How the British Monarchy Subverts Democracy

The Power Behind the Throne

Press TV (2015)

Film Review

This 2015 Press TV documentary questions whether the power accorded the British monarchy is consistent with democracy. It argues the extreme wealth* of the current royal family (and their clear efforts to protect that wealth) translates into significant state power, especially as the UK has no written constitution to limit their power and privileges.

It goes on to detail a number of royal privileges and activities that directly clash with the democratic rights of British citizens.

It starts with the economic privileges Prince Charles enjoys as the personal owner of the Duchy of Cornwall:**

  • Charles is the automatic heir of anyone who dies in Cornwall without a will. Thus far, he has inherited £3.3 million in this way, which he uses to fund personal projects, including a fund to pay private school bursaries. He rejects local requests to keep these funds within Cornwall.
  • He’s exempt from usual requirements to obtain planning permission and use consents for any land development he engages in Cornwall.
  • He’s exempt from business and capital gains tax on any income his Cornwall businesses generate.

The Prince of Wales is also notorious for the letters he writes to government ministers lobbying them about specific projects and issues. In 2005, the Guardian files a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain 27 such letters he wrote between 2004-2005. Both the Blair and the Cameron government fought the release of these letters for ten years, at a total cost of £400,000. In 2015, the British supreme court ordered them release.

The filmmakers also detail the role Princes Charles and Andrew play in lobbying Saudi Arabia and other third world dictatorships to purchase British weapons systems and fighter jets. This role directly benefits royal family members as weapons industry shareholders.


*Altogether the royal family privately owns a £70 billion real estate and share portfolio, in addition to a £10 billion art collection. They also receive a £40-200 million taxpayer funded stipend for the official duties they perform.

**The Duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and the title of Duke of Cornwall at birth or when their parent assumes the throne

 

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.

 

Saudi Aramco: The Company and the State

Saudi Aramco: The Company and the State

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

It never occurred to me before watching this film that Saudi Aramco, the Saudi oil company isn’t a publicly traded company. In other words, it has no shareholders – it’s entirely owned by the Saudi royal family.

In 2016, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman announced plans to do an IPO (initial public offering) and list the company either on Wall Street or the London stock exchange. Had it gone forward, the IPO would have been the largest in global history. Saudi Aramco, which the Saudi government values at $2 trillion, had hoped to sell 5% of the company to private shareholders for $100 billion. The Crown Prince proposed to use these funds to finance his Public Investment Fund and Vision 2030.*

Late last year the IPO was mysteriously cancelled.

International oil analysts dispute whether Aramco is really worth $2 trillion, largely because they question the size of Saudi oil reserves. Despite the absence of any new oil discoveries (and pumping out 100 billion barrels in 30 years), the Saudi government maintains their reserves still stand at 261 billion barrels (as they did in 1989).

When bin Saman’s father Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ascended to the throne in 2015, he made drastic changes to the law of succession, essentially concentrating power in the hands of his son Mohammad. Some of bin Abdulaziz’s brothers remain attached to a system in which the royal family made collective decisions instead of ceding power to a single monarch. Several reportedly opposed Vision 2030, which is why the Crown Prince had them arrested in 2017 and confiscated their estates.

The capital flight triggered by these arrests not only scared off foreign investors, but also cast a cloud over Aramco’s potential ability to attract shareholders.

Analysts also point to other factors in bin Salman’s decision to postpone the IPO:

  1. Saudi budgetary problems stemming from military over-commitments in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.
  2. Ongoing economic blockade against regional ally Qatar.
  3. The absence of a stable Saudi system of taxation (at present Aramco revenues fund 87% of the government budget).
  4. The absence of a a work ethic in Saudi Arabia. Because basic needs are heavily subsidized, the Saudi population doesn’t tend to see work as a valuable part of their lives – leading to enormous government dependence on foreign workers.

*Saudi Vision 2030 is a plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism

 


 

The Civil War in Libya

The Lust for Libya: How a Nation Was Torn Apart Part 2

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

Part 2 of Lust for Libya links the 2011 “uprisings” in Libya to the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

It makes no mention of the CIA role in fomenting and arming the rebellion in Libya, along with the more peaceful 2001 Arab Spring “color revolutions.” See The Arab Spring: Made in the USA

I was surprised to learn the 2011 NATO bombing campaign was spearheaded by French president Nicolas Sarkozy (whose 2007 election campaign was financed by Gaddafi) and former UK prime minister David Cameron. It was they who approached the Obama administration as a third partner.

In total NATO bombers embarked on 20,000 sorties and 67,000 total bombings to virtually destroy Libya’s civilian infrastructure. With US intelligence support, rebel fighters captured, tortured and executed Gaddafi as he was fleeing Tripoli. With his demise, Libya became a failed state as it descended into a civil war between rival armed militias.

Libya’s National Oil Company and its central bank continued to operate, and for some bizarre reason the new de facto government (National Transition Council) granted a salary to all past and present militia fighters – a move that clearly fuels the ongoing war.

Libya has held a number of parliamentary elections since 2011, but none has been able to control the militias or effectively rebuild state institutions.

In 2015, the UN created the government of National Accord, which meets in Tripoli, although any government institutions that continue to operate are run by militias. A CIA-linked exile General Khalifa Hafter has created a rival government run by the Libyan National Army and which has seized the oil ports and all oil production.

France, the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are all supplying Hafter with weapons, in open violation of a UN arms embargo. Italy backs the Government of National Accord because they control natural gas resources Italy depends on – and, to some extent, the flow of African refugees departing from Libya for Italy.

Part 2 begins at 47 minutes.

Abby Martin Presents the Real House of Saud

The Real House of Saud

TeleSur (2015)

Film Review

This documentary was released following the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head the UN Panel of Human Rights in 2015. Its primary purpose is to highlight Saudi Arabia’s scandalous human rights record and the utter hypocrisy of the Obama administration in supporting their appointment to this role. Saudi Arabia’s recent economic attack (via economic sanctions and a boycott) on its former ally Qatar – coupled with its demand they shut down Al Jazeera – serves to remind us of their abysmal record in the area of civil and human rights.

The totalitarian Saudi dictatorship executes its citizens (via head chopping, stoning or crucifixion) at the rate of one every other day. Limb amputation and severe lashings are also frequent punishments. It’s common for women who report being raped to be punished via lashing.

Human rights groups are illegal in Saudi Arabia. In addition to an absolute prohibition on women driving, they need permission from a male relative to work, attend school or seek heath care. Seventy per cent of Saudi women who have graduated university – including 1,000 PhDs – are unemployed.

Only one family, the House of Saud, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1925. Saudi princes live in opulent luxury from the country’s oil revenues, while 20% of Saudi citizens live in abject poverty. Youth unemployment is 30%.

Thirty percent of the Saudi population are migrant workers, subject to a slave-like system of indentured servitude in which they must work fifteen hour days, even if they’re sick and often without payment. They’re subject to arrest if they try to leave their employers, as well as being subject to execution for minor offenses.

The most interesting part of the documentary concerns the sordid history of US political and military support for Saudi’s ruthless dictatorship – including their open funding of international terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban – for the sake of cheap oil concessions for US oil companies. This support includes training by the CIA in suppressing unions and other grassroots organizations.

I was very surprised to learn that despite this brutal totalitarian control, popular uprisings are still fairly common, especially in Eastern Saudi Arabia, where much of Saudi Arab’s Shia minority reside. At the time of filming, Eastern Saudi Arabia was under virtual martial law to suppress mass protests inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions.

Syria Already Planning Its Economic Future

 

Guest Post by Sophie Mengel Inside Syria Media Center.

Last Monday the EU Council extended sanctions against the Syrian government for another year, until June 1, 2018. The event occurred as recent Syrian Arab Army successes raise hopes for an end to the Syrian conflict. It’s clearly not enough to talk about food relief and delivery of basic necessities. Manufacturing and foreign trade have also taken major hits in Syria.

 

World Bank: Total economic damage by city

Bilateral Ties Between Syria and Iran

Not so long ago, at a Damascus meeting between Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis and Iranian Ambassador Javad Torkabadi, Khamis highlighted the full-scale economic war the West and their Middle East allies have unleashed against Syria. Tehran, with its long experiencing countering “sanctions war,” and Damascus have become a model of strategic cooperation, both militarily and economically.  However, strong economic ties between Iran and Syria alone will not solve the problem of Syrian economic degradation.

Courting Qatar

Despite their past support for anti-government terrorists, the current economic boycott of Qatar by its “friendly neighbors” is leading to hope of future Qatari investment in the Syrian economy. For Qatar to invest in Syrian zones of influence or to offer Syria offer a kind of Marshall Plan would go a long way towards repairing Qatar’s international image. It would also allow the country to bypass limitations Saudi Arabia seeks to impose on Qatar’s foreign policy, while making it more independent of the US and the EU.

All this would likely depend on consummating an agreement for Iran to purchase LNG from Qatar for onward transport to external consumers. Iran, which is getting closer to Qatar and has strong positions in Syria, has great potential as an intermediary.

Syria is Already Planning Its Economic Future

Despite the ongoing fighting in Syria, the country is already planning its economic future. Syria is rich in energy resources and minerals, including rare-earth metals. At the same time, the country has an advantageous geographical location for transporting goods to the Mediterranean pass through its territory. All this gives Damascus the potential for rapid economic development.

Stability in the region and restoration of foreign trade would enable the Syrians to have a source of stable foreign direct investment. The country has been in the grip of war for more than six years, but is full of enthusiasm to rebuild the economy. The hope of a new life and recent successes on the battlefield inspire optimism on the part of Syrian citizens, as well as the countries such as Iran, China, India, Russia and Armenia that support them.

Follow the latest developments by reading Inside Syria Media Center.

Anatomy of Modern Corruption: The Clinton Foundation and the Superdelegates

What Hillary Clinton Really Represents

Empire Files (2016)

Film Review

This early 2016 documentary is a virtual encyclopedia of Clinton family corruption. Based entirely on publicly verifiable information, it reveals how Hillary, especially, has based her political career on supporting legislation that specifically benefits her corporate and foreign donors. It also explores the identity of some of the 700 Democratic “superdelegates” who helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination – despite overwhelming support he received from voters.

The Clinton Foundation was founded in 1997 with the alleged purpose of providing humanitarian relief after international disasters. Its real purpose, however, was to engage in “crisis capitalism,” a term coined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Following a disasters, such as the 2001 earthquake in India, the Clinton Foundation would waltz in and create a variety of for-profit projects enabling further exploitation of third world resources and labor by Clinton Foundation donors.

Major donors to the Clinton foundation included Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, Dow, Monsanto, General Electric (GE), Fox News, the Soros Foundation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As senator, Clinton rewarded the latter two donors by supporting deregulation that would lead to their bankruptcy in 2008 and a massive taxpayer bailout.

As Secretary of State, Clinton would grant similar favors to Boeing and GE by facilitating overseas sales of their military hardware and to Exxon by heavily promoting the spread of fracking throughout the world.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Republic and Qatar were also big donors to the Clinton Foundation. In all 181 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied Clinton as Secretary of State and most were successful in getting the policies they advocated enacted.

Many of the 700 superdelegates appointed by the Democratic National Committee (to help ensure their hand picked candidates won the Democratic primary) were also corporate lobbyists hoping to benefit financially from a Clinton presidency: among others, the corporate lobbies represented included the Excel pipeline, the private prison industry, Big Pharma and the four main Wall Street banks (City Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase).