Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Open Letter to Supporters of Syria Airstrikes

“They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad — except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world." - US Vice President Joe Biden in a 2014 speech at Harvard University

"Six weeks later, I saw the same officer, and asked: 'Why haven’t we attacked Iraq? Are we still going to attack Iraq?' He said: 'Sir, it’s worse than that.' He said – he pulled up a piece of paper off his desk – he said: 'I just got this memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office. It says we’re going to attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years – we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.'" - US General (Retired) Wesley Clark in a 2007 speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

"I am aware, of course, that people will have to take elements of this on the good faith of our intelligence services, but this is what they are telling me, the British Prime Minister, and my senior colleagues. The intelligence picture that they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative. It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population, and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability." - Tony Blair in the House of Commons, 24th September 2002

"War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it." - George Orwell

Millions of British citizens along with hundreds of their elected representatives have come to the conclusion that the UK should extend airstrikes upon Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria. In order to make an intelligent decision on anything, it is necessary to examine all relevant information in an honest and neutral manner, particularly when the decision could lead to lost lives.

Are you aware of all the facts - current and historical - on the ground in this extremely complex scenario? Can you honestly say that your decision is based on airtight information presented to you in an unbiased manner from your media sources?

No honest person can answer yes to either of these questions, given the hostility of the region to journalists and the enormous amount of propaganda (misinformation and disinformation) floating around on all sides.

There must therefore be a significant element of doubt; yet despite this, you have made a decision to support air strikes. That is like throwing an unknown clear liquid onto a fire, hoping it is water. Considering that deaths of innocent people you have never met may occur on an industrial scale as a result of your support, I urge you to think again based on the following considerations.

In the introduction to the (highly recommended) book The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire, Julian Assange writes [emphasis in bold mine]:

[] Journalist Dahr Jamail [] draws on a wide range of WikiLeaks materials to argue that the United States had a deliberate policy of exacerbating sectarian divisions in Iraq following its invasion and occupation in the belief that the country would be easier to dominate in such circumstances. The consequent devastation is documented in painstaking detail using WikiLeaks materials, including US cables, Congressional Research Reports dating between 2005 and 2008, and the Iraq War Logs from 2010.

Jamail pays specific attention to the 'Sahwa' movement - the US-sponsored program of counter-insurgency that was implemented to respond to the growing influence of al Qaeda affliates among Sunni Iraqis disaffected by the Shia-dominated US-client government of Nouri al-Maliki. The United States paid large numbers of Iraqis to defect from the Sunni insurgency and instead fight against al Qaeda, on the promise of receiving regular employment through integration into the Iraqi military.

As Jamail argues, the failure of the Maliki government to honor this promise saw huge numbers of US-trained, US-armed and US-financed - but now unemployed - Sunni militants return to the insurgency, eventually swelling the ranks of the former al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, which in 2014 became known as ISIS, or the 'Islamic State'.

Across Iraq's northeaster border, in Syria, the cables also describe how the scene was set for the emergence of ISIS. Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, warmongers in the media have demanded the Western military pounding of Syria to depose Bashar Al-Assad - presented, in typical liberal-interventionist fashion as a 'new Hitler'. The emergence of the Islamic State, to which the Assad government is the only viable counterweight within Syria, has thrown this propagandistic consensus into disarray. But US government designs on Syrian regime change, and its devotion to regional instability, long pre-date the Syrian civil war, as is demonstrated in the cables.

It is clear that US intervention and policy - with the help of the UK and others - in Iraq paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State. History (though - tragically - not history lessons) is littered with examples of the disastrous consequences of interventions by outside powers. In coming to a decision to support air strikes in Syria, you have discarded this fact as unimportant or irrelevant.

It gets worse. As reported by investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, 'a declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Bashar al-Assad'.

Ahmed continues:

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition”  —  which included al-Qaeda in Iraq  — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.

The US viewed IS as a 'strategic asset' and therefore made no effort to halt its expansion. When you made your decision to support air strikes, were you aware of this policy that has directly led to the emergence of the IS nightmare we are faced with today? Should you really be trusting the words of US officials and those of their allies (chiefly the UK) when this report clearly demonstrates their double dealing? What else were you unaware of when you pledged your support?

In learning about IS and how and where it gets its oxygen to survive, the last thing you - and the families of the victims of the Paris attacks in particular - may want to hear is that a NATO member nation and professed ally of the West in fighting terrorism is in fact deeply involved in aiding the Islamic State in the hope that it will help bring about the removal of President Assad. A large number of serious allegations, published in international and reputable sources, have been made about Turkey.

Some samples [see original for sources]:

An ISIS commander told The Washington Post on August 12, 2014: "Most of the fighters who joined us in the beginning of the war came via Turkey, and so did our equipment and supplies."

Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, head of the Republican People's Party (CHP), produced a statement from the Adana Office of the Prosecutor on October 14, 2014 maintaining that Turkey supplied weapons to terror groups. He also produced interview transcripts from truck drivers who delivered weapons to the groups. According to Kiliçdaroglu, the Turkish government claims the trucks were for humanitarian aid to the Turkmen, but the Turkmen said no humanitarian aid was delivered.

The Daily Mail reported on August 25, 2014 that many foreign militants joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq after traveling through Turkey, but Turkey did not try to stop them. This article describes how foreign militants, especially from the UK, go to Syria and Iraq through the Turkish border. They call the border the "Gateway to Jihad." Turkish army soldiers either turn a blind eye and let them pass, or the jihadists pay the border guards as little as $10 to facilitate their crossing.

Britain's Sky News obtained documents showing that the Turkish government has stamped passports of foreign militants seeking to cross the Turkey border into Syria to join ISIS.

The BBC interviewed villagers, who claim that buses travel at night, carrying jihadists to fight Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, not the Syrian Armed Forces.

A senior Egyptian official indicated on October 9, 2014 that Turkish intelligence is passing satellite imagery and other data to ISIS.

According to Jordanian intelligence, Turkey trained ISIS militants for special operations.

An ISIS commander told the Washington Post on August 12, 2014, "We used to have some fighters -- even high-level members of the Islamic State -- getting treated in Turkish hospitals."

On September 13, 2014, The New York Times reported on the Obama administration's efforts to pressure Turkey to crack down on ISIS extensive sales network for oil. James Phillips, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argues that Turkey has not fully cracked down on ISIS's sales network because it benefits from a lower price for oil, and that there might even be Turks and government officials who benefit from the trade.

According to Diken and OdaTV, David Cohen, a Justice Department official, says that there are Turkish individuals acting as middlemen to help sell ISIS's oil through Turkey.

Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu claimed on October 14, 2014 that ISIS offices in Istanbul and Gaziantep are used to recruit fighters. On October 10, 2014, the mufti of Konya said that 100 people from Konya joined ISIS 4 days ago.

Seymour Hersh maintains in the London Review of Books that ISIS conducted sarin attacks in Syria, and that Turkey was informed. "For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria's neighbors, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdogan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. 'We knew there were some in the Turkish government,' a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, 'who believed they could get Assad's nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria - and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat."

Anwar Moslem, Mayor of Kobani, said on September 19, 2014: "Based on the intelligence we got two days before the breakout of the current war, trains full of forces and ammunition, which were passing by north of Kobane, had an-hour-and-ten-to-twenty-minute-long stops in these villages: Salib Qaran, Gire Sor, Moshrefat Ezzo. There are evidences, witnesses, and videos about this. Why is ISIS strong only in Kobane's east? Why is it not strong either in its south or west? Since these trains stopped in villages located in the east of Kobane, we guess they had brought ammunition and additional force for the ISIS." In the second article on September 30, 2014, a CHP delegation visited Kobani, where locals claimed that everything from the clothes ISIS militants wear to their guns comes from Turkey.

According to an op-ed written by a YPG commander in The New York Times on October 29, 2014, Turkey allows ISIS militants and their equipment to pass freely over the border.

Military action, with all the risks of escalation and mass civilian casualties, must surely always come as a last resort, when all other options have been tried. When you made your decision to support airstrikes, did you consider the fact that first seriously cracking down on Turkey's evident support for IS might severely curtail its capabilities?

It is likely that the mass media, as the major source of information on the situation, will have profoundly affected your decision. Have you noticed, though, that every time a tragic event occurs that can be tied to Syria or Assad (and any other target du jour) in some way there is an almost instantaneous and concerted campaign from all major outlets, including the 'liberal-left' newspapers like the Guardian, urging intervention? Just two months ago it was poor little Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy washed up onto a beach, that triggered an avalanche of calls for the same. [Note: while some newspapers may officially oppose intervention (with varying degrees of qualification) in editorials, the net effect of running dozens of pro-intervention articles in opinion sections is more significant].

I wrote an article about these calls at the time and urge you to read it in full because almost all of it remains relevant now, but the article concluded [see original for sources]:

The corporate media has concealed covert activities within Syria going back several years; has blacked out a Pentagon report demonstrating US prediction, supply and use of ISIS as a strategic asset; is again reporting selectively regarding ‘good’ and ‘bad’ dictators; and has engaged in this precise kind of rhetoric in the past before every intervention.

Rupert Murdoch is a board member of a company that is drilling for oil in the Golan Heights while his newspapers sound the clarion call that may open the way for a (hoped for) post-Assad Western puppet government.

Meanwhile stocks in arms companies are at record levels and the refugee crisis is now a major humanitarian disaster at World War 2 levels, with refugee populations particularly high from nations where the US and its allies have acted (covertly or overtly).

The corporate-owned media, particularly in this case newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, have a vested interest in endless war, in that not only does conflict drive up fear, increasing clicks as people seek information and therefore generating enhanced ad revenue, but it also keeps their own advertisers happy.

Media watch group FAIR explains:

One way or another, a military-industrial complex now extends to much of corporate media. In the process, firms with military ties routinely advertise in news outlets. Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links—financial and social—with the military industry and Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.

The Guardian and other newspapers play it smart. The straight reporting is generally of a high quality, but they leave it to op-eds, editorials and other comment pieces by regular or guest columnists to advance any agendas they may have. The 'Comment Is Free' section in the Guardian frequently features pro-interventionist articles with - of course - a few dissenting voices thrown in as figleaves. As readers expect the same level of fact-checking in the straight reporting from their Pulitzer-Prize winner to apply in the comment pieces, a lot of misrepresentation and even outright lies can slip through the net.

Take, for instance, a recent article published in the Guardian written by Dan Jarvis MP, who was among the initial names raised as a possible contender for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election, and may one day replace him if Corbyn is ousted.

In his article outlining his qualified support for airstrikes in Syria he wrote:

They [the Paris attacks] underline how Islamic State hates us for who we are, not for what we do.

This is pure propaganda, red meat for the revenge-hungry masses, a statement wholly unsupported by any facts that demonstrates enormous ignorance - wilful or otherwise - of Western foreign policy and the devastating effects it has had on the Middle East. He might as well have channeled Bush's 'they hate us for our freedoms' speech.

Later he wrote:

[] we should be using our economic power as well as military resources. Isis is trading like a state, so we need to follow the money. That should include economic sanctions, cutting off the finances and targeting the human trafficking operations that fund its bloodshed.

He only mentions human trafficking as the source of IS funding, when in fact an enormous amount comes through illicit oil sales (with secret links to British companies) and also extortion of 'taxes' from residents and businesses under IS control. The link provided by Jarvis leads to a New York Times report that makes it clear that human trafficking is just one of many sources of funding, but certainly not the primary one. By citing only this one activity, Jarvis makes clear his agenda is to influence people's emotions over the issue. An honest analysis would have cited oil or extortion revenues, but that would lead to the obvious question: instead of bombing, why not crack down on the oil trade?

This is a relatively minor point but such intentional misrepresentation is rife throughout comment pieces, with facts declared as truth based on spurious or nonexistent evidence or statements from 'official sources'. The comment pieces allow the Guardian and other newspapers to disavow responsibility for the bias and inaccuracies put across in those sections with the boilerplate 'these are the opinions of the author alone' disclaimer. They also allow for overblown, mawkish nonsense that really has no place in serious analysis.

In deciding to support airstrikes, have you considered the possibility that you have been misled by this false information? Don't the demonstrated vested interests of the corporate media raise the possibility that you're being led around by the nose to reach a desired viewpoint?

Have you not noticed the pattern that every time a tragedy occurs, maximum advantage is taken of it for intervention? Don't the manifest humanitarian disasters that have resulted from the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya present an urgent need for caution as we prepare to plunge into another conflict? Do you not think it is possible the government are opportunistically playing on your understandable desire for 'something to be done about IS', knowing full well the outrage generated by the Paris attacks? Do you really believe there are no other options and that we are at the last resort stage?

It is important to remember that the removal of Assad is routinely presented as part and package of the proposed actions against IS. Since when did democracy mean that outside powers install a new leader? Why not instead allow the Syrian people to decide their leader in free elections?

In making his case for airstrikes, David Cameron made a number of unfounded claims that should set off alarm bells ringing for anyone who remembers Tony Blair's rush to invade Iraq. In particular, Cameron's claim of '70,000 moderate fighters' already seems destined to be the new '45-minute warning'. Twelve years on from Iraq and we all now know about the outright lies told by top government officials that were uncritically reported in the media. Are you really going to fall for it again? Is it not just possible that Cameron might be trying to earn a place at the table to divide up Syria for British corporate interests if Assad falls?

Recall that a study by the Pulizer Prize-winning Center for Public Integrity found that 'following 9/11, President Bush and seven top officials of his administration waged a carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about Saddam Hussein's Iraq' with 'at least 935 false statements [from top government officials] in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses'.

Cameron is keen to stress that British weapons are extremely accurate, meaning that civilian casualties will be kept to a minimum. His Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, claimed on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that Britain's Brimstone missiles are so accurate that no innocents have been killed in a year of bombing IS targets in Iraq.

The Daily Mirror reports:

Mr Fallon said he has to personally approve any target selected for air strikes, and intelligence allows him to distinguish between terrorists and "people in headscarves selling shoes."

He then made an astonishing claim about the accuracy of RAF strikes.

"The RAF have been striking with the permission of Parliament in Iraq for over a year now," he said. "And our estimate is that there hasn't yet been a single civilian casualty because of the precision of their strikes.

Back in the real world, human rights group Reprieve made a study of 'precise' US strikes that found 41 men were targeted but 1,147 people were killed:

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.

Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.

In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.

Available data for the 41 men targeted for drone strikes across both countries indicate that each of them was reported killed multiple times. Seven of them are believed to still be alive. The status of another, Haji Omar, is unknown. Abu Ubaidah al-Masri, whom drones targeted three times, later died from natural causes, believed to be hepatitis.

If you still support air strikes after reading all of the above, it is possible that you are incapable of seeing the clear agenda of the corporate media and Western government officials to win over public opinion by means of deception, just as they did in the run-up to the Iraq disaster. It means that you have decided that 'something has to be done', despite the fact that there are other options besides bombing the IS strongholds that also contain hundreds of thousands of civilians, any number of whom may be killed and who may suffer greatly when vital civilian infrastructure (read about the recent Medecins Sans Frontiere strike here) is destroyed, whether by accident or design.

It means that you believe - against all reasonable logic - that these strikes will defeat IS, despite the fact that IS has been bombed for years and has only become stronger. You believe that this will somehow not exacerbate the refugee crisis that has already reached levels comparable to those during the Second World War. You feel that the slaughter of completely innocent people, including kids, toddlers and babies, the ones you shed so many tears over washed up on the beach or in Paris, is 'worth it' (like former US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright) to defeat IS because you believe (erroneously) that other avenues have not been and can not be attempted to deal with this crisis. These assertions go hand in hand with support for airstrikes - you can not have one without the other.

If you're OK with this, I suspect little else will sway you. Perhaps cost?

According to Sky News, each 6-hour Tornado mission costs £210,000. As for the payload, 4 Paveway bombs cost £22,000 each and 2 Brimstone missiles cost £105,000 each. Therefore if a Tornado is sent out on a 6-hour mission and it drops all of its payload, it would cost £508,000.

That can pay for one of the following:

◾20 Paramedics
◾20 Police Officers
◾20 Teachers
◾19 Nurses
◾18 Firefighters
◾18 Junior Doctors

[Based on the average salary of each profession for one year.]

If any of these arguments have raised an inkling of doubt in your mind that you might, by supporting these strikes, just be making yourself complicit in the completely unnecessary murder of yet more innocents, please write to your MP today, put pressure on celebrities and other high-profile figures to speak out, and inform other people who may be unaware of the facts as best you can.

IS thrives on sectarian division and conflict. The US and the UK need instead along with Russia and other influential powers like France and Germany to put pressure on the key regional states involved in this proxy war to work toward a negotiated settlement, and to put serious pressure on the gulf states who fund terrorism for their own geopolitical and economic ends. Turkey must also be reined in as a key enabler of the ability of IS to commit atrocities. The illicit oil trade and flow of fighters across the border at the very least can be readily stopped with real political will. These actions must be seriously attempted before military action can be considered, and there is still time to do so.

In a recent article (that you should read) Jürgen Todenhöfer wrote:

Is it really so hard to see that the attempt to defeat terrorism with wars has failed? That we have to rethink the war on terror? That we have to finally start treating the Muslim world as true partners, and not as a cheap petrol station we can raid when we feel like it? Bombing civilians will recruit new terrorists. Again and again.

Is it really so hard?

Written by Simon Wood

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Gatekeepers

"One of the questions asked in that study was, How many Vietnamese casualties would you estimate that there were during the Vietnam war? The average response on the part of Americans today is about 100,000. The official figure is about two million. The actual figure is probably three to four million. The people who conducted the study raised an appropriate question: What would we think about German political culture if, when you asked people today how many Jews died in the Holocaust, they estimated about 300,000? What would that tell us about German political culture?" - Noam Chomsky (Media Control, 2002)

"Whoever controls the media controls the mind" - Jim Morrison

In an era of gross inequality, total surveillance, global war and rampant lawlessness of state powers, the role of the media in this escalating tragedy has come under increasing scrutiny, with media ownership by giant, interlocking conglomerates now concentrated to an extreme degree. This diagram from 2004 presents a clear picture of the conflicts of interest that can not fail to arise. To illustrate: on this list alone, with only four media companies represented, board members of major arms manufacturers Boeing and Northrop Grumman can be found. [Note: a more recent diagram was not available, but nothing has changed in 2015 aside from a re-shuffling of personnel]

A clear understanding of the role and methods of the corporate media is therefore essential for interpreting the (often confusing and conflicting) 'narratives' put forward 24/7 for mass consumption.

Along with the obvious conflicts of interest of lobbyists and CEOs serving on interlocking boards, print and online newspapers depend heavily on news agencies like AP and Reuters both in general and for information that would otherwise be too expensive to obtain. Under this system, statements of government officials and agencies are published verbatim and uncritically. The devastating dangers of this approach are perhaps best illustrated by the findings of a 2008 study by the Center for Public Integrity which found 935 false statements about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq issued by senior Bush administration officials (including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice and George W Bush himself) that were reported with no (or virtually no) verification by major news outlets. This orchestrated campaign of lies designed to build public support for a military invasion was reported uncritically not only in the US but also around the world, not least in the UK, the major partner of the US in the 'Coalition of the Willing'.

The consequences of this criminal dereliction of duty, for which the New York Times even issued a tortured mea culpa, was laid bare last week when Nobel Prize recipient Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) published a report entitled 'Body Count' that concluded:

This investigation comes to the conclusion that the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs. And this is only a conservative estimate. The total number of deaths in the three countries named above could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.

This report, published by a serious, credible, respected and decorated organization, makes it very clear that a war built on deliberate lies propagated uncritically by the corporate-owned media has led to the deaths of 1.3 million people, possibly 2 million. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that this landmark report has been greeted with absolute silence by the very same media outlets, while little effort is required to imagine the blanket response if this report concerned the actions of a current official enemy: Russia or Venezuela in particular. For Western leaders and other establishment figures, it seems mass killings on this scale - 'holocausts' - only occur when firmly ensconced in (approved) history books, when they can safely bow their heads once a year and solemnly swear 'never again' and 'we shall not forget them'.

The lesson here should be simple: journalistic negligence of any sort - which can be caused by conflict of interest, editorial framing, or fear of challenging powerful figures for career reasons (loss of future access) - has cost innocent lives by the million. It has directly enabled one of the greatest crimes ever - the Iraq War. It has unleashed devastation and suffering on an unimaginable scale. Yet no responsibility is felt or borne by even the most enthusiastic cheerleaders, many of whom are unrepentant and continue to write articles advocating new wars or '(humanitarian) interventions'.

Meanwhile, stocks in the arms industry are booming:

Investors see rising sales for makers of missiles, drones and other weapons as the U.S. hits Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Chicago-based BMO Private Bank. President Barack Obama approved open-ended airstrikes this month while ruling out ground combat.

“As we ramp up our military muscle in the Mideast, there’s a sense that demand for military equipment and weaponry will likely rise,” said Ablin, who oversees $66 billion including Northrop Grumman Corp. and Boeing Co. shares. “To the extent we can shift away from relying on troops and rely more heavily on equipment -- that could present an opportunity.”


“There’s no doubt the world is getting to be a more and more dangerous place, and there are countries around the world that could look to buy aircraft and artillery," Jeff Babione, deputy manager of Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II program, said in an interview in Oslo. “There’s a sense that there’s less stability in the world than there was before.”


“Clearly the world has become increasingly unstable. The question of whether that has a major impact on the defense budget is uncertain,” Finnegan said. “There may be an investor psychology that suggests that there’s going to be a large benefit to these companies. But the jury is still out.”

[Note: Emphasis (bold) on commercial language mine]

It is not only the 'defense' (arms) industry that benefits from media narrative framing; indeed the largely unsuspecting readership, the overwhelming majority of the world's news consumers, is drenched from all angles with a systematic, corporate-friendly outlook on all aspects of life. This heavily promoted worldview is also anti-democratic, as one would expect from corporations - totalitarian structures by definition. True democracy - a community sharing resources fairly and working together for peace, security, justice and prosperity - is antithetical to the ideology of the profit motive. For this reason, rule number one of the corporate media's version of reality is to present at all times the illusion of freedom, the idea that people are actually in control of their societies, economies and leaders. This demonstrably false idea must be promoted relentlessly in order to quell and misdirect the anger and hopelessness felt by the millions upon millions of victims of the corporate credo - the now utterly discredited idea that the 'free market' is the best and fairest method of running humanity.

This is accomplished in part by the artificial creation in the media of endless divisions in society and throughout the world as a whole, with specific focus on conflict or disagreement between those of differing race, religion, sexuality, political ideology, and even gender. This serves the dual purpose of generating manufactured outrage, safely misdirecting anger and hate away from the targets it should be focused upon (while simultaneously driving up clicks for increased revenue) and also - crucially - making the idea of a functioning, harmonious community seem more and more unlikely as every day goes by. Faced with such a belief backed up with the purely manufactured 'evidence' created by media campaigns of division and hatred such as those perpetrated by the Daily Mail etc., the average citizen is likely to henceforth scorn the idea of harmonious community as a naive pipe dream, reserved for 'idealists' and 'activists' who are stuck in Star-Trek fantasies and 'don't have a clue'. The undisputable reality that we are all simply human beings, brothers and sisters whatever our background, color or religion, is the one thing that absolutely must be refuted and indeed disdained at every opportunity.

Hyperbole grows more and more extreme as an increasingly fickle, easily bored and atomized readership demands ever more outlandish distractions - things they haven't seen yet - various forms of ultra violence or skateboarding cats etc. This hyperbole normalizes extreme language and serves as an effective screen of the real-life extreme ideology we all now suffer beneath. It is now quite normal for people, when informed, for instance, that 21,000 people die daily of hunger - a preventable condition - to shrug and say 'shit happens' or ask 'what do you expect me to do about it?' There are even those who will find fault with the victims, saying they only have themselves to blame. The extreme is normal and, with tragic irony, the normal extreme.

The findings of a key 1970s study on the influence in society in television have particular relevance here. From an earlier article on this blog:

A most insidious and damaging form of deception is achieved through the utilization and deployment of fear. Professors George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s researched the effect of television on viewers in the United States in the belief that in the few decades since its appearance and mass acceptance the medium had come to wield a power over humanity comparable to that of religion.

They developed a hypothesis known as Cultivation Theory and found through their research that over time the perception of reality of heavy, long-term viewers is subtly changed, eventually coming to closely resemble the televised version. Crucially, it was found that the more often such viewers were told or shown something, the greater significance they attached to it. Conversely, issues rarely or never encountered on television were attached relatively little or no importance in comparison.

These findings have far-reaching consequences. As TV delivery has become more and more violent and dramatic, heavy viewers tend to see the world as a more dangerous place than it actually is, particularly with regard to personal safety. Gerbner labelled this 'Mean World Syndrome', and found that affected people tended to believe, for instance, that violent crime was prevalent even if it was falling, and that they felt more likely to be a victim of a crime. Gerbner et al. developed a Mean World Index, which comprises three statements:

Most people are just looking out for themselves.

You can't be too careful in dealing with people.

Most people would take advantage of you if they got the chance.


These findings can be extended beyond the realm of fear and television. If a narrative is adopted, repeated and reinforced throughout various media, this can only cement the perceptual reality adopted through the distorting lens of the mass media.

As the overwhelming majority of media is owned by corporations, a narrative that serves the purposes of such entities and their proxies can be hammered home literally twenty-four hours a day (with lashings of celebrity and other manufactured distraction for both starter and dessert).

As discussed, Cultivation Theory shows that the greatest significance is attached to issues that are most relentlessly repeated, and that the converse is also true. No surprise then that, to cite a recent example, the British public is woefully ignorant of the reality of...well, pretty much everything:

From the article:

Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates: we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%.

Foreign aid: 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year. More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn).

Benefit fraud: people estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates: the public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100.

Reality is skewed beyond recognition and in ways that benefit the elite political and financial classes, who without exception desire the continuation (and entrenchment) of the status quo and know all too well that any viable democratic system would spell their doom as it would signal the end of unaccountability, two-tiered justice and deeply immoral and destructive entities like tax havens.

This deep perversion of reality has made it possible for a new 'shock and awe' strategy that has gained favor in recent years: namely, blanket coverage of a significant event or incident that works heavily for the benefit of the political or corporate classes, and then blanket silence when evidence later surfaces that contradicts the promoted version of events. Clear examples of this can be seen with regard to the US-instigated coup in Ukraine - an unmentionable topic in the corporate media - as well as the chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. This was particularly instructive in that the assertions of Seymour Hersh, one of the world's foremost and most respected investigative journalists, were ignored by the media establishment, dismissed in favor of the findings of a stay-at-home blogger, Eliot Higgins. The reason? Hersh's findings contradicted the official story already put forward, while Higgins' supported them. Hersh, who has won numerous prestigious prizes for journalism and has broken some of the most famous stories of all time, had to be content with his piece being published in a British literary journal - the London Review of Books - while Higgins and his assertions were accorded wide acceptance.

This shock and awe tactic has proved extremely successful. As casual readers of news do not look at the details of stories, they will remember only the headlines and carefully chosen soundbites that stabbed into their brains relentlessly over a 24/48-hour period. With this comes mass acceptance of the story, which also means mass condemnation of any questioning of it. Those few brave individuals sticking their head over the parapets to politely point out inconsistencies or lack of evidence are quickly shot to pieces, subjected to vitriolic abuse and disdain on social media and elsewhere and smeared as 'conspiracy theorists'. This functions as a powerful form of social control, in that it plays on confirmation bias and also fear of association with objects of ridicule. A recent example of this phenomenon can be seen in the dearth of people willing to publicly support Russell Brand for simply calling for a fairer system, with millions, many of whom actually agreeing with what he says, choosing instead to castigate and denigrate his character and motivations.

It is this lie of omission that is most devastating of all because it permits plausible deniability on the part of those responsible. Outright lies can at least be exposed, but omission can be blamed on the need for 'objectivity' (impossible in any reporting) or a professed inability to verify information credibly. This excuse, of course, does not stop outright lies being used to discredit current official enemies, as Russian (also Iranian and Venezuelan) officials will attest, but it is a most powerful weapon in constructing a 'reality' that is acceptable to the Western elites who control the editorial pages.

[Note: Highly recommended: US journalist Paul Street in a recent article discusses in further detail the methods and aims of the corporate media]

This filtering and framing occurs in all corporate media, but while one can expect newspapers like the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph to openly espouse an establishment and/or right-wing agenda, the most essential (and insidious) service in support of the corporate system comes from traditionally 'liberal left' 'vanguards', most notably the UK's Guardian newspaper. They perform the vital function of bringing self-described liberals into the pro-interventionist (pro-war) camp, a function the right-wing press would have no hope of accomplishing.

The classic modern example of this process outside the media was the election of Barack Obama in 2008 on a global, media-driven tide of 'hope and change'. Literally billions of people believed the dark days of the Bush era were finally gone and that there was real hope for peace and justice around the world, with the Nobel Peace Prize committee obviously in agreement. Obama proceeded to become one of the most warlike US Presidents in history (which is really saying something), presiding also over a drone 'kill list' (renamed the 'disposition matrix') on 'Terror Tuesday' to personally decide that week's innocent victims of the world's largest ever terrorist campaign (the drone program). He has also persecuted those essential elements of democracy - whistleblowers - to an unprecedented degree, imprisoning and persecuting anyone shining a light on the wide-ranging criminal activities of the US.

The significance of this? The President made millions of starry-eyed Obama fans support positions that they vociferously opposed under the Bush administration, possibly becoming therefore the most effective servant of the military-industrial complex in history.

The Guardian in its role as the most liberal mainstream outlet does the same. Consider this delusional Guardian editorial on Libya:

'Britain and France led the Libyan intervention, drawing in a reluctant United States and other Nato countries...'

Media Lens commented:

The chasm in honesty separating the corporate and non-corporate media is staggering. As we have seen, the corporate media generally assume that the West has a God-given right to wage war on other countries because a) 'our' corporate-dominated states are driven by high moral purpose, b) 'we' have the right to decide who should wage war, where and when because, c) 'we' know best, and d) it's just normal to wage war. The better non-corporate media challenge this as the vicious social pathology that it is.

Consider that, according to the text, UN resolution 1973 had 'the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution...' It also excluded a 'foreign occupation force of any form'.

The three regular 'radical' Guardian columnists who serve as fig-leaves (Seumas Milne, George Monbiot and Owen Jones), while often writing powerful, informative and power-challenging articles (especially Milne and Monbiot), nonetheless by their regular presence alone lend crucial legitimacy to a newspaper that is servile to corporate power overall.

As noted by Media Lens in a recent article, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Guardian changed a headline to avoid offending Apple, with whom it had an advertising contract:

However, The Telegraph can disclose that in July last year Apple bought wraparound advertising on The Guardian's website and stipulated that the advertising should not be placed next to negative news.

A Guardian insider said that the headline of an article about Iraq on The Guardian's website was changed amid concerns about offending Apple, and the article was later removed from the home page entirely.

The insider said: "If editorial staff knew what was happening here they would be horrified."

Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed's Guardian blog was axed after he published a post detailing Israel's interest in Gaza's natural gas reserves.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathon Cook explains:

It is okay to criticise individual western policies as flawed, especially if done so respectfully, but not to suggest that the whole direction of western foreign policy is flawed, that it is intended to maintain a system of control over, and exploitation of, weaker nations. Policies can be dubious, but not our leaders’ moral character.

Nafeez Ahmed himself, now writing freelance, explains in a separate article how 'fraudulent blood money makes the world go round', with specific reference to connections between multiple scandal-tainted HSBC and the Guardian (among others):

Here’s something you won’t read in the Guardian. During the Treasury Select Committee meeting on 15th February, it emerged that the newspaper that styles itself as the world’s “leading liberal voice” happens to be the biggest recipient of HSBC advertising revenue: bigger even than the Telegraph.

According to the Guardian Media Group’s annual financial review last year, its American website, Guardian US, delivered “record online traffic” in the form of over 20 million unique monthly users “representing year-on-year growth of 12%.” User growth permitted a dramatic increase in advertising revenues: “Revenues from US operations more than doubled on the previous 12-month period, reflecting advertising demand and sponsorship deals with partners such as HSBC, Netflix and Airbnb.”

HSBC’s “partnership” with the Guardian Media Group has thus played an integral role in enabling the Guardian’s US venture to maximise its revenues, and expand its work.

The Guardian’s links with HSBC go beyond mere advertising. Much has been made of the fact that the newspaper is owned and run by The Scott Trust, originally created in 1936 “to safeguard the title’s journalistic freedom.” The paper, wrote leftwing columnist Owen Jones in the wake of Peter Oborne’s revelations, “is unique for being owned by a trust rather than a media mogul.”

I have a lot of respect for Jones, who is doing important work, but his assertion here is untrue and misleading.

The Guardian is not owned by a trust at all. In 2008, “the trust was replaced with a limited company” that was accordingly re-named “The Scott Trust Limited.” Though not a trust at all, but simply a profit-making company, it is still referred to frequently as ‘The Scott Trust,’ promulgating the widely-held but mistaken belief in the Guardian’s inherently benign ownership structure.

The new company purports, like many other corporate entities, to be guided by a range of commendable values, including the task of maintaining the Guardian’s editorial independence. The problem, of course, is that the Guardian functions under the same sort of corporate structure as any other major media company.

After Peter Oborne quit the Daily Telegraph in protest at being expected to whitewash the HSBC scandal because of advertising revenue concerns, Media Lens wrote:

In a free society, Oborne's courageous whistleblowing would have triggered a wide-ranging debate on how profit-seeking media owned and run by a tiny elite, dependent on corporate advertisers, subsidised by state and corporate 'news', obviously produce a vision of the world in which corporate domination is viewed as 'just how things are'. The astonishing, hidden story of the vast corporate campaigns to stifle political choice, to subvert democracy, control culture and even to brainwash children, would have poured forth. Instead, heads bowed, journalists focused on 'maverick' Oborne, on isolated problems at the Telegraph, on the specific problem of advertising, and on defending their employers. The truth, as ever, was not a concern.

'Radical' fig-leaves are a necessary evil for the corporate media as they are essential for providing 'balance'. Flak against corporate-influenced policies and actions in society is inevitable, more so as the grip tightens, and information that is hostile to corporate aims will inevitably reach some people anyway through alternative and social media. It costs little, therefore, to allow discussion of power-challenging topics in the Guardian's pages such as the TPP/TTIP. Indeed, as a bonus, radical articles in the Guardian can then safely be left to be torn to pieces by astroturfers and other hostile elements in comments below the line, comments that do not engage with issues and use inflammatory rhetoric and/or attack the credibility of the writer. Ironically, George Monbiot himself wrote a good article on this issue.

They also help to give the false impression that the Guardian is holding power to account, when in fact - when one looks at the results - the status quo is always preserved. When Edward Snowden leaked the NSA disclosures to Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian - with Greenwald on its payroll - won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting. Yet the surveillance continues, with only cosmetic safeguards proposed. When John Kiriakou disclosed that the illegal torture technique of waterboarding was used systematically by the CIA, he went to prison. The CIA torture report was later released, detailing horrific acts by US agents on detainees. The world's media didn't hold back, detailing even some of the most gruesome acts, but succeeded in framing the narrative in such a way that none of those responsible for these illegal acts have been prosecuted, with the whole episode now quietly buried along with Abu Ghraib and Collatoral Murder.

When challenged, liberal journalists often claim that they are aware of the nature and aims of the corporate media but are nonetheless using it as a platform to spread progressive ideas to a mass readership. This seems plausible until one remembers that newspapers like the Guardian will always require progressive journalists, be they Milne, Monbiot or Jones or anyone else. If Owen Jones was not writing there, someone like him would be easily found to replace him. In the case of Jones, with his 271,000 Twitter followers who retweet everything he does, mass readership is guaranteed wherever he writes. There is also the option of writing as an occasional guest columnist (as true radicals sometimes do), which would reach the same audience but from someone outside the corporate structure, a crucial difference as the Guardian can no longer use his presence as a source of legitimacy.

The role of the corporate media is to protect, promote and legitimize the destructive and amoral aims of profit-seeking private power. Any journalist or columnist working within that system is actively aiding the corporate media achieve this goal. These gatekeepers, especially those regarded as liberal, are therefore culpable in the illegal wars and rapacious, planet-destroying actions of the worst corporations. A right-thinking journalist of conscience would extricate themselves from the machine, as the aforementioned Jonathon Cook and Nafeez Ahmed have done, along with famed journalists such as John Pilger. With enough big names breaking free, the dream of a mass-market, ad-free, donation-based investigative journalism enterprise employing the best writers would be one step closer to reality.

Written by Simon Wood

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Root of all Evil

"Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell" - Edward Abbey

Capitalism can be defined as a system under which industries, trade and the means of production are largely or wholly privately owned and operated for profit. Following the end of feudalism, it dominated the Western world, and thanks to imperialism this domination extended to the global economic system by the end of the 19th century. Entering the 21st century, it continues to reign unchallenged as the world's pre-eminent economic doctrine.

The world's richest person (Bill Gates) has a personal wealth of $78.7 billion. This is higher than the (nominal) GDP of 130 countries, including Uruguay (population 3.4m), Ecuador (population 15.9m), Bulgaria (population 7.2m) and Croatia (population 4.3m). The wealth of the top ten richest people combined is $544 billion - higher than the GDP of 172 of the 194 nations for which UN data is available, including Thailand (population 65m), South Africa (population 54m), Egypt (population 88m), Portugal (population 10.4m) and Czech Republic (population 10.5m).

Almost half the world's population, over 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die EACH DAY due to poverty. They “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.” Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. For every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment. Less than one percent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000. [Sources. (Note: site last updated in January 2013. Some data is a few years out of date, meaning it is likely to be worse now as global inequality has widened.)]

The modern form capitalism has taken is complex, with close relationships and revolving doors between politics and the multinational corporations and banks that act as the main players commonplace. Directors of corporations are under severe pressure to increase profits each quarter, partly to increase the size, market share, wealth and power of the company, not to mention keep their jobs. There is also a legal (fiduciary) duty to shareholders to maximise income and, as explained by Boris Johnson, avoid paying taxes vital for public services. This necessity for relentless growth inevitably leads to the cutting of costs in ways that damage societies and local communities (outsourcing, lay-offs, etc.) as well as a massive global network of tax havens hiding trillions of dollars. It also aggravates poverty cycles in poor nations chosen as manufacturing bases, where their enormous power enables corporations to dictate extremely poor terms and salaries.

The profit motive, therefore, is the fundamental principle underlying modern capitalism; the all-encompassing priority of corporate entities. This drive for profit, however, is incompatible with the complex needs of humanity and the environment, as it leads to exponential 'growth' in a limited system, meaning it is unsustainable, creating mounting misery and chaos for ever increasing numbers of people, even those in so-called 'rich' or 'advanced' nations. The only beneficiaries of such a system are the corporations and the shareholders themselves, along with those in service to the system. The proof is in the pudding, as new horrors of poverty or environmental damage are reported (to the tiny percentage of people with access to or interest in such information) almost daily while the rich just keep on getting richer.

Capitalism ultimately results in massive concentrations of wealth in the hands of very few individuals. This wealth is inevitably employed to further game the system to in turn acquire ever more profits, no matter what the destruction caused to the planet or its inhabitants. This has obvious negative consequences for democracy, as rich lobbyists command the overwhelming bulk of the attention of elected officials.

Essential public services are also fair game as greedy and corrupt officials allow health, transport, education, transportation and energy systems to be sold off to private companies, whose sole concern is profit. See, for instance, this list of UK MPs with links to private healthcare firms; energy companies boosting profits despite falling wholesale prices; the rail privatization 'scam'; and the truly appalling private prison 'industry' (AKA modern slavery) in the US.

Chris Hedges has this to say on private US prisons:

Our prison-industrial complex, which holds 2.3 million prisoners, or 25 percent of the world’s prison population, makes money by keeping prisons full. It demands bodies, regardless of color, gender or ethnicity. As the system drains the pool of black bodies, it has begun to incarcerate others. Women—the fastest-growing segment of the prison population—are swelling prisons, as are poor whites in general, Hispanics and immigrants. Prisons are no longer a black-white issue. Prisons are a grotesque manifestation of corporate capitalism. Slavery is legal in prisons under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …” And the massive U.S. prison industry functions like the forced labor camps that have existed in all totalitarian states.

Corporate investors, who have poured billions into the business of mass incarceration, expect long-term returns. And they will get them. It is their lobbyists who write the draconian laws that demand absurdly long sentences, deny paroles, determine immigrant detention laws and impose minimum-sentence and three-strikes-out laws (mandating life sentences after three felony convictions). The politicians and the courts, subservient to corporate power, can be counted on to protect corporate interests.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner of for-profit prisons and immigration detention facilities in the country, had revenues of $1.7 billion in 2013 and profits of $300 million. CCA holds an average of 81,384 inmates in its facilities on any one day. Aramark Holdings Corp., a Philadelphia-based company that contracts through Aramark Correctional Services to provide food to 600 correctional institutions across the United States, was acquired in 2007 for $8.3 billion by investors that included Goldman Sachs.

It is not only public services that suffer: there are numerous examples of egregious actions by large corporations, many of them household names:

1. After some of its drugs were pulled off the market and calling it a 'humanitarian mission', Pfizer tested an experimental antibiotic called Trovan on Nigerian children with meningitis without informing them or their families. 11 children died, and others developed brain damage and serious arthritis.

From the Washington Post:

The experiment came to light in December 2000, when The Washington Post published a lengthy examination of the trial. It found that Pfizer carried out the experiment on 200 children at a makeshift epidemic camp in the Nigerian town of Kano. The articles reported that Pfizer had no signed consent forms for the children and relied on a falsified ethics approval letter to defend the design of the experiment.

Trovan was never approved for use by American children. The Food and Drug Administration approved it for adults in 1998 but later severely restricted its use after reports of liver failure. The European Union banned the drug in 1999.

2. What about Texaco (now Chevron)?

In 1964, Texaco [], discovered oil in the remote northern region of the Ecuadorian Amazon, known as the "Oriente." The indigenous inhabitants of this pristine rainforest, including the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Huaorani, lived traditional lifestyles largely untouched by modern civilization. The forests and rivers provided the physical and cultural subsistence base for their daily survival. They had little idea what to expect or how to prepare when oil workers moved into their backyard and founded the town of Lago Agrio, named for Texaco's birthplace of Sour Lake, Texas. The Ecuadorian government had similarly little idea what to expect; no one had ever successfully drilled for oil in the Amazon rainforest before. The government entrusted Texaco, a well-known U.S. company with more than a half-century's worth of experience, with employing modern oil practices and technology in the country's emerging oil patch. However, despite existing environmental laws, Texaco made deliberate, cost-cutting operational decisions that, for 28 years, resulted in an environmental catastrophe that experts have dubbed the 'Rainforest Chernobyl'.

In a rainforest area roughly three times the size of Manhattan, Texaco carved out 350 oil wells, and upon leaving the country in 1992, left behind some 1,000 open toxic waste pits. Many of these pits leak into the water table or overflow in heavy rains, polluting rivers and streams that 30,000 people depend on for drinking, cooking, bathing and fishing. Texaco also dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic and highly saline "formation waters," a byproduct of the drilling process, into the rivers of the Oriente. At the height of Texaco's operations, the company was dumping an estimated 4 million gallons of formation waters per day, a practice outlawed in major US oil producing states like Louisiana, Texas, and California decades before the company began operations in Ecuador in 1967. By handling its toxic waste in Ecuador in ways that were illegal in its home country, Texaco saved an estimated $3 per barrel of oil produced.

3. In India, a farmer kills himself every 30 minutes, often ingesting Monsanto pesticide chemicals to do so. Comedian Lee Camp explains why in four minutes here. [Note: please watch this - it's mind-blowingly shocking].

4. HSBC, recently in the news again over revelations that its Swiss private bank helped clients conceal undeclared accounts and provide services to criminals and corrupt businessmen, is no stranger to negative press.

Over to Matt Taibbi:

[Lanny] Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who's ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a "record" financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

The banks' laundering transactions were so brazen that the NSA probably could have spotted them from space. Breuer admitted that drug dealers would sometimes come to HSBC's Mexican branches and "deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows."

The number of deaths in this 'drug war' are commonly reported as between 40-60,000 but some estimates say it is twice as much, with tens of thousands missing.

5. In Bangladesh, where many Western clothing and fashion companies take advantage of desperately poor people to make their clothes cheaply, the nine-storey Rana Plaza collapsed in May 2013, killing over a thousand garment workers.

Nobody knows how many people were working in the Rana Plaza complex that housed five garment factories across six floors, producing goods for the Western markets. According to some estimates 3,122 garment workers, mostly women, were inside the building at the time of collapse but in reality the figures could be much higher. Due to a lack of regulation and the failure to implement labour laws, the workers are not even registered as employees of the companies and have a legal status equivalent to factory tools, with no purpose other exploitation by the bosses. Such conditions are possible because, according to some reports, only 18 inspectors oversee safety conditions in more than 100,000 garment factories in and around Dhaka.

The absence of trade unions, a complete failure to implement labour laws and absolutely no concern for the health and safety of workers have all become hallmarks of the garment industry in Bangladesh and most South Asian countries producing cheap goods for European and North American markets. The collapsed Rana Plaza manufactured products for leading European brands such as Benetton, Mango, Loblaw (Joe Fresh) and Primark.

6. In November last year [Source]:

Threatening the water supply for millions of Americans, the U.S. Forest Service has opened the doors for oil and gas companies to drill by fracking the largest national forest on the East Coast, the George Washington National Forest.

Backtracking on an earlier plan to restrict fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which has been linked to dangerous levels of air and groundwater pollution, the Obama administration reportedly caved to industry pressure to permit such drilling of the Marcellus Shale within park perimeters.


Scientific studies show that fracking, which releases shale gas and oil by injecting a slurry of water and unknown chemicals into the earth, causes significant groundwater contamination as well as dangerous levels of methane emissions, a highly potent greenhouse gas. The practice has also been linked to earthquakes, indicating that fracking has significant effect on the geology of the planet, according to researchers.
[More on fracking here.]

7. Nothing is sacred. Even world-famous sites of great natural beauty like the Grand Canyon are fair game for the money men:

On the South Rim plateau, less than two miles from the park’s entrance, the gateway community of Tusayan, a town just a few blocks long, has approved plans to construct 2,200 homes and three million square feet of commercial space that will include shops and hotels, a spa and a dude ranch.

Among its many demands, the development requires water, and tapping new wells would deplete the aquifer that drives many of the springs deep inside the canyon — delicate oases with names like Elves Chasm and Mystic Spring. These pockets of life, tucked amid a searing expanse of bare rock, are among the park’s most exquisite gems.

This list could continue forever and one factor links them all: profit trumps human or environmental welfare every single time, no matter how many lives are lost or how horrifically. These outrages are committed repeatedly and with impunity, with accountability either extremely rare or non-existent, particularly with regard to the biggest corporations.

These clear examples of the incalculable harm that the profit motive wreaks on societies are the tip of the iceberg. There are quite literally tens or hundreds of thousands of cases that demonstrate again and again and again that capitalism is the most damaging possible way to run an economic system.

Proponents of capitalism like to say that it has raised hundreds of millions out of poverty. First, there is no reason why an alternative economic system could not have done the same (and, of course, this is impossible to prove); and second, this argument ignores the billions left in hopeless, inescapable poverty today.

Supporters of the profit motive expound that the 'free market' ensures quality is high, because it is a competitive market and people will only buy the best products at the best prices. However, the largest companies can undercut smaller competitors, meaning they get bigger and bigger while the smaller ones inevitably die. The effect of Amazon on the book and publishing industry is well documented, as is what happens when large chain supermarkets open in a small town, destroying local businesses that have no chance of competing. Then there are the ten mega-corporations that control almost everything we buy.

This applies to the outsourcing of the public sector as well. Zoe Williams explains:

This is all based on the principle that the public sector is inherently inefficient. Hand it over to private companies and they will swoop in with their efficiency, their economies of scale, their incentives and their competitiveness, winnowing it down into a dart of perfectly targeted public spending.

In practice, when they say efficiency, that generally means lower wages. When they say economies of scale, that generally means constructing the contracts in such a way as to leave only the largest companies eligible to bid for them. When they say incentives, look closely and you will mainly see perverse incentives. And when they say competition, what you're actually left with is four or five – sometimes only three – companies, who barely compete with one another at all but instead operate as an unelected oligarchy.


What happens when these firms, with their inexorable expansionist logic, bite off more than they can chew? We pay anyway. We paid G4S; we will pay it again when its prisons catch fire. We will pay A4e when it finds no jobs, we will pay Serco when its probation services fail. We will pay because even when they're not delivered by the public sector, these are still public services, and the ones that aren't too big to fail are too important. What any government creates with massive-scale outsourcing is not "new efficiency", it is a shadow state; we can't pin it down any more than we can vote it out. All we can do is watch.

As for 'trickle-down economics', even the rich admit it is a myth:

Economic prosperity doesn’t trickle down, and neither does civic prosperity. Both are middle-out phenomena. When workers earn enough from one job to live on, they are far more likely to be contributors to civic prosperity — in your community. Parents who need only one job, not two or three to get by, can be available to help their kids with homework and keep them out of trouble — in your school. They can look out for you and your neighbors, volunteer, and contribute — in your school and church. Our prosperity does not all come home in our paycheck. Living in a community of people who are paid enough to contribute to your community, rather than require its help, may be more important than your salary. Prosperity and poverty are like viruses. They infect us all — for good or ill.

An economic arrangement that pays a Wall Street worker tens of millions of dollars per year to do high-frequency trading and pays just tens of thousands to workers who grow or serve our food, build our homes, educate our children, or risk their lives to protect us isn’t an expression of the true value or economic necessity of these jobs. It simply reflects a difference in bargaining power and status.

The profit motive is an immensely destructive force, a cancer that has deeply infected the globe. As if the unacceptable actions of large corporations were not enough, the influence that capitalism has had on human behavior is both insidious and profound.

Capitalism requires endless consumption to be desirable. However, as people actually need very little to survive, the system gears itself toward making useless, superfluous or luxury products indispensable. It does this by appealing to the human ego, to insecurities about appearance and weight, to shallow commercial ideals, and accomplishes this goal by employing the enormous power of celebrity and branding through clever marketing techniques modeled on psychological theories.

As a result, we have created a situation that would be profoundly baffling to any aliens who happen to be covertly monitoring human society: the very worst of humanity - the parasites, the cowards, the sociopathic, warmongering political leaders - are treated with respect in the corporate media bordering in some cases, especially with business innovators like Steve Jobs, on reverence. Meanwhile, the very best of humanity, people like Dr. Mads Gilbert or Dr. Denis Mukwege are practically ignored in the mainstream. Token 'angels' like Malala Yousafzai are given the full treatment, of course, but only when they serve the pro-Western narrative. And all the while, people keep buying stuff they do not need.

In the documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, Chomsky says the function of the media is to “inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.”

So we see the death of nuance; the triumph of simplicity over complexity. Every story, so complicated in its history and details, is reduced in the media to soundbites. Indeed, politicians talk in soundbites prepared for them by PR experts, who want only a certain phrase or term to lodge itself into the brains of the industrious masses. Human experience, far too ineffable to express, let alone appreciate, is distilled into short, punchy talking points: the CliffsNotes version is now all we need to get by.

Witness the expropriation of great works of human art and music, all for the purposes of profit as the classy BMW glides along the deserted road by the sea to the sound of Mozart, repeated several times a day, debasing the beauty of the original music as millions associate it with a luxury product from then on. See A-list celebrities spouting mawkish nonsense to sell fragrance in return for millions of dollars. Observe in horror brazen war propaganda masquerading as movies.

All aspects of the human experience are now subordinate to commercial enterprise. Anything can be (and is) packaged, sold, repackaged and sold again. The effect is a zombified mass of people who have, in the main, no idea that their only purpose is to consume, to work and to die (hopefully after having babies to follow in their footsteps).

Capitalism is rarely, if ever, questioned within the corporate media. Those suggesting alternatives are politely tolerated and humored unless, in the case of people with mass popular appeal like Russell Brand, they cause too much trouble, in which case they are smeared by the entire establishment. The credos of GDP and growth, absurdly simplistic and misleading (like using a single number - IQ - to describe human intelligence), are religiously followed.

The reality, however, is that alternatives do exist. Examples are here, here and here.

If our top elected officials were truly concerned about democracy, equality and justice, and were not the corporate tools they clearly are, they would appoint expert committees charged with creating viable democratic systems with certain non-negotiable parameters: health, education, justice, and all the other basic principles detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that all United Nations members have signed, and which is currently a worthless piece of paper; a system in which, given the conclusive evidence of its destructive nature (as detailed in this analysis), corporate interference of any kind is banned.

It is no longer apocalyptic to say that 'the end of the world is nigh'. Numerous serious commentators are predicting dire consequences for the human activities that have enriched a tiny few and devastated vast areas of the planet while killing and impoverishing millions. Alarmingly, in the political arena, arrogant, unaccountable and uncontrollable Western leaders, brought to power in elections gamed to ensure corporate-friendly political parties are the only ones with a chance of winning, are even now risking confrontation with a nuclear power (Russia) over Ukraine.

The capitalist system that has brought this to pass, the profit motive in particular, must be abandoned immediately with its instigators and enablers purged from all positions of power. All global institutions must be rebuilt with new democratic charters and powerful failsafes built in to deny the ascendance of future sociopaths in search of power and profit, as has always occurred throughout history. Ordinary people, intentionally distracted, deceived and divided for so long, must somehow be made aware of the danger. Non-compliance, civil disobedience, mass protests and general strikes must be called for by influential people with significant reach (community and union leaders, writers, academics, celebrities who care and so on).

The lunatics really have taken over the asylum: the first (and possibly last) nuclear exchange in human history is now possible. It's time for the gloves to come off.

Written by Simon Wood

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