Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

Shopping for Freedom: Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

United Natures Media (2019)

Film Review

Shopping for Freedom is best described as an illustrated podcast about the legacy of Edward Bernays, the father of the public relations industry. It’s intended to remind us of the subtle way public relations and propaganda influence our culture to the point we only imagine we have free choice in the items we purchase.

The film has no background narrative. The sound track is a casual conversation between the hosts of Ashes Ashes, a podcast about the “end of the world.” Meanwhile we are bombarded with priceless archival footage of early TV ads and the propaganda news reels shown in schools and movie theaters in the fifties and sixties.

The footage begins with the propaganda films Bernays produced in the early fifties to win popular support for the CIA-backed coup to overthrow Guatemala’s elected government – at the behest of United Fruit Company (to protect its monopoly control of the banana industry)

The film goes on to describe Bernays’ work under Woodrow Wilson promoting US entry into World War I, and the new science of psychological persuasion as described in the former’s 1928 book Propaganda.

The hosts go on to give illustrated examples of Bernays’ successful campaigns – to increase smoking among women and consumption of nutritionless breakfast cereals and to shame working class women who got married without diamond engagement rings or wore the same dress more than once a week.*

Intriguingly the filmmakers also insert several one second “subliminal” messages inserted into the video, which the hosts never comment on. I saw “You are enough” flashed twice, three one-second Coke ads, and “eco-capitalism” flashed once.

The film concludes by recommending viewers question all their choices. Most people claim not to be influenced by advertising. In most cases, however, many of us are unaware of habits (such as buying diamond engagement rings) the PR industry has elevated into cultural norms. In all their decisions, people need to ask themselves, “Is someone trying to sell me something?”


*Bernays was also hired by ALCOA in the mid-forties to run a campaign to dispose of toxic fluoride waste by persuading municipalities to add it to their public water systems. See Edward Bernays: Father of Water Fluoridation

 

 

Mumia Abu Jamal: Book 2 of Murder Incorporated

Murder Incorporated

Book 2: America’s Favorite Past time

By Mumia Abu-Jamal and Stephen Vittoria

Prison Radio (2019)

Book Review

Book 2 of the Murder Incorporated series begins where Dreaming of Empire (Book 1) leaves off. By this point, I  have absolutely no doubt these are the US history textbooks my daughter and I should have been given in high school. They are a superb resource for the growing home school movement.

Having covered slavery, the brutal and systematic genocide of indigenous Americans and the US invasion and occupation of Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in Book 1, America’s Favorite Pastime starts with Woodrow Wilson, his scores of invasions of Central and South America and Haiti and his entry, in 1917, into the bloodbath known as World War I. Wilson was heavily swayed in this decision by a letter from Wall Street banker J P Morgan. The latter had loaned heavily to the France and England, was at risk of losing a fortune if they suffered defeat.

Unlike most history books, America’s Favorite Pastime focuses heavily on public opposition to the World War I, Wilson’s massive pro-war propaganda machine and his systematic suppression of constitutional rights (via the Palmer Raids, the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was founded in 1920 specifically to assist antiwar activists and conscientious objectors who were still in prison for speaking out against the war.

The authors go on to detail the 1918 invasion of the Soviet Union by the US, UK, France and Japan – a historical event censored out of most history courses, even at the university level.

Most of the book focuses on the so-called “Good War,” directly challenging the myth that the West had to go to war in 1939 to prevent the victory of global fascism. In addition to examining the role of various Wall Street corporations in arming Hitler’s war machine (including IBM, which created and managed the data system enabling Nazi’s to efficiently track down occupied Europe’s Jews), the authors discuss the numerous peace overtures Hitler made to Churchill in 1940. Which the latter categorically rejected.

They also discuss Hitler’s unsuccessful attempts to get the West to accept Jewish refugees.

This chapter details the forced internment and asset confiscation of 120,000 Japanese Americans in 1942 (of which 2/3 were US citizens and a majority children), as well as the war crimes committee by the Allies in firebombing Dresden, Tokyo and other cities and in dropping a nuclear bomb on the civilian population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The book provides the same detailed coverage of the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the US-sponsored Indonesia and genocidal occupation of East Timor, and the numerous undeclared wars and drug trafficking operations undertaken by paramilitary operation known as the CIA.

The final chapters are devoted to a blow-by-blow description of Eisenhower’s creation of the Military Industrial and the complex and systematic indoctrination young Americans receive to dupe them into enlisting in America’s “all volunteer” army.


*There were some here I hadn’t heard of previously: the overthrow of democratically elected governments in Greece (twice,), Brazil, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic – as well as the constant sabotage, terrorism and psyops against East Germany – which were the real reason the Berlin Wall was built.

 

 

 

Lies My Teacher Told Me

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

By James W Loewen

Touchstone (1996)

Book Review

This book is a treasure trove of hidden US history. Loewen’s primary goal is to analyze why high school students universally hate US history. He mainly blames US history textbooks. The way they filter out embarrassing facts makes them incredibly dull and boring ir tendency to filter out embarrassing facts makes them dull and boring, especially given their unrelenting promotion of corporate capitalism, American exceptionalism*, growth, progress and unconditional optimism about the future.

As he so handily demonstrates, real US history (of the kind you find in primary sources**) is both exciting and compelling. Yet because it sometimes portrays the Europeans who colonized North America in an unfavorable light, it rarely finds its way into high school textbooks.

The sections I found most interesting concerned Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.

  • Prior to reading this book, I was unaware that Columbus started the North Atlantic slave trade – nor that he was responsible for kidnapping and transporting more slaves (5,000 Native American slaves) than any other slave trader in history.
  • Prior to reading the section on the first Thanksgiving, I was unaware that only 35 of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower were Pilgrims. The other 67 thought they were headed for Virginia tobacco plantations and, according to Loewen, were most likely “kidnapped” by the Pilgrims and forced to sail to Massachusetts against their will. He believes the purpose of the Mayflower Compact (which gave them a democratic voice in governance) was to keep them from rebelling and overpowering the Pilgrims. When the ship arrived at Plymouth Rock, the settlers found nearly the entire indigenous village of Patuxet had been wiped out by plague (which they caught from European fisherman several years earlier). This meant the Europeans could take over indigenous fields without clearing new land – which they did with the help of Squanto, the sole indigenous survivor.
  • The chapter on Woodrow Wilson gave me new insight into the president who promised not to embroil the US in World War I during his campaign and promptly reversed himself once he took office. Wilson holds the record for the most Latin American interventions of any period in history. He also invaded and occupied Haiti, as well as invading the Soviet Union (which was concealed from the American public via an elaborate coverup).
  • I was previously aware that the renowned humanitarian Helen Keller was a socialist. The information that she quit the socialist party to join the anarchosyndicalist International Workers of the World (IWW) was totally new to me.

*American exceptionalism is an  ideological belief that the US outpaces all other countries in nearly every field of endeavor.

**A primary source is an artifact, document, diary, manuscript, autobiography, recording, or any other source of information that was created at the time under study.

The World War I Conspiracy

The World War I Conspiracy

James Corbett (2018)

Film Review

This remarkable documentary tells hidden history of a secret British round table started in 1891 by diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes that instigated both the 1898-1902 Boer War (instigated to safeguard the Rhodes-Rothschild conglomerates monopoly over South African gold and diamonds) and World War I. The Society of the Elect, as it was called, had the stated goals of imposing the Anglo-Saxon agenda on the entire world and restoring the US colonies to British control.

The main focus of this three-part documentary is an exploration of how this secret society deliberately instigated war with Germany in 1914, with the specific goal of crushing the Germans politically, militarily and economically.

Part 1 explores Germany’s rapid economic and military expansion rise after the 1871 unification of its member under Kaiser Wilhelm I. Fearful that this expansion would threaten Britain’s colonial ambitions (and their personal fortunes), the Society of the Elect quietly plotted a war against Germany from the time of Rhodes’s death in 1902.

Lord Alfred Milner, who replaced Rhodes as leader of the secret group, established control of the British press, military, foreign office and diplomatic corps by placing cronies in key positions of power.

Whereas Germany was a long time ally of the British Crown (Kaiser Wilhelm II and King George V were first cousins), Milner and his cronies maneuvered his cronies in the Foreign Office into a secret alliance with France and Russia – without knowledge of either Parliament or Cabinet.


Part 2 concerns the secret plot to embroil the US in World War I (in 1917) by engineering a German submarine attack (in 1915) on an auxiliary warship disguised as an ocean liner known as the Lusitania; * by engaging in a conspiracy with US banker JP Morgan to deny anti-war President William Howard Taft a second term in 1912; ** and by instigating a massive propaganda campaign in the US press portraying the Kaiser and the German army as inhuman monsters.


Part 3 discusses the fabulous wealth JP Morgan, the Society of the Elect and their cronies acquired as a direct result of World War I. Between them, the US and Britain created 21,000 millionaires and billionaires out of war profitsI. Retired general Smedley Butler was the first to expose the unprecedented war profiteering that occurred between 1914-1918 in in famous pamphlet War is a Racket.

 


*The Lusitania, officially classified as an auxiliary warship, had twelve 6-inch guns and was heavily loaded with ammunition and gunpowder (information that only became available when the records were unsealed in 2014). In view of the aggressive German U-boat campaign, Britain clearly had no business using a British warship to transport 1,128 passengers. The German submarine campaign was largely directed against the illegal British naval blockade blocking all food shipments to Germany – a violation of the 1909 Declaration of London and a crime against humanity. As a result of the blockade, which continued into 1919, German civilians were restricted to 1,000 calories a day and more than 753,000 died of starvation.The death of 128 US passengers on the Lusitania was ultimately used to justify the US entry into the war in 2017.

**Taft was far more popular (and politically savvy) than Woodrow Wilson, an obscure professor with limited political experience. JP Morgan and his fellow bankers propelled Wilson (a Democrat) into the presidency by backing third party candidate (and former president) Teddy Roosevelt and splitting the Republican vote. Owing, in large part to Wilson’s political inexperience, he was under the direct control of Texas politician Colonel Edward M House, who was conspiring with Milner and his colleagues in the British foreign office.

Al-Naqba: Palestine’s 200-Year History of Ethnic Cleansing

Al-Naqba: The Palestinian Catastrophe Episode 1 (1799-1936)

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

This is the most comprehensive documentary of the Zionist movement I’ve ever watched. The cinematography is incredibly beautiful and moving and includes scarce footage of vibrant pre-World War II Palestine.

I continue to be surprised by all the important events Western accounts leave out regarding the history of Zionism. Contrary to Western belief, the Jewish colonization of Israel didn’t began in 1916 with the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement, but with Napoleon’s 1799 proposal to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine under French protection.

In 1840, when the British Foreign office tried to persuade the Sultan of the Ottoman empire to open Palestine to Jewish immigration, there were only 3,000 Jews in Palestine.

In the 1880s, as the power of the Ottoman empire started to decline, French banking magnate Baron de Rothschild openly campaigned to expand Jewish immigration, spending 40 million francs on the establishment of Jewish settlements in Palestine. The term Zionism* was first coined in 1885, with the first Zionist conference held in Basel Switzerland in 1906.

In 1907, as western Europe actively worked to usurp Ottoman colonies, the British Foreign Office called for the creation of a buffer state in the Arab-dominated Middle East – one that would be friendly to Europeans and hostile to Arabs.

The same year, 40,000 Palestinian farmers were forced off their lands by Jewish immigrants from Europe and Yemen.

By the close of World War I, when Palestine became a British protectorate, there were 50,000 Jews in Israel, 100,000 Arab Christians and 400,000 Arab Muslims.

In 1922, when the League of Nations charged Britain with preparing for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, it was opposed by US president Woodrow Wilson.

During the 1920s, Jewish immigration continued to increase, accompanied by increasing confiscation of Arab lands. Between 1922-25, 33,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine. Between 1925-1930, the country was flooded by an additional 175,000 immigrants.

Palestine’s ruler, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, approached the issue of Jewish immigration by trying to curry favor with the British colonizers. In contrast Arab (both Muslim and Christian) farmers who were being displaced began organizing and protesting Jewish immigration from 1925 on. The initially peaceful protests were brutally and barbarically suppressed by British troops, in the same fashion as India’s independence movement. Hundreds of protestors were jailed, executed or forcibly exiled.

As Jewish immigration continued to increase (42,000 in 1934 and 62,000 in 1935, The al-Qassam movement, which called for violent revolution to expel the British, launched a six-month Palestine-wide general strike in 1936.


*An international movement calling for the establishment of a majority Jewish state in Palestine via forced displacement of its Arab occupants.

Plutocracy III: Class War

Plutocracy III: Class War

Scott Noble (2017)

Film Review

Part 2 of Scott Noble’s Plutocracy series addresses the rise of a US manufacturing elite aristocracy far more vicious and brutal than any hereditary European aristocracy. One hundred years after America’s War of Independence, Wall Street’s robber barons were effectively controlling both state and federal government. They have done so ever since.

The Brutal Repression of Unions

Workers, organized by fledgling labor unions and worker-based political parties (covered extensively in Plutocracy Part II – see Plutocracy II Solidarity Forever), launched massive strikes to fight back against their starvation wages and working conditions. Company bosses fought worker organizing by hiring mercenary armies, such as Pinkertons, to harass, torture and kill organizers. The US was the only industrialized country to allow private corporations to form their own private armies.

It was also common for state National Guard units and federal troops to intervene in strikes and kill striking workers and their families. The documentary highlights the 1914 Ludlow massacre, in which National Guardsmen deliberately shot into and set fire to a strikers’ tent colony, killing two dozen people (including miners’ wives and children).

The film goes on to describe the rise of International Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) a revolutionary union that was the first to represent unskilled workers, women and people of color.

Using a combination of trumped up charges and government-linked vigilante groups, corporate controlled state and federal entities brutally repressed the IWW, both before and after World War I.

How Elites Used World War I to Suppress Worker Organizing

Most of the film focuses on the enormous setback in US worker organizing that occurred during World War I. In part the filmmakers blame the massive pro-war propaganda and indoctrination apparatus Woodrow Wilson created and in part the repressive measures he enacted to suppress popular opposition to the compulsory draft he introduced.

These included the 1917 Espionage Act (which was never repealed – both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden were charged under this law), the 1916 Selective Service Act (never repealed), the 1918 Sedition Act (repealed in 1920) and the 1917 Immigration Act (allowing for arrest and deportation of dissidents without due process).

In 1919, Wilson created the General Intelligence Division (GID), headed by J Edgar Hoover, who created 200,000 crossed indexed cards on 60,000 so-called “dissidents,” including NAACP and Negro Improvement Association members, pacifists, suffragettes, union leaders and progressive politicians like Robert LaFollette. Hoover took his index cards with him when the GID shut down and Roosevelt appointed him to head the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.

Links to Plutocracy II Solidarity Forever and Plutocracy I A history of Political Repression in the US

 

The US Taboo Against Socialism

America’s Unofficial Religion: the War on an Idea

Abby Martin (Empire Files) 2015

Film Review

America’s Unofficial Religion is a documentary about the origin of the American taboo against socialism.

At present, the US is the only western democracy without a prominent socialist party. This hasn’t always been the case. A powerful socialist movement arose alongside the progressive, populist and union movements of the late 19th century. All were a reaction to the brutal industrial oppression that characterized this period.

In 1912, the US had 13 socialist newspapers, 12 socialist monthlies and 57 socialist mayors 23 cities. Socialist Eugene Debs campaigned for president that year and won 6% of the popular vote (at a time when women and blacks were barred from voting).

Concerned about the detrimental effect of strong mass organizing on profits, the corporate elite leaned on president Woodrow Wilson to pass two laws – the Espionage Act, which criminalized dissent, and the Sedition Act, which made it a crime to oppose US involvement in World War I. Following passage of the Sedition Act, Eugene Debs was arrested for making an anti-war speech and sentenced to ten years in prison. The Wilson administration also imprisoned more than 90 International Workers of the World (IWW)* leaders, in addition to sanctioning the murder of IWW members by Pinkerton’s guards and organized lynch mobs.

US Organizing and Strikes in Response to Bolshevik Revolution

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution would inspire a wave of organizing and strike activity in the US, leading one in five American workers to go out on strike in 1919.

Wilson responded by authorizing Attorney General Mitchell Palmer and his assistant J Edgar Hoover to launch the Palmer Raids, arresting more than 10,000 suspected socialist and communists and deporting thousands more.

In the 1930s, the cruel economic conditions of the Great Depression led to an enormous upsurge in mass organizing. Many historians argue that Roosevelt had no choice but to bring in sweeping New Deal legislation to prevent a socialist revolution.

Taft Hartley, HUAC and Cointelpro

Following World War II, during which US unions won major concessions, a Republican Congress passed the Taft Hartley Act, which made it illegal for union members to be socialists or communists (in 1945, roughly half the union leadership was socialist) and the Smith Act, which made Communist Party membership Illegal.

The enactment of these laws was accompanied by aggressive activity in the House on UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). During the fifties many HUAC subpoenaed Hollywood actors, directors and producers – as well as teachers and college professors. Many were permanently blacklisted from working on the mere suspicion of socialist/communist sympathies.

In 1956 Hoover, a rabid anti-communist, would launch Cointelpro, a program conducting massive illegal surveillance, infiltration and sabotage of civil rights groups and other social change organization. Cointelpro also carried out clandestine assassinations and false imprisonment of numerous black liberation leaders, many of whom are still in prison.


*The International Workers of the World (IWW) is international labor union started in 1905 that has strong ties both to socialism and to anarchism.