Poisoning the World: The Companies that Profit Big from Exporting Banned Chemicals

Circle of Poison

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about the US export of toxic pesticides that are banned in the US. This is ironic. Despite these domestic bans, heavy dependence on food imports means that most Americans end up ingesting these toxins in imported produce. In fact the only way Americans can avoid pesticide-laden food is to buy certified organic food from local farmers.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order banning the export of toxic pesticides. The order was revoked by Reagan a few months after his inauguration.

The US controls 75% of the global pesticide market via five notorious companies: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and BSAF. Although Bayer, Syngenta and BSAF are European companies, they produce their toxic pesticides in the US, where export regulations are more lax (ie non-existent). The pesticide industry has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Thanks to the courage of Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate has passed several bills banning pesticide exports. However because members face re-election every two years, they have no hope whatsoever of winning in House.

Most of the film concerns the epidemic of cancer and horrendous birth defects in India, Mexico, Argentina and other countries that continue to use US-produced pesticides that are banned in the global North.

Surprisingly it ends on an optimistic note with news about the growing organic food movement in Argentina, Kerala India and Bhutan. Rather than pressuring their governments to ban toxic pesticides, activists are learning chemical-free organic soil building techniques. In doing so, they also significantly increase their yields. In replacing monoculture techniques with crop diversity, organic farming methods are far more productive per unit land than traditional agriculture.

The full video can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Circle of Poison

Untold History of the US – Johnson, Nixon and Vietnam

Part 7 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States concerns the Johnson and Nixon presidencies.

The Johnson Presidency

Johnson continued Kennedy’s glorious tradition of overthrowing foreign democratic governments. He openly admitted the military aggression he authorized wasn’t about fighting communism – but about fighting third world peoples for their resources. He saw no other way 6% of the world’s population could control 50% of its wealth.

  • In 1963 Johnson reversed Kennedy’s order to draw down US “military advisors” and introduced ground troops to Vietnam.
  • In 1964 he ordered US troops to overthrow the democratically elected government of Brazil.
  • In 1965 he invaded the Dominican Republic to crush a popular insurrection against a CIA-inspired right wing coup.
  • In 1966-67 he authorized a bloody CIA coup to oust President Sukarno in Indonesia and replace him with the right wing dictator Suharto.
  • In 1967, he ordered the CIA to (illegally) spy on anti-Vietnam War protestors through Operation Chaos.
  • In 1967, he fired Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara when he opposed escalating the bombing in Vietnam.

When a bipartisan group of elder statesman called for US troop withdrawal from Vietnam, Johnson decided to focus on Vietnam peace negotiations instead of running for a second term in 1968.

The Nixon Presidency

Robert Kennedy was the clear front runner in the 1968 election prior to his assassination in July 1968.

Despite basing his campaign on a “secret plan” to end the war in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger (who secretly undermined the Paris peace negotiations to help Nixon win the elections) vastly expanded the war, which would last seven more years. More than half the GI deaths in Vietnam occurred under Nixon.

As president, Nixon made 13 separate threats to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Stone believes it was only the massive anti-war protests (which deeply unnerved Nixon) that prevented their use.

Nixon and Kissinger were also responsible for secretly and illegally bombing Cambodia and Laos, the 1973 coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government, and Operation Condor, a secret dirty war against pro-democracy movements in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Part 7:  Johnson, Nixon and Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune – Cataclysm in Vietnam

The Psychological Trauma Inflicted by Predatory Capitalism

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Directed by Michael Winterbottom (2009)

Film Review

Based on Naomi Klein’s best-selling book by the same name, this documentary explores predatory capitalism’s use of psychological trauma to crush human rights and forcibly transfer vast sums of money  from the poor to the rich.

Like the book, the documentary begins with Dr Ewan Cameron’s CIA-funded research at McGill University into the long term  effects of shock therapy, sleep deprivation and other deliberately inflicted trauma. The Agency would incorporate Cameron’s findings in their Kubark counterintelligence interrogation (ie torture) manual. They went on to use Kubark to train fascist South American military officers at the School of the Americas and to interrogate random prisoners (the vast majority were never charged) at Guantanamo and Iraqi prisons.

The film also explores the “economic shock therapy” developed by the late University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. Friedman was a master at exploiting natural and contrived disasters to impose the kind of extreme free market reforms that crush unions and wages, shut down or privatize public services and create massive unemployment – while simultaneously transferring obscene amounts of wealth from the working and middle classes to the rich.

Friedman and his cronies seized the opportunity to put their predatory theories into practice when the CIA helped overthrow democratically elected governments in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina; during the neoconservative regimes of Thatcher and Reagan; in Russia after the Berlin Wall collapsed; in New Orleans after Katrina; in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami; and in Iraq after 9/11.

Privatization and the Theft of the Commons

Catastroika

by Aris Chatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi

Film Review

Catastroika is a Greek documentary on neoliberalism, with a specific focus on the privatization of publicly owned resources. Although it makes no mention of historian Richard Linebaugh, its depiction of the neoliberal privatization movement provides an elegant illustration of the ongoing theft of the Commons (see Stop Thief: the Theft of the Commons).

After a brief overview of the University of Chicago economists (championed by Milton Friedman) who first put neoliberal theory into practice during the Pinochet dictatorship, the documentary tracks the wholesale privatization of Russia’s state owned industries after the 1993 coup by Boris Yeltsin, in which he illegally ordered dissolution of the Russian parliament (see The Rise of Putin and the Fall of the Oligarchs).

The fire sale of state assets to oligarchs and western bankers would virtually destroy the Russian economy, throwing millions of people into extreme poverty and reducing average life expectancy by ten years.

The Privatization of East Germany

With German reunification in 1990, East Germany would be the third major target for massive privatization. According to German economists interviewed in the film, the process amounted to an “acquisition” of East Germany by West German bankers. The West German government set up an agency called Treuhand to buy up state owned East German businesses at the rate of ten to fifteen a day – a total of 8,500 businesses in four years. The process, undertaken with virtually no oversight, predictably resulted in massive chaos and fraud. Many well-performing East Germany companies were dissolved for the simple reason they competed with West German businesses. Three million (out of 4.5 million) East German workers lost their jobs, which East Germany’s GDP shrank by 30%.

Using Debt to Compel Compliance

With the gradual demise of the world’s dictatorships during the 1990s, debt, rather than brute force, became the main mechanism to compel people to give up their publicly funded assets. At present, most of the focus is on Greece.

Current EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker holds up Treuhand (which incurred a 250 million euro debt German taxpayers are still paying off) as a model for the Greek Asset Development Fund. The latter has been steadily selling off (at bargain basement prices) Greek railroads and municipal power and water systems.

The Dismal Track Record of Privatized Utilities

The filmmakers end the film by highlighting the disastrous outcome of Britain’s decision to privatize its railroads in 1993, the city of Paris decision to privatize its water service in the 1980s (it’s recently been re-municipalized due to massive public unrest – like privatized water systems in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina) and California’s experiment with electricity deregulation in the 1990s (leading to the Enron scandal).*


*The Enron scandal involved massive securities fraud and a deliberate conspiracy by power companies to withhold power to drive up electricity prices.

The Fatal Soybean

The Fatal Soybean

Press TV (2013)

Film Review

Recently 30,000 Argentinean doctors signed a petition requesting their government ban the use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. The Fatal Soybean is a documentary about the large cluster of miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and autoimmune disease in villages adjacent to Argentina’s immense “soy desert.” The filmmakers interview local doctors, environmentalists and grassroots activists. They focus in on one particular activist group, the Ituzainga Mothers Club. These women mobilized after numerous family members died or developed chronic illness following repeated exposure to the herbicides and pesticides sprayed on soybean crops.

As depicted in the documentary, Silence of the Pandas, a massive swathe of Argentina’s natural forest and grassland has been cleared to plant Monsanto’s Roundup-ready soy. The latter is a genetically engineered plant specifically designed to withstand spraying with the Monsanto herbicide Roundup. Owing to the emergence of Roundup resistant super weeds, most farmers are spraying more and more frequently with heavier and heavier concentrations of herbicide.

One of the doctors interviewed talks about the recent Dutch ban on Roundup and GM soy imports. Prior to 2014, the Netherlands imported GM soy animal feed from Argentina to feed their 250,000 pigs. After Dutch farmers found 20-30% of their piglets were born dead or with birth defects, research revealed that GMO soy absorbs traces of Roundup from repeated spraying.

 

A Classic Case of Greenwashing

Silence of the Pandas

Wilfred Huisman (2011)

Film Review

Greenwashing (def) – a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.

Silence of the Pandas is about the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – the world’s largest conservation organization – and their open collaboration with Monsanto, palm oil manufacturers and other multinational corporations that are systematically destroying wildlife habit.

WWF solicits millions in donations every year based on the image it projects of protecting endangered animals, such as the panda and the tiger. In reality, the WWF, under the leadership of the British royal family and other members of the British aristocracy, forms lucrative “partnerships” with corporations seeking to greenwash their image.

Through these toxic partnerships, WWF is facilitating, rather than preventing, the destruction of rainforests and wildlife habitat. It also actively promotes the removal of indigenous populations (in India, Indonesia, South America and Papua New Guinea) from their rainforest habitat. As an example, WWF has collaborated with the Indian government to displace one million Adabzi from their tribal homelands to expand a WWF ecotourism venture. The habitat destruction stemming from this venture is rapidly depleting tiger populations rather than increasing them.

In Indonesia, WWF partners with the palm oil giant Wiemar to raze native rainforests and replace them with extensive palm oil plantations. In many cases the Indonesian government has illegally leased land to Wiemar. The land belongs to indigenous farmers whose ancestors planted the tropical forest gardens destroyed to make way for palm oil.

In Argentina WWF, in partnership with Monsanto, has brought the country to the verge of ecological collapse by destroying natural forest and pampas and replacing them with a GM soy desert the size of Germany.

As one of their vice presidents openly demonstrates in the film, WWF is a strong proponent of genetic engineering. In return for a sizable donation, in 2010 the group awarded Monsanto a seal of product sustainability for their GM soy seed.

I first became concerned about the activities off the WWF in the mid-nineties when I learned that they had allowed their parks to be used as training bases for the Hutu militants responsible for the Rwandan genocide. The film makes brief mention of the secret mercenary army WWF assembled from British special forces and South African (apartheid) security personnel. The alleged purpose of these mercenaries was to assassinate poachers who were endangering elephant and rhinoceros populations.

The pro-African website Nairaland tells a very different story.

Under the guise of protecting endangered species, such as the elephant, the rhinoceros and the tiger, WWF “park rangers” carry out assassinations and other attacks against so-called “poachers” who in many instances turn out to be local patriotic political leaders or farmers who refuse to abandon their land and their food production to the WWF’s land confiscation programs.

The Real Cause of Greece’s Economic Crisis

Debtocracy

(2011) Katerina Kitidi and Aris Hatzistefanou

Film Review

The 2011 Greek documentary Debtocracy effectively dispels the media myths about lazy Greek workers and and scofflaw Greek taxpayers being responsible for Greece’s present economic crisis.

The film begins with an overview of what its filmmakers (and I) feel has been a basic goal of both globalization and the creation of a single European currency – namely “labor discipline” and the suppression of wages in heavily unionized countries.

They show how sweeping deregulation in the industrialized world in the 1980s allowed manufacturers to eliminate unions by shutting plants down and reopening them as sweatshops in the third world. The subsequent creation of the Euro as a single currency allowed the central European countries (Germany and France) to use the mechanism of debt to weaken strong unions in peripheral Eurozone countries like Greece, Spain and Italy.

Thanks to relatively weak unions following reunification, Germany imposed a virtual ten year wage freeze. While workers suffered, German companies and banks racked up immense profits and stacks of cash, which they loaned to “peripheral” countries to finance big corporate tax cuts.

The bulk of the film focuses on the concept of “odious” debt and whether the Greek people should be forced to repay fraudulent loans from which they received no direct benefit. As Debtocracy poignantly depicts, Athens and other Greek cities are experiencing a third world humanitarian crisis, with massive homelessness, hunger and untreated illness.

Odious Debt: An American Invention

Odious debt was a principle invented by the US in the early 20th century to avoid repaying Spain’s war debt after the US took possession of Cuba following the Spanish-American War. George Bush invoked it following the US occupation of Iraq. His goal was to avoid repayment of Sadam Hussein’s debts to China, France, Germany and Russia. Since then approximately a dozen countries – most notably Argentina, Ecuador and Iceland – have repudiated so-called “illegitimate” debt incurred by deposed leaders.

The film focuses mainly Argentina’s and Ecuador’s default on their foreign debt. In 2001 the structural adjustments the IMF forced on Argentina bankrupted the country. A popular uprising forced the Argentine president to flee (in a helicopter), and the new government declared the IMF debt illegal and unconstitutional.

When Ecuador experienced a similar economic crisis and uprising in 2007, they, too, sent their president packing in a helicopter. In 2008, their new president Rafael Correa appointed a Debt Audit Commission to study the strong arm tactics (some of which John Perkins describes in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man) that caused Ecuador to borrow billions of dollars to pay for US-built infrastructure that only benefited Ecuador’s wealthy elite. Correa’s Debt Audit Commission ascertained that only 30% of their external debt was legitimately incurred.

CADTM’s Call for a Greek Debt Audit Commission

Iric Toussaint, a French economist who participated in the Ecuadorian Debt Audit Commission, believes a major proportion of Greek debt may have been fraudulently incurred. The following evidence supports this view:

  • Nearly one billion euros of debt resulted from a risky swap (of yen and dollars for euros) Goldman Sachs persuaded Greece to make in 2001. The transaction netted Goldman Sachs $600 million in profit (see Secret Greek loan).
  • Major German and French loans were issued on condition that the Greek government incur further indebtedness to purchase hundreds of millions of euros of German and French armaments.
  • Billions of dollars of Greek debt resulted from major cost overruns on the 2004 Greek Olympics (which cost twice as much as the Sydney Olympics in 2000). These have never been explained nor investigated.
  • In 2010 a former Goldman Sachs official was hired to manage the Greek public debt authority, with the result that the entire 2010 rescue package (103 million euros) was used to bail out Greek banks.

The film also discusses the March 2011 call by the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) to create an audit commission to examine Greek public debt. It ends with the ominous sound of a helicopter, eerily foreshadowing the forced resignation of Greek prime minister George Papandreou last November, when CNN advised him to get a helicopter to save himself from angry protestors (see Fall of Papandreou).