This is a very intriguing Greek documentary about John Perkins, author of the 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hitman. In the film, Perkins summarizes his recruitment by the NSA to work as an “economic hitman.” Despite his close affiliation to US intelligence, he was technically under the employ of a private engineering company called Charles T Main Inc. It was his role to approach third world presidents with bribes to accept World Bank loans for massive infrastructure projects – which were usually built by major US companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton.
This was done with the deliberate intention of saddling the third world countries with debt they couldn’t repay. Their only option would be to seek refinancing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which usually demanded they slash public services and open up their resources to further exploitation by Wall Street interests .
As Perkins describes it, this was the strategy of choice (as opposed to direct military intervention) for expanding US empire between 1945-2000. Any third world leader who refused to play ball was openly threatened with assassination. The first step in dealing with a recalcitrant leader was to send in the “jackals,” CIA officers and contractors who would try to instigate a military coup. If this failed, US intelligence would send in an assassination team. If this also failed, they would fall back on military invasion and occupation (always a last resort).
The film zeroes in on the assassination (via plane crash) of Ecuadorian president Jaime Roldós Aguilera and Panamanian president Omar Torrijos in 1981. It also provides interesting background to the US invasion of Iraq, following Saddam Hussein’s rejection of a massive Bechtel oil pipeline project.
I was previously unaware of the CIA effort to instigate a military coup against Saddam in 1996. The CIA discarded the option of assassinating him because he had too many doubles. Even his own bodyguards never knew if they were guarding the real Saddam.
Chernobyl +30 – A Look From the Inside with Lucas Hixson
Chernobyl +30 is a webnar presentation to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In this segment, US nuclear engineer Lucas Hixson briefly summarizes the causes of the Chernobyl accident, the initial clean-up efforts by the Soviets, and the current extent of nuclear contamination in an exclusion zone the size of Rhode Island.
Hixson spent ten days at the Chernobyl site at the end of 2015 for an update on the $1.4 billion* containment dome Bechtel is building to prevent further radiation release. The largest man made structure ever built, the dome will replace the sarcophagus the Soviets placed over the site in 1987. The latter has become contaminated and is emitting gamma radiation. Bechtel’s $1.4 billion dome is predicted to last 100 years.
For me, the most interesting part of the presentation concerns the precautions taken to minimize tje radiation dose experienced by the 3,500 workers who are dismantling the sarcophagus. As Hixson points out, they are all younger workers with no direct experience of the devastating health problems workers and residents experienced after the Chernobyl explosion. It’s his impression they have minimal awareness of the immense hazards of their work.
Hixson’s presentation begins at 5:23.
* Hixson doesn’t mention how Ukraine (which is currently bankrupt and undergoing IMF restructuring) is paying for the containment done. According to the Washington Post, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is managing the project, which they are funding through international donations. The US has contribution $410 million.
inspired by Canadian activists Maud Barlow and Tony Clarke’s book Blue Gold, this film opened my eyes to the reality that water scarcity is a far more serious and imminent problem than either fossil fuel scarcity or climate change. The film outlines three main areas in which public policy around water is urgently needed: run-off management, aquifer destruction and water privatization.
I previously believed that chemical and nutrient pollution was the greatest threat to our fresh water supply. However according to Blue Gold, run-off is actually the biggest problem – the loss of fresh water when rainwater winds up in the ocean instead of being trapped as groundwater. Fresh water only comprises 3% of global water (the rest is sea water), and much of it is so badly polluted it’s no longer useable.
The four main ways urbanization and development accelerate run-off include the construction of 50,000 dams worldwide, the paving over of soil with cement and asphalt, deforestation (destroying tree roots that normally trap water), and the destruction of wetlands (the destruction of mangroves and other plants that naturally purify water.
Aquifer depletion is largely due to industrial agriculture and the unregulated use of water in manufacturing, fracking and bottled water plants. Once the water from the aquifer is gone, it takes thousands of years to replace it. The film depicts several communities where citizens, across the political spectrum, have banded together to block Coca Cola and Nestle from taking their water. Some cases have involved long expensive court battles, with several corporations threatening individual activists with SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) suits.
Water Privatization, Desalination and Water Wars
The last half of the film focuses on water privatization, water desalination, and water wars. In many developing countries, water privatization is already a life and death issue. In several African countries, the private corporations that own the public water supply set the price so high that people end up drinking polluted water and die. The decision by Bolivia to sell its fresh water to Bechtel sparked a mass rebellion and ultimately the collapse of the Bolivian government.
In the US, an alarming number of city water have been privatized and sold to corporations.
The worldwide move to construct water desalination plants to reclaim water from sea water is closely linked to the issue of privatization. In addition to being extremely expensive, water desalination greatly increases climate emissions owing to the massive amount of fossil fuel it requires.
Blue Gold gives several examples of historic water wars (in the US) and predicts where the next water wars are most likely to take place. They point to strategic US military bases around the Great Lakes and in Paraguay (across the border from a Brazilian aquifer that is one of the largest in the world). They also offer a possible explanation why the Bush family have acquired massive amounts of property in Paraguay.
The film ends on a positive note with recommendations for citizen activists:
Learn where your water comes from – the name of the watershed and (if privatized) the name of the multinational corporation that controls it. Local communities need to actively fight attempts by local government to allow water extraction or the takeover of local water supplies by multinational corporations.
Kick the bottled water habit. This is a trick advertisers play on you. It is no healthier for you than tap water (and may be less healthy owing to phthalates and bisphenol A from the plastic that may be linked with breast cancer and low sperm counts). The nasty taste of tap water is easily masked with a little lemon juice.
Lobby your local and state leaders to
Remove hydroelectric dams and replace with newer, more eco-friendly microturbine technology.
Adopt an active run-off management plan in which lost groundwater is measured and minimized through eco-friendly development planning. One example is the Blue Alternative (in which groundwater is replaced by digging small catchment pools in open spaces).
Pass local and state resolutions and constitutional amendments recognizing access to fresh water as a basic human right. Uruguay has adopted the right to water in their national Constitution.