Ask The Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine): over 30 medical experts warn of the dangers of Covid-19 vaccines

Ask The Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine)(Oracle Films, 7 December 2020)

Banned on Facebook and Youtube, this film features over thirty doctors plus a nurse, a pharmacist, an acupuncturist and a journalist all advising caution to the public in accepting COVID-19 vaccinations or urging people to avoid them outright. The medical experts who speak out against the vaccines are based in North America and various European nations. Each doctor introduces himself or herself, provides a little background information about himself/herself and then explains why s/he opposes the vaccinations. The doctors are very eloquent and appeal to people’s ability to reason and to make choices. Several doctors say that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has never been isolated and proven to exist, and that the PCR tests used to determine if someone has had contact with the virus are flawed. A few claim that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax.

With well over 30 health experts all expressing their opinions on the disease, the virus, the lockdowns and restrictions that have been invoked by governments around the world to deal with the pandemic, the film is bound to be rather repetitive. Several doctors verge on sounding very much like conspiracy theorists. We do not learn their views on vaccination itself as a tool in disease prevention or mitigation strategies. One doctor (Barre Lando) tells of his experiences in dealing with children affected by vaccination injuries and the pharmacist Sandy Lunoe warns that pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines have taken out legal indemnities with law courts to block any future litigation attempts against them over the COVID-19 vaccines.

Perhaps the most alarming opinions expressed are those of Dr Hilde de Smet who says that pharmaceutical corporations have been trying to develop coronavirus vaccines for 20 years and have tested them on animals with the result that many animals end up with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, and of Dr Elke de Klerk who states that the vaccines may cause sterility in women and girls, and change people’s DNA. Professor Konstantin Pavlidis believes the vaccines may result in neurological side effects. Throughout the film doctors express reservations about the speed with which COVID-19 vaccines, several of which are based on very new technologies, are being rushed and approved by governments in spite of several trials generating unusual and sometimes severe side effects or the trials not being conducted and liable to bias.

The film may need to be played few times for audiences to digest the most important information in several of the interviews. Some doctors are not too clear and a few could have been advise to take some elocution lessons! In spite of its repetitive nature, the film does express viewpoints that are beyond the pale for mainstream news and specialist media, and a message throughout the film is that people can find and do research on the topic of COVID-19 and how it is spread.

In the Name of the Land: tragic personal drama capturing the plight of farmers squeezed by neoliberal capitalist ideology

Edouard Bergeon, “In the Name of the Land / Au Nom de la Terre” (2020)

A deeply personal family drama, based on his own experiences growing up on a farm, “In the Name of the Land” is photojournalist Edouard Bergeon’s first directorial effort. As much as it is fictionalised auto-biography, the film also captures the plight of farmers caught in the grip of neoliberal economic ideology in which the market dominates and “decides” everything, even if this means farmers and their families must suffer. In an economic context in which the EU micro-manages member nations’ agriculture and decrees what farmers can produce, how they are to produce it and what prices they can sell their produce at, corporations (often benefiting from EU policies made in Brussels or Strasbourg, that the corporations themselves propose and push through their lobbyists) can exploit farmers’ need to earn money to pay off bank loans they took out to invest in farm buildings, equipment and machines, just to keep up with fellow farmers and corporate-owned and run farms, by offering them franchise-type deals to produce more – and which require further investment to be made by the farmers themselves. Farmers readily agree to take on such additional work but eventually discover these food corporations are hard taskmasters that demand a great deal but give little in return. Bergeon dedicates his film, based on his own family’s experiences, to his mother and sister.

Pierre Jarjeau (Guillaume Canet in a career-defining performance) returns from the United States in 1979 where he has been working as a ranch hand in Wyoming to marry his sweetheart Claire (Veerle Baetens) and to take over running his father Jacques’s farm Les Grands Bois. Pierre has grand ideas about improving the farm by mechanising its operations and engaging in large-scale rearing of goats and sheep. Jacques (Rufus) passes on the farm by leasing it out to Pierre who then spends the next several years expanding its operations and modernising its processes. Claire manages the farm’s accounts and raises their two children Thomas and Emma (Alex Bajon and Yona Kervern). Initially everything seems to be going well – but then during the late 1990s there is a downturn in the economy, goat meat consumption is slumping and the Jarjeaus find they have taken too many loans and are in arrears in paying off loans on farm buildings and equipment. Pierre decides to add poultry-raising to an already full schedule of goat-raising and wheat-growing and enters into a deal with a corporation to raise chicks. To this end he has to build a new barn outfitted to the corporation’s specifications with special machinery that feeds the chickens and provides them with water. Even the chickens’ feed is dictated by the corporation.

Everything seems to go well but the machinery feeding and watering the chickens breaks down and the Jarjeaus and their employee Mehid (Sam Guesmi) must feed the chickens by hand. Before long Pierre is suffering from burnout and his health goes downhill. On top of his physical health issues, his relationship with his father Jacques takes a turn for the worse when they disagree over how the farm should be run, and then one night the buildings housing the chickens and goats burn down and the Jarjeaus are forced to declare bankruptcy.

From here on, the film becomes a mawkish and stereotyped character study of depression and how it affects an entire family and the relations within it. The downhill slide is very quick – in real life, it would be much more drawn-out and there would be moments where the depressed person temporarily regains happiness and normality before something the depression starts again – and viewers can see a mile away how this narrative will end. A hysterical scene in which Pierre threatens the family with a knife is completely out of kilter with the film’s generally low-key approach. Unfortunately the state of French agriculture in the 1990s, squeezed by corporate and economic demands and unsympathetic politicians within and outside France, forcing farmers into a race to the bottom by producing more but earning less, along with long-simmering personal family issues and a greedy father, all eventually combine to destroy Pierre.

The cinematography is excellent, showing the changing French landscape, alternating between grey winter mist and bright hot summers, as a significant character in its own right. Lead actors Canet and Baetens do great work as the beleaguered couple trying to keep the farm going in spite of debt pressures, competition from other farmers, a curmudgeonly father and the micro-management policies of the corporation for which they must supply chicken meat. The child actors and other minor actors provide solid support and viewers see something of the traditional routines of family-run farms engaged in a wide range of activities as well as the pressures of farming on a family. As the stony-faced curmudgeonly Jacques, disdaining his son’s decisions and schemes yet benefiting very well financially as his landlord (when he could have just passed ownership of the farm to Pierre), Rufus does well with a very minimalist style of acting.

While the film is very good at portraying the stoic resilience of the Jarjeaus in maintaining their farm under the pressures they face, I consider the film could have done more to underline how increasingly governments and private corporations dictate farming practice to farmers, many of whom come from families that have long histories of farming over generations, and how this combines with neo-capitalist ideology to reduce farmers to poverty, forcing them to sell farms to agribusinesses and destroying valuable knowledge and skills that have been nurtured and handed down through families for hundreds of years. More background story to how Pierre’s father Jacques was able to run the farm in his own conservative fashion, in the early days of EU agricultural policy when government subsidies were more generous, farms were sheltered from outside competition and corporations were not as large and rapacious, is needed. Viewers do not see how unsympathetic the Jarjeaus’ bank manager or government bureaucrats might be towards the family. The film’s subplots revolving around Thomas, his transformation into a serious young man, and his future ambitions – will he pursue farming or take up mountain-bike riding professionally? – are under-developed. On top of the sub-plots that go nowhere, the film’s ending is abrupt and what happens to Claire and the children and the farm once Pierre is gone is unknown.

In spite of the beautiful visuals and the hard work put in by the actors to flesh out their characters, I did feel the narrative as it is does not quite do them justice. Once the setbacks start for Pierre, the story so carefully established quickly starts falling apart and descends into cliche and stereotyping. This is unfortunate as the story behind the making of the film is tragic and full of pain.

Magnitsky Acts are dangerous laws based on a hoax – Interview with Lucy Komisar: how human rights legislation is being degraded

Glen Isherwood, “Magnitsky Acts are dangerous laws based on a hoax – Interview with Lucy Komisar” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 28 October 2020)

In light of news that politicians Andrew Hastie and Kimberley Kitching are pursuing a bill through the Australian Parliament that would empower Canberra to target and impose sanctions on officials and individuals for supposed human rights abuses – the so-called Magnitsky legislation – Australian Citizens Party researcher Robert Barwick interviews US investigative reporter Lucy Komisar on the work she has done exposing such legislation using supposed human rights abuses to target and blacklist nations such as Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela and set them up for strategic confrontation and regime change. This interview is very detailed if selective (mainly due to time constraints), starting with Komisar’s early work as an investigative journalist and human rights activist across three continents in the 1960s through to the 1980s and then jumping to her work investigating the activities of Bill Browder in Russia through his Hermitage Capital Management Fund in the 1990s to capitalise on the privatisation of Russian state corporations under the Yeltsin presidency.

Taking the form of a conversation in which Barwick allows Komisar to explain at length what Browder did over the 1990s and the early 2000s, setting up shell companies for the purposes of transfer pricing (originally a legitimate practice in which two related companies in different taxation jurisdictions exchange goods and the price at which the exchange takes place is settled by the tax authorities in those jurisdictions according to rules and methods those authorities agree upon; companies may take advantage of such rules and methods to reduce the amount of tax they pay) and taking advantage of and abusing legislation in Kalmykia (an administrative region in Russia where the major ethnic group is Buddhist Kalmyks) in which companies got tax concessions if they employed people with disabilities, the bulk of the interview can sometimes be hard for viewers to follow unless they are already familiar with the history of Browder’s activities and of Magnitsky himself. The truth is Magnitsky was arrested and jailed for tax evasion as Browder’s accountant, and that Browder himself was being pursued by Russian authorities for stealing millions through the shell companies he set up with Magnitsky’s advice and assistance. The notion that Browder and Magnitsky are or were human rights champions keen on uncovering and exposing corruption in Russian politics in the 1990s and beyond – a notion that Browder promoted in the US and the EU, and is now promoting in Australia – proves to be a smokescreen covering up Browder’s own venality which as Komisar explains extends back in time even further than his adventures in Russia with Hermitage Capital Management Fund.

The more interesting part of the interview comes late in its second half when Barwick and Komisar discuss how her submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade – Human Rights Sub-Committee exposing Browder as a human rights fraud and that the Magnitsky sanctions legislation is based on lies was redacted and virtually ignored by the sub-committee. (As a result of her submission, Komisar was accused by Browder of being allied to or working in some capacity for the Russia government.) This leads among other things into a discussion on how the weaponisation of human rights in the form of sanctions legislation can be an attack on the concept of human rights itself, in that sanctioning individuals for supposed human rights crimes makes a mockery of human rights legislation and can be used to attack genuine human rights activists. If the bill backed by Kitching and Hastie were to be passed in Canberra, people targeted by the legislation would have no right of due process if they were to try to challenge it. (Even Australian citizens themselves might fall foul of such legislation, if they were to try to send money or gifts to relatives linked to sanctioned individuals or relatives living countries whose governments have been sanctioned.) The Human Rights Sub-Committee is deliberately ignoring submissions like Komisar’s submission in driving the new Magnitsky sanctions legislation, and the reason for doing so is purely political: to persecute and isolate individuals, organisations and even entire nations that follow policies or agendas that the US, the UK and their allies disagree with. Australia is expected to follow what the US and the UK decree, even at its own expense.

The danger of the West adopting the Magnitsky laws is that they set a dangerous precedent and model for other governments to target the political opposition and dissidents within their own nations. Laws that purport to uphold human rights are instead twisted into laws that degrade human rights. In addition, adopting Magnitsky laws that sanction individuals, organisations and nations when laws already exist to censure such entities can only result in confusion for governments to enforce and for courts to interpret if the new legislation contradicts current legislation.

The interview deserves to be seen at least twice or three times for viewers to understand the danger that passing the Magnitsky sanctions bill in Parliament poses to human rights activists in Australia. Viewers will need to do their own research on Browder and Magnitsky’s activities in Russia in the 1990s and the early 2000s that resulted in Magnitsky’s arrest and imprisonment. The implication that even in death Magnitsky is being used as a pawn by Browder to escape trial and imprisonment and to enrich himself, at the expense of people living in countries targeted by Magnitsky legislation where it has been passed, and of genuine human rights activists, is not lost on viewers. That Bill Browder can continue to cause havoc wherever he goes, and is seemingly unstoppable, given his history, might encourage some viewers to consider that he may be an intelligence asset.

The Covert War on Syria: how the West cynically wages war indirectly against nations targeted for regime change

Carlton Meyer, “The Covert War on Syria” (Tales of the American Empire, 27 November 2020)

Sequel to an earlier installment “The Plot to Destroy Syria” on Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire Youtube channel, this episode may not be an exhaustive account of the seven-year war that the US and its allies waged indirectly against Syria but it is a good introduction into the type of secret war of regime change that the West currently conducts against nations it disapproves of and the role that Western news media propaganda play to capture and maintain the support of the Western general public behind such wars.

After the successful overthrow of Colonel Muammar Gaddhafi’s government in Libya in 2011 (actually, even while NATO was attacking Libya, the US government was already moving terrorists and weapons from Benghazi in eastern Libya to Syria), the US turned its attention to Syria to incite violence in parts of Syria that could be escalated into all-out war. Getting public support for an invasion of Syria however was going to be difficult; Western publics were shocked at NATO’s use of a no-fly zone over Libya to start bombing the country and the Russians and Chinese on the UN Security Council were not to be fooled twice into supporting a no-fly zone over Syria. Under the then Obama administration, the US began encouraging foreigners through social media platforms and propaganda demonising the Syrian government as a repressive dictatorship to travel to Syria and support various disaffected groups (unemployed farmers made so by privatisation of land and utilities, Iraqi war refugees) in fighting Damascus. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Middle Eastern nations in Syria’s immediate neighbourhood began arming and funding such mercenaries, and introduced them to extremist Wahhabi and Salafi ideologies, with the result that groups preaching extreme forms of Islam and glorying in the executions of even other Muslims in addition to non-Muslims grew up in the region.

The episode is rather selective in what it emphasises during the West’s cynical conduct of the war from 2011 to 2018. Very little is said about Israel’s involvement in the war, in providing medical aid and patching up wounded terrorists in hospital, even though that country had an interest in retaining and annexing the Golan Heights. On the other hand, Meyer draws a fairly detailed link from Turkey’s support for oil tankers illegally taking Syrian oil and transporting it to Turkey to the shoot-down of a Russian jet fighter by jihadists in late 2015 (not long after Russia began assisting the Syrian Arab Army at Damascus’ request), the subsequent Russian wreckage of the Turkish economy, Turkey’s refusal to accept any more refugees fleeing the conflict and the aborted July 2016 coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The episode takes a detour to explain the rise of the White Helmets as a fake humanitarian aid organisation and supports its explanation with an excerpt of a Q&A session in which Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett sets a questioner right by detailing Western news media’s failure to adequately cover the Middle East by putting correspondents on the ground to get first-hand evidence.

Maps, photographs and excerpts of interviews are used to illustrate Meyer’s narration and the result is a detailed work that should be viewed as both an introduction into the current way Western nations try to overthrow governments of sovereign nations, preferring stealth and the cynical use of these nations’ citizens and foreign mercenaries to do the fighting; and the role propaganda has to play in convincing even educated people capable of knowing better to believe in false narratives about Syrian President Bashar al Assad being a dictator and about the Syrian public wanting to get rid of him. At the end of the episode, using economist / academic / analyst Jeffrey Sachs as a sort of mouthpiece (though what Sachs says is very much his own opinion), Meyer makes a case for the US to get all its troops out of Syria, give up trying to overthrow Assad and leave Syria and Syrians alone to deal with their problems and start reconstructing the country.

Viewers need to do their own research if they want to learn more. A 14-minute film, good and detailed as it is, can only be the start of the journey into understanding Syria and recent Syrian history.

Is China committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims? Interview with Jerry Grey yields intriguing answers

“Is China committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims? Interview with Jerry Grey” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 28 October 2020)

Here is a very fascinating interview conducted by Research Director Robert Barwick of the Australian Citizens Party with British-Australian citizen Jerry Grey who had a varied life as a police officer and security officer who then retrained as a teacher and found a teaching job, initially for a year, in China. Grey enjoyed living in China so much that he ended up staying there permanently, established a charity with his wife whom he met in China, and began travelling around the country. His cycling travels took him to and through Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Grey is thus in a good position to be able to confirm whether the Chinese government has singled out Uyghur Muslim people for discrimination, harassment and incarceration, including incarceration in concentration camps where they are supposedly forced to perform hard labour in factories or on farms. In particular Uyghur Muslims are supposed to be subjected to cultural genocide, being forced to give up their own language and much of their traditional culture and religion.

Grey describes his experiences of travelling and living in Xinjiang with interviewer Robert Barwick, demolishing as he does so the Western propaganda narratives of Uyghur Muslims being singled out for discrimination. Grey gives an example of how such propaganda may be generated in the case of an Albanian journalist who visits a school in China, asks various questions of the teacher in a class, records the teacher’s answers and then returns to Albania to present the Q&A session with his television station employer in such a way as to remove the context in which the teacher replies to the journalist. Of course religion is not taught in school if the school is not a religious school, yet the journalist presents the teacher’s answer of “No’ to suggest that religious education is banned in China. A second example of propaganda misusing information is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s use of satellite imagery showing large building complexes surrounded by fencing to insinuate that these complexes are concentration camps when in fact the buildings may be senior high schools with boarding facilities or other major institutions. (Later in the interview Barwick notes that ASPI itself is funded by the US government and corporate sources that employ slave labour in the US.) Since Xinjiang region has been experiencing numerous terrorist attacks – in ten years up to 2017, the area suffered 800 deaths from terrorist incidents – many major building complexes now have elaborate security systems and travellers are subjected to many security checks. While the surveillance may be very intrusive, in the context of terrorist incidents occurring in areas as far apart as Xinjiang and Yunnan, the vigilance is often welcomed by local people. Interestingly in Xinjiang region, the police force is made up of Uyghurs themselves.

On the issue of terrorism in Xinjiang, Barwick and Grey discuss Beijing’s response to preventing more terrorist attacks in the form of a massive poverty alleviation scheme which has reached out to the most remote and / or impoverished communities in China and provided them with access to markets, transport and education for their children. Children of senior high school age are enrolled in city schools with boarding facilities (which media sources hostile to China misinterpret, deliberately or otherwise, as concentration camps) where they learn and study the Mandarin language which will enable them to find work in China. The youngsters are allowed to visit their families on weekends and are brought back to school by bus.

Significantly Grey notes there are no Western journalists on the ground in Xinjiang; furthermore most news about Xinjiang appearing in the MSM can be traced back to three sources, all of which source their information from the US State Department, and thus their information is highly suspicious as the US has an interest in destabilising China and breaking it up. One of these three sources often consulted by the Western MSM is German-American Christian fundamentalist theologian Adrian Zenz who believes in The Rapture (when true-believing Christians will be suddenly and physically drawn to Heaven by God and the rest of humanity will burn on Earth) and regards himself as having been appointed by God to pursue and expose China’s supposed crimes. He is a member of a far-right organisation known as Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation which was founded in 1983 by the US government and had a connection to Ukrainian ultra-right nationalist Yaroslav Stetsko, a former associate of Stepan Bandera, former head of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (Bandera faction) and a Nazi collaborator during the 1940s. The other sources include the aforementioned ASPI and the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an organisation founded by the US government.

Grey talks about his personal experiences with security in Xinjiang, noting that entry into and exit out of the region is monitored closely by Beijing to the extent that the region is locked down against unauthorised entry by outsiders. He notes that his movements around Xinjiang, which included taking cameras with him, have been unrestricted. People curious about his reasons for travelling around Xinjiang turn out to be generous with their time and hospitality when he tells them; no-one tells him he can or cannot travel to particular parts of Xinjiang.

An interesting detour is taken by Barwick when Grey talks about Uyghur expatriates complaining to mainstream Western media that they are not allowed to contact relatives in Xinjiang: Grey says this happens because the expats have broken Chinese law – which explains why they are expats in the first place (they have fled justice by going overseas and finding asylum as “refugees”). Barwick says many Uyghur organisations in Australia have “East Turkestan” as part of their names; in doing this, they declare themselves to be enemies of China, as “East Turkestan” implies that these organisations are encouraging separatism and working towards breaking Xinjiang away from China.

The interview finishes up with Grey describing his experiences of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic in China. He notes that the Chinese government used the lockdown to mobilise healthcare resources in hospitals, relying on government bureaucrats of all levels to lead the response, and to introduce an effective contact tracing and testing scheme which has resulted in the disease being stopped dead in its tracks early in 2020.

While the interview frequently meandered from one topic to the next, it makes clear that allegations of discrimination, harassment and imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims on the basis of their religion and ethnicity are baseless and are part of an agenda to raise support for a US-led war and possible invasion of China among Western publics. Unfortunately the interview does not clearly identify the main sources of disinformation about China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims (incidentally not all Uyghurs are Muslims and Muslims in China are a highly diverse religious community with the majority of Muslims being Han Chinese themselves) though viewers familiar with the issue will be aware that ultimately the US government and the supposedly humanitarian and human rights NGOs it funds feed these sources and in turn rely on them to spread the propaganda.

It would appear that much Western resentment directed at China’s treatment of its Uyghur population stems from Western awareness that what China is doing for its underprivileged is exactly the programs and policies that Western nations should have pursued for their impoverished minorities. Fake narratives such as the concentration camp narrative feed on real facts and distort them into an evil mirror image that exploits Western public guilt over and horror of Nazi German atrocities and genocides of targeted groups like Jews, Roma and Sinti, Slav peoples, homosexuals and people born with mental and physical disabilities. It can be no coincidence that increasingly Chinese Communists and the former Soviet Union are being equated with Nazi Germany through deliberate distortions of the 20th-century histories of China, Russia and Germany.

Corpus Christi: impostor priest story explores redemption, healing and religious hypocrisy

Jan Komasa, “Corpus Christi” (2019)

For some odd reason, Poland has many fake Roman Catholic priests, many of whom must be doing a good job, and maybe even better, of ministering to their unsuspecting flocks as real qualified priests do, and this phenomenon comes under scrutiny in Komasa’s “Corpus Christi”. In another country – France or Italy perhaps – the story of an ex-convict pretending to be a priest, and not only being a very good impersonator but also helping to heal ongoing pain and trauma that are tearing a community apart, bringing people together, encouraging love and forgiveness, and helping people go forward in their lives as a result, might be treated as gentle comedy with themes of redemption, finding purpose and hope, and galvanising others with hope and new energy as well. The resolution might be messy and not turn out too well but nearly everyone becomes a better person. The Polish film however not only addresses the issues of redemption, love and forgiveness, and healing people and communities, it also investigates the nature of morality and spirituality and asks whether people who deceive others by masking their true identities are necessarily less moral and genuine than those who don’t, and whether such impostors’ actions are less genuine and constructive than the actions of others who are genuine. Do we place too much emphasis on people being properly “qualified” for the job they are doing and not enough on their actions while doing that job? Should people not be judged by what they actually do, what the results of their actions are, and what benefits or not those results bring to people and communities? Does the Church in Poland spend too much time insisting that people follow rules that may not be relevant to their lives, does the Church neglect people’s spiritual needs?

Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), serving time for murder, is released on parole to work at a sawmill in a remote rural part of Poland. He eschews the work and goes to a small village where a church stands empty. He insinuates himself into the villagers’ lives by pretending to be a priest: he gets away with the ruse, having become religious while in juvenile detention and serving as an altar boy for the prison chaplain whose identity he adopts in the village. By working as a priest, hearing confession and officiating at Mass, baptisms, funerals and blessing new ventures, Daniel discovers the village has been traumatised by a car-crash accident that killed seven villagers: six of the villagers are remembered at a sidewalk shrine but the seventh villager, the one who caused the accident, is not only shunned by the villagers but has never been given a religious burial and his widow is ostracised by the village.

Thanks to this mystery and a number of other sub-plots that include a developing romance between Daniel and local girl Marta (Eliza Rycembel), a possible conflict with local village mayor and power broker who owns the sawmill where Daniel was supposed to work, and Daniel’s past coming back to reclaim and expose him as a fraud when a fellow parolee at the sawmill sees him and tries to blackmail him, the film is very brisk and maintains tension right up to the devastating climax and its denouement. The conclusion is very bleak and ambiguous. One expects that while the village, now healed of its trauma, can proceed and progress in a spirit of reconciliation, Daniel will not be shown the same mercy and spirit of forgiveness by society at large that he showed to the villagers.

Bielenia is unforgettable as the young ex-con who fools an entire village with his soulful eyes and a face at once angelic, stoic, expressive and yet hiding a nature capable of brutal violence. Several close-ups concentrate on his face, at times blank yet in deep thought and occasionally expressing tics. Bielenia is ably abetted by a good cast that includes Rycembel as the love interest Eliza, Alexandra Koniecna as Eliza’s dour mother who is also the sexton suspicious of Daniel and who nurses bitterness towards the banished widow (Barbara Kurzaj), and Leszek Lichota as the power-hungry village mayor. The grey-green colouring of the village and the film’s minimal presentation emphasise the isolation and poverty of its inhabitants, which make them vulnerable to imposter priests.

While some subplots such as the budding romance are not well developed and could have been jettisoned, the film is very compelling with good acting, a brisk pace and a mystery to solve. It asks questions about the nature of hypocrisy and where spiritual redemption might come from, and poses a challenge to the Church and other institutions in Polish culture and society.

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech (2020) / Q&A Session

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech at the XVII Meeting (Final Plenary Session) of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Moscow, 22 October 2020) – Part 2: Q&A Session

After his speech (see Part 1), Russian President Vladimir Putin took several questions from Fyodor Lukyanov, the moderator of the plenary session, and various attendees at the Meeting both in person and online. These questions covered a wide range of topics, not all of which had been mentioned in Putin’s speech, and several were general, even abstract almost, while others were specific and covered incidents that were topical at the time.

As moderator, Lukyanov probably had the lion’s share of questions (though he may have been relaying questions from parts of the audience) and one pertinent question was why Russia would not pursue an economic lock-down again if it were hit by a second wave of COVID-19 and if this meant that Russia’s priorities in dealing with the pandemic had changed to favour the economy rather than people’s health. The examples of Sweden and Belarus as nations that did not introduce economic lock-downs were cited. Putin replied that during the lock-down during the first wave in Russia, the government mobilised resources and funding to support individuals, families, small to medium-sized businesses and even companies and industries, and to build up the healthcare system so it has the flexibility (including a reserve of hospital beds) to cope and deal with the pandemic should it flare up again. Putin believes that the funding allocated to support the health sector and other economic sectors was used effectively, and that this will enable the country to ride through a second pandemic wave without having to introduce a second nationwide lock-down that would destroy jobs and threaten distribution networks, and create distress including mental health problems among the public. The President notes also that Sweden and Belarus had their particular reasons for not introducing lock-downs, and that interestingly Sweden did not mobilise its resources to support its economy or its people during lock-down.

Several questions raised the issue of arms control and whether Russia has made too many concessions in adhering to international treaties and limiting its arsenal in the wake of recent US belligerence in refusing to renew treaties or to walk away from them, or even to accuse other nations of violating treaties when in fact those nations had done no such thing. Putin’s response is that arms control treaties are still necessary if the world is to have a future; but if other nations wish to throw their weight around and ignore arms control treaties, the Russians are prepared to build on what has already been achieved in the past, even if it was one step forward and two steps back, and are ready to work with others to achieve arms control no matter what stage or level of global arms control has been reached.

Because I am familiar with Anatol Lieven as a writer and policy analyst, I took note of the question he asked about what position Russia would take with regard to the outbreak of war in Nagorno-Karabakh, whether Russia would side with Armenia against Azerbaijan and Turkey if ceasefires and other attempts at peace fail, and if this conflict might be an opportunity for Russia to work with France and other western European nations. Putin’s reply is to point out that Russia does not favour Armenia over Azerbaijan simply because of having Orthodoxy in common as a religion, and that Russia’s connections with both countries make it ideal as a mediator. As for allying with France against Turkey’s ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean Sea region, Putin states Russia is not keen on picking sides. While perhaps Putin’s replies might not satisfy Lieven and others who want Russia to take one side or the other, one should understand Russia’s reluctance to take on such roles that could give an opportunity for the US and its allies to aid the opposing side, to sap Russian military power and at the same time create other conflicts that would try to draw in Russia as well and force the Russians to fight on several fronts. It is not Russia’s intention to act as the world’s enforcer or police officer and its stand on potential conflict between France and Turkey, or between Armenia and Azerbaijan, reflects that intention.

A related issue was posed to Putin, as to what Russia’s fundamental foreign policy goals are towards nations around its borders that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Putin’s reply is that Russia’s foreign policy goals are taking place within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and that all the post-Soviet states will recognise the common interests and overlapping histories and cultures they share which will help to draw them closer and achieve stability.

The issue of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his recent poisoning while flying from Tomsk to Moscow, during which his plane was diverted to Omsk where he received hospital care, later to be transported to Berlin (at the request of his family, which Putin granted even though Navalny was technically under house arrest) where doctors reported he had been poisoned with Novichok, brought into the spotlight the question of whether Germany and Russia still had a special relationship (due to the mixed history of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union / Russia in the past) or whether that relationship had changed. After noting that Russia had opened an investigation into Navalny’s poisoning, in which investigators had asked for information from Germany to assist (and that information had not been supplied), Putin notes that the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev played a major role in allowing East and West Germany to reunite in 1989, that Germany is Russia’s second largest trading partner (after China) and that having mutual interests such as trade and stimulating employment will always be at the heart of Russian-German relations.

Questions on Chinese-Russian relations were dealt with by Putin emphasising the areas in which Russia and China are working together (trade, sharing military technologies, developing infrastructure, holding joint military exercises).

A question from Anton Roux, head of the ADC Forum in Melbourne, on how Putin might wish to be remembered, brought forth Putin’s reply that he is not concerned about his reputation or how future generations of Russians might see him. (A very interesting response indeed, given that many Western leaders seem anxious about leaving a highly burnished reputation behind despite being very mediocre politicians.)

The last question put to Putin concerned the lack of government support for Antarctic research, even though a research station was already under construction with government funding, and Putin promised to bring up this issue with the relevant government department and find out why the research funding is being neglected.

While the range of questions put to Putin covered many different areas, and many related to domestic Russian issues as well as international issues, Putin’s responses generally err on the side of caution, with a conservative attitude that stresses co-operation and mutual agreement, and Russia’s strategic interests. While this means Putin’s answers are not exciting or particularly revelatory, one can understand the caution given that many questions came from people living overseas in countries where anti-Russia propaganda is in full swing among people at all levels of society and some of these questions may have required careful answers.

Perhaps the most significant revelation for Western audiences is that Putin actually approved the transfer of Alexei Navalny to Germany for medical treatment despite knowing that Navalny was a criminal. Amazingly, no-one seems to have asked why he personally intervened and gave permission for Navalny to be flown overseas. Surely Putin’s action casts a slur on the heroic attempts of the doctors, specialists and nurses at the Omsk hospital to save Navalny’s life?

Several of the questions asked were typical of questions Putin gets during his annual Q&A sessions with the Russian public and one might expect that in future Valdai Club Meetings, the moderators perhaps should steer questions away from issues of a domestic nature and encourage people to ask questions relevant to the topics raised in the annual Meetings. The downside of this suggestion though would be to make the Valdai Club Meetings rather less attractive and accessible to the Russian general public and perhaps limit its access to Putin to raise his awareness of important national and regional issues. For his part, Putin may not mind being asked questions concerning domestic issues at the annual Valdai Club Meetings if he is keen on keeping a finger on the public pulse.

It seems very odd that Westerners in Putin’s audience did not press him further on his vision of what constitutes a free, strong and independent civil society with vibrant institutions supported by the state and the citizenry, or challenge him on what he says or insinuates about the United States and its alliesi, or those NGOs and international organisations that act as regime-change agents and creators of instability and chaos. In my view, we have missed an opportunity to learn something from Putin and what his vision of Russia might be.

A transcript of this Q&A forum and of Putin’s speech preceding it can be viewed at this link.

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech (2020): finding hope, opportunity and direction in a world in crisis

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech at the XVII Meeting (Final Plenary Session) of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Moscow, 22 October 2020) – Part 1

The 17th Annual Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club was held in Moscow over 20 – 22 October 2020 with the theme “The Lessons of the Pandemic and the New Agenda: How to Turn the World Crisis Into an Opportunity for the World”. For the first time in its history, the Club’s programme, ranging over the global COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, the escalating US rivalry with China, the possibility of global tech war and global climate change, all inter-related and in which a common theme of the world falling apart through suspicion and paranoia rather than coming together with an open spirit can be detected, was open to the news media and the general public. On the last day of the Meeting as per custom, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered the final speech via video link. At the end of his speech, Putin took questions from various individuals attending the Meeting, both physically and via video link: the questioners included Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, well-known writer / journalist / policy analyst Anatol Lieven, Anton Roux of The ADC Forum in Melbourne, Hans-Joachim Spanger of The Leibniz Institute Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt and Zhao Huasheng of The Institute for International Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai.

Putin opens his speech by observing how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Valdai International Discussion Club’s ability to hold debates and discussions and introduce new experts to share their views and opinions. He then goes on to describe how the Russian government has met the challenge of the pandemic in Russia itself, and how this challenge has emphasised the importance of certain values such as mutual assistance, service and self-sacrifice within the country. Putin stresses that only strong and secure states can deal effectively with the crisis presented by COVID-19, and that such states are strong because of the trust and confidence their citizens place in them. For states to be strong, they must have their own political cultures and traditions, and their own visions of what they want for their citizens and their particular pathways to achieve those visions. The state must support public initiatives by providing them with appropriate platforms, infrastructure and resourcing to sustain them and by opening up opportunities for them to grow an thrive. To the extent that this can be possible, other nations cannot impose their visions of “democracy” and “civil society” on states developing their own political cultures and traditions. (This is a clear jibe at Western nations interfering in other countries’ affairs to the extent of infiltrating and grooming non-government organisations and charities in those countries to carry out regime-change activities and overthrow their governments.) Putin then describes how Russia in the 1990s, and other countries in a similar situation, were dependent on foreign funding to finance non-government organisations and the threat this posed to Russia’s survival as a single nation.

Looking at the world in 2020, Putin observes how much it has changed since the end of World War II in 1945. Then, the post-war order was (as Putin sees it) established by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Since then, the Soviet Union has disappeared and Russia has taken its place to some extent; the United Kingdom has become a waning power; the United States still believes in its own exceptionality and invincibility but is also a declining power; and other nations such as China and the Federal Republic of Germany are rising to superpower status. Putin notes that international organisations established to carry out particular missions as part of the post-war international rule of law have been subverted by particular nations and behave in particular ways according to ideology, and not on the basis of reason, pragmatism or need depending on the context or the situation. The result is that various issues end up highly politicised and cannot be resolved properly because they are interpreted and polluted by false propaganda narratives.

On the other hand, there have been initiatives established by nations coming together to solve specific issues and Putin expresses hope that mutual help between nations can and will continue to achieve international stability and security, fight terrorism and solve problems beyond the ability of any one nation to solve successfully. These problems include climate change as it manifests in different parts of the world: in Russia, it manifests in the melting of the Siberian permafrost, leading to the sinking of buildings in towns and cities, disruption in utilities and necessary infrastructure, and the large-scale release of methane into the atmosphere which will accelerate global warming.

Lastly Putin discusses the impact of COVID-19 on cyber-technologies that enable distance communications but which also exposes people and communities to issues of cyber-security such as hacking and other cyber-crimes, and unwanted and intrusive surveillance by governments and corporations, public and private. All these plus the other crises and challenges Putin has mentioned in his speech can certainly pose threats to our security but they also present opportunities for transformation to a better way of life and a more secure and stable planet.

Throughout his speech Putin poses the choice facing us all: we can choose to react with fear and paranoia to the challenges brought about by changes that have occurred throughout the world since 1945, as a result of a relatively long peace in First World and Second World nations (in large part because they cynically used Third World nations as their proxy battlegrounds), the fall of Communism in the late 1980s / early 1990s, and the arrival of new technologies, in particular digital technologies, that changed cultures and societies; or we can choose to overcome our fears, prejudices and presumptions about others to reach out to friends and foes alike, find common ground, and work together to find solutions to the threats endangering Earth and humanity’s future. The point here is that what appears at first to be a crisis with potential for great loss, destruction and chaos can be turned into an opportunity to achieve better and greater things – but only if we are prepared to work with others, and that means respecting their rights, opinions and beliefs, and not insisting that they change to our expectations.

Significantly as in previous Valdai Club plenary session speeches, Putin does not name those nations that seek to undermine other nations’ governments and security through overthrowing their leaders and installing their own increasingly despotic and vicious versions of “democracy”, “freedom” and “civil society” but his audience will well understand him to mean the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other EU nations, and their allies.

The Q&A session that follows Vladimir Putin’s speech will be dealt with in a separate essay. An English-language transcript of the speech and the Q&A forum following can be found at this link

.

Manufacturing State Propaganda at the BBC: “The Corbett Report (Interview 1587: Vanessa Beeley Debunks a BBC Hit Piece)”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Interview 1587: Vanessa Beeley Debunks a BBC Hit Piece)” (20 October 2020)

Recorded 16 October 2020, this conversation between James Corbett and investigative British journalist Vanessa Beeley can be viewed online or heard as an audio-only version. This interview comes on the eve of a BBC Radio 4 series lasting some 10 weeks on James le Mesurier and the White Helmets, the supposed Syrian civil defence organisation (in reality, a fake humanitarian front supporting regime-change terrorists in Syria) he founded. Beeley had been approached by BBC reporter Chloe Hadjimatheou for an interview that would be broadcast during the radio series but declined the offer when she realised the questions to be put to her were a trap to discredit her.

The interview ranges over a number of related issues: the radio series is intended as a retrospective damage exercise by the BBC to whitewash the White Helmets; the targeting of Beeley by the BBC and the UK government by insinuating that legal action may be taken against her for stating that the White Helmets are a “legitimate target” for retaliation by the Syrian government due to the organisation’s association and embedment with terrorists, its involvement in child abductions and killings and other atrocities, and its travels with terrorist groups; and the ridiculous way in which the mainstream news media portrays Beeley as a lone-wolf blogger / “non-journalist” on the one hand and on the other a significant influence on Syrian government policy! The interview also covers how the White Helmets is part of a drive by a project known as the Integrity Initiative (an initiative of Scottish-based thinktank the Institute for Statecraft), ostensibly established to combat disinformation and support British foreign policy, but which in fact aims to destabilise nations like Syria by supporting groups like the White Helmets which give terrorists and other regime-change groups and organisations a favourable public image. The White Helmets give terrorists a positive humanitarian touch and support a drive for Western military intervention in Syria, supposedly based on “Responsibility to Protect” principles, which has as its ulterior aim the overthrow of the Syrian government and its replacement by a government favourable to Western political, military and corporate interests. Significantly Corbett and Beeley mention that the Red Cross / Red Cresent in Syria does not recognise the White Helmets as Syria’s legitimate civil defence organisation.

On a positive note, Beeley explains her plan to counter this series by researching the backgrounds of the series producer and others involved in its making, and the sources used, and making her research known publicly. Beeley notes that the BBC’s reputation has been falling rapidly, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and that the general public in Britain and beyond increasingly recognise that the BBC is the propaganda outlet for the UK state, itself becoming a more openly repressive police state with no regard for free speech, democracy or the rule of law.

The BBC’s targeting of Beeley and other independent reporters and organisations, such as the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, that question how Syria and its war against Western invasion (with terrorist groups like ISIS and Jabhat al Nustra among others acting as a de facto army of mercenaries0 are portrayed in mainstream media, to the extent that it would produce a 10-week (!) series lionising James le Mesurier (who even stole money intended for the organisation he founded) and the White Helmets, demonstrates just how squalid this British institution has become, and by implication, how Britain itself has declined culturally and intellectually in concert with its political and economic decline. By going after Beeley, the BBC shows how its values now mirror those of the UK state itself, and these values surely include cowardice and mean-spiritedness.

Tokyo Story: a study of social and economic change in Japan during the 1950s

Yasujiro Ozu, “Tokyo Story / Tokyo monogatari” (1953)

Under the precise and careful direction of Yasujiro Ozu, this family soap opera becomes a character study of Tokyo and Japan during reconstruction in the wake of the devastation and poverty left behind by World War II, and the impact the reconstruction had on social and cultural values at both the individual and the immediate collective (family) level. An elderly couple travel from their home in a rural fishing village to Tokyo to visit their children and their families. The couple (Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama) are perturbed to be met with a range of quite negative emotions and reactions from exasperation, indifference, rudeness and selfish cruelty from their GP doctor son’s family and their daughter, a businesswoman running a hair salon. The couple are shunted from one family to another and at one point during their visit are dumped in a holiday spa where guests have all-night parties that disturb the older folks’ sleep. The only person who is glad to see them and who helps them become accustomed to the fast and glitzy pace of Tokyo is their widowed daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara). The grandparents decide to go home through Osaka where they plan to meet their youngest son but the grandmother’s health begins to fail rapidly and the couple narrowly arrive back home before the woman falls into a fatal coma.

The plot is not remarkable but what holds the story together is the dialogue which does all the work of advancing the plot, portraying character and underlining the process of change and the inevitability of death. Through the interactions of three generations of the one family, Ozu examines the effects of Westernisation and technological and economic changes and progress have on Japanese culture and traditions. Respect for the elderly and a sense of mutual obligation and help are disappearing, to be replaced by the pursuit of self-interest and immediate material gratification. The couple’s sons put work ahead of their own needs and those of their families. Daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura) thinks only of herself, her business and pursuing wealth. Interestingly though, the children and their families have not achieved the success they had hoped for – the doctor and his family live in a suburb of Tokyo, not in the centre of the city as the grandparents expected – and there is a sense of disappointment among the children that they have not done as well as they had hoped for.

Ozu’s technique of filming scenes at the level at which people sit on tatami mats in houses or on verandahs imparts an almost voyeuristic intimacy to the drama and helps to bring out the underlying tensions in the film as the grandparents come to realise that their children might consider them a burden. The grandparents also get no relief in trying to connect with their grandchildren who angrily spurn them; in one significant scene, the grandmother muses about her younger grandson and what he might become as an adult, as the child ignores her completely. This scene takes on added sadness as events in the film roll out to the grandmother’s disadvantage. Important events tend to happen off-screen to the extent that the only time we become aware of most things is when actors talk and discuss these occurrences. This has the effect of not only pushing the narrative on but also revealing the character and morality of the people discussing the issues.

The climactic moment comes after the grandmother’s funeral when Noriko and her young sister-in-law nearly come to blows over the behaviour of the older children at their mother’s funeral and wake. Noriko persuades her sister to accept that the children have their own lives to lead and that the separation of older parents and adult children is inevitable; while this explanation appears to calm down the younger woman, Noriko’s own life as a lonely widow dedicating herself to caring for her parents-in-law would appear to suggest that Noriko might not necessarily believe in what she says. Noriko’s obliging manner and constant smile seem to mask a very real pain born from a life of suffering under her alcoholic husband and perhaps previously from a family background in which daughters were brought up to be strictly subservient to husbands, no matter how well or how badly the husbands treated them. One senses there may be some desperation on Noriko’s part to try to help her parents-in-law because they may represent the family she never really had.

The film appropriately ends on a dark note when the grandfather, left all alone by his children and daughter-in-law who must resume their normal working lives, must ponder living alone without his beloved wife. Hints in earlier parts of the film suggest he will turn to drink again to soothe his sorrows. What this seems to imply is that the changes and progress coming to Japan might not be all shiny and good for the Japanese people: the changes are likely to lead to isolation, loneliness and dependency on drugs like alcohol for millions of Japanese just to get through the day. While everyone accepts change and that nothing will last forever, at the same time no-one seems to think that with rapid change, opportunities to improve people’s lives will appear and should be seized upon. To allow an elderly man to live on his own with only drink for company is certainly cruel and would not have been tolerated in Japan before the war. At this point Ozu may be questioning the traditional attitude of accepting change with grace and detachment, when the change that comes affects not only individuals, families and groups in adverse ways but affects society to the extent that its very identity and fabric change, and what people value changes as well. What Japan becomes and will value, will not be a continuation from what made the country in the first place.

Slow and leisurely as it is, and though the characters tend to be stereotypical, the film certainly bears watching a few times for Ozu’s messages about change, the inevitability of death and the fragility of life to be absorbed, and for landscape scenes of a past Japan that themselves illustrate rapid technological, economic and social change. That the film is ambivalent about the kind of change that is occurring in Japan, and whether the accepted Japanese attitude towards change is necessarily ideal for individuals, families or even society as a whole, thus forcing audiences to question what sort of change they can or should accept, makes it relevant to audiences even today, within and outside Japan.