When Hydropower is Unsustainable

DamNation: The Problem with Hydropower

Directed by Ben Knight (2014)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the growing US dam removal initiative At the time of filming, the US had 75,000 dams over three feet high. There is growing consensus that dams built (especially those on the Colorado River) to supply water to desert farms and cities in Southern California  were misguided and unsustainable.

America’s 75,000 dams have caused untold damage to US fish population that return upstream to spawn.  Despite spending billions of dollars on fish hatcheries and fish ladders, current US salmon and trout populations are less than 9% of their pre-dam numbers. The film depicts images of salmon trying to leap up 12 foot dam walls to reach the upstream shallows where they hatched.

It would be Nixon, with his 1973 Endangered Species Act, who provided the greatest boon to migrating salmon. The Act holds dam operators responsible when a fish species becomes endangered. The Edwards Dam on Maine’s Keanebeck River was the first major dam to be removed (in 1999). This saved taxpayers several millions of dollars annually on (largely unsuccessful) endangered fish mitigation schemes. Thus far the Elwha River Dam on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State was the largest dam to be removed (in 2011).

The segment of the film I like most concerns the ongoing campaign of US Army Corps whistleblower Jim Waddell. It was Waddell who first brought to light a $35 million Army Corps feasibility study that recommended “breaching” all four dams on Washington State’s Snake River.

The Army Corps, which owns the dam, spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on failed salmon mitigation to sell power at a loss (due to competition with local wind and solar power). Even more distressed than endangered Snake River salmon, are starving Puget Sound Orca whales who feed on them. The latter are literally on the verge of extinction. See Orcas Extinction Via Bureaucratic Bungling and Stupidity.

Please support the bill Representative Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) has introduced to breach the three Lower Snake River dams. (See GOP Congressman Proposes Snake River Dam Removal).

Money As Religion

I Can’t Get You Out of My Head

Part 3 Money Changes Everything

Directed by Adam Curtis

Links to Part 1 and Part 2

Film Review

Part 3 of I Can’t Get You Out of My Head concerns the gradual handover of political power from elected official to banks and financial institutions. Curtis traces this process to Nixon’s 1973 decision to abolish the gold (and silver) standard. Once currencies ceased to have any fixed value, power began to shift to banks (who create the vast majority of our money*) and currency traders. For Curtis, one of the most significant cultural events of the seventies was the publication of a Russian emigre’s 1974 book It’s Me Eddie. The main theme of the novel is that Americans mistakenly believe they are free when they’re really simplified robots controlled by the rules of money.

The 1973 oil embargo (which caused oil prices to skyrocket) reinforced the popular sense that elected officials had lost control over government.

Nixon, who was naturally paranoid, was aware from the onset of his presidency that there were intelligence insiders at the White House plotting against him.** This led to his decision to tape record all his Oval Office conversations, providing ammunition for opponents who forced him to resign. 

Meanwhile in China, Mao’s fourth wife Jiang Qing (see Part 1 Where Has Democracy Gone?) was briefly the most powerful woman in the world. Beginning in 1971, Jiang lost control of the Red Guards, which broke into warring factions. Mao, in turn, removed her from power and exiled troublesome Red Guard leaders to the desert and the provinces. Determined to succeed Mao, Jiang allied herself with three other party officials to form the Gang of Four.

Deng Xiaoping, who would succeed Mao in 1977, immediately had them arrested and imprisoned.

For me, the most interesting segment of Part 3 concerns the discovery by Kerry Thornley, co-founder of Operation Mindfuck (see Part 1 Where Has Democracy Gone?) that many of the individuals New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison implicated in the JFK assassination were involved in the Watergate break-in. Thornley ultimately decided he had been manipulated by intelligence operatives to start Operation Mindfuck and spread phony Illuminati conspiracy theories.


*Contrary to popular belief, private banks create 97-98% of the money in circulated with government creating the 2-3% that exists as notes and coins. See 97% Owned

**Russ Baker probably gives the best account of the conspiracy by Bush Sr intelligence operatives to bring down the Nixon presidency by undertaking a bungled burglary at the Watergate Hotel and implicating Nixon in the operation. See Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America’s Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last 50 Years*

Shooting and F**king Are the Same Thing

I Can’t Get You Out of My MInd

Shooting and Fucking Are the Same Thing

By Adam Curtis (2021)

Film Review

Link to Part 1: Where Has Democracy Gone?

In Part 2, Curtis helps us understand how six 1968 revolutions (in France, Berlin, Mexico City, Chicago, Prague and London)* all failed. He sees a clear connection between the cult of hyperindividulam, which began in the 1950s, and the move of many radicals away from collective community concerns to a focus on self actualization.  He gives the example of Chicago 7 member Bobby Seale becoming a chef and Tupac Shakur (a Black Panther from birth) becoming a rapper.

Part 2 broadly covers the late sixties and early seventies. It traces the rise and fall of Black power in US and Britain, focusing on the organizing efforts of Afeni Shaku (mother of assassinated rapper Tupac Shakur) and Michael X in Notting Hill London. Curtis observes that Michael X was arrested in Redding in 1967 for “inciting racial violence,” while Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s 1968 anti-immigrant “Rivers of Blood” speech made him the most popular politician in the UK.

Afeni, representing herself, would ultimately get the Panther 21 acquitted of “conspiring to commit bombings” after proving the bombing plot originated with two FBI informants who had infiltrated the Black Panther Party.

In addition to tracing Richard Nixon’s rise to the presidency, Curtis also examines a number of high profile psychological experiments that convinced the ruling elite that trying to change people’s behavior by reasoning with them was a waste of time. Instead they decided the best way to control people was to keep them in a constant simplified dream world.


*See 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

 

Hidden History: The 21 Korean War POWs Who Defected to China

 

They Chose China

Directed by Shui-Bo-Wong (2006)

Film Review

This documentary is about 21 US Korean War POWs who chose not to repatriate to the US when the Korean armistice was signed in 1953. Initially there were 23. The first two returned to the US in the early fifties, where they were court martialed and given 10 and 20 year prison sentences.

For the most part, the US media echoed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s view that the 21 who remained in China were Communist traitors. However in a 1954 interview about their reasons for defecting, most cited their opposition to imperialist wars or to McCarthy’s witch hunt against US political dissidents, which they equated with fascism.

The 21 were also clearly influenced by their extremely positive treatment during their three years in captivity. The Chinese who ran the North Korean POW camps allowed them to have American food, as well as encouraging them to organize football, baseball and soccer games.

On arriving in China, they were given a choice between working in a factory, joining a collective farm or attending university. Most would leave China prior to 1966, when Mao launched his brutal Cultural Revolution. In giving their reasons for repatriating, some talked of a changing political climate that was less tolerant of foreigners. Other cited concerns about the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Three of the US defectors are profiled in this film:

Clarence Adams – an African American from Memphis who enlisted in 1947 to escape a gang of white supremacist cops who had targeted him. His main reason for defecting to China was to escape white terrorism, as well as economic opportunities denied to him in the US. After spending several hears at university, he worked as a translator in Beijing and broadcast propaganda speeches directed at Black soldiers in Vietnam.

David Hawkins – in a 1957 60 Minutes interview (following his return to the US), he asserts the US had no business invading a country (Korea) that posed no threat to them militarily.* He also strongly advocates for the US to recognize China (the US officially recognized China in 1972 during Nixon’s first term).

James Veneris – the only defector profiled in the film who remained in China, as a factory worker, until his death in 2004.


*See See Hidden History: The US Wars Against Japan, Korea and Vietnam and The Long US War Against the Third World

This film can be viewed free at https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/they-chose-china/

 

The Evolution of Legalized Slavery in the US Prison System

13th

Directed by Av DuVernay (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is a thoughtful exploration of the crucial role of the 13th amendment played in the president mass incarceration of African Americans, who currently provide captive labor for major Wall Street corporations for pennies a day. Featuring such luminaries as Van Jones, Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, retired Black Congressional Caucus member Charles Rangel, and former (Republican) House Speaker Newt Gingrich*, the film highlights major landmarks in the evolution of the US prison industrial complex.

According to filmmakers, the 13th amendment was the most significant in that it essentially preserved slavery as “punishment for a crime.” Having lost their four million strong slave labor force, Southern states facing economic collapse, were quick to adopt “convict leasing” systems. In this way former slaves arrested for minor crimes such as loitering and vagrancy (ie failure to carry a letter certifying employment), could be leased to plantations, mines, and developing industries.

Likewise the 2015 release of D W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was instrumental in the emerging mythology of black criminality. The overtly racist films glamorizes the Klu Klux Klan, while implanting the fiction in the public mind of an irresistible African American desire to rape white women. KKK cross burning was another fiction Griffith invented, which the terrorist organization subsequently adopted. .

The film’s release, which greatly increased KKK membership, also triggered thousands of lynchings between World War I and World War II. This state sanction terrorism against Southern Blacks, rather than economic privation, would be the main driver of northward African American migration in the early 20th century.

The film also recounts Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” in which he used subtle “war on drugs,” “law and order,” and “tough on crime” rhetoric to appeal to Southern Democrats’ unease with the civil rights movement – thus persuading them to vote Republican.

Reagan, in turn, would provide the legislation and funding to prosecute the war on drugs, significantly ramping up the arrest and conviction of low income minorities for victimless crimes such as marijuana and crack cocaine possession.

The film attributes most responsibility for the America’s obscene incarceration rate (2 million+ and growing) to Bill Clinton and his 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill. The latter significantly increased the militarization and numbers of cops on the street. Clinton also heavily promoted “three strikes you’re out” and minimum mandatory sentencing laws that have massively increased the US prison census.


*Newt Gingrich: “No one who is white understands the difficulty of being Black in the US.”

A Nation Founded on the Institution of Slavery

Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents

by Margaret Kimberley

Truth to Power (2020)

Book Review

This book should be required reading in all US high schools and colleges, along with Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and Roxane Dunbar Ortiz’s Indigenous People’s History of the United States. It will make absolutely clear to all history students that the main purpose of the US War of Independence and the US Constitution were to preserve the institution of slavery in North America.

It was to preserve slavery the nation’s capitol was moved in 1791 from Philadelphia to a coastal swamp between Virginia and Maryland. Traveling to a national capitol in a northern state was too embarrassing for slave holding presidents like Washington. It meant having to rotate slaves between Philadelphia and Virginia – any slave remaining in Pennsylvania longer than six months automatically won their freedom.

Kimberley also totally demolishes the mythology around America’s “shrewd and brilliant” slaveholding founding fathers. Even northern presidents who favored emancipation (including Lincoln who only did so for political expediency) held profoundly racist beliefs about the innate inferiority of Africans. In fact, they sought to forcibly expel them to offshore colonies.

As Kimberley ably demonstrates, no US president has ever supported social justice reforms benefiting African Americans except in response to massive grassroots pressure.

For me the most interesting part of the book concerns Fannie Lou Hammer and her battle to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The 1968 Democratic National Convention, would ultimately seat them – leading to the breakaway of Storm Thurmond’s Dixiecrats. This wholesale defection of Southern whites would ensure a Republican presidential victory (for Nixon) the same year.


* Lincoln, who fervently believed in keeping the US white, worked on a number of colonization strategies to forcibly deport freed slaves, first to Île À Vache near Haiti and later to Panama.

 

Corporate Welfare: How Billionaires Enrich Themselves at Our Expense

 

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)

By David Cay Johnston

Penguin Group (2007)

Book Review

This book is an encyclopedia of the complex system of taxpayer-funded subsidies government grants the business elite to curry their political support. This support occurs in three main ways: as campaign contributions, as jobs (at the end of a civil servant’s government career) and outright bribes. According to Johnston, corporate welfare is as old as capitalism itself. Adam Smith (who Johnston quotes frequently) refers to corporate subsidies as “bounties.” He warns against them in his 1776 Wealth of Nations.

The author, who views corporate welfare as a major cause of America’s growing inequality, details a number of examples in which federal and state subsidies transformed ordinary entrepreneurs into billionaires.

  • Sports stadiums – between 1995-2006 sports team owners persuaded state and local authorities to build more than 50 new major league stadiums and countless minor league stadiums. In many cases, the state or city seize private land via eminent domain on which to build the stadium. Johnston maintains that running a sports team is always a money-losing proposition – in nearly every case any profit is almost identical to the size of the subsidy. Former president George W Bush made his first millions by buying the Texas Rangers and using his father’s influence to pressure the city of Arlington to seize 200 acres of private land via eminent domain for a sports stadium.
  • Walmart – founder Sam Walton built his retail empire by hiring lobbyists (Johnston calls them “bounty hunters”) to grant him free land via eminent domain, to “gift” him the sales tax he collects from customers and allowing him to raise capital via low cost government-sponsored industrial bonds. In total, Walmart has been granted more the $1 billion of government subsidies in 1/3 of their stores and distribution centers. In addition, as of 2007 they had (legally) avoided $4 billion in property and state income taxes.
  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMOs) – Nixon launched the first non-profit HMOs in the early seventies. His goal was to reduce health care costs by enrolling patients in repaid care in where doctors worked on salary. In 1981, Reagan phased out the federal loans and loan guarantees Nixon enacted to help subsidize HMOs and allowed them to become for profit businesses.All over the country, CEOs sold and traded shares in HMOs built at taxpayer expense.The CEOs of non-profit hospitals and Blue Cross plans quickly followed suit. Johnston calls it the greatest legalized theft of public assets in US history.

Vietnam War Series Ends with Load of Sentimental Claptrap

The Weight of Memory, Episode 10

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

I found the final episode of the Vietnam War series, shown on Maori TV earlier this week, extremely disappointing. The first half contained some good historical detail and valuable commentary by North Vietnam and Vietcong fighters. The last half was a load of sentimental claptrap about the Vietnam War memorial and other efforts to “heal” the Vietnam experience. It was totally devoid of any political analysis, eg the role of banks, oil companies and defense contractors in strong arming three administrations into pursuing an unwinnable war at great cost to the American people. Even more disgusting was the failure to identify obvious parallels with the illegal US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have lasted even longer than Vietnam.

The filmmakers also totally gloss over the reality that for the Vietnamese, the war was purely a war of independence against foreign invaders.

Episode 10 covers March 29, 1973, when the last US troops left Vietnam, through April 30, 1975 when Saigon collapsed. The US evacuation had scarcely ended in 1973 when the Watergate scandal superseded all other national news. It was all over for Nixon once Congress learned that he had tape recorded all his Oval Office conversations. The tapes would provide undeniable proof of his participation in the Watergate burglary and cover up.

On August 9, after the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment, Nixon resigned. On the same day, Congress halved military aid to the (puppet) South Vietnamese government. The result was the virtual economic collapse of South Vietnam. Massive pay cuts would lead South Vietnamese troops to desert at the rate of 20,000 a month.

This episode includes very moving coverage of South Vietnamese who collaborated with the US occupation desperately trying to flee Saigon in front of North Vietnamese troops. Only a few were airlifted via helicopters that evacuated US embassy and security personnel. Many launched themselves into any vessel they could find in the hope of being picked up by US freighters.

Once North Vietnam took control of the south, the blood bath that had been predicted never eventuated. Roughly 1,000 South Vietnamese collaborators were killed in revenge killing and roughly 1.5 million were forced to participate in compulsory re-education.

The Vietnamese economy was a virtual shambles for a good ten years after the war ended. The filmmakers blame this on the privatization of Vietnamese industry and forced collectivization. A better explanation, in my view, is that the US war of aggression totally destroyed the country’s infrastructure and poisoned its farmland with Agent Orange.

Dire economic conditions would lead 1.5 million Vietnamese to flee Vietnam in small and medium-sized boats between 1978 and the early 1990’s. A good number drowned, but most ended up in refugee camps in other Southeast Asian countries. About 400,000 eventually made it to the US.

 

The Hidden History of Cannabis

The Hidden History of Cannabis

Chris Rice (2018)

Film Review

This documentary traces the medical, textile and spiritual use of cannabis from its first discovery in ancient China. It’s use for 100 different medical conditions is listed in the first Chinese “materia medica” in 2,800 BC. Archeological evidence suggests it was in wide use for cloth, paper and rope for centuries before that. It has long been one of the 50 herbal remedies used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Archeologists believe that Caucasus tribes known as Aryans spread cannabis use to India and Persia along primitive trade routes that pre-dated the Silk Road. In India it was used in Hindu sects devoted to Shiva, in Buddhism and Sikhism. According to legend, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) subsisted on cannabis alone for six years prior to his enlightenment.

In 500 BC, when the Persian empire (Iran) extended from the Indian border to Egypt, it played an essential role in Zororastianism. There is also good evidence Egyptians used it for medicinal purposes 700 years prior to their conquest by Persia (in  552 BC).

Following the unsuccessful Persian attack on Greece (in 492 BC), Greek physicians began using it to treat a variety of medical conditions. Both Pythagoras and Socrates refer to its mind enhancing properties. Cannabis would make its way to Rome by way of Greece.

Use of Cannabis in Judaism and Christianity

Rice also traces how Kaneh Bosm (which English Biblical scholars have mistranslated “calamus”) was used extensively along with frankincense and other psychoactive herbs to anoint ancient Jewish priests. Christ (which means “the anointed one”) used similar holy oils to anoint his twelve disciples. Some scholars believe Kaneh Bosm may have played a role in his healing miracles – due to its medicinal properties. Early gnostic gospels, which were banned by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD, cover the subject far more extensively than the New Testament.

Cannabis was also widely used by Muslim physicians, Sufi sects and by assassins (derived from the word hashish) of the secret 11th century Islamic sect Nizari Ismailis.

Cannabis Spreads to Europe and the New World

Cannabis cultivation spread from Rome to northern Europe via Germanic tribes who used the seeds as a food source. Prior to the conquest of the Americas, Europeans used it mainly as a source of fiber. When the New World tobacco trade made pipe smoking popular in Europe, a growing middle class also began smoking cannabis and opium.

Queen Elizabeth initiated the legal requirement that the North American colonies grow hemp to help supply the British Navy with rope and sails. Shakespeare, James Madison and James Monroe all smoked it, and Washington used it for toothache.

During the 18th century, it became widely available in various patent medicines – until the American Medical Association began a state-by-state campaign to ban it. Its ready availability and effectiveness for pain relief  posed a major threat to the fledgling medical profession.

The advent of alcohol Prohibition in 1919, caused a surge in the use of cannabis, which was still legal surged.

The Corporate Conspiracy to Suppress Hemp Production

In 1936, a corporate conspiracy to suppress hemp production in favor of wood fiber and synthetic fibers (see The Politics of Hemp) would lead to the controversial 1936 Marijuana Tax Act.

Psychodelic guru Timothy O’Leary would initiate the first legal challenge to the Act, leading a federal court to overturn it in 1969. Nixon’s response was to ban cannabis altogether, under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

 

 

The Link Between Vietnam and Nixon’s Recognition of China

A Disrespectful Loyalty, Episode 9

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

Last night Maori TV showed part 9 of the Vietnam War series.

During the period covered (February 1970 – March 1973), Nixon’s sole focus with to withdraw US troops from Vietnam without losing the 1972 election. He knew he would be defeated if Saigon fell. Much of this episode consists of tape recordings of Nixon’s Oval Office conversations with his chief security advisor Henry Kissinger.

Although the filmmakers refer to 1/4 of US GIs using marijuana in Vietnam and 40,000 being addicted to heroin, for some reason they neglect to mention the South Vietnamese army was the main source of these drugs.

They do report on the growing influence of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and play an excerpt of former naval lieutenant John Kerry’s (a VVAW member) compelling testimony before a Senate investigative committee.

1971 also saw the New York Times publican of the Pentagon Papers, leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. This Defense Department study, covering 1945-1967, revealed successive US presidents had been continuously lying to the American public regarding their true motives waging war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s paranoia about documents Ellsberg and others might possess about his own lies led him to create “The Plumbers,” a secret team that broke into Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (in the hope of finding material they could use to blackmail him).

Much of this episode focuses on the Paris peace talks, and Nixon’s efforts to force North Vietnam to agree to a favorable peace treaty. To this end, he resumed bombing raid on North Vietnam, which were far more brutal (in terms of civilian casualties) than those Johnson had been condemned for.

I was surprised to learn that Nixon’s recognition of Communist China (after nearly 40 years) was part of a ploy to increase Chinese and Russian pressure on their North Vietnamese allies to sign a peace settlement favorable to the US.

The latter would be signed on January 23,1973, and over the next few weeks the last US troops would leave Vietnam.

As of March 1973, over 58,000 GIs and 2 million Vietnamese had been killed in North Vietnam.