Leonard Peltier: Political Prisoner

Incident at Olgala: The Leonard Peltier Story

Michael Apted (1992)

Film Review

This documentary, narrated by Robert Redford, describes the framing of American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Leonard Peltier for the murder of two FBI agents. Essentially a political prisoner, Peltier is currently serving two consecutive life sentences.

The charges arose out of a June 1975 firefight in Jumping Bull on the Pine Ridge reservation in North Dakota. The film portrays quite vividly the regime of terror gripping Pine Ridge between 1973-75. It was overseen by corrupt Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) appointee Dick Wilson, with the support of BIA police. In 1973 Lakota elders, who were the primary targets of Wilson and his “goon squads” approached the national American Indian Movement (AIM) leadership for support.

By mid-1975, the reservation was in a state of virtual war, with more than 60 unsolved murders and frequent firefights like the one that occurred in Jumping Bull.

Based on this background, Pelter’s co-defendants Daryl Butler and Bib Ribideau won acquittal on their first degree murder charges. Given the two FBI agents were in civilian dress, unknown to the defendants and drew their guns on them, the jury found Butler and Ribideau were merely defending themselves in firing their weapons.

Peltier, who had to be extradited from Canada, was assigned a different judge. By the time of his trial in 1997, the FBI had clearly doctored the ballistics evidence and browbeat and intimidated two eyewitnesses into changing their statements.

Peltier’s arrest and trial occurred during a period when the FBI  see The FBI’s War on Black People) was hoping to kill off both AIM and the Black Panther Party by decimating their leadership – through covert assassination and arresting as many as possible on phony charges.

The film can’t be embedded for copyright reason but can be seen free at Incident at Olgala

Mumia Abu Jamal: America’s Most Famous Political Prisoner

Mumia Abu Jamal

Eliot Grossman (2002)

Film Review

This excellent 2002 documentary provides a comprehensive summary of the frame-up of America’s most important political prisoner African American journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal. Mumia’s unlawful arrest and imprisonment continues to be protested by tens of thousands of activists around the world.

The presenter is Mumia’s new attorney Eliot Grossman, who headed the defense team that replaced his prior defense team in 2001.

Mumia, who was moonlighting as a cab driver, is accused of shooting patrol officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981. The latter had just pulled over Mumia’s brother Billy Cook and was allegedly in the process of beating him up. Gunshots ensured, with Faulkner ending up dead and Mumia receiving near fatal wounds.

Following hospitalization and lengthy recovery, Mumia was tried for first degree murder and sentenced to death.

Mumia’s legal team successfully overturned his death sentence in 2001 – based on the trial judge’s faulty jury instructions.

Overturning the conviction itself has been even more difficult, even though a professional hit man came forward in 1999 and issued both a written affidavit and videotaped confession that high level cops in the Philadelphia police hired him and a colleague to murder Faulkner. According to Arnold Beverly’s confession, higher ups in the department hated Faulkner for his efforts to expose a police extortion and protection racket. In the years following Faulkner’s murder, the FBI would convict 31 Philadelphia cops for their participation in this scheme.

In his summary, Grossman describes numerous instances of judicial misconduct and defense incompetence that formed the basis of Mumia’s many appeals. Examples of judicial and prosecutorial  misconduct include

  • Judge Sabo denial of Mumia’s five requests for eyewitnesses to identify him from a police line-up
  • Sabo’s denial of Mumia’s constitutional right to defend himself.
  • the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to dismiss black jurors from the jury (which the Supreme Court would rule unconstitutional in 2016 – see Scotus New Trial Finds Racial Bias Jury Selection)

According to Grossman, Mumia’s original defense team fell down mainly due to their failure to interview Mumia’s brother Billy Cook or Kenneth Freeman (a passenger in Cook’s care) as eyewitnesses; their failure to challenge the virtually nonexistent ballistic evidence and their failure to challenge key eyewitness prostitute Cynthia White. At Billy Cook’s trial (for “interfering” with a police officer), White testified that Freeman was a passenger in Cook’s car. Under police pressure, she perjured herself at Mumia’s trial by maintaining Cook had been alone.

The video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at Mumia Abu Jamal

The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

RT (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about mica mining in the Jharkhand state in India, which produces 60% of the global mica supply. In addition to its use (as glitter) in cosmetics, mica is used to manufacture joint compound (for filling and seams in drywall), drilling fluids (in fracking), plastics, synthetic textiles and as an insulator in the electronics industry.

Although mica mining is technically illegal in India (owing to serious health risks, eg lung cancer and potential mine collapse), mica “processing” is legal and immensely profitable.

Rough 20,000 children (some as young as 3) are employed in mica mining in India. Adults can earn up to $3 per day, with lower caste workers earning less. They sell the mica they mine to processing plants or to the “mica mafia,” which sells it directly to exporters.

Food Corporatization and Hunger: Exploding the PR Bullshit

Food Crises, Food Regimes and Food Movements

Eric Holt Gimenez (2014)

Film Review

In this presentation Food First executive director Eric Holt Gimenez neatly explodes the common corporate PR myth that global hunger stems from inadequate food production.

According to Gimenez, global food production has been increasing by 11-12% annually for the last 40 years. Presently farmers produce sufficient food to feed 10 billion people, which is more than enough to the predicted 9 billion predicted (by current fertility trends) before global population levels off and decline

The real reason one billion people are currently “food insecure” (ie starving) is the corporatization of the global food system. Corporate food production stems directly from a post-World War II economy in which war industries geared towards the production of tanks and (fossil fuel based) explosives were retrofitted to produce tractors and other farm machinery and (fossil fuel based) fertilizers and insecticides.

The So-Called “Green Revolution”

By the 1960s the global North was saturated with these commodities and the Ford and Rockefeller families (and their pro-corporate foundations) shifted their focus to Third World farmers via the so-called “Green Revolution.”

Simultaneously World Bank and IMF policies forced indebted developing countries into structural adjustment programs that compelled them to produce export crops and purchase their food from the global North (which was overproducing).

Once third world farmers ceased to produce their own food, they became were exposed to the risk of starvation with every spike in global food prices.

With the advent of NAFTA, the WTO and similar free trade treaties in the 1990s, these structural adjustment polices were enshrined in international treaty law.

Coerced Immigration

An important secondary effect is what Gimeniz refers to as “coerced immigration.” When NAFTA came into effect in 1994, one million Mexican farmers went bankrupt due to their inability to compete with cheap agricultural surpluses the US dumped on the Mexican market. Gimeniz maintains most of them work in the US now.

The good news is that only 30% of global food production is industrialized. Seventy percent remains in the hands of Third World farmers, who are organizing to resist further food corporatization.

 

The Bloody and Toxic Legacy of Bananas and Why I Don’t Eat Them Any More

Banana Land: Blood, Bullets and Poison

Directed by Jason Glaser and Diego Lopez (2014)

Film Review

Thanks to a shrewd production and marketing strategy by United Fruit Company (now renamed Chiquita), the banana is the most consumed fruit in the US. United Fruit was founded in 1899 with the deliberate goal of making bananas the cheapest fruit available. To meet this objective, the company controls every aspect of production and supply. In addition to murdering union leaders and propping up puppet dictators, they also control shipping ports and media coverage involving their product.* They and Dole, the other major banana exporter, also routinely expose plantation workers to dangerous pesticides that have been banned in the US and EU.

On December 6, 1968, Colombia banana workers went on strike demanding improved working conditions (an 8 hour day, a 6 day week and payment in cash instead of script). With the support of the US State Department, Colombian troops massacred thousands of strikers.

In coming years the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, a government-linked paramilitary force, continued to drive peasants from their lands and murder and disappear labor leaders and activists who threatened Chiquita’s interests. For many years, the AUC relied on Colombian cartels for most of their funding. During the 1990s, Chiquita began paying the AUC directly to terrorize rural communities. The documentary features heart wrenching testimony from a mother whose husband and son were murdered by AUC members, who subsequently gang raped her 11-year-old daughter.

Surprisingly the 2001 Patriot Act, which made it illegal for Americans to fund terrorist groups, designated the AUC as a terrorist organization. Chiquita continued to fund them until they were indicted by the Obama Justice Department. Chiquita officials and board members were allowed to plead anonymously and pay a $20 million fine over five years.

The last half of the documentary concerns Nicaraguan and Ecuadoran workers’ ongoing battle against DDT, DPCP and other dangerous pesticides banned in the US and EU. These poisons are responsible for a horrifying epidemic of sterility, birth defects, cancer and liver disease among plantation workers.

As of 2017, Danish inspectors were still finding traces of dangerous pesticides in bananas imported from Denmark. See Danwatch English


*For example it’s a myth bananas can’t be kept in the refrigerator – if you refrigerate them, they last longer and you won’t buy as many.

 

 

The Case for African American Reparations

A Moral Debt: The Legacy of Slavery in the US

Al Jazeera

Film Review

In this documentary, journalist James Gannon, a descendant of slave owner and confederate general Robert E Lee, investigates the legacy enslavement has bequeathed the descendants of slaves

Gannon interviews a number of Black historians, scholars and activists who help him understand the immense economic disadvantage descendants of slaves have faced since the end of the Civil War. Not only did southern Blacks face decades of Jim Crow laws that allowed them to be arbitrarily imprisoned and re-enslaved, but vibrant Black communities in the North were routinely destroyed by white race riots in the first half of the 20th century and “urban development” schemes after World War II. African American communities were also deliberately excluded (referred to as “redlining”) from federal mortgage guarantee programs that enabled white families to acquire wealth via home ownership.

As the result of his investigation, the journalist has become a strong advocate of the African American reparations movement. Scholars estimate descendants of slaves are owed approximately $17 trillion. This includes the wealth they created as chattel and Jim Crow slaves, the value of black businesses destroyed by white terrorism and urban development and the monetary disadvantage they experienced due to exclusion from federal mortgage subsidy programs.

How Nestle and Unilever Profit Off Third World Poverty

The Business of Poverty and Food Companies

DW (2018)

Film Review

With the growing rejection of processed food by the industrial North, corporate food producers are aggressively targeting the third world. It’s a cynical strategy they learned from tobacco companies, after the anti-smoking movement significantly reduced cigarette purchases in developed countries. The result: a massive increase in obesity and diabetes in the countries targeted.

The filmmakers offer the example of Nestle’s campaign in Sao Paolo favelas to sell sugar-laden dairy products and Unilever’s campaign to sell white bread, margarine and “stock cubes” in Nairobi. In both cities, these processed foods are promoted as “status” and “health foods.” The consumers targeted often have no formal education and no access to health information other than TV ads. As slum dwellers, they also have virtually no access to natural or traditional foods.

In Sao Paolo, Nestle recruits poor women to sell their products door-to-door. The company compels them to sign binding contracts that force them to take all the financial risk. In addition to pre-purchasing the product (whether they sell it or not), they’re also required to give customers one month free credit. Many never pay for their purchases.

Unilever has also trained dozens of Nairobi women to become door-to-door vendors but has yet to follow through with full implementation. In Kenyan slums, families rely on convenience stores for small packages of junk food – which is all they can afford on their limited wages.

Nutritionists and other health workers in both cities are fighting an uphill battle to persuade the urban poor to return to more healthy traditional foods. An extremely difficult task, owing to the wholesale displacement (forced on developing countries by the IMF and “free trade” treaties) of domestic agriculture with export crops. Activists’ preferred tactic is to involve low income slum dwellers in urban garden projects that produce traditional foods.