Syria – is the end in sight?

Go Russia Go!

At last there may be an end in sight to the disaster that Western foreign policy has landed upon Syria, formerly one of the most stable and secular nations in the Middle East. One also with a strong military force that held stocks of unused chemical weapons primarily to counter the threat of Israel’s nuclear stockpile. It initially seemed clear that Assad had not used Sarin in a fight he was already winning at Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus where his soldiers were stationed.

After the propaganda machines weighed in though, you could be forgiven for thinking Assad would do something so incredibly stupid, soon after Obama declared use of chemical weapons to be America’s “red line.” Assad isn’t stupid. We should follow the money and ask who benefited? The rebel terrorists and the arms industry profited as countless millions of taxpayers’ money was poured into funding the “moderate” opposition, prolonging a conflict that was nearing its end. That opposition, the Free Syrian Army is now little more than a name, but one we hear more of than the hundreds of other militias in the field, predominantly Islamic.

If successful, the so-called revolution that we have been fanning and funding would inevitably lead to the absorption of Syria into the expanding Islamic State, a body that was underwritten by Western money and armaments, now supplemented by oil and taxation revenues from conquered lands. Islamic State are not stupid either, just a new and very upstart state. Should they succeed, it would not be revolution, but conquest. Western efforts to combat IS have been singularly ineffective, with the world’s mightiest war machine unable or unwilling to halt their progress. There is little doubt that if Assad falls Islamic State would rapidly incorporate or eliminate every other faction in the fight, destroy any remaining ancient monuments and be irreversibly en route to one day claiming a seat at the United Nations.

Is this where we want to go?

Is it not a strange turn of affairs that tough-guy Vladimir Putin, the West’s current faputin syriavourite bad guy, should be the only world leader to realize this is not a good place to go? He may be a gangster, but at least he’s his own gangster and not manipulated by the dark shadowy forces of the military industrial complex that American President Eisenhower warned us of and Kennedy strongly condemned. In Sept 2013 Putin narrowly stopped the US from going on a Syrian bombing spree (prompted by allegations of chemical weapons use) through getting Assad’s agreement to clear out and hand over Syria’s entire chemical weapons stock. Clever move, and one hugely frustrating to those who control the US.

So now Russia steps into the arena, openly and at the request of the legitimate Syrian government. They realize that terrorists are terrorists – these are not revolutionaries seeking democracy and would all meld into IS if Assad fell. Why screw around playing one side against the other, unless you are manipulated by those conflict-loving forces of which Kennedy and Eisenhower spoke? That’s the positive side of being a gangster boss politician – you’re in nobody’s pockets but your own and see no benefit in waging war for the sake of war itself. Even in Crimea, the minimal fighting stopped once Russia’s objective was achieved. Conflict for conflict’s sake is not on the Russian agenda. Curious how we rail about Russian jets straying into Turkish airspace while our jets bomb hospitals and our close ally Saudi Arabia kills thousands of civilians in Yemen with the weapons we supply.

Yes it’s strange for me, a passionate advocate of non-violence to be rallying behind military effort by a powerful state. As do most, I long to see the war over so that refugees can return to rebuild their lives, and believe Russian action could achieve this goal. When we watched refugees flooding into Germany they were fleeing the fighting, NOT politics or religious persecution. Most of them would love to go home. Human beings are amazing animals, able to rebuild lives, towns and cities, as did Europe and Asia after the last big war. Hiroshima and Dresden thrive today. We can do it.

The fighting has to stop.
Full power to you Russia.
History will be grateful.

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Peace is not defined by the absence of conflict.

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Strangled for selling single cigarettes, allegedly

Eric Garner was killed by NY police who suspected him of selling “loosies” on the street – cigarettes sold singly, not in packs. The policeman who choked him to death was acquitted of any wrongdoing, triggering mass protests across America.

In “The State Is Out Of Date – We Can Do It Better” I recall a cigarette-related event witnessed in Morocco many years ago that opened my eyes to the obstacles to free enterprise imposed by the state.

From Chapter 20, The State of Business:    An early insight into this restrictive climate came to me some years ago at a cafe in Marrakesh, where I noticed a young man standing on the corner each evening with a pack of twenty cigarettes, selling them singly to passersby. The customers were able to better manage their habit by buying the cigarettes singly. The young man was able to set up his own business as a retailer for the cost of a pack of cigarettes—an almost inconceivable concept in our developed “free” democracy. The bridge is great between the skills we need to manage our own enterprise, and those needed to do so according to the requirements of the state. Many are unable to cross this bridge, despite having all the skills that nature demands to interact in this way with society. 

Police accused Eric Garner of practicing the “free” part of “free enterprise” and killed him while enforcing regulations imposed to keep us safe. He had proclaimed his innocence of that victimless crime. Michael Brown was confronted in Ferguson Missouri for jaywalking and shot dead – for ignoring street-crossing rules. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against regulation or the policing of it – it is an essential part of community. What we need is connected regulation generated from the bottom up and voluntarily adhered to by those who want to enjoy the social facilities, connections, and benefits that accompany respect for that regulation. Such self-government would evolve along with society without creating volumes of victimless crimes and monsters like the War on Drugs or the Common Agricultural Policy.

Earlier in the book we look at coercion, the basic tool of every sovereign power, and see that refusal to pay a parking ticket could ultimately lead to one’s death.  As it happens, suspicion of unlawful cigarette selling was enough for Eric Garner.

From Chapter 8 of The State Is Out Of Date, titled Legitimizing Coercion:   “How does the state use coercion on us? Using a simple example like a parking fine, let us say that you absolutely refuse to pay this ticket or spend time in the court process trying to prove, say, that the police had blocked you from returning to your car in time due to a security scare. Anyway, no way are you going to pay a hundred dollars, pounds, or whatever to this uncaring and unresponsive state-sanctioned collection agency. Neither will you run and hide, accept losing your freedom and going to jail, nor will you let anyone impound your car or in any way take your money from you. So what does the state do? They will get your money, and they will coerce you into paying it; assuming that you are a relatively sane person, you will abandon your righteous determination and pay them.

Why? Because coercion ultimately means that if you are not willing to pay the fine or go to jail or run away, you can be killed. Shocking, isn’t it? Of course the state has bailiffs and ways of seizing your hundred whatevers before it comes to this. But if you really did not want them to collect their fine and either had no assets or had made them inaccessible, then the state would come to put you in prison for non-payment. If you did not go into hiding or sought to successfully resist this, actively defending yourself from being seized or stunned or gassed, then they would by some means eventually overcome and incarcerate you, or you would avoid going to prison on account of being dead. They will never say, “Well played, mate, we acknowledge your determination as righteous and will no longer press you to pay the fine imposed by our courts.”

Coercion may have been the only means to deal with threats such as Napoleon and Hitler who were, in essence, fighting other rulers for dominion over territory and the people within it. Horrifying to think, but had they won we might be looking back at them as great  historic figures; a likely outcome when victors write the history. William the Conqueror got away with it, they did not. No visceral hatred of the English ever sent hoards of French or German people streaming onto cross-channel ferries armed with muskets and pickaxes. You need armies and governments to do that, or to protect us from governments and armies that do that. The more we spend on defense and security the more war and insecurity we will experience.

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Victimless crimes get life in prison

From The Guardian:

“At about 12.40pm on 2 January 1996, Timothy Jackson took a jacket from the Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans, draped it over his arm, and walked out of the store without paying for it. When he was accosted by a security guard, Jackson said: “I just needed another jacket, man.” A few months later Jackson was convicted of shoplifting and sent to Angola prison in Louisiana. That was 16 years ago. Today he is still incarcerated in Angola, and will stay there for the rest of his natural life having been condemned to die in jail. All for the theft of a jacket, worth $159……The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 2.3 million people now in custody, with the war on drugs acting as the overriding push-factor. Of the prisoners serving life without parole for non-violent offences nationwide, the ACLU estimates that almost 80% were for drug-related crimes.Again, the offences involved can be startlingly petty. Drug cases itemised in the report include a man sentenced to die in prison for having been found in possession of a crack pipe; an offender with a bottle cap that contained a trace of heroin that was too small to measure; a prisoner arrested with a trace amount of cocaine in their pocket too tiny to see with the naked eye; a man who acted as a go-between in a sale to an undercover police officer of marijuana – street value $10.  Read the full story…

From “Strange Fruit,” chapter 25, dealing with the consequences of blending the coercive state with private enterprise.

“One of the most frightening strange fruits to come from the mating of coercion with free enterprise is the increased reliance on privatization of the prison industry. Here we have the state creating a private industry that relies upon the state’s coercive power to supply it with a stream of new customers (inmates). This industry has become a strong lobby in support of maintaining and increasing those laws carrying prison sentences. As the Correctional Corporation of America warned in its 2010 annual report: “Any changes [in the laws] with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”Private prisons have enjoyed many years as a “hot” investment stock in America since their introduction in the 1980s. In the three decades that followed we saw the American prison population increase five-fold, from one-half million to two and one-half million, during a time in which crimes, with or without victims, have remained relatively constant.”

From “Victimless Crimes,” chapter 17 –

…Of course these resources should be spent to stop real crime and its causes, but as long as the state is running things, it will be in the long-term interest of the prison industry to have more prisons and of the police service to have more crime.”

The State Is Out Of Date, We Can Do It Better – Instant download for the cost of a cup of coffee. Print edition available from all online book sellers.

Uncle Sam Shuts Down as “The State Is Out Of Date” launches

Timing doesn’t get much more appropriate than this. On Oct 1st, the very day the US government grinds to a standstill, my book, The State Is Out of Date – We Can Do It Better, is released in its $2.99 Kindle edition by publishers Red Wheel/Weiser.

Could the US be experiencing a dress rehearsal for its own eventual failure as a sovereign state? This slight taste of what would happen if Washington’s credit line ran out is the reason banks receive ransoms to prop up, for a little longer, a clearly unsustainable financial system. It is well to remember that throughout history states have failed, every one of them, eventually.  The Romans never thought their might would crumble; Hitler expected 1000 years; the Brits trickled away their greatness; the sprawling Soviet Union imploded almost overnight. The US…?

Is there an alternative – something more real and effective than changing faces and tweaking the knobs and levers of power? Today’s so-called democratic system enables us to do little more than pick between different flavors of ice cream. Democracy and majority rule are incompatible concepts, and under the latter many are forced to eat flavors they don’t like and didn’t vote for. And if you don’t want any ice cream, well then, you must be some kind of a social deviant.

In fact, we are living much of the alternative already. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of everything that we use, enjoy and rely upon in this world originated outside of the state’s sphere of activities. These life components include air travel, bicycles, literature, phones, computers, clothes, bread, art, milk, music, beer, shoes, screws, axes, houses, hemp, light bulbs, cars, insurance, charity, electricity, houses, and a list of many pages

We are community animals with all the skills needed to co-exist peacefully in this world and look after each other in a co-operative community. We have many examples from history of well-developed cultures, trading goods between cities, without the need of an armed and coercive hierarchy.  The 600 year Tiwanaku empire of South America was non-coercive, combining beer, festivals, hallucinogenic snuff, nature worship and Sun worship with a co-operative community social order. Their empire spread, leaving no evidence of a ruling class, or weapons and warfare. We had enjoyed a few thousand years of civilization and trade before the first sign of a coercive state appeared around 2600 BCE in Mesopotamia. The concept spread slowly, usually carried by armed men or the fear of them.

The coercive states that today run every nation of the world are there, fundamentally, to protect us from other versions of themselves. It is for this alone that they hold power, a power also used to maintain order in the land, protecting us from each other. Fear is the fuel that gives them a reason to exist, and a motivation to keep us scared of all those hazards of life from which they promise to protect us, at great expense. State involvement in the food chain is portrayed as safeguarding the quality of our food supply. In the US that has led to a giant agribusiness industry, spawning factory farms dependent upon intensive chemical use and government subsidies. Oh yeah, and scary food that has led to unprecedented obesity levels and countless other diet-related afflictions.

Coercion is fine when you’re dealing with Napoleon, Hitler, and murderous or thieving sorts. But the “do (or don’t do) this or we will punish you” approach is not what we need when dealing with our food supply, our medical and healing options, how we make commitments to each other, what is a legal working week, or wage, or dwelling. We don’t need coercively-backed legislation covering cucumber shapes and the size of a pasta pack.

We can work this stuff out with industry guilds and trade bodies and consumer groups, connected today as has never before been possible. We have the Fairtrade mark, as well as organic and cruelty-free certifications. In the new online market, traders like eBay and Amazon have developed non-coercive methods of detecting and ejecting dubious vendors and dishonorable buyers. They do it without police, fines, judges or jails. Amazing? No, it’s how we do things naturally.

When contemplating the initial horror of the state’s multiple services being abandoned, we should keep in mind how many of their services produce consequences other than those intended.  Consider also that the total tax take is near to or above half of the wealth we produce, the value we add to the world. Just how much less hardship and economic crisis would there be if that half of the money was still in natural circulation, rather than feeding the insatiable state and underwriting it’s wars and overheads, its schemes and subsidies.

The State Is Out of Date, We Can Do It Better, is based on a simple premise, which is that bottom up organization beats top down control.  Support for this comes with the recognition by chaos theory that self-organization brings about structures such as rainforests, weather systems, the music industry, and the Occupy movement. In fact, wherever we look in the Universe we see the fruits of this phenomenon. It’s all about feedback loops, as everything that happens affects everything else in the system.  When these are replaced with fixed regulation, those mysterious natural organizing skills are disabled.

Yes, we CAN do it better ourselves and this book makes that abundantly clear. First, we must stop hoping that the state will one day get it right, sorting out the problems for which they are largely responsible. We are already building community-based alternatives to the state across the globe.  LETS (local exchange trading schemes), Bitcoins, PayPal and other innovative means of exchange are working. The World Wide Web has provided powerful connectivity that enables a truly democratic governing system to develop at minimal expense.

Though the state cries for more funds to fix society’s ills, it is the wealth they suck from our economy through myriad taxes and fines that is a primary cause of hunger, poverty, bankruptcy, homelessness and unemployment. It’s not a question of whether they are taking orders from corporations, bankers, the military industrial complex, a pope or ayatollah, organized crime, or a private dynasty. Somebody will always be pulling the strings of a body that can demand money from every member of society without needing to show a knife or gun; making laws and regulations governing how we live and interact with each other.  It is every gangster’s dream

Sure, we are in a hugely challenging position, with the state’s tentacles pervading ever-more aspects of our lives, private and public. It is almost impossible to imagine life without the coercive state, but even more difficult to see a sustainable future with it.  This is our future in the balance, and nobody can take responsibility for it more effectively than our selves. As George Orwell put it: “We shall get nowhere until we start by recognizing that political behavior is largely non-rational, that the world is suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be diagnosed before it can be cured.”

Who runs the state? Strange fruit indeed.

SERCO – the biggest company you’ve never heard of

From prisons to rail franchises and even London’s Boris bikes, Serco is a giant global corporation that has hoovered up outsourced government contracts. Now the NHS is firmly in its sights. But it stands accused of mismanagement, lying and even charging for non-existent work.”    click for full Guardian article

(in the article we discover that, as well as prisons, Serco handles prisoner tagging, runs immigrant removal centres, operates speed cameras, issues and collects fines for local council traffic departments, manages the ballistic missile early warning system and a great deal more in the UK, with many and diverse  global interests)

from Strange Fruit, chapter 25

“One of the most frightening strange fruits to come from the mating of coercion with free enterprise is the increased reliance on privatization of the prison industry. Here we have the state creating a private industry that relies upon the state’s coercive power to supply it with a stream of new customers (inmates). This industry has become a strong lobby in support of maintaining and increasing those laws carrying prison sentences. As the Correctional Corporation of America warned in their 2010 annual report: ‘Any changes [in the laws] with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.‘”