Airbrushed From History: The Founding of Russia, the Islamic Role in the European Renaissance, Mali, and Genghis Khan’s Pax Mongolica

History of the World Part 4 – The Middle Ages

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Episode 4 is my favorite as covers numerous topics airbrushed out of mainstream history textbooks.

It begins with the founding of the city-state of Kiev by Oleg of the Viking Russ tribe in 882 AD and his domination of the Dnieper River and the Black Sea and East-West trade out of Constantinople. Sixty years later, the King of Kiev Vladimir the Great would adopt the orthodox Christianity practiced in the Byzantine Empire.

The film goes on to describe the flourishing classical (Greek and Roman) learning in the Islamic Empires urban centers, particularly Cordova (in modern day Spain) and Bukhara (in modern day Uzbekistan).

A substantial portion of this episode focuses on the conquest of the largest land empire ever in the 12th and 13th century AD by the Mongol Genghis Khan. His main legacy was Pax Mongolica, which led to the reopening of the Silk Road, restoring land-based trade between Europe and Asia. This would lead to Venetian Marco Polo’s famous visit to China in 1275 AD, where he served 12 years as special advisor to the Mongol Chinese Emperor Kubla Khan.

The last empire discussed is the vast African empire of Mali, which was unknown to the western world until the emperor Mansa Musa (a devout Muslim) arrived in Cairo in 1324 with 60,000 followers. They were on a 2,000 mile pilgrimage to Mecca.

The film finishes by exploring the role of Muslim scholarship in the revival of ancient Greek and Roman knowledge in the Italian city states – and ultimately the European Renaissance. It uses as an example of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco The Last Supper. The latter incorporates the laws of perspective, largely based on Muslim innovations in math and geometry, and the knowledge of human anatomy the Muslims inherited from the ancient Greeks.

 

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.

 

 

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

 

 

Was Silk Road Founder Framed?

The Deep Web

Directed by Alex Winter (2015)

Film Review

The Deep Web is about the January 2015 trial of the alleged founder of the Silk Road website Ross Ulbricht. In addition to exploring Ulbricht’s background and the history of the Silk Road, the documentary also lays out some pretty revealing evidence US District Judge Katherine Forrest disallowed at trial. Ulbricht was sentenced to life imprisonment for drug sales, money laundering, hacking and engagement in a continuing criminal enterprise (kingpin charge). The filmmaker clearly believes Ulbricht was denied a fair trial.

The film begins by explaining what the Dark Web is, ie the unindexed records on the Internet. The Dark Web, which is thousands of times larger than the visible Internet, includes millions of bank records, as well as private and government administrative records. It also includes illicit sites like Silk Road.

Silk Road was created in 2011 by combining two cryptographic technologies: TOR (an open source technology originally developed by the US military), a browser that allows a user to access the Internet anonymously, and bitcoins, a cryptographically generated currency which, unlike bank-generated currency, is virtually untraceable.

Silk Road Founded as Political Statement

Silk Road didn’t actually buy or sell drugs. It simply provided a secure eBay-type marketplace where buyers and sellers could link up anonymously. Over time Silk Road developed an extremely tight knit user community that participated in the site’s political forums. One of the lead administrators, who took the screen name Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR)*, always maintained that Silk Road was less about selling drugs than making a political statement. DPR presented himself as a free market libertarian and talked a lot about resisting state efforts to control every aspect of our lives. All the Silk Road administrators were unified in their desire to end the war on drugs** and the extreme violence associated with it.

This fundamental nonviolent stance was reflected in their refusal to accept sellers offering products or services that caused people harm, such as prostitution or child pornography.

The Cryptoanarchist Movement

The Deep Web also provides interesting background on the radical cryptoanarchist movement that would eventually lead to the emergence of Wikileaks, Anonymous and Silk Road. A primary goal of this movement has been to create a world where the government can’t spy on everything we do. Members feel they have an implicit duty to develop encryption tools that non-tech savvy Internet users can employ to protect their privacy and anonymity.

Before the FBI shut it down in 2013, Silk Road had over one million registered users. According to cops, judges and FBI and DEA agents filmmakers interviewed, the site accomplished its goal in reducing violence associated with the drug trade.

Judge Disallows Evidence of FBI Crimes

The defense Ulbricht attempted to present was that he founded Silk Road but wasn’t Dread Pirate Roberts, as the prosecution claimed – that the individual using this screen name had taken over the website and framed him.

In March 2015, two federal agents were indicted (after a nine month investigation) for infiltrating Silk Road and stealing and extorting millions in bitcoins from Silk Road clients. These agents had high-level access to administrative functions of Silk Road, thanks to an administrator they arrested who turned informant. These federal agents had the power to change access to administrator platforms and passwords and to change PIN numbers and commandeer accounts, including that of DPR. They also had the means to manipulate logs, chats, private messages, keys, posts, account information and bank accounts. And they had the motive to alter data in order to cover up their own actions and point guilt elsewhere.

Judge Forrest barred Ulbricht’s attorney from presenting any of this evidence at trial.

She also disallowed evidence the FBI had illegally hacked into Silk Road’s servers in Iceland without a warrant – a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure. If her ruling is allowed to stand on appeal, it sets a dangerous precedent for allowing evidence resulting from illegal government hacking to be used at trial.


*Dread Pirate Roberts was a fictional character in the novel and movie The Princess Bride. In both, when the original Dread Pirate Roberts dies, his successor takes up the alias.
**The libertarian think tank Cato Institute has taken the position that the US should legalize all addictive drugs as Portugal has done. See The Cato Institute and the Drug War

For an update on Ulbricht’s appeal and to donate to his legal defense fund (like I did) go to
http://freeross.org/

Tor 101: Protecting Yourself Against Internet Surveillance

Inside the Dark Web

BBC (2014)

Film Review

Inside the Dark Web is about Tor, a technology that prevents government and corporations from spying on us when we use the Internet.

The World Web has been described as the world’s best tracking device, thanks to the wealth of information it provides about our daily activities. Many families have computerized home appliances that are connected via the Internet (referred to as the Internet of Things). This enables coffee makers, furnaces, coffee makers, etc to turn themselves on and off automatically when we wake up or enter or leave the house. These set-ups allow private companies to collect and store vast amounts of information about our personal lives.

Government and Corporations Are Building Dossiers on Us

No one realized how much Internet data NSA and their British counterpart GCHQ were collecting until Edward Snowden began leaking documents about it in 2013. Private technology companies compile even more detailed documentation (which they regularly turn over to NSA and GCHQ about our Internet activities). Every time we browse, they build detailed dossiers about our reading and browsing habits and sell them to multiple advertisers. For example, if a young woman Googles for pregnancy related information, within hours, she will be bombarded with pregnancy and childbirth ads.

The Onion Router

Tor, which stands for The Onion Router, was develop by the US Naval Research Laboratory in the 1990s for the purpose of protecting online intelligence communications. It combines three layers of encryption with three relay computers belonging to Tor volunteers. Each relay computer removes a layer of encryption and passes the original signal to the intended recipient without revealing the original user.

In 2004, the Navy released the code for Tor under a free licence, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) began funding its continued development. The State Department actively encouraged its usage by anti-Assad activists in Syria and various Arab spring organizers. The US government is less happy about American dissidents using Tor to expose his criminal activities. Whistleblowers used Tor to leak documents to Wikileaks and Snowden used it to leak confidential files.

Silk Road

The term “dark web” refers to criminal enterprises that use Tor to escape detection by government authorities. The most notorious is Silk Road, a website that connected anonymous illicit drug dealers and buyers. Purchases were paid for in bitcoins, a virtual currency created by computer algorithm as opposed to a bank. Like cash, bitcoins are totally untraceable because the users are anonymous.

On Silk Road, people responded to a drug offer by depositing the specified amount of bitcoins in an escrow account. Once they notified the Silk Road administrators they had received the drugs, the bitcoins held in escrow were released to the seller.

In 2013 the FBI temporarily shut down Silk Road by arresting its anonymous founder Ross Ulbricht (aka Dread Pirate Roberts), a Texas investment advisor. Ulbricht has just recently been convicted of conspiring to sell narcotics, hacking and counterfeiting documents. You can read all about the trial on Wired

Criminal enterprises also use Tor and bitcoins for other illegal activities, such as websites that sell guns, stolen credit card details and the sexual services of children.

To download free Tor software go to: https://www.torproject.org/