The Politics of Asbestos: Banned in EU, But Not China, Russia, Brazil or US

Deadly Asbestos

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about the international asbestos industry and its aggressive penetration of developing countries following the EU’s decision to ban it in 1998. The first study linking asbestos to lung cancer and mesothelioma was published in 1964. Asbestos also causes a chronic (eventually fatal) lung condition known as asbestosis. Sadly, as with smoking and lead poisoning, it took decades of sustained organizing to get western governments to acknowledge the fatal health consequences of asbestos exposure. The US enacted a “partial ban” on asbestos in 1989.*

Because mesothelioma can result from a brief single exposure to asbestos fibers, EPA rules regarding asbestos removal from old buildings are far more stringent. In fact, an entire industry has evolved around asbestos removal.**

The filmmakers focus primarily on the Belgian asbestos manufacturer Etex-Eternit (aka Everest) and its expansion into India in the 1990s. India has been a primary industry target of the industry, owing to its lax regulation of asbestos manufacture, use and disposal.

Asbestos sheets are sold widely in India for use as walls and roofs in makeshift shacks. Over 100,000 Indians develop asbestosis annually.

India has more than 50 asbestos manufacturing plants. Filmmakers visit an asbestos factory Everest built in 1995 and sold to an Indian family in 2002. In addition to filming a 600,000 square meter asbestos waste dump, they also visit a makeshift clinic treating thousands of local residents for asbestos-related problems. They also talk with Indian lawyers and activists who are bringing a lawsuit against Everest in Belgium.

The film concludes by looking at World Health Organization efforts to institute a global ban on asbestos. Brazil, China, and Russia, which still mine asbestos, continue to vociferously block the ban.

Last year, the Trump EPA approved new rules that soften regulations against asbestos use in the US.  In response, one Russian asbestos manufacturer now proudly displays features Trump’s image on all their products.


* History of EPA asbestos regulation

  • 1989 Partial Ban on the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of some asbestos-containing products. EPA also banned new uses of asbestos which prevent new asbestos products from entering the marketplace after August 25, 1989. These uses remain banned. The April 2019 final rule does not provide a way for these uses to return to the marketplace.
  • April 2019 Final Rule to ensure that asbestos products that are no longer on the market cannot return to commerce without the Agency evaluating them and putting in place any necessary restrictions or prohibiting use. The uses covered under this rule were not already prohibited under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and could have returned to the market at any time.
  • Risk evaluation of asbestos under TSCA. EPA is reviewing a handful of very limited, still ongoing uses of asbestos. The evaluation of the risks associated with ongoing uses of asbestos is required under TSCA section 6. If EPA finds unreasonable risk, the Agency will take prompt action to address those risks.

** See https://www.epa.gov/asbestos

 

 

 

China’s Emergence as a 21st Century Superpower

The China Complex: the Big Picture – Part 2

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

Part 2 starts with the 1989 so-called Tiananmen Square “massacre,” which recent evidence suggests was a failed CIA-instigated color revolution.* Five months later, the Berlin Wall would collapse. According to historian F William Engdahl, the CIA also played a much greater role in the collapse of the Soviet Union than they have officially admitted.**

The 1990s saw an increasingly prosperous middle class under Deng Xiaoping’s “Strike Harsh” policy. This is described as harsh “extra legal” punishments against dissidents and “hooligans.” Much of this repression was directed against violent protests by Tibetan  (China annexed the protectorate of Tibet in 1951) and Uyhgar separatists. Though not mentioned in the documentary, both groups continue to receive significant funding and support from the CIA (see How the CIA Uses the Uyghurs to Destabilize China).

Uyghur jihadists have received additional funding and support from Turkey. With a stated goal of liberating Xinjian province as independent East Turkmenistan, they have been conducting major bombing campaigns against transportation and other government facilities.

In 2019, documents leaked by US intelligence supposedly indicate China is holding two million Uyghurs in concentration camps, as well as forbidding them to have bears or to display Arabic symbols. Given that China is far less Islamaphobic than the US, I am more inclined to believe Chinese claims the CIA photos are of voluntary vocational centers serving unemployed Uyghur youth as part of a government deradicalization program. See How Dare the US Lecture China About the Rights of Muslims

In Part 2, commentators also discuss growing Western concerns (after China joined the WTO in 2001) that it would usurp the US and Japan as the world’s major trading partners. These concerns sharply escalated when China literally saved the world from economic collapse in 2008 – by buying up a large quantity of US Treasury bonds and using central bank funding to stimulate internal economic growth.

Filmmakers go on to describe Xi Jinping’s accession to the Chinese presidency in 2012 and the immense popularity of his “Tigers and Flowers” anti-corruption campaign. The latter has resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of many notoriously corrupt local officials.

The documentary then explores China’s Belt and Road trade program that now extends from Asia into Africa. There China has essentially replaced the World Bank in handing out infrastructure development loans to struggling economies.

The film concludes by describing the trade war Trump started with China in 2018, allegedly to reduce the country’s trade surplus with the US and to punish them for failing to enforce international property treaties.


*See Tiananmen Square: The Failure of a 1989 US-inspired Color Revolution and The US-China Trade War Can be Traced Back to the Failed Tiananmen Square Color Revolution. According to several US reporters on the scene, there were no actual deaths when Chinese tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square (see The Tiananmen Square Massacre: Facts Fiction and Propaganda/).

**See Russia’s Criminal Oligarchy and the Rule of Bush Senior and the CIA

Fethullen Gulen, Turkey’s 2016 Coup, and the US Charter School Movement

Turkey’s Coup: The Gulen Mystery

RT (2018)

Film Review

This alarming RT documentary series concerns the secretive Turkish imam accused by Turkish president Recep Erdogan of orchestrating the 2016 coup. Fethullen Gulen, founder of Turkey’s Hizmet movement, defected to the US in 1995, after being charged with trying to start a secret religion. At the height of the movement’s power in 2008, it had 2-3 million Turkish followers and ran 2,000 Gulen schools and universities in 140 countries, including the US.

The US is resisting Turkey’s demands for Gulen’s extradition to stand trial for his role in the coup.

What I found most concerning about the series is learning (in Part 4) of Hizmet’s extensive role in starting 170 taxpayer funded Gulen charter schools in the US. The FBI raided a number of Gulen schools in 2011 as part of an ongoing investigation. For some mysterious reason, the mainstream media made no mention of this at the time of the Turkish coup.

Some Russian analysts believe Gulen received CIA support in expanding his private school network to newly independent Muslim republics following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 2008, the Justice Department appealed the State Department’s decision to award Gulen permanent residency in the US. They lost the appeal based on two letters from the CIA and one from the US ambassador in Ankara.

Gulen presently lives on a 25 acre estate in Pennsylvania.

Part 1 describes the formation of the Hizmet movement in Turkey in the sixties and seventies and the spread of Gulen schools to Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia, Ukraine and Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the same period, they also spread to many countries in Africa and Asia.

Part 2 describes the expansion of Gulen schools into Russia and Germany. After Putin came to power, many Russian Gulen schools were closed after parents complained about their children being indoctrinated with Islamic beliefs.

Part 3 includes interviews with Turkish immigrants in Germany and the extortion-style techniques the Hizmet movement used to pressure them to help fund new Gulen schools.

Part 4 examines the history of Gulen charter school movement in the US. One former American Gulen school teacher describes their abusive treatment of women and the complaint she made to the FBI about her husband being forced contribute 40% of his salary to the Hizmet movement. At the height of their power, the Hismet movement represented a powerful tightly controlled international corporation and had major presence in number of Turkish government agencies.

Part 5 explores the powerful role of the Turkish military in maintaining Turkey’s status as a secular state. It also describes a brief alliance between Erdogan and Gulen in the early 1990s to advocate for greater Islamic influence over Turkish society. Prior to the 2016 coup, the Hizmet movement controlled the second largest media empire in Turkey – with six TV stations, two radio stations and several newspapers, magazines and publishing companies. Following the coup, Erdogan arrested 102,000 members of the Izmet movement and fired 130,000 others who held government jobs. He closed all Turkey’s Gulen schools or arranged for their takeover by local authorities, He also shut down 1,500 Hizmet-funded NGOs and their Turkish media network. The subsequent drop in their funding led to the closure or takeover of many Gulen schools worldwide.

Part 5, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed free at

The Rise and Fall of Fethullah Gulen

 

The End of the Oil Age?

Petroleum and Crude Oil – the Future of Oil Production

DW (2019) – only online until April 17th

Film Review

This documentary analyzes the long term economic viability of the petroleum industry, in view of climate change, increasing competition from cheap renewable energy and shifting geopolitical allegiances.

It begins with an examination of the 2014 collapse in oil prices – with the cost of a barrel of oil dropping by over 70% between June 2014 and January 2016. Oil bottomed out at $26 a barrel in February 2016.

The filmmakers explore a number of factors keeping the oil price above $100 a barrel prior to 2014. Speculation in oil futures by big banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley seems to be the main one.

These high oil prices made the fracking boom possible. Fracking technology, whereby trapped oil and gas reserves are released by fracturing bedrock, is an extremely expensive technology. According to industry analysts, fracking is only financially viable with oil prices above $70 a barrel.

The fracking industry was a great boon to the US petroleum industry, enabling it to export oil and liquified natural gas (LNG) for the first time in decades.

The filmmakers point to two main reasons for the 2014 collapse in oil prices. The first was reduced oil demand (due to global economic slowdown) popping the speculative bubble created by the big banks. The second was Saudi Arabia’s attempt to destroy the US fracking industry by flooding the global market with oil.

This scheme seems to have backfired. While numerous small fracking operations went bust, the major oil companies had sufficient financial resources to continue fracking at a loss.

The low oil prices probably hurt Saudi Arabia more than the US, as the Saudis are extremely dependent on oil revenues to finance their national budget.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC* countries reached out to Russia to form OPEC Plus. The latter agreed to limit oil production to stabilize prices. The Saudi oil ministry fully expects Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics will also join OPEC Plus.

Meanwhile oil producing countries (except for the US under Trump) have learned an important lesson from the 2014 price shock. Both Norway (the world’s largest oil/gas producer) and Saudi Arabia are rapidly diversifying their energy industries to protect themselves from future price volatility. Most industry analysts expect other countries to follow suit. At present China, the world’s largest oil importer, is also the largest investor in renewables. This, in turn, signals a significant reduction in their future oil dependency.


*Organization of Oil Exporting Countries – current members include Algeria, Angola, Austria, Cameroon, Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia (the de factor leader), Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

 

Putin and the Current Russian Economy

In Search of Putin’s Russia – Part 2 Arising from the Ruble

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

In the second episode of In Search of Putin’s Russia, Russian journalist filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov examines Russia’s 2014 economic crisis, which he blames on falling oil prices and US and EU sanctions.

Overall he feels the sanctions (and more importantly Russian counter sanctions) have helped strengthen Russia’s domestic food and industrial production. At the same time the sanctions have hurt many ordinary Russians, in part due to really low salaries. For example, the average Russian teacher earns $300 a month.

The drop in the value of the ruble has led to many home foreclosures. Ever since the Soviet collapse, Russian banks only issue mortgages in foreign currencies. Because Russians are paid in rubles, they could no longer keep up with payments when the value of the ruble dropped 40% in 2014.

Access to health care is also a major issue owing to the collapse of the state-run Soviet health care system. This is especially true in rural areas where people are too poor to pay privately for care.

Most health care funding seems to come from charities, which also raise funds to keep children out of orphanages when their parents are too poor to provide for them. Russia’s current economic crisis has placed a growing number of families in this predicament.

 

 

The Global Rush to Claim and Exploit Our Oceans

Oceans Monopoly

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary explains the legal process by which coastal countries claim access to valuable seabed resources outside the three-mile statutory limit set by international law.

In 1945 President Truman issued the Proclamation on the Continental Shelf, claiming all seabed resources on the US continental shelf* for the purpose deep sea oil drilling.

In 1982, the United Nations formalized the granting of seabed claims by creating the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). By definition, the EEZ extends 200 miles beyond a nations coastline. This UN mandate was subsequently modified to allow coastal countries with continental shelves extending more than 200 miles to claim the entire area as national territory.

In 1997, the UN General Assembly created the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The latter is a body of 21 geologists who assess geologic data countries submit to document their continental shelf boundaries.

Often the continental shelf of neighboring countries overlaps. For example Canada, Norway and Russia all claim the Arctic Ocean – believed to hold 10% of the world’s remaining oil reserves.

In the South China Sea, eight countries are fighting over $100 billion worth of resources.


*The continental shelf is an underwater landmass which extends from a continent, resulting in an area of relatively shallow water known as a shelf sea.

 

*

Hidden History: Exposing the Roots of the Korean Conflict

Imposed Divide: Exposing the Roots of the Korean Conflict

RT (2018)

Film Review

This documentary dispels many myths promoted by Western media about the real purpose of US sanctions against North Korea. Predictably the real purpose of North Korean sanctions isn’t to end the North’s nuclear program but, as in Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Syria etc., to cause sufficient civilian misery to bring about regime change – either through popular uprising or a military coup.

The film begins by describing Korea’s historical division along the 38th parallel. During World War II, the entire Korean peninsula was occupied by Japan. When the latter surrendered on August 14, 1945, Soviet troops accepted their surrender north of the parallel and US troops in the South.

While Soviet troops withdrew, US troops continued its occupation of South Korea,  installing a series of puppet dictators to brutally suppress any dissent through surveillance, arrest, torture and assassination. Under US pressure, in 1948 the UN issued a declaration of two separate states – the socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the capitalist Republic of Korea in the south.

In 1950, North Korea attempted to reunify Korea by invading and “liberating.” the south. They were welcomed and supported by resistance fighters opposed to US occupation. With the help of UN forces, by 1953 the Americans drove North Korean troops north of the 38th parallel. They abandoned their plan to invade the North when Communist Chinese troops entered the Korean War on the side of the North Vietnamese. Instead the US unleashed a massive carpet bombing campaign that destroyed all major North Korean towns and killed 20% of their population.

After a July 1953 truce restored the original North/South boundary, the US maintained a permanent military presence (ie occupation)* in South Korea. A growing number of South Korean civilians have joined the movement protesting continued US occupation. South Korea’s National Security Act, which criminalizes praise of North Korea, criticism of the US and all human rights campaigns and protests, is equally unpopular.

This documentary also explodes Western myths about the origin of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The latter was the North’s response to a 1958 US decision to install tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. They were removed in 1991 as part of President Bush Senior’s decision to eliminate America’s total arsenal of short range nuclear weapons.

In 1994 President Clinton signed an agreement to build North Korea a light water nuclear reactor in return for their commitment to end their nuclear weapons program. His Republican congress refused to ratify the treaty.