Posts Tagged ‘surveillance’

In The Myths of Capitalism, Michael Parenti explodes the most prevalent myths the ruling elite perpetuates regarding capitalism. Examples include

  • Capitalism produces prosperity – in truth capitalism produces prosperity for a handful of people and poverty for nearly everyone else. Parenti gives numerous examples of this.
  • The poor are responsible for their own poverty and are always looking for handouts – in reality, poverty occurs when the ruling elite privatize resources and public services to increase profits. Wherever capitalism is introduced, poverty follows.
  • Privately run businesses are always more efficient than those that are publicly run – Parenti gives number examples (including the post office, Medicare and Social Security) of government-run operations that have far less bureaucracy and far lower administrative costs than their private counterparts.
  • Capitalism fosters democracy – Parenti demonstrates quite ably how the exact opposite is true. A well educated working class that resists exploitation by exercising their democratic rights is an enormous threat to private profit. The US ruling elite fully supported the Bush/Obama suspension of basic civil liberties, the routine surveillance of the citizenry and the introduction of torture.

Most of the presentation focuses on the corporate crime and corruption and routine economic instability inherent in a capitalist economic system. Under modern industrial capitalism the only way to keep the economy from collapsing is to undertake a permanent state of perpetual war.

The Spy Merchants

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

The Spy Merchants is about the spyware private contractors develop for the US and other western governments and the devious tactics they use to illegally sell various surveillance systems to professional hackers, repressive dictators, corporate spies and terrorist groups.

In this investigation, an undercover Al Jazeera reporters approaches various surveillance manufacturers seeking to buy and IMSI catcher and an IT intercept system on behalf of Iran and the repressive government of South Sudan. An IMSI catcher is a software program that can intercept and control (ie send fake messages on their behalf) all the electronic communications of an individual. An IT intercept system is designed to monitor a nation’s entire Internet traffic. Both technologies can sell for as much as 20 million Euros.*

Surveillance exports are supposedly tightly controlled by US and EU regulations. However, as shown in this film, manufacturers of surveillance software routinely circumvent these regulations by falsifying documents or by shipping their products via a third country or a shell company.


* Except in China – Chinese vendors will sell you an IMSI catcher for $300,000

Paris State of Emergency

Medialien (2016)

Film Review

Paris State of Emergency is a short documentary revealing how French police are using the state of emergency declared in November 2015 to target social justice activists rather than Islamic terrorists.

This has resulted in numerous warrantless house searches by armed SWAT teams, as well as arbitrary arrest and heavy police violence against squatters and peaceful protesters.

French activists find themselves in a similar position as US activists after 9-11 and the passage of the Patriot Act. The latter has targeted vastly more activists than terrorists for surveillance, home invasion and arrest.

The French activists interviewed also complain of heavy infiltration of their organizations by police informants – which explains how French authorities could immediately target key organizers once they declared the state of emergency.

Whoa Canada

Directed by Sean Devlin (2015)

Film Review

Whoa Canada is an expose of illegal Canadian intelligence activities presented in the humorous satirical style of the Yes Men documentaries. The films credits list the Yes Men and Michael Achbar (directed The Corporation and Manufacturing Consent) as executive producers.

The film follows the exploits of the founders of the ShitHarperDid.com website as they attempt to investigate the psychic Harper has hired (at taxpayer expense) as his hairstylist and makeup artist.

These adventures are interlaced with escapades in which they crash closed door meetings between Harper and other members of the Conservative government and their corporate clients and benefactors.

The filmmakers also provide brief factual interludes revealing the extent of the Communications Security Establishment’s (CSE) illegal surveillance activities against Harper’s political opponents, their notorious racial profiling, their infiltration (along with the Canadian police) of the Canadian Occupy movement and the country’s barbarous treatment of First Nations Canadians.

I was particularly intrigued to learn that Canadian telecommunications providers voluntarily turned over data on their subscribers to Canadian intelligence after the CSE paid them over $1.6 million for it ((unlike the US where the government compelled telecoms to turn it over).

When CSE security guards deny them access to the multibillion dollar CSE security complex, ShitHarperDid.com activists hire their own psychic to visualize activities taking place inside the building. Her findings are later confirmed by NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Lifting the Veil: Barack Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy

Scott Noble (2013)

Film Review

Lifting the Veil is a well-crafted expose of the myth of so-called capitalist democracy Based on interviews and archival footage of Senator Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, George Carlin, Glen Ford, Harold Pinkley, John Pilger, Richard Wolfe, William I. Robinson, Bill Moyers and other prominent dissidents, it makes an ironclad case that democracy is impossible under a capitalist economic system.

Using Obama’s extensive list of broken campaign promises as a starting point, Noble convincingly demonstrates how Wall Street corporations have seized absolute control over all America’s so-called democratic institutions. In addition to highlighting the essential role team Obama played in crippling a large, highly vocal antiwar movement, he presents historical examples to reveal how this has been the traditional role of the Democratic Party in the US – to co-opt social movements that threaten the status quo.

The first half of the film focuses on Obama’s 2008 campaign and his long list of promises to reverse specific abuses of George W Bush’s government. In a series of archival clips, we see Obama promising to

• Restore habeas corpus
• Close Guantanamo
• End government secrecy
• End wireless surveillance
• Stop foreclosures instead of enriching bank CEOS
• Expose corporate backers of tax and corporate welfare legislation
• End torture
• End extraordinary rendition*
• Withdraw from Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2011
• Pass banking regulation to prevent a new Wall Street collapse

Besides breaking every single one of these promises, Obama enacted new policies that were even more oppressive and pro-corporate than Bush’s. Among them were an indefinite detention provision in the NDAA, an executive order giving himself power to assassinate American citizens, the new war in Pakistan and Libya and $7 billion in loans guarantees for the moribund nuclear industry.

The film makes the point that the 2008 election was merely a PR exercise in marketing Brand Obama and had absolutely nothing to do with the candidate’s political agenda.

My favorite segments were those in which comedian George Carlin explains to audiences how powerful corporations sucker them into believing they live in a democracy.

The film ends on an optimistic note with a sampling of opinion polls indicating that more than 60% of Americans oppose the pro-corporate agenda Obama has foisted on them: 63% of Americans would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone, 70% oppose nuclear power, 81% want to reduce the deficit by taxing the rich and cutting the military budget and only 3% support cutting Social Security.

The only criticism I would have of Lifting the Veil is that it fails to offer specific solutions for Americans seeking to get their democracy back. The dissidents featured are pretty much unanimous that Americans need to stop looking to electoral politics as a way to reform either government or the economic system. However they are a little vague on what activists should do other than protesting and engaging in civil disobedience. Neither is likely to accomplish significant change without serious organizing and movement building to develop alternatives to the current system of government.

Given a lot of this movement building is already occurring in Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Mexico and South America and it would have been great to see examples of what this looks like.


*Extraordinary rendition is the kidnapping and transfer of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention, interrogation and torture.

dirty truths

Dirty Truths

by Michael Parenti (City Lights Books, 1996)

Book Review

Nearly 17 years old, Michael Parenti’s 1996 Dirty Truths offers an analysis of the national security state that props up monopoly capitalism which is largely missing from scholarly “leftist” literature.

Parenti is one of the few theoretical Marxists to formally acknowledge the impeccable scholarship of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and others in uncovering the role of the national security state in John Kennedy’s murder. Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, the Nation and other high profile mouthpieces for the American left are all highly critical of leftists who subscribe to so-called “conspiracy theory.” In addition to eye opening chapters on the JFK assassination and the apparent 1970 assassination of labor leader Walter Reuther, Dirty Truths also features an excellent chapter on the bloody US-supported coup Russian president Boris Yeltsin carried out in 1992.

 “Selective Fascism”

Most of Dirty Truths is dated and of mainly historical interest. In his introductory chapters, Parenti, a PhD historian whose anti-Vietnam activism ended his teaching career, offers a Marixian analysis of the structural origin of poverty, corporate media censorship, and American military empire that are now taken as a given by most liberal intellectuals. Yet already in 1996, Parenti writes at length about the fascist nature of the national security state and its role as an all-powerful shadow government. Like Chomsky and other media analysts, Parenti believes the modern state mainly uses propaganda and brainwashing to prevent the working class from agitating for social justice. However when ideological control fails, it freely indulges in a a “selective fascism” of unrestrained violence, particularly against minority communities.

According to Parenti, most Americans fail to recognize the fascist nature of the national security state because the corporate media sugarcoats the militaristic violence and brutality that has crept into community policing.

Yeltsin’s 1992 Coup

His chapter on Yeltsin’s 1992 coup casts a whole new light on the break-up of the Soviet Union. In 1992, the corporate media glorified Boris Yeltsin as a hero of democracy when he behaved exactly like the puppet dictators the US props up in the Middle East. After ordering Russian troops to shell the parliament building (while the Russian Parliament still in session) and killing upwards of 1,000 people, he officially disbanded both Parliament and the constitutional court, nullified the new Russian constitution, banned labor unions, jailed all the opposition leaders, abolished city and regional councils and outlawed fifteen political parties. He took these actions when a parliamentary majority voted down some of the “market reforms” Wall Street and the IMF were trying to impose on Russia.

Once Yeltsin had a free hand to end price controls and sell off the state-owned industries (to foreigners and Russian gangsters), the result was an economic disaster that transformed Russia into a 3rd world sweatshop for US investment. The rampant inflation turned the Russian people into instant paupers. This, along with the collapse of the health care system, led to mass starvation and epidemics of typhoid, TB that reduced Russian life expectancy by an average of twenty years.

The JFK Assassination and the Gangster State

Parenti’s discussion of the conspiracy to murder John Kennedy fits neatly into his analysis of the national security state as a large unaccountable state power with a primary purpose of protecting the ruling elite. Any individual or group who poses a serious threat to the corporate elite is automatically subject to neutralization in the form of illicit surveillance, sabotage, infiltration, false arrest, tax harassment, and violence and assassination. I suspect Parenti’s depth of knowledge relates in part to personal experiences as an anti-Vietnam War activist, which he describes at the end of the book. It’s also a matter of public record that the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies enlist the services of mobsters, drug traffickers, and assassins to target peasants, intellectuals, clergy, student and labor leaders and community activities who threaten US financial interests, both overseas and domestically.

Parenti devotes most of this chapter to Oswald’s role as a low level intelligence operative (and patsy) and the aggressive role corporate media has played in suppressing volumes of documentary and research evidence linking the assassination to the national security state.

He’s also highly critical of what he describes as a “conspiracy phobia” on the part of Chomsky, Cockburn, the Nation and other high-profile leftist and progressive publications. He includes excerpts of his lengthy correspondence with Chomsky, highlighting the illogic of the MIT linguist’s principle arguments against serious consideration of the assassination literature: 1) studying conspiracies (supposedly) “distracts” activists from focusing on the structural problems of capitalism, 2) the US government (supposedly) had no reason to assassinate the Kennedy brothers because they were both cold warriors and mainly acted in the interests of the ruling elite, and 3) focusing on assassinations (supposedly) leads activists to idealize the Kennedys and overlook their shortcomings.

Parenti also notes that Chomsky and Cockburn both condemn the meticulous and extensive work of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and other scholars without ever reading any of it.

 Free from the Open Library

I borrowed Dirty Truths from the Open Library. Following registration, borrowers can download a PDF or Epub version of a large selection of books. All have a two week due date and vanish from your hard drive two weeks after you borrow them.