Gamechanger: China’s New Silk Road

 

China’s New Silk Road

DW (2018)

Film Review

This is a German documentary (in English) about China’s Silk Road* projects, commenced in 2013 based on an agreement between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. The Silk Road will consist of a network of superhighways and high speed trains connecting China to western Europe via Kazakhstan and Russia.

In China, the Silk Road begins at Chongqing, a western city of 30 million dubbed the Chinese Silicon Valley for computer hardware. At present, Europe imports most of their computers from China. At present, it takes them four months to reach China by sea. With the completion of the overland Silk Road network, this time could be reduced to a month or less. Shipping goods overland also enables Chinese companies to avoid growing tensions with the US in the South China Sea.

The Kazakh leg of the Silk Road, which is being funded by World Bank and Chinese loans, runs past the Kazakh oil fields – with China importing much of its oil from Kazakhstan.

In China, the Silk Road superhighway network runs alongside the Gobi Desert, where China’s largest solar and wind farms are located.


*The Silk Road was a centuries-old trade route connecting Asia with Europe. China has invested billions of dollars in building superhighways and high speed networks along the Silk Road route through Kazakhstan and Russia.

 

 

China vs the US: The Battle for Oil

China vs the US: The Battle for Oil

Directed by Jean-Kristophe Klots (2012)

Film Review

The Battle for Oil is about the battle between China and the US over the world’s dwindling oil reserves. Globally China is the second biggest oil consumer – after the US. Owing to its dwindling reserves, they import two-thirds of their oil. High domestic demand for oil leads to periodic power blackouts and long queues at services stations.

China has three state-owned oil companies employing tens of thousands of workers, mainly in London, Singapore, New York. The country’s high demand for oil has led to major investment in African and South American oil producers. Rather than buying barrels of oil, China seeks investment in oil production capacity. Chad, Sudan and other African countries have granted them major oil concessions in return for major infrastructure investment in ports, railroads, telecommunication networks, schools, and clinics.

China’s ability (thanks to immense cash reserves) to invest in massive infrastructure projects gives them significant competitive advantage over western oil companies. As does China’s commitment to absolute non-interference in the host country’s political affairs. This contrasts sharply with western loans. The latter are always accompanied by demands for “democratic” and “human rights” reforms, which turn out to be camouflage for further penetration by Wall Street interests.

In 2005, China freaked out US lawmakers by attempting to take over the American oil company Unocal. Owing to their desire to preserve friendly trade relations, China dropped their Unocal takeover bid and shifted their focus to forging alliances with oil producers hostile to the US, such as Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Much of the current US animosity towards Venezuela stems from growing Chinese investment in their oil industry – a fact rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

 

Russian Sami Organize to Fight Mining Operations

Russia’s Tundra Tale

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Free link: Russia’s Tundra Tale

This documentary concerns the battle of the indigenous Sami people of Russia’s Kola Peninsula to protect their Arctic homeland against encroachment by mining companies. The mining operations (fossil fuels, platinum, gold and aluminum) are destroying the pasture of the reindeer herds the Sami depend on for their livelihood. Unable to support their families, many have abandoned the tundra for Russian cities. Those who stayed are  organizing to preserve their collectively owned land.

Most of the political organizing is done by Sami women. To counter the Russian government, which tends to support the mining interests, the Sami have set up their own parliament in Murmansk. Sami women are also working to strengthen community solidarity in their villages.

One parliament member, a Sami woman named Sascha, is shown meeting with a potential reindeer farm more financially viable. Filmmakers also follow her to Norway, where she meets with Sami activists who employ direct action (eg a hunger strike in front of the Norwegian parliament) to force concessions from Norway’s mining industry. Linking up with Sami activists in Norway, Finland and Sweden has greatly enhanced the strengthen of Russia’s Sami movement.

World War I: How the West Fomented Ethnic Conflict to Destroy the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire: Demise of a Major Power

DW (2017)

Film Review

This documentary demonstrates how people of multiple religions and ethnicities were able to coexist peaceably for over four centuries in the Ottoman empire. This flies in the face of western propaganda about the inevitably of genocidal violence when various religions and ethnicities share the same geographic space.

According to the filmmakers, the long peaceful coexistence of multiple religious and ethnic groups (the main ones being Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Sunni, Shia and Sufi Muslims) relates mainly to the Ottoman creation of semi-autonomous regional “millets.” These were under the administrative control of local religious leaders.

The democratic ideals that arose from the 1789 French Revolution would pose the first major challenge to this stability, in triggering a whole series of rebellions. In 1821, Greek rebels would launch a full scale war of independence. Russia, France and Britain, keen on expanding their empires into the Balkans and Middle East, supported the rebellion. Greece would ultimately win independence in 1829.

Over the coming decades, the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empire fomented similar rebellions by ethnic Serbs, Romanians and Bulgarians. In 1877, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire – under the pretext of protecting its Christian subjects – which ended with the 1878 Congress of Berlin. The latter divided up the Balkans and placed the minority Armenians in the Anatolia peninsula under the protection of the European powers. Russia was granted control of Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro and the Austro-Hungarian empire control of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This peace agreement, which led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Balkan Muslims, signaled the dawn of the modern age of refugees.

For me the most intriguing part of the film concerned the intelligence role of archeologist Thomas Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), who was actually a British secret agent sent to mobilize the Arabs in the Arabian peninsula to revolt against their Ottoman rulers. Lawrence, on behalf of Britain, promised Arab fighters their own Arabian kingdom in return for their military support – a promise Britain conveniently broke in 1920.*

This documentary leaves absolutely no question that the real agenda in World War I was 1) disrupting the growing German-Ottoman alliance and 2) for the European powers who initiated the war to divide up the Ottoman empire. Following the 1918 armistice and 1920 Treaty of Sevres, Britain would win colonial control of Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq and Kuwait) and Palestine and the French control of Syria and the newly created Christian enclave of Lebanon.

After Britain gained colonial control over Palestine in 1920, they immediately revved up ethnic tensions by requiring Jerusalem residents to reside in distinct religious zones an


*The Ottoman Empire’s possessions in the Arabian Peninsula became the Kingdom of Hejaz, which was annexed by the Sultanate of Nejd (today Saudi Arabia), and the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen. The Empire’s possessions on the western shores of the Persian Gulf were variously annexed by Saudi Arabia (Alahsa and Qatif), or remained British protectorates (Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar) and became the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. requiring passports for travel between zones.

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Afghanistan’s Opium Trade

Afghan Overdose: Inside the Opium Trade

RT (2015)

Film Review

Afghan Overdose is an RT documentary that seems more geared for Russian than foreign consumption. Although the narrator is dubbed in English, actual dialogue is Russian or Farsi with subtitles.

As its northern neighbor, Russia is one of the primary destinations of Afghan heroin smugglers – roughly 30,000 Russians die of heroin overdose annually. The Russian government is so concerned about their heroin epidemic that they routinely provide the Afghan government with satellite imagery of the country’s heroin labs.

Segments from so-called opium “raids” leave no doubt the government’s heroin eradication efforts are purely cosmetic. Because the 15 1/2 year war with the US has totally destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, opium production is the only source of livelihood open to tens of thousands of residents

The arrival of ISIS in Afghanistan – who oppose the Taliban – only contributes to the overall chaos and instability.

The film’s only weakness is its lack of historical or political perspective. According to RT, opium production is the primary source of revenue for the Taliban (who control most of the country outside of Kabul). However it’s not clear how the Taliban switched over from being adamantly anti-opium prior to the US invasion to relying on it as their primary source of revenue.

It’s intriguing to hear to anti-Taliban locals talking about the US/CIA creating the Taliban as a cover for their heroin trafficking, about NATO soldiers fighting alongside the Taliban against anti-Taliban warlords and about US troops that directly engage in various aspects of opium production. I think this would have been a better documentary were some of these lines of inquiry pursued.

 

How the US Uses War to Protect the Dollar

The Gods of Money

William Engdahl (2015)

The first video is a 2015 presentation by William Engdahl about his 2010 book The Gods of Money. It focuses on the use of US economic and military warfare to maintain the supremacy of the US dollar as the global reserve currency.

As his point of departure, he begins with the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, in which the Allied powers agreed to use the gold-backed US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. In 1971 when Nixon was forced to end the gold standard,* the gold-backed US dollar was replaced by the “petrodollar.” According to Engdahl, it was so named because of a secret agreement the US made with Saudi Arabia – in return for a guarantee that OPEC would only trade oil in US dollars, the US guaranteed the Saudis unlimited military hardware.

In this way, oil importing nations (most of the world) were forced to retain substantial US dollar reserves. This was the only way they could provide their economies with a continuous supply of oil.

The petrodollar remained supreme until the mid-1980s, when the collapse of the US Savings and Loan industry (a pre-cursor of the 2007 banking collapse) raised concerns in Europe that the US was failing as a super power. Fearing the US economy was collapsing, they created the euro and the Eurozone, to prevent the Soviet Union or China from filling the power vacuum.

The financial warfare unit of the US treasury responded by feeding hedge fund manager and currency speculator George Soros secret information that enabled him to lead an attack on the British pound. This, in turn, destabilized the British economy to the point the UK no longer qualified to join the euro.

In 1997 the US Treasury and Soros made a a similar attack on economies of Southeast Asia (Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines) that attempted to use currencies other than the dollar as their reserve currencies.

In 2010, after the US government had run three years of $1 trillion deficits, China, Russia and Japan announced their intention of selling US Treasury bonds (which the US government sells to finance its debt) to increase their euro reserves. Concerned this placed the US dollar on the brink of catastrophic collapse, the US Treasury and Soros attacked the Euro directly by collapsing the Greek economy. The mechanism Soros used was to direct his hedge funds to dump the sovereign treasury bonds that financed Greek debt.** When the European Central Bank announced its commitment to a Greek bail-out, the US Treasury and Soros followed up with an attack on Irish, Spanish and Portuguese sovereign bonds.


*A US economic crisis led to massive foreign demand for US dollar redemption that threatened to deplete US gold reserves.

** The immediate effect of bondholders dumping Greek bonds raised interest rates on Greek debt to a level that threatened to bankrupt their government.

 

 

The second clip is a Guns and Butter radio interview with Engdahl. It focuses on a second area the Gods of Money covers, namely the long US battle to abolish their private central bank (aka the Federal Reserve) and end the ability of private banks to create money out of thin air (see How Banks Create Money Out of Thin Air).

After a brief explanation of fractional reserve banking, whereby 97% of our money is created by private banks, Engdahl traces the history of the First Bank of the United States, created by Alexander Hamilton in 1791. The latter was the first US central bank, 80% owned by private (mostly Rothschild-controlled) banks in the City of London and 20% owned by the US government. President James Madison’s refusal to renew the bank’s charter in 1811 would result in Britain and the US going to war in 1812.

When the war ended in 1815, the American war debt was so substantial, the US had no choice but to charter the Second Bank of the United States, which once again was 80% controlled by London banks.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson refused to renew the bank’s charter, and the US had no central bank between 1832 and 1913. In 1913 when President Woodrow Wilson secretly colluded with the global banking establishment to create the Federal Reserve.

Both Lincoln and Kennedy challenged the exclusive role private banks play in creating the US money supply – Lincoln by issuing greenbacks (rather than borrowing money from private banks) to pay for the civil war and Kennedy by issuing silver certificates directly redeemable by the US Treasury. In both cases, Engdahl feels their defiance of the international banking establishment played a role in the decision to assassinate them.

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.

Snowden: The Book Behind the Film

snowden-files

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man

By Luke Harding

Guardian Books (2014)

Book Review

The Snowden Files is the fast-paced thrilleresque account of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s dramatic escape from US capture in Hong Kong, following his leak of thousands of computer files documenting Orwellian NSA surveillance activites. Earlier this year, this book was remade as the motion picture Snowden.

Published in the UK, The Snowden Files provides substantial background on the NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ, whose spying on innocent civilians is even more egregious than the NSA’s, owing to the country’s weaker civil liberties protections. In fact, the NSA relies on GCHQ to engage in certain types of snooping (on Americans) that are expressly forbidden in the US.

When Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald first broke the story that Internet giants Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo were secretly turning over vast amounts of customer data to the NSA, his editors were forced to release the story online from the Guardian’s New York office to avoid prosecution in Britain. Shortly after the story’s release, British police destroyed all the hard drives in the Guardian’s London office – in the belief they continued copies of NSA files Snowden had released.

I especially appreciated the book’s epilogue about Snowden’s life in Russia, as it dispels much of the western propaganda about his selling NSA secrets to Russia, his refusal to learn Russian (he speaks enough to do his own grocery shopping and is working to improve his fluency), and his (non-existent) job with a Russian tech company. At the time of publication, Snowden supported himself through savings and speaking fees.

Four other government whistleblowers (Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Ray McGovern and Thomas Drake) visited Snowden in Moscow in 2013, and the book recounts their meeting.

The book’s major shortcoming is its embarrassing fact checking lapses – for example the assertion that Putin “invaded” Crimea in 2014. Most independent sources confirm that in 2014 the legislature of the Autonomous Republic Crimea held a referendum in which 95.5% voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The referendum was triggered when a US-sponsored fascist coup seized the government in Kiev.

Northwest Passage: Nations Already Squabbling over Ice-Free Arctic

Inside Story – How Will the Northwest Passage Influence Global Trade and Economy

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This Al Jazeera documentary is about the melting of the Arctic ice cap and its effect on international trade. Shipping through the Northwest Passage, which is still limited to summer months, first began in 2008. By 2025, the Arctic is predicted to be ice free every summer. China, the world’s largest exporter, has a particular interest in the Northwest Passage, as it reduces shipping times to Europe and North America by 30%.

Canada, claiming the Northwest Passage as territorial waters, is challenging China’s right to access this trade route. Thus far, the US is siding with China, asserting the Arctic Ocean is an international waterway. At present Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Iceland and Canada have claims over the Arctic Circle under the UN Law of the Sea treaty. Owing to the US refusal to ratify the treaty, Alaska (eg the US) has no claim to this waterway.

In addition to the Northwest Passage, there is a second passage north of Russia and Norway called the Northern Sea Route. The Polar Code goes into effect next year, with mandatory structural requirements for ships traversing the Arctic Circle.