The French Infatuation with Nuclear Power

Atom, mon amour: French faith in nuclear power

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the apparent French infatuation with nuclear power. France presently has 58 nuclear power plants, the most in Europe. Globally, only the US has more nuclear plants. Filmmakers interview French residents living adjacent to a Normandy plant about the risks. They give replies, such as “We’re used to it” and “It’s part of our culture.” Most are unaware the plant is contaminating local local seafood by discharging radioactive wastewater into the ocean.

In addition to visiting an operation nuclear power plant, the filmmakers visit a new nuclear waste disposal site under construction 500 meters underground. The French government plan to store liquid nuclear waste in metal drums there for more that 100,000 years.*

They also visit the Saclay Nuclear Research Center, staffed by 6,000 international researchers. The French are eager to resume exports of their state-of-the art nuclear power plants once the furor over the Fukushima meltdown. The center also engages in research in renewable energy, which according to DW,  “isn’t a priority in France.”**

The segment I found the most interesting concerns the French antinuclear movements.  Local activists reveal that all nuclear power stations are owned and operated by the French government, which heavily subsidizes the price consumers pay for power (ie they sell it at a lower price than the cost of production).

The French activists meet regularly with German antinuclear activists. The latter found it was much easier to shut down Germany’s nuclear power network, as local and regional government have far more authority than in France.

The activists also complain about the massive amount of pro-nuclear propaganda the French government produces. In one example a newscast following the Chernobyl meltdown reveals fallout plumes miraculously changing course at the French border.

Despite ongoing surveillance, stalking and harassment by the police, the French antinuclear movement has forced the government to adopt stringent safety requirements that significantly delayed new plants from opening.

Moreover pressure from German activists and authorities is blamed for the impending closure of France’s oldest nuclear plant Fessenheim, located on the French-German border.


*I find this notion quite unrealistic, given that metal fatigue tends to cause metal containers to begin leaking in 30-100 years.

**Under its commitment to the EU renewable energy directive of 2009, France has a target of producing 23% of its total energy needs from renewable energy by 2020. This figure breaks down to renewable energy providing 33% of energy used in the heating and cooling sector, 27% of the electricity sector and 10.5% in the transport sector. In addition, France actively exports innovative renewable technologies worldwide:   French Renewable Energy

 

 

Fethullen Gulen, Turkey’s 2016 Coup, and the US Charter School Movement

Turkey’s Coup: The Gulen Mystery

RT (2018)

Film Review

This alarming RT documentary series concerns the secretive Turkish imam accused by Turkish president Recep Erdogan of orchestrating the 2016 coup. Fethullen Gulen, founder of Turkey’s Hizmet movement, defected to the US in 1995, after being charged with trying to start a secret religion. At the height of the movement’s power in 2008, it had 2-3 million Turkish followers and ran 2,000 Gulen schools and universities in 140 countries, including the US.

The US is resisting Turkey’s demands for Gulen’s extradition to stand trial for his role in the coup.

What I found most concerning about the series is learning (in Part 4) of Hizmet’s extensive role in starting 170 taxpayer funded Gulen charter schools in the US. The FBI raided a number of Gulen schools in 2011 as part of an ongoing investigation. For some mysterious reason, the mainstream media made no mention of this at the time of the Turkish coup.

Some Russian analysts believe Gulen received CIA support in expanding his private school network to newly independent Muslim republics following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2008, the Justice Department appealed the State Department’s decision to award Gulen permanent residency in the US. They lost the appeal based on two letters from the CIA and one from the US ambassador in Ankara.

Gulen presently lives on a 25 acre estate in Pennsylvania.

Part 1 describes the formation of the Hizmet movement in Turkey in the sixties and seventies and the spread of Gulen schools to Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia, Ukraine and Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the same period, they also spread to many countries in Africa and Asia.

Part 2 describes the expansion of Gulen schools into Russia and Germany. After Putin came to power, many Russian Gulen schools were closed after parents complained about their children being indoctrinated with Islamic beliefs.

Part 3 includes interviews with Turkish immigrants in Germany and the extortion-style techniques the Hizmet movement used to pressure them to help fund new Gulen schools.

Part 4 examines the history of Gulen charter school movement in the US. One former American Gulen school teacher describes their abusive treatment of women and the complaint she made to the FBI about her husband being forced contribute 40% of his salary to the Hizmet movement. At the height of their power, the Hismet movement represented a powerful tightly controlled international corporation and had major presence in number of Turkish government agencies.

Part 5 explores the powerful role of the Turkish military in maintaining Turkey’s status as a secular state. It also describes a brief alliance between Erdogan and Gulen in the early 1990s to advocate for greater Islamic influence over Turkish society. Prior to the 2016 coup, the Hizmet movement controlled the second largest media empire in Turkey – with six TV stations, two radio stations and several newspapers, magazines and publishing companies. Following the coup, Erdogan arrested 102,000 members of the Izmet movement and fired 130,000 others who held government jobs. He closed all Turkey’s Gulen schools or arranged for their takeover by local authorities, He also shut down 1,500 Hizmet-funded NGOs and their Turkish media network. The subsequent drop in their funding led to the closure or takeover of many Gulen schools worldwide.

Part 5, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed free at

The Rise and Fall of Fethullah Gulen

 

Germany’s Super Rich

Germany: The Discrete Lives of Germany’s Super Rich

DW (2019)

Film Review

This is a documentary about German billionaires, which are more prevalent in Germany than elsewhere in Europe. Der Spiegel’s Manager Magazine compiles and annual list of Germany’s 1001 richest people. Assets of at least $100 million to make the list, which includes 170-180 billionaires. All but one are men.

German billionaires are far less ostentatious than their US, Chinese or Russian counterparts. Shunning conspicuous consumption, most try to hide their wealth. They express fear of provoking envy and the risk of break-ins or having their children kidnapped. Families with inherited wealth are afraid its links to the Third Reich will be exposed.

The filmmakers found a handful of billionaires willing to be interviewed, including a multibillionaire who owes his wealth to a self-service drug store chain, the founder of a chain of fitness studios and a hearing aid manufacturer. Unlike the US, there are no big tech, athlete or movie star billionaires.

Rather than directly lobbying political leaders (as in the US), German billionaires tend to lobby the German government indirectly through their business associations. There is always the implied (or expressed) threat they will leave Germany and take tens of thousands of jobs with them.

In Germany, the last 25 years as seen a big spike in wealth inequality. Average wages and corporate and wealth taxes have declined as billionaire wealth has increased exponentially.

The billionaires interviewed uniformly oppose restoring former tax rates to help reduce poverty. What I find most striking about the film is their failure to recognize their obscene fortunes as a wealth transfer from low income people. In many cases, it’s clearly a wealth transfer from their own workers, whose wages have been steadily squeezed by German productivity policies.

 

 

 

 

Running the Gauntlet: The Tortuous Path to Political Asylum in Europe.

Sky and Ground

Directed by Joshua Bennett (2018)

Film Review

Sky and Ground is about two refugee families from battle torn Aleppo who illegally smuggle themselves from Turkey to Germany, where they are eligible to apply for asylum. Due to archaic and tortuous EU law, they are unable to apply for political asylum unless they run the gauntlet and illegally cross a number of countries to reach German soil.

Using smugglers to cross the Mediterranean, they decide to leave Greece after a hepatitis A outbreak in their refugee camp. An uncle, a filmmaker, captures their journey on his Smartphone. He also uses the phone to communicate with brothers in Germany, who track them via GPS and advise them of the best routes to take.

In 2016, Macedonia has just closed their border, which means they must find an unguarded wilderness crossing point. They seek medical help when one of the women sprains her ankle. The Red Cross turns them into the police – who return them to the Greek refugee camp.

On their second attempt they walk mainly at night across Macedonia. They openly cross the Serbia border, where police transport them to a hostel in Belgrade.

They stay in a refugee camp on the Serbian-Hungarian border, where the Hungarian police demand a $50 bribe not to return them to Greece. As a single man, their uncle is forced to remain in the refugee camp for 28 days. A relative from Germany flies to Hungary to assist the other family members in traveling by train from Hungary to Austria. There, they are taken to the police station, where they are issued a 14-day permit.

Eventually the entire group reaches Germany, where they apply for, and receive, temporary asylum.

 

 

The Deceptive Promise of Free Trade

A Game of No Rules: The Deceptive Promise of Free Trade

DW (2018)

Film Review

Produced in response to the protective tariffs Trump has enacted, this documentary shows the negative side of globalization and free trade. It maintains that most free trade treaties are one sided and significantly increase inequality. According to the filmmakers, the primary purpose of free trade is to give wealthy countries cheap access to the resources of developing countries.

Most of the film focuses on the  protective (aka “punitive”) tariffs Europe has been using for years to protect their domestic industries from cheap imports. In contrast, most US politicians have rejected protective tariffs in favor of free trade. The result has been the failure of many domestic American industries unable to compete with cheap Asian imports.

The film starts with the example of Germany, which charges punitive tariffs (50%) on imported Chinese bicycle frames. In all, the EU imposes punitive tariffs on 53 Chinese products, including steel, porcelain and ironing boards.

At the same time the EU imposes tough “free trade” treaties on African countries, prohibiting them from enacting protective tariffs to protect their farmers. This allows European countries to dump cheap agricultural surpluses on their economies, putting local farmers out of business when they can’t produce food cheaply enough to compete.

A Game of No Rules argues that local food production should be sheltered (by protective tariffs) in both developing and developed countries and that Third World countries should be allowed to enact protective tariffs while they establish local industries. Prohibiting Third World countries from enacting protective tariffs ultimately creates mass unemployment and a flood of economic refugees to the industrial North.

 

 

The 1968 Global Revolt and the Brutal 1969 Global Crackdown

1968 Global Revolt – Part 3 The Explosion

DW (2018)

Film Review

Part 3 focuses on 1969 and the extreme police and military violence directed at anti-government protests in the US, Japan, Italy and Germany.

In the US, 1969 saw the occupation of derelict University of California-Berkeley property for the formation of a People’s Park and the formation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The latter would be destroyed by heavy CIA/FBI infiltration and assassination and false imprisonment of many of its leaders. 1969 also saw the sidetracking of many US antiwar protestors into environmental activism, women’s and gay liberation and alternative lifestyles (the hippy peace, love and truth movement, Woodstock and communal living).

In Germany, the students rejecting bourgeois capitalist lifestyles formed the Kommune movement. The filmmakers erroneously describe the Baader-Meinhoff Gang (aka the Red Army Faction), responsible for setting fire to department stores and warehouses, as a fringe offshoot of the the Kommune movement. The Baader-Meinhoff Gang was exposed in the early 90s as a CIA/NATO-driven product of Operation Gladio.*

The filmmakers also mischaracterize Italy’s Red Brigades as a violent offshoot of the Italian antifascist movement that mobilized tens of thousands of workers and students. The Red Brigades, responsible for tens of thousands of false flag bombings and assassinations, was also created and run by Operation Gladio. The Italian government used the Red Brigades “terrorist” activities events to justify the adoption of extreme repressive measures, including the imprisonment of 30,000 antifascist activists.

Also disappointing is the filmmakers’ failure to identify the root cause of Japan’s anti-American protests (ie the CIA funding of their single party government). In his book Blowback, Chalmers Johnson compares Japan’s US-controlled post-war government to East Germany’s dictatorship. Also see CIA supported Japan’s ruling party during Cold War era

*Operation Gladio is the code name for a CIA/NATO backed paramilitary network that carried out thousands of false flag terrorist operations to justify repressive government legislation to suppress grassroots anti-capitalist organizing. It was exposed in a 1992 BBC documentary.

 

 

1965-75: The Decade that Nearly Dismantled Capitalism?

Global Revolt – Part 1 The Wave

DW (2018)

Film Review

This is a four-part documentary series, based on archival video footage, of a global uprising that took place between 1965-75. Although the uprising began with student protests opposing the Vietnam war, disgruntled workers and farmers joined in with students in France, Italy, Chile and Brazil and Japan. The main weakness of this series is the absence of a unifying thread. Although the historical film footage is superb, the scattershot approach and the misidentification of various Operation Gladio programs (as genuine leftist movements) makes it impossible for the viewer to draw any real conclusions.

Part 1 mainly focuses on the US anti-Vietnam War movement. However it also briefly examines the youth uprisings that occurred in the UK, Italy, Germany and Japan, as well as the first international conference of the Non-Aligned Movement* in Havana in 1963.

For me, the most interesting part of the film was the International War Crimes Tribunal Jean Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell organized in 1967 to investigate US war crimes in Vietnam.


*Operation Gladio is the code name for a CIA/NATO backed paramilitary network that carried out thousands of false flag terrorist operations in Cold War Europe. The goal of these operations was to justify repressive government legislation against grassroots anti-capitalist organizers. It was exposed in a 1992 BBC documentary:

**The Non-Aligned Movement is an organization of sovereign countries that refuse to ally themselves with or against any of the major power blocs (US, Russia, China).

How European Banks Hijacked the Euro Monetary Union

Buy, Buy Europe

Pieter De Vos (2013)

Film Review

This is a five-part miniseries describing how European banks have hijacked the euro monetary union to vastly increase their wealth. The upcoming Brexit vote in Britain makes this a particularly relevant topic.

Part 1 A Bank Crisis a Week

The series begins by describing the history of the European monetary union. Built at the height of neoliberalism it adopted all the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan promising that globalized capitalism and free markets would end economic crises, increase prosperity and end inequality.

What really happened is that creating the euro massively increased inequality between northern and southern Europe and between workers and the super rich.

In seeking to make European banks as strong and competitive as US and British banks, Eurozone leaders ceased regulating them. Wall Street is often blamed for the EU’s 2008 meltdown. In actuality, deregulated European banks were equally guilty of risky speculation in derivatives and subprime mortgages.

Following the 2008 economic crash, European banks required massive government bailouts to keep European economies from collapsing. Promised banking reforms to prevent a recurrence of 2008 never happened. And according to the IMF, the global banking system is even more unstable today as it was right before the meltdown.

Part 2 Austerity Till the Grave

The bailouts required to keep their banks (and economies) going virtually bankrupted all Eurozone governments. All borrowed deeply (from the global banking system they had just bailed out) to keep their governments going. As a condition of this borrowing, the banks required them to reduce their deficits via deep austerity cuts. To qualify for further loans, they all cut pensions and benefits and laid off public service workers.

This segment focuses on Spain, where workers are organizing to block evictions, and Greece, where unemployed parents are forced to drop their kids off at orphanages because they can’t get welfare benefits to support them.

Part 3 Tax Haven Europe

This segment begins by profiling the Greek shipping magnates who run the largest merchant fleet in the world and pay virtually no tax. Corporations and the super rich pay far less tax than working people in all the EU countries. This massive tax avoidance forces all European governments to acquire major debt to keep from collapsing.

The documentary offers the example of Belgium, where the average tax rate is 12.5% and the most profitable corporations pay only 5% of their earnings in tax.

The filmmakers maintain that workers create wealth, though I doubt most neoliberals would see it that way. In 1981 Europe, 74% of the wealth workers created was returned to them as wages and government benefits. By 2012 only 49% of this wealth was returned to them and the super rich claimed the rest.

Part 4 Bratwurst, Lederhosen and Minijobs.

This was the most eye-open segment for me. It exposes the punitive conditions imposed on German workers from 2000 with the goal of making German export industries more competitive. Under former chancellor Gerhart Schroeder, massive wage reductions were imposed on all German workers – something IMF chief Christine LaGarde likes to call “labor market reform.”

Among other labor “reforms,” were a massive increase in “minijobs” – low wage part-time temporary positions that pay an average of 400 ($US 448) euros a month. Given Germany’s high cost of living, both parents need to work 2-3 “minijobs” (if they can find them) to cover a family’s basic needs.

The result was truckloads of cheap German imports flooding into southern EU countries (Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy), shutting down local industries that couldn’t compete.

In this way, Germany’s vicious attack on their own workers forced wages down in other EU countries. This, in turn, forced countries like Greece and Spain to borrow lots of money from German banks to keep their governments going.

Ironically Germany currently has the highest number of working poor (7 million) of all EU countries.

Part 5 What Kind of Europe Do We Want?

It’s vital for people to understand that the mantra EU governments repeat ad nauseum – that saving the euro is essential to strengthening the EU and restoring prosperity – is pure propaganda. Seven years of austerity is massively increasing deficits and debt by putting so many people out of work.

The truth is that the Eurozone has been hijacked by banks and multinational corporations who are determined to use trade agreements to lock member countries into austerity and statutory destruction of Europe’s proud tradition of democratic socialism.

The only solution is a public takeover of too-big-to fail banks. Continuing to bail them out, while allowing them to privatize all the profits, is simply legalized theft of public monies. And a yes vote on Brexit.

 

Global Civil Disobedience

Disobedience: the Courage to Break Free

By Kelly Nykes (2016)

Film Review

Disobedience is about the global movement (on six continents) to shut down the fossil fuel industry. The primary aim of the Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement is to end fossil fuel mining and shut down gas-fired power plants.

A major premise of the documentary is that the COP21 climate conference in December 2015 was a public relations stunt. Climate activists believe it accomplished virtually nothing towards preventing catastrophic climate change for two main reasons: 1) the national emissions targets agreed are purely voluntary and unenforceable and 2) despite agreeing to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the treaty’s carbon budget will result in 3.5 degrees warming.

President Lyndon Johnson was the first to warn the world, in 1965, of the link between heavy fossil fuel combustion, CO2 emissions and global warming. Ten years later, Exxon began planning for global warming by making their drilling rigs “climate proof.” In 1989, they switched tactics by co-founding the Climate Coalition and hiring a public relations firm (the same one that promoted the health benefits of smoking) to launch the climate denial movement.

Filmmakers include coverage from mass civil disobedience actions to shut down coal fired power plants in the Philippines and Turkey, tar sands production and export in Alberta and British Columbia and an open pit coal mine in Germany. Given that Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy production,* I was extremely surprised to learn they burn more lignite* *coal than any other country, including China and India.

The film also features footage from the Seattle blockade of a Shell Arctic oil exploration rig – which helped persuade Shell to abandon their plans to drill the Arctic for oil.

For the most part, these actions succeed by increasing the cost of doing business – especially now when low oil and gas prices are already denting profits.


*On  May 16 Germany got nearly all its power from renewable energy.

**Lignite is often referred to as brown or “dirty” coal due to the high level of particulate and heavy metal pollution it produces.

 

 

The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy

People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy

Robert McChesney and John Nichols (2016)

Film Review

An extremely inspiring public presentation in which McChesney and Nichols talk about their latest book (of the same name)

McChesney begins with research indicating that 50% of current jobs will be eliminated by robots and artificial intelligence in the next 10-20 years. He also talks about the inherent inability of a scarcity/profit based economic system to address this crisis.

For me, the most interesting part of his presentation was a discussion of Franklin D Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights.* According to McChesney, both Germany and Japan incorporated this Second Bill of Rights into their constitutions after World War II. This, in his view, explains why both countries have become economic powerhouses.

Both men talk about the crucial need to form a post-capitalist society and economic system. Nichols talks more about the large global movements which have formed to build this new system. He, like McChesney, has been surprised by the popular candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The book predicts the appearance of proto-fascist and democratic socialist candidates in response to growing popular resistance movements. However neither expected it to happen so quickly.

The best part of Nichols’ talk is his discussion of the massive Luddite and Chartist movements in Britain (and the populist and progressive movements in the US) that would ultimately lead to universal suffrage, honest elections and the rise of the trade union movement.

Nichols stresses that none of these reforms resulted from the heroic efforts of a political savior – they all resulted from the dedicated and persistent mass organizing of ordinary people.

 


*Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights included the basic right of all Americans to

• Employment (right to work)
• Food, clothing and leisure, via enough income to support them
• Farmers’ rights to a fair income
• Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
• Housing
• Medical care
• Social security
• Education