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 Electronic Whorehouse

The Electronic Whorehouse

by Paul Sheehan

McMillan Australia (2003)

Although 15 years old, this book offers valuable historical insight into the major transformation of traditional media in the 21st century. Paul Sheehan is a columnist and former senior editor for for The Sydney Morning Herald. His book is pretty wide ranging. As a point of departure, he examines the simultaneous rise of Fox News and Alex Jones, just as total network news viewership dropped from 60 to 30%, with a comparable reduction in newspaper readership.

One of Sheehan’s most important points is that the rise of the Internet has ended exclusive control by politicians, bureaucrats, media executives and journalists over the flow of public information. A second relates to the role of Fox News in forging a divergence between the “cultural elite” (represented by the traditional TV networks and CNN) and “mainstreet.” In describing Fox News’ appeal to blue collar white workers and Christian evangelists (almost never reflected in network news coverage – despite representing 46% of the US population), Sheehan eerily foreshadows the Trump phenomenon and the battle currently being played out between Trump and heritage media.

Sheehan goes on to decry the growing blurring between news, opinion and entertainment, as well as the exponential growth of the public relations industry as the source of most western news.

His conservative political bias comes across loud and clear in his diatribe against so-called “economic” refugees*, who he claims cheat the asylum process, and antiglobalization protestors (like myself), who in his view are merely trade unions playing the system for higher wages.

Oh really? That’s news to me – and I’m sure to conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, as well.


*With the chaos the US and allies have inflicted on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the distinction between “economic” and “political” refugees has become purely arbitrary. When the basic infrastructure of a society has been totally destroyed, the question of basic survival becomes even more acute than if a refugee has received actual death threats.

 

 

Hidden History: The 1973 Arab-Israeli War

The War in October

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

The War in October is a three-part documentary series about the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War – aka the Yom Kippur War. What struck me most about the series is how markedly it differs from what we read in the Western media (which was embedded with Israeli troops) and what Americans are taught in school.

Part I provides the background of the war – an agreement by Syrian ruler Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father) agreement with Egyptian ruler Anwar Sadat to simultaneously attack Israel to reclaim territory each had lost to Israel (the Syrian Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula) in the 1967 war.

Part 1 reveals that both Syria and Egypt came close to reconquering their lost territory within the first 24 hours of their attack. They both failed, mainly owing to Assad’s and Sadat’s refusals to follow their generals’ advice.

Part 2 covers the major reversals Syria and Egypt experienced following the full mobilization of Israeli reserves. Israeli troops seized territory within Egypt to within 100 km of Cairo. Their tanks also penetrated deeply into Syria, until they were beaten back by reinforcements from Iraq and Jordan.

Part 3 is the most interesting, as it covers the role Henry Kissinger played, not only in providing Israel with critical military hardware, but in encouraging them to disregard two ceasefires ordered by the UN Security Council.

After the Soviet Union threatened to enforce the second ceasefire militarily, Kissinger (and Israel) eventually capitulated.

However the most effective tool in the 1973 war was the oil embargo launched by all Arab oil producing nations. International pressure forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian and Syrian territory and accep deployment of UN peacekeeping troops in buffer zones east of the Suez Canal and the Golan Heights.

In a side agreement, Sadat agreed to release 230 Israeli prisoners of war in return for Kissinger’s pledge to negotiate a treaty leading to Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. Signed in 1979, the treaty resulted in full withdrawal of Israeli troops in 1982 – a year after Sadat’s assassination.

USA: Exporting Democracy Since 1948

NGOs are the Deep State’s Trojan Horse

James Corbett (2018)

Film Review

This is a documentary about CIA-funded nonprofit foundations (aka NGOs or Non-governmental Organizations) that pose as charities as they work to destabilize and/or overthrow governments unfriendly to Wall Street interests.

In the past decade a growing number of countries (including Kyrgyzstan, Russia, China, India, Egypt and Bolivia) have kicked them out.

President Kennedy created USAID (US Agency for International Development), which is run by the State Department, by executive order in 1961.

In 1983, President Reagan created NED (National Endowment for Democracy), the other big democracy manipulating foundation. The NED bankrolled Oliver North’s illegal arms sales to Iran during the Reagan presidency, the manipulation (and ousting of President Ortega) of Nicaragua’s 1990 elections, regime change in Bulgaria and Albania, attempted regime change in Armenia, (along with George Soros) all the “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe and the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.

The NED and its sister organizations have been funding and training Syria’s rebels since 2006, including the notorious White Helmets – which were founded by former British intelligence agent James Le Mesurier.

Meet Noam Chomsky: Academic Gatekeeper

Meet Noam Chomsky: Academic Gatekeeper

James Corbett (2012)

Film Review

This documentary explores prominent dissident Noam Chomsky’s peculiarly pro-corporate neoliberal positions on the Federal Reserve, the JFK assassination and 9-11.

Using archival footage of Chomsky presentations, Corbett begins by outlining issues in which he (and most of the activist community) share Chomsky’s political views.

  • Obama was for worse (ie anti-democratic) than Bush.
  • Drone strikes are terror weapons.
  • Bush merely tortured people, Obama assassinated them without trial.
  • The military Industrial Complex only survives thanks to corporate welfare.
  • The ruling elite exerts control over the US population mainly via propaganda and indoctrination.

Corbett continues by examining other areas of activist concern that Chomsky totally refuses to address – specifically the Federal Reserve and the role of private banks in money creation, the JFK assassination and government insider involvement in 9-11.

Corbett, like many of us, finds the arguments Chomsky advances on these issues totally irrational and contradictory.

For example, it’s totally mystifying to hear an “anarcho-syndicalist” like Chomsky sing the praises of private central banks and their control of money creation.

In contrast, his dismissal of any “conspiracy” in the JFK assassination seems to be based on a deliberate lie. He claims to have never “looked at” any of the evidence. A prominent JFK researcher disputes, based on a four-hour face-to-face meeting during which he shared a selection of assassination research with Chomsky.

Chomsky’s dismissal of insider involvement in 9-11 is just plain bizarre. His disingenuous claim that the 9-11 Trust movement is made up of non-activists who have spent an hour studying physics, architecture and engineering on the Internet is a slap in the face to the over 2,500 professional architects and engineers who make up Architects and Engineers for 9-11 Truth. As his claim that the 9-11 Truth movement diverts attention from “more serious activism.”

In 2018, Chomsky further solidified is neoliberal credentials with his call for US military involvement in Syria: Chomsky Among Progressives Calling for US Intervention in Syria

Caveat: Several readers have cautioned me that Corbett himself (a prominent climate denier) may also be controlled opposition. In this case, I think his analysis of Chomsky’s neoliberal contradictions are spot on.

 

A Closer Look at Trump Supporters

Trumpland

Fusion (2016)

Film Review

This documentary, filmed a month before the 2016 election, explores the life circumstances of a cross section of Trump supporters, referred to by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.”

Commonalities shared by this demographic are

  • recent personal or family experience with job loss, bankruptcy or foreclosure.
  • strong feelings about Wall Street outsourcing manufacturing jobs to third world countries.
  • strong feelings about US politics being a “crooked” system set up to destroy the middle class.
  • strong opposition to their perceived corporate control of the two major political parties.
  • a perception that Trump, unlike other politicians, “can’t be bought.”

When answering filmmakers’ questions about Trump’s perceived racism and xenophobia, their replies vary. Some (especially women) feel that Black Lives Matter activists have a point about the abysmal way Black people are treated in the US. Others claim that Black people (and women) are demanding special privileges not enjoyed by white men.

Most deny that Trump is racist, claiming he only wants to prevent terrorist attacks by banning immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They agree with his proposed wall because they believe his claims that most illegal Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. This flies in the face of research indicating undocumented immigrants (who are loathe to draw attention to themselves) commit far fewer crimes than either legal immigrants or native born Americans.

Ameria’s Guns: Secret Pipeline to Syria

America’s Guns: Secret Pipeline to Syria

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns a recent investigation into a gun smuggling operation in which the Pentagon contracts with Miami arms dealers to procure Soviet-style weapons from Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia and secretly ship them to “moderate” rebels in Syria. Once they arrive in Syria, the “moderate” rebels frequently hand the weapons on to Al-Nusra (al-Qaeda) and ISIS militants who fight alongside them.

The investigation reveals that the US Department of Defense has a preference for old Soviet-style weapons because a) they are cheaper and easier to operate and b) they are harder to trace back to the US government. Thus it would appear the US government is fully aware their weapons are ending up in the hands of ISIS terrorists. The US government even has a technical term – “operational necessity” – for this type of subterfuge.

The Pentagon also uses private companies to train the Syrian rebels in the use of these weapons.

This secret arms smuggling network first came to public attention after one the private special operations contractors (involved in training Syrian rebels) sued the US government for injuries he received in a freak explosion.