George Seldes: Fighting the Corporate Takeover of the Press

Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press

Directed by Rick Goldsmith (1996)

Film Review

Tell the Truth and Run is a tribute to muckraking* journalist George Seldes, released shortly after his death at 104. It takes its title from a book Seldes published in 1952. It includes an extensive interview with Seldes at age 98, detailed biographical sketches and commentary by prominent activists, whistleblowers and media reformers (including Ralph Nader, Daniel Ellsberg and Ben Badikian, Victor Navksy and Jeff Cohen) who were influenced by his work.

Born in 1890, Seldes first became a reporter at 18, just as all major dailies were starting to rely on advertisers (instead of readers) for their funding base. As this occurred, investigative journalists seeking to expose government and corporate corruption began writing for the monthly magazines instead. Bankster JP Morgan and other industrial robber barons put an end to this by buying up all the monthly magazines.

Seldes quit his first job at the Pittsburgh Leader after the publisher spiked a story he wrote about the son of a department store magnate who raped a female staff member.

Following an eye opening stint in the US military press corps during World War I, Seldes became a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He first ran into difficulty at that paper for exposing the violent and corrupt nature of Mussolini’s fascist regime – at a time when the US government and all the major newspapers were pro-Mussolini (owing to banker JP Morgan’s desire to refinance Italy’s World War I debt).

Seldes quit the Tribune in 1927 and published the first two of a series best selling books (You Can’t Print That and Can These Things Be?) based on all his material the Tribune refused to publish between 1918 and 1928.

Between 1940-1950 he put out the weekly newsletter In Fact: An Antidote to Falsehoods in the Daily Press. He would use the newsletter to expose the FBI role in spying on labor unions and  corporate media’s failure to report on 1940s research documenting health problems associated with smoking. He was also the first investigative journalist to expose the role of major Wall Street corporations in supporting Hitler’s rise to power.


* A term applied to American investigative reporters, novelists and critics of the Progressive Era (1890-1930)

 

The Wall Street Elites Who Financed Hitler

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel B

Directed by Oliver Stone

Film Review

Prequel B starts with the period of social repression that followed the return of GIs from World War I. US leaders were extremely concerned they would spread the oral sex techniques they had learned from French women. Alcohol prohibition, a crackdown on prostitution, rampant antisemitism (even Harvard restricted Jewish admissions) and anti-immigrant sentiment, and the eugenics movement (accompanied by forced sterilization of convicts, the “feeble minded” and promiscuous women) were all typical of this intense repression.

During the same period, Wall Street banks greatly reduced their investment in agriculture and manufacture, preferring the easier profits to be had from cheap credit and speculation. In 1929, a disastrous decision by central banks to increase interest rates triggered a deadly global depression, setting the stage for the rise of fascism in Europe.

Back in the US, Generals MacArthur, Eisenhower and Patton charged 40,000 World War I veterans and their families with infantry and tanks and burned their tents. The latter, calling themselves the Bonus Army, were demanding immediate payment of the bonus they had been promised for serving in World War I.

Stone describes the 1930s as a radical period of social experimentation, in part due to Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal social reforms (including Social Security, unemployment insurance, agricultural subsidies, aid to dependent children and Federal paid work schemes), and in part due to aggressive industrial unionization and intense interest on the part of American intellectuals in Russia’s experiment with communism. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would join the Communist Party, while numerous prominent writers (including Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Sinclair Lewis, Richard Wright, Clifford Odets, and Sherwood Anderson) were communist sympathizers.

During the same period, the America’s wealthy elites were more inclined to support Hitler. Key individuals who helped finance the Third Reich include Henry Ford, Prescott Bush, William Randolph Hearst, the Morgan brothers, Allen Dulles (first CIA director) and John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State under Eisenhower). The key US banks involved were Bank of International Settlements, Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan and United Banking Corporation (Brown Brothers Harriman). Specific US companies that provided Hitler with armaments, military vehicles, aircraft, oil and other material support include Kodak, ITT, Dupont, Westinghouse, Standard Oil, Singer, GE, Pratt and Whitney, United Fruit, Singer, Douglas Aircraft and International Harvester.

In 1933, some of these same industrialists would also try to instigate a coup – foiled by General Smedley Butler – to remove Roosevelt from office.

 

The Origins of American Empire – What They Didn’t Teach You in School

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel A

Directed by Oliver Stone (2014)

Film Review

Owing to the series’ great success, Oliver Stone has produced two prequels to his  Untold History of the United States. The first traces the origins of America’s present empire-building spree at the end of the 19th Century.

Stone credits Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward (1861-69) for the launch of America’s imperialist ambitions. Following the US conquest of half of Mexico in 1848, Seward sought to expand US empire even further by conquering Alaska, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Midway.The US would eventually succeed in annexing all of these territories, except for Canada, Haiti and the Dominican Republic – although they only formally possessed the northern section of Columbia, which they renamed Panama.

Then, as now, the US undertook these military adventures at the behest of Rockefeller, JP Morgan, William Randolph Hearst and other Wall Street robber barons. After the severe depression of 1893 (which caused 20% unemployment), they were convinced the only way to prevent further economic instability was to conquer foreign countries for their resources, cheap labor and markets for surplus US products.

During this period, US troops also invaded Cuba, the Philippines, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and China for the benefit of Standard Oil, United Fruit and other US corporations. Stone quotes extensively from General Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket. Butler participated in nearly all of these invasions.

Stone goes on to trace the British, French, US and czarist designs on Middle Eastern oil that were the true basis for World War I and the invasion of Russia by British, French, US and Japanese troops following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I was unaware the US refused to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933, when Roosevelt took office.

My favorite parts of this film concern the brave rebels who opposed this US imperialist aggression despite a brutal federal crackdown on all protest activity: Mark Twain and other in the Anti-Imperialist League, Eugene Debs, Bill Haywood and International Workers of the World, Emma Goldman and Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones).

Wall Street: More Deeply Corrupt than We Thought (No Really)

flash boys

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

By Michael Lewis

W W Norton (2015

 Book Review

 Flash Boys is a true story about front running, the unethical practice of a stockbroker executing orders on a stock while taking advantage of advance knowledge of pending orders from elsewhere in the market.* From the bleak picture Lewis paints, it appears that investors – whether institutional or private – have virtually no way of protecting themselves against front running.

Like Lewis’s 2010 book The Big Short, Flash Boys reads just like a thriller, complete with exquisitely drawn heroes and villains. In this case, the heroes are crusading Canadian banker Brad Katsuyama and the assorted geeks and nerds who helped him start his own stock exchange. Katsuyama started IEX in 2013, after the Royal Bank of Canada and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) refused to support his efforts to expose and end the practice of front running. By purposely slowing their transmission rates, IEX makes it impossible for high frequency traders to “front run” the trades occurring on the exchange. This has enabled Katsuyama to protect investors who use his exchange, while simultaneously collecting data on suspicious trades.

Flash Boys, a bestseller, originally came out in 2014. The 2015 edition includes an afterward in which Lewis describes being viciously attacked by the big Wall Street banks and brokers. He also enumerates a number of prosecutions of high frequency traders and brokerage firms (by the FBI, SEC and Financial Regulatory Authority) resulting from from Katsuyama’s work publicity from Flash Boys’ publication.


*The way this works in practice is you order 10,000 shares of a stock at a given price and a high frequency trader somewhere buys 10,000 shares at that price and resells them to you at a slightly higher price. Complex computer algorithms enable high frequency traders to exploit minute differences in transmission frequency to execute these secret trades – which usually take place in “dark pools” – private stock exchanges which keep no public record of their trades. All the major investment banks (Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America etc) have dark pools and high frequency traders pay for the privilege of trading in their dark pools.

Reclaiming Our History

plutocracy

Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States

Scott Noble (2015)

Film Review

As German philosopher Walter Benjamin famously stated, “History is written by the victors.” In the US, most history books are written by and for the corporate oligarchs who run our government. Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history from the perspective of the working class. Part II (Solidarity Forever) will cover the late 19th Century to the early twenties. The filmmaker is currently seeking donations to complete the project. If you’d like to help, you can donate to their Patreon account.

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at Plutocracy

Plutocracy starts with Shay’s Rebellion in 1786, the insurrection of Massachusetts farmers against the courts and banks that were fleecing them of their meager wealth and property. Similar rebellions in Rhode Island and Virginia would cause leading US bankers, merchants and plantation owners to organize a secret convention to create a central government and standing army. Each of the 13 original states, which in 1787 were still independent and sovereign, sent delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Instead of revising the Articles, as authorized by their state legislatures, the delegates closed the meeting to the public and voted to replace them with a federal constitution. The latter substantially limited the freedom and power of state legislatures and ordinary Americans.

Plutocracy moves on to cover the massive Irish immigration of the mid-nineteenth century and the appalling squalor so-called “white Negroes” lived in. During the 19th century, 80% of babies born to Irish immigrants died in infancy.

The film touches only briefly on the Civil War, describing laws that enabled robber barons like John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt to evade the Civil War draft by paying a poor person $300 to replace them.

It offers a detailed depiction of post-Civil War Reconstruction, which coincided with the 1871 Paris commune and saw blacks collaborating with poor whites to establish the South’s first public schools and hospitals. This was in addition to the election of numerous former slaves to judgeships and legislative positions.

Their eagerness to return Negroes to productive status on plantations led northern industrialists to pressure Congress to end Reconstruction by removing the federal troops protecting the rights of former slaves. It also led to their passive acceptance of unconstitutional Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism. The chief aim of both was to prevent poor backs and whites from associating with one another.

The federal troops withdrawn from the South were redeployed in genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and Mexicans. By the end of the 19th century, not only had Mexico ceded half their territory to the US (including California, Texas, Utah, Nevada and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Montana – in the 1984 Treaty of Guadalupe), but US corporations enjoyed de facto control of all land remaining under sovereign Mexican control.

Stripping the Native Americans and Mexicans of their land in the West, readied the US for the rise of the robber barons of industry (Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and Vanderbilt) and a corrupt system of federal and local government run entirely by bribery and patronage.

The corruption and squalid living conditions of the late 19th century would give rise to militant trade unionism, socialism, anarchism and populism. Plutocracy depicts the Pullman and similar strikes in which strikers were brutally beaten and killed by Pinkerton’s Detectives and other goons hired by industrial bosses, as well as national guardsmen and, on several occasions, federal troops.

The film opens with a poignant depiction of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history. It’s the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, involving 10,000 coal miners. Denise Giardini memorializes the Battle of Blair Mountain in her 1987 novel Storming Heaven.


*Rockefeller and Morgan had a relative monopoly on the banks, Carnegie on steel and Vanderbilt on the railroads.

 

The 161 Bankers Who Run the World

In following video, Peter Phillips from Project Censored lays out exactly how the richest one-thousandth of 1% maintain iron control over all world governments.

He cites a study Project Censored published in their Top 25 Censored Stories of 2012-2013 edition of the world’s most “integrated”* corporations and those with the largest financial asset concentration.

Unsurprisingly, there’s considerable overlap between the two groups.

The 161 board members of the top 13 companies control $28 trillion of wealth. They also help the 1% hide another $30 trillion offshore so it can’t be taxed.

They’re 88% white (and nearly all male) and 63% come from the US or Europe.

They work with secret (and not so secret) groups, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, the Bohemian Grove, the World Economic Forum, the G7, the G20, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to ensure that the domestic and foreign policy of all western governments benefits themselves and the capitalist investors they represent.

They also ensure that the national security state, busy killing people in 130 countries, acts in the exclusive interest of transnational capital. The fascist coup they engineered in Ukraine is only the most recent example.

They regularly engage in illegal conspiracies but are always too big and powerful to jail.

Here are the top 13 companies identified in the study:

1 BlackRock US $3.560 trillion
2 UBS Switzerland $2.280 trillion
3 Allianz Germany $2.213 trillion
4 Vanguard Group US $2.080 trillion
5 State Street Global Advisors (SSgA) US $1.908
6 PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Company) US $1.820 trillion
7 Fidelity Investments US $1.576 trillion
8 AXA Group France $1.393 trillion
9 JPMorgan Asset Management US $1.347 trillion
10 Credit Suisse Switzerland $1.279 trillion
11 BNY Mellon Asset Management US $1.299 trillion
12 HSBC UK $1.230 trillion
13 Deutsche Bank Germany $1.227 trillion

*The researchers use the term “integrated” to describe financial corporations with major holdings in key  non-financial sectors (i.e. energy, defense and mass media).

Speculating with our Food

In 2011, “food derivative” speculation replaced financial derivatives as the hot new investment promoted by major investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. According to numerous studies, food speculation rather than shortages, are the main reason for skyrocketing food costs.

The really scary news is that in addition to speculating heavily on food commodities, these same private equity funds are also buying up huge tracts of land in the third world.

The Great Land Grab

A 2009 research project by the Oakland Institute (The Great Land Grab) reveals startling facts about the corporate land grab in the third world – another major factor in skyrocketing food prices.

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), foreign investors have secured more than 50 million acres of African farmland to develop factory farms for export crops. In addition to investment banks and private equity funds, multilateral agencies, such as the International Financial Corporation (the private sector branch of the World Bank), are also major players in the “corporatization” of global agriculture.

The IFC plays a dual role in increasing private investment in the third world – via direct investment and by pressuring developing countries to create “business enabling environments.” Another World Bank agency, The Foreign Investment Advisory Service (FIAS ), also plays a role by pressuring third world governments to improve their “investment climate,” by relaxing environmental, tenant rights and food security laws and abolishing tax and duties on foreign investments.

Africa is the major target, both for western investment banks and booming Asian economies, driving tens of thousands of subsistence farmers off land they have farmed for generations.

Corporatizing the Global Food Supply

A UK company started in 1997, called  Emergent Asset Management, claims to be the largest speculative fund investing in African industrial agriculture. It uses private equity to take control of large tracts of African farm land. Their prospectus attracts investors by predicting a armed conflict between the West and China will trigger mass food shortages – accompanied by price spikes that guarantee a handsome return to investors. Emergent’s founders, Susan Payne and David Murrin are former high level traders for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan – well-known as the architects of food derivative speculation.

Emergent’s direct control of large amounts of agricultural land – combined with its ability to attract investors through its equity fund – puts unprecedented control of the global food supply in private hands. It does so by creating a new type of vertical integration, in which a single company controls vast amounts of land, food production and processing — while simultaneously inflating global food prices due to the speculative nature of the fund. As you can see in the video Emergent uses in their pitch to investors:

The Perp Walk – the 1% Have Names

In 2011, the Oakland Institute fingered other millionaires and billionaires grabbing African land via unscrupulous deals with corrupt village leaders (who sign away communal land rights without community consultation) – and by helping to orchestrate armed attacks on families who refuse to leave their land. At the top of the list are

Bruce Rastetter — CEO of Pharos Ag, which has bought more than 300,000 hectares in Tanzania for large-scale food crop, beef, poultry, and biofuel production. This project will displace tens of thousands of civil war refugees awaiting Tanzanian citizenship.

Leonard Henry Thatcher and David Neiman — runs Nile Trading and Development (NTD), which has bought 600,000 hectares in South Sudan through a secret agreement with influential locals who went behind the backs of other community members.

Kevin Godlington — (close associate of former prime minister Tony Blair) CEO of Crad-l and Director of Sierra Leone Agriculture (SLA) and its parent company, the UK-based CAPARO Renewable Agriculture Developments. SLA has bought 43,000 hectares in Sierra Leone to plant palm oil plantations.

Enter the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The March 31 Guardian reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (along with USAID and the Dutch and Danish governments) are backing a new World Bank scheme to further industrial agriculture at the expense of the smallholder farmers who produce 80% of the food consumed in the developing world. The new program is a ranking system called the Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA).

Here’s what the Our Land is Our Business campaign, organized by the Oakland Institute and like-minded food rights groups, has to say about the BBA:

“Despite a language that claims concerns for small farmers, the goal of this new agriculture-focused ranking system is far too clear: [to] further open up countries’ agriculture sectors to foreign corporations. The doing business [rankings] give points to countries when they act in favor of ‘ease of doing business’. This consists of smoothing the way for corporations’ activity in the country by, for instance, cutting administrative procedures, lowering corporate taxes, removing environmental and social regulations or suppressing trade barriers.”

People can sign on at Our Land is Our Business to send a message to the World Bank about looking after people rather than corporations.