News, analysis, action

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In the past, media was protected in most democracies because in order to govern themselves, people need access to accurate and timely information on all topics relevant to their governance. The news needs to be the match that starts analysis and action which doesn’t stop till we have change. Otherwise it is silly to pretend that news has anything at all to do with governance. If news requires no action, it is probably not the news we require in order to govern ourselves. If activism requires no analysis, it is probably not informed or effective.

News

The first right of all people must be the right to communicate. Without communication there is no way to safeguard our other rights or participate in society. Everyone needs a voice and the ability to call for help in emergencies.

Corporate media was long ago co-opted as a propaganda vehicle for corporations and governments, but people still supported it for three reasons: it provided a paying job for reporters, it provided access to an audience and it loaned official credence to the news.

The laughably small amount news media pays for most stories now (if they pay at all) is no longer tempting. Having to write material to fill a slot instead of writing because a story needs to be told, writing only on topics and only to audiences dictated and then having work butchered by editors who have less knowledge of the topic than the author is not the path to job satisfaction or quality information. Editors decide their audience must be fed the exact same story in the exact same way every day. Every story that brings different information or perspective is considered ‘biased’ and modified to reiterate the standard line. News must have an established audience before it is told, which defeats the purpose of news. Articles are produced as quickly as possible, are not interactive like micro-blogging and are seldom thoughtful and crafted like the best blogs. Corporate media reads like advertising copy, inoffensive, unsurprising, unoriginal.

Once this journalism at least brought community respect. Now it is more likely to bring open contempt and public criticism. Many bloggers have received far more recognition and respect by creating their own work and publishing it their own way on their own blogs. They sometimes manage to earn an equivalent or better living as well through a combination of donations, grants, paid appearances, website ads, etc.

The audience provided by official platforms online is now largely driven by online sharing and authors are expected to push their stories on social media when they are published. This could easily be (and sometimes is) replaced by promoting personal blog posts directly to social media instead. For those who are not interested in domain values and page hits, it is far easier to create viral media without restrictive copyright and pay walls. The unrealistic delays in publishing on official platforms make them obsolete as breaking news platforms.

The official status once brought by publication in corporate media is starting to bring the opposite result. Unless the official status is needed to update an archaic resource such as Wikipedia, there is little benefit.

There are many reasons to argue that journalism as it is practiced ought not to be a profession. While a good writer or investigator is always valuable, stories should be published when there is something important to say, not to fill a slot on demand. The people news is happening to seldom need others to translate their experience. First hand interviews and affidavits should replace journalist viewpoints. Our voices, not our votes are what gives us the ability to participate in our world and the people who tell our stories instead of just amplifying them are acting as our representatives with no mandate from us. The best articles are written by people actually affected by the news. They are the ones best able to answer questions and explain to us why their news is important. They should not have to beg some western man to find their story newsworthy and tell it through a western man filter.

Whistleblowers are journalists. The sight of whistleblowers and witnesses explaining what they found and why it is important to journalists who then turn and repeat what they have heard to an audience is a strange leftover from a long gone era. Expert opinions can also come directly from the experts, they do not need an intermediary.

In an interactive, decentralized world, the voiceless do not need someone to be their voice. They need a megaphone.

Analysis

The idea that news must be constantly new makes it an impossible option for deep ongoing analysis. Once an atrocity has been reported there is not much new to say. With no analysis or action as standard responses to news, the atrocities continue in silence and the audience attention wanders. The occasional bits of isolated investigative brilliance that make it past editors and accountants are left floating on isolated, seldom read url’s where only those that know they exist will find them.

Action

Journalism is a tool to an end, not an end. Investigators and writers who are not journalists may do their work for any or no reason; journalists are meant to bring information that the public needs to know in order to govern themselves into the public domain. The claim that journalists ought not to be activists is completely counter to the purpose of journalism. The only reason an item is newsworthy is if it requires action.

Reporters who are not activists are voyeurs. Their reporting is not journalism to aid self-governance, it is a distraction from self-governance.

There is a reason it is citizen journalism that terrifies governance. Only activists will do journalism for free and it is action that creates change, not passive reporting. Activists are not simply replacing corporate media, they are also replacing corporate NGO’s, those leeches that lie between those that need help and those that provide it and turn those in need into products to be owned and marketed.

NGO’s bring the bureaucracy and the official channels into giving. They stifle the voices of those in need except as pre-packaged marketing gimmicks and they block access to direct aid. They siphon large amounts of the aid for their own empires and spend the rest frequently without consultation with or in the interest of those it is intended for. They are also easily corruptible by political power which gives them their mandate, their access and their funding.

The huge amount of people working in NGO’s because of a desire to help those in need would be far more effective acting directly, responding to voices of those on the ground instead of power points by those who have commodified their need. Direct relationships between activists around the world have built trust and reputations. People in a position to help receive instant feedback on whether their help was effective.

Direct action and investigation can also provide real shadow cabinets to monitor and lobby government ministries and user group regulatory bodies to monitor corporations.

The future of journalism

The future of journalism is not in official platforms, page views and registered domains. The future of journalism is not in Exclusive! and Scoop! The future of journalism is not in celebrities with no knowledge of the topic who are begged to help activists aid citizen journalism. The future is not in Invisible Children or Falling Whistles style plastic-bracelets-to-stop-genocide-in-Africa commercialized snake oil dressed up as activism. Or in the centralized nodes of unofficial-official channels created out of formerly horizontal movements. Or in celebrity journalists. Or in lists of Who to Follow and Thought Leaders.

The future of journalism is in a stigmergic mesh network of amplifiers, investigators and activists who can filter and fact check news in real time, combine it with investigative global knowledge resources and create appropriate local and / or global action. The future is in collaborative investigators sharing knowledge to map everything we need to know to govern ourselves. The future is in activism and aid requested directly by the people who require it and responded to directly by the people who can provide it. The future is in the right and ability of every single person to broadcast their own voice and call for amplification when needed.

The future of journalism is in all of us.

The silence surrounding Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid caught in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was captured by the US and tortured at Bagram and Guantanamo for ten years. Eventually, he signed a plea deal admitting guilt in killing Special Forces Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the battle. He continues his legal saga in solitary confinement in Canada. 

Omar was not supposed to be in the compound on the day he was injured. A family acquaintance had taken 15 year old Omar with him as a translator as he was fluent in four languages. According to multiple sources close to him, Omar says he was the first person wounded in the attack on the compound he was in. He says the others carried him to shelter throughout the hours of fighting until he was shot twice in the back. He survived so long because he was not in the active fighting.

His story, the only firsthand account possible, still has not been heard by the Canadian public or Canadian courts. It can’t be heard at this point because if he says he didn’t throw the grenade the parole board will say he is not taking responsibility for his actions. If he talks about his captivity, the US military will call it recidivism as they have in the past when Guantanamo victims were released and spoke about their experiences.

At Guantanamo, his conversations with other captives, guards and even his lawyers were strictly controlled. His defence counsel Dennis Edney says he was repeatedly dragged off to a cell by guards simply for asking his client “What’s wrong?” Edney was accompanied to the washroom by guards and if he had been discovered smuggling news to Omar (which he did) he would have faced thirty years in a US prison himself. Omar’s counsel were even prevented from playing dominos and chess during counsel visits. “There was no attorney – client privilege,” says Edney.

Omar refused for eight years to sign a plea deal confessing his guilt to a crime he says he did not commit as he told Edney repeatedly, “What would Canadians think of me?” Edney says he did everything he could to convince Omar to take the plea deal for eight additional years as he was never going to get a fair trial. Omar’s previous US military counsel Colby Vokey said in 2007 he would encourage Khadr to plead guilty to the “JFK assassination,” if it meant he could go home.

Omar told Edney during the August 2010 Guantanamo commission trial, “We’re embarrassing ourselves by being here.” He boycotted the proceedings in July, saying “How can I ask for justice from a process that does not have it or offer it?” Videos of Omar’s interrogation in a documentary by the same name show him telling his captors, “You don’t like the truth.”

“The whole trial system is a sham. There was a complete lack of due process. It is disturbing and embarrassing what is going on down there,” said Colby.

“But let’s face it, this is all about politics,” said Former Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. By Davis’s account Jim Haynes, the man who oversaw the tribunal process, told him, “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We can’t have acquittals. We’ve got to have convictions.”

“The compound could not be secured as there were other Taliban around”

When Omar was captured, we were first told he had killed a US ‘medic’ and he was the only one still alive to do so. This would have been a real war crime under the Geneva Conventions, if it had been done knowingly, the medic was wearing clear insignia and the medic was not active in combat. We know Christopher Speer was an elite commando and a member of the 19th Special Forces Group. The Guantanamo Commission witness known only as OC-1, a member of Speer’s unit, testified that training as a medic was a standard part of the training of the elite Special Forces unit which all members went through. They did not act as medics.

Edney described the testimony of OC-1 to me. “He told the judge, the firefight is what he would refer to as a clusterfuck. He enters the compound, shoots one man in the head, sees Omar with his back to him and facing a wall – Omar is screaming from his injuries from the bombing – and OC-1 shoots him twice in the back. OC-1 then exits the alley. In doing so he hears a grenade being thrown. He does not see who threw it. What is also significant is that he orders everyone to leave the compound as it could not be secured as there were other Taliban around – meaning other individuals could have thrown the grenade.”

From OC-1’s verbal account of not being able to secure the area, it is apparent there were far more people than just Omar still alive and capable of throwing grenades at that point. In 2008 the US military accidentally gave a room full of reporters the original report filed from OC-1 which, while leaving out the testimony of a grenade being thrown after Omar was shot, showed that the US military had falsified the official report and the other man beside him was still alive. There was also forensic wound analysis on US Special Forces Sergeant Speer that indicated friendly fire from a US grenade and OC-1’s report and testimony confirm the US was throwing grenades at the time Speer was killed.

OC-1 also testified that his actions in the compound were completed in under a minute. Quite a feat if he had been a medic.

OC-1 testified that Sergeant Layne Morris was injured by pebbles spitting back from the rock wall they were stationed behind. Morris himself said “I thought, dang, my rifle just exploded on me.” Morris successfully sued Omar’s father for damages of $102.6 million in 2006, along with Speer’s widow. He claimed he was partially blinded in one eye by shrapnel from the grenade which killed Speer even though he was airlifted out with a bleeding nose hours before Speer was killed. Morris retired at 40 and has since been a media favourite for providing testimony against Omar, a child and man he never met.

Omar’s cellmate Omar Deghayes had his eye gouged out by a Guantanamo guard during an interrogation, but has never received compensation. Neither has Omar ever received compensation for his ongoing injuries.

“Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr.”

Information on Omar’s case has been kept under intense lockdown since he was captured. He was not allowed to speak to his family for five years. He did not have even a US military lawyer for over two years. When he did talk to his family, a Foreign Affairs official had to be present and ensure “Absolutely NO ATTORNEYS can be present or the call will be refused.” The calls had to be in English despite other detainees being allowed to speak in Arabic. He was forbidden a pen in his room when other detainees were allowed them.

The leaked Guantanamo files showed us in the first line of Omar’s file that the primary interest the US had in him was they didn’t like his dad’s friend. Osama bin Laden was an acquaintance of Omar’s dad from back in the days when the US considered bin Laden a ‘good guy’, when al Qaeda were backed by the US to fight the Russians. Omar’s continued detention was recommended as “Detainee continues to provide valuable information on his father’s associates.”

In 2003, the year after Omar’s capture, Canada suddenly acquired a Ministry of Public Safety which appears to trump both the Canadian courts and the Ministry of Justice in issuing decrees over Omar’s future. We probably should ask how we are ensuring public safety now if not through justice.

This Orwellian Ministry was not much help when a Canadian murdered and ate someone, posted a video of it to our heavily surveilled Internet and then passed through four heavily surveilled international airports before being caught by a German citizen. The Ministry is however, interrupting our prison systems with an unprecedented order stopping Omar from speaking to reporters, overriding our parole boards with statements on Omar’s ineligibility for parole and vowing to fight ‘vigorously’ any attempt to move Omar from solitary confinement in federal prison. The Ministry has also made a statement that sounds very much like it would not recognize a successful appeal by Omar in a US appeal court, despite the fact that they recognized his conviction by a Guantanamo commission. In case the message wasn’t clear, Prime Minister Harper echoed the Minister’s warnings on the day of Omar’s hearing to be transferred to a provincial prison in what can only be seen as attempted political interference in the judicial system.

The Canadian government has appealed Omar’s right to see the evidence against him all the way up to the Supreme Court. They refused to allow his interrogation videos to be released because Canadians might have “paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty.” The Minister of Public Safety demanded Omar’s psychiatrist interviews from the US but refused to release them. Someone leaked them for us. After all the legal battles we still have seen only about fourteen pages of the thousands Canada has in his interrogation file. Considering what has already been revealed, Canadians really need to see what else is in there.

Canada, unlike every other western country, refused to request repatriation or humane treatment of their citizen. They were offered the opportunity to try Omar in a Canadian court and they refused because they said he would never be convicted in a Canadian court. This we learned from the US state cables (thank you, Chelsea Manning).

The US was left with the task of inventing a court and some crimes to apply retroactively. They destroyed evidence, disallowed defence witnesses, used evidence obtained under torture and hired the best discredited witness money could buy. All of this to get Omar labeled with a guilty verdict and out of Guantanamo as the only person charged with murder despite the 6,735 US military killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Five years after Omar’s capture, the first incarnation of the Guantanamo trials began. Omar was selected, out of all the possible contenders, to represent the so-called ‘worst of the worst’ at Guantanamo and stand trial. There was no question his case would have appeal, Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis said. “Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr. People understand murder.”

Most people didn’t understand it wasn’t a real murder charge, which would have been tried in a civilian court. Murder is unlawful killing; in war it is legal, protected as “combatant’s privilege.” Most people’s sex lives don’t involve trying a tortured child on a trumped up charge that carried the death penalty either.

Khadr’s case appeared personal for some members of the US military and not just from loyalty to their own. The persistent rumours (and evidence) of Speer’s death by friendly fire may have contributed to the need for deflection, but the highly sympathetic presence of his widow was another definite factor. She had spent the trial period in close social contact with all members of the jury, a fact mentioned by most in attendance but not reported in the news. She also gave lengthy testimony at his trial on the impact of Speer’s death on her family, referring to Omar as forever a murderer and “someone who is so unworthy”. Most observers described the testimony as “heart wrenching” or similar and it received extensive media coverage.

There was also lengthy victim impact testimony from members of the US military, referred to by Canada’s media as “warrior brothers of the U.S. soldier killed by Mr. Khadr.” In the end, the jury sentenced Omar to forty years on top of the eight he had already served without knowing he had signed a plea deal. For a sentence greater than ten years, six of the seven jurors must have agreed to it. Speer’s widow gave a fist pumping cheer when she heard the sentence, which was fifteen years more than the prosecution had asked for. The Speer family have been the beneficiaries of several fundraising campaigns since the trial.

“Serious legal consequences”

In 2011, Edney, Omar’s most outspoken advocate and legal counsel, was planning on bringing a challenge to Omar’s verdict. In April 2011 we had a taped conversation which we agreed to resume when he returned from seeing Omar at Guantanamo. Edney was concerned that if the full information in the interview was printed at that time, he would not be allowed on the plane to Guantanamo as had happened in the past. When he returned from Guantanamo he was fired by Omar, who told several sources he was given misinformation to encourage him to do so. Omar’s new counsel had a gag order on Edney.

Those new lawyers took five and a half months past the date Omar was eligible for transfer to file an application for Ottawa to transfer him and another three months to ask for a review of the delay in transferring. On July 3, 2012, two of my full taped conversations with Edney were leaked to the online website Cryptome. Within minutes of Cryptome posting the link on Twitter, I received an email asking me to phone Omar’s new counsel. This efficiency and speed from the firm that brought Omar home eleven months late was breathtaking.

When I spoke to counsel Brydie Bethell she demanded repeatedly to know who had authorized the leak, apparently not being familiar with the nature of leaks. She stated that both Edney and I could face “serious legal consequences”, presumably for having a conversation about Omar over a year earlier, long before Edney’s gag order. She said it would “hurt Omar’s cause” if I were to speak of his case, and that I “certainly wasn’t entitled” to know how it could.

This has been a typical reaction from many officially mandated to help Omar’s case. With a few notable exceptions, the advice is for all concerned to sit down, shut up, and let ‘justice’ run its tedious course. Most of our politicians, media and NGO’s have obediently complied for over eleven years.

Omar went on a hunger strike in Guantanamo to protest the lack of progress in his transfer, according to several sources close to him. If he hadn’t, and the US had not continued to pressure Canada, there is no reason to believe he would be in Canada today. He re-hired Edney when he was brought home.

“A right-wing terrorist group”

Most people consider Sun media and the Toronto Star to be the extreme ends of the spectrum of Canadian media coverage on Omar with everyone else falling between. If that were true (and it largely is) a decade long faux debate over Omar’s return is being used to drum the identical very narrow negative message about Omar from every outlet. Even the debate itself is interesting, with outlets from the Sun to state media CBC inferring that media polls are the method we use to decide citizenship rights in Canada.

I have started a spreadsheet charting media coverage of Omar Khadr for the last eleven years. The spreadsheet so far includes all of the Star coverage since the trial week, beginning in October 25, 2010.

I wrote in July 2012: “The ‘trial’ was held with the most widely derided court and procedures since the Salem witch trials and a newly created ‘military commission’ instead of either of the two legitimate US courts (civilian or military), but the word ‘convicted’ occurs uncontested 34 times in 24 articles. The crimes Omar Khadr was charged with include ones which the US calls war crimes. None of the rest of the world, including Canada, recognize the impossible ‘murder in violation of the laws of war’ as a war crime in Khadr’s case or any of the others as war crimes, and they could not be legitimately applied to Khadr’s case anyway since they were invented in 2006 and he was captured in 2002. Nevertheless, the words ‘war crime(s)/criminal’ occur 40 times in 24 articles as factual detail of the case.“

“The highly suspect plea deal which Omar signed after eight years of torture as his only path out of a legal black hole has been rubbed in his face by the Star 40 times, in the words ‘pleaded guilty/admitted/confessed’, presented without qualifiers. Despite there being absolutely no evidence to point to Khadr killing anyone, and a great deal of evidence that shows it would have been impossible for him to throw the grenade, the words ‘murder/killer’ are used against him 50 times, more than two times per article. In 24 articles, the word ‘jihad’ was worked in eight times, ‘al Qaeda’ 25, and ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ (the word terror was not included in the count) 30 times.”

Most other outlets over the years have had a very similar message. While articles like this and reports on Speer’s widow and children are constant, there has not been one mainstream Canadian media article about Omar’s medical condition in over eleven years except a dry mention when it delayed a court hearing. While a random al Qaeda story was mined salaciously by the Star for a remote link with Khadrs, no article was written regarding the United Nations Committee Against Torture criticizing the Canadian government for delaying Omar’s return to Canada and recommending that Canada (presumably including the largest circulation newspaper) raise awareness of the Convention against Torture requirements amongst judges and members of the public.

Sun Media, established in 1996, takes the same message and drums for a variety of extreme and illegal remedies. The appeal it makes to mentally unstable elements of the population cannot be ignored, particularly when it posts the address of Omar’s grandparents and tells its viewers that they may soon be housing ‘the little terrorist Omar Khadr’ as he is constantly referred to by Sun commentators. To say their coverage of Omar over the years has been an attempt to instigate violence is a gross understatement but they continue unchallenged. As of last June, Canada no longer has a   provision against hate speech in our Human Rights Act. The Star as well posted this article (since modified) originally with a picture of Omar’s sister’s door bell with name and apartment number.

Canadian media also makes a point of reporting, and in the case of Sun Media promoting, a group presented as average Canadian citizens against Omar Khadr’s return. Despite this opposition being openly created by the Jewish Defense League who have a “multi faith coalition” with the Hindu Advocacy Group, and the Christian Heritage Party, they are never mentioned by name except by Sun media. Tom Flanagan, former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, traces the roots of the current Conservative Party in power in Canada to the Christian Heritage Party.

The JDL is the Canadian chapter of a US group which is on the FBI terrorist watch list. In 1994, a US member killed 29 Palestinians at prayer, and in 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against at least nine members of the Canadian JDL with regard to an anonymous tip that they were plotting to bomb the Palestine House in Mississauga. They are supporters of the English Defence League and the wannabe Canadian Defence League, which appears to be made up of the same people. On September 11, 2012, community activists gathered at the home of Omar’s family after JDL bikers promised to assemble there and “send a message” to the Khadr family, instigated by Sun media who had earlier published the address. The bikers eventually rode away after they met the crowd at the door.

It is hard to imagine Golden Dawn or neo-Nazis in Europe lobbying against a Muslim man and harassing his family and the media not pointing out that the harassers are members of far right extremist groups, especially in the case of the JDL, classified “a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI in 2001. The Toronto Star pointed out JDL’s terrorist designation recently,  and JDL protested what they called the paper’s “anti-Israeli bias” in 2010, but the Toronto Star consistently reports anti-Khadr protesters without mentioning the affiliation.

Any articles about Khadr in Canadian media are very quickly flooded with negative comments which are voted up. The Harper government is no stranger to astroturfing and manipulation of public perception of the Khadr case has preoccupied this government as shown in the US state cables. Media manipulation is also a primary goal of the JDL.

“You killed yours; we starved ours to death.”

There are real, internationally recognized war crimes in Omar Khadr’s case. Shooting a blinded child twice in the back is one. Torture of a prisoner of war is another, in which Canada was complicit. The investigations into Canada’s actions in this case have been blocked for more than eleven years.

Omar completely lost the sight in one eye in the firefight. He has since come close to losing the vision remaining in the second eye. Faced with his one remaining eye containing shrapnel, the US military chose to shine bright lights into it while interrogating him. Canada simply refused to give him sunglasses for eight years while he sat first in the Cuban sun then in 24 hours a day of fluorescent lighting. The US forced him through a corrupt show trial; Canada has locked him in solitary and refuses to allow him to be interviewed.

There is an apocryphal story in which a US diplomat said to Canada’s former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, “You treated your Indians a lot better than we treated ours.”

Trudeau replied, “Yes, you killed yours; we starved ours to death.”

Apocryphal or not, it is hard not to remember in the case of Omar Khadr.

Omar Khadr: War criminal, child soldier… or neither?

 

Previously published on VICE


Frames from Omar Khadr’s interrogation. via Flickr.

Omar Khadr made his first appearance in a Canadian court on Monday. After an 11-year journey from Bagram to Guantánamo to Canada’s Millhaven Institution, the Toronto-born man is now in Edmonton’s federal prison. He was 15 when he was captured and tortured at Bagram. He turned 27 last Thursday.  

If you’re not familiar with the case it goes loosely as follows: When the Americans first arrested Omar in Afghanistan, he was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American solider. For eight years he maintained his innocence, until he signed a plea deal in 2010 that got him out of Guantanamo. Omar was then convicted of five counts of war crimes for his actions, which were not recognized as such anywhere else in the world including Canada.  

Omar’s case is wildly complex. While the American solider he is accused of killing was certainly killed by a grenade, there is no evidence showing that Omar ever had or threw one. While Omar certainly did confess to these crimes, it was after eight years of torture and given his option to either insist he’s innocent and stay in Gitmo, or confess to the crimes and see a judge in Canada, it certainly sounds like the terms of his confession were problematic at best.

All of this is important to note, especially in light of the recent Hamdan appeal in the US—which refers to the case of Osama Bin Laden’s former driver whose terrorism charges were thrown out—that pointed out war crimes tried by the Commission must be internationally recognized. This verdict may end up being leveraged effectively in the Omar Khadr case.

The Canadian Supreme Court has even ruled that our government violated Omar’s rights, but left the remedy up to the Harper government who of course declined to provide any solution.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been making strong statements on the preferred outcome on the day of the trial, in an apparent attempt to influence the court proceedings. Harper has vowed to fight the case “vigorously,” and used almost the same phrasing as that of Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety.

Omar’s counsel, Dennis Edney, was in court to argue that he should be transferred to a provincialinstitution from a federal institution due to his age when the alleged crimes took place. In a confusing instance of legal doublespeak, the Crown’s prosecutors are arguing that Omar has not really been sentenced to eight years, but rather to five eight-year sentences served at the same time. Associate Chief Justice J.D. Rook has reserved judgment to a currently undetermined future date.

Heather Marsh, a journalist, was at Omar’s trial on Monday and wrote about it for us.


The media swarming Khadr’s lawyer outside of Monday’s hearing.
 Photo by the author.

On Monday, the court was filled with what seemed to be exclusively supporters of Omar Khadr. Many were wearing orange or orange ribbons and I spoke to several of them. There was a high school student who said she was done for the day, students from several different universities skipping class even though they had exams next week, and people of all ages and ethnic groups. After the media were moved to the jury box and people were encouraged to squeeze up, 120 people were in the court room and a live feed was set up for more in an overflow room.

A security guard told Omar’s counsel that Omar would be available to talk to them in a private interview room outside—but Edney insisted it was an open court and Omar could appear. After a brief altercation he was allowed to be present.

Contrary to earlier media reports depicting him as a “giant,” Omar is an average sized man with a soccer player build and a neatly trimmed beard. When he came home last year he wrote to Seger M., an 11-year old supporter, “I play soccer too, but I don’t think I’m as good as you. I usually play defense or goal keeper.” He looks it, although since he came home he has been almost entirely in solitary confinement instead.


The author discussing the insanity of the crown’s arguments with Omar’s former chief prosecutor from Guantanamo.

Omar wrote to me when he was finally transferred back to Canada last fall, “At least we have a proper legal system,” and he told another correspondent this week that this would be his first appearance in “a real court.” He seemed composed and happy throughout the proceedings, smiling frequently at people. Most of the discussion I overheard during the breaks was regarding his appearance and demeanor, not the legal arguments. Omar and the gallery of supporters seemed equally amazed that they were finally meeting after 11 ½ years of hearing about each other.

During the afternoon, a man interrupted proceedings to rip off his shirt and say “Enough! He was 15,” and object to the endless paper shuffling and statute citing. He was escorted out with no acknowledgement from Omar or the rest of the court room. At the end of the day, after the judge had left and as Omar was being led away there was a spontaneous outburst from the room with people waving and calling “Good job, Omar!” and “Stay strong!”

After the hearing Edney met with media outside and told them Omar’s chances of parole would be much greater in a provincial institution as he would have access to the programs and the society he needs to rehabilitate himself. “If he remains in a federal penitentiary, where he doesn’t get any programs, where he spends most of his life locked away, where his life was threatened, he’ll never get out.”


An Omar Khadr protester in 2009. via WikiCommons.

As long as Omar is in federal prison he will probably be in solitary as necessary protection. As he wrote a friend last February about Millhaven, “My new place is different definitely. People are generally nice, but with a lot of bad habits. Life here compels you to live like an animal because it is like a jungle. I have to change a little to defend myself, but not lose my humanity and who I am.”

In order to be eligible for parole, Omar must prove he can thrive among those our society has deemed most unacceptable. During his trial the point was repeatedly made that he could not be released as he had been supposedly “marinated in jihad” as an inmate of Guantanamo and Bagram during his formative years. The catch-22 continues.

Canada famously violated Omar Khadr’s rights by interrogating him for the US when they knew he had been subjected to three weeks of severe sleep deprivation torture and other ‘softening up techniques’ prior to questioning. They also refused for eight years to provide even a pair of glasses to preserve the vision remaining in his one good eye or to provide any education for him to rehabilitate himself. After receiving no formal education past elementary school, he recently passed Ontario’s Grade 10 high school equivalency exams with more than 90 percent in all subjects, English, math, history, geography and science.

Solitary confinement is widely recognized as torture, and many years of studies have shown the permanent damage that can result. After over 11 years of almost entirely solitary, Omar appears to be one of the exceptions. He can even find benefit in the deprivation of experience, education and companionship. In April he wrote to Aaf Post in the Netherlands, “Usually we don’t appreciate the small things. We take them for granted. Once you lose these things like opening your window in the morning and taking a breath of fresh air or seeing a bird chirping, you really appreciate these things. Even though I’m in prison there are still a lot of small beautiful things around us. Seeing the sun rise or set or to see the snow fall.”

“Being back in Canada is, as you said, a wonderful thing. As big or difficult as change may be, it’s worth it. There are too many good things in this life (as hard as it might be) to worry or even care about the bad things. Things are what we make out of them. Prison can be a deprivation of freedom, or a time to enlighten ourselves. For me it is the latter.”

 

The author would like to thank the Free Omar Khadr group for research assistance. 

Follow Heather on Twitter: @GeorgieBC

Our right to communicate

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The first right of any person in any society must be the right to communicate. Without communication there is no way to safeguard our other rights or for us to participate fully in a society. When your right to communicate is interrupted by those who would be your voice, your face or your representative, you are being subjected to the governance of another.

Horizontal governance does not mean no one gets a voice, it means everyone does. A person or group who attempts to suppress the voices of others is attempting to seize control. Official group channels are representative governance, regardless of consensus that may or may not lie behind them. A person who interprets another’s voice instead of amplifying it is assuming control over the originator.

People giving a foreign ‘face’ to a cause are standing between us. Media who pretend to write stories about groups whose voices are never heard but write almost universally through the lens of western men instead, are ensuring that all interpretations and solutions come from the same small segment of society. Wars are told from the point of view of arms dealers and politicians, disasters are interpreted by NGO’s, most issues are never covered at all. Official channels decide what will or will not be revealed and media are rewarded for their obedience by access to more official information.

New media in its current form has made this worse instead of better. Journalists write about those powerful in social media to have their stories amplified by the same people. The news – celebrity symbiosis has only escalated as writers vie for page views. We are at risk of having increasingly narrow news coverage as platforms like Twitter move to increase amplification of already powerful accounts and hide the less powerful opinions from view.

Concentric groups, knowledge bridges and epistemic communities outlined the pitfalls of celebrity replacing epistemic communities and the need for peer ranked value of expertise. It also discussed the potential scope of shunning, photoshopping and trolling to prevent all voices from being heard. As information and voice amplification become the new symbols of power, those who would assume control of society have moved to hoard voice amplification and control the message received by the public in new ways.

The pressure for marginalized groups to stay in their marginalized roles increases as does their opportunities to escape. While it was once possible to simply identify people in relation to a more powerful figure, as assistant, wife, staff, servant, serf, slave or other, the Internet provided the opportunity for all to have an equal voice free of relation to others. The backlash to this freedom has been violent.

Depending on the group, individual voices are told their message will receive greater amplification if it comes from another, the danger of speaking openly is so great they must be protected, their individual voices disrupt the harmony of consensus, or they are part of a collective and will be shunned if they dare speak with their own name. Most importantly, the free information beliefs of many groups which threaten power have been twisted to conflate credit theft with free information.

When you are told that the actions and thoughts you know were your own belong to the group or the cause and you will be punished for claiming your own voice or actions, you know you belong to a cult with a cult leader(s). Devoting all of your work to a brand that will be used to create a bloated central figure who will then be able to control the messages of everyone while dining out on ill-gotten celebrity and collecting brand donations is no different than passing all your money to the Unification Church. The cult leaders of the 1970’s demanded money; in the age of the internet they demand fame and information control. In the 1970’s anyone who did not sign all material goods over to a cult leader was called greedy and materialistic. Now anyone who does not assign all credit to the cult leader is called vain and fame-seeking. The irony and hypocrisy is seen in the multimillionaire cult leaders of the 1970’s or the internet and offline famous would-be cult leaders of today.

It is possibly pure coincidence that every movement today that threatens the powerful is taken over by those that seek to suppress individuals and control the messages which are heard. It is undeniable that as soon as those voices come under centralized control they have ceased to say anything that comes close to challenging authority. The lack of recognition for the real source of any work makes it possible for the opportunistic to claim credit and very quickly build a following with too much celebrity and power for anyone to challenge. In the case of an internet entity such as FBI informant Sabu, this can be disastrous for the gullible.

As discussed in Idea and action driven systems, it is frequently necessary or desirable for the origin of ideas or actions to be unknown. It is essential that ideas and actions branded as unknown origin remain that way and no one is ever allowed to assume credit for them either personally or under a group umbrella. It takes only the slightest glance through all past attempts at societal change to see where every group that subsumed individual credit to ‘the cause’ has ended up, from the Communist Party of China to every Brother Leader and Guide of the Revolution that became the new tyrant.

To reiterate once more what was said in Idea and action driven systems, credit theft has absolutely nothing to do with free information. Credit for one’s work or ideas is the right of every person, the human dignity of societal recognition and belonging and an inherent part of their identity. There is no need to ever hide the origin of information unless the ultimate goal is to isolate them and suppress or twist their messages or use their work to glorify another.

To allow local governance and solutions, local voices must be the ones which formulate problems and create dialogue. When there is a need of emergency response of the world to local problems, we must have a way to immediately amplify local voices to a global volume. For this we do not need new media or any media at all. People who are currently faceless and voiceless do not need another to be their face and voice. We need a system where urgent local news can be collected and amplified globally when necessary, and where the people of the world decide which news is important, not official news channels or celebrity nodes.

A person who takes your idea and information to use and build upon is your collaborator, tester and colleague. A person who takes your credit or your voice is your enemy, a thief who steals your societal recognition and approval for themselves and would be your tyrant.

The Rohingya movement, as seen by a journalist in Burma

Children at an unregistered Rohingya refugee Camp in South East Bangladesh. Photo by no_direction_home.

Previously published by VICE

Heather Marsh is an activist working within the #RohingyaNOW movement.

Last Sunday, the Internet was temporarily shaken up by a campaign designed to highlight the plight of the Rohingya people of Burma. On Twitter, the hashtag #RohingyaNOW was aworldwide trend for more than two hours, peaking at the top spot. Two in-person demonstrations were held (and livestreamed), one for several hours in front of the CNN building in LA. Plus, an article about the campaign made the front page of Reddit.

Most dismissed it all as a cute trick, a one-day initiative amplified by the Anonymous and Occupy collectives and human rights activists around the world wanting to raise awareness. Instead, it was a milestone in a campaign that has been running for many months, an idea we have had for years and an introduction to our next phase.

Since the second Rohingya massacre in October, the Burmese people have watched the world ignore or misrepresent what many experts are calling a genocide. President Thien Sien has been on a world tour where he has been met with open arms, receiving a 21 gun salute in Australia and $5.9 billion of international debt cancelled. Canada has opened its first ever Burmese embassyand multinational resource corporations are queuing for contracts. No one is in the mood to bring up genocide, even when a third massacre was openly planned for this month.

The difference social media can make in public awareness was highlighted last fall as violence in Gaza was covered in great detail, and violence in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma almost not at all. The activists behind the latest campaign believe in grass roots journalism where everyone speaks their own story. If a population of 800,000 people are in refugee camps and villages that look like concentration camps and are completely cut off from communication, what then? They die silently? Not if the Internet can help it.

On March 10, we started a crowdsourced campaign to help boost grassroots journalism from Burma. We have used crowdsourced funding to purchase airfare for two established independent journalists familiar with the Rohingya story. They flew there and we are now working to get as many long distance interviews with locals set up as possible. In the last week, the campaign for the Rohingya has expanded against violence in the rest of Burma as well.

I spoke with journalist Assed Baig about why we felt it was necessary for him to go to Burma in person and what he has seen.

“As a ‘westerner’ I have certain privilege and protection,” says Baig. “I am working with local journos. Using their expertise and crediting them without landing them in jail. We need to report in context, socially, historically and take in the balance of power. We shouldn’t wait for death to take place before we report, we should shine a light on shit that is going to go down. Call power to account. Be the voice of the voiceless. Sounds cheesy, but it is true.”

Baig says he is “of Kashmiri origin, working class background, had to work damn hard to get where I am today. My mum still doesn’t speak English!” and he has experienced media bias. It is important to give people their own voices. “They report themselves and we listen. They are not ‘poor brown people’ these are real people, with names, lives, feelings, and they have a right to be heard.”

Baig is referring to Meiktila refugees who fled to Mandalay to escape the violence. He was given pictures of the massacre in Meiktila by people who were there, from their own cameras. “There are pictures of charred remains. People driving and walking past. Their family members have fled so there is no one to bury them or even identify them.” Baig also spoke to a fourteen year old who saw people beaten to death, and then burnt, as he and others hid in some houses and watched the slaughter.

A 17 year-old student told him about running for his life in Meiktila. He told him: “We saw the younger children falling over, the older kids had to help them. “I’m not sure where some of my other friends are.” Baig showed him the pictures he had from a local journalist. Some were teenagers. Two had massive gashes on the back of the neck, as if hit by a machete. They all had been lying out for three days before someone took the picture. The boy touched the screen and struggled to speak. “That’s my friend,” he said “and this one, those are Osama and Karimullah.” The rest of the bodies were burnt beyond recognition.

These are the stories we set out to tell, but Baig has found others. A convoy led by monks has set out from Yangon and is en route to Meiktila. On board are students and others, Muslims and Buddhists together, bringing food, water and good will to the displaced people still camped in the Meiktila stadium and elsewhere. Buddhists and student groups from Mandalay city launched a rescue operation saving hundreds of lives in Meiktila when the violence started. People who have lived peacefully side-by-side for years are helping each other and standing up against extremism and intolerance.

Rights organizations and witnesses have accused the military of complicity or participation in the last two massacres. Many sources in Burma have worried the violence is being incited to justify a return to military rule, a spectre which reared its head this week with martial law surrounding Meiktila. Baig quotes a Muslim in Yangon who said: “the military want to assert their power, and want to prove they are the ones that can restore order. They are using us as to prove their point.”

Follow Heather on Twitter: @GeorgieBC

Follow Assed Baig on Twitter: @AssedBaig

An economy for all

This article is part of a series: ‘Stigmergy: Systems of Mass Collaboration’.

What we are taught to think of as ‘the economy’ began as the acquisition and use of goods for the household [Aristotle, Topics, 350 B.C.E.], and expanded to focus on the employment of a small niche group of society who made the accumulation and trading of assets their life’s work. ‘Productive’ labour which adds to the value of materials was recognized, but “The labour of a menial servant … adds to the value of nothing.” [Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776] After the Industrial Revolution, Karl Marx popularized the inclusion of labour as a commodity when it was expended for the benefit of capitalists and exchanged for a wage. It was separate from the labour of daily life as “Life for him begins where this activity ceases, at the table, at the tavern, in bed.” [Marx, Wage Labour and Capital, 1847]. Marx pointed out that the exploitation of waged labour was the ultimate source of profit and surplus value in capitalism.

While it was recognized at this point that workers and slaves in capitalist industry were important parts of the economy and were exploited by capitalism, all work done in support of the household and community became invisible. The exploitation of the household and community labourer was the ultimate source of profit and surplus value in waged labour. The exclusion of this labour was perhaps understandable as able bodied, free men were both the backbone of waged labour and the members of the public with political power. According to what Mary Wollstonecraft called “the divine right of husbands” [A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792], women were said to be created for a man’s pleasure and service, his children were his property and women were not persons; their labour was considered rightfully his and their increased labour in his absence not worthy of notice. Marx’s masculinist definition of both labour and capitalist exploitation has continued to define both.

The removal of waged labourers from the household increased both labour and isolation for the unpaid workers at home and entrenched inequality and patriarchy in households. While it was acknowledged that working for capitalists was exploitation, women in traditional roles were doing what they had always done so it was said to be natural to them. Exploitation in a marriage and the worker as a capitalist was not considered. Women were taught to be grateful they were shielded from the exploitation of capitalism when they were unpaid workers at home. Equality activists in the 1970’s fought briefly to have household work paid by western governments as an acknowledgement of its role in supporting capitalism, but the parallel fight for women to be more widely included in the waged working class was far more immediately successful. Political choice in the west now tends to promote free trade capitalism, nationalist capitalism, or capitalist workers. Any support for society is presented as charity, a luxury not part of an economic system.

Removing women from their role as household and community slaves ought to have created a more balanced and enjoyable society but instead it brought far more of the world into the trade economy once occupied by only a small group. As the work in creating and supporting society has rarely been acknowledged and never been valued, we have gross overproduction and gluttony in trade and extreme poverty in service. Some look at the overproduction in trade goods and speak of a post-scarcity economy, where no one will have to work. Work is not scarce, and never will be. There is always an elderly person to visit and support, a child to care for, a garden to tend, art to create, a world to study or a discussion to participate in. There are homes and communities to be created, other people to advocate for, and goods to create for necessity or pleasure. For some, survival is a full time job while others need assistance to survive. The time of leisure those working in trade refer to will never exist for those creating and supporting society.

Some feel that the dysfunction caused by a society given over to trade and support of trade will be remedied by including more women in these careers. These people assume women are inherently more caring, giving people, and if, for instance, women were in the military, killing would be a kinder, gentler pastime. This is absurd, as is proven every time women achieve those positions. Men have also proven constantly that they are just as capable of creating and nurturing a society as women are and prior to the industrial revolution, those were natural roles for them as well. The answer to the dysfunction is not gender balance, but recognition and promotion of the roles that create a rich and rewarding society. Gender balance should be provided by the basic human right to choose one’s life’s work but balance will not change the anti-social nature of a trade economy.

Every society is a continuum of dependencies. With the removal of the labour that was supporting this continuum, dependency became another commodity for exploitation by capitalism. People were taught to disregard the societal debt owed for care received at the beginning of their lives, partly as it was not labour with an acknowledged value. As it was formerly the ‘natural role’ of a wife to provide free labour for a husband, it is still the ‘natural role’ of a parent to provide free care for their children. Adults were now considered dissociated from their origins; the propaganda taught that since they ‘didn’t ask to be born’ they owed nothing to society.

Oddly this lack of obligation for things one didn’t ask for did not extend to aging, sickness or disaster. Now it was incumbent on each labourer to hoard the assets they would need for ‘independence’, a state where they were dissociated from the assistance of society. This ‘independence’ filled lives with fear, uncertainty and doubt and fed massive insurance and charity industries which provide no real service at all. These industries provide an illusion of independence by blocking and allocating access to societal support that has been present all along such as medical care and assistance from society in emergencies. The independence is false, but the dissociation serves to make some feel entitled and others not.

While trade economy is only possible if the rest of society is doing the creation and support work, society can exist quite well without trade. We have conducted society as a trade relationship to an intolerable degree since international trade became widespread until trade now defines every aspect of society. Capitalism has progressed to the point where only a few control the lives of most of the world, an unsustainable imbalance. We can rewind economy based on trade relationships to a point where many will again benefit from it, by debt jubilee, financial collapse or other, or we can create a new post-industrial economy that benefits all members of society and supports the roles society needs.

Decentralized trade economies

society

Peer-to-peer trading is being increasingly explored as a method to cut out corporate control of the trade economy. Peer to peer trading looks like the diagram above. People can trade directly with each other, or through a network, eliminating the central hubs that control distribution and block access of goods. An alternative distribution is the gift economy which follows a similar diagram but does not involve direct exchange; instead goods are given and it is hoped that equivalent goods will be returned. A common model to discourage freeloading in a gift economy is to require a certain level of contribution from each member.

The peer to peer-to-peer / gift economy structure is encouraged as a form of trade suitable to a non-hierarchical society. That depiction is based on an incorrect picture of the society those trading nodes belong to. The difference between a trade relationship and a society with dependencies is obvious to those dependent or unequal in society. Anyone unable to trade an object or act of direct value to a person in power will be left out of a trade network and dependent on charity as shown in the diagram below. The peer to peer model eliminates the corporate hierarchy but leaves the patriarchy alive and well.

Peer-to-peer and gift economies do not allow for society’s input to be inherent in the trade transactions. The value of goods traded is rarely created solely by the trader. Some production builds on previous work, some makes use of assets from the commons and some is produced at the expense of work left for others. Some products may violate human rights of others or damage the environment or the society. Trade relationships relate only to negotiations between individuals and do not reflect impact on an entire society.

Power in peer to peer and gift economies is retained by those that control assets. Not only does this not benefit all of the people who historically don’t benefit in capitalism, it is easy in the diagram below to see how the cycle will progress right back to where we are today as wealth will again concentrate in those who hoard assets and avoid caring for dependents. Peer to peer trade relationships are simply decentralized capitalism. Bringing that system back to its origins with no change will certainly produce the same result over time which it has produced now.

society

In the diagram above, the two traders who have pooled their resources and have no dependents are the most powerful. The one with six dependents is working far harder and obliged to divide their assets by seven. The disabled individual all by himself, and the one supporting twelve children and two elderly parents cannot participate in the trade economy at all and are dependent on charity. Their needs are not inherent in a trade economy.

For every member of society who has something of outside value to trade, there are dependents who have nothing and others doing the internal society building work. All trade must benefit those powerful enough to reciprocate. People providing palliative or geriatric care, working with the mentally ill or children, or with criminals not participating in the economy, will have no means of survival except charity or a resurrection of the institutional structures described in Society vs Dissociation. Those whose own survival takes all of their available resources because of illness, disability or age, those investing years in a long term project with no observable output, or those working in research and other thought based fields also have no inherent value in a peer to peer structure and must have their needs tacked on as a charitable addendum or debt obligation.

A few months ago, an article appeared in a Canadian newspaper. It told the story of a very young woman in Uganda raising six children, all the product of rape, after being abducted at 13 to become a child soldier. The photojournalist gave her a camera and sold the photos she took with it. When he gave her the money, he said “This isn’t a handout. This is money you’ve earned.”

Consider that for one minute. Raising six children she did not ask for while still a teenager herself, being pregnant or recovering for six years, breast feeding all of these children for however many years, providing food, shelter, clothing, safety, medical, educational and other care, all 24 hours a day, seven days a week while in extremely dangerous and uncomfortable conditions and recovering from severe trauma, with no societal support and in fact in danger from society, was not worth payment. She is expected to sacrifice her health and risk her life for a job that was not worth payment. Surviving all the trauma of her life did not entitle her to support from society. Trading a picture was considered providing something of value and contributing to society. This is a society conducted as a trade relationship; she cannot sell her children, therefore her work for them is of no value. It would however be illegal for her to let them die, so she is legally slave labour. Slavery of caregivers and others in this and many other instances is the only reason societies under capitalism can survive.

There are many groups today advocating living a money free existence by using barter, scavenging, peer-to-peer trade and gift economies. Women have been living a money free existence for most of history. Women devote a year of their lives to each pregnancy and recovery period and still do by far the most society building and caregiving work worldwide; in trade economies they have to add additional labour on top of this to create some product of exchange that will appeal to a person in power or they and all of their dependents will be at the mercy of those in power. The peer-to-peer barter or ‘gift’ economy required for many to survive has been called the world’s oldest profession: prostitution in an endless variety of forms, many called marriage. Trade economies are rigged against women in traditional roles and anyone else creating or supporting society. The answer for equality in this system has been for everyone to reject support roles and embrace trade economies.

Peer-to-peer networks provide no improvement for the rights of the weak as shown by a history full of peer-to-peer extortion gangs, paedophile networks and brotherly revolutions which became tyrannical immediately upon seizing power. Peer-to-peer is a survival of the fittest structure which ensures slavery of the weak. The persecution of the weak found in societies without inherent protection is frequently followed by a guardian coup d’état as when women are legally barred from bending over in Swaziland, sitting astride motorbikes in Indonesia or owning cell phones in rural India for their own ‘protection’. In a society with a trade based economy, currency and centralized power offers more protection to the weak than a peer-to-peer structure. This has been seen by the improvement in women’s lives when they have the right to vote and work for pay, and protection is provided (however theoretically) by the state.

When asked how they would allow for dependencies, advocates of peer to peer or gift economies speak of being ‘generous’, ‘giving’ food to the less able, and nearly always also mention condemnation for anyone having more children than they can provide for themselves, addictions, etc. In fact even one child puts the pregnant, nursing and responsible parent at a huge disadvantage and causes them to have to work far harder, for far less, and then need to divide their earnings. A number of dependents like six or more makes it difficult to survive. Many people around the world have far more than six children as well as care for other dependents in society. Even if the birth rate were reduced, every state in the northern hemisphere is experiencing an explosion in the elderly population, and disasters, environmental harm and other factors can cause sudden huge increases in dependents.

The decentralized capitalist structures treat this ‘problem’, in very much the same way as their corporate capitalist predecessors, with a begrudging charity or more hostile superiority and blame for those disadvantaged by their system. The value attached to trade versus creation and support of society is evident in every part of life, from obnoxious business travellers and others treating child caregivers as an untouchable caste to the removal of the elderly and less able to a dependent, burdensome role instead of recognizing the contributions and effort they are still providing or could. The nostalgia for a time before rampant corporate capitalism took hold, when ‘everyone’ benefited from peer-to-peer trade is an entirely masculinist view with a very narrow definition of ‘everyone’. As the male role in society has expanded to include far more caregiving, a trade economy suits no one.

Exploitation of dependents as a commodity

In a world where everything is bought and sold, the weak become the product.

The elderly are taught to live in fear of outliving their rights to care or even a home and food, and the pressure to hoard everything for the time when they can no longer work hangs over the lives of every worker. Since no one can know when they will become ill, when they will die, or what the vagaries of the financial system will bring, this stress colours the lives of everyone in society and makes generosity with any current surplus unlikely.

Insurance corporations which provide nothing of real value to society have sprung up for every eventuality and advertise potential calamity incessantly. The fearful society then buys insurance instead of using their surplus to help others experiencing a current disaster. Sometimes this protection racket is mandated by law, and it is impossible to drive a car, mortgage a house or other activities without paying an insurance company selling fear.

Sickness is controlled not only by the insurance companies but by the health industry which controls choice. The wealthy can afford real health solutions in the form of healthy lifestyles and expensive testing, counseling, therapy and remedies. The poor are either denied health care or fed the most harmful and invasive quick-fix pharmaceuticals and procedures with little to no after care or general wellness assistance. Poor health is an individual responsibility despite frequently or usually being caused by societal pollution, poor nutritional options, unsafe environments, etc.

Caregivers are threatened with no hope for their child’s future if they are not provided with an endless array of products and services tiered by income to determine future status in society. The education caregivers are convinced is necessary for a child to succeed is only necessary to perpetuate the trade economy. The poor are streamed to schools which teach the futility of resistance and the reality that elite options will never be available to them. The wealthy are taught to excel in arts, athletics and academics to no purpose except to appear accomplished in the manner of the old aristocracy. Character and how to benefit the society they are born into, the topics which may be expected to be the only necessary topics for a state education, are almost never taught.

Young adults are persuaded they must mortgage their futures before beginning them by entering overwhelming debt agreements for education which benefits the trade economy. Jobs in labour are frequently sold in the same manner. Governments or agents charge fees for emigrating labour which ensures they will be enslaved by the purchased job for years. This ensures workers can never leave the trade economy as they are indentured for years, captured first by paying for the privilege of working, second by fears for retirement.

However reasonable a legal system may seem, lawyers and an arbitrary system of judicial discretion ensure that the laws work against the poor. It does not matter if the law is on the side of the poor if a rich opponent drags the process out for years and bankrupts them, or ensures they cannot keep up with the legal process or they do not have the expertise or time to fight. Civil courts have succeeded for years in destroying the lives of those the law should have protected by protracted lawsuits and exorbitant fees; now many countries are seeing pre-trial detentions abused in the same manner and prisoners denied their rights to a speedy trial.

Once in prison, people become part of a huge predatory industry. Taxes pay private or state owned corporations set up to warehouse prisoners not rehabilitate them. Many prisons worldwide have the added feature of penal labour where prisoners are paid far below minimum wage and their services sold to other corporations at a great discount. Taxpayers pay to feed and house people who are forced to work as slaves for corporations. There is no incentive in a trade economy to not build and fill as many prisons as possible.

Disasters which require voluntary assistance are preyed upon by NGO’s who build powerful empires by standing between those in need and the society willing to help them. ‘Rebuilding’ efforts are typically an opportunity for multinational corporations to come in and exploit the disaster site with offers of ‘creating jobs’. Disaster NGO’s use money provided by people around the world to support huge industries of developers, security, and disaster relief.

Political unrest supports the global war industry. Once a peace agreement generally meant disarmament. Now when ‘peace’ finally arrives to a region, after extended media advertisements of all the war equipment being used, extensive new mass killing equipment is purchased to ‘ensure peace’. The end of a war, like every other disaster, is a signal for the ‘rebuilding’ efforts of NGO empires and exploitative multi-nationals.

Wide spread and growing human trafficking is a product of a society built on trade relationships. Preying particularly on the weakest members of society, human traffickers also frequent disaster areas looking for those who will not be easily traced. People are captured and sold for paedophiles, prostitution, slavery, military and even ritual killings where their body parts are said to bring wealth and power to the purchaser.

The poor are exploited by capitalism through uncountable fees, fines, and price gouging. When they receive money it is subject to a vast array of charges from the financial industry, for cashing cheques, fines for missed payments, interest on debt, and a wide assortment of tiered services such as credit cards which are impossibly expensive for the poor but provide benefits to the rich. Stores will raise the prices of essentials on days when benefits are paid to ensure the poor pay more. In many cases poor people are expected to ‘volunteer’ in exchange for food or lodging in yet another form of modern slavery. Frequently the lifestyle forced by poverty leaves no legal choices and forces them into the prison system.

In a trade economy, dependency is a product to be exploited and sold to society for maximum profit.

Approval economy

To benefit all of society, an economy needs to be based on service to all of society. In today’s economy, service is bought and sold as a good; instead goods must be provided as a service. An economy benefitting all of society should include service to ourselves, service to others and service to society at large. An elderly person who keeps themselves healthy and fulfilled or an addict working to conquer their addiction may be giving only to themselves but both are making society a much better place and lessening the work for others. To create a giving economy instead of a gift economy, currency is not exchanged between two trading partners but societal approval is awarded from all of society to the giver. Societal approval and trust then entitles each member of a society to receive benefit from that society, through a living and immediate social contract. As a reputation economy allows you to participate in trade, an approval economy allows you to become part of a society.

Trade economies attempt to symbolically represent societal approval by possessions. As monarchs were formerly held to rule by divine right, trade economies insist wealth is due to virtue. While hoarded possessions have been used as a symbol of acceptance, they do not fulfill the real social need for acceptance. The wealthy are instead resented and isolated, shunned by the society they supposedly are the elite members of. Underlying every patriarchal society is the idea that caregivers, children and dependents should be grateful as trade economies see them as burdensome. Those who see a disparity in labour for the family and community are not at all grateful. Family wage earners resent not gaining love and approval for their work in trade, but because trade economy derides unpaid service, they receive no respect for support and creation of the family either. In a trade economy, the currency exchanged separates the giver and receiver; because the currency entitles the receiver to the gift they are not grateful. The human need for social and familial approval is almost never adequately met in trade economies.

As possessions in a trade economy include the service of others, those who do not work for the benefit of others are the powerful. An economy based on societal approval equates not working for others with being excluded or shunned. In an approval based economy, control of assets does not bring power. Assets are not assigned worth until they are contributed to the society. Internal support contributions are not valued less than external trade contributions.

Work in an approval based economy provides society and affinity groups; it is less stressful to be part of the society than to be isolated. Gifts are bonding, both within family and friends and at a community level. In an approval economy gifts are not a tax or state confiscation which leaves nothing; wealth is created by giving. Acceptance by society is based on actions instead of assets. Those dependent in society for some things also have gifts to give, acceptance and approval being the most valuable. Politicians propped up by military and corporate interests hated by the people are the antithesis of societal approval as the mark of acceptance. The dissociation of power in society from service to society provides fertile ground for sociopaths to seize power.

Those creating and supporting society should not need charity, they should have power. An inclusive society does not leave some dependent on the charity of others, or make some work far harder for the same ends. Where there is inequality there will always be tyrants; giving birth, aging or accepting responsibility for another should not be equivalent to accepting a slave role. ‘Women’s issues’, the elderly, the youth and the less able cannot be special problems to be dealt with on the fringes of society. Care for dependents of society is the responsibility of all, and dependents should have power to gift approval to those who assist them. Economy cannot be rigged to favour one special interest group. The solutions for all of society must be inherent within the economic system.

Approval

In an approval economy, effort to benefit society is recognized and acts against society are penalized. Approval is related to assessment of fairness, not the value of the gift. The work of an elderly person talking to a child, a scientist conducting research, a maker providing goods, a child learning and a mentally less able person gardening have no value differences, though the effort expended might. In the chart above, the person with a score of 91 has decided to be a pillar of their society. They probably belong to few other societies, and devote formidable energy to providing for this one, belonging to many working and discussion groups and making themselves available and responsible for the wellbeing of others. The people scored 58 and 52 may be just visiting or may belong to many networks or perhaps they prefer to spend their days on the beach, doing only the basic amount necessary for good standing. They may be entitled to basic essentials like food and lodging but not community resources such as cars and maker labs without additional barter. 55 and 50 expend effort, but also cause harm. Perhaps they are struggling with addiction or mental illness, Their effort is recognized by continued support but at basic levels to restrict their ability to harm others. The person scored at 15 is probably completely shunned by the society, perhaps even imprisoned.

An approval economy is the economy people rely on when they do not use direct coercion, the one typically seen in families and unfunded cooperative and volunteer groups. What the approval ratings mean in terms of benefits earned and whether there are formal values at all varies by society. Being part of a society may require more effort at some times than at others. For instance, not assisting to put out a fire or provide emergency aid to another may be considered an act against society rather than simply a failure to contribute. The benefits of belonging to a society will dictate how motivated people are to contribute to it.

Acceptance and shunning

Acts which cost society should reduce the standing of the destroyer and their access to benefits. Theft reduces the thief’s approval which is their wealth. Acts of aggression against society is reflected back to harm the aggressor’s standing and remove power and privilege. Extreme aggression in violation of the social contract results in shunning, or removal from the benefits of society. Law enforcement (shunning) is inherent in a system of trust networks. In dissociated trade economies, criminals are allowed to fully participate in society until a point when they are completely removed from society. Societal approval and rehabilitation have nothing to do with punishment in a trade economy. Far from being shunned, many criminals are media celebrities.

Acceptance or reintegration into society in an approval economy is a product of subsequent good behaviour and effort expended to increase approval. A person who has lost their good standing would be forced into a trade economy relationship to receive any benefits and have to ‘pay up front’ rather than have the rights of a member of society. Shunning would ensure that laws were true reflections of popular opinion, though shunning must never be used to remove the rights in a social contract by mob rule.

Societies can join in expanded networks which may agree to trust individual reputations across the network. These networks can also agree to shun other societies they do not approve of or assist those they do. Those societies that do not join expanded networks do not receive the benefits of them. People that have good standing across multiple networks can increase their standing in each by providing referrals and knowledge or some networks might agree to blend rankings to create an overall reputation. In this way people who do not work locally can still access the essentials they need locally. An expanded network would also provide an avenue of appeal if a person felt their local society was shunning them unjustly or they were having their basic human rights violated.

The trust networks and reputations which make up an approval economy are part of the daily life of all societies already. The people you invite to eat a dinner you have provided are typically people who have earned your trust and approval. They will usually provide similar benefits to you if they are able, and if they consistently do not they may begin to receive less invitations. We care for grandparents who are unable to reciprocate because we recognize ourselves as part of a continuum of family obligation which cared for us when we were young and will hopefully do so again when we are old. When we ask the identity of an absent group member, their reputation and approval rating is frequently implied in the answer, and sometimes we ask for referrals outright. Even as anonymous participants on some internet sites our input is ranked and voted up and down, contributing to our reputation. Sometimes our internet reputation is already used to introduce us to wider societies providing basic needs, such as couchsurfing.

Approval economies are the natural economies of human society. We separated power from societal approval and exchanged society for trade relationships so long ago most cannot imagine an alternative, but it is still there in the most basic units of society. Economies based on trade relationships with financial systems as tools of coercion and control cannot coexist with peaceful and just societies. Power will be concentrated in able bodied traders and hoarders as long as we continue using trade economies.