Putin: A Russian Primetime TV Documentary

 

Exclusive: Fantastic Russian Prime Time 2 HR Putin documentary

Masterskaya (2016)

English subtitles

Film Review

This film, despite being an obvious pro-Putin propaganda piece, provides interesting historical background on his role in thwarting western efforts to turn Russia into a third world sweatshop.

The beginning of the documentary, describing the plans laid by Putin’s cabinet to remove the oligarchs from power (see How Putin Outwitted the Russian Oligarchs ), confirm what I have always suspected: that his rise to global prominence relies heavily on his ability to choose skilled advisors.

This documentary also clearly conveys that he’s as much a populist as Donald Trump – though a far more skilled one. An amazingly effective speaker, his ability to influence and manage large groups is unparalleled among world leaders.

Although he tends to be extremely guarded about disclosing personal feelings, the film contains a few revealing clips from TV interviews. In one, he admits to his mistaken belief as a KGB agent that political conflict with the West would dissolve once Russians abandoned their Communist ideology. He now realizes that Russia will always have tension with the West based on competing geopolitical interests (ie competing demands for resources, markets, labor etc).

I was also intrigued to hear him discuss his enormous debt to teacher and mentor Anatoly Sobchak. Sobchak was a legal scholar and politician who co-wrote the constitution of the Russian Federation and was the first democratically elected mayor of St Petersburg. He died under suspicious circumstances in 2000.

The film’s main weakness is its total dismissal of Russia’s opposition movement as being too chaotic and disorganized for Putin to take seriously. While there is good reason to suspect CIA involvement in various anti-Putin street protests, it seems to be there would also be legitimate protest against the enormous obstacles to registering new political parties in Russia, as well as major censorship by the mainly state-controlled media.

I was also irritated by the repeated emphasis on Putin being a self-sacrificing leader with no interest whatsoever in personal wealth or power. According to various former insiders, Putin has immense personal wealth and may be one of the richest men in the world. See Putin Corruption: Five Things We Learned About the President’s Secret Wealth

 

How Putin Outwitted the Russian Oligarchs

The Rise and Fall of the Russian Oligarchs

Directed by Alexander Gentelev (2006)

Film Review

The Rise and Fall of the Russian Oligarchs focuses on the scandalous period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which 100 opportunist oligarchs destroyed the economy of a relatively wealthy country (with the help of the CIA, USAID, the IMF and the World Bank) by seizing $20 billion of assets for roughly a billion dollars. The admitted goal of these Russian oligarchs (and their CIA supporters) was to privatize as many industries as possible behind the scenes before the Communist majority in the Russian parliament could consolidate power and stop them. The documentary’s overarching theme concerns Putin’s rise to power in 1999, which is credited for saving the Russian economy via his shrewd confrontation and defeat of these oligarchs.

This Russian-made documentary focuses on three specific oligarchs: Mikhail Chernoy, who now lives in exile in Israel; Theodore Gusinski, who now lives in exile in Spain, and Boris Beresovksy, who now lives in exile in London. It’s divided into two parts.

Part 1

Part 1 describes how these men used privatization schemes introduce by the last Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev (under Perestroika – 1985-1991) to acquire a variety of Russian assets for pennies on the dollar. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many state-owned factories were threatened with closure, the Russian government initially privatized them through an ill-conceived voucher scheme. Ownership in the factories was broken up into millions of shares in the form of vouchers distributed to all Russian citizens. Because they had no other source of income, many were forced to sell their vouchers cheaply for food. Others were tricked into “investing” them in phoney investment schemes as their owners sold on their hoard of vouchers and pocketed the proceeds.

Chernoy wound up with hundreds of thousands of these vouchers, which he used to buy up Russia’s aluminum industry.

Using western financing, Gusinski would form Russia’s first commercial TV network in 1993. In 1994 Berezovsky (again with the help of western financing) would buy Russian state TV for a few million dollars. Joining with other oligarchs, they skillfully used their media monopoly to promote their privatization agenda.

Part 1 also covers the 1991 attempted coup against Gorbachev (a desperate attempt by the Communists to reverse rapid privatization); Yeltsin’s successful (CIA-backed) coup in 1993, in which he used the military to attack the Russian parliament, effectively dissolving parliament and the constitutional court; and the vast human misery caused by the “shock therapy” Wall Street imposed Russia as they looted their economy. This, in turn, would lead to escalating mass protests demanding a return of the Communists to power.

Part 2

Part 2 focuses on the oligarch (and CIA) financed and controlled election of Boris Yeltsin in 1996 – as well as the direct role the oligarchs assumed in government following Yeltsin’s victory against his more popular Communist opponent.

The Russian economy reached breaking point in 1998. By then, the Russian government had lost so main state-owned industries (75%) that it could no longer pay its debts and Russian banks froze depositors assets.

This, along with Yeltsin’s failing health, would lead to a political crisis, resulting in Vladimir Putin’s appointment as acting president initially supported by the oligarchs – in 1999. Following Putin’s election in 2000, he quickly turned on oligarch supporters, who expected to control his government as they had Yeltsin’s.

Then, as now, he excelled at media manipulation, capitalizing on popular fear of Chechen terrorism to heighten his popularity. He also shrewdly confronted individual oligarchs for tax evasion and other financial crimes during televised cabinet meetings.

This was followed up by security raids and harassment, arrest – and in some cases imprisonment – to encourage numerous oligarchs to relinquish their ill-gotten shares to state control.

In this way, Putin essentially ended Wall Street’s wholesale exploitation of the Russian economy and the Russian people – and Wall Street and the US military-intelligence complex have never forgiven him for it.

The documentary’s main weakness is its failure to explore the major role Wall Street and US intelligence played in the destruction of the Russian economy between 1991-2000. Good background on this at the following links:

The Harvard Boys do Russia

US Meddling in 1996 Russian Elections in Support of Boris Yeltsin

USA Russia

The Plunder of Russia in the 1990s

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.

Chasing Edward Snowden

Chasing Edward Snowden

Anonymous (2016)

Film Review

Chasing Edward Snowden is an extremely well made documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong to Moscow and the role played by Wikileaks and the Hong Kong government in facilitating his escape.

Prior to seeing the film, I was unaware Snowden (under US indictment for treason) had reached out for Wikileaks’ help nor that Putin initially turned down his asylum request when he refused to work for the FSB.

All this changed, when France, under US pressure, denied the Bolivian presidential jet access to French airspace. Acting on false rumors spread by Wikileaks, the US and France believed President Morales had smuggled Snowden onto his plane.

Because the French action contravened Geneva conventions, world opinion turned in Snowden’s favor, persuading Putin to reverse himself and grant his asylum petition.


*FSB is the Russian state security agency that replaced the KGB.

Privatization and the Theft of the Commons

Catastroika

by Aris Chatzistefanou and Katerina Kitidi

Film Review

Catastroika is a Greek documentary on neoliberalism, with a specific focus on the privatization of publicly owned resources. Although it makes no mention of historian Richard Linebaugh, its depiction of the neoliberal privatization movement provides an elegant illustration of the ongoing theft of the Commons (see Stop Thief: the Theft of the Commons).

After a brief overview of the University of Chicago economists (championed by Milton Friedman) who first put neoliberal theory into practice during the Pinochet dictatorship, the documentary tracks the wholesale privatization of Russia’s state owned industries after the 1993 coup by Boris Yeltsin, in which he illegally ordered dissolution of the Russian parliament (see The Rise of Putin and the Fall of the Oligarchs).

The fire sale of state assets to oligarchs and western bankers would virtually destroy the Russian economy, throwing millions of people into extreme poverty and reducing average life expectancy by ten years.

The Privatization of East Germany

With German reunification in 1990, East Germany would be the third major target for massive privatization. According to German economists interviewed in the film, the process amounted to an “acquisition” of East Germany by West German bankers. The West German government set up an agency called Treuhand to buy up state owned East German businesses at the rate of ten to fifteen a day – a total of 8,500 businesses in four years. The process, undertaken with virtually no oversight, predictably resulted in massive chaos and fraud. Many well-performing East Germany companies were dissolved for the simple reason they competed with West German businesses. Three million (out of 4.5 million) East German workers lost their jobs, which East Germany’s GDP shrank by 30%.

Using Debt to Compel Compliance

With the gradual demise of the world’s dictatorships during the 1990s, debt, rather than brute force, became the main mechanism to compel people to give up their publicly funded assets. At present, most of the focus is on Greece.

Current EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker holds up Treuhand (which incurred a 250 million euro debt German taxpayers are still paying off) as a model for the Greek Asset Development Fund. The latter has been steadily selling off (at bargain basement prices) Greek railroads and municipal power and water systems.

The Dismal Track Record of Privatized Utilities

The filmmakers end the film by highlighting the disastrous outcome of Britain’s decision to privatize its railroads in 1993, the city of Paris decision to privatize its water service in the 1980s (it’s recently been re-municipalized due to massive public unrest – like privatized water systems in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina) and California’s experiment with electricity deregulation in the 1990s (leading to the Enron scandal).*


*The Enron scandal involved massive securities fraud and a deliberate conspiracy by power companies to withhold power to drive up electricity prices.

Obama’s Setback in Beijing

itsourfuture

 

Did China Just Scupper the TPPA?

The Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is a secret free trade treaty Obama is negotiating with eleven other Asian Pacific countries (US, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Peru, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Singapore and Brunei). The President had hoped to seal the deal at the recent Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing. Instead all 21 Pacific Rim countries have agreed to develop a roadmap for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) treaty. The FTAAP would include China and Russia, whereas the TPPA excludes them.

China Deliberately Excluded

The TPPA is viewed as a centerpiece of Obama’s “strategic rebalancing” towards Asia. Also known as the “Asian pivot,” Obama’s intention is to counter China’s growing economic strength by isolating them economically and militarily.

The US has required the twelve countries participating in TPPA negotiations to sign a secrecy clause. Only corporations (i.e. the 600 corporations that helped write it) are allowed to see the text of the treaty. Not even Congress is permitted access. If Wikileaks hadn’t leaked large sections of the draft agreement, we wouldn’t even know it existed.

Is TPPA Really a Trade Treaty?

Scheduled to coincide with the APEC summit, November 8 was an International Day of Action against the TPPA, with major protests in New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and the US. From the sections which have been leaked, it seems the TPPA isn’t a trade treaty at all. It’s really an investor protection treaty, granting corporations the right to sue countries for laws that potentially hurt their ability to make a profit. These lawsuits, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, would be heard by secret tribunals run by corporate lawyers. There would be no right of appeal.

In other words, the intent of the TPPA is to allow corporations to overturn the environmental, labor and healthy and safety laws and regulations of member countries. There’s even a special “transparency” clause inserted by the pharmaceutical industry that would allow them to challenge formularies (in the US this would include Medicaid and the VA) that promote cheaper generic medications.

If finalized, the TPPA would also allow oil and gas companies to overturn fracking bans, Monsanto to overturn GMO labeling laws, investment banks to overturn banking regulations and the telecommunications industry to overturn Net Neutrality laws.

Why the Secrecy?

It’s pretty obvious why Obama is trying to negotiate the TPPA in secret. Prior investor protection treaties (e.g. the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement) have gone down in flames thanks to massive public lashback, both in the US and in treaty partner countries.

Congress isn’t too happy, either, about being denied access to the draft TPPA treaty. In November 2013 Congress voted down Obama’s request for “fast track” authority on the TPPA. Fast track, otherwise known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to accept the final TPPA deal or reject it. No debate would be allowed on specific provisions.

There are rumors Obama plans to reintroduce TPPA fast track authority before Christmas, hoping for a better outcome with a new, pro-business Republican congress.

The POTUS also had hopes of ramming through an agreement on the TPPA treaty in Beijing, at a side meeting in the US embassy. It appears he did try and failed, as Pepe Escobar describes in a recent RT article Lame Duck Out of the Silk Trade Caravan.

The Effect on Australia and New Zealand

A trade deal that excludes China, their major trading partner, makes absolutely no sense for Australia and New Zealand. Kiwi and Aussie environmental and labor activists are also deeply concerned about signing an international agreement that allows multinational corporations to sue their governments in a secret corporate tribunal. They’ve worked damned hard to win laws and regulations guaranteeing minimal environmental, labor and health safety standards. If the TPPA goes through, these could all be wiped out with the stroke of a pen.

China Aims to Suppress US Influence in Asia

In an interview with Chinese media, Obama denies he was trying to isolate China by pressuring Asian Pacific countries to sign a secret trade deal that excludes them. Yet it’s pretty obvious to all concerned that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.

It’s also pretty clear that Chinese president Xi Jinping outmaneuvered him. In addition to getting all 21 APEC nations to sign onto an FTAAP feasibility study, China signed other trade deals geared towards reducing US dominance in the region.

On Monday the Chinese and Malaysian central banks signed a deal to establish a yuan clearing bank (to facilitate energy and other trade deals in local currencies rather than US dollars).

Russia and China signed a  similar deal to conduct oil trades in rubles and yuan, rather than US dollars. According to Russian president Vladimir Putin, the new agreement will significantly reduce US influence over world energy markets.
Back in October,

Back in October, China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank a rival to the US-dominated World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

 

photo credit: rawEarth via photopin cc

Also published in Veterans Today

The Ideology of Revolution

Trapped: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom

Adam Curtis

BBC (2007)

Film Review

Part 3 We Will Force You to be Free

Part 3 is about the philosophy of revolution, as articulated by the Algerian psychiatrist Frantz Fanon (author of Wretched of the Earth and Black Faces, White Masks). Fanon, who studied in Paris, was strongly influenced by French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre, who viewed economic equality as essential to personal freedom, believed true freedom was only possible through the overthrow of bourgeois society via violent revolution. Fanon was convinced that the western elites got into people’s heads and turned them into zombies devoid of the ability to think critically or act altruistically for the collective welfare of the community. He also believed that the mere act of organized violence freed people from their competitive individualistic conditioning.

Fanon’s ideas had major influence over numerous third world revolutionaries, including Che Guevara in the 1952 Cuban revolution, Pol Pot in the 1975 Cambodian revolution and Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Pol Pot believed the only way to rid society of bourgeois self-interest was to kill the entire bourgeoisie – all 3 million of them.

Positive and Negative Liberty

The documentary goes on to discuss the work of British political philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997). Berlin believed only two types of freedom, which he called positive and negative liberty, were possible. He labeled Fanon’s type of freedom “positive liberty,” as it involved a new elite forcing the masses to adopt a new way of thinking through violence. In contrast, “negative liberty,” allowed individuals to do whatever they want so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of anyone else.

Curtis contends that both types of so-called liberty involve violence and coercion. As examples, he offers the “shock therapy” the US corporate elite carried out in Russia in 1992 and in Iraq in 2003. While on the surface, both instances of “shock therapy” looks like pure exploitation by US banks and corporations, both were examples of the neoconservative doctrine of spreading “democracy” via armed force.

Shock Therapy in Russia

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, US vulture capitalists invaded Russia and pressured the new regime to abandon its centrally controlled economy virtually overnight. All subsidies for food, energy and other basic necessities were discontinued and most of Russia’s state owned industries were privatized. Millions of Russians lost their jobs and were plunged into abject poverty, as Russian oligarchs and American venture capitalists stripped the newly privatized industries of their wealth. Face with the loss of government subsidies, ordinary Russians lined up on the street and traded everything they owned for food.

In 1993, with the economy on the verge of collapse, Boris Yeltsin dissolved Parliament and launched a military coup to install himself as absolute ruler. He had to borrow money from the oligarchs to run his government, for which he handed over the remaining state-owned industries.

By 1998, the oligarchs and their American investors had bled Russia dry and the currency collapsed. Yeltsin was forced to resign and the Russian people elected Putin as president. The latter moved quickly to strip the oligarchs of their wealth and jailed them or forced them into exile. The vast majority of the Russian people adored him. They didn’t care if they lost basic freedoms (e.g. of speech, the press and assembly) because it was a better alternative than starvation.

Shock Therapy in Iraq

The Americans applied similar shock therapy during their occupation of Iraq, privatizing all the state owned industries (selling them for a pittance to US investors) and writing a new constitution that allowed foreign companies to expatriate 100% of their profits tax free.

In Iraq, the brutal US occupation would enhance the rise of a radical Islamist movement violently opposed to both western colonization and exploitation and the selfish, hedonistic and morally bankrupt lifestyle that seemed to be the driving force behind US foreign policy.

The US and Britain, in turn, responded to the threat of Islamic terrorism by severely restricting the freedom of their own citizens.

Both Fanon and Berlin Were Wrong

The two conclusions Curtis draws is that 1) both the so-called positive and negative liberty Berlin describes lead to violence and coercion and 2) Berlin was wrong in claiming that all attempts to change the world for better lead to tyranny.

My own perspective is that both Fanon and Berlin are wrong. As educated members of the upper middle class, they both made the mistake of assuming that the working class thinks the same way they do, i.e. that the working class is afflicted to the same extent as the middle class by individualism and competitive self interest.

Both failed to appreciate or understand that working class people share a distinct culture with its own values, language and world view. In fact, the issue of working class culture received little attention in academic circles prior to the 1970s.* Basic to this culture are the loyalty and group allegiance based on shared hardship.

Both are deeply ingrained values stemming from early childhood experience, which makes them difficult to reverse with mass media messaging, no matter how pervasive it is.

This is certainly my experience in working with blue collar families for 33+ years. It’s also born out by working class patterns of charitable giving.**


* Some of the better known authors on working class culture include Lillian Breslow Rubin (Worlds of Pain), Richard Sennett (Hidden Injuries of Class), Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey (Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class), and Alfred Lubrano (Limbo: Blue Collar Roots and White Collar Dreams).

**Studies of working class charitable giving:

 

Free link to Part 3: The Trap 3 We_Will_Force_You_To_Be_Free_BBC/