Posts Tagged ‘reagan’

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.


*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.

 

The Heist: Who Stole the American Dream and How We Can Get It Back

Directed by Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher (2012)

Film Review

The Heist traces the banking regulations Roosevelt enacted during the Great Depression – with the goal of preventing future economic cataclysms – and the systematic dismantling of this regulation that commenced in 1971. The documentary credits this deliberate attack on the financial regulatory system for the 2008 meltdown, the decimation of American unions, the total control of federal government by Wall Street corporations, and the most unequal economic system in the world.

The filmmakers date this orchestrated attack on US financial regulation to the Powell Memo,* which the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable seized on to launch twelve right wing pro-business think tanks (including the CATO Institute, the American Enterprise Institutes and the Heritage Foundation). Funded by six families, these foundations were created with the deliberate aim of capturing business schools and the media with fundamentalist free market ideology. They proceeded to lobby all levels of government for tax cuts on the rich, as well as financing focus groups and psychologists to develop propaganda persuading blue collar workers to vote against their own interests.

In 1980, they succeeded in convincing large numbers of blue collar Democrats to vote for Reagan. In addition to implementing tax cuts for the rich that created the largest federal deficit in US history, Reagan also repealed the Fairness Doctrine,** opening the door to a radio talk show market 90% dominated by right wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh.

Guided by the Powell Memo, right wing Democrat Bill Clinton repealed the Glass Steagall Act,***, deregulated derivatives trading, gutted the Federal Communication Commission’s authority to regulate media monopolies, and sped up the outsourcing of US jobs through the enactment of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which created the World Trade Organization).

Obama would prove even more pro-business than Clinton, with his refusal to prosecute the banskters he bailed out, his appointment of GE CEO Jeffrey Imelt (a notorious job outsourcer) to head the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, his promotion of the myth that Social Security is insolvent, his deregulation of private pensions, and his support for the Transpacific Partnership (TPP).

The film features great clips from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Paul Craig Roberts and Ross Perot (speaking out against NAFTA during his 1992 presidential campaign).


* The Powell Memo was a memorandum Lewis Powell prepared at the request of the Chamber of Commerce. It remained secret until after his appointment to the Supreme Court. The Powell Memo

** The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, requiring the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the Commission’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced.

***The GlassSteagall Act, passed by Congress in 1933, protected customers’ deposits by prohibiting commercial banks from engaging in investments. It was enacted as an emergency response to the failure of nearly 5,000 banks during the Great Depression.

 

 

Adam Curtis Forced Hypernormalisation BBC

Directed by Adam Curtis

Film Review

Curtis, one of my favorite documentary makers, has a unique ability to conceptualize and describe the collective psychological conditioning the political elites subject us to – and the unintended consequences  of their use of public relations (as opposed to diplomacy and statecraft) to retain power. In this fascinating documentary, he explores the link between the rise of Putin and Donald Trump, the Brexit vote in Britain and the fabricated War on Terror. He also explains Syria’s critical role in this process, dating back to Hafeez al-Asaad (1970-2000) and his dream of unifying the Arab world against western exploiting.

The Concept of Forced Hypernormalisation

According to Curtis, “forced hypernormalisation,” is a term coined by the Soviets to describe a psychological control technique in which politicians retain power by projecting a vastly oversimplified view of world. Curtis maintains that Ronald Reagan was the first president to embrace this version of popular control, as he projected US foreign policy as a simple matter of good vs evil and encouraged Americans to withdraw from frustrating social and political concerns by focusing on their individual selves.

Curtis begins his capsule history of forced hypnormalisation with the invention of the strategy of suicide bombing by Hafeez al-Asaad and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini (when he was losing the Iran-Iraq WAR). Al-Assad (using Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia) would force US troops to withdraw from Lebanon with a dramatic suicide bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

Through the 1980s, Syria would engage in several other dramatic anti-US suicide bombings. However because Reagan felt retaliation against Syria was too risky (due to the support al-Assad enjoyed from other Arab leaders), he would blame Gaddafi, who other Arab leaders viewed as a madman, and bomb Libya instead. Gaddafi, eager for the notoriety, was always happy to take the credit.

Incessant Shapeshifting in US and British Foreign Policy

Thus a pattern emerged where US and British foreign policy became an indistinguishable mixture of fabrication and reality. The public got their first clear view of this strategy with the fabricated reality (ie non-existent weapons of mass destruction and non-existent links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaida) used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This film also includes an intriguing account (the first I have seen from mainstream media) of the 30+ year Air Force Intelligence campaign to promote popular belief in UFOs.

Putin and Non-Linear Warfare

Curtis contends Russian information specialist Vladislav Surkoff, one of the dozen or so technocrats who keep Putin in power, is also a master of this ceaseless shapeshifting geared towards undermining people’s perception of the world. It is nothing for Surkoff to simultaneously promote Russia’s antifascist movement, nationalist neo-Nazi groups, human rights groups and the Russian Orthodox Church. In foreign policy, the Russians refer to this approach as “non-linear warfare, and they have used it in the Ukraine and Syria. The end result is the west never really knows what their real intentions are.

Enter Donald Trump

Donald Trump is also a master at this type of shapeshifting, with his unique blend of extreme right wing racism and anti-corporatism.  He’s notorious for constantly reversing and contradicting himself, and his speeches are a complex mixtures of facts. The fact he’s so difficult to pin down makes it extremely difficult for the media to attack him.

The Mena Connection

Directed by Terry Reed (1985)

Film Review

The Mena Connection establishes unequivocally that both Vice-president George H. W. Bush and Governor Bill Clinton had direct involvement in the CIA’s cocaine smuggling operation at Arkansas’ Mena Airport during the 1980s. Aircraft loaded with illegal weapons for the Contras in Honduras returned to Mena with tons of Columbia cocaine used to finance the operation. Reprising documentary evidence Reed presents in his 1994 bestselling book, Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA , the film also establishes that Clinton also deliberately obstructed investigations into Mena by local and federal prosecutors and the IRS.

Half the documentary is devoted to exposes a local Arkansas TV reporter and a WMAQ (Chicago) reporter did on cocaine smuggling at Mena during the congressional investigation into Iran Contra.* The other half consists of lengthy interviews with whistleblower Terry Reed and his wife Janis.

An experienced Vietnam War pilot, in 1983 Oliver North recruited Reed to participate in The Enterprise, a CIA operation to assemble and deliver untraceable weapons to Contra rebels fighting to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Reed also trained Contra pilots in “night flying” – landing without runway lights – on a remote mountainous airstrip eleven miles from Mena.

According to Reed, the CIA shut down the Mena operation shortly Iran Contra scandal broke in 1986, shortly after movingthe guns-for-cocaine operation to Mexico. Soon after Reed moved his family to Guadalajara, his CIA control order him to participate in the cocaine smuggling side of the operation. Things got nasty when he refused to comply and submitted his resignation. The Department of Justice attempted to frame him and his wife for drug smuggling.

They spent the next two years fighting the conviction. Following their 1991 acquittal, Reed filed suit against Arkansas law enforcement and Clinton administration officials who had framed him. Both Reed and Arkansas Congressman Bill Alexander, whose efforts to obtain a General Accounting Office investigation into Mena were blocked by the CIA, believed the lawsuit would lead to Clinton’s impeachment.

In a roundabout way it did. Owing to CIA interference, it proved impossible to impeach Clinton for cocaine smuggling or money laundering. Ultimately the only charge Congress could make stick was lying under oath about a sexual affair with a White House intern.


*The Iran Contra Affair was a political scandal in which senior Reagan administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to Iran (an enemy state) to secure funding for CIA-sponsored Contras in Nicaragua.

Berkeley in the Sixties

Directed by Mark Kitchell (2002)

Film Review

Berkeley in the sixties is a documentary about the history of 1960s Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement (FSM). Prior to watching the film, I had no idea that Youth for Goldwater helped start the FSM, joining forces with left leaning groups in 12-18 hour strategy meetings aimed at a university ban on political information tables. By necessity, these meetings made decisions by consensus. Decisions based on majority vote always engendered the risk the losing minority would walk away.

In 1963, the FSM would collaborate with black civil rights leaders in a massive civil disobedience that forced San Francisco hotels to end their discriminatory hiring practices.

Following this initial victory, the FSM oriented their protests against the Vietnam War, inspiring similar actions by tens of thousands of students at campuses across the US. In 1967, they successfully shut down the Oakland army induction center for five days.

The documentary also explores the FSM collaboration with the Oakland Black Panther Party in the Free Huey movement, their tenuous linkages with the CIA-fabricated  (see How the CIA Used LSD to Destroy the New Left Haight Ashbury counterculture movement and their involvement in the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

There is some great footage of Berkeley President Clark Kerr and Governor Ronald Reagan behaving like assholes.


*Newton was framed for the manslaughter of Oakland police officer John Frey during a Panther gun battle with the police. He was ultimately released after three unsuccessful attempts to convict him.

Part 8 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States covers the Ford, Carter and Reagan presidencies.

The Ford Presidency

Gerard Ford, appointed to the vice presidency after corruption charges forced the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, assumed the presidency (with Nelson Rockefeller as vice president) when Nixon resigned in 1974. Ford’s most notable foreign policy was to end the détente* negotiations Nixon initiated with the Soviets to minimize the risk of nuclear war.

The Carter Presidency

Peanut farmer and former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter narrowly defeated Ford in 1976 on a platform that promised to end the arms race, reinstate détente negotiations and end US military intervention in third world countries.

According to Stone, Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (also Obama’s long time member) destroyed Carter’s presidency by forcing Carter (who had no foreign policy experience) to renege on his election promises. Under pressure from Brzezinski, Carter refused to return the Shah to Iran for trial following the 1978 Iranian revolution,** as well as restoring military aid to El Salvador’s right wing dictatorship in 1980 and secretly funding and training a jihadist Muslim insurgency to oppose the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The Reagan Presidency

Like Carter, former California governor Ronald Reagan also had no foreign policy experience and allowed anti-communist CIA and Pentagon hawks to fill this vacuum. Under Reagan, CIA director William Casey stripped the CIA of any officials who resisted his policy of falsely blaming the Soviets for CIA-inspired terrorist activities. Casey also started the illegal Contra army that tried to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected government, in addition to funding and training death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala to assassination union officials, intellectuals and human rights advocates. Casey and National Security Council member Oliver North also initiated the illegal arms deal with Iran that financed the Contras after Congress discontinued their funding.

In 1985 President Mikhail Gorbachev approached Reagan about negotiating a bilateral disarmament package that would phase out all nuclear weapons by 2000. Initially receptive, Reagan rejected Gorbachev’s condition that the US keep their Strategic Defense (Star Wars) Initiative in the lab. Reagan also refused Gorbachev’s proposal to participate in a joint peacekeeping force in Afghanistan following Soviet troop withdrawal.

Reagan left office in 1988 in disgrace over the Irangate scandal. He was also responsible for doubling the national debt, thanks to a massive increase in military expenditures coupled with sizeable tax cuts. In 1985, the US switched from being a creditor nation to being the biggest debtor nation.


*Détente is defined as the easing of hostility or strained relations between countries.

**This decision would cost Carter the 1980 presidential race when Iranian militants took 52 US Embassy employees hostage in 1979.

Part 8: Reagan, Gorbachev & Third World: Rise Of The Right

Buy, Buy Europe

Pieter De Vos (2013)

Film Review

This is a five-part miniseries describing how European banks have hijacked the euro monetary union to vastly increase their wealth. The upcoming Brexit vote in Britain makes this a particularly relevant topic.

Part 1 A Bank Crisis a Week

The series begins by describing the history of the European monetary union. Built at the height of neoliberalism it adopted all the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan promising that globalized capitalism and free markets would end economic crises, increase prosperity and end inequality.

What really happened is that creating the euro massively increased inequality between northern and southern Europe and between workers and the super rich.

In seeking to make European banks as strong and competitive as US and British banks, Eurozone leaders ceased regulating them. Wall Street is often blamed for the EU’s 2008 meltdown. In actuality, deregulated European banks were equally guilty of risky speculation in derivatives and subprime mortgages.

Following the 2008 economic crash, European banks required massive government bailouts to keep European economies from collapsing. Promised banking reforms to prevent a recurrence of 2008 never happened. And according to the IMF, the global banking system is even more unstable today as it was right before the meltdown.

Part 2 Austerity Till the Grave

The bailouts required to keep their banks (and economies) going virtually bankrupted all Eurozone governments. All borrowed deeply (from the global banking system they had just bailed out) to keep their governments going. As a condition of this borrowing, the banks required them to reduce their deficits via deep austerity cuts. To qualify for further loans, they all cut pensions and benefits and laid off public service workers.

This segment focuses on Spain, where workers are organizing to block evictions, and Greece, where unemployed parents are forced to drop their kids off at orphanages because they can’t get welfare benefits to support them.

Part 3 Tax Haven Europe

This segment begins by profiling the Greek shipping magnates who run the largest merchant fleet in the world and pay virtually no tax. Corporations and the super rich pay far less tax than working people in all the EU countries. This massive tax avoidance forces all European governments to acquire major debt to keep from collapsing.

The documentary offers the example of Belgium, where the average tax rate is 12.5% and the most profitable corporations pay only 5% of their earnings in tax.

The filmmakers maintain that workers create wealth, though I doubt most neoliberals would see it that way. In 1981 Europe, 74% of the wealth workers created was returned to them as wages and government benefits. By 2012 only 49% of this wealth was returned to them and the super rich claimed the rest.

Part 4 Bratwurst, Lederhosen and Minijobs.

This was the most eye-open segment for me. It exposes the punitive conditions imposed on German workers from 2000 with the goal of making German export industries more competitive. Under former chancellor Gerhart Schroeder, massive wage reductions were imposed on all German workers – something IMF chief Christine LaGarde likes to call “labor market reform.”

Among other labor “reforms,” were a massive increase in “minijobs” – low wage part-time temporary positions that pay an average of 400 ($US 448) euros a month. Given Germany’s high cost of living, both parents need to work 2-3 “minijobs” (if they can find them) to cover a family’s basic needs.

The result was truckloads of cheap German imports flooding into southern EU countries (Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy), shutting down local industries that couldn’t compete.

In this way, Germany’s vicious attack on their own workers forced wages down in other EU countries. This, in turn, forced countries like Greece and Spain to borrow lots of money from German banks to keep their governments going.

Ironically Germany currently has the highest number of working poor (7 million) of all EU countries.

Part 5 What Kind of Europe Do We Want?

It’s vital for people to understand that the mantra EU governments repeat ad nauseum – that saving the euro is essential to strengthening the EU and restoring prosperity – is pure propaganda. Seven years of austerity is massively increasing deficits and debt by putting so many people out of work.

The truth is that the Eurozone has been hijacked by banks and multinational corporations who are determined to use trade agreements to lock member countries into austerity and statutory destruction of Europe’s proud tradition of democratic socialism.

The only solution is a public takeover of too-big-to fail banks. Continuing to bail them out, while allowing them to privatize all the profits, is simply legalized theft of public monies. And a yes vote on Brexit.