Facebook’s Filipino Sweatshops

The Cleaners

Directed by Hans Block and Moriz Riserwick (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the atrocious working conditions of the thousands of “content moderators” who work for Filipino contractors Facebook hires to censor posts violating “community” standards. At the time of filming, Facebook had approximately 20,000 content moderators worldwide. In 2018, the Philippines site was the largest. Although local content moderators are forbidden to discuss their secretive work, some of them became so distressed about their working conditions that they leaked details of their to German filmmakers.

Back then, so-called “cleaners” were only required to delete all content related to child pornography, terrorist violence (including beheadings) and cyber bullying. As part of their training they had to memorize the names and flags of all Mideast terrorist groups. They also received explicit training in pornography and the types of sex toys.

As of 2018, the only images they reviewed were those flagged by Facebook users as objectionable. Required to review 25,000 images or videos a day (one every 8 seconds), each cleaner was only allowed three errors a month. Among content shared with filmmakers were the iconic photo of Vietnamese children in flames following a napalm attack (deleted because one child was naked), the infamous painting depicting Trump with a small penis (Facebook shut down the user’s account for demeaning the POTUS) and an image of an ISIS beheading carried out with a kitchen knife (deleted for extreme terrorist violence).

One content moderator speaks of watching a livestream of a hanging, afraid to delete the video before the act was completed because it would be counted as an error.

As the sole providers for large extended families, many Filipino content moderators are extremely reluctant to quit a good paying job. In fact, one hangs himself after three unsuccessful requests to be transferred out of his unit (which specializes in self-harm).

Public library members can view the full film free on Beamafilm.

 

Hidden History: US Empire Building in China and the South Pacific

The Coming War on China

Directed by John Pilger (2016)

Film Review

Two things I’ve learned over the years about John Pilger films are 1) there’s virtually no link between the film’s title and its content 2) they all include include considerable hidden history not taught in public schools. .

The main focus of this documentary is US empire building in the Pacific and its disastrous effect on US-China relations.

A good third of the film concerns the US annexation of the Marshall islands following World War II, followed by the cynical US government decisions to use residents (referred to as “savages” in classified documents) as radiation guinea pigs in atmospheric nuclear tests. .

After bombing some of the islands daily for 12 years, residents were forcibly returned to Rongelap despite dangerously high water and soil radiation levels. The US government then subjected them to repeated scans and blood tests to assess their response to the irradiated food they were eating.

As more and more developed cancer and produced offspring with birth defects, they begged the US government to move them. When the Americans declined, they appealed to Greenpeace International, which deployed the Rainbow Warrior to move them to an uncontaminated island in 1985.

The Marshall Islands are also home to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site. The latter forms part of a ring of strategic nuclear bases surrounding and aimed at China. This “noose” includes bases in Okinawa Japan (which are strongly opposed by local residents), South Korea, the Philippines and Australia.

Much of the film concerns the US occupation of China prior to the 1949 revolution (which I was totally unaware of), in large part to protect a thriving opium trade that was second only to slavery in providing capital wealth to the US corporate elite.*

The film also totally debunks common myths the US government promotes to justify their encirclement of China.

Myth 1: China aims to replace the US as the primary global empire.

Fact check: China has no interest in “converting” foreigners to their way of life as the US does. They simply refuse to be economically or politically controlled by US interests, like so-called US allies are. In Western Europe, for example, countries with nominal independence are forbidden to pursue foreign policy contrary to US interests.

Myth 2: Mao was an implacable enemy of the West.

Fact check: Mao Zedong secretly sought to establish diplomatic relations with Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. After State Department officials who delivered Mao’s messages were fired as traitors, there was no on left in the State Department who could speak Mandarin.

Myth 3: China has a capitalist economy.

Fact check: China has a free market economy. According to Pilger, they reject the “capitalist” label because their billionaires aren’t permitted to influence or control  government operations as happens in the US.

*Roosevelt derived his wealth from his maternal grandfather Warren Delano, dubbed the US opium king. Former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles derived his wealth from his great grandfather’s opium smuggling. All the Eastern Ivy League universities were founded with opium money.

 

 

Economic colonization: Gold mining in the Philippines

Golden Gamble: Gold mining in the Philippines, a dirty business

RT (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns rural Filipinos who scavenge abandoned goldmines in a continuous struggle to feed their families. Because the old mines are submerged in up to 30 feet of water, the operation relies on divers to scoop up mud from the bottom. Others treat the nuggets with mercury to extract the gold, without face masks or protective clothing. The gold is sold on for $16-32 per gram to local gold merchants.

Although this informal mining is illegal, the government turns a blind eye. The scavenging operations generally produce 10 grams per 24 hours of operation. Children as young as eight can earn about $2.30 per day to buy food for their families.

Mortality rates are extremely high, from collapse of the mine walls, failure of the divers’ breathing tubes and lung and neurological disease from mercury and other toxic exposures. Other participants in the operation develop debilitating skin rashes and ulcers.

There is pressure on the government to fence off these unofficial mines – something local Filipinos oppose as the region offers no other source of employment.

Mumia Abu Jamal: Murder Incorporated

Murder Incorporated: Dreaming of Empire Book 1 (Empire, Genocide and Manifest Destiny)

By Mumia Abu Jamal* and Stephen Vittoria

Prison Radio (2018)

Inspired by Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, this book is a carefully compiled history of the genocidal racism that forms the bedrock of US history and culture.

Murder Incorporated begins by exploring the Aryan and New Israel mythology embedded in the writings of the early colonists and so-called founding fathers. This was the same Aryan mythology Hitler would borrow to justify the attempted extermination of European Jews. According to the myth,  a selected subgroup of Aryans  reportedly originating near modern day Iran) migrated north to Germany and west to England. They purposely kept their bloodline pure by annihilating all the inferior tribes they crossed paths with.

The writings of North American settlers are also full of New Israel “Manifest Destiny” mythology. The latter regards the continent as a “new Israel” promised to them by divine Providence – Just as Palestine was promised to Jewish slaves escaping Egypt.

Mumia and Vittoria quote extensively from  Thomas Jefferson, the founding father most commonly extolled for his “liberalism.” His writings are full of these myths, which he uses to justify both the extermination of Native Americans and the immensely profitable institution of African slavery. In his business journal about whipping boys as young as 10 to force them to work in his nail factory.

The authors also definitively settle the question of whether he “raped” Sally Hemings, the slave who bore him six additional slaves. They also refute modern accounts of Jefferson’s so-called “love affair” with Hemings – by pointing a 16-year-old slave girl is incapable of consenting to have intercourse with her 47-year-old master.

Moving on, the book describes the founding fathers’ deliberate decimation of dozens of indigenous civilizations over the next 75 years. They provide an equally graphic analysis of the western slave trade, which would cost the lives and/or freedom of 60 million Africans. This sections includes a fascinating discussion of the Arab trade in African slaves that preceded it.

The following chapter covers the brutal class war between farmers and workers and wealthy planters and merchants who forced them to fight in the War of Independence and later wrote the Constitution to strip them of their basic political and economic rights. Citing Zinn and others, the authors detail scores of food and debtor prison riots that began 50 years before the Declaration of Independence.

Setting the stage for two centuries of bloody foreign conquest, a long chapter on the Monroe Doctrine (1824) leaves no doubt the founding fathers knew they were building an empire from the outset. The Monroe Doctrine would be used to justify the US invasion of Mexico in 1846, of Cuba and the Philippines in 1898, of Colombia in 1983 (leading to the US occupation and annexation of Panama), of multiple Latin American invasions under Wilson and his successors and the 56 successful or attempted CIA coups to overthrow democratically elected governments.***


*In 1982 Mumia Abu Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder of a Philadelphia police offer, despite a local gang member’s confession to committing the murder. In 2011 his sentence was commuted to life without parole. He continues to fight for a new trial. See Mumia Wins Right to Re-Open Appeals

**Allowing the US to occupy and annex more than half of Mexico (which at the time included California, Nevada, Texas, Utah, New Mexico and parts of Wyoming, Colorado and Oklahoma).

***Including Australia in 1975. See John Pilger: Gough Whitlam 1975 Coup that Ended Australian Independence

 

 

 

“If You’ve Got Dough, You Don’t Have to Go”

Episode 4 – Doubt

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

Maori TV showed Episode 4 of the Vietnam War series this week. 1966, Lyndon Johnson’s second year in office, saw a massive escalation of US forces in Vietnam – increasing from 200,000 in January to 500,000 in June 1967. Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea also sent troops to serve in Vietnam. Because both Australia and New Zealand had compulsory conscription until the early 1970s, there was a sizeable anti-Vietnam War movement in both countries.

The UK and Europe, in contrast, opposed the Vietnam War and called for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Johnson also substantially escalated bombing campaigns against North Korea, Laos and Cambodia (the North Vietnamese used a network of jungle roads in Laos and Cambodia to transport arms and personnel to South Vietnam). North Vietnamese civilians, most of them women, worked day and night restoring the so-called “Ho Chi Minh trail following US bombing raids.

Because the US was incapable of gaining territory in Vietnam, it used body counts to measure its success. The latter frequently included civilians and were always exaggerated. The US goal was to reach a “crossover point” – where the US killed more North Vietnamese soldiers than North Vietnam could replace. This never happened.

In May 1966, the US puppet government in South Vietnam nearly collapsed owing to mass demonstrations in Saigon demanding representative democracy and a negotiated settlement to the war.

As US forces swelled in Vietnam, the Pentagon was forced to begin drafting college students, which massively fueled the antiwar movement. It was common for well-to-do families (like the Bushes) to arrange deferments tor their kids. As the saying went, “If you’ve got dough, you don’t have to go.”

In Vietnam, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, a disproportionate number of draftees and casualties were African American.

Gun Control and the True Historic Purpose of the Second Amendment

Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment

by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz

City Lights (2018)

Book Review

According to Dunbar-Ortiz, the main function of the Second Amendment, is to enshrine the voluntary militias used by white settlers to dispossess Native Americans of their land and compulsory slave patrols to hunt down and capture runaway slaves.

She disagrees with gun control advocates on many fronts:

First she disagrees that the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” relates only to their use in a “well-regulated militia.” She maintains that it clearly refers to an individual right, like the other guarantees in the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment is modeled on various state constitutions (which were already in effect) that guarantee gun possession as an individual right. Moreover the right to form state militias is already covered in Article 1 of the Constitution.

Second citing other countries like Switzerland and Canada (which rarely experience gun violence) with few or no gun control laws, she disagrees that more gun control laws will reduce gun violence in the US.

Third she disputes Democratic Party claims that blames opposition to gun control on NRA lobbying. Noting that American gun culture precedes the NRA by more than a century, she argues the organization spends far less on lobbying than Big Oil or Big Pharma.

Dunbar-Ortiz contends that US gun culture is deeply rooted in the racist, white nationalist, God-ordained nature of the virulent capitalism sanctified by the US Constitution. She reminds us of the real issue that triggered the Revolutionary War: namely the British ban on illegal settlement on unceded Indian land west of the Appalachians. George Washington and our other founding fathers derived most of their wealth from illegal surveying and speculation in Native land.

Thus when the US finally won independence in 1791, a massive escalation of “savage war” was unleashed against the indigenous nations that had civilized North America. “Savage war,” aka “irregular warfare,” refers to deliberate violence directed against women, children and the elderly, along with the infrastructure that supports their survival. Although the US government gives lip service to the Geneva Convention, which prohibits acts of war against civilians, their wars have always mercilessly targeted civilians. Prime examples are the 1846 Mexican-American War, the war against Cuba (1898-1900) and the Philippines (1898-1948) and numerous undeclared wars of the 20th century (the Korean War, Vietnam War, Central American War (1981-89), Afghan War, Iraq War, Libya War, Syria War, etc)

The most surprising part of the book is the introduction, in which Dunbar-Ortiz describes becoming a gun owner and joining the NRA when an activist group she belonged to was spied on and stalked by police and intelligence operatives.

Demise of the American Empire: Pinpointing the Timeline

 

In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power

by Alfred W McCoy

Haymarket Books (2016)

Book Review

Prior to 2001 and the launch of the War on Terror, the US political elite adamantly denied (despite massive evidence to the contrary), that the United States was an empire rather than a republic. Because their sudden about face (ie acknowledgement and promotion of US imperialism) was so recent, there has been little opportunity for scholarly analysis of America’s effectiveness as an empire. It’s this void Alfred McCoy seeks to fill with In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.

Competition for Control of the Eurasian Landmass

McCoy traces America’s serious global empire building to their defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War in 1898, which won them Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippines.* He maintains that us strategies for empire-building, like those of the former British empire, have mainly relied on seeking and maintaining control of the “World-Island.” This is a term coined by London School of Economics director Halford Mackinder’s World Island in 1904. Under this concept, the World Island consists of the vast European-Asian landmass that is home to 70% of the world’s population, 75% of its global energy resources and 60% of its current productivity.

How the US Maintains Military Control

After the US became the world’s preeminent superpower after World War II, they have used nine basic strategies to maintain military control of the Eurasian landmass: mass surveillance (based on a system of extensive personal data collection that began during their “pacification”** of the Philippines (1898-1907); CIA covert operations (involving electoral interference, military coups, installation of compliant puppet dictators, targeted assassinations, torture, advanced technological weaponry (electronic senors, satellite imagery, drones, etc) and, increasingly cyperwarfare and space-based weaponry (most information about the latter two is classified).

America Falling Behind China Economically and Militarily

For me the most interesting section of the book examines ways in which the US is rapidly falling behind China – not only economically but militarily. McCoy identifies Bush’s rash decision to invade Iraq as the start of the American empire’s steady decline. While the US has spent the last 16 years mired in unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, China is busily building alliances and investing their trade surplus (from selling Americans cheap consumer goods) in Russia and other countries located in the World Island. In Afghanistan alone, they are responsible for 79% of foreign investment.

Meanwhile China is rapidly creating a single economic zone across the Eurasian landmass, with a vast network of high speed trains and pipelines following historical Silk Road and Tran-Siberian Railway routes – and soon a high speed Southeast Asian and Moscow-Beijing line.

Even the Pentagon-linked Rand Corporation predicts China’s will exceed that of the US by 2030 or sooner. In 2010, China became the world’s leading manufacturing nation. In 2014, it took the lead in the number of new patents it awards annually.

Even more concerning is the rapid decline of US educational standards compared to those of China, which has ominous implications for the development of high tech weaponry. Chinese students consistently score first in math, science and reading, while US students score 27th, 20th and 17th respectively.

By 2025, China is expected to have better long range cruise missiles than the US, better air defense aircraft, better electronic sensors, better digital communications capacity, better computer processing power and better cyber-security. At the same time, they have a significant strategic advantage because the US spreads its military resources so thin by fighting so many foreign wars simultaneously.

According to McCoy, they already have the ability to cripple critical US infrastructure (electrical and telecommunications grid and pipelines) via cyber warfare.

Collapse Predicted Between 2030-2040

McCoy predicts (and makes an excellent case for) the demise of the US empire some time between 2030-2040. It could happen gradually, as US economic and military prowess continues its steady decline – or suddenly, if the loss of its privileged status causes the US dollar to collapse. The impending implosion may be aggravated by climate change, especially if the Pentagon is drawn into wars over dwindling food and water resources or control of massive numbers of climate refugees.


*In a separate development, the Kingdom of Hawai’i was illegally overthrown by The Committee of Safety (a group of wealthy American/European businessmen) in 1998. The Committee of Safety used U.S. Marines to detain the Queen while they announced their takeover of Hawai’i.

**”Pacification” is a military euphemism for violently subjugating the indigenous population of an occupied country.

Originally published in Dissident Voice

 

 

The Long US Government War Against Americans

The Cointelpro Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States

by Ward Churchill* and Jim Vander Wall

South End Press (1990)

Free PDF: Cointelpro Papers

Book Review

As the authors describe, the FBI Cointelpro program first came to light in letters and memos seized when antiwar activists broke into an FBI field office in 1971 looking for draft cards. Using these and other documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the authors make it clear that the FBI has infiltrated and sabotaged every major citizens group since 1945.

The Cointelpro papers should be required reading for high school graduation. It’s essential to realize that government wire tapping, stalking, covert break-ins and infiltration of community groups didn’t start in 2002 when these activities first became “legal” under the Patriot Act. In fact, it’s extremely well documented (by University of Wisconsin professor Alfred McCoy – see Spying on Americans: the Ugly History) that it first began during the US occupation of the Philippines in 1898-1901.

This book had great personal importance in my life. There are a number of parallels between Jean Seberg’s case (see below) and the FBI harassment I began experiencing in 1987 related to my work with two former Black Panthers.** Along with four other African American activists, they had occupied an abandoned Seattle school in 1985 to transform it into a community-controlled African American Heritage Building and Cultural Center.

The section of Cointelpro Papers I found most illuminating describes the death squad activity that occurred on the Pine Ridge Sioux reservations during the 1970s – fifty-plus murders were never even investigated, much less prosecuted. Most Americans assume forced disappearances and extrajudicial assassinations only occur in Third World countries (thanks to the excellent CIA training their military officers receive at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning Georgia). Learning of scores of documented instances on US soil is extremely troubling.

The book also reproduces chilling FBI memos related to the coordinated FBI/police attack and murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the attempted murder of Los Angeles Black Panther leader Geronimo Pratt (who was subsequently imprisoned for 27 years on fictitious charges). The book goes on to recount to the brave refusal of Seattle mayor Wes Uhlman to consent to a similar FBI/police raid on the Black Panthers in Seattle (see The Mayor Who Said No to the Feds).

The saddest chapter describes the sadistic campaign of personal harassment Hoover undertook against actress Jean Seberg, a white actress who provided the Black Panthers with financial support. As a result of rumor campaigns and vicious gossip columns planted by the FBI, Seberg and her partner ultimately committed suicide.


*Ward Churchill is a well-known American Indian Movement (AIM) activist and former professor of ethnic studies at University of Colorado.

**Which I describe in my memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee

Grassroots Musicle

In Defense of Life

Gaia Foundation (2016)

Film Review

The whole world is inspired by the courage and stamina of indigenous protestors at Standing Rock.

In Defense of Life is about four other successful grassroots campaigns in South Africa, the Philippines, Romania and Colombia to block multinational mining companies from destroying their communities. Interviews with some of the activists shed important insights into their motivations and organizing strategies.

In Kuazulu Natal (South Africa), local residents organized to block a coal mining company with plans to destroy six villages by blasting for coal.

In Nuevo (Philippines), the indigenous Ifoga people organized to block Oceania Gold from blowing the top off a mountain to mine for gold and copper.

In Sosia Montana (Romania), locals organized to stop the Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources from blowing up mountains to create four open pit mines. This would have resulted in the forcible displacement of hundreds of residents, as well as the contamination of local water supplies with the cyanide used in gold extraction.

In Yaigoje Apaporis (Colombia), indigenous groups blocked the Canadian mining company Cosigo Resources from destroying the sacred La Libertad waterfall.

The Origins of American Empire – What They Didn’t Teach You in School

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel A

Directed by Oliver Stone (2014)

Film Review

Owing to the series’ great success, Oliver Stone has produced two prequels to his  Untold History of the United States. The first traces the origins of America’s present empire-building spree at the end of the 19th Century.

Stone credits Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward (1861-69) for the launch of America’s imperialist ambitions. Following the US conquest of half of Mexico in 1848, Seward sought to expand US empire even further by conquering Alaska, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Midway.The US would eventually succeed in annexing all of these territories, except for Canada, Haiti and the Dominican Republic – although they only formally possessed the northern section of Columbia, which they renamed Panama.

Then, as now, the US undertook these military adventures at the behest of Rockefeller, JP Morgan, William Randolph Hearst and other Wall Street robber barons. After the severe depression of 1893 (which caused 20% unemployment), they were convinced the only way to prevent further economic instability was to conquer foreign countries for their resources, cheap labor and markets for surplus US products.

During this period, US troops also invaded Cuba, the Philippines, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and China for the benefit of Standard Oil, United Fruit and other US corporations. Stone quotes extensively from General Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket. Butler participated in nearly all of these invasions.

Stone goes on to trace the British, French, US and czarist designs on Middle Eastern oil that were the true basis for World War I and the invasion of Russia by British, French, US and Japanese troops following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I was unaware the US refused to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933, when Roosevelt took office.

My favorite parts of this film concern the brave rebels who opposed this US imperialist aggression despite a brutal federal crackdown on all protest activity: Mark Twain and other in the Anti-Imperialist League, Eugene Debs, Bill Haywood and International Workers of the World, Emma Goldman and Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones).