J Edgar Hoover: A Textbook Case in Corruption

This is an intriguing documentary about J Edgar Hoover, founding director of the FBI. It’s largely based on an official federal investigation that occurred shortly after Hoover’s death in 1972 and Anthony Summer’s 2013 book Official and Confidential: the Secret Life of J Edgar Hoover.

The film explores Hoover’s long track record of both low level and high level corruption. The former involved his routine use of FBI employees to drive him to private functions and to remodel and redecorate his home, as well as the routine use of taxpayer funds to pay for private vacations. The high level corruption involved his close association with Mob figures to fuel his (illegal) offtrack betting habit.

Hoover was notorious for his refusal to investigate or arrest organized crime bosses during his tenure of office. He consistently maintained the US had no national organized crime problem. This was the major cause of his three year battle with John and Bobby Kennedy – which ended in the JFK assassination.

The documentary also reveals how Hoover forced Kennedy to accept Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, by threatening to release surveillance tapes the FBI had made of JFK’s extramarital affairs.

Hoover undertook this type of illegal surveillance on most, if not, all major Washington political figures. He also routinely made it known to lawmakers when he had compromising files on them. These files made him virtually untouchable despite fairly wide knowledge of his own corrupt activities.

Hoover, in turn, was held in check by senior Mob figures who had photos of Hoover engaged in sexual relations with his lover and lifetime partner Clyde Tolson. Officially Hoover condemned homosexuality as a sexual perversion and banned gays from serving as FBI agents.

The Myth of Internet Freedom

Stare Into the Lights My Pretties

Jordan Brown (2017)

Film Review

This documentary takes an honest look at the dark side of what they call “screen culture.” The notion that the Internet is “free” is a total myth propagated by the corporate PR industry. The Internet has maximized corporate power more than any other technology, while significantly accelerating globalization.  It also enables government and corporations to spy on virtually every aspect of our lives

The overall premise of the film is that technology never arises in a vacuum. Although falsely portrayed as fulfilling our needs and desires., it ALWAYS serves the ideology and interests of ruling elites who pay for its development. Moreover once people allow new technology into their lives, it changes the way they think.

In Stare Into the Lights My Pretties, neuroscientists express concern about the harmful effect of six-plus hours a day of screen time on concentration, memory, problem solving, empathy and collective awareness.

Far more alarming, though, are the social control aspects of screen culture, all the while masquerading as Internet freedom.

Previously I had no idea of the absolute gatekeeping function of giant monopolies like Google and Facebook in filtering information that reaches individual Internet users. Despite the apparent wealth of information that bombards us via the Internet, the average American is less knowledgeable about US foreign and domestic affairs than prior to the 1990s Internet explosion. This mainly relates to sophisticated algorithms used by Google, Facebook, Yahoo News and even the Huffington Post, Washington Post and New York Times to selectively show us information they think we want to see (based on our clicking behavior).

I suddenly understand why climate deniers are so unshakable in their beliefs. When they search for the term, “climate change,” they end up with a totally different set of articles than I do – thus strongly reinforcing their existing beliefs.

Other more sinister elements of this social control relate to sophisticated behavioral modification techniques that addict us to our screens and to get us to click on specific sites and remain there as long as possible. When we use the Internet, we get confused what the real product is. The real product isn’t the web content we are offered – the real product is us and the massive amount of data collected every time we go online. This, in turn, is sold on to corporate advertisers who use it to entice us to buy their products.




The Myths of Capitalism

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.

Spyware: the Latest Growth Industry

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

French Activists Real Target of State of Emergency

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.

Surveillance Canadian Style

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.

Exposing the Myth of Capitalist Democracy

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.