Tuesday, July 19, 2011

History for the Future: Howard Campbell on the Drug War Zone

Howard Campbell on the Drug War Zone
History for the Future

Professor of anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso, Howard Campbell, discusses his book Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez (2009). Based on extensive interviews and discussions with participants in both the drug trafficking industry and in law enforcement, Campbell’s work explores how this powerful, illicit economy operates from the perspective of the people involved. Such a view, Campbell suggests, forces us to call into question easy assumptions about the so-called “War on Drugs,” among much else.

To Listen to the Episode and To Access More Resources

History for the Future: Jason Morgan on “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland

Jason Morgan on “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland
History for the Future

Jason Morgan is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Carnegie Mellon University where he is nearing completion on a dissertation titled: “Counter-Terror Ideology, Paramilitaries, and their Communities in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.” We talk about the origin of “the Troubles,” community relationships to paramilitaries, and “terrorism.”

To Listen to the Episode

Tim Brock: On Rupert Murdoch's Plea of Ignorance in Regard to His Newspaper's Police of Hacking the Phones of Private Citizens

Tim Brock provides the quote of the day:

"No wonder Rupert Murdoch likes George W. They both subscribe to the idea that one man at the top of a large bureaucratic organization is not responsible for what ensures after they establish a culture of stupidity and corruption within the organization."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Revolution: Thoughts on the Casey Anthony Trial

Thoughts on the Casey Anthony Trial

If you live in the U.S., you've been barraged with media coverage of the trial, acquittal (on the main charges) and—as I write this—the upcoming release of Casey Anthony. She is the 22-year-old Florida woman who was accused of murdering her daughter Caylee.

But this is not just "tabloid TV" running amok with sensationalism—as bad as that would be! There was something even bigger and worse going on in this case, and to be honest, it seems that a large majority of people have gotten sucked in by it. That is why I am writing this letter—because I think it is important to see how this case and all the really vicious media coverage fits into attacks on women's liberation, reproductive rights, critical thinking, and into the constantly ramped-up repression of the people and our legal rights.

Let me say from the outset that I do not know how Caylee Anthony died, and neither did the prosecution, the police, or the army of demented TV personalities like Nancy Grace,1 who continue to scream for Casey Anthony's blood. But I do know that the jury came to a correct verdict, which was that the prosecution had not proved its case "beyond a reasonable doubt."2

The New York Times, in a July 5 article, "Casey Anthony Not Guilty in Slaying of Daughter," summarized problems with the prosecution case:

"There was no direct evidence tying Ms. Anthony to the death of her daughter. Forensic evidence was tenuous, and no witnesses ever connected her to Caylee's death. Investigators found no traces of Ms. Anthony's DNA or irrefutable signs of chloroform or decomposition inside the trunk of Ms. Anthony's car, where prosecutors said she stashed Caylee before disposing of her body. The prosecution was also hurt by the fact that nobody knows exactly when or how Caylee died...."

Another point of note is that even with all the resources available to the State, the prosecution could present no evidence that Casey was not a loving mother while Caylee was alive—no reports of her being distant or resentful, much less screaming at, hitting or abusing her.

These are not mere "technicalities"—they are gigantic gaping holes in a case. To put it simply, there was no compelling evidence that Caylee Anthony was murdered, much less that Casey did it, much less with premeditation. Even Marcia Clarke (the O. J. Simpson3 prosecutor), who sharply disagreed with the verdict, acknowledged the weaknesses of the prosecution case, and that the trial was fairly conducted by all involved.

And yet when the jury, which had sat through this for six weeks, reached its "not guilty" verdict, what was the reaction? An outpouring of outrage, anger and literal cries for blood, not only against Casey but even against the jurors, coming from Nancy Grace and friends, and spreading feverishly across the Internet.

Talk show host Julie Chen broke into tears when the verdict was announced; Grace, seeming like her head was going to explode, declared, "Somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight." Marcia Clarke said that this verdict was even more shocking than the acquittal of O. J. On the Internet and Twitter, people said things like: "They should allow stoning just for this matter" and "I hope she dies in hell."

On the day of sentencing, a protester carried a sign reading: "Jurors 1-12: Guilty of Murder," and one of the jurors has already gone into hiding out of fear of attack; death threats have been received by the Anthony family; and special security plans are being developed for the day Casey is released from jail. TV personalities openly gloat that there will be no place in the U.S. where she could live safely and peacefully, and that her life is effectively "over."

All this is not just confined to cable news and tabloids—the New York Times ran an Op-Ed piece by Frank Bruni titled, "A Sordid Cast Around Casey Anthony," which off-handedly declares that Anthony "in all likelihood bore responsibility" for her daughter's death, and then proceeded to focus his criticism on her attorneys, for such outrages as one of them giving the finger to a bunch of journalists who were following them after the trial, and dredging up another attorney's alleged failure to make child support payments while in law school. Nancy Grace comes in for passing criticism towards the end of Bruni's piece.

Within all this, the upholding of "belief" in opposition to science and critical thinking deserves attention. In one revealing comment, Nancy Grace said, "When you're in a court of law, you're held to a different standard. We are not in a court of law. We are not shrouded from the evidence." (my emphasis) But she pointed to no prosecution evidence that was kept from the jury. What Grace is really saying is that the jury, by being sequestered during the trial, was "shrouded" from the demagogy and hysteria that infected the media coverage and therefore the popular discussion of the case. The jurors were just about the only people in the U.S. who were able to look more or less dispassionately at and scientifically evaluate the actual evidence... and that is the problem, from the standpoint of Nancy Grace, and powerful forces behind her.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Frontline: The Child Cases - Death Investigation in America

The Child Cases - Death Investigation in America
Frontline (PBS)

Sudden child deaths are often assumed to be murder and caregivers are frequently the accused. FRONTLINE, ProPublica and NPR investigate, uncovering evidence of questionable convictions...

To Watch the Episode and to Access More Resources

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch: Pocket Guides

[The guides are available for download for free]

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program helps consumers and businesses make choices for healthy oceans. Our recommendations indicate which seafood items are "Best Choices," "Good Alternatives," and which ones you should "Avoid."

To visit the website

Li Onesto - California's Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strike "We Are Human Beings!"

California's Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strike: "We Are Human Beings!"
by Li Onesto
Global Research

“What is of note here and something that should concern all U.S. citizens, is the increasing use of behavioral control, i.e. Torture units and human experimental techniques against prisoners, not only in California but across the nation. Indefinite confinement, sensory deprivation, withholding food, constant illumination and use of unsubstantiated lies from informants are the psychological billy clubs being used in these torture units. The purpose of this ‘treatment’ is to stop prisoners from standing in opposition to inhumane prison conditions and prevent them from exercising their basic human rights.”

Statement of Solidarity with the Pelican Bay Collective Hunger Strike on July 1st and announcement of participation by Corcoran SHU prisoners (from California Prison Watch, californiaprisonwatch.blogspot.com)

On Friday, July 1, prisoners in California’s infamous Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison began a courageous and determined hunger strike. This then, very quickly, turned into a display of collective outrage and solidarity among prisoners throughout the state and beyond.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) initially tried to say the strike was fewer than two dozen prisoners. But they then had to admit that by their own count, more than 500 inmates refused food at Pelican Bay State Prison and that 6,600 prisoners in 13 different prisons participated in the hunger strike on the weekend of July 2-3.

This is an extremely significant and extraordinary development, something that challenges people on “the outside” to sit up and take notice. Many have been moved to support the prisoners in their just demands.

The Pelican Bay SHU is designed to subject prisoners to solitary confinement, isolation and sensory deprivation—indefinitely. Some prisoners have been kept in these completely inhumane conditions for years and decades. And the prisoners in the SHU write that they are fighting to let the world know the brutal injustices being done to them; and that they are risking their lives to send out a message that they are human beings! That they refuse to be treated like animals.

One of the ways prison officials maintain control is by pitting prisoners against each other by race and ethnicity, and exploiting and promoting other divisions among prisoners. But this hunger strike is crossing barriers that usually divide prisoners—building unity to fight the horrendous conditions they all face. The New York Times reported, “The hunger strike has transcended the gang and geographic affiliations that traditionally divide prisoners, with prisoners of many backgrounds participating.”

A prisoner from Ohio writing in solidarity with the hunger strike said: “We are all a part of the same fabric of oppression within these walls; we all experience the same or similar conditions in some form or fashion. That’s why I believe it’s very necessary for us to come together, put down the knives for a moment & demand the kind of meaningful change needed to produce better conditions & to combat abusive ‘power holders’ in ways that foster collective resistance. Case in point—the brothas in Georgia (work stoppage demonstration) & the brothas out in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU).” (Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity, prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com)

To Read the Rest of the Essay

More resources:

Li Onesto: The Humanity and Courage of the Prisoners... And the Moral Responsibility to Support Their Demands

Colin Dayan: Barbarous Confinement (NY Times)

Leo Goldsmith - Good Work: Claire Denis’s Early Career as Assistant Director

Good Work: Claire Denis’s Early Career as Assistant Director
By Leo Goldsmith
Reverse Shot

There is a scene at the end of Claire Denis's Chocolat in which three African men, working at an airport in Cameroon, load luggage into the belly of a plane. They ride the luggage cart out to a far end of the airport for a smoke break, chatting all the while. The camera shoots them from some remove, slowly moving in to a tighter shot as they take refuge from the ensuing rain under an overpass. One man takes a leak, and they all continue talking, but we don’t hear their conversation above the sound of Abdullah Ibrahim's smooth, buoyant afro-jazz score.

Chocolat was Denis's first film, and as such is often regarded as atypical of her work generally, but this scene falls in line with many similar final scenes in the films of her subsequent career. Nearly always slightly distanced from, if not completely unmotivated by, the foregoing narrative, sequences such as these seem to suggest a kind of liberation from the often violent emotional and sexual tension that precedes them. They suggest something—a sensibility, an emotion, a persistent narrative line—that the limited film narrative cannot itself fully contain or account for: Alice Houri's plaintive enjoyment of a salvaged cigarette butt in Nénette et Boni; Denis Lavant's superlative solo dance to Corona's “Rhythm of the Night” in Beau travail; Béatrice Dalle's euphoric dogsled ride in L'Intrus. In this light, Chocolat is not atypical of Denis at all, and its final sequence presages many such scenes in the director's later work.

This finale is notable also for its resemblance to the work of another filmmaker: Jim Jarmusch. The trio of men, the laid-back camaraderie, the cool, casual laziness of everyday life made meaningful with just the right music: transported to Louisiana and transposed to black-and-white with audible dialogue, this could easily be one of many similar, lengthy sequence shots from Jarmusch's Down by Law, the direction of which Denis assisted only two years earlier.

For those interested in Denis's work, the approximate fifteen-year period of her career when she worked as an assistant director prior to her directorial debut, is particularly useful for both its length and its pedigree. Born in France and raised partly in Africa, Denis enrolled (encouraged by her then husband, a photographer) in IDHEC (Institut des hautes études cinématographiques—now La Fémis—France's prestigious film school) in 1972, learning filmmaking in a milieu freshly galvanized by the events of May ’68. But though only a couple of weeks younger than Philippe Garrel—who was directly inspired by the Nouvelle Vague, active as a filmmaker since the age of sixteen, and already a celebrity in left-wing film circles of IDHEC for his political action and association with Godard—Denis would not make Chocolat until she was about 40. After IDHEC, Denis worked mostly in the coming decades under directors as diverse and variously integral to international cinema as Dušan Makavejev, Jacques Rivette, Costa-Gavras, and, most importantly, Jarmusch and Wim Wenders. Her prolonged period alongside these filmmakers makes for an impressive resume all its own, even if many of her contemporaries were at the same time busy directing their own films.

Denis's illustrious early career is invariably noted in biographical summaries and interviews with the director, and while some influence from those filmmakers upon her later style and (especially) production model is all but inevitable, the act of tracing the impact of this period on Denis's films is a highly speculative exercise. While the director herself acknowledges a great personal and professional debt to many of them, she nonetheless denies any specific influence. (“I do it my own way,” she said in an interview in 2003. “What Jim and Wim do is so special, and what is good for them is only good for them.”) Although the aesthetic genealogy of a filmmaker's work cannot be established with any certainty, the specific case of Claire Denis offers unique insights into the highly volatile period of European cinema of the Seventies and Eighties. What I propose, then, is a form of speculation that is wild, if not quite idle, providing resonance and background to the development of a highly sophisticated cinematic style that both embraces and departs from Denis's predecessors.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Morgan O'Kane (with Ben Sollee) at Institute 193 in Lexington, KY (August 2010)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

David Graeber: Debt -The First Five Thousand Years

Debt: The First Five Thousand Years
By David Graeber

Anthropologist David Graeber argues that it is only with a general historical understanding of debt and its relationship to violence that we can begin to appreciate our emerging epoch. Here he begins to fill in our historical knowledge gap

What follows is a fragment of a much larger project of research on debt and debt money in human history. The first and overwhelming conclusion of this project is that in studying economic history, we tend to systematically ignore the role of violence, the absolutely central role of war and slavery in creating and shaping the basic institutions of what we now call ‘the economy'. What's more, origins matter. The violence may be invisible, but it remains inscribed in the very logic of our economic common sense, in the apparently self-evident nature of institutions that simply would never and could never exist outside of the monopoly of violence - but also, the systematic threat of violence - maintained by the contemporary state.

Let me start with the institution of slavery, whose role, I think, is key. In most times and places, slavery is seen as a consequence of war. Sometimes most slaves actually are war captives, sometimes they are not, but almost invariably, war is seen as the foundation and justification of the institution. If you surrender in war, what you surrender is your life; your conqueror has the right to kill you, and often will. If he chooses not to, you literally owe your life to him; a debt conceived as absolute, infinite, irredeemable. He can in principle extract anything he wants, and all debts - obligations - you may owe to others (your friends, family, former political allegiances), or that others owe you, are seen as being absolutely negated. Your debt to your owner is all that now exists.

This sort of logic has at least two very interesting consequences, though they might be said to pull in rather contrary directions. First of all, as we all know, it is another typical - perhaps defining - feature of slavery that slaves can be bought or sold. In this case, absolute debt becomes (in another context, that of the market) no longer absolute. In fact, it can be precisely quantified. There is good reason to believe that it was just this operation that made it possible to create something like our contemporary form of money to begin with, since what anthropologists used to refer to as ‘primitive money', the kind that one finds in stateless societies (Solomon Island feather money, Iroquois wampum), was mostly used to arrange marriages, resolve blood feuds, and fiddle with other sorts of relations between people, rather than to buy and sell commodities. For instance, if slavery is debt, then debt can lead to slavery. A Babylonian peasant might have paid a handy sum in silver to his wife's parents to officialise the marriage, but he in no sense owned her. He certainly couldn't buy or sell the mother of his children. But all that would change if he took out a loan. Were he to default, his creditors could first remove his sheep and furniture, then his house, fields and orchards, and finally take his wife, children, and even himself as debt peons until the matter was settled (which, as his resources vanished, of course became increasingly difficult to do). Debt was the hinge that made it possible to imagine money in anything like the modern sense, and therefore, also, to produce what we like to call the market: an arena where anything can be bought and sold, because all objects are (like slaves) disembedded from their former social relations and exist only in relation to money.

But at the same time the logic of debt as conquest can, as I mentioned, pull another way. Kings, throughout history, tend to be profoundly ambivalent towards allowing the logic of debt to get completely out of hand. This is not because they are hostile to markets. On the contrary, they normally encourage them, for the simple reason that governments find it inconvenient to levy everything they need (silks, chariot wheels, flamingo tongues, lapis lazuli) directly from their subject population; it's much easier to encourage markets and then buy them. Early markets often followed armies or royal entourages, or formed near palaces or at the fringes of military posts. This actually helps explain the rather puzzling behavior on the part of royal courts: after all, since kings usually controlled the gold and silver mines, what exactly was the point of stamping bits of the stuff with your face on it, dumping it on the civilian population, and then demanding they give it back to you again as taxes? It only makes sense if levying taxes was really a way to force everyone to acquire coins, so as to facilitate the rise of markets, since markets were convenient to have around. However, for our present purposes, the critical question is: how were these taxes justified? Why did subjects owe them, what debt were they discharging when they were paid? Here we return again to right of conquest. (Actually, in the ancient world, free citizens - whether in Mesopotamia, Greece, or Rome - often did not have to pay direct taxes for this very reason, but obviously I'm simplifying here.) If kings claimed to hold the power of life and death over their subjects by right of conquest, then their subjects' debts were, also, ultimately infinite; and also, at least in that context, their relations to one another, what they owed to one another, was unimportant. All that really existed was their relation to the king. This in turn explains why kings and emperors invariably tried to regulate the powers that masters had over slaves, and creditors over debtors. At the very least they would always insist, if they had the power, that those prisoners who had already had their lives spared could no longer be killed by their masters. In fact, only rulers could have arbitrary power over life and death. One's ultimate debt was to the state; it was the only one that was truly unlimited, that could make absolute, cosmic, claims.

The reason I stress this is because this logic is still with us. When we speak of a ‘society' (French society, Jamaican society) we are really speaking of people organised by a single nation state. That is the tacit model, anyway. ‘Societies' are really states, the logic of states is that of conquest, the logic of conquest is ultimately identical to that of slavery. True, in the hands of state apologists, this becomes transformed into a notion of a more benevolent ‘social debt'. Here there is a little story told, a kind of myth. We are all born with an infinite debt to the society that raised, nurtured, fed and clothed us, to those long dead who invented our language and traditions, to all those who made it possible for us to exist. In ancient times we thought we owed this to the gods (it was repaid in sacrifice, or, sacrifice was really just the payment of interest - ultimately, it was repaid by death). Later the debt was adopted by the state, itself a divine institution, with taxes substituted for sacrifice, and military service for one's debt of life. Money is simply the concrete form of this social debt, the way that it is managed. Keynesians like this sort of logic. So do various strains of socialist, social democrats, even crypto-fascists like Auguste Comte (the first, as far as I am aware, to actually coin the phrase ‘social debt'). But the logic also runs through much of our common sense: consider for instance, the phrase, ‘to pay one's debt to society', or, ‘I felt I owed something to my country', or, ‘I wanted to give something back.' Always, in such cases, mutual rights and obligations, mutual commitments - the kind of relations that genuinely free people could make with one another - tend to be subsumed into a conception of ‘society' where we are all equal only as absolute debtors before the (now invisible) figure of the king, who stands in for your mother, and by extension, humanity.

What I am suggesting, then, is that while the claims of the impersonal market and the claims of ‘society' are often juxtaposed - and certainly have had a tendency to jockey back and forth in all sorts of practical ways - they are both ultimately founded on a very similar logic of violence. Neither is this a mere matter of historical origins that can be brushed away as inconsequential: neither states nor markets can exist without the constant threat of force.

One might ask, then, what is the alternative?

To read the rest of the essay

Bluegrass Film Society Fall 2011

This is the start of our seventh year for the Bluegrass Film Society. We are still dedicated to providing a forum for BCTC film students and filmmakers to watch films from around the world. Due to our involvement with BCTC’s Peace and Conflict Studies we are also continuing to choose films that explore conflict as well as meditations on the possibilities for peace. As always, in the spirit of our Humanities department, we seek to find films that celebrate creativity and imagination. All films are at 7:30 PM in the Bluegrass Community and Technical College auditorium and are always free of charge.

8/24: Sanjuro (Japan: Akira Kurasowa, 1962: 96 mins)

Kurasowa has made so many great films that have had a huge influence on filmmakers around the world. Perhaps one of his most beloved characters is the ronin Sanjuro from Yojimbo (1961). The film spawned countless official and unofficial remakes, and in Sanjuro Kurosawa brought back the iconoclastic snarling antihero played by the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. Once again, Sanjuro sets about playing on the greed and hypocrisy of official culture and subverts common sense notions of the samurai code.

8/31: Zift (Bulgaria: Javor Gardev, 2008: 92 mins)

A powerhouse performance by Zahary Baharov as Moth fuels this surreal, nourish tale of a day in the life of a Bulgarian prisoner released back into his Mid-20th century communist society. This is an autocratic society in which anyone able to carve out a chunk of power is then able to write their own laws with no concern for others. Supposedly, Zift refers both to a chewing substance once popular among poor Bulgarians and is also slang for excrement.

9/7: Stake Land (USA: Jim Mickle, 2010: 98 mins)

I had just about given up on the possibility of a good vampire film being made again in the wake of mawkish travesties like the Twilight series. Then I stumbled across this gem. One of the main characters Mister’s motto is “live free or die trying” and in this post-apocalyptic world the vampires are ravenous, but they are far from the most dangerous predators. Like any horror film worth the trouble, this one speaks to our current political landscape of extremist rhetoric. [This film is being screened as part of the Cult Film Series at Al’s Bar]

9/14: White (Poland/France/Switzerland: Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994: 91 mins)

White is the second film in Keislowski’s thematic trilogy “Three Colors” celebrating the colors of the French Flag that represent Freedom, Equality and Fraternity. Following the stunning masterpiece Blue (1993), this is a dark comedy that follows the marital difficulties of Polish immigrants in France.

9/21: If a Tree Falls: The Story of the Earth Liberation Front (USA/UK: Marshall Curry & Sam Cullman, 2011: 85 mins

“IF A TREE FALLS is a rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's 'number one domestic terrorist threat.' With unprecedented access and a nuanced point of view, the documentary tells the story of Daniel McGowan, an ELF member who faced life in prison for two multi-million dollar arsons against Oregon timber companies. The film employs McGowan's story to examine larger questions about environmentalism, activism, and terrorism.”

9/28: Even the Rain (Spain/France/Mexico: Iciar Bollain, 2010: 103 mins)

Howard Zinn’s quote: “The memory of oppressed people cannot be taken away and for such people revolt is always an inch below the surface” is featured in this story of two Spanish filmmakers traveling to Bolivia to film the story of the European colonization and enslavement of South Americans. While filming they become embroiled through the actions of their extras in the historic peasant resistance against the attempt to privatize all water in Bolivia.

10/12: Police, Adjective (Romania: Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009: 115 mins)

Cristi is a police officer tasked with the job of following a youth who is smoking marijuana with his friends. Observing the youths’ activities, he begins to question the morality of locking up youths and destroying their lives for essentially harmless activities. As he begins to question the system he falls down a rabbit hole of bureaucratic absurdity where the letter of the law is to be followed even when it is wrong. What follows is a Kafkaesque exploration of policing, laws, language, and the state.

10/19: The Exiles (USA: Kent MacKenzie, 1961: 72 mins)

A few years back we watched Charles Burnett’s long lost, classic student film, Killer of Sheep (1981) which explored the harsh realities of an African-American community in the 1970s. The Exiles is another long unavailable student film and similarly explores the lives of urban Los Angeles Native Americans over a period of 12 hours. The film is celebrated as an original and powerful document of Native Americans.

10/26: 13 Assassins (Japan/UK: Takashi Miike, 2010: 141 mins)

Miike has been amassing more films directed than anyone else in the 21st century. He is also an important explorer and experimenter (within the confines of a studio system) of genre films. In this film, clearly influenced by Akira Kurasowa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai (1954), Miike breaks out all the stops and demonstrates his growing mastery of filmmaking.

11/2: The Secret of Kells (Ireland/France/Belgium: Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey, 2009: 75 mins)

The selection this semester for the Family Film Series, this is a film that is guaranteed to appeal to viewers of all ages. This is a beautifully animated film that follows a mythic tale of a young boy’s struggle with creativity and intelligence against darkness and violence.

11/9: Hands Over the City (Italy/France: Francesco Rosi, 1963: 105 mins)

Political film that examines the corrupt schemes that lead to the urban devastation of Naples, Italy (one is reminded of the crime ridden urban wastelands of the 2008 Italian film Gomorrah). This film is just as important now for its attempt to examine what happens when money rules politics and how this corruption begins to shape the environments we live in.

11/16: Korkoro (France: Tony Gatliff, 2009: 111 mins)

One of my favorite films is Gatliff’s Gadjo Dilo (1998) about a young man’s search for a legendary singer among the Roma (gypsies) in Romania. That film was a powerful portrait of an exuberant culture: filled with music, food and dancing, even when exploring more serious issues. In Korkoro, Gatliff turns to the WWII experiences of the Roma in NAZI occupied France. Sadly, their devastation at the hands of NAZIs in the death camps and the complicity of occupied countries in their rounding up is often forgotten. Like the earlier film there is a mad ecstasy in the fierce pursuit of a life free from the controls of the state, in this case it comes into full conflict with the NAZI attempt at total domination. Korkoro is the Roma word for Freedom.

11/23: The Great Dictator (USA: Charles Chaplin, 1940: 125 mins)

Chaplin knew that the powerful fear ridicule and with that in mind he put his creativity into a portrait of the absurdity of fascist dictators. This is a film that you can bring the whole family to see and it is never too early to start discussing the dangers of fascism.

11/30: Black Moon (France: Louis Malle, 1975: 100 mins)

After his success with Lacombe Lucien (1974) which caused a serious controversy over its French protagonist collaborating with the NAZIs, Malle turned to this surrealist experiment. Described as an apocalyptic, sensual, Alice in Wonderful and celebrated for the beauty of its shots, this is a film that can’t really be explained, it just has to be experienced.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Free Speech Radio News: An investigation reveals how the CIA is expanding its presence in Somalia

Newscast for Thursday, July 14, 2011
Free Speech Radio News

An investigation reveals how the CIA is expanding its presence in Somalia

In Yemen today, a suspected US drone strike on a police station taken over by militants killed at least six people. Witnesses told Al Jazeera the building was demolished, and a half dozen bodies were identified, but more may have died or been injured. A Yemeni official denied it was a US strike, and claimed it was carried out by its own air force, according to Reuters.

The US has stepped up its drone program over the last few years, most notably in Pakistan. But strikes also taking place in Somalia, a country we turn to now. An investigation in the capital Mogadishu by The Nation Magazine and Democracy Now correspondent Jeremy Scahill, reveals that the US is expanding its covert operations there. Scahill’s article, “The CIA’s Secret Sites in Somalia”, reports that the CIA has a new secret base and is training a local force to fight the militant group al Shabab. He’s just got back from his ten day trip.

Former fighters with the Somali militant group, al-Shabab, talk to FSRN

While the Somali government forces, backed by the US and African union troops, continue their war, there are indications al Shabab might also be struggling internally. Although recruitment of more fighters continues, a growing number are defecting. FSRN’s Mohammed Yusuf recently met and spoke with former insurgents.

Mumbai residents react to yesterday’s deadly bomb attacks

In Mumbai yesterday, three well-coordinated attacks struck India's commercial capital. According to the latest government reports, the attack has left 18 dead and more than 100 injured. Terror attacks on the city have claimed more than 700 lives since 1993. FSRN's Gayatri Lakshmibai was near the blast sites in south and Central Mumbai and spoke with residents about the attack. The Mumbai residents in the report are: CP Tiwari, Ruchita Raicha, Dhiren Talpade, Akul Tripathi, Manju Sawle and Prashant Mehta. This segment was recorded and produced by FSRN's Gayatri Lakshmibai.

The Israeli navy attacks activists who are watching over Palestinian fishermen off Gaza’s coast

Today, Israeli warplanes hit an underground tunnel on the Gaza-Egypt border line, wounding four people. Right after this attack, a newly-formed Gaza group, calling itself Palestine Brigades, fired a homemade rocket on nearby Israeli areas, but no one was injured and it caused no property damage. The violence follows attacks today and yesterday by the Israeli navy, which fired water canons at an international human rights group monitoring Palestinian fishermen. FSRN's Rami Almeghari reports.

US Lawmakers plan for a debt ceiling default

Negotiations over raising the nation’s debt ceiling are still at an impasse and many lawmakers are now offering their legislative responses in case of a default. Matt Laslo reports on the twists and turns of the debate in Washington.

To Listen to the Episode

Human Rights Watch: Getting Away with Torture - The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees

Getting Away with Torture
The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees
Human Rights Watch



I. Background: Official Sanction for Crimes against Detainees

II. Torture of Detainees in US Counterterrorism Operations
The CIA Detention Program
Secret Detention Sites
The Case of Abu Zubaydah
Growth of the CIA Program
The CIA Rendition Program
Coercive Interrogations by the Military
Abuses by Military Interrogators in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and Iraq
Approving Illegal Techniques for Military Interrogation
Migration of the Approved Techniques

III. Individual Criminal Responsibility
The Illegality of the Underlying Abuses
Forms of Liability
Interrogation Techniques
CIA Secret Detention Program
OLC Legal Guidance
Duty to Investigate and Provide Redress
The Four Key Leaders
President George W. Bush
Vice President Dick Cheney
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
CIA Director George Tenet
Other Officials

Appendix: Foreign State Proceedings Regarding US Detainee Mistreatment
France: Complaint against Rumsfeld
Spain: Investigations of US officials
The “Bush Six”
Investigation into Torture by US officials
Diplomatic Intervention by the United States

Acknowledgments and Methodology

To Access the Full Report

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Matt Taibbi: Greed, Excess and America's Gaping Class Divide

Greed, Excess and America's Gaping Class Divide
by Matt Taibbi
Common Dreams

Courtesy of good friend and Supreme Court of Assholedom justice David Sirota comes this revolting list of Marie Antoinettoid moments from recent years, in an article called "The New 'Let Them Eat Cake!'"

Some of the moments on the list are easily recalled – Berkshire Hathaway gazillionaire Charlie Munger's famous "suck it up and cope" quote, coming from a guy whose company was heavily invested in bailed-out banks, was an obvious inclusion – but others are quite shocking.

For instance, I was completely floored by the New York Times' pseudo-ironic take on the government's response to the financial crisis, a piece entitled "You Try to Live on $500K in This Town."

This came at a time when President Obama was considering curtailing compensation for bailed-out bankers at $500,000. The piece was sort of meant to be taken half as a joke, but it is not hard to detect an element of demented earnestness in the fashion section article, an honest argument that with mortgages and private school tuition and co-op fees and taxes, it really was very hard for a certain kind of New Yorker to get by on half a million a year.

The proposed salary cap -- remember, this cap was only going to be for banks that had fucked up badly enough to need a federal bailout -- became the cassus belli for a propaganda war launched from the general direction of Wall Street, where the notion that the government should restrict the salaries of exactly the irresponsible greedheads who caused a global financial crisis was met with blunt outrage.

Sirota's list highlights another bizarre aspect of the $500k story. During the debate over the proposed cap, one of the things we started to hear from the Antoinette class was a general sense of wonder at the notion that anyone considered them rich. It turns out that a great many of the people who make big six-figure incomes consider themselves middle class. A University of Chicago professor arguing against the repeal of the Bush tax cuts made waves by saying he was "just getting by" with his $250,000 income, while ABC's Charlie Gibson and CNN reporter Kiran Chetry in recent years suggested that $200-$250,000 is middle class (Chetry's exact quote was that "in some parts of the country," $250K "is middle class").

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Anne Landman: What Happened to Media Coverage of Fukushima?

What Happened to Media Coverage of Fukushima?
by Anne Landman
Common Dreams

While the U.S. media has been occupied with Anthony Weiner, the Republican presidential candidates and Bristol Palin's memoir, coverage of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster has practially fallen off the map. Poor mainstream media coverage of Japan's now months-long struggle to gain control over the Fukushima disaster has deprived Americans of crucial information about the risks of nuclear power following natural disasters. After a few weeks of covering the early aftermath of Japan's earthquake and tsunami, the U.S. media moved on, leaving behind the crisis at Fukushima which continues to unfold. U.S. politicians, like Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, have made disappointing and misleading statements about the relative safety of nuclear power and have vowed to stick by our nuclear program, while other countries, like Germany and Italy, have taken serious steps to address the obvious risks of nuclear power -- risks that the Fukushima disaster made painfully evident, at least to the rest of the world.
Problems Multiply

News outlets in other countries have been paying attention to Fukushima, though, and a relative few in this country have as well. A June 16, 2011 Al Jazeera English article titled, "Fukushima: It's much worse than you think," quotes a high-level former nuclear industry executive, Arnold Gunderson, who called Fukushima nohting less than "the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind." Twenty nuclear cores have been exposed at Fukushima, Gunderson points out, saying that, along with the site's many spent-fuel pools, gives Fukushima 20 times the release potential of Chernobyl.

Efforts to bring problems at Fukushima under control are not going well, either. Japanese authorities only just recently admitted that nuclear fuel in the three damaged Fukushima reactors has likely burned through the vessels holding it, a scenario called "melt-through", that is even more serious than a core meltdown. Months of spraying seawater on the plant's three melted-down fuel cores -- and the spent fuel stored on site -- to try and cool them has produced 26 million of gallons of radioactive wastewater, and no place to put it.

After a struggle, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), finally managed to put in place a system to filter radioactive particles out of the wastewater, but it broke down soon after it started operating. A filter that was supposed to last a month plugged up with radioactive material after just five hours, indicating there is more radioactive material in the water than previously believed. Meanwhile, TEPCO is running out of space to store the radioactive water, and may be forced to again dump contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. TEPCO already dumped some water into the ocean weeks ago, amid protests from fisherman, other countries and environmental organizations. And even if TEPCO does successfully filter the contaminated water and manage to bring its radioactivity down to acceptable levels, the utility will still have to deal with the pile of radioactive sludge the process will produce. The plan they've come up with to deal with the sludge is to seal it in drums and discard it into the ocean, which may cause even more problems. Greenpeace has already found levels of radiation exceeding legal limits in seaweed and shellfish samples gathered more than 12 miles away from the plant. The high levels of radiation in the samples indicate that leaks from the plant are bigger than TEPCO has revealed so far.

To Read the Rest of the Essay and to Access Hyperlinked Resources

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jake Wilson: Trash and Treasure - The Gleaners and I

Trash And Treasure: The Gleaners and I
by Jake Wilson
Senses of Cinema

Agnès Varda is one of those directors who have never really stopped working, but who tend to get “rediscovered” every so often after a period of relative obscurity. I’ve seen only a fraction of her complete works, which include many hard-to-access documentaries and shorts as well as features. Still, it’s clear that her recent essayistic documentary The Gleaners And I (2000) picks up several threads she’s followed throughout her career – a concern with traditional crafts and rituals, with the poor and marginalised, and with the everyday minutiae typically excluded from fiction.

The official subject of this film is gleaning, the act of gathering remnants of crops from a field after the harvest. As Varda demonstrates, people can be discovered throughout the French countryside gleaning everything from potatoes to grapes, apples to oysters, much as they did hundreds of years ago (though no longer in organised groups). More figuratively, there are also urban gleaners who salvage scraps from bins, appliances from the side of the road, or vegetables from stalls after the markets have closed. And then there’s Varda herself, a gleaner of images, driving around France with a digital camera and a tiny crew (at times, she wields a smaller camera herself, permitting an even greater degree of intimacy).

Varda has a (sometimes contested) reputation as a feminist, left-wing artist, and this is very much a political film, though it offers a series of poetic metaphors and concrete encounters in lieu of an explicit, closely reasoned argument. My guess (based mainly on anecdotal evidence) is that the political outlook of The Gleaners And I has a lot to do with its popular success – even if Varda herself, who began filming back in 1999, wasn’t fully aware how thoroughly she was tapping into the zeitgeist. Without specifically referring to political movements or events, the film embodies a quasi-anarchist ethos now in the air in all sorts of ways – a resistance to consumerism, a suspicion of authority, and a desire to reconnect politics with everyday life.

Obviously gleaning in Varda’s sense can be considered a “green” activity, a matter of recycling or conserving items that would otherwise go to waste (several interviewees express outrage that people should allow food to rot while others starve). Yet it probably wouldn’t occur to anyone to pigeonhole The Gleaners And I as an environmental film, any more than green politics is necessarily focused these days on a single issue. Gleaning, Varda implies, can be understood more broadly as a form of resistance, a way of refusing to be boxed in by conventional expectations; as such, it demands that we re-learn age-old skills as well as supply individual creativity and initiative.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Erica Peterson: Law Firm Says Inbreeding Skews Data Linking Mountaintop Removal to Birth Defects

(via Barefoot and Progressive)

Law Firm Says Inbreeding Skews Data Linking Mountaintop Removal to Birth Defects
by Erica Peterson
WFPL (Louisville Public Media)

Last month, researchers at Washington State University and West Virginia University released a study that found a correlation between mountaintop removal and mining birth defects. A law firm with ties to the National Mining Association has refuted the study’s findings, but in the process, insulted many Appalachians.

Inbreeding in Appalachia is one of many stereotypes, perpetuated by movies and even Vice President Dick Cheney in 2008 at a National Press Club Event:

“We have Cheneys on both sides of the family, and we don’t even live in West Virginia!” he said.

Now D.C.-based law firm Crowell & Moring is citing Appalachian inbreeding as a way to discredit science linking mining and birth defects.

A critique posted on the Crowell & Moring website last month raises several issues with the study’s methodology, including that the study failed to account for consanguinity—or inbreeding—which can also cause birth defects. Crowell & Moring represents the National Mining Association, but an NMA spokesman says the association wasn’t involved in the firm’s critique.

Studies have shown that consanguinity, or inbreeding, isn’t any more common in Appalachia than it is in other areas. A Crowell & Moring spokeswoman said in an email response: “Our website alert was not intended to reflect views of the National Mining Association or any other coal company, but is an attempt to identify certain potential weaknesses of the study in question. Consanguinity is one of a number of commonly addressed issues in studies of this type, regardless of geography. Scientists address this consideration regularly because it can matter to scientific conclusions, and do so regardless of locale. We did not raise this issue with particular reference to any region, and we did not mean to imply any such thing. That said, we apologize for any offense taken, as none was intended.”

The piece was removed from the firm’s website earlier today.

Link to the Report where you can access hyperlinked resources

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Film School: Kirby Dick - Outrage

Film School (KUCI)
Hosts: Nathan Callahan and Mike Kaspar

An interview with Academy Award nominated filmmaker KIRBY DICK the director of OUTRAGE — a searing indictment of the hypocrisy of closeted politicians who actively campaign against the LGBT community they covertly belong to. OUTRAGE reveals the hidden lives of some of our nation’s most powerful policymakers, details the harm they've inflicted on millions of Americans, and examines the media's complicity in keeping their secrets. DICK’S highly-regarded film, DERRIDA, premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and won the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco Film Festival. In 1997, he directed the internationally acclaimed SICK: THE LIFE & DEATH OF BOB FLANAGAN, SUPERMASOCHIST, which won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film earned an IFP/West Spirit Award Nomination and an International Documentary Association Nomination for Best Feature Documentary of 1998. Dick's other projects include TWIST OF FAITH (2004) and THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (2006), an exposé of the interior workings of the MPAA ratings system.

To Listen to the Interview (MP3)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kris Bordessa: Michigan Woman Could Get 93 Days in Jail for Planting a Garden

Michigan Woman Could Get 93 Days in Jail for Planting a Garden
by Kris Bordessa
Geek Mom

When the Bass family had to tear into their lawn to repair a sewer line, instead of replacing the grass they decided to plant a vegetable garden. Oak Park city officials were not impressed with the family’s idea and asked them to move the garden to the backyard.

“Five beds, six yards of compost, about 90 plants – but most important of all, on principle — no!!!!” says Julie Bass.

Short of a little container gardening, this is the first time the Bass family has grown a garden. But instead of focusing their efforts on developing new gardening skills and harvesting the fruits of their labor, Julie Bass, a mother of six, finds herself facing a court battle and possibly jail time.

Over a vegetable garden.

The family would love to raise chickens for fresh eggs, have a goat for milking, and generate electricity with a windmill. They haven’t done so because those activities are not allowed in Oak Park. Vegetable gardening, however, is not explicitly against city codes. So what’s the problem? City code requires that front yard landscapes have “suitable, live plant material.” Well, since the plants in the Bass front yard are not made of silk or plastic, it appears that the battle is over what’s “suitable.”

Is a green lawn maintained with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and trimmed with a gasoline-powered mower suitable? Not in my book. I think it’s entirely UNsuitable to expose our communities to the dangers of poisons on a daily basis just to maintain conformity.

“If you look at the definition of what suitable is in Webster’s dictionary, it will say common*. So, if you look around and you look in any other community, what’s common to a front yard is a nice, grass yard with beautiful trees and bushes and flowers,” says Oak Park City Planner Kevin Rulkowski in an interview on WJBK Fox News in Detroit.

Following that line of thought, would the front yard vegetable garden become suitable if the majority of households in the Bass’ Oak Park neighborhood tore out their lawns and planted vegetable gardens of their own? Vegetable gardens would then be common, and by your reasoning, thus, “suitable.”

“That’s not what we want to see in a front yard,” says Rulkowski about the Bass’ veggies.

Beg pardon, Mr. Rulkowski, but who are you to say what is and isn’t desirable – or suitable – in a front yard? Determining what passes for “suitable” landscape is purely subjective. Your opinion surely differs from that of the Bass family and many of their neighbors.

Is a statue of St. Anthony suitable? Or what about topiary? Where exactly is the line – and who draws it?

You know what I think is suitable and desirable?

To Read the Rest of the Commentary and See Pictures

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Lane Turner: Is weather becoming more extreme?

Is weather becoming more extreme?
by Lane Turner
The Big Picture (The Boston Globe)

Extreme weather events have always been with us, and always will be. One can't point to a single severe storm, or even an entire harsh winter, as evidence of climate change. But a trend of weather intensity, and oddity, grows. Droughts linger longer. Hurricanes hit harder. Snowstorms strike long after winter should have ended. World record hailstones fall. China endures a crippling drought, and then punishing floods. Millions are displaced in a flood of historic proportion in Pakistan. The U.S. sees the Mississippi River reach historic flood crests, and then sees the largest wildfire in Arizona history. None of these events on their own mean anything. Collectively, do they mean we're seeing the earth's climate change before our eyes?

To See the Rest of the Photo Documentary

Bernd Debusmann: America’s problematic remote control wars

America’s problematic remote control wars
by Bernd Debusmann

The United States is deploying missile-laden remotely piloted aircraft to kill enemies in six countries, scientists are working on ever more sophisticated military robots, and there are a host of unanswered questions on the future of warfare. Some of the more intriguing ones are asked abroad.

Such as: “Is the Reaper operator walking the streets of his home town after a shift a legitimate target as a combatant? Would an attack (on him) by a Taliban sympathizer be an act of war under international law or murder under the statutes of the home state? Does the person who has the right to kill as a combatant while in the control station cease to be a combatant on his way home?”

This comes from a study by Britain’s Ministry of Defence and refers to the air war waged by U.S. pilots who operate, from bases in the United States, heavily-armed drones flying over Afghanistan or Pakistan 7,500 miles away. The Reaper is the workhorse of the drone fleet, which has grown from around 50 a decade ago to more than 7,000 today. It is increasing at a fast clip, unaffected by defense spending cuts in other areas.

Most of the drone missions for the military are flown from Creech Air Force base near Las Vegas. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has a separate, covert, program that critics see as targeted assassinations. The CIA’s drones are operated from northern Virginia. The pilots, sitting in cockpits in front of television monitors, run no physical risks whatever, a novelty for men engaged in war.

Debate over the remote-control air wars — drones are now in action over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Somalia – has been largely confined to academia and think tanks, both civilian and military. But reports this week that the CIA had extended drone strikes to Somalia have prompted calls for a closer examination of where war ends and assassinations begin.

It is not an issue, however, that strikes a chord with the public and U.S. politicians are largely in favor of drone strikes. They are seen as an inexpensive way of targeting enemies, with no risk to the lives of American personnel. The downside to the seemingly risk-free elimination of Taliban fighters, al Qaeda militants and assorted other anti-American elements is of little apparent concern in the U.S.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Michelle Nichols: A high-profile group of global leaders declared the "war on drugs" a failure

Global war on drugs a failure, high-level panel says: A high-profile group of global leaders declared the "war on drugs" a failure ... and urged governments to consider decriminalizing drugs in a bid to cut consumption and weaken the power of organized crime gangs.
By Michelle Nichols

The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland, said a decades-long strategy of outlawing drugs and jailing drug users while battling cartels that control the trade had not worked.

"It's not peace instead of war, it's a more intelligent way to fight ... the use of drugs," former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, chair of the commission, told a news conference in New York. "Stop the war on drugs and let's be more constructive in trying to reduce consumption."

"We cannot have one recipe. It's not so easy to say stop the war on drugs and let's legalize, it's more complicated than that," he said. "Between prohibition and legalization there is an enormous variety of solutions in between."

The commission recommended that governments experiment with the legal regulation of drugs, especially cannabis, referring to the success in countries such as Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands where drug consumption had been reduced.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug consumption and users now face fines and treatment instead of jail time, while in Holland heroin can be medically prescribed and in Switzerland addicts get free methadone and clean needles.

But the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said in a statement that making drugs more available would make it harder to keep communities healthy and safe. The United States is the biggest market for illegal drugs.

Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, told reporters: "Drugs can be sexy when they are underground ... If you medicalize, it's no longer sexy."

To Read the Rest of the Article

Nona Willis Aronowitz: Half of Americans Getting Government Aid Swear They've Never Used Government Programs

Half of Americans Getting Government Aid Swear They've Never Used Government Programs
by Nona Willis Aronowitz

We see it pop up in the news all the time: The people who most hate on the idea of government assistance are sometimes the ones getting it. Just last week, there were reports that Michele Bachmann's husband gets farm subsidies and reportedly received $137,000 in Medicaid money. A new paper from Cornell University puts this dynamic in chart form, and the results are kind of shocking:

To read the rest of the article, see the chart, and access the reports

The Big Picture: LGBT Pride Parades

An amazing Boston Globe photo documentary of LGBT pride parades around the world.

Around the world, the LGBT community celebrates in environments ranging from welcoming to tolerant to violently hostile. Many cities stage gay pride parades on or around June 28, the anniversary of New York's Stonewall Inn uprising in 1969 -- what many consider the beginning of the gay rights movement. New York enjoyed its parade this year on June 26, a celebration given added spirit with the legalization of gay marriage in New York state two days earlier. Some communities in the world still meet with resistance, with activists assaulted and arrested in Russian cities, and an Indian health minister describing homosexuality as a "disease" three days after the New Delhi pride parade on July 2. Collected here are photographs of people celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered pride around the world.

Toronto Police Engage with the crowd in a water fight:

Participants in Guatamela City:

New York Senator Tom Duana and his partner Louis Webre feel the emotion of the crowd:

To see all of the pictures

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Imed Labidi: Welcome - An Insight into the Landscape of Contemporary French Consciousness

Welcome: An Insight into the Landscape of Contemporary French Consciousness
by Imed Labidi
Senses of Cinema

Philippe Lioret’s 2009 film Welcome is “a compelling social drama” (1) about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers who arrive illegally in Calais, a city in northern France that has become a transit point for those hoping to cross into the United Kingdom. In the course of its gripping story line and realistic camera work, Welcome powerfully dispels the fantasy of a hospitable Europe which welcomes the displaced with open arms. Instead, it captures disturbing scenes of xenophobia, police brutality, and racial intolerance. In its critique of French immigration laws that serve as the new apparatus for racial discrimination, Welcome also advances the claim that the humanitarian crisis of what recent European discourse calls the “new migrants” is due, in part, to the ambivalence of the local French population.

Heavily invested in the socio-realist documentary style, Lioret’s cinematic narrative expresses his concern about a Front Nationalist government gone wild and the propagation of French politics that vilifies migrants, hates former colonial subjects, legalizes discrimination, excludes those who are in need, alienates les Beurs, constrains possibilities of assimilation, and dehumanizes refugees and asylum seekers. The film illuminates the stark contradictions between moral codes, laws of the republic, and the unrestrained powers of French authority to marginalize citizens and foreigners. Grappling with the discomforting theme of the public’s disconnect from the political sphere, the anxiety about ethnocentric fanaticism, and the violations of basic human rights, “Lioret’s movie […] is drawn from real events” (2) and critiques how the government packages its law-breaking measures (3) in the name of “law and order, l’insécurité, an issue that has been exploited by the extreme-right Front National (FN)” (4).

With its emphasis on French political discourse and cultural transformation, the film’s subtexts provoke reflection on the structural changes to France’s immigration laws that began in the 1980s. As France’s need for unskilled labour diminished, laws packaged in nationalist rhetoric began restricting entry into the country, as well as employment and residency. France has modified these laws more frequently than any other European country, holding “a record for legislative change in the area of immigration. Major reforms were passed in 1980, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1997, and most recently in 1998.” (5)

Supporting the nationalist obsession with the De Gaullian promise of “la France aux français”, the preserving of France exclusively for the French and concurrent nurturing of xenophobic sentiments in the shadow of all these immigration initiatives, a new cultural attitude has shifted the debate on immigration, asylum, miscegenation, and the multicoloured ethnic composite of contemporary Europe. “Rather than being easily recognized as part of an overt racialist discourse, they are dislocated and disguised as part of a discourse on culture, social cohesion, integration, shared values, common heritage, and other similar rhetorical figures” (6). However, neither belligerent measures nor political spectacles eliminate the presence of the refugees nor undo the racially motivated police retaliation episodes inflicted on them. Yet these migrants survive despite the odds. In Welcome, the camera captures the refugee camp, the English Channel, and the invisible gaze of French police, permanently exposing a dislocated community constantly haunted by the technology of surveillance and the belief they can never truly hide.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Miss USA 2011: Should Math Be Taught In Schools

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Prisons/Prisoners/Jails: Peace and Conflict Studies Archive

Abu-Jamal, Mumia. "The United States Is Fast Becoming One of the Biggest Open-Air Prisons on Earth." Democracy Now (February 1, 2013)

Abu-Jamal, Mumia and Michael Parenti. "Created Unequal (Law, Money and Mumia Abu-Jamal)." Unwelcome Guests #6 (April 12, 2000)

Alexander, Michelle. "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Jim Crow." We Are Many (September 12, 2012)

Assange, Julian. "In U.N. Address, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Urges Obama Admin to End 'Regime of Secrecy.'" Democracy Now (September 27, 2012)

Bauer, Shane. "A Hunger Strike Against Solitary Confinement: Shane Bauer on Inhuman Prisons from California to Iran." Democracy Now (July 12, 2013)

---."'No Way Out': Solitary Confinement from Iran to United States." Democracy Now (October 22, 2012)

Brickner, Mike and Mike Fasano. "Florida Lawmakers Defeat Prison Privatization amid National Push for For-Profit Jails." Democracy Now (February 17, 2012)

Chen, Michelle. "State Budget Battles Converge on Prison Labor Force." In These Times (March 9, 2011)

Cohen, Andrew. "40 Years Later, the Cruelty of Papillon is a Reality in U.S. Prisons: Two generations after the famous film about solitary confinement first appeared, it's still relevant to the deplorable treatment of inmates in America's prisons today." The Atlantic (December 16, 2013)

Crabapple, Molly. "George Bush's Paintings Aren't Funny: But they are fascinating." Politico (April 13, 2014)

Curry, Marshall, Andrew Stepanian, and Will Potter. "“If a Tree Falls”: New Documentary on Daniel McGowan, Earth Liberation Front and Green Scare." Democracy Now (June 21, 2011)

Dayan, Colin. "Barbarous Confinement." The New York Times (July 17, 2011)

Ebert, Roger. "Nobody has the right to take another life." Chicago Sun-Times (January 4, 2012)

El-Fattah, Alaa Abd. "Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah on Prison & Regime’s 'War on a Whole Generation.'" (March 31, 2014)

Elk, Mike and Bob Sloan. "The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor." The Nation (August 1, 2011)

"End Mass Incarceration Now!" The New York Times (May 25, 2014)

Estep, Bill. "Lexington attorney sues Clay Co. officials over strip search at jail." Lexington Herald-Leader (June 8, 2011)

Foucault, Michel. "Panopticism." From Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (NY: Vintage Books 1995): 195-228.

"Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees." Human Rights Watch (July 12, 2011)

Gosztola, Kevin and Chase Madar. "Bradley Manning Trial: After 3 Years, Army Whistleblower Begins Court Martial Shrouded in Secrecy." Democracy Now (June 3, 2013)

Greenwald, Glenn. "Bradley Manning: the face of heroism." The Guardian (February 28, 2013)

---. "Finally: hear Bradley Manning in his own voice." Comment is Free (March 12, 2013)

---. "Repulsive Progressive Hypocrisy." Salon (February 8, 2012)

---. "Torture crimes officially, permanently shielded." Salon (July 1, 2011)

Hanarahan, Noelle and Stephen Vittoria. "'Long Distance Revolutionary': Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Journey from Black Panthers to Prison Journalist." Democracy Now (February 1, 2013)

Hedges, Chris. "The Death of Truth." TruthDig (May 5, 2013)

---. "The Unsilenced Voice of a Long Distance Revolutionary." TruthDig (December 9, 2012)

Horton, Scott. "The Torture Doctors." Harpers (November 4, 2013) [An expert panel concludes that the Pentagon and the CIA ordered physicians to violate the Hippocratic Oath.]

Kaiser, David and Lovisa Stannow. "Prison Rape and the Government." The New York Review of Books (March 24, 2011)

Leigh, David, James Ball, Ian Cobain and Jason Burke. "Guantánamo leaks lift lid on world's most controversial prison • Innocent people interrogated for years on slimmest pretexts • Children, elderly and mentally ill among those wrongfully held • 172 prisoners remain, some with no prospect of trial or release • Interactive guide to all 779 detainees." The Guardian (April 25, 2011)

Ludlow, Peter. "Jailed Journalist Barrett Brown Faces 105 Years For Reporting on Hacked Private Intelligence Firms." Democracy Now (July 11, 2013)

Macky, Scott and Peter Phillips. "Prisoners Stil Brutialized at Gitmo." Project Censored (2011)

McGovern, Ray. "Excusing Torture, Again." Common Dreams (January 9, 2013)

Miller, Greg, Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima. "CIA misled on interrogation program, Senate report says." Washington Post (March 31, 2014)

Newman, Zak. "What's the Difference Between Force Feeding and Waterboarding?" Blog of Rights (March 24, 2014)

Onesto, Li. "California's Pelican Bay Prison Hunger Strike: "We Are Human Beings!" Global Research (July 18, 2011)

---. "The Humanity and Courage of the Prisoners... And the Moral Responsibility to Support Their Demands." Revolution (July 24, 2011)

Pitzer, Andrea. "Trotsky's Canadian Holiday." Lapham's Quarterly (May 6, 2014)

Ratner, Michael. "Speech on Bradley Manning in Washington DC." Law and Disorder Radio (The event was held at All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington DC, December 2012)

---. "Ten Years after 9/11: War, Operation American Condor (Guantanamo) , Civil Liberties and Hope." Law and Disorder Radio (July 25, 2011)

Richman, Joe and Bridgette McGee-Robinson. "The Story of Willie McGhee." Re:sound (2010)

Shaheed, Hakeem, et al. "Survivors of Solitary Confinement." Making Contact (June 3, 2009)

Tomorrow, Tom. "Does Guantanamo Exist?" The Nation (April 30, 2013)

Vittoria, Steve. "Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal." (February 18, 2013)

"Wells Frago Profits from Private Prisons." Media Roots (November 22, 2011)

Werbe, Peter. "Green Scare Crackdown and Monsanto Political Prisoner Marie Mason." Law and Disorder Radio (August 12, 2013)

Williams, Linda. "“Cluster fuck”: the forcible frame in Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure." Jump Cut #52 (Summer 2010)

Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance ["Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance makes visible women's experiences in the criminal justice system. Documenting these stories is integral to this project of resistance. The stories are supported by a collection of resources, such as organizations, reports, essays, and links to a wide range of information on women and prison. The contents of this website are fluid and constantly changing. We expect to add stories, articles and resources on a regular basis. Your feedback and contributions are welcome. This site serves as a dedicated space for prisoners, those previously incarcerated, activists, students, academics, and everyone who strives for social justice. Through the use of this website, we hope to promote strategies and actions that challenge the system and the ways that it reproduces all forms of discrimination, violence, and social injustice in the treatment of women and their families. The invisibility of women's perspectives in discussions of the growing prison industrial complex constitute a serious gap, given that the numbers of women in this system are rising at an alarming rate. Moreover, by making women more visible, we expand the analysis, vision, and strategies being developed to seriously challenge the prison system. The incarceration of women is linked to a multitude of interconnected issues facing poor women, drug-addicted women, women of color, lesbians, and women in prostitution, including interpersonal and state violence, poverty, racism, reproductive rights, homophobia, harassment, lack of quality healthcare, homelessness, and more. Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance aims to make connections among these issues. By drawing attention to the interconnectedness of issues and strategies, we hope to further develop the grounds for coalition and alliance across organizations and movements."]

Zeese, Kevin. "Bradley Manning and the Rule of Law." TruthOut (January 14, 2011)

Glenn Greenwald: Torture crimes officially, permanently shielded

Torture crimes officially, permanently shielded
by Glenn Greenwald

In August, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder -- under continuous, aggressive prodding by the Obama White House -- announced that three categories of individuals responsible for Bush-era torture crimes would be fully immunized from any form of criminal investigation and prosecution: (1) Bush officials who ordered the torture (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld); (2) Bush lawyers who legally approved it (Yoo, Bybee, Levin), and (3) those in the CIA and the military who tortured within the confines of the permission slips they were given by those officials and lawyers (i.e., "good-faith" torturers). The one exception to this sweeping immunity was that low-level CIA agents and servicemembers who went so far beyond the torture permission slips as to basically commit brutal, unauthorized murder would be subject to a "preliminary review" to determine if a full investigation was warranted -- in other words, the Abu Ghraib model of justice was being applied, where only low-ranking scapegoats would be subject to possible punishment while high-level officials would be protected.

Yesterday, it was announced that this "preliminary review" by the prosecutor assigned to conduct it, U.S. Attorney John Durham, is now complete, and -- exactly as one would expect -- even this category of criminals has been almost entirely protected, meaning a total legal whitewash for the Bush torture regime:

The Justice Department has opened full criminal investigations of the deaths in CIA custody of two detainees, including one who perished at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The decision, announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., means continued legal jeopardy for several CIA operatives but at the same time closes the book on inquiries that potentially threatened many others. A federal prosecutor reviewed 101 cases in which agency officers and contractors interrogated suspected terrorists during years of military action after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but found cause to pursue criminal cases in only two. . . .

The two token cases to be investigated involve the most grotesque brutality imaginable: they apparently are (1) a detainee who froze to death in an American secret prison in Afghanistan in 2002 after being ordered stripped and chained to a concrete floor, and (2) the 2003 death of a detainee at Abu Ghraib whose body was infamously photographed by guards giving a thumbs-up sign. All other crimes in the Bush torture era will be fully protected.

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WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange & Philosopher Slavoj Žižek With Amy Goodman

On Saturday Amy Goodman moderated a conversation with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and renowned Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek in London. The talk provided a rare opportunity to hear two of the world’s most prominent thinkers discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Watch live streaming video from democracynow at livestream.com

Costs of War

Costs of War (Eisenhower Study Group, Brown University and Watson Institute for International Studies)

The President of the United States has told the American people and the rest of the world that even as the U.S. withdraws some troops from Afghanistan and continues to withdraw from Iraq, the wars will continue for some years. The debate over why each war was begun and whether either or both should have been fought continues.

What we do know, without debate, is that the wars begun ten years ago have been tremendously painful for millions of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, and the United States, and economically costly as well. Each additional month and year of war will add to that toll. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive accounting of the costs of the United States’ wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. The goal of the Costs of War project has been to outline a broad understanding of the domestic and international costs and consequences of those wars. The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University assembled a team that includes economists, anthropologists, political scientists, legal experts, and a physician to do this analysis.

We asked:

What have been the wars’ costs in human and economic terms?

How have these wars changed the social and political landscape of the United States and the countries where the wars have been waged?

What will be the long term legacy of these conflicts for veterans?

What is the long term economic effect of these wars likely to be?

Were and are there alternative less costly and more effective ways to prevent further terror attacks?

Some of the project’s findings:

While we know how many US soldiers have died in the wars (just over 6000), what is startling is what we don’t know about the levels of injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars. New disability claims continue to pour into the VA, with 550,000 just through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been identified.

At least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.

The armed conflict in Pakistan, which the U.S. helps the Pakistani military fight by funding, equipping and training them, has taken as many lives as the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.

Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.

Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons -- 7,800,000 -- is equivalent to all of the people of Connecticut and Kentucky fleeing their homes.

The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties at home and human rights violations abroad.

The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades, some costs not peaking until mid-century. Many of the wars’ costs are invisible to Americans, buried in a variety of budgets, and so have not been counted or assessed. For example, while most people think the Pentagon war appropriations are equivalent to the wars’ budgetary costs, the true numbers are twice that, and the full economic cost of the wars much larger yet. Conservatively estimated, the war bills already paid and obligated to be paid are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.

As with former US wars, the costs of paying for veterans’ care into the future will be a sizable portion of the full costs of the war.

The ripple effects on the U.S. economy have also been significant, including job loss and interest rate increases, and those effects have been underappreciated.

While it was promised that the US invasions would bring democracy to both countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, both continue to rank low in global rankings of political freedom, with warlords continuing to hold power in Afghanistan with US support, and Iraqi communities more segregated today than before by gender and ethnicity as a result of the war.

Serious and compelling alternatives to war were scarcely considered in the aftermath of 9/11 or in the discussion about war against Iraq. Some of those alternatives are still available to the U.S.

There are many costs of these wars that we have not yet been able to quantify and assess. With our limited resources, we focused on U.S. spending, U.S. and allied deaths, and the human toll in the major war zones, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. There is still much more to know and understand about how all those affected by the wars have had their health, economies, and communities altered by the decade of war, and what solutions exist for the problems they face as a result of the wars destruction.

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Amy Goodman: ‘Food Terrorism’ Next Door to the Magic Kingdom

‘Food Terrorism’ Next Door to the Magic Kingdom
by Amy Goodman

Think of “food terrorism” and what do you see? Diabolical plots to taint items on grocery-store shelves? If you are Buddy Dyer, the mayor of Orlando, Fla., you might be thinking of a group feeding the homeless and hungry in one of your city parks. That is what Dyer is widely quoted as calling the activists with the Orlando chapter of Food Not Bombs—“food terrorists.” In the past few weeks, no less than 21 people have been arrested in Orlando, the home of Disney World, for handing out free food in a park.

Food Not Bombs is an international, grass-roots organization that fights hunger. As the name implies, it is against war. Its website home page reads: “Food Not Bombs shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment. With over a billion people going hungry each day how can we spend another dollar on war?” The Orlando chapter sets up a meal distribution table every Monday morning and Wednesday evening in the city’s Lake Eola Park.

Lately, the Orlando police have been arresting those who serve food there, like Benjamin Markeson. He was perplexed, telling me: “We think that it’s terrorism to arrest people for trying to share food with poor and hungry people in the community to meet a community need. And all we do is we come to the park and we share food with poor and hungry people. I don’t know how that qualifies as terrorism.”

Attorney Shayan Elahi doesn’t know, either. He is representing Orlando Food Not Bombs in court. He has filed for an injunction against the city in the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, which is presided over by Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr., who is in the news as the no-nonsense judge in the Casey Anthony murder trial, happening now in Orlando. While the judge’s courtroom receives blanket coverage on cable networks, Elahi hopes Perry will have time to personally rule on his filing.

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Jiwei Xiao: The Quest for Memory - Documentary and Fiction in Jia Zhangke’s Films

The Quest for Memory: Documentary and Fiction in Jia Zhangke’s Films
by Jiwei Xiao
Senses of Cinema

In March 2010, MOMA dedicated a retrospective to Jia Zhangke, l’enfant terrible of contemporary Chinese cinema. (1) Considering his relatively young age (40) and the relatively short span of his filmmaking career (15 years), it was a remarkable honour. It was also timely. The event seemed to echo a spirit emanating from Jia’s filmmaking—the urgency to come to grips with something new and exciting, something that evolves so fast that one has to look back every now and then, and with attention. In the eyes of the MOMA curator, Jia’s cinema derives its power from the interplay of seemingly contradictory impulses:

Aiming to restore the concrete memory of place and to evoke individual history in a rapidly modernizing society, the filmmaker recovers the immediate past in order to imagine the future. His films reflect reality truthfully, while simultaneously using fantasy and a distinct aesthetic to pose existential questions about life and status in a society in flux. Through rigorous specificity, his art attains universal scope and appeal. (2)

The artistry with which Jia weaves these very different elements together is perhaps also what keeps his film original and innovative enough to avoid congealing into the predictable and imitable. Lesser filmmakers emulate Jia-ist realism—long takes, gritty pictures, elliptical narratives, and subjects about social marginality, etc.—but only so far as to get the surface effects right. (3) Their art lacks the intellectual weight and psychological subtlety of Jia’s, and in particular, the poetic imaginativeness which turns his realism of the quotidian, the coarse, and the ephemeral into something endearing and enduring. It is a lyricism that comes from the illumination of time and memory. Indeed, memory, something that Jia himself has encouraged us to associate his films with, seems to have become his preoccupation lately, as can be seen in his most recent documentary Hai shang chuanqi (I Wish I knew, 2010), the 2008 quasi-documentary Er shi si cheng ji (24 City), and a few shorts such asWomen de shinian, (Our Ten Years, 2007). But while these recent films reflect a heightened anxiousness to recover and represent memory, the whole corpus of Jia’s work can be viewed in light of his idea that cinema has a “function as memory” and should “partake in historical experience.” (4)

At first blush it might sound odd to claim that memory plays such an important role in a director’s work that has been known for its exceptional documentary qualities and are so profoundly rooted in “the present” –actual occurrences of everyday life and ongoing social, cultural and economic changes. Jia never uses flashback, voice-over, or other technical cues to contrast different times and create a subjective consciousness of memory and history. All of his works are squarely set in a single unified time frame. Yet despite their strong “contemporary” flavour, his films teem in period-authentic details and traffic in their effects to evoke a past time. Details—ranging from pop songs, fashions, everyday bric-a-brac, to the less tangible ones such as voices, gestures, demeanours and manners—“feel like time capsules of the here and now.” (5) Moreover, one detects a consciousness of time and memory that knocks the contemporaneity of his film off kilter, increasingly so in his latest works. In Sanxia haoren, (Still Life, 2006), a film about the demolition and flooding of an ancient river town for the Three Gorges Dam project, Jia’s mixture of documentary realism and computerized surrealism suspends the present, turning it into a site of different layers of time—embodied by the archaeological ruins, the more recent socialist industrial wreckage, the mundane everyday life, and the futuristic-looking objects and figures of phantasm. In 24 City, Jia’s protracted long take further lengthens as if to counter the impact of the accelerated passing of time; poetry and photographic stills are used profusely to induce a sense of duration. As a result, despite its strong documentary quality, 24 City has the feel of a past event—objects and people appear as if they were remembered, not perceived. A die-hard realist, Jia Zhangke is therefore also a dreamer trying to use memory to battle the world in transience: he must act as if his camera could outstrip the fleeing present by gazing at it hard and long enough and by registering its minute-by-minute change, as if reality were always on the cusp of disappearance. (6)

The consciousness of memory and its staying force also deeply affects the way Jia Zhangke conceives his characters. While he shows strong moral sympathy for the underprivileged and the disenfranchised, the director refuses to dramatize and allegorize them as hapless victims of political and social destinies. His characters are ordinary folks who try to grow with the changing world but are unable to keep up with it. Jia seizes upon their “tardiness” to prick the official image of China’s “great-leap-forward” progress transmitted through government-controlled media. To varying degrees, all of Jia’s films reveal a “time lag” between the fast and furious economic transformations and the slower-moving changes in people’s behaviour and mentality. Jia’s humble characters are the unlikely romantics who would not let go of the past: Xiao Wu the pickpocket foolishly and sentimentally clings to the expired relationships (The Pickpocket); Han Sanming the tongue-tied and tough farmer-turned-miner travels all the way from his northern hometown to the Three Gorges area to recover his long lost family with only a photo and an invalid address in hand (Still Life); even the thuggish Xiao Ma Ge is hopelessly nostalgic, as he invites his friend and us to listen to his cell phone ring-tone set to the theme song of the 1980s’ Cantonese pop TV series “Shanghai Bund” (Still Life). Through the depiction of these “losers,” where time seems to slow down and tarry, Jia reveals the individual as a historical being—he/she is the crossroads where past and present meet. Whereas the soul is still tied to the receding past, the individual’s person is irresistibly, sometimes violently, swept along and bent forward by the charge of reality and the blast from the future.

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