Friday, 23 October 2020

Shadow World (trailer, Al Jazeera)

Film review by Ian McQuaid.

“There’s only two things that count in business my friend,” declares arms dealer Riccardo Privitera, “money and sex… The rest is absolute garbage.” So Shadow World introduces the viewer to the whispering, elite world of the international arms trade. Over an hour and a half of interviews and archive footage, the documentary draws together a sordid tale of corruption, violence and greed that sprawls across decades and continents.

Opening with Britain’s ignominious trading partnership with Saudi Arabia, we see weapons and money hustled between the top echelons of government and Saudi royalty by a cast of spivs, crooks, idiots and bastards (Mark Thatcher making a brief cameo as all four). The story then hurtles over to America, detailing the billions in cash thrown into the increasing void that is the War on Terror – a war against an enemy so nebulous it has no discernable shape, and more importantly, no discernable finish. The behemoth military manufacturers BAE and Lockheed Martin leer over proceedings like twin ogres. Lockheed’s bullyboy brand of strong armed wealth accumulation is described as making “the mafia look like a bunch of schoolboys” – footage of court appearances from Lockheed’s top brass – keeping schtum as any mobster under omerta - appears to bear this out.

Based on Andrew Feinstein's book The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, the documentary covers the full, hideous spectrum of half a century of arms manufacturing, from the US funding contras in Nicaragua by gun running to Iran, to George Bush yee-haaing through Iraq. In one of the grimmest interviews, Israeli ecominst Shir Hever points out that Israel bombs Gaza every couple of years – and immediately after there is an Israeli arms fare. Essentially the levelling of Gaza has become a part of the tradeshow. As with most of Shadow World’s relentless revelations, it’s an ugly, inglorious truth.

Director Johan Grimonprez is clearly influenced by Adam Curtis, and Shadow World works well as a companion piece to Curtis’s examinations of UK/Middle Eastern relations. There are moments that are touched on in both Bitter Lake and, perhaps more so, in Curtis’s late 90s film The Mayfair Set: Who Pays Wins, which explicitly dealt with the exploits of the UK’s chief weapons pimp David Stirling. The two directors also share a love of dream-state aesthetics, Grimonprez’s layering of black and white war footage with ambient drones is particularly Curtis-ian in its sense of dislocation, a useful visual reminder of the huge disconnects we live with, where we’re sold an ideal of society built on high morals and democratic accountability, all whilst a dirty war machine openly, gleefully shits on both.

Unlike Curtis, however, Grimonprez is explicit in his conclusions – Shadow World is a film with clearly delineated villains, and there is less sense of the blind incompetence and chaotic decision-making that Curtis often suggests power global politics, and this maybe aligns it a little more with the conspiratorial side of things, where nuance tends to be abandoned for statements of good and evil. This is amplified by the sheer scope of the film – in covering so many different situations, detail is necessarily lost.

Regardless, the end result remains powerful. The final scene returns to the moment German and Allied soldiers rose out of the WWI trenches and held a temporary truce on Christmas day 1914 – a truce that a general at the time deplored, writing that if troops were allowed “friendly intercourse with the enemy” they would “slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a ‘live and let live’ theory of life.” It’s a closing that speaks of a humanity that eschews war and the machine that feeds off it – an optimistic, emotional end to an otherwise depressing watch.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Congratulations, Bolivia!

Bolivians Return Evo Morales’s Party to Power One Year After a U.S.-Applauded Coup

Right-wing forces cheered by the U.S. tried to destroy one of Latin America’s most vibrant democracies. Voters just restored it.

By Glenn Greenwald @TI

IN NOVEMBER 2019, Bolivia’s three-term President Evo Morales was forced under threat of police and military violence to flee to Mexico, just weeks after he was declared the winner of the October presidential election that would have sent him to his fourth term. Installed in his place was an unelected right-wing coup regime, led by self-declared “interim President” Jeanine Áñez, who promptly presided over a military massacre that killed dozens of Morales’s Indigenous supporters and then granted immunity to all the soldiers involved. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the time cheered the coup by citing subsequently debunked claims of election fraud by the Organization of American States, or OAS, and urging “a truly democratic process representative of the people’s will.”

But after the Áñez regime twice postponed scheduled elections this year, Bolivians went to the polls on Sunday. They delivered a resounding victory to presidential candidate Luis Arce, Morales’s former finance minister and the candidate from his Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, Party. Although official results are still being counted, exit polls from reputable firms show Arce with a blowout victory — over 50 percent against a centrist former president and a far-right coup leader — and Áñez herself conceded that MAS has won: “We do not yet have an official count, but from the data we have, Mr. Arce and [MAS Vice Presidential candidate] Mr. Choquehuanca have won the election. I congratulate the winners and ask them to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind.”

It is difficult to remember the last time a U.S.-approved military coup in Latin America failed so spectacularly. Even with the U.S.-dominated OAS’s instantly dubious claims of electoral fraud, nobody disputed that Morales received more votes in last October’s election than all other candidates (the only question raised by the OAS was whether his margin of victory was sufficient to win on the first round and avoid a run-off).

Despite Morales’s election win, the Bolivian police and then military made clear to Morales that neither he, his family, nor his closest allies would be safe unless he immediately left the country, as Morales detailed in an interview I conducted with him just weeks after he was driven into exile in Mexico City. In that interview, Morales blamed not only the U.S. for giving the green light to right-wing coup leaders but also attributed the coup to Western anger over his decision to sell some of the country’s valuable lithium supply to China rather than to the West.

After 12 years in office, Morales was not free of controversy or critics. As the first elected Indigenous leader of Bolivia, even some of his core supporters grew wary of what they regarded as his growing reliance on quasi-autocratic tactics in order to govern. Several of his most prominent supporters — both in Bolivia and in South America — were critical of his decision to secure judicial permission to seek a fourth term despite a constitutional term-limits provision of two terms. Even Morales’s long-time close Brazilian ally, former President Lula da Silva — who correctly predicted in a 2019 interview with me that “you can be certain that if Evo Morales runs for president, he’ll win in Bolivia” — nonetheless called Morales’s pursuit of a fourth term a “mistake.”

But none of those criticisms changed a central, unavoidable fact: More Bolivians voted for Morales to be their president in 2019 than any other candidate. And in a democracy, that is supposed to be decisive; for those purporting to believe in democracy, that should be the end of the matter. That is why Lula, in his Guardian interview shortly after the coup where he criticized Morales’s bid for a fourth term, nonetheless emphasized the far more important point: “what they did with him was a crime. It was a coup – this is terrible for Latin America.”

And whatever critiques one can legitimately voice about Morales — it is hard to imagine any leader ruling for more than a decade without alienating some supporters and making mistakes — there is no question that Morales’s presidency, by almost every metric, was a success. After decades of instability in the country, he ushered in a stable and thriving democracy, presided over economic growth that even western financial institutions praised, and worked to ensure a far more equitable distribution of those resources than ever before, particularly to the country’s long-oppressed Indigenous minority and its rural farmers. That success is what was destroyed, on purpose, when the Bolivian presidency was decided in 2019 not democratically but by force.

The West’s reaction to the 2019 Bolivian coup featured all of its classic propaganda tropes. Western officials, media outlets, and think tank writers invoked the standard Orwellian inversion of heralding a coup of any democratically elected leader they do not like as a “victory for democracy.” In this warped formula, it is not the U.S.-supported coup plotters but the overthrown democratically elected leader who is the “threat to democracy.”

Depicting U.S.-supported coups as democratic and democratically elected leaders disliked by the U.S. as “dictators” has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy propaganda for decades. That is the rubric under which the Obama administration and its Secretary of State John Kerry somehow celebrated one of the world’s worst despots, Egyptian Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as “restoring democracy” following the brutal military coup he carried out.

But thanks to Sunday’s stunning rebuke in Bolivia, the standard tactics failed. Ever since Morales’s election victory almost exactly one year ago today, Bolivians never stopped marching, protesting, risking their liberty and their lives — even in the middle of a pandemic — to demand their rights of democracy and self-governance. Leading up to the election, the coup regime and right-wing factions in the military were menacingly vowing — in response to polls universally showing MAS likely to win — that they would do anything to prevent the return to power of Morales’s party.

At least as of now, though, it looks as though the margin of victory delivered to MAS by the Bolivian people was so stunning, so decisive, that there are few options left for the retrograde forces — in Bolivia, Washington, and Brussels — which tried to destroy the country’s democracy. Anyone who believes in the fundamentals of democracy, regardless of ideology, should be cheering the Bolivians who sacrificed so much to restore their right of self-rule and hoping that the stability and prosperity they enjoyed under Morales expands even further under his first democratically elected successor.

Source text with internal links.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Is the US heading for a New Civil War?

BU Today: Democrats are demanding documents from President Trump, his family, and many associated with him. The political divide seems to be getting worse. Is it irrational to say this could be the beginning of a civil war?

Silber: I wouldn’t identify this most recent development [the demanding of documents] as the “beginning of a civil war” since I’m not sure that reflects anything other than the political divide we’ve already witnessed for the last several years and the fact that Democrats are taking steps they could not have taken before they regained control of the House. More ominous, I think, are indications of political violence and the willingness to enact political violence. This could be seen, for example, in the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, when the shooter spoke explicitly about targeting Jews who expressed sympathy for immigrants, or the recent case of the Coast Guard officer who was making plans to kill Democrats and journalists. I can imagine a future in which we deal with even more incidents of, or plans for, political violence—and that’s definitely a disturbing development. I’m troubled, too, by the role the president plays in contributing to this atmosphere.

But it would have to be something else to call this a “civil war.” That would indicate a willingness on the part of masses of people to engage in violence against their political enemies. That happened in the 1860s, in part because people had come to see their political opponents in extreme, even demonic, ways and found it impossible to find any middle ground. Maybe our politics and culture are moving in that direction, but I don’t see it yet.

The political map these days shows so much red in the middle, sandwiched by blue on the coasts. How is that different from the North vs South divide of the Civil War?

The electoral map, at least from the most recent presidential election, does show blue coasts and a red middle. But I think that’s also a deceptive picture since we know that in many states, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, there are deep internal divisions. In other words, it’s not the case that Florida, Pennsylvania, and others are overwhelmingly Republican. The same could be said for a number of “blue” states too. The geographic divide today is less clear-cut, less along solidly sectional lines.

In 1860, the presidential contest reflected the way the political parties had divided and had become completely sectionalized. Many Southerners could not even vote for the Republican Party (which proclaimed opposition to the expansion of slavery) and the Democratic Party ran one candidate in Northern states (Stephen Douglas) and a different candidate in Southern states (John Breckinridge). Fundamentally, the split in the Democratic Party was over slavery: Southern Democrats were calling for a federal slave code (to regulate and permit slavery everywhere in the country) and Northern Democrats opposed this. As a result, the political divide reflected the division in the country between states that permitted slavery and states where it had been outlawed.

Some historians have been saying there was a similar political divide in 1860 to what we’re seeing today. Do you agree?

There may be a few historians who think the divide is similar, but I think most would say we’re looking at different patterns in our political divisions, although the tendency toward heated and extreme political rhetoric might be similar. The inability to find a political middle ground, certainly in the federal government, seems also to be similar.

Source.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Jackson Browne - Running On Empty

Almost painful to listen to, as a message from better, more harmonious and Covid-free times...

Saturday, 3 October 2020

American anti-mask Madness!

Coronavirus: Sky reporter yelled at, called 'stupid' for wearing mask

Florida residents reject face masks: 'They want to throw God's wonderful breathing system out!'

Apart from the lady who lamented losing loved ones to the virus, almost no one else made one iota of sense. But the lady yelling about 'Communist Dictatorship Orders' (ROFLOL!) took the biscuit for being out there.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

How much dirty money does YOUR bank launder?

FinCEN Files: All you need to know about the documents leak

Leaked documents involving about $2tn of transactions have revealed how some of the world's biggest banks have allowed criminals to move dirty money around the world.

They also show how Russian oligarchs have used banks to avoid sanctions that were supposed to stop them getting their money into the West.

It's the latest in a string of leaks over the past five years that have exposed secret deals, money laundering and financial crime.

[...]

What has been revealed?

* HSBC allowed fraudsters to move millions of dollars of stolen money around the world, even after it learned from US investigators the scheme was a scam.

* JP Morgan allowed a company to move more than $1bn through a London account without knowing who owned it. The bank later discovered the company might be owned by a mobster on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

* Evidence that one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest associates used Barclays bank in London to avoid sanctions which were meant to stop him using financial services in the West. Some of the cash was used to buy works of art. The husband of a woman who has donated £1.7m to the UK's governing Conservative Party's was secretly funded by a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Putin.

* The UK is called a "higher risk jurisdiction" and compared to Cyprus, by the intelligence division of FinCEN. That's because of the number of UK registered companies that appear in the SARs. Over 3,000 UK companies are named in the FinCEN files - more than any other country.

* Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich once held secret investments in footballers not owned by his club through an offshore company.

* The United Arab Emirates' central bank failed to act on warnings about a local firm which was helping Iran evade sanctions. Deutsche Bank moved money launderers' dirty money for organised crime, terrorists and drug traffickers. More details (BuzzFeed News)

* Standard Chartered moved cash for Arab Bank for more than a decade after clients' accounts at the Jordanian bank had been used in funding terrorism.

Educate yourself!

In the mean time YOUR bank can still heavily penalise you for being overdrawn or in mortgage arrears...