Archive for the ‘Attacks on the Working Class’ Category

Eviction: the Hidden Homeless

The Vision (2010)

Film Review

This documentary studies the devastating effect of homelessness on children. It profiles two British working class families caught between the high cost of housing and hopelessly bureaucratic social services. In both families the father is the bread winner – in one case a bus driver and the other a landscaper.

When the families suddenly become homeless, they are placed in a bed and breakfast, at enormous cost to the local authorities responsible for housing them. This approach – placing families in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation – is obviously very costly and significantly reduces the number of families local authorities can help. One of the families profiled must compete with hundreds of other homeless families in an on-line lottery for public housing units.

The film emphasizes the horrendous stress homelessness places on children. Besides missing out on regular nutritious meals (due to lack of cooking facilities), frequent placement changes causes them to miss a lot of school. Those who manage to attend face stigma, bullying and deteriorating achievement. Homeless children, on average, miss eleven weeks of school. A single episode of homelessness doubles the odds that a student won’t complete secondary school.

Above all, homeless kids face the continual threat they will be referred to child protective services and be removed from their parents’ care.

The documentary also poignantly depicts the cruelty of one housing bureaucracy when it rules ones of the families as “intentionally homeless,” after the department responsible for their housing subsidy misses the payment deadline to the department that collects their council house rent. This label –  “intentionally homeless” – automatically disqualifies the family for government subsidized housing.

Growth Equals Poverty

Vendana Shiva (2013)

In this presentation, environmentalist and anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva challenges the Wall Street mythology that economic growth reduces poverty. Using her own country India as an example, she demonstrates how poverty (and inequality) increase in direct correlation to GDP increases.

The examples she offers clearly apply to the US, UK and New Zealand. All three countries are experiencing alarming increases in poverty and inequality as GDP increases. As in India, the quality and availability of health, education and other public services have declined steeply as “growth” has increased.

She goes on to demonstrate what GDP growth really represents: the privatization (ie theft) of natural and public resources by a small number of elites.

In India at present, 1/4 of the population lives in abject poverty and 1/2 of children are malnourished. Vendana blames the increase in hunger on the forced adoption of industrial agriculture and GMO crops. Monsanto and GMO advocates like Bill gates argue that GMOs will decrease world hunger. In India, where Monsanto has successfully lobbied to make it illegal for farmers to save seed, just the opposite has happened.

This due partly to Monsanto’s seed monopoly, which has caused an 8,000% increase in the cost of seed; partly to the high cost of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides GMO crops require; and partly to the destruction of soil, bees and biodiversity caused by industrial agriculture and GMO crops.

The Spy Merchants

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

The Spy Merchants is about the spyware private contractors develop for the US and other western governments and the devious tactics they use to illegally sell various surveillance systems to professional hackers, repressive dictators, corporate spies and terrorist groups.

In this investigation, an undercover Al Jazeera reporters approaches various surveillance manufacturers seeking to buy and IMSI catcher and an IT intercept system on behalf of Iran and the repressive government of South Sudan. An IMSI catcher is a software program that can intercept and control (ie send fake messages on their behalf) all the electronic communications of an individual. An IT intercept system is designed to monitor a nation’s entire Internet traffic. Both technologies can sell for as much as 20 million Euros.*

Surveillance exports are supposedly tightly controlled by US and EU regulations. However, as shown in this film, manufacturers of surveillance software routinely circumvent these regulations by falsifying documents or by shipping their products via a third country or a shell company.


* Except in China – Chinese vendors will sell you an IMSI catcher for $300,000

Golden Dawn

Konstantinos Georgousis (2013)

Review

Golden Dawn is a remarkable documentary tracing the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece. Despite their role in several high profile murders, Golden Dawn has held 18 seats in the Greek parliament since 2012.

Their rapid rise to power relates in large part to dire austerity measures the European Union has imposed on Greece. With 28% unemployment (55% youth unemployment) and drastic pension cuts, many starving Greek citizens join Golden Dawn because of their free food distribution programs.

However as Georgousis makes clear, the strong support Golden Dawn enjoys from police (who openly admit to being members), the media, the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek security services is even more instrumental. In all respects the parallels with Nazi Germany are chilling.

Golden Dawn is notorious for openly beating up and murdering both illegal and legal immigrants – with the police looking on and, in many cases arresting legal immigrants instead of perpetrators.

Only anarchist groups have tried to protect immigrants from these attacks. When they do so, the police step in and arrest, beat and torture them.

In 2012, following the murder of a high profile Greek national, the Greek government finally arrested four Golden Dawn leaders on a charge of criminal gang activity. However instead of stripping them of their parliamentary seats, they then directed Greek jail staff to transport them between jail and Parliament.

What I found most remarkable about the documentary is its excellent footage of actual Golden Dawn meetings and its in-depth interviews with some of its members.

Behind America’s Infant Mortality Crisis

Al Jazeera (2013)

Film Review

Since the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton eliminated Aid For Dependent Children (AFDC), the US has enjoyed infant mortality rates among the highest in the world. Rust belt Midwestern cities lead the US in infant mortality. The loss of steel, auto and other manufacturing to third world sweatshops has virtually crushed many of these cities, leaving massive unemployment – particularly among African Americans.

Cleveland is the US city with the highest percentage of babies dying during the first year of life – with an infant mortality greater than third world countries like North Korea, Albania, Sri Lanka and Guatemala.

Trying to identify the cause of Cleveland’s skyrocketing infant mortality, filmmakers interview African American mothers and expectant mothers and neonatal specialists. The neonatologists identify prematurity as the number one cause of infant deaths. Factors that contribute to mothers delivering prematurely include homelessness and lack of access to healthy food (or money to pay for it) and prenatal care. Ohio is one of the states where Republican legislators declined federal funds to expand Medicaid (which pays for prenatal care) to the working poor.

The neonatologists also point out the false economy of this ideological stinginess. Ohio’s Medicaid program spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to keep premature babies alive in state-of-the-art neonatal ICUs – it would cost taxpayers far less to prevent prematurity by ensuring expectant mothers have warm housing, healthy food and prenatal care.

Panama Papers – Shady World of Offshore Companies

Das Erste/NDR (2016)

Film Review

The Panama Papers is a German documentary about the infamous Panamanian law firm Mosack Fonseca, exposed by the Panama Papers leak* in 2015. The law firm, which has offices in 48 countries, assists banks, corporations, heads of state, drug lords and Mafia dons in creating offshore corporations to escape taxes, pension obligations and criminal prosecution in their own countries. In all, Mossack Fonseca has created over 214,000 offshore companies.

The film makers have a particular interest in the German partner, Jurgen Mossack, who immigrated to Panama as a child.

Among the Mossack Fonseca clients highlighted are an Israeli diamond merchant who used his offshore company to bribe a Guinean dictator for free iron mining rights. He later sold them to Brazil for $500 million dollars. Also featured is former Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who was forced to step down and he and his wife were discovered to have offshore companies created by Mossack Fonseca.

My favorite segment is the one where the filmmaker goes online to set up his own offshore company for 3,000 euros. Within a week, he receives an official Panamanian address for his company and the minutes of an extraordinary meeting called by the company’s board of trustees. He then flies to Panama to visit his company office – which turns out to be an unoccupied floor in a Panama City office building.


*In 2015 a Mosack Fonseca whistleblower leaked 11 million documents (mainly emails) to a small German newspaper – which immediately shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

My Ballot

Press TV (2016)

Film Review

My Ballot is a Press TV documentary examining which examines whether the millionaires who run Congress can ever represent ordinary Americans facing job loss, pay cuts and school closures. The choice of presenter, a guileless young African American named Robert Sughie, is brilliant. The best segment of the film shows him wandering around the halls of Congress, calling up the net worth of each representative on his Smartphone as he prepares to visit their office. Not a single congressional staffer agrees to speak to him – by phone or in person.

The documentary is chock full of shocking facts about the US Congress. Such as

  • More than half of congressional representatives are millionaires (It’s worse than the Roman senate).
  • In 2014, only 9% of Americans approved of Congress, a worse approval rating than King George enjoyed during the American Revolution.
  • Unlike most democracies, Congress isn’t election by majority rule, but by a simple plurality (ie one more vote than any other candidate). Because the US doesn’t hold run-off elections, representatives can be elected by as little as 30-40% of the vote.
  • From the day they take office, congressional representatives spend 75% of their time fundraising for their next campaign. A big reason why they allow corporate lobbyists to write legislation for them – they have no time to focus on developing policies of their own.