Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Pride of San Francisco

"The mission of the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration Committee is to educate the world, commemorate our heritage, celebrate our culture, and liberate our people" - Mission Statement (SF Pride website)

Great change can often come about from innocuous events; the phenomenon seemingly random. Over a hundred Tibetan monks have set fire to themselves in protest of China's occupation without (so far) engendering change, yet it took the tragic immolation of only one street vendor in Tunisia, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, to spark the Arab Spring.

In an interview, Noam Chomsky spoke of this when asked about the effectiveness of direct action:

Direct action carries the message forward in a very dramatic fashion. For one thing it can help people. So resisting foreclosure sometimes does help people get into their homes, but it also dramatizes the issue in a way in which words don’t. Direct action means putting yourself on the line. That’s true of civil disobedience and many other types of action, which indicate a depth of commitment and clarification of the issues, which sometimes does stir other people to do something. That’s what resistance and civil disobedience were always about.

In fact, direct action has often been the preliminary to really major changes. Revolutionary changes, in fact. In the United States the sit-down strikes of the 1930s were a major impetus for passing significant New Deal legislation. The reason is that manufacturers could perceive that a sit-down strike was just one step before taking over the enterprise, kicking out the owners and managers, and saying ‘we’ll run it ourselves.’ Which can be done, and it’s the real revolutionary change. Changes the structure of hierarchy, domination, ownership, and so on. And direct actions of the sit-down strikes were dramatic indication of that.

The same was true of, say, the civil rights movements. Things that had been going on forever, hundreds of years, but what sparked it were a couple incidents of direct action. Rosa Parks insisting on sitting in a bus. Greensboro, North Carolina a couple years later. Black students sitting at a lunch counter, and these things then took off and became major movements with a lot of consequences. Without the direct action that probably wouldn’t have happened. You could do as many speeches as you like and it wouldn’t have had the effect of those actions.

This is potentially occurring again. Overruling a committee of former San Francisco Pride grand marshals, the president of the organization, Lisa Williams, said that Bradley Manning would not in fact be honored as a grand marshal at this year's parade on June 29th-30th.

Lisa Williams should be congratulated for just two things: first, for inadvertently attracting much-needed world attention to Manning's case; and second, for bringing out the best in the journalist Glenn Greenwald, who wrote one of his finest articles in response. Everything that needs to be said about the pathetic authoritarian mindset of Williams is there and nothing needs to be added...a first-rate piece.

However, a perusal of the online comments of many supporters of SF Pride's decision demonstrates that there remain many misconceptions about the Bradley Manning case, most likely as a result of both indifference of most casual news readers beyond the most basic details of any complex issue, and also because articles on Manning often contain basic errors. In this article, for example, the writer states in the very first paragraph that Manning is 'currently serving three years in prison for military espionage'. This is not only a grievous error, as Manning is of course still awaiting trial, but it also gives the impression the Manning has already been found guilty of spying, thereby negatively influencing the views of hitherto neutral or uninformed readers. It is not surprising that many believe Manning to be guilty: Barack Obama himself, a former civil rights attorney, once said of Manning: “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law. … We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate. … He broke the law."

The key question for most people appears to be: is Manning a traitor or not? It is vital, therefore, that we examine this question in detail.

First, define treason:

Oran's Dictionary of the Law (1983) defines treason as a "citizen's actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure the [parent nation]."

It is also considered treason in many nations to attempt or conspire to overthrow the government, but as Manning never directly tried to do this, no further discussion on this particular point is required.

Did Manning commit any of the crimes in the definition above?

Since Manning leaked the cables, no foreign government (or terrorist organization) has attempted to 'overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure' the United States.

How about potential plots we don't know about? As an earlier article on this blog has explained, none of the information released could cause any damage to the US for two main reasons:

1. Of the 251,287 diplomatic cables leaked by Manning, over 130,000 were in fact 'unclassified'; around 100,000 were 'confidential'; and about 15,000 were labeled 'secret'. None of the cables were 'top secret'.

2. More than three million low-level officials and staff had access to these very same cables. Does anyone seriously believe that keeping these cables secret was important to the US government if three million staff could access them? One does not protect embedded agents in dangerous roles by allowing three million low-level staff access to detailed information on their identity or location. For any enemy to seriously threaten the US, they would need to have enormous funding to even make a dent. Is it logical to believe that these rich enemies could not find and pay off just one person to provide them with this allegedly super-secret data and bring about the downfall of the world's only superpower? If anything, this case demonstrates US security to be woefully lax and its guardians negligent.

Just to round off the argument about whether serious harm has come to the United States as a result of this leak, the US government itself admitted it lied about the potential impact of the leaks in order to bolster legal efforts against Wikileaks and related entities. From the article (see original for linked sources):

You may recall that when Wikileaks released those thousands of documents on the Afghan war, the official US government position was that it should be shamed for putting lives in danger and "compromising intelligence sources and methods." It was only months later that Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted no such thing was true. We're now seeing the same thing with the State Department cable leak. A number of grandstanding officials such as Rep. Peter King and Senator Joe Lieberman have argued that these leaks have seriously harmed US diplomacy. In fact, we heard how Wikileaks should be designated a terrorist organization for all the "harm" it's done to US interests. This was also a common refrain in our comments -- especially when it came to stories about the alleged leaker, Bradley Manning. Over and over we were told he deserves no mercy for harming American interests.

So... it seems rather interesting to see that US officials are now admitting that no serious "harm" has been caused by the leaks. In fact, the White House has admitted privately that it purposely lied about the supposed impact " in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers." Implicated as chief among the official liars: State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley, who lead the propaganda campaign against Wikileaks for the past few months, claiming "there has been substantial damage," and that "hundreds of people have been put at potential risk." And yet, when Congress asked the State Department to back up those statements, officials told them it really wasn't that big of a deal: "We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging," said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.

Not only have we established that it is in fact the fault of US security that this information came out, but the US government itself admits that no harm has come about from the leaks.

If no harm has been done, and none can be done in the future, Bradley Manning is no traitor.

Because he is a whistleblower, a hero of democracy.

The term whistleblower was coined in 1972 by Ralph Nader to describe a person who, as an act of public service, informed the population at large of corruption or wrongdoing by private companies, organizations or local/national authorities. The term was chosen to avoid the negative connotations of the words 'snitch' and 'informer'. The US public is perhaps most familiar with Daniel Ellsberg, the man who released the so-called 'Pentagon Papers' (which was designated 'top-secret', by the way), and is widely revered as a hero.

From Barack Obama's own 2008 campaign literature (pdf):

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

Manning's status as a whistleblower can be proved as we clear up some remaining common misconceptions:

1. Manning leaked the information for profit or attention.

Manning has made no money from these leaks, and never expressed any such desire. As for seeking attention, that his identity is known at all is the sole work of Adrian Lamo, the man in whom Manning confided, and the man who turned him in to the authorities. [Aside: perhaps a more accurate definition of the word 'traitor' can be sought within that particular tale.]

From their chat logs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Manning broke the chain of command by releasing the cables.

Manning went to his superiors about his concerns but was told to shut his mouth and get on with his job. If you consider yourself a person of conscience, put yourself in his position for a moment: you have proof that your government and military has murdered civilians and committed other grievous, criminal acts, but you are told by a superior to keep quiet. It is your Nuremburg moment. What do you do? A courageous and honest person, the person our parents and teachers always tell us we should be, would find another way to get the information out.

Manning contacted The New York Times and and The Washington Post but they failed to respond. As a last resort, Manning turned to Wikileaks.

It must be constantly kept in mind that mainstream newspapers regularly report news based on leaks, often of a much higher secrecy level than the cables leaked by Manning - The New York Times and other newspapers reported on the top-secret Pentagon Papers, for example, after receiving them directly from Ellsberg.

In other words, if Manning is a traitor and Wikileaks is a terrorist organization, this must also hold true for major newspapers all over the world (including the US) and also the 'unnamed sources' releasing the information.

It doesn't. What does that tell you about the vindictive persecution of Manning, Wikileaks (and Julian Assange) and other whistleblowers?

Other common misconceptions regarding Manning are addressed here.

This article concludes with a direct message to Lisa Williams...

In rescinding Manning's nomination as grand marshal, you made the following comment:

"...even the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform -- and countless others, military and civilian alike -- will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride."

The US government itself admits that no harm has come about, and, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, given that numerous sources have credited the cables leak with forcing Obama to withdraw the troops before he wanted to, lives have unquestionably been saved. One US veteran on Twitter therefore sums up the likely feelings of many toward you for that statement:


I appreciate what Bradley #Manning did for me and all vets out there. Saved us from getting killed in #Iraq. @SFPride Go fuck yourself.

Perhaps, Ms. Williams, you should begin your education by watching this video released by Wikileaks (thanks to Manning), known as Collateral Murder. After watching it, ask yourself why the US public, which funds US wars with their tax dollars, had this video hidden from them. Was it national security? Or was it simply because it documents criminal actions that would greatly embarrass the US government? You stated that you do not support actions that put civilians in danger...please try to square that with what you see in the video.

The LGBT community, like all subjected to persecution, prejudice, injustice and violence must reaffirm their commitment to Manning and people like him, people who stand up to the establishment at great personal risk and cost to their freedom. Reinstate him as a grand marshal and history may remember this as a significant moment in the fight against a deeply corrupt government. Fail to do so and you will go down in history as just another in a long line of establishment collaborators, yet another citizen eager to fall to his or her knees before power.

That, of course, should be your last act as chairperson. No apology will suffice because your slavishly pro-establishment views, so antithetical to the traditionally progressive, dissenting views of the LGBT community, are crystal clear: your position is now untenable. Only your resignation, and hopefully the election of someone with actual strength of character, will be enough for the observers made sick to the stomach by your cowardly statement and subsequent silence.

And to all those who still think of Manning as a traitor: you don't deserve him. Manning has been imprisoned in conditions described by the UN rapporteur on torture as 'cruel, inhuman and degrading' for 1069 days...FOR YOU! To protect YOU! Not for money, not attention...but to inform your ungrateful, ignorant selves of the jaw-dropping crimes committed in secret by your elected officials and their goons. Why is it so hard for you to believe that your government commits illegal or immoral acts? Read here and here for a very long list.

If you had even a tiny fraction of the courage and integrity Bradley Manning so obviously possesses in his little finger, you would be smashing down the doors of the White House demanding not only that your Nobel laureate president immediately release him with an apology, significant compensation, and thanks for his services to transparent democracy, but also that he hand over the Peace Prize to a man who actually deserves it.

'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 and human rights. 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. Bitcoins are also gratefully accepted.

Bitcoin address: 1BMnkhwgPap2NVNiyKGTP1gfBuMtZQVYUo

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Open Letter to Barack Obama

"Freedom can be preserved only if it is treated as a supreme principle which must not be sacrificed for particular advantages" - Friedrich Hayek

Dear Mr. Obama,

This letter contains a list of troubling issues that directly or indirectly concern the United States and therefore you as its leader. If you could throw some light on them, it would be greatly appreciated.

1. A non-partisan and independent review panel this week published a report which concludes that '"it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture" and that the nation's highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it'.

Being a former (civil rights) attorney and professor of constitutional law, you are no doubt well aware that torture is illegal under international law and binding international treaties such as the United Nations Convention Against Torture and, for international conflicts, the Geneva Conventions III and IV. Further, given your legal background and expertise, you will certainly appreciate the fundamental necessity of upholding the rule of law as well as the dangers which can result from not doing so - these are basic precepts in the legal profession, after all.

Given also that there is conclusive evidence from neurobiologists that torture is inherently unreliable as enormous stress can profoundly affect brain chemistry and memory, this further renders the so-called 'ticking time bomb' argument for torture moot.

We all know of your 'look forward, not backward' mantra. However, the credibility of the US legal system is at stake here. Will you not initiate criminal proceedings against those culpable 'highest officials', and if not, why not?

2. Everyone in the world has been shocked and greatly saddened at the tragic loss of life in the Boston bombings. However, reports have emerged that the FBI interviewed the older of the two brother suspects in 2011 and the mother of the two states that the FBI has been in contact with them for years. While this, of course, could be the misguided statement of a mother stricken with shock and grief at what happened to her children, there is nonetheless cause for concern because...

As you may or may not be aware, the FBI has staged several terror plots in the post-9/11 era, only to triumphantly foil them at the last moment.

From the linked article by Glenn Greenwald, then at Salon (see original for sources):

The FBI has received substantial criticism over the past decade — much of it valid — but nobody can deny its record of excellence in thwarting its own Terrorist plots. Time and again, the FBI concocts a Terrorist attack, infiltrates Muslim communities in order to find recruits, persuades them to perpetrate the attack, supplies them with the money, weapons and know-how they need to carry it out — only to heroically jump in at the last moment, arrest the would-be perpetrators whom the FBI converted, and save a grateful nation from the plot manufactured by the FBI.

Last year, the FBI subjected 19-year-old Somali-American Mohamed Osman Mohamud to months of encouragement, support and money and convinced him to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas event in Portland, Oregon, only to arrest him at the last moment and then issue a Press Release boasting of its success. In late 2009, the FBI persuaded and enabled Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year old Jordanian citizen, to place a fake bomb at a Dallas skyscraper and separately convinced Farooque Ahmed, a 34-year-old naturalized American citizen born in Pakistan, to bomb the Washington Metro. And now, the FBI has yet again saved us all from its own Terrorist plot by arresting 26-year-old American citizen Rezwan Ferdaus after having spent months providing him with the plans and materials to attack the Pentagon, American troops in Iraq, and possibly the Capitol Building using “remote-controlled” model airplanes carrying explosives.

As innocent lives (including that of poor 8-year-old Martin Richard) were lost in Boston, these serious questions about the activities of the FBI need to be answered by you as the person ultimately responsible for the actions of all US government agencies.

3. Never having met you, I have not had a chance to congratulate you personally on winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. On receiving the prize, you said that you were 'surprised' and 'humbled' and that you felt you did not deserve the award. Given the record of the United States under your leadership, perhaps you will understand that you are not alone in that assessment. Afghanistan and Iraq were, as you know, part of the mess left by your predecessor, but you have greatly expanded the drone bombing program as well as NATO airstrikes in the sovereign nations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan as well as Libya and possibly in Mali.

You will no doubt argue that drones are an essential component in the 'War on Terror' (renamed by your administration as 'Overseas Contingency Operations') but I refer you to your comments the other day after the Boston bombs:

"Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians, it is an act of terror."

Could you please explain why, by your own definition, the United States is engaged in a campaign of terror. You are perhaps unaware of the name Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old boy who was killed by a drone attack in Waziristan. Clive Stafford Smith of the charity Reprieve wrote as follows:

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

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

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

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

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has documented the deaths of civilians, including hundreds of children, in the drone bombing campaign. Its painstaking methodology can be reviewed here along with all the data. As it has been reported that you personally order drone strikes, I believe the families of the victims would like to hear some kind of explanation.

As a father of two beautiful children yourself, try to imagine how you would feel and react if a drone aircraft belonging to a powerful foreign nation - say, China - bombed an area where they were playing with their friends. One can imagine that the warships would sail on the very next tide however China justified its action, even if it was part of its own 'war on terror'. You are fortunate in that you are in possession of enormous power that enables you to protect your children. The families, especially the parents of the child victims, do not and did not have that luxury.

The level of the threat is also a matter of concern. While the majority of people who see blanket coverage on corporate media channels no doubt believe that terrorism is issue number one, this article makes it clear that the chances of dying in a terrorist attack are about 1 in 20,000,000. Compare this to the 1 in 800,000 chance of drowning in a bathtub. Some words from you are necessary on why such extraordinary resources are expended on a threat that - in terms of numbers - is minor.

4. Let's turn to the domestic front. My use here of military terminology is intentional as successive US administrations appear to favor it. One famous example is the 'War on Drugs' launched by Richard Nixon in 1971. I recently watched a documentary called 'The House I Live In' on this issue and I strongly recommend you watch it, too. You will probably like it as it features David Simon, the guy who created The Wire, a TV series you are on record (warning: barf alert for some of the comments below the article) as saying is your favorite. However, as I know you are busy, I will present below for you the notes I made while watching the documentary. They are obviously in note form so please excuse the casual grammar and style (and the length!):

Note-form summary begins:

The US has more prisoners than any other nation: 2.3 million prisoners in 2012. Russia a bit below in second. China a long way behind in third. Around a million are black Americans, most male, many for non-violent drug offenses.

This is due to the war on drugs. However, drugs are purer, more available, younger and younger kids are available to sell them.

Since Nixon announced the drug war in 1971, it has cost over $1 trillion and resulted in over 45 million arrests. In this period, illegal drug use has remained unchanged.

You can go into a newborn baby hospital ward and predict with near certainty where they are going to end up in life based on race, background and class.

Police find it laughable that drug war can ever be won. Law enforcement officers believe the community is completely corrupt. Community members believe law enforcement is using drug laws to destroy the community. According to a guy familiar with both sides, everyone hates what is going on.

Few normal Americans know anything about the war on drugs IN THE US. They believe it is something going on elsewhere...abroad.

Doctor Gabor Mate (acute accent on last E) talks about criminal issue vs health issue. He says addiction is an EFFECT of human unhappiness and suffering. Question should be why they are unhappy, not why they are addicted.

Drug offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences...judges can’t use JUDGEMENT. 20 years for possession of 50g of crack cocaine. Circumstances, no matter how heartbreaking, mean nothing. One guy grew up around gang members and drug dealers...mum was addicted to drugs. What chance did he have?

US has 5% of world’s population. Has 25% of all prisoners. 500,000 incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes.

Lexington Correctional Center, Oklahoma. Biggest employer in area.

More poor black people incarcerated or on probation/parole than there were slaves in 1850.

Early narcotics squads focused passionately and disproportionately on blacks in 1950s...there was no mass drugs market in those days. Was the jazz man’s vice. Addict population, however, was distinctly biracial.

Drug use exploded in sixties but poverty forced drugs out onto the streets, making blacks even more of a target. Late sixties there was a mass market. 80s was like drive-thru. At this point, it’s not a war against a counter culture – it’s a war against the entire community.

Clear that drug war punishes abusers instead of mounting a serious offense against the problem.

2.7 million kids had a parent behind bars in 2012.

Drug dealers often seen as community out someone late on rent etc. Looked up to because when they come round, ‘it’s Xmas'. Presents etc. Ice cream etc. One way to get power is to sell drugs...power from money.

Personal responsibility? Need to remember there are structural are hungry when go to school, broken homes, hearing gun shots and seeing violence. No prospects, no economy. You’ve got to do what you have to’s actually RATIONAL to make money from drugs.

Once you have a felony on your record, almost impossible to get a job. Ineligible for certain educational grants, can’t get certain healthcare benefits. Can’t even live in certain neighborhoods. Can’t vote. Becomes a vicious cycle…almost inevitable to return to crime.

Started by Nixon to push the polls up. Nixon actually had forward thinking...understood need for treatment as well as enforcement. Two-thirds of budget went towards this. However, as 1972 election approached, he went back to 'war' rhetoric.

Even prison guards say it’s a complete mess. Political hay to get elected...being tough on crime is essential.

Rehab programs, essential to helping prisoners stay clean once they get out (learning a trade), are often the first things cut in budget trims.

This messes up good police work. Drug arrest stats make an average cop look good and get promoted over a good cop who will make one good arrest a month for a murder or rape etc. You end up with a dept where no one higher up can do a good job.

Financial incentives exist for police depts. To make more arrests...just the they will arrest for low-level crimes, non-violent ones.

Historically drug abuse was actually seen as a public health issue.

Then opium smoking was made illegal in California. Reason was many Chinese were there who smoked the stuff and they were hard-working people but they were taking jobs away from Americans. This was a way to round up the Chinese and throw them in jail.

Same for cocaine...used to be legal and was used by rich executives, housewives, white middle class...but then blacks used it...they thought they could work hard all day and all night with it...and were taking jobs from whites.

Then hemp...a very useful and legal crop until it was associated with Mexicans smoking it. Again...they were taking white jobs.

These laws set a dangerous precedent of racial control.

Time and again, drug laws have historically targeted any immigrant threat that threatened the established economic order.

Reagan used the new menace - crack cocaine - for political capital, even though drug crime was falling at the time and only 2% of Americans named drug abuse as the top priority. New tough laws came in - mandatory sentencing. Politicians passed them in record time, virtually no hearings.

Crack cocaine was punished 100 times more severely than powder cocaine use. White execs used powder cocaine, crack cocaine used on the streets.

Judge says a defendant with 5g of crack is given 5 years - the same as someone with 500g of powder cocaine.

In 2005 some discretion was given back to judges in special cases.

Most users of cocaine are white, but 90% of defendants in federal system are black.

Empirical work needs to be used for public policy.

Meth was the new 90s menace...two other despised groups: gay people and white trailer park people.

Judge says average person sentenced for meth is a blue collar worker who has just lost his job and turns to meth production to fund his habit.

One guy has life without parole for three grams of meth...three strikes and you’re out.

Now it applies to all races...usually poor.

The recession made whites lose their jobs and the hopelessness made them drug addicts too. Against the stereotypes of minorities. We’re all the same now.

Prison services are big business. Many corporations - health providers, taser manufacturers, etc. Need prison industry.

In order to keep prisons successful businesses, you need a constant stream of prisoners.

Bottom 15% of society no longer needed so might as well lock them up and make money out of them.

There is a pattern everywhere throughout the world and history:

First: a group is identified as a problem by the establishment. Fellow citizens used to think they were worthwhile, but now they’re evil and worthless.

Second: ostracism...we learn to hate the group, how to take their jobs and make it hard for them to survive. Lose their homes, forced into ghettos, physically isolated.

Third: confiscation – people lose their rights and civil liberties. Once you take people’s property away, you can take the people themselves away.

Fourth: concentration. Put them into prisons or camps. No rights, can’t vote. Can’t have children. Often their labor is exploited.

Fifth: annihilation – could be indirect - withholding medical care, births etc.

This cycle applies to the drug war. Each step is happening.

Prison is no place for rehab - among highest recidivism rates in the world!

Hope is taken away - culture of hopelessness.

Cop says it’s like Nazi Germany 1930s - they rebuilt everything by creating solidarity through hating the communists and the Jews.

Drug abuse is a symptom of a bigger problem. Like saying the problem with pneumonia is that you cough - so we should suppress the cough. You have to deal with the whole picture.

Summary ends.

Perhaps, Mr Obama, for the sake of all those non-violent offenders rotting away in prison, it is time for a rethink? You remember Hamsterdam in The Wire, don't you? Could you please explain who people are supposed to vote for in your Paleozoic voting system if they want a change in drug policy? As third-party candidates are ignored and ridiculed by the US media, only the two big political parties have a chance of winning, and as both have identical policy regarding the drugs war, there does not appear to be any democratic choice whatsoever. And while we're at it, could you also provide an explanation for the rules (must read article!) surrounding the farcical presidential debates?

5. You will probably agree that the behavior of the big banks and corporations is out of control. Their reckless and criminal actions directly caused the 2008 global financial collapse, leading to the impoverishment of millions of people and the catastrophic sovereign debt crises now occurring around the world, especially in Europe.

There have been mind-boggling scandals - HSBC actually admitted that they laundered money for the Mexican cartels who have killed 70,000 people in the last few years. That's more than twenty 9/11s in terms of civilian casualties. And then there was the LIBOR rigging scandal. Could you please explain why none of the executives responsible for these atrocious and extremely damaging crimes have faced criminal charges?

The suspicion among vast swathes of the world's population - those not hopelessly distracted by sport, celebrity fluff and manufactured drama in the mainstream media anyway - is that you politicians don't touch the bankers because they have you by the balls; that is, they fund political campaigns and will, naturally, fund opposition candidates if anyone steps out of line (or create a smear - sex scandals etc. - to destroy careers and families). Others believe that you are, in fact, given your own significant wealth, one of them, shall we say. An assurance that this is not the case (with evidence) would be greatly appreciated because, as you will surely agree, no banker has any business telling elected officials what to do as that would utterly negate the very concept of democracy.

6. Inequality is also an extremely serious problem. In 2007, the six members of the Walton family (the original owners of Walmart) had the same wealth as the poorest 30% of the US (around 90 million people). Is that the American dream to you? Because it is a nightmare to anyone who is not rolling in cash. Could you please explain why as president you have allowed this ludicrous wealth gap between the rich and the poor to persist?

7. If you'll bear with me there are a few other issues to note. In your 2008 presidential campaign literature (pdf), you wrote the following on the topic of whistleblowers:

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

Stirring words, and everyone who believes in democracy would heartily agree with them. However, the citizens of the nation you lead, not to mention millions around the world, will have great difficulty reconciling these noble words with the plight of Bradley Manning and Jeremy Hammond. Bradley Manning's case is quite well-known, but Jeremy Hammond, arrested on suspicion of involvement with the leak of Stratfor emails in 2012, is less well-known. One disturbing element of his case is the fact that Judge Preska, who denied him bail, is in fact married to Thomas Kavaler, whose email and password were hacked in the leak. Despite this crystal clear conflict of interest, Judge Preska has refused to recuse herself.

The information revealed by these whistleblowers fit all the criteria defined in your campaign literature. Numerous criminal acts, including murder and spying on UN officials etc. were revealed in the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks and provided by Manning. There is an irreconcilable contradiction between your stated promise to 'expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims' etc. and the facts on the ground. It is hard to escape the reality that you have blatantly lied, and an explanation is clearly required.

8. Please provide an explanation of the deeply worrying move towards authoritarianism (NDAA) and invasion of internet privacy (CISPA). Please also explain your utter devotion to Israel in the face of the dreadful suffering of the Palestinian people.

9. Leaving the worst to last, if nothing else moves you, perhaps the looming catastrophe threatened by man-made climate change will. You have children of your own, after all, and they (and their children) are the ones who will have to live in a world of rising sea levels, disappearing lands, mega-hurricanes, desertification, droughts, fires, floods, food shortages and the ensuing social chaos and likely wars. The human race can no longer afford to allow the fossil fuel companies along with their disgusting and pathetic media stooges to confuse and delay the issue any longer.

You are in your second and final term. Defy your paymasters (yes, we know all about it) and do some good. YES, YOU CAN! And if it is legacy you are concerned with, I guarantee history would remember you for such an act of courage and humanity far more than anything else you have achieved.


The world

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bitcoin as Force for Democracy

"It is inevitable that Bitcoin will become a multi-trillion dollar enterprise because every other currency in the world is tied to dying central banks that are encumbered with impossible-to-pay debts and bankrupt counter-party risks" - Max Keiser

It has been a rollercoaster of a week for Bitcoin, an open-source, peer-to-peer, digital currency that can be used online to send or receive payments with a high degree of anonymity. The climb this week to a high of $266 per bitcoin followed by an epic crash (from which it has somewhat recovered and stabilized) helped to bring wide mainstream attention to a currency that had until now inhabited a niche realm.

A good deal of the recent interest appears to have come from get-rich-quick investors, many of whom will likely also have been part of the panic-selling that occurred during the most recent crash. This crash could have been caused by any number or combination of factors, but when the world's largest bitcoin exchange, Mt.Gox, explained that it had been overloaded by a sudden explosion of new accounts - leading eventually to a suspension of trading to install new servers - a likely culprit was found. Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge goes into detail on the current shortcomings of the Bitcoin infrastructure here.

This negative press has served to obscure many of the great things about Bitcoin.

1. It uses cryptography to create and transfer money instead of using a central issuing authority. It is not possible, therefore, for any external authority to directly interfere in this process. This is particularly important as it ensures, for example, that new bitcoins cannot be issued to buy debt, as the US Federal Reserve does - in essence propping up the US economy and making demand for US debt look higher than it actually is.

2. As a holder of funds is essentially their own bank, it is not possible for external authorities to seize funds belonging to the holder, as was recently threatened in Cyprus. Indeed the crisis in Cyprus has been cited (with slim evidence) as a factor in the recent surge in attention on Bitcoin.

3. A significant (and growing) number of merchants and businesses now accept bitcoins as payment for products or services.

4. Speed: received funds are available for use within minutes.

5. Cost: very cheap compared to conventional payment networks.

6. Anonymity: it is extremely difficult (although not impossible at this time) to link bitcoin transactions with real-life personas.

Many common misconceptions regarding Bitcoin are dealt with here.

The philosophy of Bitcoin revolves around the idea of taking power and control away from external entities like governments or banks and putting it directly into the hands of people. This is important because there is an extremely long list of serious abuses committed by these entities as a direct result of the power and secrecy they are afforded: to cite one example, HSBC laundering drug money for Mexican cartels who are responsible for the deaths of an estimated 70,000 civilians in recent years and who now control most of the public institutions in many parts of Mexico. Note that despite HSBC admitting their wrongdoing, not one executive responsible for these despicable crimes has been criminally charged.

Bitcoin was created and designed specifically to eliminate interference and abuses by financial and political elites, and as these abuses are directly responsible for many - if not all - of the serious issues facing humanity, that is one reason right there for Bitcoin or a concept like it to be pursued with vigor, because under such a currency system, where potentially hundreds of millions or even billions of people no longer depend on the so-called 'fiat' currencies, the power of unscrupulous banks and governments to do serious damage is greatly undermined.

That is not to say that powerful entities such as these would be dead and buried. There are other ways to undermine Bitcoin, such as the propagation of denigration, ridicule and fear via media propaganda campaigns and astroturfing, or frequent powerful DDOS attacks intended to destabilize even the major Bitcoin exchanges. As the currency is still relatively small and the concept very new to most laymen, it is far easier to manipulate bitcoin value using such underhand methods, bringing about panic-selling and other ill effects caused by uncertainty, ignorance and fear.

Indeed, during the recent crash, a perusal of comments on Twitter provided a fascinating study of many of the negative aspects of human nature: greed, mindless panic, short-sightedness, schadenfreude and a healthy dose of outright idiocy. It is possible - likely even - that newcomers to the currency were influenced to sell, even with significant losses, in the belief that Bitcoin was finished for good. As this graph shows, however, the currency has gone through crashes of varying scales before - the only difference being that almost no one cared at the time.

There are, of course, legitimate concerns about Bitcoin itself, notably the fact that its relative anonymity is a double-edged sword as it would provide valuable cover for the transactions of criminal enterprises. While there is no doubt that this is a concern, we ought to remember that as things stand currently, some of the largest 'industries' in the world are criminal ones: human and drug trafficking and the illegal arms trade. The fact that the 'fiat' currencies rule supreme has done nothing to stem this tide of illegality; indeed, these activities generate enormous profits and have done for decades - centuries, even.

A switch to a relatively anonymous currency may even force positive change, particularly with regard to drug trafficking, where the tactics employed in the decades-long 'drug war' have proven to be utterly ineffective, and have in fact caused great human suffering and seen drug cartels gain ever more power. With drug traffickers able to conduct financial transactions more easily, authorities would be under greater pressure to abandon traditional discredited tactics and instead treat drug abuse as a medical issue, not a criminal one (although this, of course, would still be extremely unlikely as the true purpose of the drug war has nothing to do with drug abuse). The superb and devastating documentary on the drug war, The House I Live In, provides ample proof of the necessity for such a sea change in this area.

Bitcoin is also a useful way for organizations that engage in true journalism like Wikileaks (who have been victims of a massive funding blockade) to receive donations that may one day grow to be significant, giving them greater power to inform the public of the truth of corporate and government criminality. This is particularly vital in an age where almost all the media is owned by a tiny number of huge corporations, all of which have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Without Wikileaks and the very few organizations (or journalists) like it, terrible things like this remain hidden for all time.

The currency is still relatively new. The problems that occurred after its first wide exposure to the mainstream were inevitable - what enterprise does not have teething problems on its way to success? It needs new blood to thrive and, given the data provided by Mt.Gox regarding new accounts, new blood is what it is now getting. The recent crash may scare away some of the get-rich-quick types but that is a good thing. One need not put significant money into Bitcoin; it is enough to demonstrate support for the concept by creating a small account and helping to build up something that might one day be a globally significant economic system based on fairness, privacy and security. The most important thing is a sincere belief in the philosophy of Bitcoin, not a short-sighted and base desire for material gain.

Bitcoin has a real chance of one day being a force that will challenge the supreme rule of the financial criminals (and their cohorts in other arenas) who run the show and who have demonstrated on numerous occasions that they are greedy, self-serving, parasitic sociopaths. Vitally, it will also provide a safe haven for your hard-earned cash, far beyond the grasping hands of the banks and their servants, if/when the next big world financial system crash occurs and the 'bailouts' come directly from your bank accounts.

The beauty of the concept is that if Bitcoin grows large enough, the banks and politicians would be able to do nothing whatsoever about it short of switching off the internet or killing everyone (and I wouldn't put the second option past them). For this reason alone, Bitcoin is surely one of the greatest potential forces for true democracy in these dark times. Learn about it and support it...because even if Bitcoin eventually fails, you will have made a powerful statement against the dysfunctional status quo, and that is the first step toward making other statements for change; the very definition of activism.

Written by Simon Wood


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Media Poisoning of Democracy

"Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state" -Noam Chomsky

The UK tabloid media today did something no one thought possible: it actually got worse. The headline of today's lead story in the Daily Mail Online:

Vile product of Welfare UK: Man who bred 17 babies by five women to milk benefits system is guilty of killing six of them

It is a valuable exercise to dissect this headline, as there are several tried and tested propaganda techniques at work:

1. Use of emotional and subjective terminology in a context that is supposed to be, under standard journalistic guidelines, neutral and objective. 'Vile' is a superlative form of 'bad'; a powerful, subjective adjective.

2. Use of loaded synonyms. 'Milk' is an extremely negative synonym of 'use'.

3. Inappropriate vocabulary. The word 'breed' is used for animals, not humans.

4. Focus on dysfunctional lifestyle. The '17 babies with five women' detail is included in the headline.

5. Use of the word 'product' creates the false implication that the welfare state directly caused this crime.

6. False equivalence. A horrific crime directly and causally linked with 'benefits culture': 'Welfare UK'.

7. Presenting an extreme case as mainstream via the implication that the evil 'benefits culture' led to the mass murder of children.

8. Reinforcing discriminatory terminology ('benefits culture') that is commonly used throughout tabloid media in a negative context.

Right out of the propaganda playbook.

If there were any lingering doubts in anyone's mind that the Daily Mail and other tabloids had an agenda to demonize those exercising their legal (and human) right to claim support from the state when in financial difficulty for whatever reason, this article thoroughly dispelled them. A man, Mick Philpott, along with his co-conspirators were found guilty of committing a horrific crime, one for which they should be punished to the full extent of the law. However, to link this tragedy in an article stock full of emotional language and unfounded assertions to other welfare claimants, the overwhelming majority of whom are law-abiding, is deeply irresponsible, dangerous even.

One thing it is not is journalism.

Compare the opening paragraphs of the Mail and Guardian articles on this story:


A man with a history of violence and controlling younger women was convicted on Tuesday of killing six children in an "evil, stupid, shameful act" as part of a twisted attempt to frame a former lover who had dared to defy him.

Mick Philpott, 56, his wife Mairead, 31, and a friend involved in the plot, Paul Mosley, 46, were all convicted of manslaughter after setting ablaze their Derby home, meaning to blame the inferno on Philpott's former lover, who left him.

Instead, the fierce heat and smoke engulfed the home, leading to the deaths of six children aged five to 13 years, including five of Philpott's 17 children and a son of Mairead from a previous relationship.

Daily Mail:

He treated his 17 sons and daughters like cash cows – generating a staggering benefits income of £60,000 a year.

Yesterday, Mick Philpott remained shameless to the last.

The drug-taking layabout, who embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state, was still smiling even after being convicted of killing six of his children.

The Daily Mail does not even tell the reader what has happened until the fourth paragraph, which is located below a large photograph; it merely piles in with its agenda-driven talking points, using emotional language (shameless to the last, still smiling etc.) designed to invoke outrage in the reader. The apparent motive is written before the crime quite simply because the Daily Mail is only interested in the motive. The crime itself is simply a useful vehicle to spread hate and anger. Compare this with the Guardian, which explains the motive later in its article in neutral, dispassionate fashion.

This may be a low, but it is nonetheless nothing new for the UK tabloid media, where hits on the website drive up advertizing revenue: the number one priority for profit media. It appears to matter not at all if someone's life or reputation is destroyed or if the fabric of democratic society, which depends on the media for neutral, objective, timely and accurate information, is frayed and ultimately torn to shreds.

And it is dangerous. There exists a real link between what is written in widely-read newspapers and what happens to people. The Daily Mail Online is read by millions of people, a portion of whom will form some kind of subconscious association between people capable of killing children and utterly unrelated people claiming benefits, skewing public opinion even more sharply in favor of the will of the architects of the campaign against the poor, the disabled, the sick and the vulnerable that has blighted the UK in the last decade or so. With public opinion squarely (and unfairly) set against benefits claimants, it has been possible for laws to be passed that cause great suffering.

A real and direct link.

Some articles this week have spelled out reality with regard to benefits claimants. First, this from Ricky Tomlinson:

Ten lies we are told about welfare (regular tabloid fodder in bold):

1. Benefits are too generous:

Really? Could you live on £53 a week as Iain Duncan Smith is claiming he could if he had to? Then imagine handing back 14% of this because the government deems you have a "spare room". Could you find the money to pay towards council tax and still afford to eat at the end of the week?

2. Benefits are going up:

They're not. A 1% "uprating" cap is really a cut. Inflation is at least 2.7% . Essentials like food, fuel and transport are all up by at least that, in many cases far more. Benefits are quickly falling behind the cost of living.

3. Jobs are out there, if people look:

Where? Unemployment rose last month and is at 2.5 million, with one million youngsters out of work. When Costa Coffee advertised eight jobs, 1,701 applied.

4. The bedroom tax won't hit army families or foster carers:

Yes it will. Perhaps most cruel of all, the tax will not apply to foster families who look after one kid. If you foster siblings, then tough. But these kids are often the hardest to place. Thanks to George Osborne and IDS, their chances just got worse. And even if your son or daughter is in barracks in Afghanistan, then don't expect peace of mind as the government still has to come clean on plans for their bedroom.

5. Social tenants can downsize:

Really, where? Councils sold their properties – and Osborne wants them to sell what's left. Housing associations built for families. In Hull, there are 5,500 people told to chase 70 one-bedroom properties.

6. Housing benefit is the problem:

In fact it's rental costs. Private rents shot up by an average of £300 last year. No wonder 5 million people need housing benefits, but they don't keep a penny. It all goes to landlords.

7. Claimants are pulling a fast one:

No. Less than 1% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud. But tax avoidance and evasion is estimated to run to £120bn.

8. It's those teenage single mums:

An easy target. Yet only 2% of single mums are teenagers. And most single mums, at least 59%, work.

9. We're doing this for the next generation

No you're not. The government's admitted at least 200,000 more children will be pushed deeper into poverty because of the welfare changes.

10. Welfare reforms are just about benefit cuts

Wrong. The attack on our welfare state is hitting a whole range of services – privatising the NHS, winding up legal aid for people in debt and closing SureStart centres and libraries. All this will make life poorer for every community.

And this from an article at Darker Net:

1. Anyone in social housing with a spare bedroom will lose 14% of their dole or housing benefit. Those with two or more spare bedrooms will lose 25%. Two-thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled. It is estimated that around 700,000 people in social housing will lose an average of £728 a year.

2. Legal aid will be almost impossible to get, particularly affecting family law, child custody, immigration and employment cases.

3. Council tax benefits, claimed by 5.9 million low-income families, will be reduced by 10% and local services will be cut, so creating more unemployment.

4. 6,700,000 families will be worse off as a direct result of the new ‘benefits uprating’ scheme.

5. The long-term sick, the limbless and those dying are being forced into work or lose their benefits as part of the continuing scheme to stigmatise the disabled and the wider propaganda against anyone (‘scroungers’) unable to find work.

6. Work-for-dole schemes, which are specifically aimed at providing the Tories' business pals with free labour, will continue too, thanks to new legislation being brought in to compensate for a recent court ruling that such schemes were illegal.

7. Privatisation of the National Health Service has begun: thus, its death knoll has been sounded.

These are the facts all our media should be educating everyone with, not shamelessly whipping their readers up into fury and outrage, spreading hate, confusion and misunderstanding: propaganda, in fact, as it intentionally skews public opinion against a targeted subsection of society for political/ideological gain. The Daily Mail article is just one in an endless series that damage not only the lives and prospects of real people in society, but also democracy itself.

A system of independent regulation of the media is vital: one which preserves press freedom while also ensuring journalistic principles and guidelines are upheld, with prohibitive punishments for transgressors.

One more thing: those with concerns about the Mick Philpott article who wish to register their complaints can, of course, contact the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). The chairman of the PCC's Editors' Code of Practice Committee is Paul Dacre, editor of The Daily Mail. Good luck with that.

Disclaimer: This article solely concerns propaganda in the UK tabloid media and focuses on a headline covering the conviction of Mick Philpott in the Allenton House Fire case to demonstrate it. The author would like to make it clear that this article is absolutely not in any way a defense of either Philpott and his co-conspirators or the apparent motive for this horrific crime.

'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.