Flight MH-17 – What You’re Not Being Told: tragic airliner shoot-down incident being politicised by lies and disinformation

SCG News, “Flight MH-17 – What You’re Not Being Told” (StormCloudsGathering, 27 July 2014)

As the StormCloudsGathering News website says, on 17 July 2014 two significant events occurred: Israel began a ground invasion of Gaza, supposedly as revenge for the kidnappings and murders of three Jewish settler teenagers which were blamed on Hamas, the Palestinian resistance organisation; and Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. The Israeli invasion initially received very little coverage in the Western mainstream media – and when finally the media began to cover it, the Israelis were and still are portrayed as restrained and only defending themselves while they carry out their frenzied genocide against the Palestinians who are demonised as terrorists. On the other hand the downing of Flight MH-17 was immediately and loudly blamed on pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and the government in Moscow supposedly aiding them by the US governmnt without any evidence to support its allegations. Quickly afterwards, the lies, disinformation and other propaganda noise began with the US and Ukrainian governments building up false and faked evidence in the form of videos and other materials, one after the other, blackening the separatists as thugs and looters, and the Russian government as their controller; and the Western news media uncritically swallowing the garbage and regurgitating it for its audience. The Ukrainian government continues to pound eastern Ukraine, including the area where the passenger jet was downed and crashed, and the US is using the opportunity to pass a raft of economic and other sanctions against Russia, push a bill through its Senate that purports to combat Russian aggression in eastern Europe (and which also includes sections discussing the exploration and exploitation of natural gas resources in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine by private interests, and spreading pro-US propaganda aimed at Russian-speaking audiences into those countries) and pressure European Union countries to cut all political and economic ties with Russia.

SCG News does a very good job with a 15-minute covering the recent history of Ukraine since the legitimate president Viktor Yanukovych was forced to flee the country in February 2014 and the subsequent takeover of the government by the oligarch elite and fascists aided and funded by the US government. The narrator reaches back to that fateful day when snipers fired on both the Berkut police and demonstrators on the Maidan in Kyiv and reveals that the snipers, portrayed by the mainstream media as originating from Berkut, were actually from within the Maidanite factions which included various extreme fascist groups such as the political party Svoboda and Pravy Sektor (Right Sector). As proof, SCG links to an abbreviated version of the leaked telephone conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and the then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. After the Yanukovych government was overthrown by the Maidanites, a new interim government headed by interim President Oleksandr Turchinov and Prime Minister Arseni Yatseniuk quickly rescinded laws that gave minority groups in Ukraine the right to use their own languages in public. Russian-language speakers in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol then organised a referendum to determine their status within Ukraine; the majority of voters plumped for accession to Russia and the region applied to join the Russian Federation. Russia quickly accepted Crimea and Sevastopol, to the fury of the Ukrainian government and its US backers.

The subsequent massacre of pro-federalism activists by fascists in the Odessa trade union building, which the fascists also tried to burn down to disguise their heinous crimes, and other incidents of violence in southern and eastern Ukraine led to the eastern-most regions of Donetsk and Lugansk to try to break away. The Ukrainian government, firstly under Turchinov and then under President Poroshenko, has tried to suppress the independence movement in those regions with heavy-handed violence and war crimes against civilians. In spite of the extreme firepower and brutality with which the Poroshenko regime has fought the rebels, in the weeks leading up to 17 July 2014, at least after the rebels withdrew from the town of Slavyansk in Donetsk region, the Ukrainian forces suffered heavy casualties, demoralisation throughout their ranks, food shortages and mass defections. The rebels had encircled a number of Ukrainian army units and were on the verge of defeating them. The Ukrainian government was running out of money, equipment and supplies to continue prosecuting the war with forces that for the past 20 or so years since 1991 had been drained of funding for training and equipment.

In this context, the decision of Malaysian Airlines to fly a plane near the war zone seems madness but Flight MH-17 was originally supposed to have flown over the Sea of Azov which is to the south of Donetsk region. However for reasons still not explained, the flight was rerouted to fly over Donetsk and the flight crew was instructed by air traffic control in Kyiv to fly at 10,000 metres, just above the war zone. So ATC in Kyiv must share part of the blame for the jet’s shoot-down and crash. The film then goes on to ask why the US has not released satellite pictures of the tragedy as it occurred in spite of having a satellite over the area, and in spite of Russia having released its own satellite imagery and challenging the Americans to come clean. Russia’s information indicate that the Ukrainian military had been moving its Buk surface-to-missile systems in an area near Donetsk close to where the missile that hit MH-17 was shot from. A radar image of an SU-25 fighter flying close to the jet was also made public. The American reaction has either been to throw up more disinformation claiming proof of Russian culpability in shooting down the airliner or to ignore the evidence provided by its own satellite.

At this point one might ask why the Americans should want to hound Russia and pin the blame for the airliner shoot-down on Moscow and the rebels. SCG suggests that the trigger event was the founding of a development bank to rival the World Bank and IMF by Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, and Russia’s determination to remove the US dollar as the currency of international trade. However the move to demonise Russia was present even during the staging of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and during other numerous incidents in the past such as the arrest and subsequent death of Sergei Magnitsky in prison in 2009 and the trial of the so-called dissident leader Alexei Navalny for embezzling funds from a timber company in 2013.

The video ends in a bit of an odd mess comparing the MH-17 shoot-down with other incidents in which civilian airliners were also shot down by the military, notably the 1988 downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by a US warship in 1988, the 1996 TWA Flight 800 downing in New York and the 2001 Siberian Airlines Flight 1812 downing by the Ukrainian military during military exercises in the Black Sea, followed by an excerpt of a bizarre speech on numerology and magic numbers by the leathery looking IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

SCG’s film insinuates that responsibility for Flight MH-17′s downing lies with the Ukrainians and the Americans; but the video is silent on whether the shoot-down was deliberate or accidental. For more information on the shoot-down and whether the shoot-down was a tragic accident due to military incompetence or a deliberate criminal act, viewers are advised to read an excellent and very detailed article “MH-17 Verdict: Real Evidence Points to US-Kiev Cover-up of Failed False Flag “posted on 25 July 2014 at the 21st Century Wire blog.

At a time when the world is hurtling recklessly to an unnecessary war that more than likely will involve the unrestrained use of nuclear weapons across nations, thanks to US and Ukrainian intransigence, stupidity, incompetence and levels of crude propaganda and disinformation in global media, the need for the truth about what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 and the 298 people aboard who died to be made public and widely known is more urgent than ever. In particular, the need to know whether the plane’s downing might be linked to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370 in March 2014, and whether those incidents might somehow represent pressure on Malaysia itself to shut down the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal which has tried and found guilty former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President George W Bush for lying and bringing war and chaos to Iraq in 2011, and the State of Israel for genocide against Palestinians in 2013, is also imperative.

A transcript of the SCG video and the video itself can be viewed at this link.

The Pricing of Everything: a wide-ranging talk on neoliberal economics and its commodification of nature

George Monbiot, “The Pricing of Everything” (SPERI Annual Lecture , Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, University of Sheffield, 29 April 2014)

Here’s a wide-ranging talk pulling in issues and aspects of contemporary politics and economics, philosophy and the place and value of nature and natural environmental systems in a global civilisation dominated by the values of neoliberal capitalism, and delivered in impassioned style by journalist and environmental / political activist George Monbiot. Since 1996, Monbiot has been writing a column on environmental and political topics for the British newspaper The Guardian and a transcript of his lecture can be accessed at this link.

It’s a long talk, about 45 minutes in length, but clearly structured around a theme of how societies these days are so dominated by neoliberal capitalist ideology that everything, even natural ecosystems, has to be priced in monetary terms; and how this ideology now pervades nearly all social, political and economic institutions and structures. This is just as well as Monbiot does not rely at all on visual aids whereas most other people would read off a series of bullet points on a PowerPoint presentation. Monbiot’s delivery and the stage on which he strolls about might be likened to a one-man monologue drama: the audience has to focus entirely on him. Since he bangs on without notes and with very little pause, not even for a drink of water, one might think the danger Monbiot should have foreseen would be that his talk would wander off up hill and dale on pet topics; to some extent, that does happen. Fortunately he has considerable experience in public speaking and presenting his material, and his talk is much less dry than would be expected given its subject matter.

The talk begins with Monbiot’s explication of what neoliberal economics is (as he sees it), what it has done or not done, and how it has failed to deliver what its proponents claim it can do.  Free markets are held as a sacrosanct concept in being able to fulfill all social and economic needs more effectively and efficiently than any other economic system or ideology, and the role of governments is merely to ensure that markets are allowed to identify where needs are greatest and allocate resources to meet those needs without interference. Over the last 35 years or so, governments have retreated from actively regulating particular markets and economies with fiscal policies and relying instead on expanding or contracting money supply as mandated by Hayekian / Friedmanite monetarist economics. The result generally has been privatisation of the public sector, a concentration of wealth in the financial industry, the usurpation of the real economy (one that produces goods and services) with the financial economy resulting in the death of manufacturing in many First World economies, and greater socio-economic equalities leading to the shrinking of the middle classes and a rise in and spread of poverty across social classes.

Having failed to deliver what it was supposed to do, neoliberal economics through its adherents in governments, lobby groups, academia and various think-tanks has moved to the natural world to wring from it the wealth, natural and financial, to support its agenda. This trend in neoliberal capitalism to commodify, monetarise and generally shape and divide the natural world for easier consumption and devastation constitutes the bulk of Monbiot’s talk.  Had Monbiot stuck to delineating examples of how neoliberal economics preys, vampire-like, on the natural world, his talk on the whole would have been very good, even great. Out of the talk though wriggles out one issue that is at the heart of the neoliberal capitalist agenda: the drive for power and domination.

At this point, Monbiot veers away from addressing the issue of power directly and starts prattling about how progressive and social democratic parties have shot themselves in the foot by abandoning their core values and core audience in pursuit of votes and winning elections and ending up no different from the parties whose policies and programs they supposedly oppose. From there we end up in a woffle about intrinsic versus extrinsic values and Monbiot getting those rather mixed up with values that emphasise the autonomy of the individual versus values that stress collective needs over individual rights and freedoms. The talk ends in a call for people to “mobilise”.

I’m disappointed that at the moment Monbiot identifies power as the heart of the neoliberal capitalist project, he starts talking around it instead of pushing on and showing how the drive for power over resources and accumulating even more power has distorted our societies and culture and demeaned the practice and values of democracy, individualism and freedom as understood by 18th and 19th-century Enlightenment thinkers. Of course one could say that the desire for power over material resources and other people as commodities is as old as civilisation itself but only neoliberal capitalism would make a fetish and a religion out of a set of values and a mode of thinking that prefers narrow and selfish low cunning for short-term ends over thinking and feeling that consider the long-term interest and the interests of others as well as oneself. The curious detour into talking about how political parties and their interests have converged does not address the fact that all political parties now concern themselves with acquiring power and deploying it to their own selfish interests, collective and individual alike. Politics has become an industry and closed world unto itself with its own jargon, culture, particular forms of entry and access to new joiners (known in economics jargon as “barriers to entry”) and members whose careers are politics and being politicians, and who depend on sponsors (party donors, lobby groups and others with agendas of their own) for money, support and direction.

Equally Monbiot is in dangerous waters when he confuses the values of collective societies vis-a-vis the values of societies upholding Hobbesian individualism and negative freedoms with intrinsic values vis-a-vis extrinsic values.

The issue that remains unaddressed is that the neoliberal capitalist project serves a small wealth cabal that wields enormous influence over people’s thinking and feeling through the exercise of both hard and soft power. Hard power as in spending on large armed forces and using them to repress people or to destroy rivals rather than to defend the weak is bad enough but perhaps even more insidious is the use of soft power to mould people’s minds, emotions and thus their actions through media and media technologies, advertising, drugs and other psychological tools and methods. I suppose this issue must wait for another SPERI lecture to take up.

 

Bedlam Behind Bars: wringing its hands over abuses in the US prison system

Matthew Hill, “Bedlam Behind Bars” (BBC Panorama, 7 July 2014)

In a country that was founded as an ambitious social experiment in democracy, freedom and the pursuit of happiness, and which is now devolving into a severe technocratic and brutal corporate police state, the weakest and most vulnerable victims turn out to be the mentally ill. This BBC Panorama episode investigates the increasing use of the public prison system as a substitute mental asylum network.

Reporter Hilary Andersson visits state prisons in Chicago and Texas to document incidents of violence, torture and other abuses committed by prison guards and wardens against prisoners with bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. With a mix of interviews with prisoners, lawyers and mental health professionals, on-site filming and videos made by the prisons themselves, overlaid by voice-overs by Andersson and some of her interviewees, the episode reveals the dismal state of the prisons in which mentally ill people are held, bullied and beaten by guards. Prisoners’s cells are often filthy with mould growing inside or raw sewage seeping in. People may be kept in solitary confinement for hours at a time. Guards chain one man, naked, to his bed and force him to eat lying down with his wrists and ankles in chains; some days later, the man dies from heat exhaustion and dehydration in his cell. Other prisoners are punished with excessive and dangerous use of pepper spray by the guards. The irony is that earlier in the twentieth century, state hospitals established for the mentally ill were often just as bleak and brutal as the prisons today are. The asylums were later closed and community-based care institutions were established. Over decades however, as funding for such places was withdrawn by succeeding Federal, State and county governments, patients ended up on the streets or in the care of families, and many people were scooped up by public prisons through some incident involving a public disturbance or violence.

Although Hilary Andersson may be a good investigative interviewer, the program doesn’t push very far as to why the imprisonment of mentally ill people is still tolerated by Federal, State and county governments. Many interviewees who are in charge of the prisons deny that a problem exists or appear to make excuses for the prisons. Lawyers for prisoners talk of obtaining justice for their clients but no-one seems to question the situation where mentally ill people or people with hallucinations and delusions are ending up behind bars when they need medical help and treatment that prison employees deny. Curiously police officers appear as extras rather than as the shock troops of a brutal system and only one is interviewed. Another aspect of the prison system missed by the BBC Panorama program is the growth of private prisons whose operations are kept secret from governments and the public, and whose corporate owners often finance politicians’ election campaigns.

At the end of the program, Andersson and her team contact the Department of Justice with statistics on the numbers of mentally ill people who have died in the prison system but are rebuffed. While one woman interviewee is working to draw public and government attention to the plight of sick people in the prison system, the situation remains dire. No solution or set of solutions that would go some way to removing unwell prisoners from incarceration and giving them the treatments they need is suggested. American society appears helpless and at a loss for remedies.

Nowhere in the program is it ever suggested that the structure of American society and trends favouring privatisation, more social inequality, increasing social fragmentation and other pressures that encourage or aggravate mental illnesses are to blame. Political inertia exists because the prison system as it is benefits current US politics and the money links that bind politicians to corporations, some of which now own and operate private prisons. Unfortunately with the BBC becoming a propaganda front for US and UK and government and corporate interests, the program adopts a helpless approach to its subject matter: it can only shine a light into some dark areas of the US prison and justice system and wring its hands.

The Plumber: quirky character study commenting on the gulf between social classes and the sexes

Peter Weir, “The Plumber” (1979)

Originally made for television, this low-budget film combines the psychological thriller with cheerful larrikin Aussie black comedy and light commentary on the gulf between social classes in a supposedly egalitarian society. Dr Cowper (Robert Coleby) and wife Jill (Judy Morris) are renting a flat in the university administration building where Cowper lectures and does research on health issues affecting a tribe in Papua New Guinea. Jill is in the process of finishing off her thesis for her Master of Anthropology studies on PNG tribal culture. One day a cheerful plumber, Max (Ivar Kants), turns up and claims he’s required to carry out maintenance work on the plumbing in the Cowpers’ unit. A job that initially was to take no longer than half an hour to a couple of hours becomes unending toil stretching over five days, to say nothing of the torment Jill endures from Max who plays his radio too loudly, sings and strums guitar on the job, spends too long on too many breaks for morning and afternoon teas and lunch, and turns the bathroom into a cross between a wreck and a war zone. Scaffolding left in the bathroom turns it into a veritable labyrinth and nearly ruins a dinner party given by the Cowpers when one of their guests is floored by a fallen bathroom sink. But the physical damage is nothing compared to the psychological harassment from Max towards Jill: he bullies her, manipulates his way into the apartment, lies about his past (is he or isn’t he a former convict?) and convinces everyone else, Dr Cowper and Jill’s best friend included, that he is a sweet and harmless eccentric.

The entire film is driven by the contrasts between Jill and Max: Jill is a passive middle-class good girl who, despite her experiences as an anthropology student, is socially awkward and doesn’t really understand people very much. An inkling of what we can expect from Jill comes almost immediately at the start of the film when she admits that a New Guinean shaman mesmerised her almost into a trance and she threw a rock at him: in short, she’s really at a loss at understanding people from a different social background and culture from hers. Max the larrikin plumber brings with him a lot of baggage that includes working-class resentment at the education and money of upper-class people and the opportunities these head starts give them. For all his insecurities, he reads the Cowpers’ naivety very well and knows how to annoy and harass Jill to breaking point. Hubby is obsessed with work and career ambitions and fails to realise that his wife is in danger from a man who could be a serial rapist. The actors playing the Cowpers and Max give these characters just enough to make them credible and substantial in spite of plot holes and the suspension of belief the plot requires: one would think that Jill ought to check Max’s credentials with the university administration before allowing him into the flat. Kants has to juggle a role requiring equal parts creepy and malevolent pest, would-be social critic / troubadour and lovable quirky eccentric; that he pulls off such a complex portrayal with energy and fun makes the film more nuanced than what it originally called for.

After over thirty years, the film does look outdated and some of the plot scenes look very hokey and laughable indeed. The climax in which Jill finds some backbone and descends to some very amoral and despicable behaviour is very awkwardly done. We do not see how such nastiness affects the Cowpers’ relationship or Jill herself as the film ends quite abruptly and this lack of denouement weakens the plot. At the very least the resolution suggests that there’s no point at which the liberal bourgeoisie and the working class can find common ground and the two classes will continue to clash: the upper class will use their advantages to keep ahead of the lower class and the lower class endeavours with street cunning to insinuate themselves into the upper class and weaken or dilute its power.

What gives the film longevity is its theme of the clash between what we consider normal and what we consider the Other as represented by Max and his bizarre ways. Max disrupts a couple’s comfortable complacency and his destructive actions change the two people’s lives forever. Jill may think she’s got rid of him but like the New Guinean shaman, Max  or someone else like him may be a permanent fixture in her future, resurfacing time and again until eventually she must get to grips with what’s lacking in her character.

Human sexuality and the differences between men and women and how these influence the sexes’ conduct towards one another are a significant theme in the film that helps to inform the social gulf between two classes in a society that claims everyone is equal and has equal opportunities to succeed in life.

The Odessa Massacre – What REALLY Happened: more information in 11 minutes than in entire mainstream news media on Odessa massacre and arson

SCG News, “The Odessa Massacre – What REALLY Happened” (StormCloudsGathering, 12 May 2014)

It’s only 11 minutes long but this short documentary on the Odessa Trade Union Building massacre and arson (2 May 2014) is far more informative than what’s been reported so far by the Western mainstream media. A full transcript for the film can be found at the StormCloudsGathering website. Basically the documentary is a collage of videos taken by eyewitnesses and organised more or less to follow the voice-over narration. The narration is clear and easy to follow and the sequence of videos is also very clear with no jumpiness or blurriness that might be expected.

Those viewers not familiar with what happened on that day in early May and who relied on mainstream news for their information are best advised to watch the documentary straight through and then go to the SCG website to read the transcript. Along with the transcript are links to other videos uploaded to Youtube.com.

There is quite a lot in the documentary that I did not know concerning the events in Odessa that day: the fact that the city police actively colluded with fascists, did nothing to stop the fires that broke out in that structure, refrained from apprehending people making Molotov cocktails to throw at the fires and failed to assist fire emergency crews to reach the scene or put out the blaze. Add to that crowds in the Odessa city maidan blocking the fire engines’ access to the building. Also I did not know – though I should have suspected anyway from reading previous news about the horrific incident – that the provisional government in Kyiv at the time arrested those people who survived the massacre and arson.

The documentary also misses a fair amount of detail and viewers are best advised to visit other websites to see what these are. In particular I recommend the article “Bloodbath in Odessa guided by Interim Rulers of Ukraine” posted on 15 May 2014 at the Oriental Review website. This article gives details about how different groups of fascists posing as soccer fans were organised so as to attack a pro-federalism rally and drive the activists into the trade union building where other fascists were waiting to torture, kill and butcher them, and then douse their heads and hands with chemicals which were then burnt to prevent later identification.

Regardless of the fact that the documentary is not a definitive report of what happened in Odessa, I think it still does a far better job than what we have seen of the mainstream news media’s pathetic efforts to present the events of that day as having been caused by the hapless activists. The documentary then goes on to demonstrate the links between the fascist murderers in Odessa with the provisional government in Kyiv, then headed by Oleksandr Turchinov and Arseni Yatseniuk, and backed by the US State Department through its Undersecretary Victoria Nuland (who incidentally is married to Robert Kagan, one of the authors of the Project for the New American Century). The film then concludes by warning that a rebellion is starting to spread through Ukraine against the oligarch regime in Kyiv, currently headed by Petro Poroshenko, and its supporters in the US, the EU and the IMF. Kyiv is desperate to contain the uprisings in eastern Ukraine and maintain the country’s post-1990 territorial integrity (minus Crimea) so as to hang onto the nation’s taxpayer base and qualify for an IMF bailout loan of US$17 billion.

As the narrator notes, history is written by the winners. For the sake of the people who were massacred in the Odessa Trade Union Building, we must not allow the dark forces that killed them to win.

Al-Maydeen TV Interview with Sheikh Nabeel Naiem: stunning revelations about ISIS connections with the US

“ISIS: The Bombshell Interview to Impeach Obama” – Al-Maydeen TV Interview with Sheikh Nabeel Naiem at SyriaNews (3 July 2014)

Recommended by Moon of Alabama and The Vineyard of the Saker blogs, this interview which can be viewed over at the SyriaNews blog is a real humdinger in that all the way through the conversation the interviewee Sheikh Nabeel Naiem, a former Al Qa’ida commander and founder of the jihadi movement in Egypt, links the creation and funding of the jihadi terrorist group ISIS with the United States.  In a nutshell, Sheikh Nabeel Naiem explains that ISIS head Abu Bakr Baghdadi demands allegiance from Al Qa’ida leader Dr Ayman Zawahiri as he (Baghdadi) has funding and resources from the US government, that ISIS began in Iraq and received training from US marines in camps in Jordan, that the Americans are using ISIS and the Sunni-Shi’ite split within Islam to create continuous instability in the Middle East and keep the Arab peoples weak, and that politicians within the US and Israeli governments have been working together since 1998 to destabilise and overthrow the governments of Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In particular, takfiri elements – the term refers to Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy against Islam – in Saudi Arabia are being groomed to overthrow the Saudi royal family and government.

The interview is 40 minutes long and carries on at a fairly fast clip. Everything the interviewee says about ISIS and its fighters is riveting. Those who cannot understand Arabic will be relieved to know that the SyriaNews blog carries an English-language transcript by Arabi Souri of the interview. Much of the early part of the talk revolves around where ISIS gets its funding, arms, other resources, advice and training from. The topic later switches to discussing the kind of people who join ISIS and what ISIS offers that attracts Muslim youth from across Europe. Nabeel Naiem identifies takfiri ideology as being ISIS’s main attraction but does not say why this should be so. One guesses that takfiri ideology appeals to young idealistic people because it concerns itself with sweeping away perceived corruption within Islam and Islamic societies, cleansing the religion and its principles and laws, and starting afresh with a pure and idealistic interpretation of Islam as they believe must have been practised by the Prophet Muhammad and his followers. In this way the Islamic Caliphate will be restored throughout the Muslim world and reach out beyond. It’s not difficult to see how a simplistic paradigm appeals to naive people ignorant of Islamic history and their original cultures who see around them corruption running deeply through the world. In particular young Muslims living in Western societies who experience discrimination simply because they are Muslims or Arabic-speaking, who have grown up with limited experience of their own cultures and whose experience of Western culture has not enriched them very much because it is mediated through an infantilising Americanised filter with exploitation as its tool and financial profit as its goal, may be vulnerable to ideologies promising an alternate path to a utopia in which absolute obedience to a narrow and literalist interpretation of Islam replaces mind-numbing consumerism with its cynical treatment of people.

The most chilling parts of the interview include those passages where Nabeel Naiem admits that ISIS is fighting both Sunnis and Shi’ites and has no hesitation in killing anyone and everyone who does not or will not submit to the ISIS takfiri ideology. Absolutely no-one is safe.  The sheikh also refers to Western writings and plans such as the Project for the New American Century as providing the blueprint for ISIS actions in the Middle East which do not discriminate between governments and ordinary people: all are equally apostate and therefore kuffar (infidels) to be killed if they will not submit.

Naturally the interviewer says the phenomenon of ISIS and the takfiri ideology needs more discussion and research and Nabeel Naiem states that all Islamic countries, Sunni and Shi’ite, and others, must work together to get rid of such jihadi groups as these represent the new and brutal face of Western neo-colonialism. The sheikh emphasises that the Prophet Muhammad met similar firebrand ideologues, known as Khawarij (outlaws), and condemned them.

If what Nabeel Naiem says is accurate and not exaggerated, then the conclusion is that the US and Israeli governments are even more depraved and psychopathic in their exploitation of the Middle East and its conflicts and problems so as to maintain control over the region and get what they want out of it. In spite of many historical examples demonstrating that manipulating other people’s conflicts for the purpose of controlling them does not succeed – one would think that the US would have learned something from meddling in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1970s and from interfering in the affairs of Latin America throughout the 20th century – the Americans and their Israeli ally blunder on ahead immersing themselves in more violence and chaos while their peoples sink further into poverty. Eventually if ISIS fails to establish a secure caliphate across the Middle East and suspects that it was betrayed by the US and Israel – and these countries are likely to betray ISIS if only because ISIS can’t be allowed to be more than a gadfly causing irritation and upset – then its fighters will turn upon their sponsors and the American and Israeli public will be victims.

 

 

 

Bastardy: sympathetic portrait of homeless actor highlighting resilience, generosity and being an outsider

Amiel Courtin-Wilson, “Bastardy” (2010)

Several years in the making due to its subject’s predilection for stealing money to feed a heroin addiction and doing long stints of jail-time as a result, this film is a labour of love by Amiel Courtin-Wilson about Jack Charles, a stage actor of Aboriginal descent. The documentary follows Jack Charles’ life from 2001 to 2008 when he was both homeless cat burglar and actor and features him as both on-screen and off-screen narrator about his life and past career. Courtin-Wilson not only followed Charles closely but formed a very close friendship with the man to the extent that he was Charles’ go-between and point of contact with the Victorian police force whenever Charles was in trouble – which he was quite often due to a heroin addiction.

The film disingenuously claims to present Charles’ life as it was during those hard years but audiences get a sense of Charles himself lapping up the attention and turning on the charisma for the film crew. Without going overboard and going all hammy, he exaggerates a little where the opportunity allows and there is a slightly unreal quality to his routine as he tramps about the streets looking for somewhere to doss down for the night.  He allows the film crew to film him injecting himself with heroin on at least three occasions and though the filming looks straightforward and matter-of-fact, one can’t help thinking that he’s looking forward to hearing of audiences’ reactions to his shooting-up episodes. What a cheeky bugger!

While he busies himself entertaining fellow homeless men with his guitar-playing and singing, meeting and greeting other folks, and stealing money from households in the wealthy Melbourne suburbs of Kew and Toorak, we are treated to insertions of snippets from old films and film-stills of Charles performing on stage and in movies from the 1960s – 1970s. Charles talks briefly about how he became a stage performer at the age of 18 years and graduated from the stage to performing before a camera. He speaks of the thrill of performing as a different character before a live audience and the creativity and skill involved in inhabiting another role and bringing it to life. At another extreme, he drops hints about his dreadful early childhood – he was separated from his family at the age of 10 weeks and brought up in a foster home for boys where he was bullied by others and given little affection – and mentions a brief romance with another man during the early 1970s which ended due to his uncertainty about his capacity for loving another human being.

The film is put together skilfully and has an easy and gentle stream-of-consciousness flow that shows off Charles’ resilience, generosity and good humour. He is not perfect of course and there is something often very child-like and naive about his approach to life. People warm to his open nature but he also attracts the odd crook or two. He regrets taking up heroin in the early 1970s but for much of the film until its last 20 minutes he is undecided about weaning himself off heroin by going on a methadone program. By following Charles about and allowing him freedom to go where he wants and to talk about aspects of his life as he sees fit, the film reveals a great deal about what it might be like at an individual level to be homeless and to live on the margins of society without moralising and condemning Charles for the choices he has made or not made. The issue of the Stolen Generations – referring to the period spanning much of the 20th century during which Aboriginal children were separated from their birth families and brought up in foster homes or institutions where many of them were abused physically and sexually – rears its ugly head as context for Charles’ early upbringing and his disinclination to form long-term love relationships.

The music soundtrack is a wonder to behold with starkly idiosyncratic singing and acoustic guitar and percussion performances from CocoRosie. The choice of CocoRosie to score much of the music was inspired as sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady themselves have indigenous American heritage and spent their childhood travelling from one part of the US to another every year with their mother.

Since the film was made, Charles made an effort to give up heroin by going on a methadone program and for a few years now has been clean. He has now revived his acting career with a one-man touring show and as of this time of writing is preparing to perform on stage in London. The film may have provided Charles the impetus to change his life. Regardless of whether it did or didn’t, “Bastardy” is still an interesting documentary about a very eccentric larrikin character who despite his age and the opportunities lost to him over the years still has much to give and whose life may really have just begun.

 

Fascism As It Is: snapshot film of the Ukrainian crisis that indicts mainstream Western news reporting

Andrey Karaulov, “Fascism As It Is” (2014)

Looking hastily made, this documentary is a snapshot of the chaotic situation in Ukraine after the massacre of left-wing activists and pro-federalisation rally participants in the Odessa Trade Union building and the building’s subsequent burning by fascist supporters of the interim Ukrainian government in early May 2014. The film concentrates on two incidents: the aforementioned Odessa mass killings and arson and a similar incident of mass killings in Mariupol in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, with mention of a third incident in Zaporizhiya, also in eastern Ukraine, that occurred before the Mariupol incident in which people holding a peacefully rally were harassed by police who used tear gas and chemicals to intimidate and disperse crowds.

The two incidents are retold in considerable detail in the format of interviews by the director with various eyewitnesses and others people spoken over what look like newsreels. Historical film material of incidents of World War II is used in parts of the film that refer to the Soviet defence of Ukraine against the Nazi German onslaught. The format is very stream-of-consciousness and the pace is quite fast so it takes all my attention to follow what is being said. Many viewers might need to watch this documentary at least twice because there is so much information coming at you and so much detail to absorb. However what comes through very clearly is the fact that the government that overthrew the legitimately elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 has very clear links to current Ukrainian fascist forces as represented by the Svoboda Party and neo-Nazi Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) and Ukrainian fascists and nationalists of the past (such as the notorious Stepan Bandera) who collaborated with Nazi Germany in the early 1940s and among other things butchered Jewish people in their thousands. Interviewees make clear that Pravy Sektor thugs have infiltrated most parts of Ukraine beyond their base in western Ukraine where Svoboda enjoys electoral support and are terrorising people and committing brutal acts including killing and causing disappearances.

Another theme running through the film is the way the various incidents are reported or ignored in the Western mainstream media. Just about everything that has been occurring in Ukraine has been filtered through an anti-Russian point of view that favours the fascists by Western news media. The incidents in Zaporizhiya and Mariupol have been all but ignored and the massacre of progressive, leftist and pro-federalisation activists by Pravy Sektor, Shtorm and the so-called “Dnepr-1″ battalion, the latter two groups being owned by Ukrainian oligarch businessman and politician Ihor Kolomoisky, has been downplayed and the arson given more prominence as an accident. The staged incident of “rival soccer fans”, actually Shtorm and the Dnepr-1 battalion, fighting with one another was portrayed as being for real.

The most horrific part of the documentary comes very late in the film when a journalist tells the interviewer of bodies of dead people being thrown out of the burning Odessa Trade Union building (with accompanying shots of the dead bodies falling from windows and hitting the concrete) and of the smells of chemicals used in the building. The journalist describes how she barely managed to escape the building alive herself.

In spite of its slapdash style and apparent lack of organisation, this documentary is well worth watching. The Odessa Trade Union building mass murders and the arson that was intended to cover up the butchery are documented on other websites and blogs like Oriental Review, World Socialist Web Site and Joe Giambrone so the film cannot be accused of being pro-Russian propaganda.  Interviewees point out that the interim regime’s Pravy Sektor and other enforcers have been killing ethnic Ukrainians as well: the lists of people who were killed in the Mariupol incident and who have been disappeared by the authorities since Yanukovych fled Ukraine include several people of ethnic Ukrainian background.

It is clear from the documentary that the interim government under Acting President Oleksandr Turchinov and Prime Minister Arseni Yatseniuk is guilty of war crimes. Western governments and the Western news media, by ignoring or obfuscating the truth of the incidents highlighted in the film stand equally guilty as accessories to war crimes.

As a narrowly focused state-of-the-nation snapshot, the film does not fully explain the connections between the Ukrainian fascists and nationalists of the past with their descendants in western Ukraine who now govern the country with brutal force and incompetence. The film does not make the link between the deliberate misinformation generated in the Western news media about the recent shocking events in Ukraine and the fact that the fascist government under current President Petro Poroshenko is taking orders from rogue elements in the United States government (especially the US State Department) who are keen on seizing energy resources in the eastern Ukraine and surrounding Russia with hostile NATO states armed with missiles aimed at major Russian cities.

Oldboy: arthouse film trappings cannot disguise a flimsy plot, flat characters and an empty message

Chanwook Park, “Oldboy” (2003)

When I saw this film the first time over a decade ago, I was impressed with its style and colour and the way it was filmed but now that I’ve become familiar with Chanwook Park’s little bag of tracks, on second viewing  I can see all the surrealism and the artfulness can’t quite disguise the lame Swiss-cheese plot. Adapted from a Japanese manga, “Oldboy” follows the sufferings of one Oh Daesu (Minsik Choi) who one evening has one drink too many and ends up in police custody. He is freed only to be kidnapped by unseen assailants and he ends up imprisoned in a hotel apartment for 15 years. During this lengthy time, he learns from watching TV that his wife has been murdered, their daughter taken into foster care and he is the prime suspect in his wife’s killing. He passes the time learning to shadow box and writes copiously, plotting revenge on his kidnappers.

He is released unexpectedly and spends the rest of the film trying to pinpoint the place where he was imprisoned and who might have jailed him. He meets a young girl Mido (Hyejung Kang) who tries to help him with his investigations. Eventually a wealthy man Lee Woojin (Jitae Yu) meets him and admits that he was the kidnapper; he then gives Daesu five days to find out why he, Daesu, was abducted and held for so long against his will. If Daesu succeeds within the 5-day period, Woojin will commit suicide, if not, Mido will be killed.

The second of Chanwook Park’s revenge trilogy – “Sympathy for Mr Vengeance” and “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” being the other films – “Oldboy” is a sly examination of revenge and how it can consume people so much so that after they’ve achieved their vengeance and forced others to suffer the pain they suffered, they discover there’s not only no purpose left for them in life but vengeance itself doesn’t bring the satisfaction and closure they thought it would provide. This is a theme of “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” as well.  Whereas the initial reason for the main character in that film to seek revenge was a school-teacher’s abuse and killing of children in his care, here in “Oldboy” the rationale that sets off the chain of actions seems trivial, at least to Western audiences.  You punish a man for fifteen years because he spied on you and your sister up to no good and he tells the entire class at school about you both, and your sister flings herself off the top of a bridge and drowns? You might at least be a little thankful you weren’t reported to the Department of Community Services. The film seems to say that some family secrets should be kept secret – one might raise an eyebrow at the ethics of covering up certain forbidden or illegal acts.

The climax and the denouement come as a surprise: on learning of his role in the sister’s suicide, Daesu becomes completely craven and suppliant towards Woojin; Woojin for his part finds Daesu’s self-abasement hilarious (as no doubt some viewers will) but the other man’s reaction does not satisfy Woojin’s desire for vengeance on the man who as a teenager did something childish and thoughtless. Woojin then has to cope with the consequences of pursuing an unsatisfying vengeance that still eats at him.

Surveillance is a theme threaded right through the film and its destructive effects on both the spied and their watchers are noted, usually very brutally. Daesu stops at nothing to get the information he needs that will lead him to Woojin while Woojin plays puppet-master and stays one step ahead of Daesu most of the time.

While the film is well-acted and Choi and Yu acquit themselves admirably in quite arduous and intense roles, their characters essentially remain flat, undeveloped and quite bestial in morality. There is something odd about Woojin and how his cosseted life-style seems to have made him asexual. His penthouse is absolutely spotless, antiseptic and sterile, hinting at the emotionless robot beneath the youthful leering face. Choi’s Daesu is a desperate man on the edge: he appears to repent of his earlier indulgent and hot-tempered ways during his incarceration but once free, he goes all-out to punish to the extreme the people he finds who contributed to his torment over the years. No mercy is shown to anyone or his (rarely her) teeth. The fact that very little character development takes place or supposedly takes place off-screen throws the weight of plausibility entirely on the insubstantial and hokey plot.

While Park undoubtedly has great technical ability and attracts good actors and crew to create a stunningly beautiful and artful movie, he is unable to overcome a brutal plot in which cartoonish characters basically compete to see who is the more lacking in insight, grace, understanding of the human condition and maturity. The film ultimately seems to say that humans are bad and brutal through and through, and no redemption or escape is possible. Daesu is forced to live with his punishment and self-abasement for the rest of his life: a chilling and despairing conclusion that reeks not a little of the too-clever manipulation, not on Woojin’s part, done to reach that finale.

 

 

The Cars that Ate Paris: oddball comedy horror satire on society and technological fetishism

Peter Weir, “The Cars that Ate Paris” (1974)

Acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir’s directorial full-length debut is an oddball comedy horror flick that riffs on a number of themes including isolation, the uncertainty of one’s identity, social conformity, small-town provincialism and struggling to survive in a foreign and hostile land: themes that have informed European settlement of Australia since 1788. Social criticism is a muted, matter-of-fact presentation of ideas and issues that viewers have to judge and decide for themselves. The film was made on a low budget with a small cast in Sofala, a rural town in New South Wales, which supplied the film’s extras.

The plot initially seems straightforward and minimal. Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri) and his brother George are travelling into a country town, grandly named Paris, when they have a serious car accident. Arthur later wakes up in the town’s hospital, shaken and nursing a new phobia of driving cars. The mayor of Paris (John Meillon) befriends Arthur and takes him into his home. Recuperating from his injuries and the shock from both the accident and from learning that George died in the accident, Arthur acquaints himself with the town-folk and gradually discovers Paris’s secret: the town survives on creating horrific road accidents with death traps set up on the roads, salvaging spare parts from damaged cars and the possessions of victims; the victims themselves are brought to the town hospital to be used as guinea pigs for bizarre medical experiments. The mayor puts Arthur to work in the hospital and then as parking-ticket inspector, the latter in which capacity the young outsider inadvertently causes a major stoush between the mayor and the town-folk on one hand and the local hoons who spend their days driving old car wrecks through the town. The quarrel between Paris and its gangs of car-cruising youth escalates into a major riot that threatens to rip the town apart.

The version of the film I saw has been cleaned up a great deal and it is much brighter and more attractive than the original version in which the lighting was very poor. The rural setting is very picturesque and the town used for the film looks idyllic and peaceful with a distinctive 19th-century pioneering look. The film’s entire style is low-key and unassuming in keeping with the character of Arthur who spends most of his time acting like a frightened little mouse, passive, hesitant and allowing himself to be used and manipulated by the genial mayor. Through Arthur’s passivity, viewers see the full horror of Paris, populated entirely by psychopaths beneath veneers of upright God-fearing and church-going conservative Anglican country-folk. The scheme of killing people by staging traffic accidents and robbing them of their cars and possessions to provide work for the locals and to keep Paris going is revealed to be the work of the mayor and the hospital doctor (Kevin Miles).

Acting is very minimal and the dialogue, especially John Meillon’s lines, drives the film’s plot. Meillon is the most outstanding actor in the movie, by turns kindly and sympathetic, tyrannical, sinister and ultimately crazed. His gradual control of the vulnerable Arthur is hilarious yet creepy to watch though ironically through his manipulation of the young man is to be found the cure for Arthur’s phobia which allows the outsider to escape. Second most outstanding actor or actors I should say are the eponymous cars that take over Paris after one of their number is set alight in an earlier scene; in particular, the hedgehog Volkswagen that (spoiler alert) impales one of the perpetrators in the town’s evil scheme.

In spite of its apparently threadbare style, the film’s plot is quite complicated if not complete: the sub-plots of the teenagers in revolt against their elders and the medical experimentation upon the hospital invalids are not very well developed. The light-hearted mood of the film belies the darkness that exists in the town in which car worship is taken to its most extreme development.

The town of Paris can be seen as a metaphor for Western society generally, in which the fetishising of technology has led to people losing their moral compass, politicians assume power through collusion and flourish by turning their people into a war machine yet spurning those (the car hoons) who do the actual work of killing. This observation of a world in miniature, in which people and society become ever more deranged with more killing and who ultimately destroy themselves, is what gives this quirky little film continued cult status.

 

A personal journal of film and documentary reviews, and reviews of anything else that intrigues me.

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