libya, Syria, Israel-Palestine, Iran, Venezuela, WikiLeaks, climate change, and much else besides.

Precisely. Almost every single corporate media journalist in a blood-stained nutshell.

Among many things the Iraq War was a failure of democracy. Despite significant opposition to the war in many nations, including in the two principal invading nations, the US and the UK, the war went ahead without a United Nations mandate. The disaster that ensued is precisely the thing the UN and its Security Council were charged to prevent. In this regard, it is not only a failure of democracy, but also of the world order in general.

The title of Seamus Milne's article linked in the first paragraph of this article: 'Iraq War: Make It Impossible To Inflict Such Barbarism Again'. Imagine if that were actually possible. Imagine if the UK and the US had been direct democracies, a form of government which is controlled directly by the people. Utilized in a simple form, as it is in Switzerland, any single citizen who opposed the war could have collected signatures for a petition against it. With enough signatures, a referendum would have had to be called, and, given the level of public apathy, collecting enough signatures would have been a simple matter.

George W Bush and Tony Blair could have been thwarted. Think about that. Possibly more than a million people would still be alive. Think of the countless millions crippled, injured, tortured, raped, traumatized, poisoned and bereaved by this war crime. Read the heartbreaking words of just one of them: a dying US Iraq War veteran's letter to Bush and Cheney.

A direct democracy needs a neutral and informative media to function best, as well as an education system that teaches citizens to think. The two principal defendants in the Iraq War criminal dock have neither of these vital functions of democracy. Yet despite these enormous handicaps to free and democratic thought, public opposition to the war was very strong in both these nations; imagine how much stronger it would have been with a public far more capable of critical thought and not distracted by relentless media focus on celebrities and other sensational scandals or crime.

Let's waste no more words on the pathetic media enablers of the war criminals who instigated this war - the blood on their hands is clear enough for all to see, no doubt also to themselves in private. Bush, Cheney, Blair, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell and all the others are a different matter. They have largely moved out of the limelight, written their memoirs, dealt with the softballs on the book tours, and taken the extra millions. It is no longer outlandish to demand war crime trials for these people and indeed high-profile figures like Desmond Tutu have called directly for them.

In the full knowledge that these sociopaths will never be convinced they were wrong, however, I would suggest a different punishment for these people: send them to work for the rest of their lives in the children's hospitals in Iraq where they can experience firsthand what they have wrought. Force them to treat the kids with their limbs blown off, with genetic defects and incurable cancers caused by the depleted uranium dust or white phosphorus in the air.

Dr. Samira Alani of the city of Fallujah:

(I)t's common now in Fallujah for newborns to come out with massive multiple systemic defects, immune problems, massive central nervous system problems, massive heart problems, skeletal disorders, babies being born with two heads, babies being born with half of their internal organs outside of their bodies, cyclops babies literally with one eye -- really, really, really horrific nightmarish types of birth defects.

Perhaps the truly sickening sight of babies with one eye or two heads will succeed in instilling a sense of culpability or guilt in these people where all else has failed.

Ultimately, however, it is us - ordinary citizens - who must act to stop these sociopaths and their craven media enablers. All the more need for a move towards the only form of government that guarantees that politicians and big-money lobbyists are taken out of the picture.

We urgently need direct democracy.

'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.
Find 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). He can be contacted at

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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wealth Limited

"You can spend the money on new housing for poor people and the homeless, or you can spend it on a football stadium or a golf course" - Jello Biafra

As any parent or teacher will tell children, rules (laws) are essential to any system. It is an obvious tenet that if one person feels free to break the rules, a precedent is set and others will inevitably do the same, leading to erosion of the rule of law and eventual instability, injustice and chaos. In our modern 'global society' (propaganda term alert!), where law-breaking by those who hold the most power is rife, a two-tier system of justice has come into existence; namely one rule for 'us', another for 'them'.

This is nothing new as the rich and powerful have always enjoyed relative immunity from the law but rarely throughout history and only in the most despicable dictatorships has it been as blatant and brazen as it is now, an ominous sign that the global super-rich elite know they no longer have anything to fear. In the bad old days they were forced to at least try to hide their mendacity and criminality.

Witness the European 'Troika', the committee led by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund along with their pet politicians (Merkel and her ilk), try to force the government of Cyprus to skim off the savings of ordinary, hard-working people in order to raise funds for the propping up of two crippled national banks.

Actions like this - along with countless other outrages perpetrated by financial and political elites - are carried out with only the interests of the rich and powerful in mind, and only indifference for the ranks of ordinary citizens you and I belong to.

Democracy is now a word without meaning, a useful construct for career politicians when spouting platitudes at press conferences. Beppe Grillo (warning: strong language) has a point, don't you think?

There is a very clear lesson here: under the dominant neoliberal economic model pursued in recent decades, unlimited wealth for some is not only possible but inevitable. It follows logically therefore that inequality, and all the social ills that accompany it, is also inevitable. It further follows that without being checked, this inequality will widen until societies are torn apart, Greece being a vivid example of what awaits the other economies of the 'developed' world.

The concept of a minimum wage is well known. Given that we have established that inequality is inevitable and that it can destroy whole societies, a maximum wage and, far more crucially, a maximum limit on wealth must be considered.

A 2010 study by Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School showed that general happiness is indeed connected to income, but that after a certain level is reached, $75,000 a year at that time, happiness no longer increases.

Annual salary, however, is not the issue. A 2012 study by the Tax Justice Network estimated that the extremely wealthy are hoarding around $21 trillion in tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

That is the issue.

From the article:

The detailed analysis in the report, compiled using data from a range of sources, including the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund, suggests that for many developing countries the cumulative value of the capital that has flowed out of their economies since the 1970s would be more than enough to pay off their debts to the rest of the world.

Oil-rich states with an internationally mobile elite have been especially prone to watching their wealth disappear into offshore bank accounts instead of being invested at home, the research suggests. Once the returns on investing the hidden assets is included, almost £500bn has left Russia since the early 1990s when its economy was opened up. Saudi Arabia has seen £197bn flood out since the mid-1970s, and Nigeria £196bn.

"The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments."

The sheer size of the cash pile sitting out of reach of tax authorities is so great that it suggests standard measures of inequality radically underestimate the true gap between rich and poor. According to Henry's calculations, £6.3tn of assets is owned by only 92,000 people, or 0.001% of the world's population – a tiny class of the mega-rich who have more in common with each other than those at the bottom of the income scale in their own societies.

"These estimates reveal a staggering failure: inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people," said John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. "People on the street have no illusions about how unfair the situation has become."

There is no doubt that there are many issues to resolve with regard to the concept of maximum wealth. How does one deal with cash in the bank as opposed to other assets like land or investments. How much does a person really need? What limit would be reasonable? One suggestion, for example, is the level at which it is possible to survive on interest alone.

This is a very different suggestion to what is currently occurring in Cyprus. The target ought to be exclusively the super-rich global elite and multinationals who have exploited loopholes in tax laws and squirreled away enormous quantities of the wealth of resource-rich nations under their control.

These mega-rich entities are running riot with a system designed for an age long gone; antique tax laws are simply unable to cope with complex global transactions. Banking secrecy is also a major issue in nations like Switzerland as transparency is the first step toward having fair distribution of wealth, namely tax justice. The $21 trillion (a conservative estimate) could easily end world poverty, fund a global green infrastructure, or provide free health and education to any who need it. We are talking about significantly aiding literally billions of human beings. Allowing this money to sit in a bank somewhere so a rich guy can watch his Forbes List rank improve is not only obscene - it is insane.

Naturally, the very suggestion of any limit on wealth would be greeted with ridicule and derision from establishment politicians and their enablers in the corporate media, and there is a very good reason for this: such an idea would fundamentally threaten their control over the world's resources and finances. We can not, therefore, expect anything to change under the status quo...under our fake democracies.

There is a way, however: direct democracy. This is a perfectly viable system of government that gives people at least the power of veto over the actions of their officials. It is not 'mob rule', as many mistakenly believe. Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement (M5S) in Italy last month won 25% of the national vote for the simple reason that Italians are sick to death of lying, corrupt suits lining their pockets and looking out for themselves while pretending to care about the welfare of the people. Grillo has offered them an alternative - direct democracy - and millions have decided they want to give it a try.

This movement is not confined to Italy. Other nations, particularly those like Spain most deeply affected by the economic crises directly brought about by corrupt banks and politicians, are also embracing the concept. The movement is still growing and needs more activists to spread the word. Find out about it and get involved: be a part of something that truly has the power to bring about positive change. A limit on wealth is just one of thousands of possibilities under this revolutionary system of government.

'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.
Find 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). He can be contacted at

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.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The True Legacy of Hugo Chavez

"We lived in Venezuela for a year (we have been back 3 years now) and I just want to say that Rory Carroll and all the other hacks who will try to bring the legacy of Chavez into question are wrong - what we saw and experienced first hand when we were living there was a country where the poor and excluded were given access to free health care, free education, subsidised food and the opportunity to participate in building a fairer, more equal society - the most amazing thing was the genuine love and affection in which the man was held by the people of Venezuela" - Deirdre O'Neill

"We're not perfect, but we do have democracy" - Hugo Chavez

In a shallow world where grandiose symbolic gestures are granted great significance, the announcement of seven days of mourning and a state funeral in Venezuela after the death of Hugo Chavez would be considered great honors for any national leader, and yet they barely scratch the surface of the sense of loss, the vacuum felt by his millions of supporters - not only the poor in Venezuela who adored him, but also admirers from around the world, those who appreciate all he achieved for the poor of his nation, and who effortlessly see through the shameless and disgusting bias and smears of the corporate media, which is now alight with open or barely disguised glee at the news of his death.

Various obituaries have appeared, a good one here, in which much of the background of the man can be found. Chavez experienced poverty firsthand as a child, being forced to live with his grandmother when his parents could not feed him (despite both of them being school teachers). From his grandmother Chavez said he learned the importance of solidarity and sharing with others.

On joining the army Chavez began to learn of the exploits of Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary hero who fought for the independence of Latin America from the Spanish Empire. For the rest of his life, Chavez characterized his political philosophy as 'Bolivarianism', and worked to free his nation from the US Empire and its 'Washington Consensus', now known more commonly as neoliberalism.

Venezuela's problems are manifold and most foreign observers will be well acquainted with them, highlighted as they are at every opportunity in the corporate media as means to attack and label Chavez as 'corrupt', 'incompetent', a 'strongman' and a 'buffoon'. The murder rate in Caracas is among the highest in the world while corruption runs through many Venezuelan institutions, most critically the justice system, with allegedly thousands of extrajudicial executions carried out by police officers. Add to this around 12 million illegal weapons in circulation and Caracas being a major center of operations for organized crime and you have a situation in which violent crime is both out of control and very difficult to contain. Tellingly, the similar plight of Mexico is blamed exclusively in the corporate media on organized crime, with little or no criticism of the government.

In response to these issues, Chavez created a new national police force in an attempt to impose much higher standards on recruitment and operations, and policies were formulated for control and disarmament of weapons and ammunition.

Focusing solely on these issues, serious though they are, is a means to deflect from the truly remarkable achievements of Chavez; namely his 'Bolivarian Missions'. The Missions are social programs: anti-poverty initiatives; educational programs that have made over a million adult Venezuelans literate; subsidies for food and housing; and the building of thousands of free medical clinics for the poor. As a result of these policies, the infant mortality rate fell by 18.2% between 1998 and 2006; poverty dropped from 59.4% in 1999 to 30.2% in 2006; and extreme poverty fell from 21.7% to 9.9% over the same period. The Gini coefficient, a measure of societal wealth inequality, fell from 48.7 in 1998 to 42 in 2007.

The Missions encourage citizen- and worker-managed governance, creating a powerful sense of community and involvement in society, something most of the poor have never experienced before, ignored and repressed as they were by previous administrations. In addition, thousands of free land titles have been granted to formerly landless poor and indigenous communities.

The Scottish Venezuela Solidarity Campaign adds:

More than 2.7 million Venezuelans have been lifted out of poverty since 1998, with extreme poverty halved.

Over 17 million people now have access to free healthcare for the first time, saving up to 300,000 lives.

Over 1.6 million adults have benefited from literacy campaigns with illiteracy now abolished according to UNESCO standards.

Access to clean drinking water has increased from 80% in 1998 to over 92% today, benefitting more than 6 million people.

98% of Venezuelans now eat three times per day thanks to government provision of subsidised food and free school meals.

New rights for working people — Venezuela's minimum wage is now the highest in Latin America, with recently announced increases.

The creation of a Women's Development Bank and new Ministry for Women, giving opportunities to millions.

Historic racism is being tackled with new rights for indigenous people and other black and minority ethnic communities.

In a recent article, Pepe Escobar writes:

Unemployment went down from over 20 percent to less than 7 percent. No less than 22 public universities were built in the past 10 years. The number of teachers went from 65,000 to 350,000. Illiteracy has been eradicated. There is an ongoing agrarian reform – still a dream in most South American latitudes.

The people of Venezuela may be poor, but a Gallup poll found that they were the fifth happiest nation on the planet.

In John Pilger's documentary, The War on Democracy, Chavez was asked in an interview why, when Venezuela was rolling in oil dollars, there was still poverty in the nation. He responded as follows:

The poor in Venezuela carry on being poor, yes. I always say that we don't want to be rich. Our aim is not material wealth. It is to live with dignity, of course to come out of poverty, and to come out of extreme poverty above all. And to live, to live with dignity, this is the objective. Not to become millionaires, the American way of life. No, that is stupid.

Ignore the soulless and lazy corporate media lackeys who will cherry-pick statistics to spread hate and confusion; the true legacy of Hugo Chavez is what he has achieved for the poor. Chavez understood that human rights must always come before economic concerns, and that the true measure of a successful life is not material wealth and the pursuit of it - the flawed, limited, shallow and propagandistic 'American Dream' - but instead a capacity for kindness, good humor, compassion and empathy, the spiritual richness gained from freely aiding those in need.

Distraught supporters of Chavez, while ensuring that the seeds he has sown are never crushed underfoot, can therefore take solace in the fact that while his life ended far too soon, his journey among us was truly successful. Rest in peace, Hugo Chavez.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Media and US Government True Betrayers in Bradley Manning Case

"Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is this awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest" — Robert Gates, former United States Secretary of Defense

***[NOTE: This article was written before Chelsea Manning changed her name]

In a prepared statement Bradley Manning this week pleaded guilty to ten of the charges against him and revealed that before sending 251,287 US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks he had first approached and been rebuffed by The New York Times and The Washington Post, an unexpected twist in a saga that has polarized opinion on the young former intelligence analyst.

Casual viewers of mainstream media may believe Manning is a traitor who broke his oath to the US military; either that or they have never heard of him before. In contrast, to many who are familiar with all the facts of the case, Manning is a hero: a whistleblower in the bravest tradition.

As with most serious issues, stories on Manning are lodged amid endless sensationalist drivel about celebrities (Oscar Pistorius being the latest offering from the gods of distraction) or sports. Recent news would likely be summarized thus:

Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst awaiting trial for leaking classified US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks, today pleaded guilty to ten of the lesser charges against him. He pleaded not guilty, however, to the more serious charge of 'aiding the enemy', one which potentially carries the death penalty (although prosecutors have stated that they will not seek Manning's execution).

The key words: trial/leaking/classified/US/Wikileaks/aiding the enemy/death penalty will lead the casual viewer to automatically assume that Manning is a traitor who deserves everything he gets; indeed many (US citizens in particular) would likely express anger and disbelief that the prosecution had taken the death penalty off the table.

This is why the Manning case is such a striking example of all that is wrong with the profit-driven media, entities concerned foremost with advertizing revenue, a fact of life at odds with the intended aims of the fourth estate: namely to neutrally inform viewers of all information that is in the public interest and also, crucially, to hold authority structures to account. The average viewer will know little or nothing of the background of the Manning case, and has further been subjected to years of falsehoods and smears with regard to the Wikileaks transparency organization and its founder. Unsurprisingly, our hypothetical viewer will be inclined at the very least toward a negative view.

As with every story since the dawn of civilization, the devil is in the details. For various reasons, news media tends to vastly oversimplify, a crucial error that precludes the complexity and ineffability of human behavior. In modern media, we are reduced to villains or heroes, law-abiding citizens or criminals, good or bad; and the only winners are the shareholders.

Bradley Manning deserves more than to be dismissed in such terms.


1. Manning attempted to tell his commanding officer about the criminal acts he found in the cables but was told to 'shut his mouth'.

2. In his chat logs (see link above) with Adrian Lamo, the man who turned him in, Manning makes it clear that his motives for wanting the information in the cables made public were neither profit nor self-promotion, but instead an altruistic desire to allow the world to learn the truth about the dishonest, immoral and criminal behavior of his own government.

3. The US government itself has never alleged that anyone has been harmed in any way by the release of the cables, an important point because it is regularly stated by lazy mainstream journalists that the leak 'endangered lives'.

4. Over 130,000 of the cables were in fact 'unclassified'; around 100,000 were 'confidential'; and about 15,000 were labeled 'secret'. None of the cables were 'top secret'.

5. More than 3 million US soldiers and officials had access to the cables. If this information was so vital to US national security, why would 3 million low-level staff (with all the obvious possible security holes) have free access to it?

6. Julian Assange emailed the US State department (via his lawyer Jennifer Robinson) offering it the chance to redact names of those whose safety might be at risk after disclosure. Harold Koh, the State Department's legal adviser, rejected the offer (pdf) out of hand. Assange took this to mean that there was no significant risk to anyone in the cables and that the objections of the US government were due only to the potential embarrassment of any leak.

7. Much of the information revealed in the cables was humdrum everyday correspondence from US ambassadors, but a great deal contained information very much in the public interest which had no business being classified. Indeed, the leak proved something long suspected to be true: that in multiple cases, 'classified' in reality means 'embarrassing to the government'.

Embarrassing as follows:

It was official government policy to ignore torture in Iraq.

U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.

Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.

There IS (despite government claims to the opposite) an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US Military officials withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and innocent Iraqi civilians.

The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.

The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.

Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.

The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.

The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing campaign.

Every single one of these disclosures was in the public interest and were no threat to national security. They were classified simply to avoid severely embarrassing the State Department for acting illegally in, for example, ordering staff to acquire biometric data of top UN officials.


Note: this is a long list (sources in article linked above) but it demonstrates two things: firstly, that much of the information in the cables had nothing to do with national security and was definitely in the public interest, and secondly the sheer volume of information kept secret from the public by the US government - keep in mind that this is a tiny selection.

The U.S. Army considered WikiLeaks a national security threat as early as 2008, according to documents obtained and posted by WikiLeaks in March, 2010.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commanders repeatedly, knowingly lied to the American public about rising sectarian violence in Iraq beginning in 2006, according to the cross-referencing of WikiLeaks' leaked Iraq war documents and former Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Ellen Knickmeyer's recollections.

The Obama administration worked with Republicans during his first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies that some considered torture. A "confidential" April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid obtained by WikiLeaks details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

A U.S. Army helicopter allegedly gunned down two journalists in Baghdad in 2007. WikiLeaks posted a 40-minute video on its website in April, showing the attack in gruesome detail, along with an audio recording of the pilots during the attack.

Iran's military intervened aggressively in support of Shiite combatants in Iraq, offering weapons, training and sanctuary, according to an October, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of secret documents related to the Iraq war.

According to one tabulation, there have been 100,000 casualties, mostly civilian, in Iraq - greater than the numbers previously made public, many of them killed by American troops but most of them were killed by other Iraqis.

US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished..

US special-operations forces have targeted militants without trial in secret assassination missions, and many more Afghan civilians have been killed by accident than previously reported, according to the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war document dump.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai freed suspected drug dealers because of their political connections, according to a secret diplomatic cable. The cable, which supports the multiple allegations of corruption within the Karzai government, said that despite repeated rebukes from U.S. officials in Kabul, the president and his attorney general authorized the release of detainees. Previous cables accused Karzai's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, of being a corrupt narcotics trafficker.

Pakistan's government has allowed members of its spy network to hold strategy sessions on combating American troops with members of the Taliban, while Pakistan has received more than $1 billion a year in aid from Washington to help combat militants, according to a July, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of files on the Afghanistan war.

A stash of highly enriched uranium capable of providing enough material for multiple "dirty bombs" has been waiting in Pakistan for removal by an American team for more than three years but has been held up by the country's government, according to leaked classified State Department documents.

Five years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross told U.S. diplomats in New Delhi that the Indian government "condones torture" and systematically abused detainees in the disputed region of Kashmir. The Red Cross told the officials that hundreds of detainees were subjected to beatings, electrocutions and acts of sexual humiliation, the Guardian newspaper of London reported Thursday evening.

The British government has been training a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organizations as a "government death squad", leaked US embassy cables have revealed. Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has been held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years and is said to routinely use torture, have received British training in "investigative interviewing techniques" and "rules of engagement".

Secret U.S. diplomatic cables reveal that BP suffered a blowout after a gas leak in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan in September 2008, a year and a half before another BP blowout killed 11 workers and started a leak that gushed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Saudi Arabia's rulers have deep distrust for some fellow Muslim countries, especially Pakistan and Iran, despite public appearances, according to documents from the late November, 2010, WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cable dump. King Abdullah called Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari "the greatest obstacle" to the country's progress and he also repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Iranian Red Crescent ambulances were used to smuggle weapons to Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group during its 2006 war with Israel.

The United States was secretly given permission from Yemen's president to attack the al Qaeda group in his country that later attempted to blow up planes in American air space. President Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, in a leaked diplomatic cable from September 2009 that the U.S. had an "open door" on terrorism in Yemen.

Contrary to public statements, the Obama administration actually helped fuel conflict in Yemen. The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict.

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest origin points for funds supporting international terrorism, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged U.S. diplomats to do more to stop the flow of money to Islamist militant groups from donors in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government, Clinton wrote, was reluctant to cut off money being sent to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan.

A storage facility housing Yemen's radioactive material was unsecured for up to a week after its lone guard was removed and its surveillance camera was broken, a secret U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks revealed Monday. "Very little now stands between the bad guys and Yemen's nuclear material," a Yemeni official said on January 9 in the cable.

Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, constructed with apparent help from North Korea, fearing it was built to make a bomb. In a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice wrote the Israelis targeted and destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor just weeks before it was to be operational.

Diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks indicate authorities in the United Arab Emirates debated whether to keep quiet about the high-profile killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January. The documents also show the UAE sought U.S. help in tracking down details of credit cards Dubai police believe were used by a foreign hit squad involved in the killing. The spy novel-like slaying, complete with faked passports and assassins in disguise, is widely believed to be the work of Israeli secret agents.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Al Jazeera network that some of the unpublished cables show "top officials in several Arab countries have close links with the CIA, and many officials keep visiting US embassies in their respective countries voluntarily to establish links with this key US intelligence agency. These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries."

Of the 500 or so tactical nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, it is known that about 200 are deployed throughout Europe. Leaked diplomatic cables reveal that dozens of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The Libyan government promised "enormous repercussions" for the U.K. if the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, was not handled properly, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. The Libyan government threatened "harsh, immediate" consequences if the man jailed for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 died in prison in Scotland.

Pope Benedict impeded an investigation into alleged child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Not only did Pope Benedict refuse to allow Vatican officials to testify in an investigation by an Irish commission into alleged child sex abuse by priests, he was also reportedly furious when Vatican officials were called upon in Rome.

Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness carried out negotiations for the Good Friday agreement with Irish then-prime minister Bertie Ahern while the two had explicit knowledge of a bank robbery that the Irish Republican Army was planning to carry out, according to a WikiLeaks cable. Ahern figured Adams and McGuinness knew about the 26.5 million pound Northern Bank robbery of 2004 because they were members of the "IRA military command."

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has infiltrated the highest levels of government in Nigeria. A high-ranking executive for the international Shell oil company once bragged to U.S. diplomats, as reported in a leaked diplomatic cable, that the company's employees had so well infiltrated the Nigerian government that officials had "forgotten" the level of the company's access.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe-appointed attorney general announced he was investigating Mugabe's chief opposition leader on treason charges based exclusively on the contents of a WikiLeaks' leaked cable. The cable claimed Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai encouraged Western sanctions against his own country to induce Mugabe into giving up some political power.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a U.S. official last year that Latin America "needs a visible U.S. presence" to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's growing influence in the region, according to a U.S. State Department cable leaked to WikiLeaks.

A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable depicts the leader of Mexico's army "lamenting" its lengthy role in the anti-drug offensive, but expecting it to last between seven and 10 more years. The cable says Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan mistrusts other Mexican law enforcement agencies and prefers to work separately, because corrupt officials had leaked information in the past.

McDonald's tried to delay the US government's implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m lawsuit it was fighting in the country. The revelation of the McDonald's strategy to ensure a fair hearing for a long-running legal battle against a former franchisee comes from a leaked US embassy cable dated 15 February 2006.

List ends.

All this...thanks to Bradley Manning.

How much of the above background has been explained to the average viewer of mainstream media? Is it so surprising that so many believe Manning to be a traitor, when in fact the true betrayal is that of the US government and the corporate news outlets which are required under journalistic ethics to provide detailed, objective and impartial analysis of important stories like this one.

In releasing the cables after being rebuffed by 'official' channels (including chain of command), Manning showed rare strength of character and acted on his conscience, as any whistleblower must. He has done the world a great service in showing the mendacity and criminality of the US government and many of its allies, who hold enormous influence by virtue of their commercial and military reach over much of the planet.

In a just world, by sacrificing his freedom to raise vital awareness among the world's public, Bradley Manning would be released immediately and awarded every medal and prize for bravery that exists, not least the Nobel Peace Prize. Don't let his sacrifice be in vain: raise awareness of his plight and that of other whistleblowers and political prisoners like Jeremy Hammond. Perhaps one day, if that just world ever arrives, Bradley Manning and those brave souls like him may breathe free air.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11