Wukan: A Chinese Experiment with Democracy

 Wukan:  China’s Experiment with Democracy

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

 

This very strange documentary is largely based on amateur footage smuggled out of China by social media activists. As the filmmakers point out, China experiences tens of thousands of mass uprisings every year. Most relate to local corruption and illegal theft and sale of communal land. In most cases, they fizzle out without producing any real change. A September 2011 protest in the village of Wukan was an exception. It resulted in villagers winning the right to choose their own village committee in democratic elections – a process virtually unheard of in Communist China.

Three months following the election of the new village committee (which was subject to heavy phone tapping and physical surveillance), county and provincial officials agree to return a few plots of stolen land to village farmers. Unfortunately, however, a ban on demolishing the wall surrounding their farms prevents the original owners from repossessing their property.

After a year, villagers succeeded in repossessing a second plot of land, only to find it unusable due to contamination with industrial waste. As provincial authorities continue to to stall on returning the stolen land, village protests resume. Only this time they are directed against the new village committee. There is considerable mistrust directed against the village chief especially, a man named Lin Zulan – who in the mean time has become secretary of the local Communist Party.

When two village committee members attempt to stand against him in the 2014, they are jailed on bribery charges (which surprisingly appear to be genuine). The two men have succumbed to a kind of entrapment – accepting “bonuses” at Lin’s direction without realizing this is bribery and illegal.

In 2016, after winning his sixth election, Lin organizes a petition and marching demanding the stolen land be returned. He himself is arrested on bribery charges, along with his grandson, a student in a nearby city (who has had no involvement with the protests). After Lin appears on TV to make what villagers believe is a forced confession on TV, his grandson is released.

The protests resume in earnest following Lin’s arrest. After 85 days of protests, there is a brutal crackdown – resulting in the murder, beatings and arrest of large numbers of villagers. Simultaneously the village is totally cut off physically and electronically from the rest of China.

After being warned of the crackdown, one of the village committee members escapes to New York, where he makes contact with the US pro-Chinese democracy movement. It’s their 2016 protest in front of the UN that brings the plight of Wukan to world attention.

 

Anatomy of Modern Corruption: The Clinton Foundation and the Superdelegates

What Hillary Clinton Really Represents

Empire Files (2016)

Film Review

This early 2016 documentary is a virtual encyclopedia of Clinton family corruption. Based entirely on publicly verifiable information, it reveals how Hillary, especially, has based her political career on supporting legislation that specifically benefits her corporate and foreign donors. It also explores the identity of some of the 700 Democratic “superdelegates” who helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination – despite overwhelming support he received from voters.

The Clinton Foundation was founded in 1997 with the alleged purpose of providing humanitarian relief after international disasters. Its real purpose, however, was to engage in “crisis capitalism,” a term coined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Following a disasters, such as the 2001 earthquake in India, the Clinton Foundation would waltz in and create a variety of for-profit projects enabling further exploitation of third world resources and labor by Clinton Foundation donors.

Major donors to the Clinton foundation included Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, Dow, Monsanto, General Electric (GE), Fox News, the Soros Foundation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As senator, Clinton rewarded the latter two donors by supporting deregulation that would lead to their bankruptcy in 2008 and a massive taxpayer bailout.

As Secretary of State, Clinton would grant similar favors to Boeing and GE by facilitating overseas sales of their military hardware and to Exxon by heavily promoting the spread of fracking throughout the world.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Republic and Qatar were also big donors to the Clinton Foundation. In all 181 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied Clinton as Secretary of State and most were successful in getting the policies they advocated enacted.

Many of the 700 superdelegates appointed by the Democratic National Committee (to help ensure their hand picked candidates won the Democratic primary) were also corporate lobbyists hoping to benefit financially from a Clinton presidency: among others, the corporate lobbies represented included the Excel pipeline, the private prison industry, Big Pharma and the four main Wall Street banks (City Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase).

Putin: A Russian Primetime TV Documentary

 

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Masterskaya (2016)

English subtitles

Film Review

This film, despite being an obvious pro-Putin propaganda piece, provides interesting historical background on his role in thwarting western efforts to turn Russia into a third world sweatshop.

The beginning of the documentary, describing the plans laid by Putin’s cabinet to remove the oligarchs from power (see How Putin Outwitted the Russian Oligarchs ), confirm what I have always suspected: that his rise to global prominence relies heavily on his ability to choose skilled advisors.

This documentary also clearly conveys that he’s as much a populist as Donald Trump – though a far more skilled one. An amazingly effective speaker, his ability to influence and manage large groups is unparalleled among world leaders.

Although he tends to be extremely guarded about disclosing personal feelings, the film contains a few revealing clips from TV interviews. In one, he admits to his mistaken belief as a KGB agent that political conflict with the West would dissolve once Russians abandoned their Communist ideology. He now realizes that Russia will always have tension with the West based on competing geopolitical interests (ie competing demands for resources, markets, labor etc).

I was also intrigued to hear him discuss his enormous debt to teacher and mentor Anatoly Sobchak. Sobchak was a legal scholar and politician who co-wrote the constitution of the Russian Federation and was the first democratically elected mayor of St Petersburg. He died under suspicious circumstances in 2000.

The film’s main weakness is its total dismissal of Russia’s opposition movement as being too chaotic and disorganized for Putin to take seriously. While there is good reason to suspect CIA involvement in various anti-Putin street protests, it seems to be there would also be legitimate protest against the enormous obstacles to registering new political parties in Russia, as well as major censorship by the mainly state-controlled media.

I was also irritated by the repeated emphasis on Putin being a self-sacrificing leader with no interest whatsoever in personal wealth or power. According to various former insiders, Putin has immense personal wealth and may be one of the richest men in the world. See Putin Corruption: Five Things We Learned About the President’s Secret Wealth

 

China’s Invisible Working Class

The Chinese Economic Bubble

(2011)

Film Review

The Chinese Economic Bubble offers a unique perspective from two low income Chinese – a taxi driver and a construction worker – on China’s so-called economic miracle. Their commentary is interspersed with that of two Chinese economists. The latter discuss the growing Chinese real estate bubble, empty high rise buildings, rent-seeking and corruption, as well as the thousands of government officials who go to jail every year. These vignettes are interspersed with scenes of lavish media events celebrating Chinese millionaires and billionaires.

There is repeated emphasis on the immense sacrifice made by ordinary Chinese workers to create such phenomenal wealth. When the film was made in 2011, the construction worker early only slightly more ($4,200) than the national average ($4,000) for highly dangerous scaffolding work. At the time average global per capita income was $9,000. In 2014 the average Chinese wage had risen to $8,655, compared to an average global wage of $18,000.

Banned in Brazil

send-a-bullet

Manda Bala (Send a Bullet)

Directed by Jason Kohn (2007)

Film Review

Maori TV showed this 2007 documentary two nights ago – a timely choice in view of Brazilian legislative corruption that culminated in the illegal impeachment of democratically elected president Dilma Rousseff two months ago.

Send a Bullet is a horrifying account of class warfare, extreme wealth disparity and extreme violence in Sao Palo Brazil. The film has been banned in Brazil.

According to the filmmakers Sao Paulo, with a population of 20 million, experiences one kidnapping every single day. Ruthless outlaws routinely cut off ears and fingers to send with their ransom demands. The documentary profiles a Brazilian plastic surgeon who makes his living reattaching the severed ears of kidnap victims.

Because the government offers virtually no protection against kidnapping, wealthy Sao Paulo residents hire bodyguards, drive bullet proof cars and take special classes to protect themselves from kidnapping. Many rely on helicopters as the only safe method of transport.

The film also explores how organized crime has deeply infiltrated the Brazilian government, in large part because serving officials are exempt from prosecution in civilian courts.

Although the documentary is nine years old, a quick search of the Internet suggests that Brazil’s kidnapping epidemic persists unabated. In June gunmen kidnapped a New Zealand Jiu-Jitsu champion in the lead-up to the Olympics and in August the mother-in-law of the head of Formula One auto racing. Visitors to Brazil should consult the Globe Media website on the best way to protect themselves against kidnapping: Safety in Brazil

The only complete subtitled version of Send a Bullet I could find is at the Maori TV website: Send a Bullet

 

South Africa’s Economic Apartheid

Some Children Are More Equal than Others

Stefan Gottfried (2015)

Film Review

This film is about de facto segregation in South African schools – a major factor in making South African more unequal (two rich people control more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population) than when schools were first “de-racialized” with the end of apartheid in 1994.

At present South African schools are divided by parental status and income, rather than race. Urban professionals send their children to “English” public schools in the cities. In contrast, poor township residents have no choice but to send their kids to free Bantu schools. Township students are denied entrance to “English” schools – they are always “full” – even when parents can pay the substantial school fees. Owing to officials’ fears white parents will take their kids off to private schools, the latter are never turned away.

In “English” schools, 98% of students complete high school and 80% go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. Only 50% graduate from township schools, only 11% go on to complete a bachelor’s degree and only 1% receive a vocational qualification. These grim statistics translate into a 50% unemployment rate of black youths 18-24 and an overall illiteracy rate of 51%.

The teachers and education officials interviewed in this film blame the deplorable state of South African schools on endemic corruption. The shocking physical state of the leaky, ramshackle, toiletless township schools certainly lends credibility to this viewpoint.

A Zaptista “Seminar” in Chiapas*

Digital Camera

Digital Camera

Sign indicating the entrance of Zapatista rebel territory. “You are in Zapatista territory in rebellion. Here the people command and the government obeys”.

Reblogged from Libya 360

While the front pages and TV news reports in Mexico are full of accounts of ghastly levels of corruption and violence that would have boggled the imagination of the most jaded pulp fiction writer, in every corner of the country there are spaces where “you breathe a different air,” as the saying is here.

On the outskirts of San Cristobal de las Casas, famed colonial center of the southern state of Chiapas, on the wooded campus of the Indigenous Center for Comprehensive Training (Spanish acronym: CIDECI – follow the link to learn more about this remarkable alternative university) over a thousand people from all over Mexico and beyond are attending a weeklong seminar “Critical Thinking Confronting the Capitalist Hydra.” It was conceived and organized by the Zapatistas, the Chiapas-based armed insurgency that has converted itself into one of the most extraordinary experiments in regional autonomy and self-sufficiency in the history of social movements in Latin America. Along with masked members of the Zapatista army, rural peasant farmers, high school and college students, activists, teachers, artists’ collectives, members of various social and political formations like the National Indigenous Congress (Spanish acronym: CNI) are spending the week listening to a wide-ranging number of presenters from Mexico and abroad with expertise in key areas where the “hydra” now dominates: finance, government, agriculture, social welfare, communications, race and gender relations, science and technology.

And, true to the comprehensive vision of human discourse that is modern day zapatismo, they are also hearing from poets, artists, writers, historians, philosophers. The attendees pack the seats of the large auditorium and spill into the corridors and outside into the shaded walkways that surround it, using all the various ways we now have of capturing information, with an avidness and level of impassioned curiosity that would warm the heart of any college professor used to declaiming to a bored and distracted student body.

The analysis so far has been relatively concordant and not surprising: a litany of the human and ecological disaster that capitalism has wrought (not just in Mexico, but of course that is the primary focus here). The Spanish word “despojo,” which has only a much weaker equivalent in English, “dispossession,” recurs in so many presentations that it is clearly seen as one of the most fundamental characteristics of the system. “To be stripped violently of everything that sustains you” would be closer to the real meaning of this word. That is the key experience of capitalism’s innumerable losers: the mass of humans without power or privilege, and the living world.

Read more here: original article

Photo credit: “Zapatista sign” by Paolo Massa (‘phauly’) – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons