Category Archives: Documentaries

America’s Great Greenwashing

Celebrating 50 years of Earth Day, Michael Moore, executive producer and the director Jeff Gibbs re-released their daunting and alarming documentary about the heart and soul of America’s Green Movement in a compelling film: Planet of the Humans (2019).

According to Michael Moore: “This is perhaps the most urgent film we’ve shown in the 15-year history of our film festival.” (Traverse City Film Festival)

Director Jeff Gibbs, a tree-hugger since birth, who has received high praise from the likes of Dr. Jane Goodall, has inspired countless thousands of people over the decades to protect indigenous cultures and ecosystems. He is one of a few “rare blessings” for the planet.

Planet of the Humans is a very, very important film. It’s an explosive exposé of the Greening of America, a must-see film especially for people who care deeply about the planet.

Solar, Wind, Biomass, 350.org, the Sierra Club, Chevy Volt, Bill McKibben, Al Gore, Van Jones, Michael Bloomberg, and Goldman Sachs have cameo appearances in Gibbs’ eco documentary about “going green.” Especially true as it exposes new pathways to multifarious failings within a horribly misguided and vastly misrepresented Green Movement. It is well documented by Gibbs’ boots on the ground.

The film has one surprise after another gusto of actual events littered with scenes of hypocritical environmental big name heroes and billionaire buddies.  Blatant examples of hypocrisy are exposed in scene after scene. Diehard environmentalists and hard core eco warriors are certain to be broken-hearted!

The film has powerful impressions of the green movement, in some instances, successful, but in far too many others soured within a vortex of deceit and misguided principles sorrowfully awash in greed showered with sprinkles of enriched iconic personalities, like Richard Branson and Al Gore.

Once the curtain is pulled back, the brutal truth about green energy hits like a hard slap to the face. Early on in the film a massive “green solar concert” in Vermont purportedly “powered 100% by green solar and biomass” is phony. Hidden behind the stage, the lights and instrumentation is connected to the state’s electrical grid powered by coal, not solar, not biodiesel.

Moving on, the film encounters a Chevy Volt at a car show. Kristin Zimmerman of GM responds to a question: “What is charging the electric car?”  She’s not sure but thinks maybe it’s natural gas.

Meanwhile, a bystander named J. Peter Lark of Lansing Board of Water and Light explains: “They’re charging the car off our grid which is about 95% coal.”

Back to GM’s Zimmerman, awkwardly smiling: “I don’t think coal is bad.”

Director Gibbs, frowning, suggests: “Mountain top removal?”

GM’s Zimmerman, stammering, not smiling, responds: “Oh, yeah, yeah…” holding hands out in a push-back expression of “we can’t have that!”

Which segues to a mountain top removal scene, but the mountaintop removal is to accommodate turbines for wind energy, not to mine coal. The scenario parallels wind turbines and mountaintop coal removal.

This film is full of surprises, especially for people that do not like getting their hands dirty, don’t hit the streets, or the back country, and thus do not experience real life scenes like the scenes throughout this invaluable film. In other words, cell phones and PCs research tools will never supersede the nitty-gritty value of experiencing the world in the flesh, in person like Jeff Gibbs.

During his travels, Gibbs encounters a hydrogen car exhibit that claims: “This car has a perpetual energy battery.” In turn, Gibbs asks where the hydrogen comes from. The reply by a representative of the hydrogen car company: “Hydrogen is sourced from any hydrocarbon material. So, ah-ah, you can get it from natural gas. You can get it from any petroleum oil-based product.” (Footnote: 90% of hydrogen fuel comes from fossil fuels) Hmm.

An underlying theme throughout the film is exposure of powerful interlinking connections between renewable energy and fossil fuels; effectively fossil fuel interests have “consumed the green movement” in various unorthodox ways, including the capture of name brand not-for-profit 501(c) orgs that “pretend” to reject fossil fuel interests. The film thus exposes a wholesale abandonment of ethical standards at the highest positions, although hidden from public view, inclusive of influential players in America’s celebrated Green Movement.

Along the way, ethanol production is exposed as dependent upon two things: (1) a giant fossil fuel based agricultural system to produce corn (whilst emitting tons of CO2) and (2) more fossil fuels (more CO2 emissions) in the form of coal and/or natural gas as significant quantities of fossil fuels are needed for direct production of ethanol, which is a massive, expensive complexity that supposedly “replaces fossil fuels.” Really?

Still, ethanol has a cameo appearance in the film compared to biomass as a renewable energy resource throughout the world.  But, there’s a problem called “trees.” For example, when initially introduced in the film, Bill McKibben of 350.org fame, delivers a speech to a public forum wherein he insists upon “biomass to save the planet”; yet later in the film, when interviewed by Gibbs, he awkwardly tries to distance himself from the massive, destructive biomass force “taking down the world’s trees.”

Burning wood emits CO2, same as all fossil fuels. An equal amount of heat or electricity produced by coal or natural gas requires burning wood that emits more CO2 on a pari passu basis. Green energy? Wrong!

How long does it take a forest to regrow?

There are 2,000 biomass power plants in the world chopping down trees much faster than rates of regrowth. It’s insane. The southern United States is home to a manufacturing industry that clears forests, grinds the trees into wood chips and recognized as the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets, mostly to Europe. That’s stupid!

After all, forests enhance quality of life well beyond the experience of humans hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. All species like native animals, plants, and other assorted species have nowhere to go once their habitat is destroyed.

Planet of the Humans ends on a similar note as the films shows a family of disoriented orangutans in a lonely barren tree in the middle of a vast open field cleared of forest cover.

There is no end in sight.

The Art of Doublespeak: Bellingcat and Mind Control

In the 1920s, the influential American intellectual Walter Lippman argued that the average person was incapable of seeing or understanding the world clearly and needed to be guided by experts behind the social curtain.  In a number of books he laid out the theoretical foundations for the practical work of Edward Bernays, who developed “public relations” (aka propaganda) to carry out this task for the ruling elites.  Bernays had honed his skills while working as a propagandist for the United States during World War I, and after the war he set himself up as a public relations counselor in New York City.

There is a fascinating exchange at the beginning of Adam Curtis’s documentary, The Century of Self, where Bernays, then nearly 100 years old but still very sharp, reveals his manipulative mindset and that of so many of those who have followed in his wake.  He says the reason he couldn’t call his new business “propaganda” was because the Germans had given propaganda a “bad name,” and so he came up with the euphemism “public relations.”  He then adds that “if you could use it [i.e. propaganda] for war, you certainly could use it for peace.”  Of course, he never used PR for peace but just to manipulate public opinion (he helped engineer the CIA coup against the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954 with fake news broadcasts).  He says “the Germans gave propaganda a bad name,” not Bernays and the United States with their vast campaign of lies, mainly aimed at the American people to get their support for going to a war they opposed (think weapons of mass destruction).  He sounds proud of his war propaganda work that resounded to his credit since it led to support for the “war to end all wars” and subsequently to a hit movie about WWI, Yankee Doodle Dandy, made in 1942 to promote another war, since the first one somehow didn’t achieve its lofty goal.

As Bernays has said in his book, Propaganda, “The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world today.”

He was a propagandist to the end.  I suspect most viewers of the film are taken in by these softly spoken words of an old man sipping a glass of wine at a dinner table with a woman who is asking him questions. I have shown this film to hundreds of students and none has noticed his legerdemain.  It is an example of the sort of hocus-pocus I will be getting to shortly, the sly insertion into seemingly liberal or matter-of-fact commentary of statements that imply a different story.  The placement of convincing or confusing disingenuous ingredients into a truth sandwich – for Bernays knew that the bread of truth is essential to conceal untruth.

In the following years, Bernays, Lippman, and their ilk were joined by social “scientists,” psychologists, and sundry others intent on making a sham out of the idea of democracy by developing strategies and techniques for the engineering of social consensus consonant with the wishes of the ruling classes.  Their techniques of propaganda developed exponentially with the development of technology, the creation of the CIA, its infiltration of all the major media, and that agency’s courting of what the CIA official Cord Meyer called in the 1950s “the compatible left,” having already had the right in its pocket. Today most people are, as is said, “wired,” and they get their information from the electronic media that is mostly controlled by giant corporations in cahoots with government propagandists.  Ask yourself: Has the power of the oligarchic, permanent warfare state with its propaganda and spy networks increased or decreased over your lifetime. The answer is obvious: the average people that Lippman and Bernays trashed are losing and the ruling elites are winning.

This is not just because powerful propagandists are good at controlling so-called “average” people’s thinking, but, perhaps more importantly, because they are also adept – probably more so – at confusing or directing the thinking of those who consider themselves above average, those who still might read a book or two or have the concentration to read multiple articles that offer different perspectives on a topic.  This is what some call the professional and intellectual classes, perhaps 15-20% of the population, most of whom are not the ruling elites but their employees and sometimes their mouthpieces.  It is this segment of the population that considers itself “informed,” but the information they imbibe is often sprinkled with bits of misdirection, both intentional and not, that beclouds their understanding of important public matters but leaves them with the false impression that they are in the know.

Recently I have noticed a group of interconnected examples of how this group of the population that exerts influence incommensurate with their numbers has contributed to the blurring of lines between fact and fiction. Within this group there are opinion makers who are often journalists, writers, and cultural producers of some sort or other, and then the larger number of the intellectual or schooled class who follow their opinions.  This second group then passes on their received opinions to those who look up to them.

There is a notorious propaganda outfit called Bellingcat, started by an unemployed Englishman named Eliot Higgins, that has been funded by The Atlantic Council, a think-tank with deep ties to the U.S. government, NATO, war manufacturers, and their allies, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), another infamous U.S. front organization heavily involved in so-called color revolution regime change operations all around the world, that has just won the International Emmy Award for best documentary. The film with the Orwellian title, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World, received its Emmy at a recent ceremony in New York City.

Bellingcat is an alleged group of amateur on-line researchers who have spent years shilling for the U.S. instigated war against the Syrian government, blaming the Douma chemical attack and others on the Assad government, and for the anti-Russian propaganda connected to, among other things, the Skripal poisoning case in England, and the downing of flight MH17 plane in Ukraine. It has been lauded by the corporate mainstream media in the west.  Its support for the equally fraudulent White Helmets (also funded by the US and the UK) in Syria has also been praised by the western corporate media while being dissected as propaganda by many excellent independent journalists such as Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley, Catte Black, among others.  It has had its work skewered by the likes of Seymour Hersh and MIT professor Theodore Postol, and its US government connections pointed out by many others, including Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal at The Gray Zone. And now we have the mainstream media’s wall of silence on the leaks from the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concerning the Douma chemical attack and the doctoring of their report that led to the illegal U.S. bombing of Syria in the spring of 2018.  Bellingcat was at the forefront of providing justification for such bombing, and now the journalists Peter Hitchens, Tareq Harrad (who recently resigned from Newsweek after accusing the publication of suppressing his revelations about the OPCW scandal) and others are fighting an uphill battle to get the truth out.

Yet Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World won the Emmy, fulfilling Bernays’ point about films being the greatest unconscious carriers of propaganda in the world today.

Who presented the Emmy Award to the film makers, but none other than the rebel journalist Chris Hedges.  Why he did so, I don’t know.  But that he did so clearly sends a message to those who follow his work and trust him that it’s okay to give a major cultural award to a propaganda outfit.  But then, perhaps he doesn’t consider Bellingcat to be that.

Nor, one presumes, does The Intercept, the billionaire Pierre Omidyar owned publication associated with Glen Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, and also read by many progressive-minded people. The Intercept that earlier this year disbanded the small team that was tasked with reviewing and releasing more of the massive trove of documents they received from Edward Snowden six years ago, a minute number of which have ever been released or probably ever will be. As Whitney Webb pointed out, last year The Intercept  hosted a workshop for Bellingcat.  She wrote:

The Intercept, along with its parent company First Look Media, recently hosted a workshop for pro-war, Google-funded organization Bellingcat in New York. The workshop, which cost $2,500 per person to attend and lasted five days, aimed to instruct participants in how to perform investigations using “open source” tools — with Bellingcat’s past, controversial investigations for use as case studies…Thus, while The Intercept has long publicly promoted itself as an anti-interventionist and progressive media outlet, it is becoming clearer that – largely thanks to its ties to Omidyar – it is increasingly an organization that has more in common with Bellingcat, a group that launders NATO and U.S. propaganda and disguises it as “independent” and “investigative journalism.”

Then we have Jefferson Morley, the editor of The Deep State, former Washington Post journalist, and JFK assassination researcher, who has written a praiseworthy review of the Bellingcat film and who supports Bellingcat.  “In my experience, Bellingcat is credible,” he writes in an Alternet article, “Bellingcat documentary has the pace and plot of a thriller.”

Morley has also just written an article for Counterpunch –  “Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre‘” – in which he disputes the claim that the April 7, 2018 attack in the Damascus suburb was a false flag operation carried out by Assad’s opponents. “I do not see any evidence proving that Douma was a false flag incident,” he writes in this article that is written in a style that leaves one guessing as to what exactly he is saying.  It sounds convincing unless one concentrates, and then his double messages emerge.  Yet it is the kind of article that certain “sophisticated” left-wing readers might read and feel is insightful.  But then Morley, who has written considerably about the CIA, edits a website that advertises itself as “the thinking person’s portal to the world of secret government,” and recently had an exchange with former CIA Director John Brennan where “Brennan put a friendly finger on my chest,” said in February 2017, less than a month after Trump was sworn in as president, that:

With a docile Republican majority in Congress and a demoralized Democratic Party in opposition, the leaders of the Deep State are the most—perhaps the only—credible check in Washington on what Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump’s “wrecking ball presidency.”  

Is it any wonder that some people might be a bit confused?

“I know what you’re thinking about,” said Tweedledum; “but it isn’t so, nohow.”

“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t.  That’s logic.”

As a final case in point, there is a recent book by Stephen Kinzer, Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb And The CIA Search For Mind Control, the story of the chemist known as Dr. Death who ran the CIA’s MK-ULTRA mind control project, using LSD, torture, electric shock therapy, hypnosis, etc.; developed sadistic methods of torture still used in black sites around the world; and invented various ingenious techniques for assassination, many of which were aimed at Fidel Castro.  Gottlieb was responsible for brutal prison and hospital experiments and untold death and suffering inflicted on all sorts of innocent people.  His work was depraved in the deepest sense; he worked with Nazis who experimented on Jews despite being Jewish himself.

Kinzer writes in depth about this man who considered himself a patriot and a spiritual person – a humane torturer and killer.  It is an eye-opening book for anyone who does not know about Gottlieb, who gave the CIA the essential tools they use in their “organized crime” activities around the world – in the words of Douglas Valentine, the author of The CIA as Organized Crime and The Phoenix Program. Kinzer’s book is good history on Gottlieb; however, he doesn’t venture into the present activities of the CIA and Gottlieb’s patriotic followers, who no doubt exist and go about their business in secret.

After recounting in detail the sordid history of Gottlieb’s secret work that is nauseating to read about, Kinzer leaves the reader with these strange words:

Gottlieb was not a sadist, but he might well have been…. Above all he was an instrument of history.  Understanding him is a deeply disturbing way of understanding ourselves.

What possibly could this mean?  Not a sadist?  An instrument of history?  Understanding ourselves?  These few sentences, dropped out of nowhere, pull the rug out from under what is generally an illuminating history and what seems like a moral indictment. This language is pure mystification.

Kinzer also concludes that because Gottlieb said so, the CIA failed in their efforts to develop methods of mind control and ended MK-ULTRA’s experiments long ago. Why would he believe the word of a man who personified the agency he worked for: a secret liar? He writes:

When Sydney Gottlieb brough MK-ULTRA to its end in the early 1960s, he told his CIA superiors that he had found no reliable way to wipe away memory, make people abandon their consciences, or commit crimes and then forget them.

As for those who might think otherwise, Kinzer suggests they have vivid imaginations and are caught up in conspiracy thinking: “This [convincing others that the CIA had developed methods of mind control when they hadn’t] is Sydney Gottlieb’s most unexpected legacy,” he asserts. He says this although Richard Helms, the CIA Director, destroyed all MK-Ultra records. He says that Allen Dulles, Gottlieb, and Helms themselves were caught up in a complete fantasy about mind control because they had seen too many movies and read too many books; mind control was impossible, a failure, a myth, he maintains. It is the stuff of popular culture, entertainment. In an interview with Chris Hedges, interestingly posted by Jefferson Morley at his website, The Deep State, Hedges agrees with Kinzer.  Gottlieb, Dulles, et al. were all deluded.  Mind control was impossible.  You couldn’t create a Manchurian Candidate; by implication, someone like Sirhan Sirhan could not have been programmed to be a fake Manchurian Candidate and to have no memory of what he did, as he claims.  He could not have been mind-controlled by the CIA to perform his part as the seeming assassin of Senator Robert Kennedy while the real killer shot RFK from behind. People who think like this should get real.

Furthermore, as is so common in books such as Kinzer’s, he repeats the canard that JFK and RFK knew about and pressured the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro. This is demonstrably false, as shown by the Church Committee and the Assassinations Record Review Board, among many others. That Kinzer takes the word of notorious liars like Richard Helms and the top-level CIA operative Samuel Halpern is simply incredible, something that is hard to consider a mistake.  Slipped into a truth sandwich, it is devoured and passed on. But it is false. Bullshit meant to deceive.

But this is how these games are played. If you look carefully, you will see them widely.  Inform, enlighten, while throwing in double-talk and untruths.  The small number of people who read such books and articles will come away knowing some history that has no current relevance and being misinformed on other history that does. They will then be in the know, ready to pass their “wisdom” on to those who care to listen. They will not think they are average.

But they will be mind-controlled, and the killer cat will roam freely without a bell, ready to devour the unsuspecting mice.

Film Charts Failed Experiment Inviting Palestinian Teens to Become Kibbutzniks

A new documentary brings to light an episode almost completely erased from Israel’s official history – and one that reveals how Israel’s apartheid character was established from its birth.

The The Voice of Ahmad by directors Avshalom Katz, David Ofek, Ayelet Bechar, Shadi Habib Allah, Naom Kaplan, Mamdooh Afdile, and Iddo Soskolne is being screened in Israel this month. It centers on the extraordinary early life of Ahmad Masrawa back in the 1950s, as the recently established Jewish state was finding its feet.

Masrawa was one of many hundreds of Palestinian teenagers in Israel who were adopted by a kibbutz, agricultural communes that were at the core of the Zionist movement’s efforts to Judaize lands just stolen from the Palestinian people – both from refugees forced out of Israel and from the small number of Palestinians, like Masrawa, who managed to remain inside the new state.

Today, hundreds of these kibbutzim exist, all of them exclusively Jewish and controlling the vast bulk of Israeli territory. Israel’s Palestinian citizens are effectively banned from living in them.

But, as this new film shows, there was a brief moment when a handful of progressive Israeli Jews imagined a different future in which Jewish and Arab kibbutzniks could live together. That experiment ended in complete failure.

A stab in the back

Masrawa is part of the largely-overlooked Palestinian minority in Israel – today a fifth of the country’s population. He was among a rump population of Palestinians who avoided the mass expulsions of the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, that created Israel on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland.

A few years later, under international pressure, Israel belatedly gave this minority a very second-class citizenship.

The fact that Palestinian citizens, now numbering 1.8 million, have the vote is often cited as proof that Israel is a normal western-style democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this documentary underscores.

Ahmad’s strange teenage years have been unearthed now because he starred in a short documentary in the mid-1960s, called “I Am Ahmad,” that was initially censored and, when it was finally screened, caused uproar. Ram Loevy, its director, says in the new film that his documentary was viewed by most Israeli Jews at the time as “a stab in the back.”

Slum neighborhoods

It was the first time an Israeli film had ever allowed an “Israeli Arab” – a Palestinian citizen of Israel – to be the protagonist.

“I Am Ahmad” follows Masrawa as a near-two-decade military government imposed on Israel’s Palestinian minority is being lifted just before the outbreak of the Six-Day war. He is filmed leaving his poor village of Arara in northern Israel to travel to the rapidly expanding Jewish coastal city of Tel Aviv to find work.

Masrawa narrates the film, providing personal reflections in Hebrew on what it is like to live effectively as a foreign worker in your own country.

Like many thousands of other Palestinians in Israel, he was forced by day to work as a casual laborer on construction sites, disappearing at night to dwell in slum neighborhoods of tin shacks set up by Palestinian citizen workers on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

High death toll

The Voice of Ahmad is compilation film, comprising six short documentaries inspired by or expanding on I Am Ahmad, a restored version of which opens the new movie.

Sky of Concrete sees an elderly Masrawa spend the day with a group of today’s casual laborers from his village on a building site. Little has changed half a century later, as Masrawa discovers, including the same tragically high death toll in an industry that barely seems to value the lives of its non-Jewish workers.

But the most fascinating segment of the Voice of Ahmad is the backstory of why Masrawa ended up in the 1960s building new homes for Jewish immigrants arriving to entrench the dispossession of Palestinians like himself. That context is not provided by I Am Ahmad.

It would have to wait another half-century for that story to be revealed in “I Used To Be Zvi,” a kind of belated prequel to “I Am Ahmad.” Its co-director, Ayelet Bechar, recently expanded on her research for the film in an article for the liberal Haaretz newspaper.

Judaizing Palestinian land

“I Used To Be Zvi” concerns the 18-year period between 1949 and 1967 before Israel seized control of the occupied territories, a time when Palestinians in Israel lived under harsh military rule despite their citizenship. They were locked up inside their few surviving communities while their new rulers confiscated almost all their farmland to settle Jewish immigrants in their place.

While this land larceny was taking place, however, two prominent Jewish socialists began a limited experiment in mixed living that appeared – at least, superficially – to challenge Zionism’s core principle.

The lands seized from Israel’s Palestinian minority were transferred to hundreds of kibbutz, socialist-style agricultural communes set up for Jews as part of Israel’s official Judaization policy.

Many decades on, these communities control almost all of Israel’s land, which they hold as nationalized territory on behalf of all Jews around the world, not Israel’s citizens.

Although the kibbutz has been widely extolled in the west as a model of egalitarian, cooperative living – and in Israel’s first decades attracted starry-eyed European and American volunteers – all of these communities use vetting committees to ensure no Palestinian citizens gain admission.

Mixing with girls

In Israel’s early years, however, a few Jewish socialists argued that the kibbutz movement should live up to its supposed ideals of “Zionism, socialism and the brotherhood of nations.” They established a Pioneer Arab Youth organization, recruiting Palestinian teenagers in Israel like Masrawa to live on a kibbutz.

The obstacles were many. Each had to harbor its Palestinian youngsters as fugitives from the authorities. The military government required them to live in their own, segregated and imprisoned communities.

And despite professed lofty ideals, most Jews in the kibbutz movement regarded their Palestinian neighbors not as potential brothers but as a threat to Israel’s ethnic state-building project.

These young Palestinian recruits, meanwhile, were not there out of a love of Zionism. They wished to break free of the stifling economic and social restrictions imposed by the military government. A few admit they were enticed too by the chance to mix with kibbutz girls.

Kibbutz ambassadors

Masrawa arrived at his kibbutz, aged 14, under a new Hebrew identity he had been assigned: “Zvi”. But differences of treatment were apparent from the outset.

Palestinian members were required to wear a different uniform and allocated menial tasks. Even Pioneer Youth’s motto prioritized subservience, amending the kibbutz slogan “strong and brave” to “strong and loyal.”

And while the kibbutzim were grudgingly allowing handfuls of Palestinian teens into their midst, they also colluded with the military government to steal the remaining farmlands of the villages from which their Palestinian wards hailed.

There was a subtext of political missionary work too. Avraham Ben Tzur, a Pioneer Youth founder, observed that the aim was to turn impressionable Palestinian youth into ambassadors for the kibbutzim, presumably in the hope that when they returned to their villages they would try to justify to their extended families the theft of the villages’ lands by the kibbutzim.

The project quickly started unraveling when it became clear that Pioneer Youth’s organizers had no vision beyond a parochial, Jewish one.

Feelings bottled up

A heartbreaking, reconstructed scene in “I Used To Be Zvi” shows young Masrawa, filled with the kibbutz ideals of shared, egalitarian living, heading to the offices of the Israel Lands Authority to inquire about setting up the first Arab kibbutz next to his village of Arara, south of Nazareth.

The senior official burdens him with a long list of conditions he must meet before he can be given approval. When Masrawa fulfills his side of the bargain, he is given yet more demands, and more, until finally the exasperated official explains the facts of life to Masrawa.

He tells him the government will never allow an Arab kibbutz. Not only that, he adds: “On the expropriated land of your village we will establish three Jewish communities, which will take up arms when needed.”

The clear implication is that these Jewish communities will, if needs be, use their weapons against Masrawa and his fellow villagers to enforce the theft of Arara’s lands.

Indeed, no Palestinian kibbutz, or even a genuinely mixed one, was ever permitted.

Walid Sadik, who later served as a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, observed that he and the other Palestinian kibbutzniks had “kept our mouths shut and our feelings bottled up.”

Intermarriage rejected

But it was the experience of another Palestinian, Rashid Masarawa, that sounded the death knell of Pioneer Youth.

In the mid-1960s he fell in love with and married a Jewish woman, Tzvia Ben Matityahu, on Kibbutz Hashlosha. Given Israel’s restrictions on mixed marriages, which continue to this day, the couple had to travel abroad to wed.

On their return, they were exiled from Hashlosha, and sought refuge among friends at another kibbutz, Gan Shmuel.

Their application to live there was rejected too, however. The vast majority of members objected because the Masarawa family originated from Sarkas, a village destroyed by Israel in 1948 to prevent its refugees from ever returning. Gan Shmuel had been built on Sarkas’s stolen lands to appropriate them.

Masarawa tearfully noted: “If I was accepted as a member, it would mean that I was being returned to my village.” In the Zionist worldview, the danger was that the kibbutz members were being asked to concede something that might set a precedent for a right of return.

‘Sand thrown in our eyes’

The Zionism of these Jewish socialists decisively trumped any semblance of shared humanity or compassion. The Pioneer Youth dissolved soon afterward as young Palestinians in Israel shifted allegiance towards the new Arab nationalism of Nasserist Egypt.

Ben Tzur, founder of Pioneer Youth, recorded his shock to Bechar that, after Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, his Palestinian recruits voted down a plan much favored by kibbutz members to create an alternative state for Palestinians outside their homeland, in Jordan.

Masrawa observed: “Looking back now, I say they threw sand in our eyes. They made a mockery of the [kibbutz] ideal.”

No hope of brotherhood

The military government may be a distant memory now but its legacy persists.

Israel’s Jewish character still precludes equality for Palestinians, even those with citizenship. Assumptions among Israeli Jews of disloyalty from Palestinians are still commonplace. Palestinian land is still being Judaized, though now that Palestinian citizens have lost all but a tiny fraction of their lands, that process is chiefly taking place in the occupied territories. Rigid ethnic segregation ensures mixed marriages are still rare and deplored.

Palestinian voting is still no more than window-dressing, and now increasingly characterized by Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu as fraud. He declared only this month that Palestinian citizens had tried to “steal the election” by exercising their democratic right.

And brotherhood, of course, is today not even an aspiration.

Ugly ethnic supremacism

The “Voice of Ahmad” ends with a short film, The Helsinki Accord, by two Israeli citizens – one Jewish, the other Palestinian – who have sought a self-imposed exile in Finland. There they live as neighbors, share a passion for sweating it out together in a sauna, and jest about Israel’s destruction by a nuclear bomb.

The Jewish friend, Iddo Soskolne, whose family originates from Poland, says Finns have nicknamed him “felafel” for being from the Middle East.

Finally, the pair concede, they have found equality in their status as a minority, as outsiders, in Finland. They have found a true brotherhood that would be impossible in Israel.

It was, after all, the good guys – the socialists – who established Israel’s version of apartheid alongside and enforced by the “egalitarian” kibbutz. These racist political structures were created by an Israeli Labour party whose political demise is now – after a decade of rule by the ultra-nationalist right – much lamented abroad.

But the reality is that the Zionism of Israel’s founders was as ugly a project of ethnic supremacy as the Zionism of today’s nationalist right led by Netanyahu. Ahmad Masrawa’s story is a helpful reminder of that truth.

• First published in Mondoweiss

Robert Stuart vs the BBC

It’s a David vs Goliath story. A former local newspaper reporter, Robert Stuart, is taking on the British Broadcasting Corporation. Stuart believes that a sensational video story about an alleged atrocity in Syria “was largely, if not entirely, staged.”  The BBC would like it all to just go away. But like David, Stuart will not back down or let it go.  It has been proposed that the BBC could settle the issue by releasing the raw footage from the event, but they refuse to do this. Why?

The Controversial Video

The video report in controversy is ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘. Scenes from it were first broadcast as a BBC news report on August 29, 2013 and again as a BBC Panorama special in September. ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was produced by BBC reporter Ian Pannell with Darren Conway as camera operator and director.

The news report footage was taken in a town north of Aleppo city in a region controlled by the armed opposition. It purports to show the aftermath of a Syrian aerial attack using incendiary weapons, perhaps napalm, killing and burning dozens of youth.  The video shows the youth arriving and being treated at a nearby hospital where the BBC film team was coincidentally filming two British medical volunteers from a British medical relief organization.

The video had a strong impact. The incident was on August 26. The video was shown on the BBC three days later as the British Parliament was debating whether to support military action by the US against Syria.  As it turned out, British parliament voted against supporting military action. But the video was effective in demonizing the Syrian government. After all, what kind of government attacks school children with napalm-like bombs?

The Context

‘Saving Syria’s Children’ was produced at a critical moment in the Syrian conflict. Just days before, on August 21,  there had been an alleged sarin gas attack against an opposition held area on the outskirts of Damascus. Western media was inundated with videos showing dead Syrian children amidst accusations the Syrian government had attacked civilians, killing up to 1400.  The Syrian government was assumed to be responsible and the attack said to be a clear violation of President Obama’s “red line” against chemical weapons.

This incident had the effect of increasing pressure for Western states or NATO to attack Syria. It would be for humanitarian reasons, rationalized by the “responsibility to protect”.

The assumption that ‘the regime’ did it has been challenged. Highly regarded American  journalists including the late Robert Parry and Seymour Hersh investigated and contradicted the mainstream media. They pointed to the crimes being committed by the armed opposition for political goals.  A report by two experts including a UN weapons inspector and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity also came to the conclusion that the Syrian government was not responsible and the attack was actually by an armed opposition group with the goal of forcing NATO intervention.

Why the Controversial Video is Suspicious

After seeing skeptical comments about ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ on an online discussion board, Robert Stuart looked at the video for himself. Like others, he thought the hospital sequences looked artificial, almost like scenes from a badly acted horror movie.

But unlike others, he decided to find out. Thus began his quest to ascertain the truth. Was the video real or was it staged?  Was it authentic or contrived propaganda?

Over almost six years his research has revealed many curious elements about the video including:

* Youth in the hospital video appear to act on cue.

* There is a six hour discrepancy in reports about when the incident occurred.

* One of the supposed victims, shown writhing in pain on a stretcher, is seen earlier walking unaided into the ambulance.

* The incident happened in an area controlled by a terror group associated with ISIS.

* One of the British medics is a former UK soldier involved in simulated injury training.

* The other British medic is daughter of a prominent figure in the Syrian opposition.

* In 2016 a local rebel commander testified that the alleged attack never happened.

Support for Robert Stuart

Robert Stuart’s formal complaints to the BBC have been rebuffed. His challenges to those involved in the production have been ignored or stifled.  Yet his quest has won support from some major journalistic and political figures.

Former Guardian columnist Jonathan Cook has written several articles on the story. He says:

Stuart’s sustained research and questioning of the BBC, and the state broadcaster’s increasing evasions, have given rise to ever greater concerns about the footage. It looks suspiciously like one scene in particular, of people with horrific burns, was staged.

Former UK Ambassador Craig Murray has compared scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ with his own harrowing experience with burn victims. He says:

The alleged footage of burn victims in hospital following a napalm attack bears no resemblance whatsoever to how victims, doctors and relatives actually behave in these circumstances.

Film-maker Victor Lewis-Smith has done numerous projects for the BBC. When learning about Stuart’s research he asked for some explanations and suggested they could resolve the issue by releasing the raw video footage of the events. When they refused to do this, he publicly tore up his BBC contract.

Why it Matters

The BBC has a reputation for objectivity. If BBC management was deceived by the video, along with the public, they should have a strong interest in uncovering and correcting this.  If there was an error, they should want to clarify, correct and ensure it is not repeated.

The BBC could go a long way toward resolving this issue by releasing raw footage of the scenes in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.  Why have they refused to do this? In addition, they have actively removed YouTube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. If they are proud of that production, why are they removing public copies of it?

Has the BBC produced and broadcast contrived or fake video reports in support of British government foreign policy of aggression against Syria? It is important that this question be answered to either restore public trust (if the videos are authentic) or to expose and correct misdeeds (if the videos are largely or entirely staged).

The issue at stake is not only the BBC; it is the manipulation of media to deceive the public into supporting elite-driven foreign policy. ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is an important case study.

The Future

Robert Stuart is not quitting.  He hopes the next step will be a documentary film dramatically showing what he has discovered and further investigating important yet unexplored angles.

The highly experienced film producer Victor Lewis-Smith, who tore up his BBC contract, has stepped forward to help make this happen.

But to produce a high quality documentary including some travel takes funding. After devoting almost six years to this effort, Robert Stuart’s resources are exhausted. The project needs support from concerned members of the public.

If you support Robert Stuart’s efforts, go to this crowdfunding website.  There you can learn more and contribute to this important effort to reveal whether the BBC video ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ showed true or staged events. Was the alleged “napalm” attack real or was it staged propaganda?  The project needs a large number of small donors and a few substantial ones to meet the June 7 deadline.

As actor and producer Keith Allen says,” Please help us to reach the target so that we can discover the facts, examine the evidence, and present the truth about ‘Saving Syria’s Children’. I think it’s really important.”

My Response to the PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War

The Civil War which ended in 1865, demolished slavery and emancipated four million human beings. What happened next in the South remains largely unknown to most Americans.  In a recent poll of high school graduates, only 20 percent had even heard of Reconstruction, in part because history classes about this period invariably end with the South’s surrender.

During the short Reconstruction period from 1865-1877, the Federal state was empowered to act on behalf of freed black men and poor whites.  Unprecedented changes followed, including new public hospitals, schools, aid to the poor and public programs offering a wide range of services that gave preference to the needs of those previously deprived of them.  The beginning of meaningful democracy was exemplified by new Federal courts, replacing state governments and well-attended state constitutional conventions to Black suffrage, ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1875, This mandate’s enforcement could rely on the full force and protection of Federal troops in five military zones.

Political power was prodigiously evident as blacks were elected to state governments (600), the U.S. Congress (14) and Senate (2), and as judges, sheriffs and countless lower offices in the former slave states. Organizations like the Union League and the Southern Farmer’s Alliance appeared across the South to encourage and advise alliances between ordinary blacks and whites that would liberate both from economic bondage.

It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that in 1865, African-Americans experienced exhilaration, pride and virtually limitless enthusiasm after two hundred and fifty years of enslavement. Paramount among these expectations was the prospect of owning one’s own land gained by the political power realized from the right to vote. If achieved, this would be the single most radical structural change in US. history.

This astonishing political revolution is effectively portrayed via commentary by dozens of  experts, interviews, documents and graphic, often heart rending visuals in the first two episodes of “Reconstruction: America After the Civil War,” a four-part series written and narrated by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on PBS. It links to Gates’s book, Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy and the Rise of Jim Crow, (New York: Penguin, 2019).  The series makes for compelling even compulsory viewing.  As Eric Foner, the dean of living writers about this period, concluded in a 2015 essay, “freedom, rights, democracy” were at the apex of Reconstruction. All remain vexing issues today.

I would also be remiss not to credit parts of the program (especially episode #3) for their compelling description of the means employed to totally eviscerate Reconstruction: pseudo-scientific racism, eugenics, elaborate mythologies about plantation life,” Sambo art” representation in novels, cartoons, and advertising, rape imagery, Blackface, and the infamous, incalculably detrimental film, J.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation,” the Jim Crow system and, of course, the ubiquitous deployment of terroristic lynchings, massacres and the KKK.  It’s not cited in the series but according to the Smithsonian Magazine, some 53,000 thousand African-Americans were targeted for murder across the 11 former Confederate states.  Viewers will have to come to grips with the massacre of 250 African-American men, women and children in Opelousas, Louisiana in 1868.

Other topics receiving careful attention include: creative disenfranchisement maneuvers, the exploitation of enervating indebtedness attendant to new-slavery in the form of sharecropping (neo-slavery) and still another iteration, namely, convict-leasing. We also learn about the black resistance and its manifestation in literature, photography, music, success in higher education, self-sustaining communities, and the founding of the NAACP. I was especially taken with the courageous, indefatigable activism of Ida Tarbell and role of speaker, organizer and towering public intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois.

Critique:

In a preview to the PBS series, viewers are promised the full truth of about this “misrepresented and misunderstood” chapter of American history. In my opinion, this pledge was not entirely kept. The program’s viewers might be forgiven for gaining the impression that an “indifferent North” was a major factor in Reconstruction’s total overthrow. That Northerners — without specifying their class identity — eventually “grew tired” of the South’s seemingly intractable racial problems, withdrew Federal troops in 1877 and “tragically” allowed the South to restore white supremacy and re-subordinate the black labor force. For me, this serious glossing over what actually happened imposed limits on what lessons might be derived from Reconstruction and applied to our situation today.  If asked to suggest a fifth episode, I would add something like the following, beginning with three quotes:

Without slavery there would be cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry

— Karl Marx,1

The consolidation of capitalism in the US during the Reconstruction period required the radical curtailment of substantive popular power and democratic rights for the vast majority of producers… Put another way, the experience of Reconstruction provides yet another example of the incompatibility of substantive democratic power and capitalist class relations.

— Charlie Post,2

The American Civil War was fought over which type of slavery would exist in the United State; chattel slavery, as was practiced in the South, or wage slavery, as practiced in the North. These two economic systems were both subdivisions of Capitalist, or private ownership of the means of production. Theoretically, it is impossible for these two subsystems to coexist peacefully in an economy; so an ultimate conflict to determine the future of capitalist production was inevitable.

— Kent Allen Halliberton,3

I’ve included Marx’s quote because the program failed to devote sufficient attention to the fact that slavery and capitalism were deeply enmeshed and the former was indispensable to the nation’s economic development. Slaves produced the nation’s most valuable export and there wasn’t a close second, as Northern financiers, bankers and textile factory owners amassed fortunes from slavery.

For just one example, as historian Edward Baptist’s pioneering research demonstrated, in Lowell, Massachusetts, massive mills owned by a group called Boston Associates, “consumed 100,000 days of enslaved people’s labor every year” and this  resulted in enormous profits, investments for further expansion and lavish life styles. Further, owners of New England factories were profiting from shipping provisions like shoes, hoes, hats, nails and probably whips to South Carolina, Mississippi and Virginia.4

The North and the South were not discrete economies as commodities and capital flowed between them. As such, narratives about Reconstruction that neglect to portray slavery as a national institution and refer to it as a “Southern problem” are limited in their explanatory power.  Should we be surprised that the word “capitalism” isn’t listed in the index to Gates’s book and if memory serves, it also remained unmentioned in the series? Viewers might ponder the reason for this omission.

The inclusion of the other two quotes is a response to the oft-asked question, “What if Reconstruction had succeeded?” The point here is that the question suggests an outcome that was never an option.  In the early days of Reconstruction, the expectation of northern business interests had been that the post Reconstruction period would see chattel slavery replaced by wage slavery (euphemistically called “free labor”) to serve the rapidly growing needs of an industrializing nation. We see a paradox here in that Northern monied elites could righteously oppose slavery while retaining circumscribed notions of inequality (and racism) in a post-slavery world. Again, the parallels with today’s Democratic Party “We are all capitalists” hierarchy are transparent.

However, as historian Heather Cox Richardson explains, reactionary Southerners and liberal anti-slavery Northern elites eventually persuaded enough people that Reconstruction was in a sense, anathema to the American system. That, in fact, “an active government redistributes wealth from hardworking white people to lazy African-Americans.”5 Again, the resonance of this liberal posture with our last forty years of neoliberalism is impossible to ignore.

The Northern power elite gradually came to view Reconstruction as too ambitious, too dangerous, because it raised expectations, especially regarding land tenure and its implications for wealth redistribution. One episode in the series does mention that Union General William T. Sherman had confiscated some 400,000 acres of land to be allocated in roughly 40 acre plots. Under General Sherman’s famous special Field Order No.15 some few thousand newly emancipated black families were settled on land in coastal Georgia and South Carolina. Others are far more qualified to judge Sherman’s motives  but we can’t rule out the possibility that he only sought to temporarily pacify the recipients.  It’s a moot point because President Andrew Johnson, the southerner who succeeded Abraham Lincoln and hated African-Americans, quickly nullified the order and the land was returned to the wealthy plantation owners. Here we see the inherent constraints on a bourgeois revolution imposed from above rather than one emerging from a mass movement. In short, we see the critical difference between a political revolution and a socio-economic one, a scenario that would become all too familiar during the next century.

Union organizing and strikes in the North cast doubt on the convenient conviction that workers would be satisfied  with their new “free labor” status. What if they wanted to own the means of production? In any event, poor workers in the South could not be trusted with the vote because they were “fledging revolutionaries” and “given the chance, they would insist on wealth redistribution.” Northern elites, not Southerners, were firmly in control of national politics and their priority was to protect capital (property) from an aroused, potentially dangerous working class that was beginning to respond to worsening conditions.

The New York Tribune featured an interview with a prominent former slaveholder who opined “Only those who owned property should govern it, and men who had no property had no right to make laws for property holders.” The New York Times would echo this argument and when workers in Paris established a commune, its editors responded with disingenuous euphemisms not unknown in our day, “The great ‘middle class’ which now governs the world, will everywhere be terrified at these terrible outburst[s] and absurd[ities], they will hold a strong rein on the lower.” Even the liberal Nation magazine warned that changes in the South were making “socialism in America the dangerous deadly poison it is.”6 Note that the race card is held back.

WE.B. Du Bois knew that the “economic foundation” of the northern bourgeoisie would never allow them to follow through on Reconstruction. From that he drew the lesson that blacks and poor whites in the South must unite against the ruling class. He was to expand on this when categorizing the American worker into four sets: “The freed Negro, the Southern poor white, and the Northern skilled and common laborer” and grieved over the fact that “These groups never came to see their common interests and the financiers and capitalists easily kept the upper hand.”7 This begs the question of how far class consciousness has advanced today.

Du Bois compared black resistance to slavery as a “proletarian revolution within a bourgeois republic.” And when poor white men were successfully turned against their black brothers they “surrendered the hope of democracy in America for all men.” Even though only 7 percent of the total Southern population owned three million of the four million enslaved blacks, white workers came to accept their wage labor status because, in historian David Roediger’s felicitous phrase, they might lose everything “but not their whiteness.” These “wages of whiteness” or what Du Bois formulated as a “psychological wage” — differentiated from a material wage — set them apart from and against black workers and according to Frederick Douglas the slaveholders were then able to “divide both to conquer each” This formed part of the ideology perpetrated by the ruling class even as it reverberate in contemporary politics.

My sense is that gaining a deeper understanding of the Reconstruction period can contribute to our analysis of contemporary issues like voting rights, affirmative action, reparations, white supremacy, and the meaning of citizenship. In that vein, Naima Wandile, my friend and fellow FB rabble rouser, recently drew my attention to the fact that although the PBS series makes reference to current events it does so in a highly selective manner. She noted that the series “failed to fully (or forcefully enough) connect past history with current events. For example, policies like black codes, peonage and slave patrols are very much in effect today in the form of stop-question-frisk, bail traps, and extra-judicial executions in cities across the US and still serve the same purpose.” She adds that “These are the main reasons blacks protest, but many Americans do not fully understand these are the most effective tools in a capitalist toolbox.”

Finally, as I mentioned above, we can glean helpful insights from sources like this PBS series but only by conjoining them with an analysis of the class dynamics of the period can we use this knowledge on behalf of our quest for a just society.

  1. Karl Marx, Collected Works, Vol. 32 (New York: Progress Publishing, 1982, Pp. 101-102.
  2. Charlie Post, “Is Democracy Compatible with Capitalism,” The Brooklyn Rail, April 4, 2018.
  3. Kent Allen Halliburton, “The American Civil War, 1964-1876: A Marxist Perspective.
  4. Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014), p.317.
  5. Heather Cox Richardson, “Killing Reconstruction,” Jacobin, August 19, 2015.
  6. Ibid.
  7. W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New Brunswick: Transaction, 2013), p. 216.  Originally published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in 1935; Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor addresses these matters in his “Review of Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction” in ISR, Issue 57, January-February, 2008. Taylor’s piece is highly instructive and recommended for further exploration of this subject.

No More Bullshit: Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill

Growing up Irish-Catholic in the Bronx in the 1960s, I was an avid reader of the powerful columns of Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill in the New York newspapers.  These guys were extraordinary wordsmiths. They would grab you by the collar and drag you into the places and faces of those they wrote about. Passion infused their reports.  They were never boring. They made you laugh and cry as they transported you into the lives of real people.  You knew they had actually gone out into the streets of the city and talked to people. All kinds of people: poor, rich, black, white, Puerto Rican, high-rollers, low-lifes, politicians, athletes, mobsters – they ran the gamut.  You could sense they loved their work, that it enlivened them as it enlivened you the reader. Their words sung and crackled and breathed across the page. They left you always wanting more, wondering sometimes how true it all was, so captivating was their storytelling abilities.  They cut through abstractions to connect individuals to major events such as the Vietnam War, the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert, the Central Park jogger case, Aids, among others.  They were spokesmen for the underdogs, the abused, the confused, and the bereft, and relentlessly attacked the abuses and hypocrisies of the powerful.

They became celebrities as a result of their writing.  Breslin ran for New York City Council President along with Norman Mailer for Mayor with the slogan  “No More Bullshit,” did beer and cereal commercials, and Hamill dated Jacqueline Kennedy and Shirley McLaine.  Coming  out of poor and struggling Irish-Catholic families in Queens and Brooklyn respectively, they became acclaimed in NYC and the country as celebrity reporters.  As a result, they were befriended by the rich and powerful with whom they hobnobbed.

HBO has recently released a fascinating documentary about the pair: Breslin and Hamill. It brings them back in all their gritty glory to the days when New York was another city, a city of newspapers and typewriters and young passion still hopeful that despite the problems and national tragedies, there were still fighters who would bang out a message of hope and defiance in the mainstream press.  It was a time before money and propaganda devoured journalism and a deadly pall descended on the country as the economic elites expanded their obscene control over people’s lives and the media.

So it is also fitting that this documentary feels like an Irish wake with two old wheelchair-bound men musing on the past and all that has been lost and what approaching death has in store for them and all they love.  While not a word is spoken about the Catholic faith of their childhoods with its death-defying consolation, it sits between them like a skeleton. We watch and listen to two men, once big in all ways, talk about the old days as they shrink before our eyes. I was reminded of the title of a novel Breslin wrote long ago: World Without End, Amen, a title taken directly from a well-known Catholic prayer. Endings, the past receding, a lost world, aching hearts, and the unspoken yearning for more life.

Hamill, especially, wrote columns that were beautifully elegiac, and his words in this documentary also sound that sense despite his efforts to remain hopeful.   The film is a nostalgic trip down memory lane.  Breslin, who has since died, tries hard to express the bravado that was his hallmark in his halcyon days, but a deep sadness and bewilderment seeps through his face, the mask of indomitability that once served him well gone in the end.

So while young people need to know about these two old-school reporters and their great work in this age of insipidity and pseudo-objectivity, this film is probably not a good introduction.  Their writing would serve this purpose better.

This documentary is appearing at an interesting time when a large group of prominent Americans, including Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, are calling for new investigations into the assassinations of the 1960s, murders that Breslin and Hamill covered and wrote about.  Both men were in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel when  Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968.  They were friends of the senator, and it was Hamill who wrote to RFK and helped convince him to run.  Breslin was in the Audubon Ballroom when Malcolm X was assassinated.  He wrote an iconic and highly original article about the JFK assassination.  Hamill wrote a hard-hitting  piece about RFK’s murder, describing Sirhan Sirhan quite harshly, while presuming his guilt.  They covered and wrote about all the assassinations of that era.  Breslin also wrote a famous piece about John Lennon’s murder.  They wrote these articles quickly, in the heat of the moment, on deadline.

But they did not question the official versions of these assassinations.  Not then, nor in the fifty plus years since.  Nor in this documentary. In fact, in the film Hamill talks about five shots being fired at RFK from the front by Sirhan Sirhan who was standing there.  Breslin utters not a word. Yet it is well known that RFK was shot from the rear at point blank range and that no bullets hit him from the front. The official autopsy confirmed this. Robert Kennedy, Jr. asserts that his father was not shot by Sirhan but by a second gunmen.  It’s as though Hamill is stuck in time and his personal memories of the event; as though he were too close to things and never stepped back and studied the evidence that has emerged.  Why, only he could say.

Perhaps both men were too close to the events and the people they covered.  Yes, their words always took you to the scene and made you feel the passion of it all, the shock, the drama, the tragedy, the pain, the confusion, and all that was irretrievably lost in murders that changed this country forever, killings that haunt the present in incalculable ways.  Jimmy and Pete made us feel the deep pain and shock of being overwhelmed with grief.  They were masters of this art.

But the view from the street is not that of history.  Deadlines are one thing; analysis and research another.  Breslin and Hamill wrote for the moment, but they have lived a half century after those moments, decades during which the evidence for these crimes has accumulated to indict powerful forces in the U.S. government.  No doubt this evidence came to their attention, but they have chosen to ignore it, whatever their reasons.  Why these champions of the afflicted have disregarded this evidence is perplexing.  As one who greatly admires their work, I am disappointed by this failure.

Street journalism has its limitations.  It needs to be placed in a larger context. Our world is indeed without end and the heat of the moment needs the coolness of time.  The bird that dives to the ground to seize a crumb of bread returns to the treetop to survey the larger scene.  Breslin and Hamill stuck to the ground where the bread lay.

At one point in Breslin and Hamill, the two good friends talk about how well they were taught to write by the nuns in their Catholic grammar schools.  “Subject, verb, object, that was the story of the whole thing,” says Breslin.  Hamill replies, “Concrete nouns, active verbs.”  “It was pretty good teaching,” adds Breslin. And although neither went to college (probably a saving grace), they learned those lessons well and gifted us with so much gritty and beautiful writing and reporting.

Yet like the nuns who taught them, they had their limitations, and what was written once was not revisited and updated.  In a strange, very old-school Catholic sense, it was the eternal truth, rock solid, and not to be questioned.  Unspeakable and anathema: the real killers of the Kennedys and the others.  The attacks of September 11, 2001 as well.

When my mother was very old, she published her only piece of writing.  It was very Breslin and Hamill-like and was published in a Catholic magazine.  She wrote how, when she was a young girl and the streets of New York were filled with horse drawn wagons, the nuns in her grammar school chose her to leave school before lunch and go to a neighboring bakery to buy rolls for their lunch.  It was considered a big honor and she was happy to get out of school for the walk to the bakery she chose a few streets away.  She got the rolls and was walking back with them when some boys jostled her and all the rolls fell into the street, rolling through horse shit.  She panicked, but picked up the rolls and cleaned them off.  Shaking with fear, she then brought them to the convent and handed them to a nun.  After lunch, she was called to the front of the room by her teacher, the nun who had chosen her to buy them.  She felt like she would faint with fear.  The nun sternly looked at her.  “Where did buy those rolls?” she asked.  In a halting voice she told her the name of the bakery.  The sister said, “They were delicious.  We must always shop in that bakery.”

Of course, the magazine wouldn’t publish the words “horse shit.” The editor found a nice way to avoid the truth and eliminate horse shit.  And the nuns were happy.

Yet bullshit seems much harder to erase, despite slogans and careful editors, or perhaps because of them.  Sometimes silence is the real bullshit, and how do you eliminate that?

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”