Are You Sure You have Nothing to Hide?

Nothing to Hide

Directed by Mark Meillassoux (2017)

Film Review

This documentary, featuring NSA whistleblowers Williman Binney, Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden, challenges the dismissive attitude (Who cares? I have nothing to hide) of many Smartphone and Internet users towards government agencies and corporations that collect all their personal data.

Binney, Drake and Snowden maintain everyone has something to hide. For example, health information collected by dating sites and sold to insurance and pharmaceutical companies. And the 60% of us who engage in minor lawbreaking. And all the free speech activities (following the Christchurch shooting, New Zealand is a prime example) that used to be legal but are illegal now.

Binney and Drake are particularly concerned about all the data governments collect on us – allegedly to protect us against terrorism. Even though mass surveillance hasn’t prevented a single terrorist act. Which is no surprise when you understand the true purpose of mass surveillance. Namely to protect governments against us, ie to suppress activities that might undermine the power of the oligarchs who control our so-called democracy.

To demonstrate this point, the filmmakers interview an East German human rights activist, who has kept the thousands of records the Stasi kept on her prior to reunification. In addition to recording all her phone calls and meetings with fellow activists, 49 friends, including her boyfriend, made regular reports to the Stasi on all her movements and activities.

 

 

 

False Confessions: How Police Pressure Innocent People to Confess

False Confessions: How Innocent People Confess to Crime in the US

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about powerful psychological techniques American cops use to pressure innocent suspects into making false confessions. It also interviews public interest attorneys who take on the arduous work of legally exonerating prisoners whose convictions result from false confessions. More than 25% of all wrongful convictions that are overturned are based on false confessions.

One of the most common tactics American police use to extract false confessions is to lie to suspects – usually by claiming evidence that conclusively establishes their guilt. In most countries, it’s illegal to lie to suspects in this way.

The documentary examines three convictions based on false confessions that have been successfully overturned. One, the infamous Central Part 5 case (see See Central Park 5: A Classic Case of Racist Law Enforcement ), was only overturned when the real perpetrator stepped forward and claimed responsibiliy. The oldest suspect in the Central Park 5 case spent 13 years in adult prison (including four years in solitary confinement) before he being proven innocent.

The documentary can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed friend until April 10 at the Al Jazeera website: False Confessions

 

Trump Instructs Top Advisors to Review Joining TPPA

Trade For People and Planet

Popular Resistance

Donald Trump has instructed United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, and National Economic Advisor, Larry Kudlow, to review re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) according to declarations given by Senator Ben Sasse to reporters after leaving a meeting on trade that Trump had with lawmakers and governors from farming states just a few hours ago.

“[Trump] said that he was going to deputize, again, Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Lighthizer with reentering the TPP negotiations,” Senator Sasse said. “The president multiple times reaffirmed in general to all of us and looked right at Larry Kudlow and said, ‘Larry, go get it done.’

We must show that the people are watching their every move! Help us make the hashtag #NeverTPP viral! Click on any of the tweets below to tweet now or create your own tweet and mention us at @FlushTheTPP.

BREAKING: Trump orders review of #TPP. We never trusted @realDonaldTrump to be the end of the #TPP. We defeated the deal under Obama & will again under #Trump if need be. Say NO to reviewing joining the TPP! #NeverTPP @FlushTheTPP

BREAKING: Trump tells @USTradeRep to review joining #TPP. @realDonaldTrump forgot that this deal is POLITICALLY TOXIC. Join us in saying #NeverTPP ! @FlushTheTPP 

.@FlushTheTPP on Trump’s reconsideration of TPP: It was the people who defeated the TPP, not Trump, and we will do it again. See more at –> https://bit.ly/2qqkKFe #NeverTPP pic.twitter.com/v8KyOLEHww

BREAKING: Trump tells @larry_kudlow to review joining #TPP. This deal is the ultimate power grab and will be opposed by the people across the political spectrum. Say NO to rejoining the TPP. #NeverTPP @FlushTheTPP

BREAKING: Trump instructs top trade aides to review joining the TPP. Fair trade is the exact opposite of the TPP. We will resist! #NeverTPP @FlushTheTPP

Fracking: When Fossil Fuel Companies Turn Your Community into a Sacrifice Zone

Sacrifice Zone: The Story of a Real Australian Gas Crisis

Directed by David Lowe and Eve Jeffery (2018)

Film Review

Sacrifice Zone is a full length documentary about a vibrant resistance movement dedicated to shutting down fracking (for Coal Seam Gas) in a pristine rural area of New South Wales (Australia). My chief interest in the film stems from striking parallels in Taranaki, a comparable region in rural New Zealand. Here in Taranaki, which is also frequently described as a sacrifice zone, residents are also engaged in a similar battle against fracking for shale gas and oil.

Because NSW farmers have learned from the bitter experience of Queensland farmers (who have been fighting fracking for more than ten years), there has been much stronger opposition in NSW.

The other immediate parallels are the lies farmers were told by Santos (the oil/gas mining company), eg that fracking would create local jobs (the vast majority of workers are flown in from someplace else), that there would be no water or air contamination and that there would be no adverse health effects. As in Taranaki, Santos also deliberately misled farmers about the number of wells they planned to drill (one or two wells quickly turns into eight or more). I also strongly identified with the stress of living 200 meters from constant flaring and drilling and traffic noise, the absence of any fire safety planning and the reckless disposal of contaminated fracking waste into unlined pits and streams used for drinking water. The latter has led to the total decimation of formerly pristine Queensland forest land.

Like Taranaki farmers, NSW and Queensland farmers are unable to sell or insure their land once a fossil fuel company sinks a fracking well on or near their property.

For the most part, Australian farmers seem primarily concerned about the potential contamination of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), an underground lake that supplies water to the majority of Australia’s agricultural land. The GAB is fed by a complex system of aquifers that interface with the coal deposits Santos is fracking (fracturing) for gas. Environmentalists and indigenous Australians are mainly concerned that fracking will destroy the Pilliga Forest, which sacred land and contains numerous endangered species. In light of the horrendous wildfires Australia has experienced over the last several years (and the extremely flammability of the methane gas they are extracting), I find it mind blogging the NSW government is allowing open flaring at Pilliga Forest well sites.

Overall I found it extremely gratifying to see conservative Aussie farmers (who have never protested against anything) uniting with environmentalists and indigenous activists.

Taranaki activists have played a similar role to Queensland activists in persuading other New Zealand communities not to open their pristine agricultural land to foreign oil and gas companies. At present Taranaki Energy Watch is battling local government and the petroleum industry in Environment Court to keep new fracking rigs away from our homes and schools. You can find out more about our case (and donate if you feel so inclined) at our Givealittle page:Taranaki Energy Watch

The Central Park 5: A Classic Case of Racist Law Enforcement

Last night Maori TV showed The Central Part Five, the harrowing story of five African American teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of gang raping, battering and nearly murdering a white jogger in Central Park in 1989.

The most distressing part of the film is the beginning, which depicts how Central Precinct cops terrorized five innocent teenagers (age 14-16) – by depriving them food, water and sleep – into signing a a confession in which they incriminated each other of various aspects of the crime. Although they were all minors, no parents were present in the interrogation room, a violation of New York state law.

There was no consistency whatsoever between the five statements as to the exact location of the rape or exactly who was responsible for grabbing the woman, beating her, undressing her or having sex with her. None of the boys had traces of her blood on them, and there was no trace of their DNA on her body. Moreover the timeline constructed by the police establishes clearly they were in another area of the park when the woman was attacked.

In 2001, they were exonerated when a convicted serial rapist came forward and confessed to the crime. When the police investigated, not only did his DNA match the rape kit sample, but he related details of the crime that were never made public.

The eldest, who was sentenced as an adult, has served 13 years when he was released in 2002. The others had received conditional releases after 7 years, though one had be re-arrested on a drugs charge.

The case received massive publicity in 1989, in part due to Donald Trump taking out a full page ad calling for the boys’ execution. New York police and prosecutors have never acknowledged their wrongdoing.

The Demise of Academic Freedom in the US

Watchtower

Press TV (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns three extremely popular and effective college professors who were denied tenure and/or fired after being targeted by the Jewish Anti-Discrimination League (ADL) for their views on Palestine. Two of the professors targeted (Dr Norman Finkelstein) and Dr Joel Kovel) were accused by the ADL of being “self-hating Jews,” owing to their support for justice for Palestine. The third, Dr Joseph Massad, a Jordanian whose family fled Palestine in 1948, was accused of being an “anti-Semite” who made Jewish students uncomfortable.

None of the above accusations were ever supported by the facts. In each case, the school that employed them (DePaul, Brooklyn College and Columbia) failed to follow their own established processes. Instead they were more concerned about bad publicity interfering with their ability to fundraise.  .

In 2008 Massad, who Columbia improperly denied tenure, sought the assistance of the the ACLU for the clear violation of his First Amendment rights. With their support, he finally won tenure in 2009.

One of the most ominous aspects of these three cases is the clear monitoring/surveillance role the ADL* is playing in all US institutions of higher learning. In Finkelstein’s case, this monitoring entailed dispatching outside non-student agitators to disrupt his classes.


*The ADL has a long history of collaborating with the FBI to spy on progressive groups. In the mid-eighties they were involved in spying on a group I belonged to The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES): https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2000/12/27/12071.php

The Saga of Kim Dotcom or How New Zealand is Merely America’s Lapdog

Kim Dotcom Caught in the Web: The Most Wanted Man Online

Directed by Annie Goldson

Film Review

I was extremely impressed by the high quality of Annie Goldson’s recent Kim Dotcom documentary, which showed last night on TVNZ. The video, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed at the TVNZ website: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/shows/kim-dotcom-caught-in-the-web

Nearly six years after his January 2012 arrest, Kim Dotcom and his three co-defendants are still fighting extradition to the US on copyright infringement charges. His main legal grounds for challenging the extradition are 1) the search warrant leading to his arrest and the confiscation of his funds and property were illegal 2) as a legal resident, GCSB (New Zealand intelligence) was illegally spying on all his phone, email and Internet use and 3) New Zealand’s extradition treaty  has no provision for copyright infringement, which isn’t a criminal offense under New Zealand law.

Except for the illegal spying, Dotcom’s initial court wins on these issues were overturned when the government appealed them.* Former Prime Minister John Key addressed the spying issue through a law change making it legal to spy on all New Zealand citizens and legal residents.

The first hour of the documentary, based on hours of Dotcom’s private video footage, concerns his early life in Germany as Kim Schmidt. He made his first fortune as a hacker turned security consultant and came to New Zealand with two criminal convictions on his record – for credit card fraud and insider trading.

He comes across in the film as an especially extremely arrogant, conceited, privileged and ostentatious white male, who became enormously rich (and bragged about it) when millions of users employed his cloud service (Megaupload) to illegally share copyright Hollywood films. His legal advice at the time was that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protected service providers against the illegal actions of their users. He has consistently argued that his activities were no more illegal than YouTube’s because a) he warned Megaupload users that sharing copyright material was illegal and b) like YouTube, he took down illegal files when copyright owners requested it.

His extensive legal battle has brought to light all manner of illegal activity on the part of both the US and New Zealand government, starting with a threat the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) made not to fund Obama’s 2012 campaign unless he directed the Justice Department to indict Kim Dotcom. The email correspondence between the FBI (which directed the SWAT team raid on Dotcom’s house), is also highly embarrassing, as is correspondence about the deal New Zealand Immigration made with MPAA to grant Dotcom permanent residency (despite his two criminal convictions) to facilitate his extradition to the US.

The film also briefly covers his unsuccessful effort to get into government in 2014 by collaborating with the Mana Party to form the Internet Mana Party. Some of the most dramatic footage is from an historic town hall meeting in which Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange made explosive revelations about the extent of mass surveillance on New Zealand residents.

In addition to commentary by MPAA advocates, journalists and civil liberties advocates, the documentary also includes snippets of an interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.


*As of December 15, 2017, Dotcom’s appeal against his extradition order is ongoing: https://www.rt.com/news/413364-kim-dotcom-appeals-judge/