Plutocracy V: America’s Brutal Treatment of Its Working Class

Plutocracy V: Subterranean Fire

Directed by Scott Noble (2017)

Film Review

This documentary provides a comprehensive labor history of the United States, involving the most violent history of union repression in the world.

Largely owing to inhuman pay and working conditions, American workers first attempted to organization soon after the birth of large scale industrialization in the US. Prior to the passage of Roosevelt’s National Labor Relations Act, most worker strikes were suppressed violently by the National Guard, the US Army or private armies hired by factory owners.

The initial era of radical unionizing (1870-1914) abated with World War I and brutal government repression via the Red Scare and Palmer Raids. (1) Despite massive profits Wall Street businesses amassed during the so-called “Roaring” Twenties, more than 60% of US families were earning less than $2,000 a year (with $2,500 the minimum income necessary for a family four).

With the 1929 Wall Street crash came the Great Depression. Unemployment surged to 25% and skyrocketing poverty led to a resurgence in union organizing and strikes. Pay cuts and worsening working conditions would give rise to the “sit down” strike, in which striking workers occupied their factories. Loathe to damage their valuable machinery, employers refrained from launching violent attacks on sit down strikes. In this way workers at many companies (including GM, Chrysler and Ford) won the right to form unions.

In 1935, John L Lewis formed the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), which unlike the American Federation Labor (which only represented skilled workers), represented all industrial workers regardless of sex, race or national origin.

The same year Roosevelt, courting the union vote in the 1936 election, introduced the National Labor Relations Act. The Act gave all Americans (except for domestic and agricultural workers) the right to unionize.

A typical politician, following reelection, Roosevelt ordered the FBI to “monitor” radical unions and other groups, including the CIO, United Auto Workers, United Mine Workers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP).

With the approach of World War II, federal forces of repression overtly suppressed union organizing, via the Smith Act (2), and the formation (in 1938) of the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1939, the US Supreme Court would declare sit-down strikes illegal.

Following World War II, the 1947 Taft Hartley Act (4) would deal the single biggest blow to trade unionism in the US. This law. combined with fanatical anti-communist hysteria promoted by HUAC (3), the CIA, the US State Department and the mainstream media would lead to top down trade union organizing that discouraged strike action in favor of a bloated trade union bureaucracy and sweetheart (5) deals with management.

The end result would be one of the lowest levels of union representation in the developed world.


(1) The Red Scare was a campaign of anti-radical hysteria launched under Woodrow Wilson. Its goal was to promote the irrational fear that a Bolshevik revolution was imminent in the US. The Palmer Raids were a series of raids the Wilson administration conducted between November 1919 and January 1920 under to arrest suspected leftists, mostly Italian immigrants and Eastern European immigrants, and deport them (without trial).

(2) Passed in 1940, the Smith Act set down criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the US government. The Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional (for violating the First Amendment) in 1957.

(3) The Taft Hartley Act banned wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, closed shops, union donations for political purposes and the election of communists and other radicals to union leadership. It also permitted states to pass Right To Work laws (under right to laws, there is a ban on union contracts forcing non-union members to contribute to the costs of union representation).

(4) Although Hollywood celebrities received the most publicity when they were subpoenaed for being suspected communists, most of the individuals summoned before HUAC were union organizers.

(5) A sweetheart contract is a contractual agreement inappropriately advantages some parties over others. The term was coined in the 1940s to describe corrupt labor contracts unduly favorable to the employer. They usually involved some kind of kickback or special treatment for the labor negotiator.

 

Why Billionaire Peter Thiel Opposes Direct Democracy

David Graeber vs Peter Thiel: Where Did the Future Go?

The Baffler Magazine (2020)

Film Review

This documentary is a very odd debate between billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel* and the late anarchist David Graeber. For me, the body language says it all. Thiel, who describes himself as a libertarian, is very tense and doesn’t smile once. .

The two of them debate the following three questions:

  1. What’s the matter with America?
  2. What does technology have to do with it? and
  3. What happened to the future?

Graeber starts, giving many examples of technological innovation (eg aeronautics, medicine, renewable energy) which entered slow stagnation after the 1970s. He blames this decline in innovation on the “financialization” of the global economy (ie corporations becoming more interested in selling financial products than manufactured goods).

In his view, the total domination of the global economy by mega monopolies obsessed with “rent extraction”** has left the world’s creative thinkers “out in the cold.”

Both men agree that the US political system can’t be reformed. However Thiel maintains that billionaire-financed start-ups are a better approach to reform than grassroots movements. He opposes direct democracy because systems that allow too many people input means you spend all your time talking and nothing happens.

He also disagrees with Graeber’s assertion that changing the way money is created (ie ending the creation of 98% of our money by private banks) could unleash creativity, by providing a means (eg Unconditional Basic Income) for artists, musicians and inventors to be paid for their work.

The best part of the debate is when the moderator asks Thiel about the role his company Pallantir plays in assisting the CIA, the military and JP Morgan in spying on Americans. Thiel maintains he’s facilitating in important work, namely because US intelligence failed to predict and prevent the 9-11 attacks.

Graeber blames the failure on the CIA and FBI becoming too preoccupied with spying on people like him.


*Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal and surveillance software giant Palantir (which helps the NSA and CIA spy on us), was secretly granted New Zealand citizenship, despite failing to meet the 5-year residency requirement in 2011: Revealed How Peter Thiel Got New Zealand Citizenship

**Rent seeking and rent extraction describe a process that occurs when wealthy members of society seek to gain added wealth without any reciprocal contribution of productivity

 

 

 

 

 

The Cultural Roots of Brexit and Make America Great Again

I Can’t Get You Out of My Head

Part 5 The Lordly Ones

Directed by Adam Curtis (2021)

Film Review

Part 5 traces the ideological origins of Brexit and Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign.

Curtis maintains the American and British middle class have yet to come to grips with  their unconscious guilt over colonialism and slavery. Instead they paper over these feelings with a nostalgic nationalism harkening back to a mythical past that predates the rise of mass democracy.

In post-World War I Britain, this took the form of heightened interest in rural folk music and dancing (eg Morris Dancing). Examples in the US include the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan following the release of D W Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation. The twentieth century Klan copied the white robes and hoods and cross-burning from Griffith’s film, based on medieval Scottish rituals described in Thomas Dixon Jr’s novel The Clansmen.

Although Britain lost her empire following World War II, British intelligence maintained the appearance of power by creating a magical world in which they could bug, burgle and even assassinate enemies – just as the Empire had done.

Like the UK, the US also uses its spies to maintain the fiction of US supremacy. Since its formation in 1947, the CIA has made 66 attempts to overthrow foreign governments via and/or vote rigging. They were successful in 26 (including Italy, Greece, Syria, Indonesia, Chile and Iran).

Curtis believes this US/British tendency to make real life decisions based on a romanticized past was largely responsible for the debacle in Iraq.

Part 5 also traces how the brutal effects of deindustrialization marginalized nearly the entire working class in both countries. Trump would appeal to these workers by promising to recreate a lost America, just as Brexit promised to restore Britain’s lost greatness by leaving the EU.

The video can’t be embedded because of age restrictions.

https://thoughtmaybe.com/cant-get-you-out-of-my-head/#top

JSOC: America’s Secret Killing Squads

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield

Directed by Richard Rowley (2013)

Film Review

In this highly troubling documentary (based on Cahill’s book by the same name), investigative journalist Jeremy Cahill describes how he first learned about the Joint Special Operations Campaign (JSOC). He describes in detail how all extrajudicial raids and killings increased substantially under Barack Obama (and Joe Biden, who directed his foreign policy), who used JSOC as their own private assassination squads.

Cahill first crossed paths with JSOC while investigating 2010 night raids killing Afghan civilians in rural areas under Taliban control. He was particularly concerned about a raid that occurred at Gardez, in which a police commander trained by the US and two pregnant women were killed. Surviving families referred to the bearded gunmen (with no apparent link to official US occupying forces) as the American Taliban. The Obama administration totally denied involvement in the Gardez massacre – until a cellphone video surfaced showing bearded English-speaking Americans searching and rearranging the bodies. At this point JSOC admitted responsibility and offered survivors a sacrificial goat as compensation.

During the period Cahill covered Afghanistan, JSOC undertook roughly 1700 night raids a month.

Cahill would go on to investigate similar JSOC night raids in Iraq, as well as illegal US drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The latter occurred well before US ally Saudi Arabia declared war on Yemen in 2015. The prominent Yemeni reporter Abdulelah Haider Shaye was arrested and imprisoned for exposing the U.S. cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children in December 2009. Then Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his intention to pardon Shaye. However he changed his mind after a personal phone call from Obama.

Scahill published a number of articles in the Nation and elsewhere about illegal CIA and special forces activities in Yemen, especially after the father of US citizen Anwar Alawki filed a 2010 lawsuit (with ACLU support) to stop Obama (who had placed him on the kill list) from assassinating him. Despite the suit and the publicity it generated (and a congressional bill seeking to ban extrajudicial assassinations of US citizens), Obama had no qualms about using JSOC to murder Alawki in with a drone strike September 2011 . Two years later, the president would also kill Alawki’s 16 year old son in a drone strike.

For me, the final section of the film was the most interesting. It begins by tracing Alawki’s history as an extremely popular imam in San Diego. Following 9-11, he and hundreds of other US Muslims faced growing harassment and persecution by the US government. In 2006, at the direction of the US government, Yemeni authorities imprisoned Alawki for 1 1/2 years.

Public library patrons can view the full film free at Beamafield.

https://beamafilm-com.eznewplymouth.kotui.org.nz/watch/dirty-wars

On Roosting Chickens: A History of US Empire

On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality

by Ward Churchill

AK Press (2003)

Book Review

With the massive evidence compiled by the 9-11 Truth movement over the last two decades,* the book’s original premise has ceased to be relevant in 2020. Long time American Indian activist Ward Churchill took the title of this book from his infamous 2001 essay “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.”  In the latter (and in Chapter 1), Churchill argues that the 9-11 attacks were a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful US foreign policy. The essay would lead to his dismissal from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2017.

By the time this book was published in 2003, both Thierry Meyssan (The Big Lie) and Nafeez Ahmed (The War on Truth) had published books questioning the official version of 9-11. As of February 2002, there was also a thriving 9-11 Unanswered Questions movement, which would be the precursor to 9-11. I’m a little surprised Churchill would have no knowledge of activists who were already challenging the official story in 2003.

That being said, the book’s second and third chapters are invaluable. Chapter 2 compiles all US military actions from 1776 on. Chapter three documents all known US violations of international law dating from the 1945 founding of the United Nations.

After 1947, this list includes the use of CIA interventions to overthrow lawful governments:

  • US invasion and occupation of sovereign Native American territories – 46
  • US military actions against US civilians during protests, rebellions, riots, and strikes (including WACO, Ruby Ridge, and the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle) – 23
  • US troop deployment to put down slave revolts: 5
  • US military actions against
    • North Africa – 15
    • Mexico (excluding the US-Mexican War, which forced Mexico to give up have its territory) – 29
    • France (including 1961 attempted assassination of DeGaulle) – 4
    • Spain (excluding Spanish American War) – 6
    • Cuba (following Spanish American War) – 5
    • Canada – 1 (1837 border clash)
    • Pacific Island (excluding Hawai’i and Philippines) – 5
    • Greece – 3
    • South America – 19
    • China (excluding participating in civil war against Mao) – 15
    • Sub-Saharan Africa – 8
    • Turkey – 2
    • Central America – 19
    • Japan (prior to World War II) -3
    • Korea (prior to World War II) – 33
    • Hawai’i – 3
    • Haiti (prior to deposing Prime Minister Aristide in 1991) – 4
    • Philippines – 4
    • Dominican Republic -5
    • Cuba (prior to Cuban revolution – incursions following the Bay of Pigs are too numerous to count) – 2
    • USSR – 2
    • Greenland/Iceland – 1 each
    • Italy – 1
    • Iran (prior to 1953 CIA coup) – 1
    • Albania – 1
    • Syria – 1 (failed CIA coup in 1956)
    • Indonesia – 2
    • Cyprus – 1
    • Lebanon – 2
    • Grenada – 1
    • Australia – 1

Chapter 3 is a chronological history of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions condemning the US. It includes censures  for using napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam, for using torture and the death penalty in US prisons, for their refusal to support the UN declaration for the elimination of racism, for their illegal blockade against Cuba, and for their illegal invasions of Angola, Panama and Nicaragua.

The chapter also includes countless Security Council and General Assembly resolutions condemning South Africa (not only for Apartheid but for the illegal invasion and occupation of Namibia and Angola) and Israel (for their illegal occupation of Palestine and the Golan Heights, their illegal invasion and 20+ year occupation of Lebanon, and their illegal deployment of nuclear weapons).

Here Churchill also covers Clinton’s illegal war against Yugoslavia, debunking most of the pro-war propaganda about alleged Serbian genocides. And finally the illegal 1972 CIA coup against democratically elected Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam (after he withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam). I was unaware prior to reading this book that John Kerr,** the Australian governor general responsible for removing Whitlam from office was a long time CIA asset.


*See https://stuartbramhall.wordpress.com/2020/02/13/making-sense-of-9-11/

**In Australia and New Zealand, the Governor General is appointed by the British monarch and technically has the authority to overrule Parliament. See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/23/gough-whitlam-1975-coup-ended-australian-independence

 

 

Hidden History: The 1989 US Invasion of Panama

Invasion

(Spanish with English subtitles)

Directed by Abner Benaim (2014)

Film Review

This is a Panamanian documentary about the 1989 US invasion of Panama killing an estimated 1,000 civilians.

In addition to reenacting aspects of the invasion, the filmmakers interview a range of people affected by it, including residents of low income areas of Panama City shelled and firebombed by US forces, Noriega aids who arranged for him to seek sanctuary in the Vatican embassy, a former staff person from the embassy, and wealthy Panamanians who supported the invasion.

The most moving accounts are those of civilians whose family members were killed or seriously injured in the US assault. Most US and Panamanian young people have little knowledge of the invasion because it isn’t taught in school. Low income Panamanians over 40 supported Noriega’s nationalist ambitions and opposed the US invasion. Wealthier residents accepted the US pretext of ridding the country of a corrupt dictator. Most people interviewed were fully aware of Noriega’s longstanding collaboration with the CIA and DEA in their drug running operations.

Despite their political opposition to the invasion, many low income Panama City residents used the chaos it generated to massively loot the city’s retail outlets.

For me, the high point of the film was seeing the massive speakers (the size of a pickup bed) the US military used to psychologically torture Vatican embassy personnel with loud, non-stop heavy metal music.

 

Hidden History: How the CIA Experimented on Unabomber Ted Kaczynski with LSD

The Net: Ted Kaczinski, the CIA and the History of Cyberspace

Directed by Lutz Daumbeck

German (with English subtitles)

Film Review

This is a fascinating German documentary about the so-called “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. Between 1978 and 1995 Kaczinski, a former Berkeley math professor, sent a series of letterbombs (killing three people and injuring 23 others) to researchers involved in high profile cybernetics* and related fields. His brother would ultimately identify Kaczynski after the FBI persuaded the New York Times to publish his manifesto “Industrial Society and Its Future.” Following his 1996 arrest, his attorneys negotiated a plea bargain (without his consent) in which he pleaded guilty to all charges and received a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Warning against the future role of computers in absolute mind control and surveillance of all society, Kaczinski’s manifesto also outlines his desire to derail this process by targeting the main scientists responsible. Hard copies of the manifesto are still available various anarchist bookstores and online at Kaczynski the unabomber manifesto

The film intersperses investigation into Kaczynski’s personal history and an examination of the bizarre LSD-laced culture that would result in the personal computer,** the Internet, Esalon,*** and CIA mind control experimentation.

For me the most shocking revelation in the film concerns a CIA experiment Kaczinski participated in while a Harvard student. The lead researcher fed him and 19 other exceptionally gifted students LSD and filmed the bizarre behavior they subsequently engaged in. Although the videos of Kaczinski have “mysteriously” vanished, there is clear written documentation of his participation. It’s also apparent the government failed to inform his defense team of these mitigating circumstances.

Kaczynski, reported to have an IQ of 170, began studying math at Harvard at age 16. He began teaching graduate level math courses at Berkeley in 1965. In 1971, he resigned his job and built himself a cabin in the woods in Montana.

The most interesting segments of the film relate to a lengthy correspondence (in German) between Kaczynski and one of the filmmakers.


*Cybernetics is defined as the interaction between human beings and machines.

**Stewart Brand, known as the father of the personal computer, was a member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. The Merry Pranksters’ bus traveled widely during the sixties distributing free LSD and performing with a band that later became the Grateful Dead. As John Potash writes in Drugs as Weapons Against Us, Kesey and Grateful Dead band members were also CIA assets involved with a scheme to promote and distribute LSD among antiwar leftists.

***According to Wikipedia, the Esalen Institute is a Big Sur retreat center, founded in 1962, that  focuses on “humanist” education and personal change. As the filmmakers suggest, they had strong links to the CIA, MKUtra, and similar mind control experimentation during the sixties and seventies. See https://www.reddit.com/r/conspiracy/comments/5xf335/the_cia_esalen_and_mkultra_doctors/

 

Homelessness: Contrasting Japan and the US

Why Japan’s Homeless Are Different from North America’s – Part 1

LWIF (2017)

Film Review

This intriguing five-part documentary series contrasts Japan’s aggressive effort to reduce homelessness with the apparent indifference of the US government. In my view, the stark contrast makes an important statement about the shameful greed and corruption underlying the US political system.

Part 1: The series begins by examining why Japan has always had a much lower endemic rate of homelessness than the US:

  • Japan has much lower levels of drug abuse than the US,* although alcoholism and compulsive gambling are common problems contributing to Japanese homelessness.
  • Japan, which retained its mental hospitals when the US and other English-speaking countries closed theirs down (as a cost cutting measure) in the seventies and eighties.** The majority of America’s mentally ill either end up in prison or on the streets.
  • Japan has few, if any traumatized war veterans. The latter represent a sizeable proportion of the US homeless population.

*Japan has no paramilitary organization comparable to the CIA, which openly engages in narcotics trafficking as part of its strategy to destabilize regimes unfriendly to Wall Street interests.

**In the US, the community mental health movement Kennedy started never received full funding following his assassination. Instead the mental health centers he created to replace mental hospitals have experienced continuous budget cuts dating back to the Reagan administration.

Breaking Point: The 1979 Iranian Revolution

Breaking Point

Press TV (2019)

Film Review

Since Google (which owns Youtube) has banned Press TV’s YouTube channel, Iran’s national broadcaster has started their own documentary channel.

I’ve just watched an excellent two-hour documentary on the Iranian Revolution. Up to this point, my only exposure to the 1979 revolution overthrowing Shah Reza Pahlavi came from a handful of CIA-scripted Hollywood films and a book by former Israeli agent Ronen Bergman.

The documentary begins with the 1953 US/UK coup against democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh, following his nationalization of Iran’s oil industry. Four years after the CIA  reinstated Pahlavi as Shah, they worked with Israel to help him create the Savak, a massive intelligence/police force that was even more intrusive and brutal than the East German Stasi.

In 1963, fearful of growing popular discontent, the US pressured the Shah to undertake a series of reforms, including land reform, forest nationalization, electoral reform (including voting rights for women), and and a scheme granting company shares to factory workers. His error was putting corrupt family members and military officers in charge, who pocketing most of the funding allocations for their personal use.

As of 1975, 60% of Iranians still lived in rural villages, where only 1% had access to electricity or clean drinking water. In fact, extreme rural poverty led to the steady migration of landless farmworkers to Iran’s cities, where they became peddlers, beggars, and prostitutes.

The Shah’s decision not to participate in the 1973 oil embargo* led to a massive increase in Iran’s oil export income – from $4 billion to $20 billion. The Shah would use a substantial portion of these funds to industrialize Iran and create an educated Iranian middle class. However he squandered most of it on a network of nuclear power plants and advanced military hardware that even European NATO members couldn’t afford.

Ayatollah Khomeini, the so-called Gandhi of the Iranian Revolution, first came to prominence in June 1963, when he was arrested for a speech publicly denouncing the Shah, the US, and Israel. The mass uprising following his arrest was quashed after the Shah declared martial law. Fearful of further unrest, the Shah, who originally intended to execute Khomeini, merely exiled him (first to Turkey, then Iraq).

For years, tapes of Khomeini’s speeches were smuggled into Iran, where they became extremely popular among students. In 1969, Khomeini (from Iraq) called for the Shah’s overthrow and establishment of an Islamic Republic. By the mid-1970s, nearly all Iranian opposition groups had united behind Khomeini,** including many ex-communists and the secular National Front (founded by Mosaddegh supporters).

When Carter became president in 1977, he again pressured Iran to undertake political and social reforms. The filmmakers believe the reforms (including greater press freedoms, release of political prisoners, and withdrawal of troops from the universities) merely emboldened the resistance movement, resulting in a wave of mass protests and general strikes. By late December, a prolonged general strike brought the economy to a standstill, with Iranian troops refusing orders to fire on strikers or protestors.

In January 1979, the Shah fled the country, and on February 1, three million Iranians turned out to hail Khomeini’s triumphant return from Paris (he was expelled from Iraq in October 1978).


*The embargo instituted by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries was aimed at nations supporting Israel is the 1973 Yum Kippur War.

**Unlike Sunni Islam, the Shi’a religion has a long history of rebellion against authority.

Although the video can’t be embedded, it can be view free at Breaking Point or at Press TV’s Facebook page (for now): https://www.facebook.com/PressTVdocumentaries

 

Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

Shopping for Freedom: Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

United Natures Media (2019)

Film Review

Shopping for Freedom is best described as an illustrated podcast about the legacy of Edward Bernays, the father of the public relations industry. It’s intended to remind us of the subtle way public relations and propaganda influence our culture to the point we only imagine we have free choice in the items we purchase.

The film has no background narrative. The sound track is a casual conversation between the hosts of Ashes Ashes, a podcast about the “end of the world.” Meanwhile we are bombarded with priceless archival footage of early TV ads and the propaganda news reels shown in schools and movie theaters in the fifties and sixties.

The footage begins with the propaganda films Bernays produced in the early fifties to win popular support for the CIA-backed coup to overthrow Guatemala’s elected government – at the behest of United Fruit Company (to protect its monopoly control of the banana industry)

The film goes on to describe Bernays’ work under Woodrow Wilson promoting US entry into World War I, and the new science of psychological persuasion as described in the former’s 1928 book Propaganda.

The hosts go on to give illustrated examples of Bernays’ successful campaigns – to increase smoking among women and consumption of nutritionless breakfast cereals and to shame working class women who got married without diamond engagement rings or wore the same dress more than once a week.*

Intriguingly the filmmakers also insert several one second “subliminal” messages inserted into the video, which the hosts never comment on. I saw “You are enough” flashed twice, three one-second Coke ads, and “eco-capitalism” flashed once.

The film concludes by recommending viewers question all their choices. Most people claim not to be influenced by advertising. In most cases, however, many of us are unaware of habits (such as buying diamond engagement rings) the PR industry has elevated into cultural norms. In all their decisions, people need to ask themselves, “Is someone trying to sell me something?”


*Bernays was also hired by ALCOA in the mid-forties to run a campaign to dispose of toxic fluoride waste by persuading municipalities to add it to their public water systems. See Edward Bernays: Father of Water Fluoridation