The Death Penalty Only in the US.

In the Executioner’s Shadow

Directed by Maggie Burnett Stogner (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the death penalty in the US, the only remaining Western industrialized nation to retain execution as punishment for both legal and political crimes.*

In public opinion polls, 50% of Americans favor the death penalty and 50% oppose it. The annual number of executions peaked during the 1930s, when lynchings were popular entertainment in many communities. In 1936, following massive public backlash against the execution of Rainey Bethea, whom many believed innocent, most states moved to hide their executions inside in death houses. With the advent of DNA evidence, roughly one in ten death row inmates is ultimately proven innocent.

For many years, electrocution was the method of choice. This changed to lethal injection in most states several decades ago.

The film profiles the emotional struggles of  two families of murder victims and a former Pennsylvania chief executioner, as they confront the issue of public execution. The former executioner, who performed 62 executions over 17 years, presently campaigns against the death penalty. He asserts that neither judges nor juries  would sentence people to death if they had to carry them out themselves.

A couple whose daughter was robbed and murdered during a break-in outraged their local district attorney by fighting to save their daughter’s killer’s life. After watching other parents’ being overcome by the grief and anger of 15+ years of death row appeals, they decided compassion and forgiveness was the better avenue.

Another couple, whose daughter was killed in the Boston Marathon, supported the death penalty for the convicted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

His death sentence was overturned in July by a federal appeals court: https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/tsarnaev-death-sentence-tossed-federal-appeals-court-orders-new-penalty-phase-trial/2169713/


*The film neglects to mention that Obama signed an executive order in July 2016 allowing the President to order extrajudicial assassination of political enemies without due process of law.

 

Plandemic II – Film Review

Plandemic

Plandemic II

Directed by Mikki Willis (2020)

Film Review

This is an exceptionally well-made follow-the-money documentary. It’s meticulously researched, and the filmmakers continually inform viewers of their source material. The film largely focuses on documented corruption in the World Health Organization (WHO) and various federal agencies.

One of the film’s principal narrators is a Wall Street analyst who specializes in patent research. In 2003, he discovered the US patent office had granted coronavirus patents to various federal employees performing federally funded coronavirus research. Dr Fauci (of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease) was one, along with several CDC researchers.

In 1980, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act, which allows federal employees to patent and privately profit from federally funded research.

However what’s most curious about these patents is that it’s illegal to patent nature. This means these coronaviruses had to be genetically modified in some way to qualify for patent protection. When questions were raised about these patents in 2013, the National Institutes of Health ended coronavirus research funding and the Obama administration offshored US coronavirus research to Wuhan China.

When WHO first declared a coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, numerous scientists (including Luc Montainger, who won a 2008 Nobel Prize for isolating the AIDS virus) came forward with additional evidence that COVID19 was genetically manipulated for biological warfare purposes. Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia all acted quickly to prevent this information from gaining traction on the Internet – Google by rigging their search algorithms, Facebook by either banning relevant posts or overshadowing them with fact checking messaging, and Wikileaks by allowing political donors to edit compromising entries.

Later research questioning the value of face masks and social distancing, which was initially at the top of most Google searches, also totally disappeared in their search engine.

Other valuable information presented in the film relates to Bill Gates’ role (through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) as the single largest funder of both the WHO and the CDC. Both agencies receive half their funding from private sources, both charitable organizations (like the Gates, Clinton and Epstein Foundations) and the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines

The film also looks Event 201 in October 2019, a rehearsal for the COVID19 lockdown, and a prior pandemic rehearsal in 2018. Although both Gates and Fauci predicted the COVID19 pandemic more than a year in advance, neither used their immense wealth and prestige to ensure an adequate supply of masks, gloves, visors and ventilators, to ensure safe, timely and effective treatment for all who needed it.

My favorite part of the film features Bill Gates testifying in the antitrust suit the Justice Department filed against Microsoft in 1998. It was largely as a result of this case that Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000, shifting his focus to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His foundation significantly benefits Gates’ personal investment in vaccines production. Gates, who calls his investment in vaccines “the best investment I ever made,” credits them with a 20 to 1 return.


*Foundation founded by the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

View the film free at

 

Plandemic – Indoctornation World Premiere

The Deplorables: The 400-Year History of the US Working Class

White Trash

Talk by Nancy Isenberg (2015)

Film Review

In this talk about White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America, author Nancy Isenberg begins by exploring British attitudes towards poverty and vagrancy. The latter would heavily influence attitudes towards the landless poor in colonial America.

Prior to colonization, according to Isenberg, British elite viewed the New World as a vast wasteland they could use to construct a giant workhouse for Britain’s landless vagrants.* For several decades, the British government kidnapped vagrants (including street children) off the street, branded them, and involuntarily shipped them to North America as indentured servants.

Adopted by wealthy colonists, these attitudes provided a major impetus for opening the American West to settlement. In the eyes of the founding fathers, the supposedly “empty” lands of the western continent provided an opportunity for Eastern settlements to rid themselves of “human garbage.”

Like the British aristocracy, New World colonists were obsessed with the so-called “idleness” of the landless poor. which they viewed as hereditary. They took their physical appearance (with pervasive malnourishment leading to white hair, and yellow, prematurely shriveled skin) as evidence that their condition was congenital.

In 1790, 70% of Kentuckians were landless poor whites. By the 1850s, 35-40% of the population of most Southern states consisted of landless poor whites.

The 1950s economic boom, which would lead to the rise of the middle class and the myth of America’s classless society. This period would see the rise of trailer parks in most cities, enabling the transformation of “white trash” to “trailer trash.”

Today Reality TV, which Isenberg describes as “white trash voyeurism” is the best known cultural outlet for US working poor.


* Vagrancy was a new phenomenon in the 17th century, brought on by a series of enclosure acts between 1604 and 1814. This would drive hundreds of thousands of peasants off land that had always been held communally.

 

India, COVID19 and Inequality

India: Under Lockdown

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the devastating impact of India’s COVID19 lockdown on millions of the country’s migrant workers. India is experiencing a similar pattern to China, with many rural adults migrating to the city for work – and sending money back home to their families.

When Indian prime minister Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown on March 24, he ordered 1.3 billion residents confined to their homes with four hours notice. The immediate effect was to leave millions of casual workers without jobs and with no means to return to their rural villages.

The filmmakers focus on New Delhi, a city of 20 million. When public transport was shut down, thousands of migrant workers tried to walk home along the freeways. Most were stopped and sent back to the slums. There they live, without soap or running water, in makeshift huts, many made from cotton sheets.

At the time of filming, the government was trying to provide two meals a day (consisting of rice and soup) for millions of stranded migrant workers. However it’s estimated several hundreds of thousands missed out.

In New Delhi, United Sikh Volunteers helped fill the gap by cooking and distributing balanced meals to starving migrant workers. People could ring a hotline to let the Sikh volunteers know where food was needed. Their goal was to reach 10 slums a day.

An even bigger problem than food for poor residents was access to medical care. To keep beds open for COVID19 patients, free public hospitals turned away patients with cancer and other life threatening illnesses.

 

New Zealand: Highest Per Capita Homeless Rate in OECD

New Zealand: A Place to Call Home

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

This is a documentary about homelessness in New Zealand, which (as of 2017) has the highest per capita homeless rate in the OECD. The film mainly focuses on Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and the work of Auckland Action Against Poverty. AAAP has a primary focus of finding emergency housing for homeless Aucklanders. At present a minimum wage family Auckland family spends 70% of their income on rent. This usually leaves them two paychecks away from homelessness.

Although there are currently 14,000 Aucklanders on the waiting list for low income housing, our current government only plans to build 6,000 state houses over the next four years. This despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign promise to build 100,000 state houses over 10 years.

Last year despite expert advice to increase benefit levels (for single parents, the unemployed, disabled, and retired) by 50%, our coalition government spent millions of dollars on emergency motel accommodation for homeless families.

In Auckland, filmmakers interview a number of Auckland’s “invisible” homeless residents. Rather than sleeping rough, they are camped out in cars, garages, and the living rooms of friends and extended family.

Filmmakers also visit Northland, a rural area absorbing growing numbers of Auckland’s homeless. Owing to the scarcity of rental accommodation, many of Northland’s homeless families live in buses, sheds, lean-tos, and tents.

A Northland Maori leader talks about mortgage his to purchase for abandoned state houses he has relocated from Auckland. After rehabilitating them, he charges homeless families $275 a week to buy them. He has asked the Prime Minister to declare a Northland housing emergency to help his trust qualify for $11 million in funding. This cover land and rehabilitation costs for an additional 500 abandoned state houses.

Thus far she has declined.

Prime Minister Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods also declined to be interviewed for this documentary.

 

Priced Out: 15 Years of Gentrification in Portland Oregon

Priced Out: 15 Years of Gentrification in Portland Oregon

Directed by Cornelius Swart (2016)

Film Review

As of 2015, Portland was the most “gentrified” city in the US. The term “gentrification” describes the large scare displacement of African Americans from their traditional inner city communities. It typically occurs when city authorities create significant amenities in Black neighborhoods to lure white residents back from the suburbs. This new trend reverses a 100 year process in which whites migrated great distances to avoid living near Black people.

Growing demand from white professionals for inner city homes, leads to exponential increases in house prices and rents that make homes unaffordable for low income African Americans.

In Portland the first area to be gentrified was Albina, a neighborhood just Northeast of downtown Portland. During the fifties and sixties, it was a thriving Black community with flourishing Black-owned businesses where most residents knew one another. In the 1970s, as manufacturing jobs moved overseas, economic conditions in Albina tanked and criminal activity increased.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Portland city authorities began investing in Northeast Portland by building a light rail service and funding various redevelopment projects. More than 1100 African American homes and scores of Black businesses were demolished for an Interstate hub, a sports stadium, and a major hospital complex that was never built. At the same time, city authorities enacted a ban against landlords renting to federal Section 8 subsidy recipients.

The mass displacement of Albina’s Black residents reached its peak after the 2008 economic crisis, which resulted in an epidemic of subprime mortgage foreclosures in many low income communities. Ironically the current house price bubble means the majority of white working class residents are also being displaced from Portland. At present 49% of Portland residents live in rental housing, and half of them spend more than one-third of their income on housing.

Fortunately since 2013, there has been significant organized resistance to continuing gentrification. It’s now the number one issue for city government. In 2015, activists forced Trader Joe to withdraw from a city-subsidized scheme to demolish yet more rental housing for a huge shopping complex. The same year, city authorities passed a right to return law, ending the ban on Section 8 housing and granting former Albina residents preferential access.

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.

 

 

 

How a Country (Mis)manages COVID-19 Without Sick Pay or Family Leave

Impossible Choice: America’s Paid Leave Crisis

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

The US and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries in the world that fail to guarantee both sick and family leave (aka maternity or parental leave) for all their workers. Although this documentary was made just prior to the global coronavirus outbreak, it lays out clearly 1) the stark brutality of employment policies that force people to work when they or a family member is sick and 2) the significant role these policies play in spreading contagious infections – as millions of Americans show up at work with early symptoms of COVID-20.

The only good news in the film is the Family Leave and Medical Insurance Act Congresswoman Rosa DeLaura (Dem Ct) introduced in 2019. The bill would guarantee US workers 12 weeks of combined sick and family leave. Under DeLaua’s proposal, the government, rather than the employer, would manage the leave benefits, funded via joint employer/employee payroll deductions.

The film also features the heart breaking stories of a physical therapist whose 2 1/2 month old baby died at a dodgy daycare center she failed to qualify for unpaid maternity leave; a teacher who was unlawfully fired when she used unpaid FMLA* leave to care for a three-year-old son undergoing cancer chemotherapy; and a lactation coach forced to go on welfare when her husband died, leaving her the sole provider and care of a newborn baby.


*The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers of over 15 employees to allow all workers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

 

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).

The Privatization of Childhood

Class War: The Privatization of Childhood

By Megan Erikson

Verso Press (2015)

Book Review

Megan Erikson’s 2015 book provides an elegant class analysis of the current push by Wall Street and Silicon Valley to privatize US education via voucher programs and private publicly-funded charter schools. Class War provides an in-depth examination of the dismaying effects of systematic privatization on the teachers and low income students who struggle on in brutally underfunded public schools.

Erikson’s basic premise is that the current purpose of the US educational system isn’t to educate but to permanently entrench social class divisions by sorting students into winners and losers.

For me the three basic points Class War puts across are

  1. US public schools are increasingly run like prisons, complete with metal detectors, cops, surveillance, attack dogs and random sweeps,
  2. Teachers are unfairly blamed for severe social problems that are beyond their control. Five decades of research conclusively concludes that classroom education accounts for less than 30% of a child’s education success and teacher performance only 7.5%. Achievement levels relate much more closely to exposure to complex language, access to medical care and a “healthy” home environment that provides access to books and challenging games.
  3. Claims by the CATO Institute and other conservative that increased federal education funding* won’t help are dead wrong. Research consistently shows that increasing the funding level per student**and reducing class size,*** increasing teacher pay, and providing better instructional materials (many New York City public schools fail to provide a textbook for every child) all improve achievement levels.

Erikson points to the irony of neoliberal billionaire reformers (like Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg) calling for an increase class sizes in public schools (currently 40 students per teacher in New York City, while they send their own kids to exclusive private school with class sizes of 10-16. Likewise Silicon Valley executives push for early access to tablets and laptops in public schools, while sending their own kids to Waldorf schools that ban classroom computer access prior to age 13.


*In most industrialized countries, 50% of funding comes from national government. In the US the federal share is only 10-15%. This means most public school are mainly reliant on local property taxes for funding. This translate into major financial problems in poor districts.

**In public school districts with high funding levels per student, results on global achievement tests are equal to those of high performing countries like Japan and Hong Kong.

***In most European countries, administrators reduce class size to increase achievement in students from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the US, the exact opposite occurs.