How the Rich Ate South Korea: how the chaebol have dominated South Korean politics and economy since 1945

“How the Rich Ate South Korea” (Asianometry, March 2022)

One paradox regarding South Korea’s economic success over the past 60 years is that (as this mini-documentary observes) one factor in that success is turning out to be a major curse. Moreover that factor may well become a cause of the country’s downfall as an economic power. South Korea’s economy is dominated by a group of large corporate conglomerates known collectively as the chaebol. These conglomerates are familiar to Westerners with names like Hyundai and Samsung, and (in earlier years) LG and Daewoo. These companies had their origins in the 1940s – 1950s, when South Korea’s first president Rhee Syngman began privatising state enterprises and enterprises seized from Japanese owners in order to raise money to fight the Korean War. The prices that buyers paid for these enterprises were determined through private negotiation. After 1961, when Park Chunghee seized the presidency, he enlisted the help of the chaebol in his goal to emulate Japanese economic success: the companies supported his import substitution policies and his ambitions to develop export industries, and the South Korean government gave loans to the chaebol at below-market rates. Over the next couple of decades, the South Korean government favoured the chaebol with economic “reforms” that also had the effect of suppressing the country’s medium and small business sectors. By the 1980s the wealth inequalities that had appeared between the families that owned the chaebol and the rest of the South Korean public – who also wanted better environmental regulations and working conditions, and a better quality of life – were becoming a major political issue.

After Park Chunghee’s assassination in 1979, South Korea was taken over by a military government and the chaebol supported the presidencies of Chun Doohwan and Roh Taewoo by throwing money at them. In 1987, the country became a democracy but rules for political campaigning and their funding were either weak or non-existent, and the chaebol took advantage of this situation to penetrate democratic politics and buy parties and politicians by financing their election war chests. The chaebol were rewarded by the politicians they bought via “reforms” such as regulations that favour them, protections from foreign competition and legislation that allow them to access foreign capital financing. Other “reforms” affected the chaebol’s organisation structures that allowed members of the families that owned the chaebol to own shares in many subsidiary companies and thus exercise more control over more companies. Cross-ownership (in which companies hold shares in one another) was allowed. Many of these so-called “reforms” were to lead to economic meltdown in 1997 as a result of the companies’ over-exposure to debt.

Although reformist Presidents like Kim Daejung and Roh Moohyun tried to curb chaebol abuses by limiting debt capacity and cross-shareholder structures, these changes did have the unintended effect of concentrating ownership in a number of industries to the extent that some industries became monopolies. In 1997, there were five independent Korean auto-makers; after that year, there was just one: Hyundai. In the early 2000s, the chaebol took advantage of a neoliberal global economic environment to expand their markets and huge profits began rolling in. After 1997, an agreement between the Korean government and the chaebol allowed the chaebol to start laying off people in droves with the result that hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs and poverty, especially among older people, escalated rapidly.

Although the Korean voting public has tried to bring to power politicians who can solve the country’s economic problems and reduce poverty and wealth inequalities, leaders like Lee Myungbak and Park Geunhye have failed to curb the excesses and greed of the chaebol. At the same time, the national government has failed to enforce laws and regulations that the public has long demanded be strengthened and which the chaebol resist. At the time this mini-documentary was made, chaebol power over South Korean politics and the resulting consequences and tragedies (such as the sinking of the MV Sewol ferry, killing 304 passengers including 250 high school students, in April 2014) continue to be the prime issue in South Korean society.

South Korea’s economic success story mirrors that of Japan during the late 19th / early 20th centuries and one can argue that South Korea is now in a position similar to Japan’s in the late 1940s: Japan solved its crisis by breaking up the zaibatsu (admittedly because the US post-war administration insisted on this) and replacing the institutions and networks associated with the zaibatsu with looser arrangements. It is obvious that the chaebol also need to be broken up but in the current global economic context, in which neoliberal economics favouring centralisation of power in larger institutions dominated by small yet powerful elites prevail, what should replace the chaebol is the major problem: South Koreans need to ensure that whatever organisations or arrangements replace the chaebol do not themselves turn into a new generation of chaebol in everything but name.

The mini-documentary is well made with good, often quite lavish visual material made up of photographs, archived film and aerial scenes of metropolitan Seoul. It serves as a useful introduction into the history of South Korea and its economic development. Where the video could be improved is in noting that despite the rampant corruption in politics and economy, the country still prospered and this is due to the hard work and sacrifices made by the Korean people themselves as factory workers, medium and small business owners and employees, public servants, employees in logistics companies, and in other occupations supporting these workers.

What Eating the Rich did for Japan: a useful introduction to Japan’s modern economic history

“What Eating the Rich did for Japan” (Asianometry, October 2021)

In this mini-documentary on the Asianometry Youtube channel, the history of the zaibatsu – the huge industrial conglomerates owned by a small number of family clans in Japan from the late 19th century well into the mid-20th century – and their growth, leading to their eventual demise and break-up, is examined. The origins of the zaibatsu lie in the Meiji Restoration, when Japan abolished the Shogunate in 1867 and began to Westernise its politics, economy and society to avoid Western colonisation. Initially economic reforms and the building of infrastructure were bankrolled by the government but when these proved to be hugely expensive and bankruptcy threatened, the government privatised many of its more lucrative enterprises including the Miike Coal Mine. These were bought up by merchant families, some of which were descended from samurai, and the profits earned from their acquisitions enabled the families to accumulate fortunes that allowed them to buy more assets. The zaibatsu developed through vertical integration in the industries in which they had bought their original assets: for example, owning a coal mine might lead to owning the industries that depended on coal for fuel; or owning a factory making steel might lead to owning the minerals and other raw materials – and the mines from which these were obtained – needed for manufacturing steel. Manufacturing steel led the zaibatsu to make products that used iron and steel as their major materials: ships, trains, railway lines, motor vehicles, various household goods such as whitegoods. All these activities required financing so the zaibatsu also established banks and insurance companies to cover their costs and the risks involved in their financing.

As they grew, the zaibatsu took on government contracts to produce needed manufactures, especially for Japan’s armed forces. Through the early 20th century, the zaibatsu came to dominate Japan’s economy and supported the Japanese government’s imperialist drives in eastern Asia and beyond in the 1930s and 1940s. After the Second World War, the zaibatsu were broken up and dissolved, and the zaibatsu families’ wealth was reduced through various reforms such as reforms in the financial sector that limited the families’ ability to own controlling shares in public companies, land reforms and nationalisation of particular industries.

The documentary is lavishly illustrated with colourful photographs, film stills and archival visual materials, all presided over by a voice-over narration that details the rise and fall of Japan’s zaibatsu and the families that owned and controlled these conglomerates. The narration is rather fast and viewers might need to re-watch the documentary to catch some details.

The major problem with this documentary is that it more or less ignores the wider political context in which the zaibatsu grew: there is little mention of Japan’s decision to pursue imperialist adventures in northeast Asia and in the rest of China and in Southeast Asia, and how the zaibatsu eagerly responded to the demands of imperialism and then of war. The documentary also does not say that after the Second World War, much of the impetus to break up the zaibatsu and distribute their wealth more fairly among the Japanese people came from the occupying US administration. Additionally there is not much information given as to how much the Japanese people really benefited from the limited break-up of the zaibatsu.

The Korean War and the ensuing Cold War put a stop to total dissolution of the zaibatsu, and new forms of corporate growth such as manufacturing for export and informal links forming between companies (usually by buying shares in one another) leading to their becoming incorporated into a bigger corporation, though in a much looser way, enabled some old zaibatsu corporations like Mitsui and Mitsubishi to recover their fortunes. Yet there is little mention of how a revival of the zaibatsu corporations’ fortunes depended a great deal on Japan’s new role in the Cold War as an economic bulwark against Communism in the Soviet Union and China.

At the very least the documentary serves as a useful introduction into the modern history of Japan since the late 1800s when the country switched abruptly from pursuing a policy of almost total isolation from the rest of the world, to following a policy that in the space of less than 80 years would take Japan from an economic backwater to a power that could defeat the British empire.

The Chinese Automaker Changing the Market in Africa: auto factory and harbour construction in the spotlight

“China / Africa Big Business (Episode 4: Moving Africa)” (ENDEVR, 2013)

Fourth instalment in a series of documentaries investigating examples of Chinese industrial investment in Africa, this episode follows workers and managers in an automobile plant operated by Beijing Automotive Works Co. Ltd (BAW) in South Africa, and the construction of necessary harbour and port infrastructure in Lobito, Angola, by the China Harbour Engineering Company Group (CHEC), with an emphasis on how Chinese and African interactions benefit and enrich both parties and local African communities.

In the South African part of the episode, South African and Chinese workers and managers talk about their experiences of working with one another, learning Chinese work values and culture, and adapting to local South African product and service needs and expectations. The camera follows these individuals around the factory floor and the episode features close-up camera work of people checking finished parts, tightening screws on components and consulting with one another on various projects. In the Angolan part of the episode, we see not only people and heavy machines at work building the port and storage facilities but also CHEC’s involvement in an environmental conservation project, in training and educating workers in civil engineering, and in sponsoring an orphanage.

As always in this series, the pace is easy-going for a general audience to follow and pick up information. Camera work is consistent as well and features often quite beautiful panoramas of town and city life though sometimes the poverty shown can be stark and confronting for Western viewers. Again, the music and ambient background soundtrack can be intrusive and the voice-over narration has to fight for dominance.

The examples of Chinese investment offered in this episode seem unusual: was there no other place in Africa where Chinese auto companies are also operating, even if in South Africa also? The section on CHEC’s investment in Lobito’s harbour and port infrastructure could have been expanded into an episode in its own right.

I’ve probably seen enough of Lobito in this series that I perhaps should consider putting the town on my bucket list of places to visit before I die, to see how CHEC’s construction work and the work of other Chinese companies covered in the series are progressing.

The Chinese Companies Behind Water Supply in Africa: how Chinese companies transform lives and communities in Angola and Zanzibar

“China / Africa Big Business (Episode 6: Precious Water)” (ENDEVR, 2013)

This South African documentary follows two Chinese corporations on opposite sides of southern Africa in their efforts to supply impoverished rural and urban communities with running water. The first half of the documentary features China Railway Jianchang Engineering Limited (GRJE) building water pipelines and water and sanitation infrastructures to bring running water to communities on Zanzibar Island in Tanzania. The second half of the documentary focuses on the work of Guangxi Hydroelectric Commission Bureau (GHCB) and in particular the work of one of the company’s managers in bringing water infrastructure and a power station to Luanda and Lobito respectively, two major cities in Angola. (Luanda is also the capital of Angola.) In both halves of the documentary, the Chinese companies not only work on constructing pipelines to bring water into communities and take stormwater and sewage out, and provide work and training for local people, but also become involved in social projects the communities need. The GHCB manager interviewed in the documentary has also invested time, money and effort in establishing a farm to provide food and work for people in the Lobito area. GRJE is also helping to build a hotel on Zanzibar and its engineers have consciously incorporated traditional Zanzibari designs and craftwork in the hotel’s construction.

Interviews with Chinese managers and local people in Zanzibar, Luanda and Lobito focus not only on the transformative effect the water infrastructure projects are having on the lives of the people but also on the respect the Chinese and their African partners have for each other. The Chinese respect the hard work and diligence of the African people and the Africans find the Chinese to be reliable and helpful in going beyond the original aims and scope of the water supply and sanitation projects. Voice-over narration provides historical and economic context for the projects; in particular, viewers are made aware of the destructive effects of the civil war that lasted over 25 years in Angola on people’s lives and the conditions they live in. Unfortunately the voice-over narration has to fight the music soundtrack to be heard clearly.

The cinematography is very good with many, sometimes confronting close-ups and panoramic, even postcard-picture views of Zanzibar, Luanda and Lobito. African children figure very prominently in the film, giving it a bright and even sometimes bubbly and optimistic feel.

How Chinese Money is Changing Housing in Africa: a survey of how Chinese companies are transforming African people’s lives and societies through housing projects

“China / Africa Big Business (Episode 2: Building Homes)” (ENDEVR, 2013)

Part of a South African-made series of six episodes on Chinese business investment in Africa, this very interesting and visually appealing documentary looks at how two major Chinese construction companies have gone about building major housing projects in Angola and Tanzania, and furthermore how these two companies have become further involved in improving the lives of the people who have moved into the houses and of the workers employed in building the houses. The documentary uses both voice-over narration and interviews with managers and employees of the construction companies, and the people living in the housing projects to illustrate what the construction companies have done for them and the transformations that have followed.

The documentary is split into three parts for easy viewing. The first part follows the Shanghai Construction Group (SCG) in its construction of mass housing across eight provinces of Tanzania for the Tanzanian Peoples’ Defence Force. A military veteran and his family are given a new house and they marvel at the amenities and the space that they did not have in their previous shabby dwelling. The second part of the documentary surveys a new satellite city, Kilamba City, built on the outskirts of Luanda, the capital of Angola, built by CITIC according to Chinese construction codes and standards. Streets follow north-south and east-west orientations, and buildings are oriented in ways so that harsh sun can be minimised where possible and good ventilation is maximised. CITIC provides an additional service – an after-sale service if you like – in repairing utilities in individual dwellings even where the fault may have been the residents’ fault.

The third part of the documentary covers CITIC’s involvement in helping to improve agriculture, in particular food production and agricultural research, in Angola. This part of the documentary also follows CITIC’s construction of a vocational school to train young people in civil construction, mechanics and electrical work. The episode concludes with CITIC’s sponsoring of a table tennis club for children which extends to bringing out coaches from China to teach the children how to play.

Unfortunately the background music is very loud and drowns out parts of the commentary so much information can be lost and viewers need to repeat the documentary a few times to catch interesting snippets. Apart from this technical fault, filming is very well done and includes panoramic shots of the housing projects and Kilamba City itself to illustrate the huge scale of this particular project and the urban landscaping that accompanies it. A brief bit of historical context is included: after independence in 1975, Angola experienced a long period of civil war and foreign interference which ended in 2002. Much reconstruction needs to be done, employment must be found for people, services need to be provided and it seems that Chinese firms such as SCG and CITIC are not only filling the gaps of assisting in reconstruction, building new infrastructure and providing jobs and vocational training for people, but also addressing people’s needs for schools and providing children with recreation and sport, thus also extending their help and influence into local cultures. Emphasis is on how China and African nations have supported one another in the past and how the Chinese remember and honour the support African peoples have given them – by providing practical help.

The documentary portrays a very positive picture of how Chinese companies are helping Africans lift themselves out of poverty by giving them work and training as well as the housing and amenities they desperately need. Western nations and companies would do well to observe what the Chinese are doing and emulate the best aspects of the Chinese example. Of course one notes that the documentary says very little about what SCG and CITIC might or might not be doing that could be negative, and which the Angolans and Tanzanians could be critical of – for one thing, we do not know who is financing the housing projects or how they or any loans taken out on them will have to be paid for – and one could argue that the film fails to look at the long-term issues likely to arise from the mass housing projects. By focusing on the present, the film could be attacked as pro-Chinese propaganda. One can argue though that private Western developers would not do any better – and would do far worse – in failing to consider even short-term consequences of any construction projects they might undertake in impoverished nations: one only has to see what such companies do in their own nations, and the problems relating to urban design and infrastructures, and failure to connect with local communities that private housing projects often engender.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela: mini-documentary won’t tell you much more either

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela” (ReallyGraceful, 3 June 2017)

Viewers of this very short mini-documentary on Venezuelan politics won’t learn very much about why Venezuela’s current socialist government under President Nicolas Maduro continues to survive despite the country’s poverty and food shortages – nor will they learn anything about what’s actually fuelling the food shortages there. The thrust of ReallyGraceful’s video is to show that the people of Venezuela – and by implication, people in other middle and lower income nations around the world – are caught between two camps of evil, or what ReallyGraceful herself perceives as evil, and that the Western mainstream news media will push their audiences to choose one of these camps (usually the US and its allies) as the good guys. In the film, former President Hugo Chavez and the socialist ideology and structures he implemented in Venezuela are viewed by ReallyGraceful as part of Venezuela’s ongoing problems; at the same time ReallyGraceful correctly identifies Venezuela being under siege by the US and forces allied with it (among them, Israel and the global finance industry including the Bank of International Settlements) as part and parcel of the problem as well.

While ReallyGraceful does well in fingering the dominance of the oil industry in Venezuela’s economy over past decades as the underlying foundation of Venezuela’s recent past and current problems, she fails to note that this dominance is the result of policies made by past politically conservative governments in the country working together with US political and corporate interests to the detriment of Venezuelan people. Such policies privileged foreign oil interests (to the extent that other industries in the country suffered from lack of support and declined) and ignored the healthcare, educational and other social needs of the Venezuelan people. When Chavez became President in 1999, he sought to rectify the dire economic straits of the majority of Venezuelan people by using oil revenues to fund social services and other programs. To his credit also, Chavez tried to diversify Venezuelan industry and support programs aimed at reviving agriculture though with mixed success.

ReallyGraceful notes that food shortages have been severe in Venezuela but fails to realise that, again, the favouring of the oil industry and US oil interests by conservative governments before Chavez led to the decline of agriculture in Venezuela to the point where the country became overly dependent on imports of food, even food staples. For some reason, or perhaps because his time as President was cut short, Chavez never tried to wrest control of food imports away from companies owned by wealthy families and individuals opposed to his government and socialist ideology, and current President Maduro and his government are perhaps too preoccupied in dealing with more urgent issues to be able to address this issue of food imports. The result is that food importers can use classic-economics demand and supply phenomena as blackmail over the general public and create social and economic chaos for the Maduro government.

ReallyGraceful’s anti-socialist stance blinds her to the possibility of Venezuelans as individuals and in groups, communities and non-profit organisations confronting the food shortage issue by growing their own food and organising their own food markets to sell, barter or otherwise distribute food to those who need it most.

I note though that ReallyGraceful ends her film by observing that Venezuela is under pressure from the US and the global finance industry to yield its natural resources to foreign ownership and control. As she always does, she invites viewers to comment on her mini-documentaries, which is her way of admitting that she is open to criticism and counter-opinions.

A case for postal banking in “Taking on the banks: The truth about the Australia Post Cartier watches affair”

“Taking on the banks: The truth about the Australia Post Cartier watches affair” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 19 February 2021)

In this video, the Australian Citizens Party makes a strong case that the Australian government’s sacking of Christine Holgate as CEO of Australia Post for awarding senior Australia Post managers Cartier watches worth $20,000 as performance bonuses masks an agenda to enforce a privatisation of the postal institution which would effectively prevent Holgate from developing Australia Post as a postal bank offering an alternative banking service to the Big Four banking corporations (Westpac Banking Corporation, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Bank of Australia) that would actually benefit all Australians and the Australian economy in the long term. Narrator Glen Isherwood explains how supporting Holgate is an important step in supporting the creation and development of a postal bank that works for the public’s interests, and in forcing the Australian banking and financial industry to clean up the corruption among its largest companies which enjoy oligarchic cartel-like control over the industry.

Isherwood leads off with examples of corruption such as liar loans, faked payslips, forged documents and cash bribes in the Australian banking and financial industry. Liar loans amount to nearly $500 billion and customers have been charged up to $1 billion worth of services they never received. Despite a recent Royal Commission in 2018 uncovering instances of bank corruption and predatory behaviour on bank customers, the Coalition government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed the Commission did not uncover any criminal behaviour that his government did not know about. Isherwood then returns to the topic of Australia Post and Holgate, and reels off how Australia Post saved bank customers across the country when the major Australian banks closed down branches and left many towns and communities without a banking service. For this, Holgate compelled the major Australian banks to pay commissions amounting to $70 million to Australia Post. Isherwood then demonstrates how the Australian government contrived to create a case around Holgate and the Cartier watches to push for her sacking by paying $2 million for a report whose authors Maddocks even admitted Holgate had not engaged in illegal activity but nevertheless found there were no rules governing Holgate’s decision to award the watches to the senior manager (which could be interpreted to mean that she had broken no rules at all).

An interesting comparison between Holgate’s performance as Australia Post CEO and her predecessor Ahmed Fahour’s performance then follows, showing up how effective Holgate has been in turning around Australia Post’s business and forcing the major Australian banks to cough up what they owe to Australia Post. Isherwood’s report is supported by interviewee Angela Cramp, the executive director of Community Licensed Post Offices Group, an organisation representing the interests of the people who are owner-managers of licensed post offices.

At the time of this review, a swelling group of prominent politicians (including Barnaby Joyce and Bob Katter), journalists, analysts and others has come forward to support Holgate. The Australian Labor Party is attempting to distance itself from its early castigation of Holgate and portraying itself as a staunch supporter of Holgate by piling criticism on the Morrison government. Two more interviewees, solicitor Robert Butler and former ANZ Bank director John Dahlsen, discuss Holgate’s performance as CEO: Butler describes the craven behaviour of Board of Directors of Australia Post in supporting privatisation of the Australia Post and desertion of Holgate once her views about Australia Post becoming a postal bank became known; and Dahlsen praises Holgate’s achievements in a difficult working environment.

Using interviews and newspaper articles, the Australian Citizens Party exposes the agenda of the Morrison government and the elites it answers to as a predatory one antagonistic to the interests, needs and desires of the Australian public. Privatising Australia Post would deliver huge profits to a small number of companies and individuals while Australia Post employees lose their jobs and post offices in rural or remote areas are forced to close, leaving communities without banking services. The Australian Citizens Party cites sources such as Daisuke Kotegawa, a former senior Ministry of Finance public servant in Japan, who explains the difference between financial benefit (usually immediate and short-term) and economic benefit (usually associated with major infrastructure projects, and long-term and often hard to quantify), to support its call for a postal bank service. Viewers sceptical that the Australian Citizens Party is cherry-picking and citing sources to support its push for a postal banking service are urged to do online searches on the advantages and disadvantages of postal banking: the article by Mehrsa Baradaran at this link is a good introduction to the topic .

Strategic Flows, by Jacek Bartosiak: stream-of-consciousness monologue on geostrategy and geopolitics

Hubert Wala, “Strategic Flows, by Jacek Bartosiak” (Strategy & Future, 11 January 2021)

Strategy & Future is a Polish thinktank founded by lawyer / speaker / writer Jacek Bartosiak dedicated to stimulating and developing geopolitical thought and strategy for Poland and Central Europe. This film on how connections and flows between and among individuals, communities, organisations, nation states and their networks influence and are influenced by geopolitical / geostrategic concerns. At the level of nation states and their relations with one another, connections and flows which Bartosiak calls “strategic flows” (be they movements of people, trade in goods and services, flows of data, information and technology, and transportation logistics) not only determine the destinies of nations and their peoples but have also been subjected to varying forms of regulation including restrictions and outright bans. In his narration (a transcript of which can be found at this link), Bartosiak draws on history, and in particular recent history from 1945 onwards, to emphasise the importance of strategic flows as a major rationale (if not the major rationale) for the decisions that nations and major powers and superpowers especially make and have made in recent times.

Bartosiak flits between the example of Poland and larger powers such as the US to demonstrate how these nations’ physical geographies influence and determine the decisions they make with respect to defence and allocating resources to their militaries. He states that over the past 500 years, beginning with European nation states traversing the Atlantic Ocean to found colonies in the Americas and to open up trade routes to Asia, the World Ocean has become the major foundation over which global power can be exercised by nations. In the past, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Britain and France all vied for influence over the Atlantic Ocean and its networks and then over other oceans and theirs; since 1945, the dominant power that rules the World Ocean is the United States through its Navy.

European and then US control of the World Ocean produced its antithesis in other nations’ conquests of the Eurasian landmass and the construction of railways to strengthen their control of the lands of the Eurasian heartland. Nations such as Britain and France that were sea powers were also keen to dominate trade networks in regions of the heartland (the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia) to link their colonies with both land and sea routes.

In recent times, US control of the oceans, and the political influence exercised by the US by its military projection, has come to be challenged by the rise of China as a major economic power and as an alternative role model, ideologically as well as politically and economically, for other nations, especially Third World nations, to follow. Bartosiak concludes his talk by stating that a new era of power struggle has begun between China and the US, with China challenging the US in creating a new trade network (the Belt and Road Initiative) across the Eurasian heartland and into Africa and even the Pacific ocean, in disputing and undermining the assumptions underlying the international rules-based order, in determining and controlling narratives about who runs the world and how it should be run, and in presenting an alternative model of economic growth and development that is not dependent on understanding and following Western political ideologies.

I must confess that the transcript is not easy to follow – it does have a stream-of-consciousness direction – and the film is even less easy to follow. Bartosiak’s voice-over narration is very monotonous and his narrative would have been better served in being structured in sections organised chronologically and perhaps starting with Poland and then jumping to the US. The narrative would have been much easier to follow. The continuous background music is unnecessary and is unintentionally soporific. At least the collage of films, much of which is irrelevant to the narrative, will keep viewers awake.

My main criticisms of Bartosiak’s talk are that he appears very selective in choosing facts and other information that support his views, and he makes assumptions about China and Russia – two nations that happen to be designated enemies of the US, and by extension enemies of Poland – that are not supported by facts or later political and economic development. He blithely brushes aside the chaos and poverty Russia suffered in the 1990s as a result of President Yeltsin’s leadership. He interprets China’s BRI ambitions and the nation’s move into developing 5G technology as geostrategic moves by Beijing to break Eurasia away from US domination, ignoring the fact that through economic sanctions on China and other nations signing up to China’s BRI, the US is effectively retreating into isolation of a not-very splendid kind. He ignores the possibility that American military dominance of the World Ocean has come at a significant cost to the American people themselves in the form of decaying infrastructures across the US mainland, the loss of manufacturing jobs to China and Mexico from the 1990s onwards, and the destruction of the US middle classes by their politicians, the US financial industry and large US corporations, all of whom, Bartosiak might have noticed, are linked through money flows and shared ideologies.

If USE blog readers are still interested in watching the film, following the transcript is best recommended – unless they’re watching it as a cure for insomnia.

The Red Dagger: a fiery poem essay narration and diatribe against corruption and oppression

Alan Cox, Heathcote Williams, “The Red Dagger” (2013?)

Presented in six parts on Youtube, British actor / poet Heathcote Williams’ poem essay “The Red Dagger”, a diatribe against the City of London and the part it has played in oppressing humanity across the world since the 1300s at least, is given vivid and impassioned audiovisual life by fellow UK actor Alan Cox who narrates the poem and supplies the montage of art, photographs, film stills and snippets of film and video to accompany his recitation. The red dagger of the title refers to the red sword that appears on the emblem of the City of London and, according to Williams and Cox, represents the dagger used in the murder of Wat Tyler, one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt in England, in 1381 by officers loyal to King Richard II. (According to other sources I have read, the red sword on the emblem is a representation of St Paul, the patron saint of London.) Through the details of Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, in which Tyler and rebel monk John Ball led a movement insisting on social equality, abolishing the political hierarchy supporting the monarchy and ending the feudal system (under which peasants were the de facto property of landlords, bound to their masters’ lands), the poet Williams calls attention to the corruption of the political and economic elites that surrounded King Richard II (reigned 1377 – 1399) and finds parallels with the present City of London, its corruption and its control of the global financial industry, and how the activities of the financial elites impoverish and enslave entire nations.

Parts 1 and 2 of Cox’s fiery narration cover the 1381 uprising of English peasants against the King and his lords, and in itself the uprising as portrayed is very stirring. Whether or not the uprising has lessons for us in the 21st century might be debatable: for one thing, the levels of technology in mediaeval England were low, scientific and other general knowledge was limited, and the manipulation and exploitation that English elites exerted over the peasantry correspondingly were limited to mainly physical means, with some limited brainwashing of people’s minds courtesy of the Christian Church, a significant landowner and itself a major landlord oppressor of peasants. The most significant parts of Cox’s narration are Parts 3 and 4 in which he goes into detail about the extent of the activities and networking of the elites in the City of London and its secretive institutions, the extent to which the City of London controls the British government, its past participation in the British colonial / imperial project and the Atlantic slave trade, and its current participation in trafficking arms to nations with sordid human rights records and the global drug trade. Individuals and businesses in the UK financial services industry take advantage of opportunities to evade paying taxes owed to the government by sending money into offshore trust accounts or transfer pricing arrangements in tax havens. Something of the lavish, decadent culture of the City of London elites, dependent on rich banqueting and the associated networking, fuelled by addictions to drugs, casual sex and use of prostitutes, and possible links to sex trafficking and other sordid underground activities, is revealed in the narration and montage.

Cox’s film and Williams’ poem cover much ground and detail of how the City of London operates and has operated over the centuries, and viewers might well need to see the film at least twice to absorb most details. Being based entirely around Williams’ poem, the film does not give information sources so viewers will need to do their own research to confirm the information about the City of London. (A good start is Nicolas Shaxson’s book “Treasure Islands” which investigates the global scourge that is taxation evasion.) While the poem and film might play hard and fast with some details in parts, and Tyler’s actual rebellion might not have been as utopian, idealistic and socialist as the poem implies, the poetry genre proves to be an ideal format by which Williams (1941 – 2017) brings important political, economic, social and historical information to the general public’s attention.

The film along with transcripts of each part and footnotes giving information sources can be viewed at this link.

The Plot to Destroy Syria: a good overview of the agendas aiming at Syria’s collapse and extinction

Carlton Meyer, “The Plot to Destroy Syria” (Tales of the American Empire, 2 October 2020)

In just over 10 minutes, director / narrator Carlton Meyer lays out quite a detailed context of antagonists and their agendas behind the US-led war against their common protagonist target Syria. This war has been portrayed incorrectly (but deliberately) in the Western mainstream news media as a “Syrian civil war” waged between so-called anti-government opposition groups supposedly fighting for democracy and freedom on the one hand and on the other Syrian government forces loyal to President Bashar al Assad who is always painted as dictatorial. Meyer’s explanation of the background to the war that began in Dar’aa in southern Syria in 2011 is succinct and accurate, and viewers do not really need to know very much more beyond what Meyer states in the video, though a general knowledge of Syrian history since the country became independent of France in the 1940s, with the rise of Hafez al Assad to the Presidency in particular, would certainly help.

Meyer points out that quite a few nations in Syria’s neighbourhood want Assad gone: Israel for one wants to grab territory where Jewish people lived in Biblical times, and this territory happens to stretch from the Nile River in Egypt as far east as Baghdad in Iraq, and from northern Saudi Arabia in the south to Cyprus and much of Syria in the north under the notorious Yinon Plan; Saudi Arabia and the Gulf kingdoms, all Sunni-dominated, do not want an example of a country whose institutions are based on socialist principles and values so close to their own oppressed Shia-majority publics, and their plan for a gas pipeline running through Sunni Muslim territory from the Persian Gulf to Turkey and Europe was nixed by Syria; and Turkey under current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is keen on taking over Syria’s northern border areas as part of a resurgent neo-Ottoman empire. In addition, The United States has long had ambitions to invade Syria as part of a long-term plan under the Project for the New American Century to invade seven countries in the Middle East and northern Africa and seize their energy wealth and mineral resources. Meyer could have noted that all these nations’ ambitions overlap considerably although viewers should be able to see this overlap and realise it will lead to a situation where Syria’s enemies will co-operate to a certain extent where their interests coincide and clash where their interests conflict – with Syrian cities, towns, villages and the countryside as the battleground. Wisely Meyer does not discuss ISIS or Jabhat al Nusra, both of which need their own videos to explain how these groups arose in Syria and how they are funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Turkey, the US, the UK and France.

Maps showing Israel’s Yinon Plan and its designs on the Golan Heights and surrounding areas in Syria and Lebanon, the Sunni gas pipeline (and the pipeline running through Iran, Iraq and Syria that replaced it), Turkey with Syria’s northern border areas added to it, and others make for a very visual history lesson. There are not many live-action films referenced in the video and what there are, are of US politicians during discussion and debate. For the most part the video is well-paced but it does get faster and quite breathless in discussing Bashar al Assad near the end. Assad is portrayed as an intelligent and socially progressive leader who is popular with his people. Ultimately it is due to Assad’s character as a man of integrity that he continues to be President of Syria and to attract the public support that holds the country together and stops it from succumbing to a de facto coalition of invading forces from all around the planet.

The video is worth replaying to get a full picture and understanding of what was originally at stake for Syria and still is, even though the country has defeated ISIS and other invaders and is in the process of steadily reclaiming territory (though the US still holds parts of eastern Syria) and driving terrorists out of Syria through Idlib province. The major stumbling block is Turkey which continues to drag its heels in repatriating the terrorists remaining in Idlib and to harass Syria’s northern border areas. Meyer promises more short films about Syria and the recent war there.

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