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Film ‘Official Secrets’ is the Tip of a Mammoth Iceberg

By Sam Husseini • Consortium News • August 29, 2019

Two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley is known for being in “period pieces” such as “Pride and Prejudice,” so her playing the lead in the new film “Official Secrets,” scheduled to be released in the U.S. on Friday, may seem odd at first. That is until one considers that the time span being depicted — the early 2003 run-up to the invasion of Iraq — is one of the most dramatic and consequential periods of modern human history.

It is also one of the most poorly understood, in part because the story of Katharine Gun, played by Knightley, is so little known. Having followed this story from the start, I find this film to be, by Hollywood standards, a remarkably accurate account of what has happened to date–“to date” because the wider story still isn’t over.

Katharine Gun worked as an analyst for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British equivalent of the secretive U.S. National Security Agency. She tried to stop the impending invasion of Iraq in early 2003 by exposing the deceit of George W. Bush and Tony Blair in their claims about that country. For doing that she was prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act — a juiced up version of the U.S. Espionage Act, which in recent years has been used repeatedly by the Obama administration against whistleblowers and now by the Trump administration against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange.

Gun was charged for exposing— around the time of Colin Powell’s infamous testimony to the UN about Iraq’s alleged WMDs – a top secret U.S. government memo showing it was mounting an illegal spying “surge” against other U.N. Security Council delegations in an effort to manipulate them into voting for an Iraq invasion resolution. The U.S. and Britain had successfully forced through a trumped up resolution, 1441 in November 2002. In early 2003, they were poised to threaten, bribe or blackmail their way to get formal United Nations authorization for the invasion. [See recent interview with Gun.]

Katherine Gun

The leaked memo, published by the British Observer, was big news in parts of the world, especially the targeted countries on the Security Council, and helped prevent Bush and Blair from getting the second UN Security Council resolution they said they wanted. Veto powers Russia, China and France were opposed as well as U.S. ally Germany.

Washington invaded anyway of course — without Security Council authorization — by telling the UN weapons inspectors to leave Iraq and issuing a unilateral demand that Saddam Hussein leave Iraq in 48 hours— and then saying the invasion would commence regardless.

‘Most Courageous Leak’

It was the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work (accuracy.org), Norman Solomon, as well as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg who in the U.S. most immediately saw the importance of what Gun had done. Ellsberg would later comment: “No one else — including myself — has ever done what Katharine Gun did: Tell secret truths at personal risk, before an imminent war, in time, possibly, to avert it. Hers was the most important — and courageous — leak I’ve ever seen, more timely and potentially more effective than the Pentagon Papers.”

Of course, no one knew her name at the time. After the Observer broke the story on March 1, 2003, accuracy.org put out a series of news releases on it and organized a sadly, sparsely attended news conference with Ellsberg on March 11, 2003 at the National Press Club, focusing on Gun’s revelations. Ellsberg called for more such truth telling to stop the impending invasion, just nine days away.

Though I’ve followed this case for years, I didn’t realize until recently that accuray.org’s work helped compel Gun to expose the document. At a recent D.C. showing of “Official Secrets” that Gun attended, she revealed that she had read a book co-authored by Solomon, published in January 2003 that included material from accuracy.org as well as the media watch group FAIR debunking many of the falsehoods for war.

Gun said: “I went to the local bookshop, and I went into the political section. I found two books, which had apparently been rushed into publication, one was by Norman Solomon and Reese Erlich, and it was called Target Iraq. And the other one was by Milan Rai. It was called War Plan Iraq. And I bought both of them. And I read them cover to cover that weekend, and it basically convinced me that there was no real evidence for this war. So I think from that point onward, I was very critical and scrutinizing everything that was being said in the media.”

Thus, we see Gun in “Official Secrets” shouting at the TV to Tony Blair that he’s not entitled to make up facts. The film may be jarring to some consumers of major media who might think that Donald Trump invented lying in 2017.

Gun’s immediate action after reading critiques of U.S. policy and media coverage makes a strong case for trying to reach government workers by handing out fliers and books and putting up billboards outside government offices to encourage them to be more critically minded.

Solomon and Ellsberg had debunked Bush administration propaganda in real time. But Gun’s revelation showed that the U.S. and British governments were not only lying to invade Iraq, they were violating international law to blackmail whole nations to get in line.

Mainstream reviews of “Official Secrets” still seem to not fully grasp the importance of what they just saw. The trendy AV Club review leads: “Virtually everyone now agrees that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a colossal mistake based on faulty (at best) or fabricated (at worst) intelligence.” “Mistake” is a serious understatement even with “colossal” attached to it when the movie details the diabolical, illegal lengths to which the U.S. and British governments went to get other governments to go along with it.

Gun’s revelations showed before the invasion that people on the inside, whose livelihood depends on following the party line, were willing to risk jail time to out the lies and threats.

Portrayal of The Observer

Other than Gun herself, the film focuses on a dramatization of what happened at her work; as well as her relationship with her husband, a Kurd from Turkey who the British government attempted to have deported to get at Gun. The film also portrays the work of her lawyers who helped get the Official Secrets charge against her dropped, as well as the drama at The Observer, which published the NSA document after much internal debate.

Observer reporter Martin Bright, whose strong work on the original Gun story was strangely followed by an ill-fated stint at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, has recently noted that very little additional work has been done on Gun’s case. We know virtually nothing about the apparent author of the NSA document that she leaked — one “Frank Koza.” Other questions persist, such as how prevalent is this sort of U.S. blackmail of foreign governments to get UN votes or for other purposes? How is it leveraged? Does it fit in with allegations made by former NSA analyst Russ Tice about the NSA having massive files on political people?

Observer reporter Ed Vulliamy is energetically depicted getting tips from former CIA man Mel Goodman. There do seem to be subtle but potentially serious deviations from reality in the film. Vulliamy is depicted as actually speaking with “Frank Koza,” but that’s not what he originally reported:

“The NSA main switchboard put The Observer through to extension 6727 at the agency which was answered by an assistant, who confirmed it was Koza’s office. However, when The Observer asked to talk to Koza about the surveillance of diplomatic missions at the United Nations, it was then told ‘You have reached the wrong number’. On protesting that the assistant had just said this was Koza’s extension, the assistant repeated that it was an erroneous extension, and hung up.”

There must doubtlessly be many aspects of the film that have been simplified or altered regarding Gun’s personal experience. A compelling part of the film — apparently fictitious or exaggerated — is a GCHQ apparatchik questioning Gun to see if she was the source.

Little is known about the reaction inside the governments of Security Council members that the U.S. spied on. After the invasion, Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser spoke in blunt terms about U.S. bullying — saying it viewed Mexico as its patio trasero, or back yard — and Zinser was compelled to resign by President Vicente Fox. He then, in 2004, gave details about some aspects of U.S. surveillance sabotaging the efforts of the other members of the Security Council to hammer out a compromise to avert the invasion of Iraq, saying the U.S. was “violating the U.N. headquarters covenant.” In 2005, he tragically died in a car crash.

“Official Secrets” director Gavin Hood is perhaps more right than he realizes when he says that his depiction of the Gun case is like the “tip of an iceberg,” pointing to other deceits surrounding the Iraq war. His record with political films has been uneven until now. Peace activist David Swanson, for instance, derided his film on drones, “Eye in the Sky.” At a D.C. showing of “Official Secrets,” Hood depicted those who backed the Iraq war as being discredited. But that’s simply untrue.

Keira Knightley appears as Katherine Gun in Official Secrets (Courtesy of Sundance Institute.)

Leading presidential candidate Joe Biden — who not only voted for the Iraq invasion, but presided over rigged hearings on in 2002 – has recently falsified his record repeatedly on Iraq at presidential debates with hardly a murmur. Nor is he alone. Those refusing to be held accountable for their Iraq war lies include not just Bush and Cheney, but John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.

Biden has actually faulted Bush for not doing enough to get United Nations approval for the Iraq invasion. But as the Gun case helps show, there was no legitimate case for invasion and the Bush administration had done virtually everything, both legal and illegal, to get UN authorization.

Many who supported the invasion try to distance themselves from it. But the repercussions of that illegal act are enormous: It led directly or indirectly to the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Iraq and the war in Syria. Journalists who pushed for the Iraq invasion are prosperous and atop major news organizations, such as Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt. The editor who argued most strongly against publication of the NSA document at The Observer, Kamal Ahmed, is now editorial director of BBC News.

The British government — unlike the U.S.– did ultimately produce a study ostensibly around the decision-making leading to the invasion of Iraq, the Chilcot Report of 2016. But that report — called “devastating” by the The New York Times made no mention of the Gun case. [See accuracy.org release from 2016: “Chilcot Report Avoids Smoking Gun.”]

After Gun’s identity became known, the Institute for Public Accuracy brought on Jeff Cohen, the founder of FAIR, to work with Hollie Ainbinder to get prominent individuals to support Gun. The film — quite plausibly — depicts the charges being dropped against Gun for the simple reason that the British government feared that a high profile proceeding would effectively put the war on trial, which to them would be have been a nightmare.

Sam Husseini is an independent journalist, senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.

August 29, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Film Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , | 2 Comments

PBS: Keeper of Official State Myths

By Bill Willers | Dissident Voice | August 5, 2019

A prime function of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is the reinforcement and perpetuation of the state’s explanations of events, however absurd and discredited. While cultural offerings on PBS are excellent and appreciated, divergence from official governmental narratives is not permitted. PBS is a foremost informational gatekeeper, a role enhanced by its insistence that it represents the best of investigative journalism.

American Experience:  “Oklahoma City”

The official stories of the Murrah office building and 9/11 are now enshrined in memorials, the purpose of which is to make a lie the truth.

— Paul Craig Roberts, “The Oklahoma City Bombing After 22 Years”, Global Research, April 20, 2017

Once ‘terrorism’ had been established as the enemy for society to fear, it was to become extended from a force thought of as foreign to one also to be found in the American “Homeland”. A horrifying and convincing example of “domestic terrorism”, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19,1995, was the event that would solidify this in the public mind and serve to justify increased police powers.

There is considerable evidence that the bombing of the Murrah Building was not as reported and likely involved elements of the government itself. The air force’s explosive’s expert, Brigadier General Benton Partin has presented “irrefutable” proof that the primary damage to the building came from powerful multiple charges positioned at key points on the third floor, not from Timothy McVeigh’s truck bomb of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, a relatively weak explosive. Partin’s letter to a U.S. Senator puts this in summary.

Other explosives experts agree that the building was blown up from inside, and that there was evidence of official coverup. Nevertheless, the 2017 film “Oklahoma City” focuses on the history of neo-Nazi wrath over governmental clashes at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas, where U.S. citizens were killed. The film is tailored to convince viewers that right wing domestic terrorism was behind the Murrah bombing, period. But if explosives experts are correct, this must be false, as such militants would lack both technical skill and access to the building for such a sophisticated wiring job.

There are also myriad associated questions that have never been dealt with: e.g., the police officer convinced of governmental coverup who died under mysterious circumstances; indication the FBI knew of the plan well in advance; McVeigh’s claim to have been working with an FBI agent; surveillance tapes “lost” by the FBI reportedly showing a man with McVeigh exiting the truck just before the bombing; CIA involvement which would indicate foreign implication; the fact that engineers whose analysis of the Murrah bombing was to become official were also selected to analyze the 9/11/2001 destruction of the World Trade Center, and whose report was to become the basis for Nova’s 2002 “Why The Towers Fell”.

Decision makers at PBS chose to ignore all evidence not in conformity with the government’s preferred version of events and, two decades after the bombing, to solidify the apparently false history.

NOVA: “Why the Towers Fell” 

All the proffered evidence that America was attacked by Muslims on 9/11, when subjected to critical scrutiny, appears to have been fabricated.

— David Ray Griffin, “Was America Attacked by Muslims on 9/11?“, September 10, 2008

If, on 9/11/2001, journalists Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, reporting live, could discern the similarity of the collapses of the Twin Towers to intentional demolitions, one assumes the tens of thousands of engineers watching would also be having hunches. Still, there was apparently no concerted statement of the sort from that professional community in the months following. Indeed, it was from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) that a team of 22 was chosen by FEMA to explain to a shocked Nation, hungry for answers, why the Towers, as well as WTC7, fell as no steel-framed buildings had ever fallen. The resulting NOVA production, “Why The Towers Fell“, covered the team’s Building Performance Study and aired on PBS on April 30, 2002, just seven months after the attack.

The team was led by Gene Corley who, it happens, had also led the investigation of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, although his team’s finding there was not in accord with that of General Partin, the Air Force’s explosives expert (see above). In any event, “building performance” was the focus of both studies, without any consideration of the possibility that the buildings had been previously prepared for demolition, although there was evidence that such was the case.

While “Why The Towers Fell” can still be seen at dailymotion, only a transcript is available at the PBS website, this for good reason. Since its airing in 2002, a veritable army of engineers and researchers has rendered it more than merely inaccurate. One does not wish to disparage engineers in the video, for certainly pressure was intense to find a politically acceptable explanation for an anxious public. But evidence of the buildings having been prepared for demolition prior to 9/11 is by now overwhelming. Details of why this is so is not the point here, but good sources of information, for those interested, are Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth and virtually any of the books on the subject by David Ray Griffin.

What is glaring is the absolute silence of PBS to the accumulated mountain of evidence that the World Trade Center buildings had been carefully prepared for 9/11. In 2015, PBS showcased three Frontline presentations, all in accord with the official story, with this introduction: “Fifteen years ago, Al Qaeda operatives carried out the deadliest domestic terror attack in American history by hijacking four passenger airplanes and crashing two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and another into a Pennsylvania field”. With a single concise sentence, and a decade and a half after the event, PBS is affirming what is most certainly a false account.

American Experience:  Roads to Memphis”

William Pepper, confidante of Martin Luther King, Jr. and King Family attorney, spent decades uncovering the truth about the assassination of King. In 2010, when PBS first aired Roads To Memphis, a fictional account about designated patsy James Earl Ray, Pepper had already published two books (1995 and 2003) revealing the plot to assassinate the good Reverend, a plot involving a complex of governmental, military and underworld players. It would be hard to find a more blatant example of official state television eclipsing truth than the multiple airings by PBS of Roads To Memphis.

Even the most superficial scan of the King assassination record quickly leads to Pepper’s publications and references to them. It is not possible to have missed them. The creators and disseminators of Roads To Memphis were therefore faced with two radically opposing narratives: Pepper’s detailed expose’ on the one hand, which they chose to disregard altogether, and on the other hand the Government’s story line, which Pepper had annihilated. A side-by-side comparison of the two accounts of the assassination leaves one in a state of shock. See here Pepper’s words from the introduction of the The Plot To Kill King, the last of his trilogy:

For me, this is a story rife with sadness, replete with massive accounts of personal and public deception and betrayal. Its revelations and experiences have produced in the writer a depression stemming from an unavoidable confrontation with the depths to which human beings, even those subject to professional codes of ethics, have fallen; ….. Far from being elated that the truth is now with us face-to-face, I feel consumed by a sadness that will be a lifelong emotional presence. One significant factor is facing the reality that one has misjudged the integrity and even the basic decency of individuals, some of whom have been friends or respected comrades over many years. It is a traumatic realization that the use of political assassinations has all too often been successful at removing uncontrollable leaders whose commitment to substantive change of their societies had threatened the ruling forces, and thereby become so intolerable that physical removal remained the only option.

Despite Pepper’s The Plot To Kill King having been published in 2016, PBS was still airing Roads To Memphis a year later.

FRONTLINE: “Putin’s Revenge”

The American propaganda campaign being waged against the Russian Federation and its president Vladimir Putin has reached a stage of perverse perfection…… ‘Putin’s Revenge’ feature[s] so-called experts who outdo one another in stoking anti-Russian flames. PBS can never seem to find any expert who can make counter arguments.

— Margaret Kimberley, “Putin, Trump and Manafort“, OpEd News, November 3, 2017

Following World War 2, the U.S. was relatively unscathed, her manufacturing base for war materials was humming, stakeholders were intent on maintaining it, and a perceived enemy would justify its continuance. Russia; i.e., the Soviet Union (USSR), recently an ally, had an economic system antithetical to capitalism. The Red Scare was born, nurtured and perpetuated throughout a Cold War that was to last until 1989. But Russia had suffered Nazi invasion, and with a death toll of perhaps 20,000,000, had neither ability nor reason to threaten the U.S. in 1945. Looking back, it is unpleasant to contemplate the extent to which the Cold War was U.S. driven.

With media reinforcing the ‘Russia=Enemy!’ meme, transition into the “new” Cold War has gone smoothly, but Frontline’s “Putin’s Revenge” is a remarkable 2-hour distortion of the “Russiagate” fiasco. Centered on a claimed Russian “hacking” of 60,000 emails of the Democratic National Committee, allegedly to assist the Trump presidential campaign, it begins with the CIA’s John Brennan calling the hacking “tantamount to war”, and it never departs that focus.

As the commanding voice of narrator Will Lyman details Putin’s “lifetime of grievances” against American humiliations, the Russian’s face is shown in still shots chosen for sinister innuendo. Putin, viewers are told, “weaponized” information and sent hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks to expose Clinton’s undermining of the Sanders Campaign, thereby disuniting Democrats and aiding Trump. Along the way, there is deceptive reporting of a Russian “invasion” of Crimea, and suggestion of collusion between Putin and Trump. Commentary from governmental figures is reinforced by mainstream journalists from the NY Times, New Yorker, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and Politico.

The two hours of “Putin’s Revenge” aired on October 25 and November 1, 2017 despite an organization of intelligence professionals having already disputed hacking claims in late 2016 and published their technical assessment by July, 2017 that the DNC emails, rather than hacked, had been downloaded; i.e., “leaked”, from within the DNC itself. It strains believability that Frontline’s researchers could have missed these. Moreover, Julian Assange had long insisted that neither Russia nor any other state party was Wikileak’s source of the DNC emails, as Frontline had to have known. Records indicate that the Clinton Campaign, aware that incriminating emails were about to be made public, conspired with the DNC and media to divert attention onto a fabricated “Russian hack”, for which there was never evidence.

Ever since the U.S. promised the Soviets in 1990 that NATO would not move “one inch to the east” of Germany, NATO military activity has expanded along Russia’s western border from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the expanse over which Napoleon and Hitler carried out their respective invasions. That is the geographic equivalent of Russian bases being placed along a U.S. border. Crimea is the site of Russia’s naval base on the Black Sea, where U.S. warships have been cruising in recent years, and the northeast quadrant of which is Russian coastline. Base and coastline had to be protected without delay. In response to NATO-driven regime-change in western Ukraine, a referendum for union with Russia (not covered in the Frontline piece) was held in Crimea. Russian blood and culture dominate in Crimea, and the referendum passed by a reported 95%, hence Russia’s annexation. Frontline’s depiction of an “invasion” is beyond merely simplistic and is illustrative of why Americans are so ignorant of world affairs.

American mainstream journalism is now a tapestry of lies of omission. PBS, however, is a standout in this area, because its prominent, “in depth” productions on Nova, American Experience and Frontline are considered widely to represent the best investigative journalism available. It is this reputation that places PBS above the networks in the public mind. As PBS has willfully avoided specific areas for exploration, and has excluded truths that a governmental power structure does not want aired, it has made itself a powerful tool in the rewriting of history.

Bill Willers is an emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. He is founder of the Superior Wilderness Action Network and editor of Learning to Listen to the Land, and Unmanaged Landscapes, both from Island Press. He can be contacted at willers@uwosh.edu.

August 6, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, False Flag Terrorism, Film Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Google’s Empire: The Science Fiction of Power

By Maximilian C. Forte | Zero Anthropology | June 28, 2019

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to make a film about libraries,” explains Ben Lewis, the director of Google and the World Brain (2013). About libraries, he says, “they are my favourite places to be. Serene, beautiful repositories of the best thoughts that men and women have ever had”. Political economy, and the rights of citizens in a democracy, also loom large in Lewis’ estimation of the importance of libraries. As he states, libraries are: “Free to use. Far from the din of modern capitalism, libraries are the epitome of the public institution. There is simply nothing bad about a library. It is my paradise”. While praising the value of the Internet, Lewis warns, “the Internet also takes things from us, without asking”. Marrying the Internet and libraries raises hugely problematic issues, especially in the case of Google’s book-scanning project—problems surrounding copyright, national cultures and surveillance.

The political economy of knowledge production is one of the central areas of research interest that constitute the Zero Anthropology Project. This documentary was a good match for that interest, especially as it provokes a number of “big questions”: What are the social and political consequences of knowledge centralization? How, or when, is the digitization of knowledge problematic, and for whom? What role do libraries play in contemporary society? Does copyright protect much more than just authors’ rights and publishers’ profit-making activities? How is the digitization of knowledge linked to surveillance and governance? Should private corporations play any part in creating and/or controlling a universal library? Is a universal library even possible?

Google and the World Brain (2013)

If you were looking for a documentary that was not just another evangelical tract about how “information wants to be free,” spoken by wide-eyed zealots of “open access,” then this is the film for you. While beginning with enthusiasm for open access, for nearly a decade now Zero Anthropology has been warning about the dangers of open access, especially when it comes to facilitating the flow of information to the imperialist military of the US, or bolstering US academic hegemony. Ben Lewis’ Google and the World Brain shows us that we are on the right track. Yet some will argue that there are questionable aspects of Lewis’ critiques and the way they are presented in the film.

Directed by Ben Lewis, Google and the World Brain (2013) runs for 89 minutes. A trailer is included below, but the film in its entirety can be seen online, for free, on Archive.org and on the website of Polar Star Films. If you have 89 minutes to spare, please view it and then let us know if the following analysis was either flawed or unfair.

A trailer for the film is available below:

Polar Star Films, which produced Google and the World Brain, provided a detailed synopsis of the film which forms the basis for the following overview of the film.

Overview

Google and the World Brain is the story of “the most ambitious project ever attempted on the Internet: Google’s project to scan every book in the world and create not just a giant digital global library, but a higher form of intelligence”. The film’s critique draws from the dystopian warnings of H.G. Wells who in his 1937 essay “World Brain” predicted the creation of a universal library that contained all of humanity’s written knowledge, and which would be accessible to all of humanity. However, this would not just be a library in the sense of a static holding of inventoried contents, rather it would form the foundation for an all-knowing entity that would eliminate the need for nation-states and governments. With every increase in the quantity of information that it possessed, the globalist World Brain would be better able to rule over all of humanity, and would thus monitor every human being on the planet.

Supposedly Wells’ dystopian vision of technological progress (has progress ever really produced anything other than a succession of dystopias?) was just science fiction. However, this film shows how a World Brain is being brought into existence on the Internet: “Wikipedia, Facebook, Baidu in China and other search engines around the world  are all trying to build their own world brains—but none had a plan as bold, far-reaching and transformative as Google did with its Google Books project”.

Starting in 2002, Google began its project of scanning the world’s books. To do so, they entered into legal agreements with major university libraries in the US, most notably those of Harvard, Stanford, and Michigan, and then expanded to include deals with the Bodleian Library at Oxford in the UK and the Catalonian National Library in Spain. The goal was not simply the collection of all books—instead, as Lewis’ film argues, there was “a higher and more secretive purpose” which was to develop a new form of Artificial Intelligence.

Of the 10 million books scanned by Google by the time this documentary was made, six million of them were under copyright. This fact provoked authors, publishers, and some librarians around the world to not only protest Google, but also to take legal and political action against it. In the fall of 2005 the Authors Guild of America and the Association of American Publishers filed lawsuits against Google. That resulted in a 350-page agreement negotiated with Google, which was unveiled in October of 2008.

However, that agreement which involved Google paying a settlement of $125 million, also granted Google Books huge new powers. The result was that Google would become the world’s biggest bookstore and commercialized library. Google now had the exclusive right to sell scans of all out-of-print books that were still in copyright. What this meant is that Google had a monopoly over the majority of books published in the 20th-century.

Reacting against this settlement, Harvard University withdrew its support for Google’s project. Authors in Japan and China joined a worldwide opposition to Google’s book-scanning. The governments of France and Germany also condemned the agreement. In the US, the Department of Justice launched an anti-trust investigation. Starting in late 2009, US Judge Denny Chin held hearings in New York to assess the validity of the 2008 Google Book Settlement, and in March of 2011 he struck it down.

Google altered its plan in order to continue with a version of its book-scanning project. Google signed deals with many individual publishers that would allow Google to show parts of their books online. Google also continued to scan books out-of-copyright. What Google was not able to do was carry out its master plan for an exclusive library that it controlled alone. The Authors Guild also persevered with  suing Google for up to $2 billion in damages for scanning copyrighted books.

In this documentary, Google occupies the spotlight. Issues of copyright, privacy, data-mining, downloading, surveillance, and freedom come to the fore as a result.

The key figures interviewed in this film include some of the leading Internet analysts such as Evgeny Morozov, Jaron Lanier, Kevin Kelly, Clay Shirky, and Pamela Samuelson. Librarians in charge of some of the world’s leading libraries are also interviewed, including Robert Darnton (Harvard), Reginald Carr and Richard Ovendon (Bodleian), Jean-Noel Jeanneney (French National Library). In addition, authors involved in the struggle against Google Books such as Charles Seife, Roland Reuss, and Mian Mian (a best-selling Chinese author), are also key figures in the film.

The filmmakers challenge utopian visions of the Internet as the hoped for means of spreading democracy, freedom, and culture around the globe. Instead, the film argues that the Internet has enabled practices contrary to those ideals by, “undermining our civil liberties, free markets and human rights, while concentrating power and wealth in the hands of powerful new monopolies over which we have little influence”.

Polar Star Films ends its synopsis with this very important warning and urgent call for action:

“Humanity now stands at a crossroads. We can either take action to ensure that all the information and knowledge that the Internet is providing serves us, or we can remain passive consumers, and wait for all that information to take control over us. Whatever we do in the next few years will shape society for centuries to come”.

Contemporary Globalization as Science Fiction

H.G. Wells has to be one of the most prescient thinkers of the past two centuries. It is astounding just how far his supposed science “fiction” was in fact an outline discerning what would soon become reality. He had a particularly keen sense of the patterns taking shape around him, and just as keen a vision of the direction in which forces would move the world.

This is not the first time that we resort to the work of H.G. Wells which, under the guise of “fiction,” seemed to provide what global leaders would then adopt as a plan of action. In “The Shape of Things to Come in Libya,” we witnessed the applicability of Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come with its domineering figures, the “United Airmen”—progressivist autocrats who proclaimed themselves “freemasons of science”. Precursors to the neoliberal globalist mode of governance, the United Airmen came to vanquish local warlords and end all national governments, declaring independent sovereign states at an end, even if it meant war to erase them from the face of the earth.

Google and the World Brain opens with these words from the 1937 essay, “World Brain,” by H.G. Wells:

“There is no practical obstacle whatever now to the creation of an efficient index to all human knowledge, ideas and achievements. To the creation, that is, of a complete planetary memory for all mankind”.

Wells’ depiction of the World Brain was of a new kind of empire: a global dictatorship of technologists and intellectuals. Managers would become the new de facto politicians. This tyranny of expertise sits very well with the current neoliberal world order which sees its future in jeopardy.

It is a peculiar way to start, accompanied by an eerie soundtrack, since one might think that there is nothing especially scary about an “index,” about efficient organization of information, or a complete memory. However, given the mood of the film’s opening, we are immediately invited by the filmmaker to consider these aims in a different light—a much dimmer one.

The film also ends with Wells—all is bad that ends Wells. Quoting from his 1945 book, Mind at the End of its Tether, Wells predicted that this progressivist new world order would come crashing down:

“It is like a convoy lost in darkness along an unknown rocky coast with quarrelling pirates in the chart room and savages clambering up the sides of the ship to plunder and do evil as the whim may take them. That is the rough outline of the more and more jumbled movie on the screen before us. There is no way out. Or round. Or through”.

What is at Stake?

Wells also seemed to predict the Internet as making this world brain possible—this complete database of all human knowledge, past and present, could “be reproduced exactly and fully in Peru, China, Iceland, Central Africa or wherever else”. One of the analysts interviewed in the film, Kevin Kelly, is of the opinion that having instantaneous access to all human knowledge, “changes your idea of who you are”. Some will inevitably ask: “Is that a bad thing?” Kelly himself seems to think not, and he appears in this film as an evangelist for AI, the Internet, and the wonders of the screen.

The film thus turns its attention to the Google book-scanning operation, described by one analyst as, “clearly the most ambitious World Brain scheme that has ever been invented”. Still, some will wonder, what is the problem? How is the scanning of books something that should alarm anyone?

The film focuses further, and becomes a story about Google trying to achieve a monopoly over the digitization of books. Some will ask: “Is the real problem the total digitization of printed knowledge (which is quite distinct, and often separate from all knowledge as such, since not all human knowledge is published), or is the problem that of corporate monopoly?” In its early minutes, the documentary can be confusing about its intended aims.

The third focus comes next: the argument becomes that Google could track everything, and as Pamela Samuelson (law professor, Berkeley) explains, Google “could hold the whole world hostage”. Some viewers might balk: “this is just alarmism”.

Robert Darnton, Director, Harvard Library

What are the stakes? Speaking of the continued importance of libraries, Robert Darnton (Director, Harvard University Library) says in the film that libraries are, “nerve centres, centres of intellectual energy”. Lewis Hyde adds: “Libraries stand for an ideal, which is an educated public. And to the degree that knowledge is power, they also stand there for the idea that power should be disseminated and not centralised”. Are centralization and dissemination opposed and mutually exclusive? Even as he calls for dissemination, Darnton himself utilizes the concept of “centres”.

(Ironically, Darnton calls for the knowledge held by libraries to be opened up and shared—yet when I tried to gain access to some of Harvard’s library collections myself during research visits in 2004 and 2005, I required special written permission just to gain entry into the buildings.)

Expanding and Centralizing the Control of Knowledge

Google was initially successful in seducing a few of the world’s largest libraries, including those of Harvard and Oxford, whose chief librarians interpreted Google’s book-scanning project as a logical extension of a long history of attempts at centralizing knowledge. Among the earlier attempts were encyclopaedias; plans for a catalogue of all knowledge; and, microfilming.

More recently, and since the advent of the World Wide Web, Project Gutenberg became the first digital library, one which scholars have used and will continue to use regularly. Project Gutenberg, founded by Michael Hart, actually started in the early 1970s with the simple act of typing and distributing the Declaration of Independence.

Ray Kurzweil’s invention of the scanner clearly represented the one key advance needed to proceed towards digitizing knowledge. In 1975, Kurzweil created the first omni-font optical character recognition device, which went commercial in 1978. As Kurzweil admits, “we talked about how you could ultimately scan all books and all printed material”.

In the late 1990s the book, the scanner, and the Internet were combined in an effort to create what was hoped would be gigantic digital libraries. The Internet Archive, an indispensable tool for both myself and likely many readers of this review, was established in 1996. Significantly, the director of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, speaks in this film and indicates that he refused collaboration with Google because of the secrecy surrounding the nature of its agreements with libraries, and the fact that Google appeared to be on track to create something exclusive and separate.

Wikipedia, and arguably YouTube, are also massive attempts at acquiring and centralizing knowledge.

Google = Hegemony

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google with Larry Page, says that Page first conceived of Google Books in 1999. Google Books was then initiated in 2004. In “A Library to Last Forever,” published in The New York Times on October 9, 2009, Brin explained that Google’s digitization effort would be history’s largest-scale effort, primarily because Google invested significantly in the resources needed for the project. In that article, Brin also is clear that Google was zeroing in on out-of-print but in-copyright books, and commercializing them, while also seeking to create new regulations that would allegedly serve the interests of rights holders. Brin argues that Google’s motivation was to preserve “orphan books” against physical destruction and disappearance. Commenting on Google’s supposedly lofty goals, Evgeny Morozov says the following in this film:

“I don’t think that Google is aware of the fact that it’s a corporation. I think Google does think of itself as an NGO that just happens to make a lot of money. And they think of themselves as social reformers who just happen to have their stock traded on stock exchanges and who just happen to have investors and shareholders, but they do think of themselves as ultimately being in the business of making the world better”.

Google, while claiming to be laying the path for others to follow and which says it has aided other digitization efforts, is highly secretive about its scanning operation. It refused the filmmakers access to any of its (secret) scanning locations, and the film thus relies on six seconds of footage—the only such footage in existence—that was leaked out. Google’s secrecy extends to the total number of books it has scanned, and to how much it costs to scan them on average (one estimate is between $30 and $100 per book). Google also worked to prevent any one of its partner libraries from communicating with other partner libraries about the nature of their individual contracts with Google. According to Sidney Verba, former director of Harvard Library, Google “bent over backwards” to make sure that each library would not tell the others what kind of contract they had and how they were working with Google.

How did Google benefit from book-scanning? Five explanations are offered by interviewees in the film.

(1) Lawrence Lessig introduces the point that one of the benefits of massive book-scanning, is that it pumps information into Google’s core, allowing it to develop more sophisticated algorithms that depend on knowing more and more.

(2) Sidney Verba offers a different explanation: by having lots of information in Google, more people would use Google, which would increase the prospective advertising landscape, thus enriching Google by selling advertising space.

(3) Pamela Samuelson, narrowing Google down to a search engine, offers a third viewpoint: having more data (from books, for example), allows Google to perfect its search technology.

(4) Jaron Lanier argues that there is a competition between all sectors of the modern economy (whether healthcare, information and communications technology, finance, criminality, etc.) for more and more data, because data—and specifically data differentials—is a measure of power. Then the data hoarders can in some cases claim that their work is for the common good, by increasing efficiency.

(5) Lanier, Lessig, and Kevin Kelly together make the point that feeding all these books into Google’s servers leads to the creation of something akin to a life-form, a transformative force, a mass of memories that empowers an artificial intelligence system. As the reader will have noted, there is nothing about these five theories that renders them mutually exclusive—they can all be true, at the same time.

The head of Google Books Spain, Luis Collado, the only company official willing to speak to the filmmakers about Google Books, offered a comparatively milder and more innocent explanation. Collado says that Google’s motivation was to amplify the richness of online knowledge. Until it started adding books to the Internet’s offerings, the Internet only consisted of materials that were specifically created for it. For example, in late 1994 in the SUNY-Cortland library I surfed the entire World Wide Web as it then existed, in just one afternoon (at the time I rushed to the conclusion that the Internet was “useless”). For a few years, it was actually practical for me to print everything I found interesting online, because there was so little worth printing. So Collado has a point, even if it does not exhaust the range of plausible explanations.

For Father Damià Roure, Library Director at the Monastery of Montserrat in Spain, Google’s book-scanning was a means of “diffusing our culture” to the rest of the world, while helping to preserve the knowledge contained in its vast library. What he was simply unable to answer was why the monastery had not asked Google to pay for the privilege of scanning the monastery’s collection. As Google turned its operation into a business, from which it would profit, was it fair to get the materials for free? Father Roure went completely silent at this point in the film, in one of the longest, most awkward silences I have ever seen on the screen. He brought it to an end by saying that he was not in a position to comment on anything other than digitization. Reginald Carr, former director of the Oxford’s Bodleian Library, simply downplayed the point: Google, in his view, was fully entitled to make a profit—having invested so much in the scanning—even if the Bodleian’s ethos was to make knowledge available for free.

These two library directors serve a useful purpose: they are a reminder to us that willing collaboration on the part of intermediary local elites is often essential to any grant project of hegemony-building. When it comes to the Internet, and Google in particular, readers of this article are also collaborators—collaborators that, at a minimum, feed Google with content with each search they perform. By continuing to use Google, you make it more powerful.

Assisted Intelligence or Artificial Intelligence?

Jaron Lanier

Speaking of collaboration, the film specifically addresses how Internet users are themselves used. To the extent that this is done unknowingly, unthinkingly, and without compensation, we move from collaboration to exploitation. Jaron Lanier makes this argument forcefully:

“AI is just a religion. It doesn’t matter. What’s really happening is real world examples from real people who entered their answers, their trivia, their experiences into some online database. It’s actually just a giant puppet theatre repackaging inputs from real people who are forgotten. We are pretending they aren’t there. This is something I really want people to see. The insane structure of modern finance is exactly the same as the insane structure of modern culture on the Internet. They’re precisely the same. It’s an attempt to gather all the information into a high castle, optimise the world and pretend that all the people the information came from don’t deserve anything. It’s all the same mistake”.

An absolutely unctuous and all too precious spokesperson for Google, Amit Singhal, actually confirms Lanier’s point when he says the following in the film:

“Google Search is going to be assisted intelligence and not artificial intelligence. In my mind I think of Search as this beautiful symphony between the user and the search engine and we make music together”.

Singhal confirms what Lanier argued, that Google is powered by its users, but then makes the false analogy to a symphony. Musicians performing in an orchestra are clearly instructed on their roles, they perform willingly, and they perform in accordance with known rules and by reading codified music sheets. In other words, the musicians are willing, aware, and informed. Most of Google’s users do not know they are performing in any “symphony”. Google emphasizes harmony where there is in fact concealment, deceit, and exploitation. If there is any music, it is music only to Google’s ears.

Google and Copyright: The Essence of the Confrontation

The film takes a turn into questions of copyright at this stage, when Harvard’s library director, Robert Darnton, points out that its agreement with Google only allowed for the scanning of books in the public domain. However, Google’s agreements with other libraries allowed it to scan all books, including those in copyright. Mary Sue Coleman, president of Michigan University, openly stated that her university allowed Google to scan copyrighted books, claiming that it was “legal, ethical, and noble” to do so (meanwhile universities warn students not to photocopy more than 10% of any given work). Copyright violation is where the legal problems exploded in Google’s face.

However, one of the outcomes of the lawsuits against Google was that the settlement agreement allowed Google to become the world’s biggest bookstore, specializing in out-of-print but in-copyright books. The settlement in fact granted Google an exclusive right to sell such books, without sharing the profits with authors. Google would also not respect the privacy of readers: the company would instead track what readers read, and for how long they read it.

One of the features of copyright that stands out in this film, is that copyright on the Internet takes the place of national borders. Thus we hear from Angela Merkel in this film, asserting that the German government would defend the rights of German authors, by making sure that copyright had a place on the Internet. Likewise, the former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, declares in footage shown in this film that France would not allow a large private corporation to seize control of French national heritage, “no matter how nice, important, or American it may be”. Standing against the imperial ambitions of Google therefore was the seemingly old-fashioned principle of copyright. It reached the extent that when the Google book settlement was taken to court in 2009, representatives of foreign authors and foreign governments, accused the US of violating various treaty obligations which could force foreign parties to go to the WTO—and in the likely event of the US losing a case before the WTO, other nations would then have a right to impose trade sanctions on the US.

The outcome is that Google remains the target of publishers’ and authors’ lawsuits, while it continues to scan both out-of-copyright books as well as in-copyright books (in agreement with major libraries, and then offering only “snippets” of the book online). Rivalling Google, various governments and major libraries have undertaken their own library digitization, thus defeating Google’s attempt at becoming an exclusive monopoly. The Digital Public Library of America is one such example of a project that took off in response to the threat posed by Google, as is the case of Europeana.

Google as Empire

The film quotes from William Gibson’s 2010 article in The New York Times, “Google’s Earth,” as part of its argument that Google is building an artificial intelligence entity of a grander scale and sophistication than was even imagined in science fiction. As Gibson explains in that article, Google is “a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world,” and he adds that this was, “the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before,” only now Google’s empire is one that also becomes an organ of “global human perception”. In Google, we are citizens, but without rights.

French National Library

Jean-Noël Jeanneney

Jean-Noël Jeanneney, the former director of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (the French National Library), represents the voice of the library of the nation-state, that which Google ultimately seeks to erase. He recounts in the film his first encounter with two young Google representatives who came to meet him—he points out that what struck him was their “arrogance” and “brutal commercialism”. These “salesmen,” as he calls them, badly miscalculated his psychology when they brought as a gift a thermo-flask, for which he had no use and which he cast aside. Following his meeting with Google’s representatives, and the company’s announcement that it alone would build a universal digital library, Jeanneney announced to his staff a plan for what he emphatically calls a “counter-offensive”. He criticized the Google book-scanning project as incorporating an Anglo-American cultural bias, and in a noteworthy critique published by Le Monde in 2005 titled “When Google Challenges Europe,” he argued that, “what I don’t want is everything reflected in an American mirror. When it comes to presenting digitized books on the Web, we want to make our choice with our own criteria”. Jeanneney pointed to “the risk of a crushing domination by America in the definition of the idea that future generations will have of the world”. Google suddenly appears not so much as a “new” empire, as in Gibson’s piece, but rather a part of the American empire in a new extension of itself. We are thus back to the familiar problems of Americanization and cultural imperialism.

As Sidney Verba explains in the film, there were two additional sides to the French critique of Google: one had to with the dominant language of Google search results—English—which thus acted as a force undermining French, and the second had to do with who got to decide what would be digitized, its order of priority, and who would get to do the digitization. Who are the Americans at Google who get to digitize France’s books?

Conclusion

While sometimes striking an alarmist tone that was not warranted by the empirical substance that was presented, one could also conclude that the film is only guilty of erring on the side of caution. When dealing with Google in particular, we are well past the point of being cautious: it is a monopolistic entity that for years had a large revolving door between itself and the State Department and the Democratic Party, while also striking deals with the Pentagon and engaging in political censorship. There is nothing innocent about Google, and to the extent that it swallows the Internet, there is little about the Internet that is innocent.

One of the possible lapses of the film is that it does not direct as much attention to China’s Baidu, which has its own extensive book-scanning project that might even rival Google’s. The film presents an interview with Baidu’s communications director, and provides some useful statistics from Baidu employees about the extent of its own book-scanning project—but the bulk of the criticism is reserved for Google.

A book scanning unit in China

However, it has to be said that Ben Lewis does us all an essential service with this film that, ostensibly, appears to be about the simple act of scanning library books, and becomes instead a much larger story about democracy, rights, nation-states, cultures, corporatization, political economy, international law, and the future of globalization.

It was not surprising to see that, once again, one of the top documentaries we have had the privilege of reviewing was produced by Europe’s Arte television company.

This documentary, with all of its thought-provoking questions and careful detail, would be suitable for a wide range of courses in fields such as Information and Communication Studies, Librarianship, Media Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, and Political Science. The film earns a score of 8.75/10.

(This documentary review forms part of the cyberwar series of reviews on Zero Anthropology. This film was viewed four times before the written review was published.)

June 28, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Film Review, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

The lessons of Chernobyl: It’s the West that now needs Glasnost

By Neil Clark | RT | June 10, 2019

The much-acclaimed series ‘Chernobyl’ tells the story of the 1986 nuclear disaster and the authorities’ attempts to play it down. Ironically, 33 years on, it’s Western leaders who need to learn how to be honest and transparent.

It was the accident which some think led directly to the fall of communism. “Reformers in the Soviet Union, and Mikhail Gorbachev himself, used Chernobyl as an argument for more accountability and greater frankness, because the initial reaction of the Soviet authorities was anything but transparent. It became a symbol of what was wrong with the Soviet system,” says Professor Archie Brown, author of ‘The Rise and Fall of Communism’, as cited in yesterday’s Sunday Express newspaper.

Just three-and-a-half years after Chernobyl, the Berlin Wall came down, and in 1991, the USSR itself ceased to exist.

Western ideologues were quick to gloat, saying that a system which kept telling people lies and trying to cover things up was always doomed to fail, but in terms of openness and telling the truth, are we really much better than the Soviet Union of the 1980s?

Consider the way a succession of illegal wars has been sold to the public. We were told in 2003 that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which could be assembled and launched within 45 minutes. It was false, patently so, yet the Chilcot Report was only published 13 years later, and even now, no one has been prosecuted in relation to a war which led to the deaths of one million and the rise of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

In 2011, we went to war again, against Libya. Once more, our politicians were less than honest with us. We were told that we had to bomb because Colonel Gaddafi was going to massacre the inhabitants of Benghazi. Only five-and-a-half years later were we allowed to know the truth. In September 2016, a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report held that “the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence… the Government failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”

Again, we were tricked into war. By ‘nice’ Western politicians, mark you, and not ‘lying’ Soviet ones. Once more, there’s been no accountability. Libya, a country which had the highest Human Development Index in the whole of Africa, was destroyed. It was a far worse disaster than Chernobyl, as indeed Iraq was. When will the HBO dramas on these catastrophes be screening?

It’s not just the illegal wars. There have been cover-ups of plenty of other things, too. Three years after Chernobyl, there was the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans were crushed to death. It was the worst disaster in British sporting history. To add insult to tragedy, the fans themselves were blamed. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun claimed on its front page that fans had urinated on policemen and picked the pockets of victims. It took nearly 30 years to get the record formally put right and achieve ‘Justice for the 96’ when a jury held that the fans were ‘unlawfully killed’. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, which wants a public inquiry into the way striking miners in South Yorkshire were ‘brutalised’ by police in the so-called ‘Battle of Orgreave’ in 1984, are still waiting. In 2016, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said there would be no inquiry.

Where’s the openness and transparency here?

Likewise with the cover-ups over suspected Establishment pedophiles and other high-up wrong-doers. We learnt only this year that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had, back in the 80s, personally protected a senior Conservative MP who allegedly had a “penchant for small boys.”

We don’t know whether a leading Soviet politician who was a child-abuser would have been prosecuted. Probably not. But we do know that in Britain in the 1980s, such cover-ups definitely occurred. And who really believes that’s still not the case today?

Bergson and Popper famously divided societies into ‘open’ and ‘closed’ ones, but Western ‘openness’ is not quite as ‘open’ as we’re led to believe. It does not extend to politicians frankly acknowledging the role that Western foreign policy has played in aiding, directly or indirectly, the very same terrorists who have gone on to target Western civilians. That’s a taboo subject, even after the Manchester Arena bombings and the bomber’s link to the MI5-‘sorted’ anti-Gaddafi LIFG, and the slaughter of tourists on the beach in Tunisia by a man who reportedly trained at an IS camp in neighboring ‘liberated’ Libya.

There are many more subjects too that are so taboo I dare not even mention them here. By contrast, dishonest or fact-lite narratives, such as ‘Russiagate’, or the one that holds that the UK Labour Party, an anti-racist party, is ‘awash with anti-Semitism’, hold sway. We CAN talk about these and indeed some commentators talk about little else.

It is the greatest of ironies that at the very same time that we are being told how HBO’s Chernobyl exposes the rottenness of the ‘closed’ Soviet system, a man who does believe in openness and transparency, a free press, and government accountability, is languishing in a maximum security prison in ‘open’ London, facing a possible extradition to the US and sentences of up to 175 years in jail. Julian Assange, whose only crime is wanting to show us what was behind the curtain, is no less persecuted than the Soviet dissidents about whom we heard an awful lot in the 1980s.

It’s been said that if you feud with someone long enough you end up being like them, or at least how you liked to portray them. When we think of the old Cold War and what’s going on today, that seems to have come true.

In its lack of transparency and openness, and the way in which lying has become the new normal, the West is now behaving the way the Soviet Union is supposed to have operated at the time of Chernobyl.

Who, I wonder, will be the equivalent of Mikhail Gorbachev to introduce some much-needed Western Glasnost?

June 10, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Film Review, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Contracts Reveal For First Time How DEA Exercises Control Over Television, Film Productions

By Tom Secker | ShadowProof | May 28, 2019

Nearly 200 pages of Drug Enforcement Administration contracts with producers were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. They show for the first time how the agency interacts with television and film productions.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is quite active in the entertainment industry. It exercises stringent control over how the agency is represented in documentaries, reality shows, and dramas.

With several projects, the DEA carefully reviews their own files to pick out select cases that made them look good, which then form the basis for either fictional or factual productions.

The contracts [PDF] cover 2011 to 2017. Over that time period, DEA supported dozens of projects, including “Cops and Coyotes” and multiple episodes of “Drugs Inc.” and “Gangsters: America’s Most Evil.” They support the fictional drugs drama “Pure,” too.

Other supported projects were “Lethal Cargo,” “The Notorious Mr. Bout,” and “Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies.” They even worked with the U.S. government-funded Middle East Broadcasting Network for a program that featured the DEA museum.

Strangely absent from the contracts are “Narcos” and “Breaking Bad,” despite various reports that both shows employed DEA employees as consultants.

In response to a separate FOIA request asking about their input on “Breaking Bad,” the DEA claimed they couldn’t find any records whatsoever. The released documents also do not include “Finding Escobar’s Millions” and “Battle Zone: The Origins of Sicario,” even though the DEA was credited on both documentaries.

The contracts show the near-total control the DEA wields over productions they assist.

Some producers are given permission to embed film crews within DEA Enforcement Groups but only under the provision that “DEA supervisors on the scene shall have the final say in approving any filming during real-time law enforcement operations.”

The production support offered by the DEA is completely free. It costs the producers nothing and ranges from granting permission to use the DEA name and logo to filming at DEA installations and interviewing their agents.

Some of the DEA’s restrictions apply to certain projects. The producers of “Canada: Drug Kingpin” were told they weren’t allowed to “accompany DEA employees to Canadian-U.S. border ‘hot spots’ known for the transit of illicit substances.”

The makers of “Lethal Cargo” were only permitted to interview one DEA employee, and the contract specifies several topics that he was not allowed to talk about. The forbidden topics included, “Information relating to the production and consumption status of a country and that country’s law enforcement approach to drug trafficking,” “the port of Valencia as an ingress point for cocaine,” and “the Nigerian mafia as couriers.”

In more recent years, with marijuana legalization a growing issue and reality, the DEA began including a clause saying that any interviews with “DEA personnel regarding marijuana operations or related issues” had to be approved in advance by the agency’s chief of congressional and public affairs.

On all supported projects, the producers must grant a “senior DEA official” control over the final edit, to ensure a project doesn’t compromise an “ongoing investigation or prosecution, investigative practices or techniques, or the identities of confidential sources or DEA special agent or task force officers.”

The official “may make that determination at any time during the editing and production process,” and the “producer agrees to abide by DEA requests to modify, delete or otherwise change” anything that is deemed objectionable.

While some of these restrictions are reasonable and protect the rights of those accused of crimes, the DEA-imposed limits also ensure they are depicted in a positive light.

Shadowproof spoke with author Doug Valentine, who has written extensively on the DEA’s culture and corruption. “Positive P.R. is more important [to the DEA] than accurate portrayal,” he said.

The contracts list several specific scenarios that cannot be shown under any circumstances. They include, “Recording of any shooting incident, regardless of who fires,” “filming of suspect interrogations,” “filming where an individual’s communications are being monitored in any fashion,” and “footage that exposes DEA’s confidential or sensitive investigative techniques.”

As a consequence of these restrictions, the productions all maintain the same basic message—that the DEA are heroes, who are fighting evil people who threaten American society.

“It’s propaganda B.S. pure and simple,” Valentine said. “I talk a lot about the myth of the hero. They want to portray themselves as heroes on a noble cause. They demand total control over the narrative.”

Asked whether these shows were inaccurate representations of the real relationships between DEA agents and drug dealers, Valentine replied, “Depends on the agent and the trafficker, but the trafficker can never arrest the agent. So agents have the power of the law. Where it gets sticky is with informants and special hires and undercover ops. CIA stuff.”

In addition to asserting control over the final edit of a production, the documents have clauses saying the DEA “reserves the right to perform background checks and, if necessary, deny access to those individuals who DEA believes may compromise DEA operations. DEA also reserves the right to limit the number of representatives who may have access to DEA.”

Like the FBI, the DEA is not just concerned with the content of the productions they support but also with the backgrounds of the people producing them.

“It’s another way of assuring control. DEA is obsessed with control and being the superior force,” Valentine added.

Further demonstrating the DEA’s obsession with control, the contracts require the producers to destroy any materials provided by the DEA (photos, documents, statistics, b-roll footage and so on) as soon as the production is released or broadcast.

The producers must provide the DEA with a DVD copy and a non-exclusive license to use the resulting film or TV show for the purposes of “recruiting, training, professional development, community relations, or demand reduction efforts.”

June 2, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Film Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | Leave a comment

‘Chernobyl’ is a blast of a TV series – but don’t call it ‘authentic’

Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard in Chernobyl ©  Liam Daniel/HBO
By Igor Ogorodnev | RT | June 2, 2019

Building film sets out of old Soviet buildings is easier than understanding the people who inhabited them – and the hit HBO show doesn’t grasp either why the nuclear accident was allowed to happen, nor the heroism that followed.

Authenticity is not an essential virtue even for a docudrama, but it has been one of the main selling points of Chernobyl, the five-part mini-series that is currently the highest-ever rated TV program on film database IMDB.

Now, my qualms aren’t with the factual inaccuracies, the creation of Emily Watson’s fictional female scientist in place of the thousands of women actually involved, or the squeezing of such a grand-scale, multi-faceted story into what is, for the most part, a disaster film with two leads.

All of this artistic license could have been acceptable if only a higher truth had been preserved. But Chernobyl is fundamentally phony.

Because for all his strengths as a dramatist and thousands of hours of earnest research, New Yorker Craig Mazin, who wrote and produced the show, does not have an accurate mental picture of Soviet society on the edge of Perestroika.

And this is important. The reason Chernobyl struck the USSR so deeply wasn’t just the invisible terror of radiation, but how every stage of the catastrophe – from the flawed reactor design, to its shoddy construction, the carelessness and obstinacy of its staff, the cover-up afterwards, and the human cost – perfectly embodied the pathological deficiencies of a soon-to-collapse Communist order. April 26, 1986 was a systemic disaster, the harbinger of seismic change.

But there are no Soviet people in Chernobyl – and I am not talking about the British accents.

Mazin’s party officials are more like sullen gangsters protecting their own patch – they bully, shout, laugh ostentatiously, and bang their fists on the table. Stellan Skarsgard’s senior cabinet minister threatens to throw Jared Harris’s renowned academic off a helicopter, then to shoot him, but the conversation is as implausible as it would be if it were shown between Vice President George H.W. Bush and physicist Richard Feynman, to pick two contemporaries.

In real life, it was a disaster of consummate elite bureaucrats, who spoke to each other in a mix of déclassé party jargon and that matter-of-fact Russian frankness. The shortcomings of these people, almost all of whom thought they were doing the right thing, was not cartoonish villainy – but a callous sense of careerist self-preservation, a distancing from human suffering, wrong priorities, and an unwillingness to challenge the system. And in skilful hands the chilliness of the Soviet apparatchik could have been every bit as sinister and tragic as the scenery-chewing on display.

Similarly, the ordinary Russians tasked with the dirty and dangerous jobs are shown either as patriotic naïfs stirred by speeches, or independent-minded salt-of-the-earth types. But it was neither one nor the other. Other than the very first firefighters, the hundreds of thousands of Soviets involved in the clean-up were broadly aware of the risks they faced, but they went along anyway. Many went with fear, others with a sense of duty, but most complied simply because they lived in a totalitarian state, in which if the government tells you to do something, you do it. The most jarring scene is a Soviet minister bargaining with coal miners at gunpoint to persuade them to dig a tunnel under Chernobyl. Moscow mandarins did not negotiate with those 10 rungs below them – they sent down orders and didn’t need bullets to enforce them.

Once again there is drama in the get-on-with-it heroism of people who were thrown at the problem like faceless numbers, but it requires a more sensitive approach.

These elements of Soviet life may seem like the background to the central human stories, but in fact they dictated how each scene shown in Chernobyl unfolded in real life. And although occasionally the show hits upon the right note, perhaps when it sticks closest to a verbatim recreation, it does not seem to realize it. Most of the time, those involved act wrong on the wrong motivations, talk about the wrong things, and say them in the wrong order with an alien cadence that is more than just a different language.

Like an English upper class drama, staged by an Italian who grew up in his own culture and doesn’t speak the language, starring Italian actors, the whole thing feels off, ersatz. The mostly convincing sets show up the inauthenticity of the content.

This is not about defending my own cultural turf. Foreigners have every right to write about Chernobyl, and post-Soviet filmmakers are welcome to try and show that they remember the era better themselves through their own conflicted legacies and agendas.

But a caution: you are not REALLY learning about the Soviet Union or Russia or Ukraine from Chernobyl. And if you do want to dig through the testimonies and videos and books, there exists for you a story that is no less harrowing, but perhaps deeper and more involving.

Igor Ogorodnev is a Russian-British journalist, who has worked at RT since 2007 as a correspondent, editor and writer.

June 2, 2019 Posted by | Film Review | | Leave a comment

Let’s not make a drama about Skripal case before important questions are answered

By Neil Clark | RT | May 22, 2019

It’s over 14 months since the Skripal poisonings first made world headlines but to paraphrase the words of the 1970s Johnny Nash hit ‘There are more questions than answers, and the more we find out, the less we know.’

There’s been neither sight nor sound of Yulia or Sergei Skripal. Yulia was last seen in a short video statement released on May 23, 2018, her father in CCTV footage in a shop in Salisbury at 12.47pm on February 27, 2018. If Sergei was sure that the Russian state was responsible for what happened to him, why hasn’t he been put before a camera to say so? Even more mysteriously, why hasn’t this dutiful son not called his 91-year old mother Yelena to say he’s ok?  Might Sergei Skripal actually be dead – and if so, why haven’t we been told?

Then there’s the unraveling of the Amesbury (a town nine miles from Salisbury) postscript. The news that two British nationals, Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess, had been admitted to hospital after being exposed to alleged Novichok poisoning from a bottle of perfume found in a bin by Rowley, caused a sensation when it broke in early July 2018.

But a couple of days ago the Guardian, cited a source au fait with the police’s criminal inquiry, who stated: “The bin where the bottle (of perfume) was found was regularly emptied, so it seems inconceivable that it had been there in March.”

Which raises the question: If the bottle did contain Novichok and the two Russian suspects didn’t put it in the bin, then who did?

There are three possible explanations – if we rule out the bottle somehow quite miraculously remaining in the bin after regular emptying over a sixteen-week period.

Firstly, Rowley misremembered where he found the bottle and that he actually picked it up somewhere else. Secondly, the bottle didn’t contain Novichok and wasn’t the source of the poisoning and Dawn’s tragic death. Thirdly, it did contain Novichok and that it was placed in the bin in the week preceding Rowley finding it.

Possibility one clearly does not exclude the two Russian suspects leaving the Novichok somewhere else, eg in a bush in the park and Rowley finding it several weeks later. However, Rowley did tell ITV in July 2018: “I feel confident in myself to say it wasn’t picked up in the park.”

The other two possibilities raise some very serious questions indeed. They would indicate that some unknown actor was keen to link the poisoning of Rowley and Burgess to the earlier events in Salisbury. If so, was it done to try and further turn public opinion against Russia in pursuance of a geopolitical agenda?

Again, it’s worth stressing that up to now the Metropolitan Police have been unable able to link the poisoning of Rowley and Burgess to that of the Skripals.

All things considered, what we could really do with at this point is answers from the authorities who were so quick to throw accusations at Russia, and a new television documentary could help that.

I’m old enough to remember the excellent ITV series ‘In Suspicious Circumstances’, shown in the early 1990s, which looked into real-life murder mysteries of the past. The individual programs were introduced by the late Edward Woodward. They included mini-dramatizations, but in the end, Woodward would sum up what we did know and what we didn’t and let us make our own minds up.

One would hope that ‘Salisbury’ the new two-part BBC ‘factual drama’ on the Skripal case, announced last week, will follow the same forensic pattern, but given the anti-Russian undercurrent to so much of contemporary programming, one can’t be too optimistic. The article on the BBC website announcing the drama doesn’t inspire confidence as it states “Dawn Sturgess was fatally poisoned in the attack.”

The truth is that the Met has been unable to prove that and manslaughter charges against the two Russian suspects have not been brought.

Commissioning a two-part drama about an event which remains clouded in so much uncertainty is premature. Surely it would be better to try and establish exactly what happened first, and then make the drama? Perhaps Government DSMA Notices (formerly D-Notices) are the reason why proper investigative journalism is not taking place. We know of at least two DSMAs being issued in relation to the Skripal affair. But these notices are not legally enforceable and Britain is not –or at least not yet – a totalitarian state. It should be possible to make a painstakingly-factual documentary on the Skripal case without compromising national security.

For such a documentary to be credible, it would be imperative that the two Russian suspects, traveling under the names of Boshirov and Petrov, but allegedly Messrs Chepiga and Mishkin of Russian Military Intelligence, make themselves available for interview. If they had nothing to do with the poisoning of the Skripals then we really need to know what they were doing in Salisbury on the weekend in question (no one, let’s face it, is convinced about the ‘they were just tourists visiting the Cathedral’ line). At the same time, other leads need to be investigated too. Could the poisonings have been planned by an unknown actor hostile to Russia, with the knowledge that the two Russians were visiting Salisbury for a purpose connected to Sergei Skripal but not involving poisoning him? Could Boshirov and Petrov have been set up, with traces of Novichok left in their hotel room weeks later to try and incriminate them? That would explain why no guests occupying the room after Boshirov and Petrov became ill.

Can we even be 100 percent sure that Novichok was indeed used, and that the Skripals weren’t instead the victims of fentanyl poisoning? Remember the testimony of eyewitness Freya Church, who saw the Skripals on the bench that Sunday afternoon, and who told the BBC: “He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky… They looked like they had been taking something quite strong”.

Remember too the letter to the Times published on 14th March 2018 from Dr Stephen Davies, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at the Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, who wrote: “May I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning… No member of the public has been contaminated by the agent involved.”

Might what happened be linked to Skripal’s work on Russian criminal/Mafia gangs with Spanish Intelligence?

Could there be a connection to the Steele dossier, or is that just a wild conspiracy theory? Where is the CCTV footage of the Skripals in Salisbury on 4th March 2018? Why haven’t we seen it?

And regarding the Amesbury postscript, if Novichok was suspected, why has there still been no coroner’s inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess?

These are the questions that I’m sure Edward Woodward would be asking.

Journalists should be asking them too.

May 23, 2019 Posted by | Film Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

Brexit, the Uncivil War: Watering Myths with the Teardrops of the Ruling Class

By Maximilian C. Forte | Zero Anthropology | May 21, 2019

What have been billed as momentous EU Parliament elections are taking place this week (May 23–26), and it seemed like the right time to review some Brexit films—one is entertainment, the other is a documentary. The reason for the Brexit theme has to do more with 2019 than with 2016, especially since the Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, is supposed to make a massive showing in the EU election. As expected, long lists of injunctions against the left retaking ground ceded to the right are coming out in The Guardian, chief purveyor of wishes for doing everything wrong again and never learning from mistakes. Also as expected, Russia is being blamed in advance—because the right thing to do with a really bad conspiracy theory is to keep it alive.

The first movie being reviewed for our Brexit mini-series is Brexit: The Uncivil War (2019), produced by House Productions and shown on HBO and the UK’s Channel 4. It was directed by Toby Haynes, written by James Graham, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch. The plot synopsis is available here, and the official trailer is below. The movie opens with these words on the screen: “This drama is based on real events and interviews with key people who were there. Some aspects of dialogue, character and scenes have been devised for the purpose of dramatisation”. The second sentence effectively negates the first. In fact, not only were “some aspects” merely “devised,” they were completely invented, including not just dialogue but also some of the “real events” with “key people” shown in the film. This movie is a mixture of comedy and docudrama, a tepid attempt at reproducing and combining The Big Short and In the Loop, both of which are immeasurably superior films (and probably less insulting to the intelligence of viewers).

The movie opens with Dominic Cummings (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the manager of the Leave campaign. Cummings is immediately shown as eccentric—or perhaps a little of an idiot savant. He opens the film with the line, “Britain makes a noise” (only I heard, “Pudding makes a noise”—perhaps the script should have chosen what I heard, to really emphasize how weird the main character is meant to be, for us).

In one of his fragmented opening monologues, the Cummings character makes some indisputably wise points: “as a global society we are entering a series of profound economic, cultural, social and political transitions, the like of which the world has never seen…. Massive increase in resource requirements…. A rising tide of religious extremism…. A synthesis of… inter-generational inequality in the West on an historic level”. At other times, as discussed below, he is a mere puppet for the filmmakers’ polemic against Brexit.

Insight into Elite Myth-Making

The movie can serve as a useful insight into the minds of elite, establishment Remainers, and their ability to dedicate time, energy, and resources into orchestrating a collective international wailing. As has been said repeatedly on this site: those in power would love for us to feel their pain as if it were our own, to make a loss for the transnational capitalist class appear to be our loss, so that we may then rise up and strike out to defend their interests (while annihilating our own).

The movie references the fall of the Berlin wall—with Brexit being the biggest political upset since then. That is a “problem”: the thing about Berlin walls is that they are only supposed to fall in other countries, never in our own. “We” have suffered a basic transgression, a violation of our entitlement to eternal continuity, in spite of the contradictions and conflicts we create and multiply. In other words, it shows you just how deranged our ruling classes have become.

The Ugly Face of Conspiracy

The opening’s main point is to prepare us for the revelation of yet another alleged grand conspiracy, almost like the mythical Russiagate conspiracy theory. We hear forgettable technocrats droning on about UK law and asking Cummings if his actions were within electoral law, or were a threat to democracy. Then the Cummings character, facing the camera, states: “Everyone knows who won. But not everyone knows how”—and that is the point of this movie. And what a miserable little point it is. In the end, what the filmmakers achieve is another reminder to us that the only real conspiracy we face is the conspiracy of enforced unanimity by state and corporate media—unanimous in their contempt for voters, and for the will of the voters. Abolish the “will” of the voter, by making it appear to be merely the by-product of a sinisterly-devised algorithm and data mining operation, and you thus abolish the voter. No agency, thus no agent. The only real people are the members of the ruling elite.

Appropriate for a conspiracy movie, Douglas Carswell (laughable troglodyte), holds a secret meeting with Matthew Elliott (nervous nerd), in a portrait gallery. I foolishly hoped this would be the end of the silly caricatures, forgetting this is a commercial entertainment product and not a documentary. Had I prayed for more caricatures, I would have been immediately satisfied—meet Arron Banks (snarling pig). Only the Boris Johnson character is a softer version of the real thing, the actual Boris Johnson being abundantly self-caricaturing already.

The usual inflation of grotesque features that one finds in British films, is a simplistic equivalent of bold print, only it is applied to faces. The face is meant to convey meaning—and the meaning here is: villainous conspiracy. Thus we are shown the faces “behind the [imagined] scenes,” with the hatching of a conspiracy in the UK Independence Party (UKIP, the notorious villain in all establishment narratives second only to “Russia”). “Gunpowder, treason, and plot,” mutters the Cummings character, thus evoking the 1605 Gunpowder plot.

What follows is a lesson from the arch conspirator, Cummings: “How to Change the Course of History. Lesson One: Kill conventional wisdom”. The aim here is to learn from the “true disruptors of Europe”: Napoleon, Otto von Bismarck, and Alexander the Great.

The film hurries through the reasons for voter discontent—there were many, and they were diverse—so that we instead come away with the impression that mere “talking points” are being generated by conspirators: the EU seems abstract; immigration is a problem—but what kind of problem? Is it about race? Integration? The levels of immigration?; “people are feeling angrier, left out, ignored”; “don’t think our kids will have a better future than us”; “we spend more time than ever online, but we feel more alone”; “we’re not getting married as much”; “less of us have faith”; “we’re not saving as much”; “we trust less the institutions and people our parents trusted”. Had the movie drawn this out longer, it would have been a service to the Remainers who seem particularly thick when it comes to trying to understand the opposition and the groundswell of support for Brexit. No luck.

Instead, we are shown the conspiracy, boiling it all down to core talking points: “Loss of national identity. Clear. Sovereignty. Digestible. Loss of community. Simple. Independence. Message repeated over, and over, and over”.

The point is to, “tap into all these little wells of resentment, all these little pressures that have been building up, ignored, over time. We could make this about something more than Europe. Europe just becomes a symbol, a cypher, for everything: every bad thing that is happening, has happened…”.

One reviewer noted a basic contradiction in the movie’s polemic, which involves its magnification of the role of Dominic Cummings. The movie has Cambridge Analytica, Robert Mercer, foreign data firms, big private donors, and every theory possible thrown at the screen as to why Brexit won. Then why did Cummings matter at all?

“Post-Truth”: The Anti-Anthropological Message

The movie also shows us what “post-truth” is meant to mean. Truth is where one appeals to voters’ heads, by using “facts”. The other thing, which has no name other than “post-truth,” appeals to voters’ hearts, using “emotions”. What a poor anthropology this is, where human emotions are divorced from the facts of being human. Any anthropologist who uses the phrase, “post-truth,” does not deserve to be called an anthropologist at all, because they have essentially abolished anthropology. A truth that denies that humans often understand facts emotionally, and that emotions can generate facts, is no truth at all. The real “post-truth” then lies among those who coined the phrase “post-truth” in the first place.

This movie makes no bones about which side owns “the truth”: the Remainers. The movie shows the Remain campaign desperate to counter Brexit with, in their own words, “the truth”. The truth is not shared, equally accessible to all—it is the special preserve of an equally special class, the class that has the Nobel prize-winning economists on their side. The Remainers are shown complaining about the media giving any air time to opponents—there is a deep yearning for censorship. It is all about virtue against democracy. The Remainers own “expertise”—and the other side owns the ignorant ingrates who forgot their duty was to obey by believing the experts, regardless of their many mounting failures. This is precisely the kind of movie that is not needed now (or ever); it merely invites more scorn and can only validate the resentment of Brexit supporters (and judging from reviews posted online, it has).

The voice of the establishment—Craig Oliver, communications director for Prime Minister David Cameron—describes Cummings as “basically mental”—“just an egotist with a wrecking ball”. And the voters are Frankenstein: “There’s the danger… of having unleashed something which we can’t then control”.

The voters, shown in focus groups, are cast as either ignorant and bumbling fools, or overly opinionated extremists. We are meant to see voters as a pathetic, troubling mass. If we cannot abolish the vote, and the voters, then we should at least try to do so. If moviegoers thought that, then the movie would have succeeded in achieving one of its aims.

One needs to be familiar with the conventions of British entertainment television and the movie industry, obviously in the hands of elites with an axe to grind, to understand how working class voters are shown. This is the same industry that produces things like Coronation Street and The East Enders, or My Name is Lenny (2017), which portray working class people as freakish, mutant rogues. They are either malicious with contorted expressions, or simple dopes who look like they are permanently suffering a stroke. Lacking truth, so they lack goodness and beauty too. We are thus back at “post-truth,” the cherished trope of a neo-Aristotelian class that claims a monopoly on virtue, that tolerates vast inequalities and produces a teleology to justify them.

Does History Need a Sock Puppet?

The filmmakers also resort to using the Cummings character as their sock puppet, having him mouth lines critical of the referendum as “a really dumb idea”—which is what the filmmakers think, and what they want us to think. Here is fake Cummings:

“Referendums are quite literally the worst way to decide anything. They’re divisive. They pretend that complex choices are simple binaries… and we know there are more nuanced and sophisticated ways out there to make political change and reform, not that we live in a nuanced or political age, do we? Political discourse has become utterly moronic, thanks to the morons who run it…. But there it is. If that is the way it is to be, then I will get us across the line, in whatever way I can”.

This is meant to be the honest, hidden, inside appraisal said in secret—so we think that it’s the truth.

The Cummings character then styles himself as a political “hacker,” entering the “back door,” to “re-program the political system”. It’s all covert, dishonest, and there is a sense of illegality. Meetings are always secret, surreptitious, cloaked—classic conspiracy stuff. Having abolished the will of the voter, the film now abolishes the vote. It’s an expression of a deep desire: for Brexit to have never happened, for the vote to never have been allowed. That’s all. It’s crude, and transparently obvious to even a half-awake viewer.

It was not the only time the filmmakers used Cummings in a contradictory role, that made no sense for the movie. They had this supposed algorithmic genius of online data mining look all disturbed and scared as an American explained to him the new politics of data. He turns and looks at people walking by, using smart phones and tablets, as if they were alien invaders. The final act of sock puppetry was when the filmmakers had Cummings mutter that Nigel Farage is, “a moronic little cunt”—their script, their view. Keeping it classy.

All About Trump?

Of course, there had to be a Trump angle—there is a Trump angle to everything now. We are thus presented with some whispering conspirators from America, in the figures of Robert Mercer (financier), and the Dark Lord himself, Steve Bannon of Breitbart, shown entering the UK to intervene on the side of Brexit. Then we hear “Cambridge Analytica”—the British, not Russian firm that allegedly masterminded Trump’s online campaign. Of course, none of this is true: Robert Mercer never went to offer help with Leave; and, Zack Massingham, the Canadian whose company boasted having a cutting edge date-modeling program, never provided it to the Leave campaign. It’s too bad Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles were not alive to act in this film—their presence could have vastly dignified this poor attempt at film noir. Albert R. Broccoli would have made a more believable film, with more credible villains.

How to Abuse One’s Viewers with Misdirection and Mystification

This movie works by building a chain of misplaced concerns and misidentified problems. That is how mystification works. The “problem” (fake) is with the fear-driven, resentful working class—not their exploitation, marginalization, and even vilification by the privileged. The “problem” (fake) is with nostalgia—not with the current climate being so bad it makes everyday people miss the past. The “problem” (fake) is with hatred—because the problem is always with the response to what has been provoked by those who hold the power. The “problem” (fake) is with xenophobia—not with a system that taught them pride in being British in the first place, that colonized the world, and for centuries looked down on others with contempt. The fact that huge numbers of refugees were entering Europe—fleeing the regime change wars that Europe helped to manufacture by participating in NATO—only added to the sense of an urgent crisis. Engineering a massive influx of immigrants when locals are locked out of the labour market is a recipe for social peace—exactly nowhere. The “problem” (not fake, just misleading) was that Jo Cox, Member of Parliament, was assassinated in the lead up to Brexit—the problem was never that Cox herself backed ever escalating violence in Syria to promote catastrophic regime change in the name of “humanitarianism”. The “problem” (fake) is with the previously apathetic being marshalled to come out and vote—not the fact that they were previously ignored, impeded, and so generally turned off by the dominant politics. The “problem” (fake) is with crafty data miners who know their business—not with the asymmetry in access to information that props up the political system, or the fact that every political campaign exploits data. The “problem” (fake) is with the lying politicians on their side—not the lying politicians on all sides, who get away with lying because the system refuses any corrective mechanism to ensure accountability. And on it goes. When you opt for ideology instead of analysis, you get garbage.

Lessons Not Worth Teaching

So what are the “lessons” of the film? One is “data is power”—actually, data is just data, but anyway. The idea here is that Britain was a “lab experiment” for a new politics based on data mining. Is it bad to gather data about voters? But then why would it be bad? Should one not try to understand voters and what they want? In a system that bars ordinary people from making decisions even about the basic, immediate, day-to-day aspects of their lives, and that permanently distances and silences them except for a few seconds at a ballot box every few years—how many other ways does the system allow itself to hear from them? Does it matter even, if you can effectively criminalize the mere act of gaining knowledge about voters? Even this movie itself repeats the fact that one side—Remain—had access to the national voter database, while the other side had Cummings try to build an alternative from scratch. If there was a conspiracy, it was here, in this lopsided and unfair distribution of advantages, which the Brexit side overcame. Was Brexit wrong to overcome this data disadvantage?

Did only one side mine online data? Was only one side guilty of “spin”? How much did the Remain campaign spend, compared to the Leave campaign? In fact, the Remain campaign outspent the Leave side by millions of pounds. The movie makes no mention of that fact, nor of the private investors backing Remain, and has little to say about their key influencers. The people with the most votes, spent less money (and won), and they came under investigation for campaign finance violations.

If viewers were truly shocked, chilled, appalled, etc., by what they saw in this movie, then what has stopped them from militating for the total abolition of the advertising industry? Advertisers and PR firms have been doing what this movie shows for generations now. Why the sudden raising of a hue and cry? Why is the outrage so selectively focused on a pinpoint example? Because it’s a dishonest pseudo-critique. That’s one of the things you get when ideology substitutes for analysis.

A second lesson of the film appears to be that the Brexit side was backed by shady financiers—with agendas that are not made clear to us. So who backed the other side? Is there an innocent and pure party here, which the filmmakers neglected to present? Was it the Brexit side that invented the structure of private financing of public political campaigns?

A third lesson has something to do with voter apathy, and the ability of one side to tap into the huge mass of people that regularly refuse to vote in elections in our societies (which would include myself). The crime here appears to have been Brexit’s ability to bring out such persons to vote—as if they found a secret list of dead persons and padded voter rolls. Reducing voter apathy thus becomes something like rigging an election. Yet the quest for the non-voter seems to have failed altogether with Trump: a plurality of eligible voters refused to actually vote. The real winners of the popular vote in the 2016 US presidential elections were precisely those who refused to come out and vote.

The final lesson, with which the movie closes, is that the real problem with the referendum was that it had two sides to it, when ideally it should have had only one: stay. A “crime” was committed by the other side working as if they actually wanted to win. Indeed, the movie closes with the statement that, “in 2018, the Electoral Commission found the Vote Leave campaign guilty of breaking Electoral Law. Leave.EU were subsequently referred to the National Crime Agency for investigation into breaches of Electoral Law”. Had the country in question been Venezuela, the headlines would have read: “Authoritarian regime cracks down on opponents”. In fact, the investigations had not opened by the time the film was made and, more importantly, the movie itself shows absolutely nothing about how the Leave campaign violated said law. One would think that is a major omission.

Accidentally Intelligent

“We’re asking voters not to reject the status quo, but to return to it”. The only really intelligent point the movie made, was one done quickly and only in passing—it seems to have been by accident, so it may be wrong to ascribe “intelligence” to the filmmakers. The point was this: the real contest in 2016 was not between the status quo and a “disruptive” insurgency, but between two status quos: the present status quo versus those preferring the status quo ante. In other words, it was effectively a conservative vs. conservative fight. Neither side proposed any revolutionary transformation, of anything really. It was a clash between those clinging to what was known and tried—the only difference being where their preferences fell on an historical timeline. In other words, the Remain vs. Brexit fight was between preservation and restoration, both of which are conservative positions. Now the two sides have been reversed: the pro-Brexit side is struggling to ensure that Britain remains on track to leave, while the pro-Remain side imagines the EU in utopian terms and occupies itself with, “lament, regret, and nostalgia for an imagined arcadian past in which the EU was a land of milk and honey”.

Similarly, in the US Trump was cast as the candidate nostalgically pining away for the lost days of American glory. However today he is campaigning with a new slogan: “Keep America Great”. Joe Biden instead presents himself as driven by the nostalgic need to restore the old order. Just wait until Biden delivers a blistering speech about life in America under Trump—Fox News is certain to denounce him as the “doom and gloom” candidate who offers a picture of “Midnight in America” (just as the others did with Trump).

The best “lesson” of the movie was the one that was unintended, and it is revealed by how the movie backfires on its makers. This movie is a reminder of why dominant interests so richly deserved to lose—and not necessarily that the other side deserved victory. Brexit has been very “profitable” in at least one sense: it has revealed a dysfunctional UK, quasi-governed by inept, visionless elites, incapable of containing a crisis of their own making. Remember: these are the same elites that turn around and lecture other countries about democracy and good governance, and that bomb other nations in the name of human rights. If anything, Brexit was not a mean enough defeat: much more is needed.

May 21, 2019 Posted by | Film Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | Leave a comment

David Attenborough’s BBC show would better have been called “Climate: Change The Facts”

Reviewing “Climate Change: the Facts” | April 21, 2019

… If you are going to present a film called Climate Change: the Facts the very least you should be doing is, well, presenting the facts. Well here they are, in two of the areas which made up such a hefty part of the film: wildfires and hurricanes. Are wildfires increasing? They are according to Attenborough. One of the scientists who takes part in the programme, Professor Michael Mann of Penn State University, goes as far as to say there has been a “tripling in the extent of wildfires in the Western US”. He is not specific about his evidence for this claim, nor said over what timeframe wildfires are supposed to have trebled, but it is not a fair assessment of the data collected by the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA). This shows no upwards trend in the number of wildfires in the US over the past 30 years.

But then again, go back further, to the 1920s, and you see that both the number of US wildfires and acreage burned in them has plummeted.

That is nothing to do with the climate – more down to firefighters getting better at tackling fires. But that reduction in wildfires – which, after all, were occurring naturally long before Europeans arrived in the US – has brought with it a problem: deadwood is not being cleared out at the rate which it used to be. As a result, when a wildfire does take hold, it tends to be a more powerful fire, which is one reason large acreages tend to get burned when fires do take hold. That was a large part of the debate which followed the wildfires in California last November.

But I know what will have entered the heads of many of Attenborough’s viewers: that wildfires are being caused by climate change and that is that. […]

The same will be true for hurricanes. If you are a child, for whom hurricanes are a novel phenomenon, watching the film will have given you the impression that hurricanes are pretty much a function of man-made climate change. A voiceover, indeed, makes the claim that climate change is causing ‘greater storms’. But again, the data on cyclone activity in the Atlantic, Gulf and Mexico and Caribbean does not support that idea. Figure one shows a very slight upwards trend in the number of hurricanes occurring in these waters but a flat or perhaps slightly downwards trend in the number of hurricanes making landfall in the US. There are two other methods of measuring hurricane activity which are used by the EPA. The first, the accumulated cyclone index (figure two) shows no obvious trend over the past 70 years. The second, the ‘power dissipation index’ shows an upwards spike in the early years of this century, followed by a reversion to mean since then.

Not that this seems to prevent documentary-makers like Attenborough resorting to footage of houses being demolished by winds and lorries being blown off bridges to show the supposed climate change we are already experiencing.

It is little wonder that terrified kids are skipping school to protest against climate change. Never mind climate change denial, a worse problem is the constant exaggeration of the subject. I had thought David Attenborough would be above resorting to the subtle propaganda which others have been propagating, linking every adverse weather event to climate change. But apparently not. — Ross Clark, The Spectator, 20 April 2019


… [W]e have already seen what can happen when ‘panic’ determines policy: the introduction of measures conceived by a need to be seen to be doing something under pressure from groups such as Extinction Rebellion.

Without making this clear, the film revealed one of the worst examples of this unfortunate effect. A powerful sequence showed an orangutan, fleeing loggers who have been eradicating Borneo’s rainforest.

This is disastrous for both wildlife and the climate because, as the film pointed out, a third of global emissions are down to deforestation, because giant trees lock up a lot of carbon.

But why are Borneo’s forests being cut down? The reason, as Attenborough said, is palm oil, a lucrative crop used in products ranging from soap to biscuits. Unfortunately, he left out the final stage of the argument.

Half of all the millions of tons of palm oil sent to Europe is used to make ‘biofuel’, thanks to an EU directive stating that, by 2020, ten per cent of forecourt fuel must come from ‘renewable’ biological sources. Malaysia says this has ‘created an unprecedented demand’.

To put it another way: misguided ‘action’ designed to save the planet is actually helping to damage it – although the EU has pledged to phase out palm oil biofuel by 2030.

Another example of a misconceived effort to save the planet is Drax power plant in Yorkshire which is fed, thanks to £700 million of annual subsidy, by ‘renewable’ wood pellets made from chopped-down American trees – while pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere than when it burnt only coal.

In theory, the trees it burns will be replaced – but a large part of its supply comes from hardwood forests that take 100 years to mature.

There are times when climate propaganda – for this is what this was – calls to mind the apocalyptic prophets of the Middle Ages, who led popular movements by preaching that the sins of human beings were so great that they could only be redeemed by suffering, in order to create a paradise on earth. Perhaps this is how Attenborough, nature journalism’s Methuselah, sees himself. But climate change is too important to be handled in this manner. It needs rational, well-informed debate. Too often, cheered on by the eco-zealots of Extinction Rebellion, the BBC is intent on encouraging quite the opposite. —David Rose, Mail on Sunday, 21 April 2019


… A former top executive at the BBC has warned that it is “at risk of being eaten” as new figures reveal that more than 880,000 television licences were cancelled last year. Cancellations among the under-75s rose from 860,192 in 2017-18 to 882,198 in the period from March 2018 to the end of February, new data shows. Mosey, 61, criticised the dumbing-down of news and “the nonsense put on social media by BBC” staff.  —The Sunday Times, 21 April 2019

April 21, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Film Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science | , | 2 Comments

The Brink-a film review by Eve Mykytyn

Introduction by Gilad Atzmon

Steve Bannon is probably the most unpopular character as far as progressives and liberals are concerned. People who like to see themselves at the Left side of the political spectrum regard Bannon as a vile hateful character as well as a rabid antisemite. Yet, symptomatically or even tragically, those who detest Bannon shy away from tackling his populist mantra. This is rather concerning considering the fact that Bannon has proven to be a shrewd political tactician and even a kingmaker. It is probably Bannon who carries the prime responsibility for Trump’s successful presidential campaign. Those who are fearful of Bannon revert to name-calling: they slalom in between his ideas with the hope that no one notices. They do their best to avoid anything that may evoke thinking or resemble reasoning. It is not a secret that those who currently claim to advocate social justice are apparently too fearful to engage with substance but they fail to do so in the name of social justice.

In the following film review Eve Myktyn tells us about Alison Klayman’s The Brink. Mykytyn went to the film hoping to learn more about Bannon but it seems she left the cinema knowing more about Klayman’s phobia of the man. If those who call themselves progressives want to sustain relevance, sooner or later they will have to engage in a proper intellectual exchange as name calling, misquoting and crude editing tactics do not do justice to social justice.

A film review by Eve Mykytyn – April 04, 2019

Steve Bannon may well be, as he is often called,  the ‘architect of evil.’ But Alison Klayman’s mystifying documentary, The Brink, which sets out to “[use] Bannon’s own words and behaviors to reveal his hypocrisy and expose the danger he poses to liberal democracy” fails to show Bannon as hypocritical or dangerous.

The film begins with Bannon talking about a journey he made to World War II’s concentration camps. He notes that the Birkenau concentration camp was built using the finest of German engineering and wonders how ordinary Germans could get together and plan such a site. Perhaps Klayman felt that she couldn’t cut this otherwise disconnected scene because it showed Bannon to be an anti Semite, although he was simply musing about how a concentration camp came to be built. Is any question about any aspect of the Holocaust verboten? Apparently so, The Forward  interprets Bannon’s remarks as: “rhapsodiz[ing] about the precise engineering of one of the most evil thing humans have ever created, the Birkenau extermination camp.”

Instead, of engaging with Bannon’s avowedly nationalist politics, much of the film is devoted to a fly-on-the-wall view of Bannon’s daily routine. Bannon eats and drinks (a combination of Red Bull and a disgusting mess of green ‘diet’ juice), speaks at rallies, poses for photos, meets with nationalist leaders in Europe, touts his propaganda movie, and texts and talks endlessly on the phone: so much film time is devoted to the quotidian aspects of Bannon’s life that the shrewd and divisive political operative is reduced to boring.

Klayman attempts to score a point by asking Bannon where he is, so that she can report that he is on an airfield for private planes. Is Bannon’s not particularly luxurious private plane, filled with his allies and journalists really relevant to the larger debate?

The film follows Bannon to Toronto where he appears for a formal debate with David From on the proposition that the “future of western politics is populist, not liberal.” This is finally the real debate. Is it ‘country first’ or do we have a responsibility to all without regard to borders? The debate can be found here (the first 10 minutes of chatter can be skipped): the exchange between two articulate men whose views are antithetical to each other is well worth the time. Tellingly, The Brink does not show the debate, instead we see the effects that Bannon’s presence evokes. The protests outside the debate are portrayed as huge and scary, inside Bannon gently confronts hecklers, whose poor behavior he comically attributes to an ‘ex-wife.’ That’s it. The Brink apparently feels no need to counter Bannon’s views or even better, simply show From’s effective dissent.

When the film does allow Bannon to articulate his thesis, it is in a brief scene in which Bannon is speaking to a rally. In it, Bannon states that the benefits of citizenship should be distributed only to citizens, without regard to race, religion or sexual preference. This is the core of the populist nationalist movement that helped elect Donald Trump and has scored victories in Britain, France, Belgium and Sweden. Bannon’s current project is to knit together like-minded counter globalists from Europe and the United States.

The Brink’s opposition to nationalist populism is left to Guardian reporter Paul Lewis who accuses Bannon of using “anti-Semitic tropes,” then interrupts Bannon’s denial. Bannon insists that there’s nothing nefarious about using the term “globalist” or criticizing George Soros for the NGOs he funds. Vogue claims Bannon uses the term globalist “with a wink and a nod… as a stand-in for Jews.” Bannon’s movement is opposed to globalism. Is there a non anti Semitic way to oppose globalism?

Just  in case anyone failed to understand the intended message, the film ends with a stirring homage to the current crop of new representatives with the background picture of Washington, DC lit in rainbow hues. Apparently, a diverse group of new congressmen and women is a refutation of Bannon and what he stands for, too bad that The Brink fails to explain why that may be so.

April 4, 2019 Posted by | Film Review, Video | | Leave a comment

UK Intel Planned Massacre at Catholic School – Former Ulster Paramilitary

Sputnik – February 20, 2019

Former Royal Ulster Constabulary officer and Ulster Volunteer Force operative John Weir has claimed British military intelligence initiated a plan to carry out a massacre at a Catholic primary school in County Armagh in the 1970s.

Similar claims were previously made by fellow former RUC officer Billy McCaughey, now deceased, who was in 1980 convicted along with Weir for the murder of a chemist in Ahoghill in 1977.

Weir, a member of the UVF’s notorious Glenanne Gang — a secret alliance of Ulster loyalists who carried out shooting and bombing attacks against Catholics and Irish nationalists, and are linked to at least 120 murders — made his incendiary allegation in the new documentary Unquiet Graves, which premieres in Belfast 21 February.

He says “the plan was to shoot up a school in Belleeks”, in retaliation for the January 1976 Kingsmill massacre of January 1976 in which 10 Protestants were shot dead by the IRA — the plot was formulated in order to make the Troubles “spiral out of control” into a full civil war. It was only cancelled because the UVF leadership considered it a step too far.

The allegation has been corroborated by the Historical Enquiries Team.

Years in the Making

Unquiet Graves is the work of filmmaker Sean Murray, who spent four years researching and producing the project. He suggests “hawks” within British intelligence were responsible for the plot, and “there was an internal power battle going on” at the time.

“There were people who would have been against that, but the hawks wanted a gloves-off approach to the IRA. It’s quite revealing the UVF were unwilling to go through with this. Films like this are the only viable option for some semblance of the truth for victims, particularly against state violence,” he added.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has recently been criticised for not releasing files to the Police Ombudsman related to the 1992 mass-shooting in Sean Graham bookmakers, in which five Catholics — including 15-year-old James Kennedy — were murdered by the Ulster Defence Association.

“Trust needs to be built for both communities to move on. I viewed [loyalist groups] as de facto paramilitary groups. I’m still willing to speak and work with former members to move forward. It’s OK to sit in 2019 and reflect that these people were psychopaths. In many ways, they were born into an era when this was sanitised. It was normal behaviour in many working class areas. I think admitting this is a great justice to the victims. Without [Weir], I’m not sure a lot of families would get some semblance of truth,” he concluded.

March 9, 2019 Posted by | Film Review, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | | Leave a comment

The Kursk Disaster: Facts Sunk Beneath Waves of Drama

By Maximilian C. Forte | Zero Anthropology | March 5, 2019

At the turn of the millennium a trilogy of disasters gained a high profile in the international media. First, in July of 2000 the fiery crash of Air France’s Concorde flight 4590 from Paris to New York ended not just many lives (109 persons), but also the plane’s career. Second, on August 12, 2000, there was the sinking of Russia’s Kursk submarine, with 118 sailors killed in the tragedy. Third, and probably much less memorable now, on August 27, 2000, a fire high up in Moscow’s Ostankino Tower saw its spire dangerously tilting as if ready to collapse live on camera as seen around the world; two people died in that incident. It was almost as if this would be a preview of the much more breathtaking collapses of the twin towers of the World Trade Center just a year later. Accompanying the millennium disasters were a series of blockbuster disaster movies, which included James Cameron’s 1997 movie: Titanic. Let’s not forget the pretend disaster that was supposed to have been the infamously ridiculous “Y2K Bug,” a hoax in every respect except the billions of dollars transferred to the pockets of IT consultants for unnecessary preparations.

The sinking of the Kursk is now memorialized in a European film released late in 2018, by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg. It features an all-European cast that includes Max von Sydow playing the role of “Admiral Vladimir Petrenko” (in reality this was Navy Commander-in-Chief and Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov)—this is the part of the “bad guy”; Colin Firth, playing the role of Commodore David Russell—the “good guy” in the film; also noteworthy, Matthias Schoenaerts playing the role of a fictitious Mikhail Averin who appears to have been based on the real world character of Captain-lieutenant Dmitri Kolesnikov.

Not being a Hollywood film, this is not a straightforward propaganda film (as one might suspect of a Western media production dealing with a Russian subject, in the current context). However, it is still a big-budget feature that plays loose with certain facts, more by inflating and amplifying some aspects while minimizing others. It is aimed at US and European audiences primarily. Had it been intended as a direct condemnation of Vladimir Putin—who had then been president for only a few months when the Kursk disaster happened—the filmmakers could have simply stuck to the recorded facts. Instead, the film actually removes Putin from a key incident shown in the film—a Russian navy briefing to the grief-stricken families of the sailors—and replaces him with an imaginary admiral played by Max Von Sydow.

In reality, Putin vacationed at his seaside villa for several days as the disaster unfolded, before returning to Moscow and attending that disastrous gathering with sailors’ families. At that gathering Putin was directly and loudly challenged, a shouting match ensued followed by scuffles, and one family member was famously dragged out after being surreptitiously injected with a sedative by a nurse in civilian clothes. Reality was ugly enough that there would have been no need for propaganda. On the other hand, it’s not clear that Putin himself was adequately informed by the military, who claimed to have the situation under control.

The impressions that stood out for me as one viewer watching the film, were: (a) the inhumane, obstinate refusal of encrusted military brass to accept foreign assistance, preferring to instead indulge obsolete paranoia and outdated conspiracy theories about the West; and, (b) the sheer magnitude of incompetence and degradation that makes one wonder whether Russia even deserves to have a navy. The loss of the surviving sailors is shown as preventable, a needless tragedy—if only Russian naval brass had not consisted of Jurassic-era dicks, sinister Stalinist throwbacks, and snivelling cowards. Navies are for serious, developed nations of the civilized world—not for rust-bucket states on their last legs. It’s not an accident that I thought these things: they are monumental features of the film that simply cannot be avoided, and were deliberately produced by the filmmakers.

One way to achieve these effects is by playing with the facts, in this case by maximizing what is one possible yet extreme interpretation of what transpired beneath the surface of the sea: that the sailors survived for days before finally succumbing. By stretching events out over a period of days, the filmmakers only amplify the needless tragedy of the delays caused by steadfast Russian refusals of foreign assistance—which then gave way to accepting foreign assistance (so not even that narrative is stable). In actuality, experts can find little evidence that those who survived the initial blasts lasted much longer than three to six hours.

On the other hand, I have to confess that my inner populist reacted positively to the film focusing heavily on the sailors, their heroism, courage, altruism, and self-sacrifice for their comrades. These were the workers. They did their job, even though they were not getting paid and were all struggling to survive in a climate of delayed back wages. The focus on their wives and children was also appropriate, showing where and how they lived, their apartments, the laundry hanging from tiny balconies in grim-looking residential towers overlooking the sea, neighbours huddling together over tea, consoling each other. These are the people who really mattered, and it is my main praise for the film that it maintained this emphasis.

However, going past populist appeal, what magnifies the tragedy in this film is Russian rejection of foreign assistance. Had the Russians accepted foreign help, immediately, before even trying to do things themselves, then the men who waited—allegedly for days—might have been saved.

The reality is more likely one where even if Russia immediately accepted such aid, it would have taken too long to reach the survivors, who had all died just three to six hours after the initial blasts. The film enters the territory of propaganda if—as seen in the present—it is meant to suggest that Russia is to blame for Cold War II. Russia did not start this new Cold War, and that fact should be as plain as day. It was not Russia that ended cooperation with the West, that walked out on peace treaties, that booted itself from the G8, that terminated various forms of cooperation and exchange. It is Russia that is constantly pleading for more diplomacy, and less aggression. What the film shows is the opposite of that—something that is instead like the US after Hurricane Katrina, which rejected offers of humanitarian assistance from nearby Cuba.

The questionable nature of the film then is its thematic logic, which essentially breaks down into the following points:

  1. You are inadequate.
  2. You must therefore accept foreign help, because you’re no good to yourself.
  3. Foreign help saves lives.

It is a basic “humanitarian” ethic, and in this present context where the US is trying to ram tiny bits of junk aid down the throats of the same Venezuelans whose economy the US is smashing, it is a message that will still resonate with audiences untrained in thinking critically.

But what if we instead read the events as a logical chain of events and causes, shaped by history? Then we would get something that takes us back to some “uncomfortable” roots of the problem, roots that implicate Western powers. Thus,

  1. What happened to the Kursk? The technical aspects were the subject of considerable debate, and the facts are hardly settled—even down to disputing the argument that an overheating torpedo exploded prematurely.
  2. Why was the Kursk out at sea? Given NATO’s steady expansion in what was formerly the Warsaw Pact, its move toward incorporating the Baltic republics, and its bombing campaign against Serbia (a Russia ally), the Russians clearly felt a pressing need to mount a show of force.
  3. Why was the Russian Navy in such a parlous state? Budget cuts. That is, austerity, caused by an economic meltdown, brought on by the sort of “shock therapy” that was deliberately pursued by Boris Yeltsin (Washington’s man in Moscow), and pushed by the International Monetary Fund. The Russian state, pre-Putin, had cut back on all sorts of public expenditures, basically running the state-owned sector into the ground (and into the arms of oligarchs). GDP contracted by about 40%, unemployment soared, as did food and fuel prices, and life expectancy tumbled—this was the reality of Russia under neoliberalism, as pushed by the US and Western international institutions. Russia also suffered from a financial crisis in 1998, a direct outcome of its over exposure to international capitalism.
  4. Why was Russia melting down? This would take us to the complicated sequence of events following the demise and fragmentation of the Soviet Union (USSR).
  5. Why did the USSR collapse? Not that there is anything like a consensus about the ultimate determinants of the demise of the USSR, the most common explanations advanced include as a key factor the structural fatigue brought on by the Cold War arms race, and the USSR’s international over-extension as it tried to counter the US/NATO at every move.

The fact of the matter is that we can see a similar break down transpiring in the US, not just in terms of economic destruction and social division, but also in terms of cities exposed to toxic pollution from radioactive waste dumps connected to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Thus we will soon have a review here of Atomic Homefront, much delayed already. In Russia’s case, much of the destruction of the 1990s was countered by the reforms introduced by Vladimir Putin, to great effect, depending on the observer, which no doubt accounts for his continuing high popularity rating among Russians (well past the highest ever achieved by Obama).

Had the film followed a logical and historical chain of causes and consequences, then the message of the film might have changed substantially:

Don’t threaten countries that you first subjected to stress, because such stress can literally kill.

But then that would be an anti-interventionist ethic, and that ethic is not permissible in our society, which continues to train specialists in the field of “humanitarian intervention,” just as it trains others in the arts of deception, and tries to secure the consent of audiences.

March 5, 2019 Posted by | Film Review, Russophobia | | 1 Comment