Capitalism in the 21st Century

Capital in the 21st Century - Official Trailer - YouTube

Capital in the 21st Century

Directed by Justin Pemberton (2019)

Film Review

Based on French economist Thomas Pikety’s book Capital in the 21st Century, this film features numerous sound bites by Pikety, US economists Joseph Stiglitz and Francis Fukuyama, and various other Western historians and political scientists.

Like the book, the film’s major theme is the grinding income inequality produced by capitalism. It begins with the immense social misery that started with the 17th century Enclosure Acts (which drove my European ancestors off the common land they shared)* and significantly worsened with the industrial revolution in the mid-1800s. According to Pikety, the only time working people received a significant share of the wealth they created was with the post-World War II industrial boom. During the 1970s, the the “financialization”** of western economies resulted in a significant increase in corporate profits at the expense of workers.

In my view, the major flaw of the film (and the book) is Pikety’s failure to address the role of private money creation in growing inequality. In most Western countries, 97-98%  of the money in circulation (all but the notes and coins) is issued by private banks as loans.***

A monetary system almost entirely controlled by for-profit banks surely has far more impact on growing inequality that any other economic forces. As the filmmakers rightly point out, only 15% of current bank lending ends up in the productive economy (which banks view as too risky and insufficiently profitable), while 85% of lending goes into mortgage loans loans and speculative financial products.

Pouring massive amounts of new money into housing speculation is causing both house prices and rents to skyocket in most Western countries. This, in my view, is the primary cause of rampant inequality. In addition to fueling soaring homelessness, it leave low and middle income with less and less money for other basic necessities.


*”Financialization” is a term coined to describe the domination (starting in the 1980s) of western economies by “financial capitalism,” in which national revenue derives mainly from the sale of financial products, insurance and real estate (as opposed to manufactured goods).

**The Enclosure Acts were a series of laws that allowed wealthy landowners to privatize (enclose) land that peasant farmers previously held in common to satisfy basic subsistence needs.

***Contrary to popular belief, banks don’t issue loans from money deposited by savers – the vast majority of loans are created out of thin air subject to minuscule reserve requirements (usually less than 10%) imposed by central banks.

The film can be view free (for the next two weeks) on the Maori TV website

How Renewable is Mega Dam Electricity?

Green, Green Water

Directed by Dawn Mikkelson and Jamie Lee (2007)

Film Review

This documentary is about the ongoing devastation northern Manitoba Cree communities are experiencing thanks to the flooding of their territory by Manitoba Hydro to sell cheap so-called “renewable” electricity* in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Unlike most mega dams, those constructed by Manitoba Hydro dams aren’t sited in preexisting gorges or canyons. Instead the provincial owned power company has transformed a vast swathe of North America’s boreal forest.** In the process they destroyed a delicate ecoystem that supported birds, water fowl and indigenous people for tens of thousands of years.

As water levels rose approximately 25 feet, the homes of many indigenous people were destroyed, along with the native fish and wildlife they relied on for food.

Manitoba Hydro “bought” the right to flood their homes and land through a series of multimillion dollar ($20 – 78 million) deals they signed with individual Cree communities. Only the Pimicikamak Cree Nation refused to sign.

Predictably the jobs and economic prosperity the provincial government promised never materialized. In 1967 average annual income in Northern Manitoba was $48,436 and in 2001 it was $24,200. As employment rates dropped from 90% to 10%, previously alcohol-free communities were plagued by an epidemic of alcohol and drug abuse – and suicide.

At the time of filming, indigenous communities were split over continuing pressure to agree to expansion of Manitoba Hydro’s river diversion and dam building projects. Some believe indigenous people will never enjoy the “modern conveniences” of urban life without pursuing this type of economic development. Others, calling themselves Justice Seekers, believe they have an obligation to protect the environment to justify their claim to indigenous rights. 


*Many climate advocates question mega dams as a “renewable” power source, owing to their negative impact on numerous animal and fish species, as well as human displacement and methane emissions plants and animals killed by flooding. See Damnation: The Problem with Hydropower

**Canadian boreal forests are commonly referred to as North America’s lungs.

The film can be viewed free on Beamafilm

 

 

Pussy Riot: Brought to You by the US State Department

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Directed by Mike Learner and Maxim Pozdorovkin (2013)

Film Review

This documentary mainly concerns the 2012  trial of three members of the Russian feminist punk rock and performance art group Pussy Riot, for a “blasphemous” performance behind the altar of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior church. Their stated purpose was to protest 1) the increasing influence of the Orthodox church over the secular Russian state and 2) patriarchal Orthodox doctrine portraying women as inherently sinful.  Although the group’s preference was to perform anonymously in brightly colored balaclavas, they became world famous following their arrest in the cathedral and subsequent trial.

The formal charges against them were hooliganism, disrupting the social order and showing hatred for religion and disrespect for society. Denied bail or visits from their family, they were held in custody until their trial began in late July.

I was fascinated by clips from their trial. Unlike the court system in Britain and former colonies where only attorneys are allowed to address the court, Russian defendants are invited to read statements and members of the media and public are allowed to communicate with prisoners in the dock.

In September 2012, one member (Katya) was released on appeal after her new lawyer presented video evidence that she hadn’t started playing or singing when the arrests occurred. The other two were released in December 2013 when the Duma granted them amnesty.

The film makes no mention of direct funding Pussy Riot received from the US State Department and George Soros-funded “open society organizations – as part of a wider campaign, presumably, to undermine popular support for Putin. See Pussy Riot: A Grotesque Creation of the US State Department

In 2016, the group anticipated the election of Donald Trump when they recorded “Make America Great Again” (below).

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer can be viewed free on Beamafilm.

The Sad World of Celebrity Impersonators

Just About Famous

Directed by Jason Kovatchek and Matt Mamula (2015)

Film Review

According to Kovatchek and Mamula, the average person has 26-36 doppelgangers* somewhere in the world. They attribute the recent fad of celebrity impersonators to their widespread use to deliver singing telegrams. Most impersonators launch their careers when an agent approaches them about their close relationship to someone famous.

The main focus of the film is the yearly Sunburst Convention of Professional Impersonators and Tribute Artists in Orlando Florida. The stated goal of the convention is to help impersonators advance their careers by putting them in touch with agents and potential clients. Most make a living by entertaining at parties, weddings and funerals.

Surprisingly that fans are just as likely to mob the impersonators and demand their autographs as the stars themselves. In fact, they enjoy getting up close and personal with impersonators in a way that rarely happens with stars.

In most cases, an impersonator’s career is short lived. Once their famous person leaves the public limelight, the impersonator must find a new line of work. The Obama impersonator opted to pursue a career with his local Democratic Party and the George W Bush impersonator is pursuing a career in motivational speaking.

The impersonators interviewed in the film included an Elvis, Danny Devito, Obama, Robert DeNiro, Tiger Woods, Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Palin, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Bill Clinton, a George W Bush impersonator and Barry Humphries playing Dame Edna Everage. The George W Bush impersonator was my favorite. His capture of the ex-presidents mannerisms and facial expressions are uncanny.


*A doppelgänger is a biologically unrelated look-alike, or a double, of a living person.

 

 

 

When England Was Connected to the European Continent

When Doggerland Sank Beneath the Waves: Europe’s Lost World

Directed by Pete Kelly (2020)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the continental shelf that connected Ireland, the UK and Europe during the last Ice Age. The filmmakers date the start of the Paleolithic or Stone Age (ie the first human use of stone tools) to 3.3 million years ago.

In Britain the oldest human remains date from 400,000 – 500,000 years ago. For the most part,  they derive the species Homo neanderthalensis. Neanderthals lived during a period when when several human species roamed planet earth. They became extinct around 35,000 BC.

The first British evidence of modern humans (homo sapiens) dates from 31,000 BC. There’s good evidence these early hunter gatherers traveled hundreds of miles, across the Doggerland* land bridge, following herds of woolly mammoth. They would be forced to retreat to more southern areas of Europe when the last ice sheet covered Britain from 31,000 – 11,000 BC.
As northern Europe began to warm in 3,000 BC, tundra throughout Europe gradually changed to savanna and forestland featuring lions, hyenas, saber tooth tigers, bears, hares, badgers and primitive horses. During the period Doggerland connected Britain to the continent, the Thames flowed into the Seine and Danube Rivers.
Between 8,000 – 6,200 BC, rising sea levels steadily shrank the size of Doggerland. By 7,500 BC, Ireland was a separate island and by 7,000 BC, most of Doggerland were so marshy people could only travel to Europe by boat. The Doggerland Hills remained until 6,200 BC, when evidence suggests they were submerged by a mega-tsunami triggered by a landslide off the Norwegian coast.

*The name Doggerland derives from the Dogger Banks, a shallow region off East Anglia, renowned for abundant fish catches. Dogger is the Dutch word for fisherman.

 

The Role of Philanthropy and Foundations in Thwarting Black Liberation

Ford Foundation ploughs $1 billion into mission related ...

The Race for the Bottom

Al Jazeera (2021)

Film Review

This is an excellent documentary about the role of wealthy philanthropists and their foundations in thwarting the battle end institutional racism. Filmmakers make the point that “insurrection” that stormed the Capitol on Jan 6 didn’t start with Trump: that it was decades in the making.

Narrated by prestigious African American historians and academic, the begins with efforts by Carnegie and John D Rockefeller to steer newly freed slave into manual labor training that would keep them in agriculture and in the South. In 1903, Congress authorized the Rockefeller foundation to create General the Education Board. The latter would set standards for rural public schools, as well as universities and medical schools for the next 50 years. In 1910, the Flexner report, funded by Carnegie Foundation, recommended the closure of five black medical schools. In severely restricting the supply of Black doctors, the move also reduced access to medical care for Black patients.

The rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s would lead to a new wave of philanthropic funding, aimed at preventing the Black “insurrection.” The Ford Foundation, the source of significant funding to Black Studies, Black Art and Black higher and post graduate education, used it to split the African American community by create a Black liberal elite. I was very surprised to learn the the Black Panther Party received Ford Foundation funding for their free school breakfasts, medical clinics, eye programs and sickle cell foundation.

The film also mentions the role of George Soros’ Open Society Foundation in funding Black Lives Matter.

The rise of the Black Power movement, as well as women’s and gay rights movements in the late sixties and seventies would also trigger a white backlash, giving rise to a host of conservative foundations and think tanks (eg Heritage Foundation, Federalist Society, Walton Family Foundation, DeVos Family Foundation). The work of these foundations (along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) would lead to a sustained attack on public schools through the (publicly funded) charter school movement, as well the training and appointment of conservative judges and an electoral coalition that would elect Donald Trump in 2016.

The film can be viewed free at https://www.aljazeera.com/program/the-big-picture/2021/2/11/a-race-for-america

Swedish Covid 19 Management: A Documentary

Covid, Tango and the Lagom Way

Directed by Claudia Nye (2020)

Film

This documentary was made by an Argentinian expatriate (and tango aficionado) who lives in the UK and is tired of being branded a right wing fanatic for questioning the benefit of social lockdowns. It She decided to visit Sweden, one of several countries (including Taiwan and Japan) that decided not to lock down their population.

She conducts a fairly long interview with Dr Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s head epidemiologist, as well as interviewing Swedes she meets on the street.

In the absence of lockdown legislation, most Swedes over 65 chose to remain at home. Those with “comorbidities” that make them more vulnerable to severe COVID complications (eg obesity, diabetes, kidney/heart/lung disease, pregnancy) also voluntarily self-isolate. Although many Swedes now work from home and several universities have shut down, most schools and businesses have remain open and practice social distancing.

According to Tegnell, the Swedish government has no statutory powers over the Swedish Public Health Agency. The latter holds sole responsibility for enforcing public health measures.* As a general rule, the agency places responsibility on individual citizens to make good choices about protecting their own and others’ health. This contrasts with the US and other Europeans countries, whose governments (according to Nye) treat their constituents like children.

Tegnell indicates that Sweden’s COVID policy is consistent with the Swedish “Lagom” (translated “not too little, not too much”) way, which values balance above all else.

Nye goes over the COVID statistics with Tegnell At the time of filming (late 2020), 872 Swedes had died as a direct result of COVID 19 infection, and 5,813 and died “with Covid.” According to Tegnell this means they tested positive for COVID before dying from other causes.

In tracing total Swedish mortality over the last three decades, Nye finds the Sweden follows roughly the same curve as other European Countries. In fact, both Swedish and British epidemiologists agree that COVID mortality outside the 65+ age group is extremely low.

Nye also compares Swedish mortality data with that of nearby Finland and Norway. Overall mortality for 2019 and 2020 is roughly the same, with Finland and Norway experiencing a spike in mortality in 2019 (due to a a really severe influenza season) and Sweden (which experienced negligible influenza deaths in 2019) experiencing its mortality spike in 2020.


*This changed in January 2021, when the Swedish parliament gave itself statutory powers to impose lockdowns.

Plant-Based Diets: Pluses and Minuses

Eating You Alive: One Bite at a Time

Directed by Paul David Kennamer Jr (2018)

Film Review

In essence, this documentary is a series of glowing testimonials from patients who reversed life threatening illnesses by switching to an organic whole food plant-based (ie vegan) diet. Although the film is disappointingly short on research evidence, the list of illnesses overcome with this diet is extremely impressive: end stage pancreatic cancer, lupus, stage 4 metastatic ovarian cancer, stage 4 renal cancer, severe heart disease, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, malignant hypertension, type II diabetes, and morbid obesity.

Although I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of any of the patients (who include Penn the magician and the actor Samuel L Jackson), I had reservations about some of the film’s basic premises. Given its heavy emphasis on obesity and type II diabetes, I was surprised it made no mention of insulin resistance or dysfunctional gut bacteria as triggers for obesity. In my experience, patients with insulin resistance are far more likely to lose weight on a high fat ketogenic diet. The latter is also extremely helpful for treatment-resistant seizures.

Unfortunately some of the doctors advocating for plant-based diets also make statements that aren’t strictly accurate. For example, decades of research has totally debunked the myth that consuming large amounts of cholesterol causes high blood cholesterol levels. It is now established that cholesterol is part of the body’s normal defense against inflammation, that the main cause of high cholesterol in otherwise “healthy” people is inflammation caused by excess dietary sugar. See How Sugar Really Affects Your Cholesterol

I was also concerned about the way featured doctors trashed olive and coconut oil as major culprits in cardiovascular disease and cancer. Numerous studies suggest otherwise.

The statement one of the doctors makes about no prior human culture relying on meat-based diets (as most of the industrialized world does at present) is simply untrue. Both the Massai people of Africa and the Inuit people of the Arctic traditionally ate 100% meat-based diets. Likewise all hunter gatherer societies relied on occasional meat in addition to a routine diet of fruits and vegetables.

I was also concerned that the doctors featured saw no need to caution viewers about limitations of a 100% plant-based diet in terms of specific key nutrients: Vitamin B12, zinc, iron (in menstruating and pregnant women), Vitamin D and omega 3. Most of the doctors I know recommend their vegan patients take supplements providing these nutrients. Pregnant women following a vegan diet also need to be monitored closely to ensure their protein intake is adequate.

The full film can be viewed free at https://tubitv.com/movies/475193/eating-you-alive

 

 

Facebook’s Filipino Sweatshops

The Cleaners

Directed by Hans Block and Moriz Riserwick (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the atrocious working conditions of the thousands of “content moderators” who work for Filipino contractors Facebook hires to censor posts violating “community” standards. At the time of filming, Facebook had approximately 20,000 content moderators worldwide. In 2018, the Philippines site was the largest. Although local content moderators are forbidden to discuss their secretive work, some of them became so distressed about their working conditions that they leaked details of their to German filmmakers.

Back then, so-called “cleaners” were only required to delete all content related to child pornography, terrorist violence (including beheadings) and cyber bullying. As part of their training they had to memorize the names and flags of all Mideast terrorist groups. They also received explicit training in pornography and the types of sex toys.

As of 2018, the only images they reviewed were those flagged by Facebook users as objectionable. Required to review 25,000 images or videos a day (one every 8 seconds), each cleaner was only allowed three errors a month. Among content shared with filmmakers were the iconic photo of Vietnamese children in flames following a napalm attack (deleted because one child was naked), the infamous painting depicting Trump with a small penis (Facebook shut down the user’s account for demeaning the POTUS) and an image of an ISIS beheading carried out with a kitchen knife (deleted for extreme terrorist violence).

One content moderator speaks of watching a livestream of a hanging, afraid to delete the video before the act was completed because it would be counted as an error.

As the sole providers for large extended families, many Filipino content moderators are extremely reluctant to quit a good paying job. In fact, one hangs himself after three unsuccessful requests to be transferred out of his unit (which specializes in self-harm).

Public library members can view the full film free on Beamafilm.

 

Hunting Hitler: Reality TV as Psyops

 
Reality TV Masquerading as History.
 
I recently came across the 2015 History Channel series Hunting Hitler. Season 1 starts off plausibly enough. Seizing on 700 pages of FBI files declassified in 2104, former CIA officer Bob Baer leads a team of former Seals and special operations officers in amassing physical evidence to verify dozens of recorded witness sightings of Hitler in South American  in 1945-48. The series makes no pretense of presenting an accurate historical record. In fact, it appears the History Channel’s main objective (helped by dramatic voice overs and atmospheric music) is to glorify the hyper macho physical and technological supremacy of US (semi-legal) special operations activities.
 
Baer draws the tentative conclusion that Nazis supporters most likely faked Hitler’s suicide, while he himself escaped from his underground Fuhrerbunker. The hypothesis Baer offers is that the former dictator used a series of underground tunnels to evade invading Russian troops and took one of ten flights that left the former Tempelhof Airport on April 21, 1945  carrying Nazi war criminals abroad.*
 
Both the FBI files and the Baer’s physical evidence make a superficially plausible case that Hitler’s plane could flown to fascist Spain (under Franco), continuing to Argentina via U-boat (submarine).
 
Baer maintains the evidence supporting Hitler’s escape is much stronger than that supporting his suicide. Because loyal Nazis burned his corpse, the only physical remains invading Soviets found were a partial skull (which remains in Russia) and a partial jawbone and teeth (which remain in the Ukraine). In 2009, the Russians allowed a Connecticut archeologist to perform DNA testing on the skull fragments, which revealed its former owner to be a female.
 
Unfortunately, the Hunting Hitler series makes no mention whatsoever of the jaw and teeth, which, verified as Hitler’s in 1945 by his dentist, his dental hygienist and his dental x-rays. This information was in the public domain in 2015 when the History Channel aired Season 1 of Hunting Hitler.** See https://historian-at-large.blogspot.com/2015/03/on-hitlers-teeth-or-death-of-dictator.html
 
A recent DW documentary entitled The Death of Adolf Hitler: History of a State Secret tells the sad story of the hygienist, who the Soviets arrested and sent to a labor camp for ten years. Yet even this strongly anti-Soviet DW documentary neglects to explain why the dental work was so easy to identify: namely the special gold bridge his dentist had made for the dictator.
 
It does, however, delve deeply into Stalin’s repeated claims that Hitler was still alive and had escaped to Argentina via Spain. The latter would trigger massive investigations by US, UK and French intelligence, as well as hundreds of reports from all over the world related to Hitler sightings in South America.
 
To its credit, Hunting Hitler does make reference to the “Rat Line,” a scheme whereby the Catholic Church and Red Cross assisted hundreds of Nazi war criminals to escape from Germany to Argentina and other South American countries. The tunnels Baer’s team uncovered leading to Templehof Airport, the Spanish monasteries that hid Nazi war criminals, the 46 missing U-boats and the elaborate secret Argentinian hideouts filled with Nazi paraphernalia all provide important insight into the Rat Line’s actual operation.
 
I find it really interesting that former CIA operative Baer (and the History Channel) choose to focus on an individual (Hitler) with no known historical role in post war fascist regimes in South America. Especially given the prominent role other Nazi war criminals played in South American cocaine networks and death squads. For example Klaus Barbie in Colombia (see Klaus Barbie: America’s CIA Cold War Cocaine and Death Squads) and Otto Skorzeny in Bolivia (see Mae Brussell: The Nazi Connection to the JFK Assassination)
 

*The Russians would capture central Berlin on May 1, 1945.
 
** Hunting Hitler Season 2 focused on additional from CIA, MI6 and Russian, German and Argentinian government authorities. Season 3, which premiered in December 2017, investigated Nazi weapons of mass destruction. Season 4, scheduled to air in 2018, was canceled.
 
 
The Death of Adolf Hitler: History of a State Secret can be viewed free at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QSXKDCFh7o&bpctr=1606277048