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

John le Carré: Speaking Truth to Power

John le Carré (1931-2020) on the Iraq War, Corporate Power, the Exploitation of Africa & More

Democracy Now! (2020)

Film Review

This video is a replay (following his December 12 death) of a 2010 Democracy Now interview with David Cornwell. Famous for spy thrillers under the pen name John Le Carré, Cornwell will always been my favorite novelist. I love his work, in part owing to his exquisite character development and, in part, owing to his scathing critique of the politicization and corruption of Western intelligence services.

Most of this interview relates to the malfeasance of multinational corporations, particularly banks. Cornwell begins with a reference to the $352 of laundered drug money analysts credit for preventing economic collapse in 2008. He then quotes from an International Herald Tribute article about all the banks* who have pleaded to money laundering and paid a fine. After paying a small fine (which Cornwell refers to as “the government’s cut), they resume business as usually without anyone serving a single day in jail.

Conwell also deplores the way both US and UK intelligence services were politicized to justify the illegal US/UK invasion of Iraq. Cornwell personally participated in the 3 million strong UK anti-Iraq war protest in March 2003.

Commentator Amy Goodwin and Cornwell also discuss two of his books: The Constant Gardener (about Big Pharma’s unethical/illegal drug trials in Africa) and The Mission Song about continuous civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cornwell blames the latter on greedy multinational corporations determined to exploit DRC’s precious mineral resources. My favorite, A Delicate Truth, is a novel about the CIA’s illegal extraordinary rendition scheme. See A Novel About Extraordnary Rendition


*He mentions Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Union Bank of California, Wachovia, American Express and BankAtlantic.

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

CIA: Making the World Safe for US Oil for 73 Years

 

The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, a Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil

by Charlotte Dennett

Chelsea Green Press (2020)

Book Review

In my view, this books makes a fairly compelling case that US Cold War strategy was more about protecting US oil interests (specifically pipelines) than fighting Communism. In The Crash of Flight 3804, Dennett describes her decades long battle to declassify intelligence records related to the plane crash that killed her father in Ethiopia on March 24, 1947. Daniel Dennett, previously employed by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), was working for the immediate CIA predecessor the Defense Intelligence Group (DIG) at the time of his death. Although his cover was Beirut State Department Cultural Attache, declassified records indicate he performed a vital counterintelligence role in protecting US strategic oil interests from, not only Russia, but also France and Britain.

Beginning in 1945, Emperor Haile Selassie signed oil deals with Sinclair Oil and TWA to break the British stranglehold* over Ethiopia. Charlotte believes he was flying from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia to further cement the US oil foothold in that country.

As she describes it, the post World War II years witnessed a mad scramble by the US, France, Britain and Russia to stake claims to key oil resources as Asian, Middle East and African countries declared their independence from European colonizers. Prior to the development of oil supertankers in the 1970s, overland pipelines were the most efficient method of transporting Middle East oil to European and Asian markets.

Within weeks of her father’s death, Truman signed the 1947 National Security Act that created the CIA. The latter would undertake their first-ever coup in 1949 again Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli, who refused to allow the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (TAPLINE) to transit his country. He was replaced by an army officer who approved the pipeline, and TAPLINE construction began immediately.

Dennett then traces, country by country, how all US military bases and interventions in the Middle East and Mediterranean follow existing and proposed oil pipelines routes.

I especially enjoyed her detailed analysis of the so-called civil war in Syria, starting with Robert F Kennedy’s revelations in 2014 about his grandfather Joseph P Kennedy’s role in a secret committee to investigate CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Although the 1956 Bruce Lovett report has since be declassified, its contents remain unknown to the US public.

Kennedy’s assertions about US backing for militant anti-Assad jihadists were subsequently validated by State Department emails leaked by Wikileaks. Likewise Dennett cites Hillary Clinton emails leaked (by Wikileaks) in 2016 revealing that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were funding ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq with State Department knowledge.

Her analysis of the current war in Yemen (whose oil reserves are believed to exceed those of the entire Persian Gulf) is spellbinding.


*British occupation of Ethiopia began in 1941, following their ouster of Italian troops.

 

 

I Knew Saddam

This is an abbreviated portrait of Saddam Hussein, based mainly on the reminiscences of US, British and Russian journalists who met him during the first Gulf War (1990-91).

The documentary notes his difficult childhood – his birth out of wedlock, unrelenting bullying by other children and his physically abusive stepfather. It also explores his love of the film The Godfather Part 1, for its portrayal of power based on ruthless brutality.

The filmmakers credit Saddam for the rapid modernization of Iraq and delivery, for the first time, of health services, education, water and electric power to even the most remote regions of Iraq. The price Iraqi people paid for these creature comforts was to live in a constant climate of fear. Children were pressured to inform on their parents. Even ruling Ba’ath party members were summarily executed if they posed any threat to Saddam’s authority.

Soon after assuming power in 1979, Saddam launched a devastating eight-year war against Iran, with the encouragement and financial/military support of the US. Iraq lost this war. A number of analysts blame the loss on Saddam’s insistence on running every aspect of the military campaign, despite his total lack of military experience.

The film goes on to talk about Saddam’s defeat by UN forces following his invasion of Kuwait. And the extreme suffering of the Iraqi people under a 12-year UN sanctions regime – while Saddam continued to live in lavish palaces.

While rarely mentioned in the Western media, Saddam had handed over power to his youngest son by the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003.

Tony Benn, the British journalist (and former Labour MP) describes the 2006 Iraqi trial in which Saddam was sentenced to death as a “fraud.”  According to Benn, he should have been tried at the International Criminal Court, where he would have been allowed to call witnesses in his defense (eg former president George H W Bush).

The film makes no mention of the CIA-sponsored coup that brought the Ba’ath Party to power in Iraq in 1963: see CIA Saddam

 

Former Guantanamo Detainee Exposes MI5 Role in Rendition

The Confession: The Story of Moazzam Begg

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

In this horrifying documentary, Moazzam Begg, who spent a year at Bagram prison and two ears at Guantanamo relates the history of his kidnapping and rendition from Islamabad (Pakistan), his rape and torture in both prisons, his release without charge in 2005 and his ongoing demonization by Islamophobic police, MI5 agents and British media.

Begg, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was born and grew up in the UK (Birmingham). After several beatings by skinheads, he paid a visit to Bosnia, where foreign Islamic fighters were supporting local Muslims during the NATO war against Yugoslavia. A short time later, he quit his job to open an Islamic bookshop in Birmingham. It was at this point he began to have regular contacts with an MI5 agent named Andrew.

In mid-2001, he was arrested under the Terrorism act, and British police raided his home and bookshop. The charges were dropped, and following his release, he moved his wife and three children to Afghanistan, which at that point was ruled by the Taliban.

Following the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11, he and his family fled to Islamabad. On Jan 21, 2002, a group of English-speaking men came to his home, kidnapped him and flew him to Kandahar prison in Afghanistan. There, after being threatened with rendition to Syria or Egypt for further torture and/or summary execution, he signed a confession admitting to membership in Al Qaeda. He reasoned that signing it would keep him alive long enough to stand trial.

Following the US invasion of Iraq, he was transferred to Bagram prison and from there to Guantanamo.

After his January 2005 release, he was briefly in custody in the UK and released without trial. It took three years to get his passport back. He then traveled to Egypt, Tunis, Libya and Turkey seeking further evidence of the US/UK rendition program. Under this process,  Muslim intellectuals were routinely kidnapped and “rendered” to totalitarian regimes (mainly Libya, Syria and Egypt), where they were tortured and forced to confess to Al Qaeda-related crimes.

In 2014, British police arrested him for the third time and he spent seven months in Belmarsh prison on a charge of training Syrian rebels and supplying them with an electrical generator. The case collapsed for lack of evidence. He believes this arrest stemmed from pure MI5 maliciousness for his efforts to expose their role in rendition and torture.

The video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at Confession: Story of Moazzim Begg

 

 

US Occupation of Iraq: the Environmental Legacy

Iraq’s Dying Rivers

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about the environmental degradation of the Middle East’s most famous rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The intersection of the two rivers, referred to as the Fertile Crescent, is celebrated as the birthplace of the agricultural revolution and the first human settlements.

The two rivers join in southern Iraq to form the Shatt-al-Arab, which empties into the Arabian Sea. The marshes along the Shatt were previously home to 200,000 “Marsh Arabs,” who worked as fishermen until Saddam Hussein drained the marshes in the 1950s. He reportedly did so to punish them for criticizing his regime.

The marshes were re-flooded in 2003, following the fall of Saddam. According to the UN, the wetlands habitat has only partially recovered (37%). This relates in part to dams on the upper Euphrates in Turkey and Syria. The latter have cut water levels in the Iraq segment of the Euphrates (making it more saline) by 50%. The river is also contaminated by industrial waste, agricultural runoff, human sewage, old rusting fishing vessels and the environmental damage resulting from nearly 30 years of US bombing campaigns (starting with the first US invasion in 1992).

Only 5,000 fisherman remain and all struggle to sustain their livelihood. In addition to declining fish stocks, they also face repeated harassment by the Iranian and Kuwaiti coast guard. The harassment stems from unresolved disputes between Iraq, Iran and Kuwait over their sea borders.

Fish stocks are also significantly reduced in the Tigris, which flows through Iraq’s capital city. While Baghdad fishermen are repeatedly hassled by Iraqi security forces, the Tigris is less contaminated and even serves as a source of drinking water.

At present, Iraq must import 60% of their fish, an important Iraqi dietary staple.

 

Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV that Depicts Reality

Hard Earned – Parts 1 and 2

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

As it bears no relation whatsoever to modern life, so-called “reality” TV is clearly a misnomer. Most of what passes for reality TV are highly scripted popularity contests for physically attractive white contestants.

Al Jazeera’s six-episode series Hard Earned, depicting the bitter struggle millions of Americans face to stay off the streets, is my kind of reality TV. Although I myself found it riveting, I am high skeptical that any US media provider will ever carry it.

Hard Earned follows five working class families as they struggle to meet basic survival needs with minimum wage jobs.

The families include an African American Chicago couple who work full time jobs at Walgreens to support two preschool kids; an Hispanic Iraq veteran in Montgomery Maryland who works a graveyard clerical shift at the courthouse, his school counselor girlfriend and his school aged son from a prior marriage; a Silicon Valley Hispanic man who works two full time jobs to pay $300 a month to live in a garage with his pregnant girlfriend; a 66/65-year-old African American Milwaukee couple who face working indefinitely at minimum wage jobs to keeping from losing their home; and a 50-year-old white Evergreen Park (Illinois) waitress who works two jobs and survives on credit cards to keep from losing the house she bought while making $80,000 a year as a construction worker.

We are introduced to the five families in Episode 1 and 2 (“The American Dream” and “Rock Bottom”). You are immediately struck by how exceptionally bright, hard working, resourceful and above all (for the most part) physically healthy they all are. This, despite working non-stop and getting very little sleep. They are also (for the most part) extremely adept at budgeting and managing their money.

 

 

The Electronic Whorehouse

The Electronic Whorehouse

by Paul Sheehan

McMillan Australia (2003)

Although 15 years old, this book offers valuable historical insight into the major transformation of traditional media in the 21st century. Paul Sheehan is a columnist and former senior editor for for The Sydney Morning Herald. His book is pretty wide ranging. As a point of departure, he examines the simultaneous rise of Fox News and Alex Jones, just as total network news viewership dropped from 60 to 30%, with a comparable reduction in newspaper readership.

One of Sheehan’s most important points is that the rise of the Internet has ended exclusive control by politicians, bureaucrats, media executives and journalists over the flow of public information. A second relates to the role of Fox News in forging a divergence between the “cultural elite” (represented by the traditional TV networks and CNN) and “mainstreet.” In describing Fox News’ appeal to blue collar white workers and Christian evangelists (almost never reflected in network news coverage – despite representing 46% of the US population), Sheehan eerily foreshadows the Trump phenomenon and the battle currently being played out between Trump and heritage media.

Sheehan goes on to decry the growing blurring between news, opinion and entertainment, as well as the exponential growth of the public relations industry as the source of most western news.

His conservative political bias comes across loud and clear in his diatribe against so-called “economic” refugees*, who he claims cheat the asylum process, and antiglobalization protestors (like myself), who in his view are merely trade unions playing the system for higher wages.

Oh really? That’s news to me – and I’m sure to conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, as well.


*With the chaos the US and allies have inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the distinction between “economic” and “political” refugees has become purely arbitrary. When the basic infrastructure of a society has been totally destroyed, the question of basic survival becomes even more acute than if a refugee has received actual death threats.

 

 

Hidden History: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War

The War in October

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

The War in October is a three-part documentary series about the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War – aka the Yom Kippur War. What struck me most about the series is how markedly it differs from what we read in the Western media (which was embedded with Israeli troops) and what Americans are taught in school.

Part I provides the background of the war – an agreement by Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father) agreement with Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat to simultaneously attack Israel to reclaim territory each had lost to Israel (the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula) in the 1967 war.

Part 1 reveals that both Syria and Egypt came close to reconquering their lost territory within the first 24 hours of their attack. They both failed, mainly owing to Assad’s and Sadat’s refusals to follow their generals’ advice.

Part 2 covers the major reversals Syria and Egypt experienced following the full mobilization of Israeli reserves. Israeli troops seized territory within Egypt to within 100 km of Cairo. Their tanks also penetrated deeply into Syria, until they were beaten back by reinforcements from Iraq and Jordan.

Part 3 is the most interesting, as it covers the role Henry Kissinger played, not only in providing Israel with critical military hardware, but in encouraging them to disregard two ceasefires ordered by the UN Security Council.

After the Soviet Union threatened to enforce the second ceasefire militarily, Kissinger (and Israel) eventually capitulated.

However the most effective tool in the 1973 war was the oil embargo launched by all Arab oil producing nations. International pressure forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian and Syrian territory and accep deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in buffer zones east of the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights.

In a side agreement, Sadat agreed to release 230 Israeli prisoners of war in return for Kissinger’s pledge to negotiate a treaty leading to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. Signed in 1979, the treaty resulted in full withdrawal of Israeli troops in 1982 – a year after Sadat’s assassination.