America’s 1.4 Million Homeless Veterans

Shelter: America’s Homeless Veterans

Al Jazeeera (Barbara Koppel) 2017

Film Review

This heartbreaking documentary is about the  1.4 million US veterans who are either homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, due to poverty, mental illness, alcoholism and/or drug addiction. An American vet commits suicide every 61 seconds.

With the demise of nearly all Veterans Administration programs (eg GI Bill of Rights) that helped World War II vets reintegrate into society, veterans of America’s permanent War on Terror are mostly left to their own devices.

Owing to an extreme shortage of female shelter beds, homeless female veterans are the most underserved. Many homeless female vets were raped while serving, some multiple times. Those who report their sexual assault to superior officers are frequently kicked out of the military.

Living on the Street in Los Angeles

On the Streets – Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times (2016)

Film Review

This is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen on homelessness. Based on a 2016 LA Times survey, it mainly focuses on high functioning homeless people, many of whom hold full time jobs.

According to the survey, in 2016 there were 44,000 homeless people in LA county. The survey mapped their location and whether they were living rough or in tents, camper vans or cars. The number of homeless living in vehicles doubled between 2015 and 2016.

It’s common for women in tents to cluster in “family” groups for security. The filmmakers interview a Skid Row cop who monitors the welfare of homeless people on his beat. He talks about a big increase in rapes, robbery, assaults and sex trafficking – due to criminals who prey on the homeless.

For me, the most interesting part of the film is an interview with a UCLA graduate student who lives in his car and is working with other homeless UCLA students to establish a youth homeless shelter. In the US, roughly 56,000 university students are homeless.

Greeks Fight Back Against Austerity and Fascism

Love and Revolution

Directed by Yannis Youlountis (2018)

Film Review

Love and Revolution is about the growing anarchist movement fighting Greece’s deepening austerity cuts (which have cut salaries and pensions in half and ended health care access for a million patients). The film consists mainly of interviews with anarchists over the specific projects they are organizing. The documentary emphatically challenges the recent announcement by the IMF and the European Central Bank that Greek austerity has ended. After years of brutal austerity resulting in thousands of deaths, the Greek government is further than ever from repaying its debt to European bankers.

Among the projects that most impressed me are

  • a social kitchen that regular provides free meals on the street.
  • an anti-eviction movement that has been by occupying and shutting down eviction hearings at the District Court.
  • an ongoing squat that has provided accommodation to more than 6,000 refugees in the last five years.
  • an antifascist campaign that has shut down Golden Dawn* offices in Athens and established Exarcheia, a fascist-free zone that also effectively excludes Greek police.
  • a campaign to block the construction of a new airport in a pristine rural/agricultural area.
  • a YouTube channel dedicated to Greek news from the viewpoint of anti-austerity activists, rather than police and banks.

*See Greek Austerity and the Rise of Fascism

Tomorrow We Disappear: The Human Price of Development

Tomorrow We Disappear: New Dehli’s Kathputli Slum

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This is one of the saddest and most beautifully made documentaries I’ve ever seen. It concerns a 60-year-old artist colony in a New Dehli slum called Kathputli. The film follows the artists’ futile struggle to block government plans to evict them to make way for a shopping mall and high rise commercial and residential buildings.

The 1500 artists who have learned their craft from parents and grandparents, consist of magicians, puppeteers, musicians, carvers, acrobats, fire eater, dancers and jugglers. Most earn a meager living as street performers in the crowded streets of New Dehli. The documentary follows their fruitless negotiations with government officials and property developers.

In the end they organize a series of colorful protests featuringde giant puppets, stilt walkers, jugglers, acrobats and magicians in brilliantly colored costumes. Their goal is to call public attention to what is being lost.

Their colony was bulldozed in late 2017, and they were all moved to temporary “transit” camps (they look more like concentration camps) at considerable distance from Dehli.

The History of Advertising

Sell and Spin: A History of Advertising

Produced by Rob Blumenstein (1999)

Film Review

Sell and Spin details the history of advertising, which apparently dates back 3,000 years to a wine ad painted on a wall in ancient Babylon. The documentary’s only weakness is its omission of the important role Edward Bernays, the father of the public relations industry played in incorporating psychological persuasion into advertising (see Edward Bernays: The Father of Water Fluoridation).

In Europe, advertising took a giant leap forward with the invention of the Guttenberg printing press in 1548 and a significant increase in literacy. The first printed ad appeared in 1580 – to promote the sale of books.

Newspapers, the first mass media, contained no ads when they first appeared in England in the early seventeenth century. The first newspaper ads appeared in 1625, alerting readers to the availability of various advertisers’ products. In the US, the first newspaper ad in appeared in the Boston News-Letter in 1704. In 1728, Benjamin Franklin was the first publisher to use images in newspaper ads in the Philadelphia Gazette.

Volney E Palmer created the first advertising agency in 1842. He worked solely for newspaper publishers, helping them find advertisers.

Magazines first accepted advertising after the Civil War. In 1883 the Ladies Home Journal was created as a vehicle for ads aimed at housewives.

In 1869 Wayland Ayer created the first full service advertising agency, writing copy as well as selling ads. Before long, “every orifice of the body was taken over by advertising,” as corporations invented fictitious illnesses and products to cure them. BO (body odor) was invented in 1919 to sell Odorono and halitosis in the 1920s to sell Listerine.

The first radio program was broadcast in 1920, announcing that Harding had won the US presidency. Although most European governments assumed responsibility for broadcasting in the public interest, in the US the private corporations Westinghouse (CBS) and General Electric (NBC) controlled the first radio networks. The first radio ad appeared in 1922.

In 1946, the first TV program was broadcast, and by 1951 there were more than 5 million TVs around the world.

Beginning in the early sixties, advertising agencies began incorporating sophisticated psychological persuasion techniques in their TV ads. According to the filmmakers, this was mainly under the influence of George Gallup, the father of the public opinion poll. Gallup, whose primary focus was the science of persuasion, was ultimately responsible for the major role focus groups and other forms of market research play in product development.

When this documentary was filmed in 1999, Internet advertising was only five years old. Yet advertisers were already tracking us with “cookies” monitoring which websites we visited and to targeting us with specific ads.

 

 

 

The Economic Function of Militarism

Trump’s Foreign Policy and the American Economy in Decline

Vjay Prasad (2018)

Film Review

In this talk, Indian historian and journalist Vjay Prasad outlines the importance of militarism to the US economy, via a concept he refers to as “military keynesianism.” In so-called “sensible countries,” governments seek to ameliorate cyclical economic downturns by increasing spending on public services, such as health, education, public transport and social services.*

The technical term for this type of spending, first advocated in the 1930s by British economist Milton Keynes, is “countercyclical spending.”

The US also engages in countercyclical spending to prevent economic collapse during a recession – but on the military side. In Europe, one of the primary effects of public service spending is an enhanced sense of community. US elites prefer to keep the US population splintered and isolated because it makes them easier to control. They can’t take the risk of them banding together to push for reforms or revolution.

Although a military base operates like a mini-socialist state where the government takes care of every need, there is little risk a genuine egalitarian community will develop. This relates to the hierarchical nature of military life.


*No elites do this out of the goodness of their heart. European social democracies increase public spending during recessions because their populations are well-organized and force them to do so.

In Debt We Trust

In Debt We Trust

Directed by Danny Schechter (2006)

Film Review

The main selling point of this 10-year old documentary is that it foretells the 2008 global economic crash. It quite accurately paints the enormous debt bubble that had developed by 2005 and which triggered a massive global recession when it burst in 2007.

Schechter mainly focuses on aggressive marketing efforts by banks to addict young people to debt and living beyond their means. College students can easily rack up $10,000 in credit card debt by the time they finish graduate, on top of $50,000+ of student loan debt.

The film also addresses predatory check cashing and pay day loan stores in minority communities, tax preparation services like H & R block that offer high interest tax return loans as part of their service, and predatory mortgage schemes that played a role in the 2007 housing bubble that crashed the global economy.

The only glaring inaccuracy is a claim that attributes the American Revolution to the colonists’ desire to end their “enslavement” to European banks. Unfortunately the War of Independence didn’t end US enslavement to European banks. The first Bank of the United States, founded by the first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, was a private central bank largely funded by European banks which imposed crippling interest charges on the fledgling US government.

Contemporary historians are more inclined to identify the British ban on seizure of unceded Native lands as the main trigger for the US War of Independence (see Voice of Sanity in the Gun Control Debate).

Overall the major weakness of the film is its failure to highlight the root cause of the present debt crisis – namely that we continue to allow private banks to issue (out of thin air) 97-98% of the money used to run the global economy (see The Battle for Public Control of Money )