Imprisoned While Innocent: Inside the US Prison Industrial Complex

Imprisoned

RT (2019)

Film Review

This is an intriguing documentary series about three men held for lengthy periods in US prison who were later presumed innocent. Two of the former inmates are African American, and one a Scottish immigrant.

Episode One features Otis Johnson, a 73 year old African American imprisoned for 40 years for attempted murder (of a cop) – because he wore a tan jacket similar to that of the suspect. At the time of his arrest, he was a hospital worker with no criminal record and no history of alcohol or drug abuse. He also had a clear alibi at the time of the shooting.

Although his behavior in prison was impeccable, his failure to show remorse for a crime he didn’t commit led to nine unsuccessful parole applications. The parole board released him on his tenth application.

Episode two concerns Jerome Morgan who, at 17, was sentence to Angola Prison for 20 years for a murder occurring a brawl at a sweet sixteen party. The New Orleans Innocence Project began trying to establish his innocence in 2001. However his case was significantly delayed after many of his legal files were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Morgan’s Project Innocence attorney won his release by establishing that the police lied at trial by alleging the friends who supported his testimony were gang members and by obtaining affidavits from two other witnesses who the police forced to change their testimony.

Episode three concerns Scottish immigrant Kenny Ritchie, who spent 21 years on death row for allegedly starting a fire that killed a two-year-old child died. Unlike the other two ex-inmates, Ritchie obtained his release after a prosecutor allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser charge of child endangerment. This enabled prison authorities to release him on time served in 2007. This unusual plea bargain came about as a result of an extensive international campaign, in which U2, the Proclaimers, Sean Connery, Ian McGregor, Amnesty International UK, Reprieve UK, and Pope Jean Paul II all lobbied against his execution. It helped that two witnesses officially retracted evidence they had given against him.

Ritcihie, who continues to have major problems with alcohol and drug abuse, currently lives in a tent in Ohio. His ex-wife claims he once confessed to setting the fire while drunk. She also claims to be in communication with Ritchie’s dead father and the dead child.

 

 

 

Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

PBS (2020)

Film Review

This new PBS documentary about Bezos and Amazon is far more extensive than prior exposes. In addition to getting six senior Amazon managers to respond (on camera) to critics, it also reflects significant moves within the federal government to limit Amazon’s monopoly power.

What comes across most clearly for me is the stark contrast between Trump’s attacks on Bezos (on Twitter)* and Obama’s fawning attitude towards the company’s stellar financial success.

This is the first documentary to make clear that Bezos deliberately set out to create a monopoly – how he deliberately operated at a loss for more than a decade to undercut (via lower prices) and destroy his competition. The list of businesses of all sizes (including authors, publishers, bookstores, and increasingly other retailers) Amazon has put out of business is substantial. Globally, the company is directly responsible for shutting down 38% of retail outlets in two decades.

In recent years, Amazon has also set out to capture the services market at well, seeking to undercut FedEx and UPS in delivery services, Netflix in film production and streaming, Apple and Spotify in music streaming services, and Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft in cloud streaming services.

The company also has health professionals worried with their expansion into pharmaceutical sales and health insurance, likewise food retailers with their purchase of Whole Foods. Moreover in the past year, Bezos has announced his intention to launch a digital advertising platform to rival Google and Facebook.

At present Amazon essentially “owns” the online Main Street, controlling 40% of the global online market place. They also spend more on lobbying US politicians than an any other single entity. However despite all the cash flowing to Washington lawmakers, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a House Committee chaired by Congressman David Cicillini (Dem, RI) are investigating the need to restrict the range of services Amazon is allowed to offer, as well as their collection and use of customer data.


*Trump has attacked Amazon for tax avoidance and exploiting the US Post Office, and Bezo personally for his ownership of the Washington Post (and its attacks on Trump).

New Zealand: Spying for NSA

The Fifth Eye

Directed by Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones (2015)

Film Review

This documentary traces the history of New Zealand involvement in the US-run Five Eyes spy network, first brought to public awareness by the 2008 arrest of three Ploughshares activists for criminal trespass the Waihopai Spy Base near Blenheim New Zealand.

According to investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager (featured in the film), New Zealand built the spy base in the mid-eighties after getting kicked out of the ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-US) security network for declaring New Zealand a nuclear-free zone. This declaration effectively banned all US naval vessels from our ports – as the US refuses to disclose whether specific ships are propelled by nuclear power.

Hager reveals that Five Eyes spy is responsible for Echelon, a project that collects data from all phone calls and electronic communications for the US National Security Agency (NSA). The other agencies involved are the Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the UK Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), and the New Zealand GCSB. GCSB-NZ is responsible for monitoring all phone and electronic traffic in the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite government reassurances that the GCSB didn’t spy on New Zealanders, in 2012 we learned they had spied on NZ resident Kim Dotcom for the 2012 swat team assault on his home. His crime: violation of US copyright law. Through the Official Information Act, we learned they had also spied on 88 other Kiwis the government declined to identify.

In 2010 the Ploughshares 3 presented a greater good defense and were acquitted. Their defense teams successfully persuaded the jury that the data collected at Waihopai was being used to target innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan for drone and cruise missile strikes or for arrest and torture.

In 2011, the government filed a civil lawsuit against the Ploughshares 3 for $1.2 million, which the high court granted via summary judgment (ie without trial). In 2013, their right to trial was denied by the Court of Appeal. The same year the National government, under John Key, passed (despite massive public opposition) the GSCB Amendment Bill. The latter granted the spy agency the right to spy on New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.

In 2014 the Waihopai activists appealed to the NZ Supreme Court, only for the government to drop their damage claim – owing to the extreme controversy arising over GCSB spying on Kiwi investigative journalist Jon Stephenson.

The high point of the film is the 2014 Internet Party conference in Auckland featuring Glenn Greenwald and (via video link) Edward Snowden that exposed the true extent of the GCSB in Fives Eyes spying on all New Zealanders’ phone and Internet activity.


*Dotcom is still waiting on a New Zealand Supreme Court decision whether he can be extradited to the US: Kim Dotcom Supreme Court Appeal

**Stephenson was reporting on the the role of NZ troops in handing over Afghan civilians to known torture unit,

The documentary can be viewed free for the next 11 days on the Maori TV website:

https://www.maoritelevision.com/docos/5th-eye

Black Lives Matter vs The Ku Klux Klan: Racial Tensions Spark Pain and Anger in the US

Black Lives: Deadlock. Black Lives Matter vs the Ku Klux Klan: Racial Tensions Spark Pain and Anger in the US

RT (2019)

Film Review

The eighth episode of Black Lives concerns the Ku Klux Klan and the deleterious effect of the white supremacy on Black Americans. It includes a very strange interview with Chris Barker, the KKK Imperial Wizard and his family, as well as a cross burning ceremony with the ritual language that accompanies it. According to Barker, the KKK is praying for a race war, in the hope African Americans will be annihilated or forced to go back to “their country.”

Barker boasts that presidents Warren Harding and Harry Truman were both KKK members.

The filmmakers also interview a Black Lives Matter leader from New York. He questions why the FBI still allows the KKK, which they designate as the most terrorist organization in the US, to operate – after 150 years. He contrasts their treatment of the Black Panther Party, which the FBI had infiltrated and decimated within 15 years.

 

Update on Catalan Struggle for Independence from Spain

The Catalonia Trials: Justice or Vengeance

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary examines the arrest and imprisonment of nine leaders of the Catalan Popular Assembly for holding an independence referendum in 2017. In a region where children were historically forbidden to speak their native tongue (Catalan) in school, the movement for Catalan rights and independence has a long history.

Catalan public opinion is evenly divided over the independence issue. Nearly 50% of the population voted or tried to vote on the 2017 referendum. Most opponents of independence boycotted the ballot. Of the 43% who successfully cast votes, 90% opted for independence.

On the day of the poll, national police raided many polling stations, confiscating ballot boxes and trying to drag voters away.

Following the failed referendum, the Catalan Popular Assembly voted to declare independence and was suspended by the Spanish government. Twelve assembly leaders were arrested and spent 17 months in prison before going to trial. Other leaders, including Carlos Puigemont, the former Catalan president, fled to northern Europe to avoid arrest.

Spain’s center left socialist government, which took power in June 2018 opposes Catalan independence. For some reason, they are allowing members of the right wing Vox party to participate in prosecuting the Catalan leaders.

In April 2019, the socialist government fell, because Catalan members of its governing coalition refused to support their proposed budget. Because the Catalan independence movement is as strong as ever, several of the imprisoned Popular Assembly leaders stood in the new election. Four, who were elected, were let out of jail to take their oath of office before the new government suspended their right to take their seats.

They were also elected (along with two exiled Catalan leaders) to the European Parliament, as well.

Although the trial ended June 12, 2019, the verdict isn’t expected until fall.  See New York Times

All 12 face a potential 17-year sentence for rebellion.

The Danger of Biased Artificial Intelligence

The World According to AI – Episode 2 The Bias in the Machine

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary examines how drone algorithms the US military developed for the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen (see Civilian Drone Strikes: Targeted by Algorithm) are being rolled out by urban police. Because these law enforcement algorithms are based on faulty data, they disproportionately target the poor and minorities. Because these particular zip codes are already over-policed, they provide the vast majority of data used in creating new algorithms.

What the filmmakers find particularly alarming is that many of the same algorithms are used to make bail decisions, sentencing recommendations and credit scores, as well as determining eligibility for state housing and other benefits.

The filmmakers visit Skid Road, the second most policed area in the world, after Baghdad. Owing to the current housing crisis, it hosts a massive homeless population, most of whom are either Black or disabled. The reason Skid Row is so heavily policed is because Skid Row borders on the wealthy Los Angeles financial district. One Skid Row woman has been arrested 108 times for sitting or lying on the sidewalk.

The US military also uses Skid Row population to test new spy software.

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