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.

 

 

Rojava: Direct Democracy for Syria’s Kurds

Rojava: Syria’s Unknown War

VICE News (2014)

Film Review

In this documentary, a VICE news journalist illegally crosses the Turkish border to provide viewers a tour of Rojava, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria. This is an ethnically diverse (with Christians, Jews and Sunni and Alawite Arabs) farming region possessing 60% of Syria’s oil. The Kurdish YPG (male) and YPJ (female) armies provide security (from terrorist attack) for the region, with assistance from farmer militias of other ethnicities. Men and women serve (unpaid) on an equal basis, although women are preferred as snipers. They supposedly make better snipers because “they’re more patient.”

Rojazava is presently under siege from Al Nusra, Islamic State and Al-Sham jihadists. Based on passports the YPG recovers from dead jihadists, most are foreign – from Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Turkey, which has sealed the Turkey-Rojava border to humanitarian aid and journalists, allows foreign jihadists to cross freely into Rojava. They have been strongly criticized by both the US government and Human Rights Watch for doing so.

The US Military Occupation of Africa

The Shadow War in the Sahara

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

The Shadow War in the Sahara is a thumbnail history of the US military occupation of Africa. The documentary begins with the 1885 Berlin Conference, at which the major European powers divided up all of Saharan Africa to better exploit its rich resources of gas, oil, copper, uranium, coltan and other rare earth minerals.

France initially came out the winner, controlling three-fourths of Saharan Africa until World War II. Even after all their Saharan colonies won independence (1945-62), France continued to maintain a military presence, as well economic dominance over most of its former colonies.

With the discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea in the sixties, this began to change – with the covert US support of armed rebellions in Ethiopia and Angola and its failed invasion of Somalia. Over time, most French troops have been replaced by US troops. While this was done in the name of “fighting terrorism,” the real US agenda has always been to secure oil and mineral resources in the face of Chinese domination over African oil.

Instead of employing military force and direct political intervention via the International Monetary Fund and their “structural adjustment”* policies, China has gained a major foothold in Africa in offering debt-free development loans and a policy of non-interference in domestic policy.

The US is the only major power to divide up the entire world into military command and control regions: USNorthcom (North America), USSouthcom (South America), USEUCom (Europe), USCentcom (Middle East and Central Asia), USPACom (Pacific region and Australia) and USAfricom.

Former Libyan ruler Omar Gaddafi successfully blocked the US from locating the USAfricom headquarters in Africa – so the US built it in Germany instead.

Prior to his assassination by US-backed rebels, Gadaffi was a powerful advocate for African unity. His primary goal in founding and bankrolling (from his massive oil revenues) the African Development Bank and an African Monetary Fund was to assist other African countries to resist western colonialism.

In 2009, he was elected chairman of the African Union, and in 2011 he cancelled major contracts with the powerful (US) Bechtel corporation and with France (for millions of dollars of military hardware). The punishment inflicted by the US and France was swift – a NATO bombing campaign in support of CIA-backed rebels charged with overthrowing his government.


*Structural adjustment describes a process by which the US-controlled IMF forces countries to privatize public utilities, cut public services and open third world economies to western investment as a condition of debt refinancing.

 

 

 

The End of Oil

end-of-oil

The End of Oil

by Paul Roberts

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (20014)

Book Review

Although fourteen years old, The End of Oil offers an invaluable historical analysis about the absolute link between cheap fossil fuels and the development of industrial capitalism. Roberts starts his analysis with the first century Persians who first distilled surface petroleum for use as lamp fuel. According to Roberts, widespread use of oil as a fuel was impossible until drill technology became available in the 19th century to drill for it at deep levels.

Roberts identifies coal mining as the first really capital intensive industry requiring extensive external funding. Building the infrastructure to mine and process all three fossil fuels is always extremely capital intensive. The fact that a coal or gas-fired power plant takes three or four decades to pay off is one of the main reasons fossil fuel companies, and the banks and governments that subsidize them, are so reluctant to replace them with renewable energy infrastructure. The End of Oil also emphasizes the absolute importance of cheap fossil fuel to the economic health of industrialized countries, Between1945 and 2004 (when the book was published), there were six big spikes in the price of oil – each was accompanies by a major economic recession.

Roberts maintains the cheap, easily accessible oil is all used up, explaining its steady price increase since the late 70s. Russian oil, which is fairly costly to mine, only became economically viable when the price of oil hit $35 a barrel in 1980.

Prior to the final chapters, which review the economics of various forms of renewal energy, the book also discusses the geopolitics of oil. Roberts leaves absolutely no doubt that the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was an effort by neoconservatives Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz et al to control the volatile price of oil and the devastating effects of this lability on the US economy. Although the US wars in Libya, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen occurred after the book’s publication, Roberts’s analysis left me with no doubt whatsoever they were driven by similar geopolitical objectives.

Roberts also discusses the geopolitical threats posed by China, India and Southeast Asian countries as their growing middle classes put pressure on a finite supply of oil. He also explores the threat the growing political/military alliance between Russian and Iran creates. Between them, the two countries control half the world supply of natural gas. He leaves no doubt, in other words, that the current US military threats against China, Russia and Iran are also about fossil fuel security, just like the war on Iraq.

Brexit,Trump, Syria and the Fabricated War on Terror

Adam Curtis Forced Hypernormalisation BBC

Directed by Adam Curtis

Film Review

Curtis, one of my favorite documentary makers, has a unique ability to conceptualize and describe the collective psychological conditioning the political elites subject us to – and the unintended consequences  of their use of public relations (as opposed to diplomacy and statecraft) to retain power. In this fascinating documentary, he explores the link between the rise of Putin and Donald Trump, the Brexit vote in Britain and the fabricated War on Terror. He also explains Syria’s critical role in this process, dating back to Hafeez al-Asaad (1970-2000) and his dream of unifying the Arab world against western exploiting.

The Concept of Forced Hypernormalisation

According to Curtis, “forced hypernormalisation,” is a term coined by the Soviets to describe a psychological control technique in which politicians retain power by projecting a vastly oversimplified view of world. Curtis maintains that Ronald Reagan was the first president to embrace this version of popular control, as he projected US foreign policy as a simple matter of good vs evil and encouraged Americans to withdraw from frustrating social and political concerns by focusing on their individual selves.

Curtis begins his capsule history of forced hypnormalisation with the invention of the strategy of suicide bombing by Hafeez al-Asaad and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini (when he was losing the Iran-Iraq WAR). Al-Assad (using Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia) would force US troops to withdraw from Lebanon with a dramatic suicide bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

Through the 1980s, Syria would engage in several other dramatic anti-US suicide bombings. However because Reagan felt retaliation against Syria was too risky (due to the support al-Assad enjoyed from other Arab leaders), he would blame Gaddafi, who other Arab leaders viewed as a madman, and bomb Libya instead. Gaddafi, eager for the notoriety, was always happy to take the credit.

Incessant Shapeshifting in US and British Foreign Policy

Thus a pattern emerged where US and British foreign policy became an indistinguishable mixture of fabrication and reality. The public got their first clear view of this strategy with the fabricated reality (ie non-existent weapons of mass destruction and non-existent links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida) used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This film also includes an intriguing account (the first I have seen from mainstream media) of the 30+ year Air Force Intelligence campaign to promote popular belief in UFOs.

Putin and Non-Linear Warfare

Curtis contends Russian information specialist Vladislav Surkoff, one of the dozen or so technocrats who keep Putin in power, is also a master of this ceaseless shapeshifting geared towards undermining people’s perception of the world. It is nothing for Surkoff to simultaneously promote Russia’s antifascist movement, nationalist neo-Nazi groups, human rights groups and the Russian Orthodox Church. In foreign policy, the Russians refer to this approach as “non-linear warfare, and they have used it in the Ukraine and Syria. The end result is the west never really knows what their real intentions are.

Enter Donald Trump

Donald Trump is also a master at this type of shapeshifting, with his unique blend of extreme right wing racism and anti-corporatism.  He’s notorious for constantly reversing and contradicting himself, and his speeches are a complex mixtures of facts. The fact he’s so difficult to pin down makes it extremely difficult for the media to attack him.

Untold History of the US – Bush and Obama Age of Terror

Part 10 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States covers the Bush II and Obama presidency.

The Bush II Presidency

Stone begins this section by reminding viewers that Al Gore won the 2000 election by 540,000 votes. He asserts Gore would also have won the electoral college if the Supreme Court hadn’t intervened and stopped the recount in Florida.

Under the heavy influence of Vice President Dick Cheney and other Project for a New American Century (PNAC) members, Bush immediately withdrew from the International Criminal Court treaty (which Clinton supported), the Nuclear Test Ban Treat, the Kyoto Accord and the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty. He also suspended US-led talks for Korean unification and for peace in Israel-Palestine.

Following 9-11 (which Stone refers to as the new Pearl Harbor PNAC called for), Bush launched illegal wars of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to authorizing the illegal indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, he also authorized the use torture and significantly expanded the US of “extraordinary rendition”* by the CIA, a program started by Clinton.

During his two terms as president, Bush doubled the defense budget, forcing massive cuts in domestic spending – which Stone maintains destroyed the US economy.

Meanwhile he pushed the Patriot Act through Congress to suppress domestic dissent against these policies.

The Obama Presidency

Stone begins this segment by reminding us that Obama rejected public campaign financing in 2008. His opponent John McCain, in contrast, accept public financing. As a result, Obama received all the major donations from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks. This enabled him to significantly outspend McCain.

Stone blasts Obama for campaigning as the anti-war, change candidate. Who immediately on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, massively increased troop numbers in Afghanistan, as well as expanding the war on terror to Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and the Philippines.

In addition to continuing NATO expansion to increase the likelihood of war with Russia, Obama significantly expanded the southern military command (SouthCom) to target democratic populism in South America (eg Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina). In 2008 he created AfriCom a sixth military command aimed at countering Chinese investment in Africa.

Obama has also significantly increased the likelihood of war with China by encircling them with new troop deployment and sophisticated nuclear weapons systems.


*Extraordinary rendition is the term used when the CIA kidnaps criminal or terrorist suspects in a foreign country and secretly (and illegal) transports them to a country known to engage in torture.

World War I through Arab Eyes

Essential history I should have learned in high school but didn’t. I must have been absent that day. This documentary gives me a new understanding of how European colonial powers totally wrecked the Arab world – a process that continues to the current day.

World War I through Arab Eyes

Al Jazeera (2014)

Film Review

This is a three part documentary in which Tunisian journalist Malke Triki interviews European, Turkish and Arab journalists and surviving families about the role of Arab forces – on both sides – in World War I.

Part 1 concerns the forcible conscription of Muslim troops by both the Ottoman Empire and the Allies. Two-thirds of the soldiers who defeated England, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli weren’t Turkish, but Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian, Iraqi and Palestinian. As these countries were still part of the Ottoman Empire, they were subject to a mandatory draft.

I was unaware that England and France, who had occupied large swathes of North Africa since the end of the 19th century, also forcibly conscripted Muslim troops. England forced more than 1.2 million Egyptians to fight for the Allied cause, while France forcibly drafted 100,000 Algerians, 80,000 Tunisians and 45,000 Moroccans.

The French were widely accused of using these colonial forces as cannon fodder to protect French soldiers.

Many colonial troops rebelled against being compelled to kill fellow Muslims. This, as well as their abominable treatment by Europeans, was the spark that inflamed the North African independence movements that arose after World War I.

Part 2 tells the story of the decline of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century and the Ottoman-German relationship which led to their Treaty of Alliance in August 1914.

In 1830 the Ottoman Empire stretched from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) to the Red Sea and encompassed most of North Africa and the Balkans. It was under continual attack by European colonial powers. In the late 1800s, the British military seized Egypt and the French military Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In 1912, Italy seized Libya. In the 1912-13 Balkan Wars, the Empire lost its European territories.

This episode also describes the Ottoman leadership’s brutal suppression of Arab nationalism in the Middle East, particularly in Syria/Lebanon. In 1915, one third of the Lebanese population died of starvation and another third were permanently displaced when their villages were decimated.

It also provides important background on the Armenian genocide carried out by the Ottoman leadership in 1915-17.

Part 3 covers the secret Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France and the way the two imperial powers carved up the former Ottoman Empire between them, regardless of promises made to nationalist movements across the Arab world.

Despite the Egyptian Revolution and the Iraq Uprising, Arab subservience to Ottoman rule was replaced by a series of mandates across the region in which Britain and France seized control of the areas they prized most – to satisfy their own ambitions, interests and ultimately to gain access to region’s valuable oil resources.

World War I gave birth to the Turkish nationalist movement, which led to the founding of the modern Turkish state; and to Zionism, aided greatly by the Balfour Declaration of 1917.