The Man Putin Couldn’t Kill: a real health emergency smeared with a fantasy plot and intrigue

John Blair, “The Man Putin Couldn’t Kill” (2021)

Covering the incident in which Russian political / anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny collapsed in pain on a passenger jet while travelling from Tomsk to Moscow in August 2020, was taken to hospital in Omsk and later whisked to the Charite Hospital in Berlin where he was declared to have been poisoned with Novichok, this supposed documentary makes much of the poisoning story without offering any actual first-hand evidence supporting it. Interviews with figures associated with Navalny – his wife Julia and Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza feature prominently – and speculation over the identities of the FSB spies who apparently have been following Navalny over past several years and who must have done the dastardly deed pad out a narrative about Navalny’s rise to popularity through social media, the threat his popularity poses to Russian President Vladimir Putin and how Putin has dealt with figures who oppose his government and leadership.

With producer Marcel Theroux also narrating the supposed plot against Navalny and its details off-screen, the documentary’s presentation is po-faced and fails to note Putin’s sarcasm when the politician observes publicly that if the FSB had really tried to kill Navalny, its agents would have finished the job properly. It seems also that the producers, the interviewees and other sources relied on, such as the notorious Bellingcat investigators, cannot see how idiotic the notion of poisoning Navalny’s underwear with Novichok is: how would the FSB agents have been able to come anywhere near Navalny’s wardrobe when the activist is surrounded by aides and how can the agents know that Navalny would be using the underpants without washing them first, given that Novichok degrades in water?

The documentary also makes much of Navalny’s career as a political and anti-corruption activist on social media over the past 15 years but omits more than it admits: his appeal to anti-immigration and other fascist elements in the Russian population; the charges of embezzlement against him for stealing timber from a state-owned company in Kirov Oblast and misusing money from Yves Rocher for which he was put under home detention; and the fact that his popularity among the Russian voting public, as measured by polls, has never been higher than 2%.

The film mentions Navalny’s attempt to accuse Putin of owning a lavish palace in the Black Sea region in a video after his arrest and imprisonment when the activist returned to Russia from Germany in earky 2021. The accusation fell apart when reporters visited the palace and discovered it was a five-star hotel owned by Russian energy billionaire Arkady Rotenberg: the hotel was undergoing renovations at the time.

Nowhere in the documentary are there any interviews with or reports from the doctors who treated Navalny in Omsk, the paramedics who took him to the hospital or the airline crew and passengers on the jet where Navalny fell ill. The police who might have investigated the incident initially are also absent. Mention of the water bottle that was supposed to have contained the Novichok initially is given short shrift.

Humourless as well as being completely immersed in a fantasy about an activist who is actually not popular with the voting public in Russia, let alone be an opposition politician, this film offers nothing that informs viewers about what actually happened to Navalny in August 2020, that they would not already know from reading mainstream news media.

Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking: fact-checking the fact-checking sites and finding fools’ gold

“Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking”  (ReallyGraceful, July 2020)

In an age awash with global news / information media disinformation, coupled with the increasing denigration of critical thinking in the West by governments and corporations via failing education systems and institutions, fact-checking websites on the Internet have become a necessary evil for many people. One of the most prominent fact-checking sites is Snopes.com – from here on, referred to as Snopes – originally founded by couple David and Barbara Mikkelson in the mid-1990s as an information site investigating urban legends. Over time the site grew to encompass checking a variety of stories and claims, starting with claims about the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, on the Internet, and became a go-to reference site used by many online news media outlets.

In this video, ReallyGraceful investigates the history of Snopes, what sort of company it is, how big it is, what its biases are, and how the Mikkelsens’ messy personal lives (ending in divorce) affected the company’s management and structure. RG discovers the company provides no information about its fact-checking employees or what their political biases might be. The company’s funding is equally murky: some of its funding comes from online funding campaigns but the company apparently provides no information about the breakdown of the funds raised and where the funding goes in its operations; some funding comes from advertisements on its site on the Google search engine; and Snopes’ fact-checking partnership with Facebook. Incidentally the major shareholders of both Facebook and Google include BlackRock and Vanguard investment management corporations. RG examines David Mikkelsen’s previous employment background and finds he once worked for NASA and NASA-associated companies; another Snopes employee, Alex Kasprak, also once worked for NASA; and other Snopes workers came from The Seattle Times.

The last part of the video focuses on a story in which US furniture company Wayfair was supposedly secretly trafficking missing children by using their names to advertise overpriced furniture items online. Twenty-four hours after the story became public, Snopes claimed the story was false … because a Snopes employee contacted someone at Wayfair who simply said it was untrue. There was no further investigation on Snopes’ part as to how the claims arose in the first place, or into Wayfair’s internal affairs and its management’s ties to Bain Capital, a notorious asset-stripping firm co-founded by former US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

RG summarises her video by analysing the useful role that Snopes and similar “fact checkers” play as propagandists policing the limits of acceptable discussion and dissent in a reality where information is a commodity to be bought and sold. These sites shepherd the public into particular acceptable directions of information search and narrow critical thinking and discussion to topics deemed acceptable and harmless by The Powers That (Should Not) Be. A real “fact-checking” site would resemble investigative news sites like 21st Century Wire and Mint Press.

In case USE readers are not convinced by RG’s video alone on Snopes’ dubious nature, they are welcome to read this Vietato Parlare article on the equally dubious Facebook associations of Snopes reporter Bethania Palma Markus, the official “debunker” of claims that the White Helmets group is a front for terrorists in Syria. The VP article shows that not only does Markus’ Facebook associations and friends demonstrate strong political bias but also her friendships with individuals in Syria linked to the White Helmets and their jihadist confreres. Revelations such as this and what RG has posted really make you wonder: who fact-checks the fact-checking sites like Snopes?

Karolyi: a slick example of sports propaganda whitewash

Jack Felling “Karolyi” (NBC Sports, 2016)

Here is a very slickly produced documentary made for the NBC television network as part of a series of sports documentaries made before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The documentary breathlessly follows the careers and lives of Romanian women’s gymnastics coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi from the time they met in Romania at sports college in the early 1960s, marrying in 1963. The Karolyis started a national gymnastics school and one of their early students was Nadia Comaneci. The Karolyis trained Comaneci to the level where she and other of their students were named to represent Romania at the 1975 European Championships and the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. The success of the Romanian team and Comaneci in particular at these Olympics catapulted the Karolyis and Comaneci to international fame – but it also led to conflict developing between Bela Karolyi and the Romanian Communist government, with Comaneci becoming an unfortunate victim. After the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, the disagreement between the Karolyis and Bucharest deepened and the Karolyis defected to the United States in 1981. After their defection, the Karolyis had to struggle to re-establish their coaching careers in the US and for a time Bela himself had to work as a manual labourer on a ship dock. They were able to establish a gymnastics school in Texas and took on an eager student called Mary Lou Retton. Retton’s success at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles laid the foundation for the Karolyis’ rise to becoming the national coaches for the United States women’s gymnastics teams from the late 1980s onwards to 2016. During this period, the Karolyis (with the help of a US senator) were able to get their daughter Andrea out of Romania in the early 1980s and built their gymnastics training camp and ranch in a rural area north of Houston.

The fawning documentary depicts the Karolyis as being rugged and persistent Ayn-Rand individualists achieving incredible fame and success as sports coaches almost on their own. Bela Karolyi apparently built his training camp and ranch himself. Nothing is said of the help the US gymnastics community gave to the Karolyis to help them set up their gymnastics school in Texas. The Karolyis’ most famous students (Comaneci, Retton and US 1992 and 1996 Olympian Kerri Strug) are interviewed along with the Karolyis themselves, and what the young women say tends to be positive towards the Karolyis. There is none of the criticism that has dogged the Karolyis over the decades with respect to their training methods and psychological manipulation of young gymnasts in Romania and the US, the cult-like atmosphere fostered by the physical isolation of their training camp and ranch, and how the context of this isolated training camp combined with their treatment of the girls and their families set the stage for sports doctor Larry Nassar to be able to sexually abuse hundreds of young gymnasts.

In the wake of the US gymnastics sexual abuse scandal that erupted in September 2016, this documentary now looks quite creepy especially in the scenes depicting the training camp and its isolated surrounds. It still has some value though as an example of propaganda that whitewashes its subjects in a very favourable light (of a softly golden glowing kind) and would be suitable for propaganda studies looking at how sports celebrities are created and moulded to push particular ideologies that celebrate rugged individualism and heroism.

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela: mini-documentary won’t tell you much more either

What the Media Won’t Tell You About Venezuela” (ReallyGraceful, 3 June 2017)

Viewers of this very short mini-documentary on Venezuelan politics won’t learn very much about why Venezuela’s current socialist government under President Nicolas Maduro continues to survive despite the country’s poverty and food shortages – nor will they learn anything about what’s actually fuelling the food shortages there. The thrust of ReallyGraceful’s video is to show that the people of Venezuela – and by implication, people in other middle and lower income nations around the world – are caught between two camps of evil, or what ReallyGraceful herself perceives as evil, and that the Western mainstream news media will push their audiences to choose one of these camps (usually the US and its allies) as the good guys. In the film, former President Hugo Chavez and the socialist ideology and structures he implemented in Venezuela are viewed by ReallyGraceful as part of Venezuela’s ongoing problems; at the same time ReallyGraceful correctly identifies Venezuela being under siege by the US and forces allied with it (among them, Israel and the global finance industry including the Bank of International Settlements) as part and parcel of the problem as well.

While ReallyGraceful does well in fingering the dominance of the oil industry in Venezuela’s economy over past decades as the underlying foundation of Venezuela’s recent past and current problems, she fails to note that this dominance is the result of policies made by past politically conservative governments in the country working together with US political and corporate interests to the detriment of Venezuelan people. Such policies privileged foreign oil interests (to the extent that other industries in the country suffered from lack of support and declined) and ignored the healthcare, educational and other social needs of the Venezuelan people. When Chavez became President in 1999, he sought to rectify the dire economic straits of the majority of Venezuelan people by using oil revenues to fund social services and other programs. To his credit also, Chavez tried to diversify Venezuelan industry and support programs aimed at reviving agriculture though with mixed success.

ReallyGraceful notes that food shortages have been severe in Venezuela but fails to realise that, again, the favouring of the oil industry and US oil interests by conservative governments before Chavez led to the decline of agriculture in Venezuela to the point where the country became overly dependent on imports of food, even food staples. For some reason, or perhaps because his time as President was cut short, Chavez never tried to wrest control of food imports away from companies owned by wealthy families and individuals opposed to his government and socialist ideology, and current President Maduro and his government are perhaps too preoccupied in dealing with more urgent issues to be able to address this issue of food imports. The result is that food importers can use classic-economics demand and supply phenomena as blackmail over the general public and create social and economic chaos for the Maduro government.

ReallyGraceful’s anti-socialist stance blinds her to the possibility of Venezuelans as individuals and in groups, communities and non-profit organisations confronting the food shortage issue by growing their own food and organising their own food markets to sell, barter or otherwise distribute food to those who need it most.

I note though that ReallyGraceful ends her film by observing that Venezuela is under pressure from the US and the global finance industry to yield its natural resources to foreign ownership and control. As she always does, she invites viewers to comment on her mini-documentaries, which is her way of admitting that she is open to criticism and counter-opinions.

Post Mortem: Four Corners Australia Post / Christine Holgate autopsy turns up cool on privatisation issue

“Post Mortem” (Four Corners, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 28 June 2021)

Posited as an investigation into the recent history and culture of Australia Post, and the actions that took place that led to the departure of Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate, this Four Corners report ends up as simply a series of claims and counter-claims from which viewers will learn little other than that Australia Post has long been in the Liberal / National coalition government’s target sights for privatisation and will continue to be such a target. The bulk of the report is in the form of excerpts from several interviews made by reporter Michael Brissenden with key protagonist Holgate herself and others including the current Federal Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts Paul Fletcher.

The report initially begins with the supposed scandal surrounding Holgate’s gifts of Cartier watches totalling $12,000 to senior Australia Post executives, the uproar that resulted (which both the ALP and the Coalition government exploited for their own ends) and Holgate’s forced departure; it then backtracks into following the recent history of Australia Post and its organisation and culture from the time Ahmed Fahour became Australia Post CEO in 2010 and began restructuring its business. Along the way from the time Fahour joined Australia Post, left and was replaced by Holgate, to Holgate herself having to leave, viewers get a little insight into Fahour and Holgate’s respective leadership styles and their vision for Australia Post, and how Holgate’s plans for the organisation came up against the Federal Government’s ultimate goal for the postal service.

One might have expected that Four Corners, being part of a government-run organisation whose budget has steadily been run down by successive Coalition governments, might have come out swinging against the Federal government’s privatisation agenda or the Boston Consulting Group’s recommendations that Australia Post be subjected to break-up and privatisation moves but the report does no such thing. Brissenden does not canvass (or appear to) any opinions among Licensed Postal Offices (private businesses that operate postal services under contract to Australia Post; they may operate purely as post offices or combine the functions with another line of business, such as running a newsagency or general store) or Australia Post employees, apart from a former AP executive, on the issue of privatisation or on what they think of Holgate. (My understanding is that the LPOs support her.) Instead the report ends up merely parroting a polemical series of arguments, painting Australia Post as an organisation with a chaotic management culture, that go nowhere. The conclusion to the report, if any can be said to exist, is deliberately left open-ended.

The curious thing is that the one group that has come out in favour of keeping Australia Post as a government-run institution, the Australian Citizens’ Party, was portrayed in the Four Corners report as a “fringe” party (read: a bunch of crackpot conspiracy theorists) supportive of the views of Lyndon LaRouche, described in the report as “anti-Semitic, a racist and a conspiracy theorist” and nothing more. That in itself might tell us more about the Four Corners program and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation than it does about the Australian Citizens’ Party: that despite the very real danger of privatisation facing the ABC itself, the organisation dares not support other government institutions also facing privatisation and the loss of employment – not to mention the devastation rural communities would face without Australia Post, the ABC and other government agencies – it would lead to.

Whatever happened to so-called investigative journalism and advocating for Aussie battlers at the ABC? If one were to judge from the manner of this Four Corners report, real investigative journalism on behalf of defending the powerless no longer exists there.

Senga Tsubo: a tale within a tale about gratitude and returning favours

Sanae Yamamoto, “Senga Tsubo” (1925)

Said to be the first animated film commission by the Ministry of Education in Japan back in 1925, this 16-minute short features a morality tale within another morality tale about being grateful and returning favours to one who has done you a good deed. A young hard-working fisherman goes out to catch the day’s fish with his net and instead hauls up a small pot. A genie comes out of the pot and threatens to eat the fisherman. The quick-thinking would-be dinner challenges the genie to return into the pot which the dull-witted demon promptly does, only to be trapped by the fisherman. The fisherman then tells the genie the tale of the lion and his free-loading fox friend who eats the lion’s leftover meals. The fox tricks the lion into chasing an ostrich; while the lion is preoccupied, the fox steals the building materials from the lion’s den and makes up his own den. The lion soon returns and is angry at being robbed. The fox entices a human hunter to kill the lion. However the fox has become dependent on the lion for fresh food and soon grows hungry and thin. Venturing out of his den, he goes down to the river where a crocodile attacks him. Too weak to run away, the fox is chowed down by the reptile.

After hearing the story, the genie is apologetic about his ungrateful behaviour and offers the fisherman a larger pot for his troubles. The fisherman takes this pot home and discovers it full of gold coins.

The animation consists mainly of often astonishingly detailed and fine line-drawn scenery and backgrounds with no colour, against which cut-out figures of the humans, the animals and the genie act out the story. Though “Senga Tsubo” is a silent film, the characters communicate through speech balloons with cut-out characters, similar to what is found in comics. The characterisation of the fisherman and the genie is very deft; the fisherman proves himself cunning as well as diligent and loyal to his family, and the genie turns out to be a good-hearted if not too intelligent fellow.

The film’s emphasis on plot and characterisation may be unusual for Japanese anime films of its time, and indeed for much animation around the world being produced at the same time. While there is some farce, it grows out of the story itself and does not depend on character stereotypes. Viewers may find the plot quite absorbing which compensates for the limited appeal of the animation style used.

Suteneko Tora-chan: a charming and graceful film on the plight of war orphans and keeping society together

Kenzo Masaoka, “Suteneko Tora-chan” (1947)

A charming film about an orphaned kitten found and adopted by a family of cats, “Suteneko Tora-chan” addresses some of the concerns and issues of Japanese society in the period after World War II. The plight of war orphans was uppermost in people’s minds after the carnage of war. Keeping family together and everyone pulling their weight together just to survive adversity and poverty were also major concerns. A mother cat and her three kittens find a tiny abandoned orphan kitten, Tora-chan, and the mother and two of her kittens immediately adopt the orphan. The third kitten, Miike-chan, rejects Tora-chan and bullies him during the kittens’ play-time. When Mother Cat gently but firmly separates Miike-chan and Tora-chan, and treats Tora-chan as one of her children, Miike-chan runs away from home. Feeling responsibile for Miike-chan’s behaviour, Tora-chan goes in search of her. He catches up with Miike-chan but in trying to bring her home, the two kittens encounter many obstacles and hostile animals including a dog and a hen defending her chicks, and barely survive being dumped over a waterfall.

The animation is very graceful and well done with smooth transitions from one scene to the next. The cats are very endearing in their rounded forms and the background scenery can be very detailed. The adoption of Christmas at the beginning and end of the film, and the use of sunflowers as a motif delineating summer-time show the growing influence of Western and specifically American culture on Japanese society during the immediate post-war period. In the plot, the kittens’ arduous adventures, the characters of Mother Cat and Tora-chan, and the sung dialogue, the film tries to persuade its target family audiences to care more for war orphans and children made destitute by circumstances not of their families’ making. In caring for the young, Japanese society ensures that its collective values will survive and continue.

The Courier: a film of personal growth and suffering and of friendship transcending politics and ideology

Dominic Cooke, “The Courier” (2020)

The story of Greville Wynne, a most unlikely character ever to become a spy for MI6 during the Cold War in the early 1960s, shuttling between London and Moscow and ferrying classified Soviet information given him by a military official in the Kremlin that reveals nuclear warfare capabilities to MI6 and the CIA, is given widescreen movie treatment that explores the nature of friendship and loyalty in extreme circumstances. Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) comes to the attention of MI6 and the CIA, represented respectively by handlers Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) as he travels frequently to eastern Europe as a sales representative for an engineering company. Wynne is asked to go to Moscow and contact Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a Soviet military intel official, who will give him papers to bring back to London, in his usual role as sales representative. After initially resisting the offer, Wynne goes ahead to Moscow and meets Penkovsky. A routine is quickly established: Wynne starts making trips to Moscow to catch up with Penkovsky who takes him to the opera and the ballet, and introduces the British man to his family, all the while feeding Wynne with information and photographs that eventually prove valuable to US intelligence and the White House in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. However the Soviets themselves have a mole working in MI6 – there were a number of double agents in British intelligence working for the USSR – and the mole helps the GRU to work out who is passing valuable Soviet secrets to the British. Penkovsky and then Wynne are arrested by the GRU, tried and charged with espionage, and both men are thrown into gaol. Wynne winds up in the then notorious Lubyanka prison where he suffers many privations and beatings over a period of nearly two years before he returns to Britain in 1964 as part of a spy swap.

The film serves mainly as a character study of an ordinary Englishman, initially unremarkable in personality and very apolitical, suddenly thrust into a situation where he eventually is forced to take sides and finds himself capable of heroism to try to save a man he comes to regard as a friend when that man’s life is in danger. In doing so, he is captured and is forced to suffer brutal violence, near-starvation and ill health in prison, subjected to psychological manipulation and not knowing if he has been abandoned by MI6. Cumberbatch does excellent work as Wynne who grows in moral stature through the film even though what he does as a courier is a thankless task – there is no suggestion that MI6 and the CIA reward him for the risks he is exposed to. Indeed MI6 is quite willing to discard Penkovsky and his desire to defect to th West once the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) is onto his trail and only Donovan rallies to Wynne’s side to try to save Penkovsky from arrest and certain death. The suffering Wynne undergoes is matched in the physical rigours Cumberbatch had to undergo including near-starvation to get the haggard look. Unfortunately the film ends at the point where Wynne is released from prison and reunited with wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) and son Andrew (Keir Hill) and we do not see the psychological traumas and other effects – including separation and divorce from Sheila – Wynne suffered, and this perhaps is a grave oversight on the part of the script.

The other actors in the film, and Ninidze in particular, also give very good performances. Buckley does what she can with a very limited role as Wynne’s long-suffering wife. As a sop to current Western identity politics, the character of Donovan is a composite character of several actual CIA and MI6 agents who include a British woman, Janet Chisholm, who also was a conduit for Penkovsky. The cinematography is well done, emphasising the greys of a world of 60 years ago in which black and white were actually not so clear-cut as we think they were, without being remarkable. The scenes set in Moscow or which involve Russians appear very stereotyped and viewers get no real sense of how Russians might have viewed Penkovsky and Wynne after they have been caught and their espionage made public.

The film is well made and fairly faithful to its source material, extracting from it a story about one man’s personal growth and a friendship that transcends politics and the grubby and frequently unethical world of espionage. Still I can’t help but feel that “The Courier” was made largely in the service of current British government propaganda and deliberate disinformation and lies demonising Russia for no reason other than that Russia has been a long-standing rival to British global imperialist and predatory ambitions, and that this context in which the film was made must surely have had some influence on the way the script was written and what may have had to be omitted. While the Americans get what they want to outfox the Soviets on the latter’s deployment of missile bases in Cuba, and the Soviets shut down Penkovsky as a traitor, the British must still be seen to “win” in some way, hence perhaps stopping an interesting story of how espionage was usually done and how unsuspecting ordinary people got roped into spying and ended up paying a price for it, just to achieve that “happy ending”. Intel agencies carry on duelling against each other in spite of the alarming collateral damage they create along the way.

The Red Dagger: a fiery poem essay narration and diatribe against corruption and oppression

Alan Cox, Heathcote Williams, “The Red Dagger” (2013?)

Presented in six parts on Youtube, British actor / poet Heathcote Williams’ poem essay “The Red Dagger”, a diatribe against the City of London and the part it has played in oppressing humanity across the world since the 1300s at least, is given vivid and impassioned audiovisual life by fellow UK actor Alan Cox who narrates the poem and supplies the montage of art, photographs, film stills and snippets of film and video to accompany his recitation. The red dagger of the title refers to the red sword that appears on the emblem of the City of London and, according to Williams and Cox, represents the dagger used in the murder of Wat Tyler, one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt in England, in 1381 by officers loyal to King Richard II. (According to other sources I have read, the red sword on the emblem is a representation of St Paul, the patron saint of London.) Through the details of Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, in which Tyler and rebel monk John Ball led a movement insisting on social equality, abolishing the political hierarchy supporting the monarchy and ending the feudal system (under which peasants were the de facto property of landlords, bound to their masters’ lands), the poet Williams calls attention to the corruption of the political and economic elites that surrounded King Richard II (reigned 1377 – 1399) and finds parallels with the present City of London, its corruption and its control of the global financial industry, and how the activities of the financial elites impoverish and enslave entire nations.

Parts 1 and 2 of Cox’s fiery narration cover the 1381 uprising of English peasants against the King and his lords, and in itself the uprising as portrayed is very stirring. Whether or not the uprising has lessons for us in the 21st century might be debatable: for one thing, the levels of technology in mediaeval England were low, scientific and other general knowledge was limited, and the manipulation and exploitation that English elites exerted over the peasantry correspondingly were limited to mainly physical means, with some limited brainwashing of people’s minds courtesy of the Christian Church, a significant landowner and itself a major landlord oppressor of peasants. The most significant parts of Cox’s narration are Parts 3 and 4 in which he goes into detail about the extent of the activities and networking of the elites in the City of London and its secretive institutions, the extent to which the City of London controls the British government, its past participation in the British colonial / imperial project and the Atlantic slave trade, and its current participation in trafficking arms to nations with sordid human rights records and the global drug trade. Individuals and businesses in the UK financial services industry take advantage of opportunities to evade paying taxes owed to the government by sending money into offshore trust accounts or transfer pricing arrangements in tax havens. Something of the lavish, decadent culture of the City of London elites, dependent on rich banqueting and the associated networking, fuelled by addictions to drugs, casual sex and use of prostitutes, and possible links to sex trafficking and other sordid underground activities, is revealed in the narration and montage.

Cox’s film and Williams’ poem cover much ground and detail of how the City of London operates and has operated over the centuries, and viewers might well need to see the film at least twice to absorb most details. Being based entirely around Williams’ poem, the film does not give information sources so viewers will need to do their own research to confirm the information about the City of London. (A good start is Nicolas Shaxson’s book “Treasure Islands” which investigates the global scourge that is taxation evasion.) While the poem and film might play hard and fast with some details in parts, and Tyler’s actual rebellion might not have been as utopian, idealistic and socialist as the poem implies, the poetry genre proves to be an ideal format by which Williams (1941 – 2017) brings important political, economic, social and historical information to the general public’s attention.

The film along with transcripts of each part and footnotes giving information sources can be viewed at this link.

Hillary (Episode 4: Be Our Champion, Go Away): concluding episode delving into outright fantasy and falsehood

Nanette Burstein, “Hillary (Episode 4: Be Our Champion, Go Away)” (2020)

If the first three episodes of this series on Hillary Rodham Clinton are essentially worshipful hagiography, the fourth and concluding episode descends into outright fantasy. Viewers learn very little new about HRC and especially about her years as Senator for New York and then as Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first term as US President (2009 – 2013). The episode brushes aside HRC’s voting record as Senator on the wars initiated by President George W Bush (2001 – 2009) in Afghanistan in late 2001, soon after the World Trade Center attacks, and then in Iraq in 2003. The not so little incident of US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens being ambushed and killed along with three other Americans in the consulate in Benghazi, eastern Libya, by terrorists is also treated quite cavalierly. Nothing is said about HRC’s role in allowing a context to exist in which four American citizens end up being killed in a small building in a city where one of them, a US Ambassador, is not expected to be. What was Stevens doing in Benghazi anyway – surely not running guns and jihadi fighters to Syria? Similarly nothing is made of the overthrow of a legitimately elected government in Honduras in 2010 or in Libya in 2011, the latter to which HRC, while being interviewed, cackled and said, “We came, we saw, he [Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddhafi] died!” On top of this inattention to the issues that Americans are most concerned about – issues about public servants being accountable for their decisions and behaviours, and upholding the law – is the breezy dismissal of HRC’s use of a private email server with poor cyber-security to transact government business, of which much was in the public interest.

The episode brings viewers up to date with HRC’s decision to campaign for the US Presidency in 2016 and her campaign’s emphasis on gender politics, portraying HRC as a champion for feminism and a victim of institutional misogyny, and especially of her Republican rival Donald Trump (with whom the Clintons had previously been friendly), while saying nothing about what her campaign actually stood for in the eyes of the voting public. This narrative is pounded again and again in each of the episodes in this series. As might be expected, nothing is said about the women harmed by Bill Clinton while he was Governor of Arkansas and then US President by his actions toward them, or about his frequent trips to notorious financier Jeffrey Epstein’s private island for trysts with underage teenage women.

The breathless format of the series, in which viewers are forced to sit through constant swinging from HRC’s 2016 Presidential campaign to particular episodes of her earlier life and back again, might be designed deliberately to sweep viewers off their feet into a rollercoaster ride through HRC’s life, not allowing them to step back and have the distance to view HRC’s life, decisions and actions more dispassionately and critically. HRC is constantly portrayed as a fighter and battler to get where she is when in fact it would seem much has actually been handed to her through her husband’s associations and past career. Significantly the series ignores much of her career as New York state senator or US Secretary of State – because the truth is, she achieved nothing worth celebrating that fits in with a paradigm that sees her as a feminist champion and achiever. Her major achievements have actually brought ruin, chaos, violence and death to many millions of people around the world.

The attempts to smear Donald Trump with accusations of Russian collusion to gain the US Presidency and Russian President Vladimir Putin as a soulless character who will always be nothing more than a KGB man, with no evidence to back up such insults, demonstrate the shallowness of Burstein’s subject. That Burstein simply agrees with HRC and follows along, instead of probing these issues and challenging HRC, reveals the series as essentially propaganda of a very mediocre standard. HRC herself is an uninteresting subject for a documentary: smug, self-serving and expecting the world to revolve around her.