Archive for the ‘Editorial Commentary’ Category

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Hell and Back Again

February 1, 2013
88 Mins. Documentary, Docuramafilms

88 Mins.
Documentary, Docuramafilms

Hell and Back Again is a touching film following Sergeant Nathan Harris and his regiment in Afghanistan, documented by photojournalist Danfung Dennis in 2009. As a sequel to the World War II documentary of Audie Murphy, this documentary depicts an important aspect of war that is often forgotten or under-articulated in the media. Danfung Dennis was working in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years prior, taking pictures for the media, he felt that society was becoming numb to the horrific events of the war due to the monotonous way they were shown. Dennis was determined to obtain a different perspective, one where people could actually understand what was occurring on the ground in Afghanistan, so as to bring renewed interest and a personal aspect. In achieving this goal, Danfung Dennis found Echo Company 2nd battalion 8th regiment. The documentary goes back and forth presenting scenes of Marines fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the post-service life of a Marine from Echo Company who was injured in battle. Sergeant Nathan Harris, with the support of his wife Ashley, works to heal a gunshot wound to his hip that left him unable to walk normally. This rare combination of first-hand live action, coupled with the opportunity to see the candid, direct effects of war on a Marine once he has returned home is both an honor and a heart-wrenching experience. Hell and Back Again has won the Grand Jury Prize and Cinematography Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and has gained praise from many critics. AMC’s filmcritic.com calls it “one of the greatest war films of this generation”, and the New York Post’s Vincent Musetto said it is “stunning… a breathlessly paced look at the realties of war”.

            The Marines of the United States are trained to be experts in the application of violence, as voiced in the documentary. Their strategy is to become the offensive player and take control of the population outside the grasp of the Taliban. In the first of the numerous battle scenes shown, shooting erupts from an unknown area and we experience the first death of the film. Lance Corporal Sharp, nicknamed “Sharpie” by his comrades, had been shot. His fellow Marines carry him out of the gunfire and tend to his wound; however, he is unable to be revived. Sergeant Nathan Harris becomes his successor, leading the platoon through the next 6 months as Dennis’s journey with them begins. The film alternately turns to the future when the Marine’s return home on a bus. Their loved ones are waiting for them while holding up signs. There is a overwhelming abundance of hugging, kissing, and tears of joy shared within the group. However, Sergeant Nathan Harris has been severely wounded just prior to his planned return home and is not able to attend the homecoming. Sergeant Harris is not brought home with his fellow men in a spectacle of celebration, but sent home from the hospital in a wheelchair with a handful of addictive prescriptions such as oxycontin and morphine.

            After his injury, Sergeant Nathan Harris is no longer able to be completely independent. He relies on his wife for many things, such as helping him change clothes or getting his medicine from the pharmacy. He has to use a machine on his leg for 8 hours each day to stretch the muscles, and the intense pain makes him physically sick. Even through this, Harris says at the Pain Management Clinic that he does not have a problem with his injury because he was prepared and knew what it would be like to come home, and later he reiterates that he is just glad it wasn’t a chest injury. From the soldiers’ perspective, the importance of defending the United States is unquestionable;  however, the methods being used to wage war are leaving a generation of men with physical and psychological hindrances. This is shown in the documentary through the course of Nathan Harris’s physical training, which makes him ill from the pain, as well as his unprovoked aggravated behavior. The physical toll is exampled after touring a potential house with a realtor; Nathan Harris finds himself in too much pain to walk and must take pain medication. In a very sobering scene, Harris goes to the funeral of thirteen fallen soldiers. There is a long line of Marines seen honoring their dead comrades. To look not only at the major physical damage, including the deaths and injuries, Mrs. Harris describes her husband’s behavior since his injury. She acknowledges that he has become a completely different person, his temper has left him as someone whom when she looks at she sees emptiness instead of her husband.

In the Bonus Feature, Invisible Wounds, a professional stresses to the soldiers the importance of seeking help instead of keeping everything inside. Stress injuries are nothing to be ashamed of. As spoken by Sergeant Harris, these men must accept the possibility of death as a real option.  No matter how well prepared, there is still the possibility that you could lose your life on a daily basis.

            Harris’s change of emotional stability is clear with his quick, aggravated mood changes. As Nathan Harris and his wife search for a parking spot at the local Walmart, a frequent action of daily life, Nathan becomes abrupt and frustrated. He says looking for a parking spot while it is crowded stresses him out and he would rather be back with his platoon in Afghanistan fighting then worrying about such stressful things. This statement is not logical to people who have not suffered such trauma. This odd behavior is brought up again when going through a drivethough and Sergeant Harris becomes unnecessarily aggravated when people talk over each other or interrupt; unable to function with his frustration he simply puts his head between his hands. Another strange habit of Sergeant Harris is his unique relationship with his gun. He constantly has it with him throughout the documentary, whether in the car or at home, and even chooses to keep it under his mattress with the handle ready for him to grab. Gun use is an extremely controversial topic in today’s society but Sergeant Harris does not shy away from displaying his weapon. This could be emulating his fear that built during his active duty and his current need to feel protected. Physical wounds are clear and there is a exact way they must be treated; however, psychological problems are equally as pressing while socially less recognized. The possibility of a stress disorder or other psychological impact is quite real when soldiers return from the war, a consequence that is brought up in the bonus features Did You Kill Anyone? Families ask how to handle their newly home soldiers; this is an excellent source for anyone who has had a loved one in the military.

            There is a significant disconnect between the goals of the United States to help Afghan villagers and how these locals perceive the militias presence that is brought up in Hell and Back Again. This can definitely be partially blamed on the cultural and language barriers that exist. The United States Marines constantly reiterate what President Obama says during a speech in the documentary. The United States does not want to occupy or rule Afghanistan, such as the Soviets or Al-Qaeda fighters did; they simply want to end the suffering and become partners. In this sense, the ultimate goal is long-term and results in peace, whereas the villagers see the short-term threat of being moved from their villages, unable to farm, and fearing the safety of their children. They see the temporary occupation as a bother that continuously brings the Taliban into their region. Each side has a valuable point. Afghanistan has long been under foreign occupation and needs encouragement to build a sustainable infrastructure; however, the use of firefights and violence is costing lives of many American soldiers as well as disrupting the lives of the innocent civilians. After his time in the Marines, Sergeant Harris explains his belief that the big picture is lost within the fighting. He supports that the Marines are rightfully dedicated to defending America but using this form of defense also has major costs, as he first-handedly experiences.

Lauren Mooradian, MPT Intern

Resources:

  • Hell and Back Again. Dir. Danfung Dennis. Perf. Sergeant Nathan Harris and Ashley Harris. Docuramafilms, 2011. DVD.
  • Willie Nelson – Hell and Back   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXAmeY0b52M  – Comments by Marine’s in Echo Company during this period
  • Bonus Feature– Blue Star Families PSA: The experience of war is unimaginable to those of us who have not experiences it first-hand. Your loved ones may not know what it’s like but there are people out there who do, contact them.
  • MSNBC Interview (Dylan Ratigan) with Danfung Dennis   http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31510813/#44792225
  • Hell and Back Again Trailer   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luoc9UM-G40
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MPT’s Fall Newsletter

October 29, 2012

Click here:  MPT’s Fall 2012 Newsletter 

Knowing that active nonviolence is always our MPT focus, how do we keep on doing the good work with informed action in community, and with commitment in the face of obstacles? And secondly: What are effective ways of overcoming our own, our community’s, our world’s sense of hopelessness, paralysis, atomization, apathy and cynicism?

This Fall 2012 Newsletter offers the following answers to those questions:

  • Some Tools for the Long Haul – Peter Dougherty (pg. 1)
  • A Noble Difference – Annette Thomas (2-3)
  • Where There Is Apathy, Let Us Bring Hope – Albert F.J. Kreitz (3)
  • This is It!: Experiencing Beloved Community – Kim Redigan (4)
  • Seeing the Other  – Kristie Guerrero-Taylor (5)
  • The Outcome Is Not In Our Hands – Sandra Schneiders, IHM (6)
  • Cynicism & Community – Lydia Wylie-Kellermann (7)
  • Making a Difference, Moment by Moment – Paula Marie (8)
  • Nonviolence Training (8)
  • Peace Teams and the Fall 2012 Peace Team (9)
  • Growing Community Events – Elizabeth Walters, IHM (10-11)
  • Help Continue the Dream (12)
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The Topic: The movie “A MAN OF CONSCIENCE”

October 29, 2012
  • Directed and produced by: Jason A. SchmidtFranz Jagrstatter
  • Writer: Roberta Morris
  • Produced in 2008
  • Duration of the movie: 24 minutes

Review written by Yohannes Nega Shita (MPT Intern)

After watching “A Man of Conscience,” I have been inspired by its message. The movie, produced by the Catholic Church in 2008, is based on the true life story of a man named Franz Jagerstatter. Franz was a farmer in Austria who lived during the Second World War. The movie revolves around the issue of family disintegration during war and its effects on family members, particularly children. The other major point the movie makes is Franz’s dedication to the value of prayer and faith to make strong decisions, helping him to say no to the unjust war calls of public authorities.

During 1938, Germany invaded Austria, and Franz was called to enlist in military training service of the Nazi government. As a result of this order, Franz would be required to leave his loved ones, including his four beautiful daughters, behind. After completion of the training, he had been called to the war in Austria. Franz refused to leave, although at the time he had faced strong pressure from his family and even the Catholic priests to fulfill the calling of the Nazi government and leave for the war. Franz remained insistent on his opposition of unjust war and death.

In the 1930‘s  Franz had lived peacefully with his family supporting and taking care of his wife and daughters. But had eventually been unwillingly called to the military service training in which he stayed for eight weeks hoping to be back to his family. During the training, he tried to maintain his paternal role to his daughters from distance through writing letters back and forth with his spouse. He had disclosed his love to the family through sweet words in his consistent love letters. He also had prayed consistently to all his families’ members though he lived far away.

Franz was also unique in his strong personal decision. During 1930, Europe was led by the influence of the public majority and religious leaders. He said no to the order of the public authorities, to the unjust war, and moved forward in his personal belief of justice and peace.  Because of his strong belief in peace and justice, leading him to say no to the call for war and invasion, he was executed in public by Nazi public authorities in 1943.

I enjoyed watching this movie for the following reasons. I was very delighted to see the affectionate letters between Franz and his spouse while they were living so far apart and his consistent prayer and faith in his God. Moreover, I have been inspired by his consistent and determined decision to say no to the order of war and invasion and by his martyr-like act. Finally I recommend everyone to watch this movie, and to be part of the peace-building initiative. I would like to thank Michigan Peace Team for inviting me to watch this inspiring movie.

The film is available at this website.

 

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MPT Stands With the Majority of Americans: Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed

August 29, 2011

Watch this brief video clip for a synopsis of what OCTOBER 2011 is all about:

WE HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US!

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Forgiveness: a power of non-violence

May 23, 2011

Is it possible to have a dream of constructing a peaceful world like it’s a small world, where people take hand in hand regardless of race, ethnicity, and nationality, even on the place having a memory of bloodshed? The answer is still on the way to be proven, as Rwanda has been working on reconciliation and reconstruction of the nation, where was once ruined in 1994. In April in 1994, Hutus took machete in their hands and started killing their Tutsi neighbors. The occurrence is often recognized as a unique phenomenon due to mass involvement of ordinary citizens, basically Hutu farmers. Since the Tutsis and the Hutus in Rwanda had maintained a relatively peaceful ethnic relation by sharing the same language and culture, Tutsis’ agitation must have been huge. Even for outsiders, no one would have thought about that Rwanda, which was once highly praised as a model development nation in Africa, received fame of genocide in 1994. Today, death of as many as 800,000 people has still hacked and parlayed a number of Rwandese, and many of them have not taken a step to move on from the past yet. Although different experiences of genocide survivors and ex-perpetrators during the genocide still divide people, a documentary film as we forgive show power of forgiveness and hope for creation of a peaceful world again on the place of bloodshed.

The film was published in 2008, 14 years after the Rwandan genocide was taken place. Among various films having focus on the genocide, this film incredibly succeeds in drawing afterward struggles between genocide survivors and ex-perpetrators. The struggles have started in 2003 when Rwandan president Robert Kagame announced release of thousands of prisoners who had confessed their sin. In the film, the Tutsi survivors show their agitation and struggles of how to face with the killers of their family members and relatives. To make matters worth, in some cases, they exactly know who killed their beloved ones because the killers were often their neighbors. Two Tutsi women, Rosaria and Chantale, featured in the film struggle how to forgive ex-perpetrators. Especially, Chantale’s sorrow is deep. She cannot go to a church to pray any more, where most killings were taken place, and she does not want to forgive her father’s killer John under any circumstance. How could they do such inhumane things? How come can they ask for forgiveness? How can I forgive them? A pitiful scar on Rosaria’s back and Chantale’s angrily cry show audience how deep the genocide left scars both on their bodies and minds.

Then, the ex-killers were just like “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible”? No, they are not. As Saveri who killed Rosaria’s family says, most people were pushed to join. There was no choice for them other than killing. He describes his actions during the genocide “unbelievable”, and he was even afraid to leave the prison in fear of facing with Rosaria and her family.  John, another perpetrator, who killed Chantale’s father, says he felt like he was an animal during the genocide. Their anxiety and guilty are captured so real in this film, which written documents probably cannot provide for readers. While people are often inclined to sympathize with obvious victims, audience would know that the genocide also paralyzed people on the other side. Yes, they can give excuses by saying “they are not responsible.” They were not wrong in a sense that political extremists incited killings and gave the only one choice of “join” to Hutus. However, running away from the fact they indeed killed their neighbors is not a solution, and that is what the film put emphasis on.

Both forgiving ex-perpetrators and seeking forgiveness from the survivors are not easy things to do. Even facing and accepting the fact is difficult, and forgiveness has to take further steps to reach. Besides, it was genocide not discrimination, repression, or anything like those. More strong hatred, which could promote violence as a mean of retaliation, must have existed there. In order for the survivors to forgive the ex-perpetrators and for them to be forgiven by the survivors, various efforts have been made through the civil society organizations (CSOs) and local communities. Such as tree housing projects, which ex-prisoners construct houses for the survivors, and counseling are the way to bring people together and enable close communication. In the film, communication is showed as a way to understand each other. Both Chantale and John were afraid of meeting each other, and they finally had the very first meeting 14 years after the genocide with the help of a faith-based organization. We cannot see visible progress during the meeting, but their communication brought invisible but certain changes to both Chantale’s and John’s minds. In fact, Chantale joined tree housing project and forgave him later on. Also, John felt much more freedom in his mind and made up his mind to start asking forgiveness from her. Running away from problems or keeping in one’s shell is not a solution, and these actions might cause more violent actions. Bishop John further explains importance of forgiveness in the society. According to him, forgiveness is a counterforce to desire employing violence, and non-violence is needed to reconstruct the nation and lead better future.

 Rwanda has a good sign of leading a non-violent society. As Joy Muana, a 15 year-old school girl, proves that ethnic division is somewhat eased among younger generation. She is a victim of the genocide, and she explains she used to feel angry toward the ex-perpetrators. When she forgives, she feels much better. Rather than having grudge and feeling angry, she chooses to wish and work for construction of a peaceful future of the country and unity among Rwandese. Also, Gahigi, who lost 142 members of his family, involves in promoting confession of ex-prisoners and working for reconciliation. Like them, stepping toward to those who killed their beloved ones is not easy. But efforts they have made and wishes they have had have reflected in the society. Indeed, there have been no major violent conflicts among Tutsis and Hutus after the genocide so far. Besides, efforts have been made by ex-perpetrators as well. Beyond comprehension, offering more tangible helps for the survivors actually works to restore trust. It must take time, and they cannot make dynamic steps. But I believe it is the way. If forgiveness is the ultimate form of love as the film emphasizes, it does not come right away. Therefore, we have to be patient to see whether non-violence would come at the last.

In short, Rwanda is still under construction of it’s a small world where a peaceful society and unity of Rwandese exist. 14 years may not be long enough for people to recover from injuries they got in 1994 genocide, and scars that the extreme violence inflicted on people may be too deep to cure. However, efforts made by people should not be ignored, and pursuing non-violence solutions show hope. The film proves that forgiveness is a strong nonviolent power. Violence is always strong; it has never continued. Rwanda was not an exception, and in fact, the nonviolence movement has continued much longer than use of violence. Of course, nonviolence needs supports. A number of supports, which can surpass threats of violence, are needed. But once it succeeds, a society like it’s a small world is not a dream, I believe.

Source

As We Forgive. Dir. Laura Waters Hinson. 2008. Film.

Further Readings

Sarkin, Jeremy. “The Tension Between Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda: Politics, Human Rights, due Process and the Role of the Gacaca Courts in Dealing with the Genocide.” Journal of African Law. Journal of African Law, 2011. Web. 5 Mar. 2011.

Varshney, Ashtosh. “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society.” World Politics. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.

MPT Intern –Mari Shibahara-

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Review of Michael Franti’s “I Know I’m Not Alone”

April 7, 2011

L.A. Weekly called it “…achingly sincere…”, New Nationalist said it contained “…glimpses of stunning truth…a breath of fresh air.” and Hybrid Magazine commented it was “…a hopeful throw-down that preaches the message that all people are one people…”.  It won “Best International Documentary” at the Harlem International Film Festival and Amnesty International deemed it the “Audience Award Winner”.  The film is “I Know I’m Not Alone”, and it is a personal quest from musician Michael Franti to document the untold human cost of the billion dollar wars ravaging our world.  He brings us along on this musical journey, opening eyes and ears to the interconnectedness of all beings and the underlying truth that a wish for peace runs through us all.

The film was produced in 2005, a time when Iraqi citizens had been occupied by American forces for just one year. The film’s voyage begins as Michael and crew circle to the ground in their small hopper-jet in Baghdad, Iraq. Upon arrival, the group is driven around Baghdad by two Iraqi cab drivers who also serve as their translators.  The  two Iraqis warn that if the crew want to take the risk of venturing beyond CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) approved areas, they are in grave danger of being attacked, or even kidnapped by locals.  There is no security outside of the areas patrolled by American and Iraqi forces, and therefore, these American travelers as well as Iraqi citizens are at great risk.  However, Michael is intent on meeting and speaking with locals, so the risk is weighed and they venture into uncharted territory.

What happens in the rest of this portion of the film is almost magical.  Using his guitar, and newly written song, composed of one arabic word, “Habibi” (or “dear friend”), Michael breaks down the imposing proverbial walls locals have put up.  He is invited into homes, to speak, sing and laugh with people. The war for moments at a time melts away, and we are transported into the very lives of those whose meanings are intertwined with war, violence and death, yet manage to carry on living a human existence within an inhumane environment.  The gunfire becomes a part of daily life and the picture is magnified so greatly that it is no longer the war that is spoken of in neighborhoods, but all the minutia of living in a war zone; the lack of electricity, the lack of medicine and the violent roving gangs outside the CPA protected areas. People’s lives are halted and livelihoods demolished by their lack of ability to work due to power outages throughout the day.  They are rushed to hospitals and diagnosed, but cannot be treated due to the lack of medicine within hospitals.  Parents hurry their playing children inside as the sun sets, praying their home goes untouched through the night. These are the human costs of war that touch and mold the daily lives of civilians in a war zone.  These costs are not calculated when the ever increasing dollar amount ticks away through our taxes.  Through all this, however, we discover life goes on.

Still in Baghdad, a group of men bash their drum sets and attack their guitars, as ‘The Black Scorpions’ play heavy metal music in a basement next to an underground tattoo parlor.  Another group of individuals are airing this music on the first free radio station of Iraq.  Amidst the buzzing of generators women are blogging and cutting hair and selling fruit.  People are struggling to live a life set against the backdrop of gunshots, explosions and foreign military presence.  One woman blogger tells Michael Franti and his crew “…your boys and daughters are going to be killed in Iraq, and our boys and daughters are going to be killed in Iraq…and what are we fighting for?”. Here in America, we hear of the boys and girls we went to school with coming home from Iraq in body bags. We mourn them on the high school football field and we curse war and the toll it has on our friends and neighbors.  Across the ocean, other mothers, and other neighbors, and other friends, are mourning their boys and girls in ravaged streets and broken homes.  Franti quotes General Tommy Franks, U.S. Central Command stating “We don’t do body counts”.  Those who do “do body counts” such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies have revealed incredible, sobering and often terrifying findings.  From the beginning of the “engagement” in Iraq, through July of 2006 when this film premiered, according to MIT there have been an estimated 654,965 “excess” deaths (that is, deaths that are not part of “normal” life in the area).  These are the deaths of children playing in the streets, of mothers and fathers buying fruit, selling fruit, playing instruments, playing games.  These are the deaths of Iraqis searching their streets for hope and spreading a wish for peace.

However, the death toll of war is not only about how many innocent people die, but in what ways they die.  According to MIT’s report, from January 2002 (pre-invasion by American forces) to June 2006 (post-invasion phase III), non-violent death went from 98% of total deaths, to 39%.  This is to say, the percentage of individuals who died by violent means (gunshots, carbombs, airstrikes, other explosions etc.) increased by a factor of 30!  Often times, death by violence is construed much differently in one’s after life than a non-violent or natural death.  The way family and friends mourn the death is drastically altered with violence. Those left to survive the victim are often unable to accept and move past the death of their loved one when there has not been and cannot be any means of vindication, or justice brought upon the killers.  Many individuals believe the souls of individuals killed violently are unable to leave this earth, and eternally suffer their brutal killing unless certain measures are taken by those who precede them, measures which in times of war are often impossible to take.  Violence does not only effect our pocket books, and death is not the only consequence of war.  Iraq may never recover from the devastation it has endured, but as Michael Franti shows, lives move on.  People have an incredible ability to remain resilient and forge on through daily battles.  They strive to do normal things; they drive taxies, play ball, go to school, and they strive to do the abnormal as well; they make headway for future generations in their land and secure peace if it is at all possible, through music, radio, and the “blogosphere”.  Life is moving on in Iraq, but it is not nearly the life we in America have any sense of, nor are we aware of the impacts our country is having on this way of life.

After leaving Baghdad, Franti and his team travel to Israel and occupied Palestine.  They travel throughout Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and the West Bank exposing the incredible similarities that exist between these warring groups.  At the same time, he brings to light through the camera, many of the realities on the ground and the inequalities and human rights violations which are occurring in this hotly debated area.  An Israeli musician Franti encounters gets to the roots of their existence eloquently and realistically by saying “…Arab and Jewish, we are so close…eating the same food, speaking the same language, we believe in the same God, we have the same father, we have the same mom.  The problem is only about the political state.”  This could no better exemplify the truth of the matter.  There are innocent people, both Israelis and Palestinians, who want only to live their lives, reside in their homes, go to work without the fear of being harassed or killed, yet their existence is torn apart daily.

Michael speaks with “Bereaved Parents”, a group of Palestinian and Jewish parents together grieving the loss of their children to the fighting, together hoping for an end to the bloodshed.  These people have bridged their differences, we see this is possible, but there are incredible boundaries one must overcome to unite on the side of peace. One such boundary is the illegal partition built around and inside Palestinian territories, cutting citizens off from what little land they legally now own. The partition is a three story wall in places, and in others is three rows of barbed wire fencing. There are countless places where this obstacle separates Palestinians from their work, from their olive groves and from their families. They must convince an Israeli soldier to allow them to tend to their daily work, and if the soldier arbitrarily decides to deny them access, they may loose their job, their olives may go bad, their family members may die without company of families. These, along with many other obstacles, physical, emotional and mental, bar Israelis and Palestinians from seeing the common bonds that tie them and bridging the many gaps that must be bridged in order to secure a peaceful future.

Yet, through Michael Franti’s film, we become privy to the successes that are happening between individuals and the extreme perseverance of those carrying on with their everyday lives in these territories amidst violence, hatred and fear. Individuals are rising above these obstacles and in some cases speak with each other on the same emotional level.  An Israeli guard at a gate of the barrier fence actually listens as a Palestinian speaks, not blaming, not yelling, not accusing, just speaking. The two connect on an emotional level, they are no longer the wolf and the fox, speaking different languages, attacking and turning deaf ears to the other.  They suddenly are both humans, speaking to and listening to each other’s needs for basic human rights and dignity. As Michael and his crew stand beside the two, we see a need for international presence, for someone to facilitate these kinds of interactions.  We also see however, the possibility of people from two vastly different groups to come together, to bridge their differences, to speak to and from their hearts for a common wish for their sons and daughters to finally live in a land of peace.

Through his music and incredible ability to connect with people of all creeds and colors, Michael Franti opens a door for his fans and interested people world wide to be exposed to a side of war rarely touched upon in our everyday lives. The cost of war is often enumerated in tax dollars and body counts, but often the more devastating costs cannot be quantified and must only be lived and told. Franti has done an incredible job showing the minute details of every day life that are vastly affected by acts of war and violence, not initially apparent to the foreign eye. I strongly recommend taking this remarkable journey with Michael Franti as he exposes his audience to life in war through personal conversations, anecdotes and earth-shattering music!

Credit and where to find photographs used:

Sistine Chapel “Hands” reproduction on wall: www.palestinemonitor.org

Israeli Barrier Map: www.middleeastprogress.org

Man speaking to soldier: www.acus.org

Pictures of Michael Franti in various locations: www.iknowimnotalone.com

Additional information about the film and ways to get involved available at www.iknowimnotalone.com.

-Kellie Brandt-MPT Intern

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Documentary Review: “The Corporation”

October 28, 2010

What do you call someone who has callous unconcern for others, an incapacity to maintain enduring relationships and feel guilt, is reckless in regarding the safety of others, and fails to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors?  Psychologists diagnose this person as a psychopath.  What if that person was the dominating institution of the world?  What implications would that have for the world and all that constitutes it?  The Corporation provides a detailed picture of one of the dominant institutions of the world and clearly describes its ascension to the top of the global order.

So, how did the corporation achieve the influence it has today?  Initially, a corporation was defined as an association of individuals chartered by states to perform a particular function, such as building a bridge or constructing a road.  Essentially, the corporation was considered a subordinate entity to the law and culture of the states and was deemed a tool that was to serve the public good.  After the civil war there was an explosion of corporate growth.  This led to corporate lawyers pushing for more power, as corporations were becoming a more substantial institution within the structure of the country.

In 1868, a constitutional amendment (14th) was passed with the purpose of granting citizenship to African Americans and prohibiting state and local governments from depriving all persons of life, liberty and property.  The law that was unquestionably of good intentions would later be interpreted by the Supreme Court as to include or cover corporations as well through its mandate.  The court argued that a corporation is a group of people and in that sense it was to be interpreted that their rights were to be protected under the stipulations of the 14th amendment.

In addition to this, it was later put into law that corporations were required to put the financial interests of their owners above other “competing interests.”  These interests included all externalities, which are the effects of transactions between two individuals (or corporations in this sense) on a third party who has not consented to, or played any role in the carrying out of that transaction.  The following paragraphs will demonstrate the consequences of the court’s decisions.

Let’s now look at the track record of how corporations have “enjoyed” the freedoms granted to them and what their relationship is with people and the environment in general.  The Corporation documents specific cases that all describe a science of exploitation enacted by transnational businesses.  One of the main areas of injustice has evolved specifically from the capitalist doctrine followed by all corporations; the doctrine of efficient cost and production.  In search of fulfilling the curriculum requirements of capitalism, corporations have spanned the world in search of cheap labor in order to produce their products at the most profitable levels possible.  So take NIKE co. as an example.  Multiple copies of internal pricing documents explaining the corporation’s production process illuminated the aforementioned “science”.  At one of its shirt production factories in the Dominican Republic, workers are allotted 6.6141 minutes (yes, they break time frames of operations down to ten one thousandths of each second) to make each shirt.  They receive an hourly wage of 70 cents per hour for their labor, or 8 cents per shirt.  Skipping the math, that means that each worker is receiving 3/10 of 1 percent of the retail price for each shirt.  This exploitation would be obvious to those in developed countries which are by law required a minimum wage that is the majority of the time over 7 dollars per hour.  However, in developing countries, this rate is unheard of.  In fact, in many countries a considerable amount of the population lives on less than 2 dollars per day.  Consequently, corporations walk in advertising cents on the hour wages and are seen as an opportunity to the poor.  After different human rights groups and worker unions provide enough pressure on governments and corporations, causing wages to rise past what is considered an efficient cost level in the production process, corporations move out and on to another country to repeat the injustice.  This is the science of exploitation that is deeply engrained in arguably the most dominant institution in the world.

It is important to note that the span of spheres in which the corporation occupies is constantly expanding.  In 2000, the third largest city in Bolivia, Cochabamba made the decision to re-finance its public water service through a $25 million loan from the World Bank.  As a condition of receiving the loan, the bank required that the Cochachamba’s water supply service be privatized.  Soon after, the San Francisco transnational corporation, Bechtel, obtained a private contract over the Bolivian city’s water supply.  The corporation, in conjunction with the government, went as far as rendering the collection of rain water to be illegal.  In essence, the corporation claimed ownership of the city’s rain water falling from the sky.  And again, the exploitation of the poor, part of the corporation’s doctrine explained legally in the courts and theoretically in capitalism took place.  People living on less than $2 per day were forced to pay ¼ of their income for fresh water.  The externalities that corporations ignore can be found in the brutal dilemma imposed on many Cochabamba citizens.  The new cost of privatized water forced many people to choose between things such as sending their children to school or providing an adequate amount of food and medical coverage for their families.  So, should the externalities of designating water as a commodity for sale be ignored, particularly in developing countries where personal resources are limited to begin with?  And if they are, what does this lead a person to conclude about the nature of a corporation?  Also, in fulfilling the requirements of the loan agreement, Bolivia’s airline and oil industry, along with its railroad, electricity and phone companies were all privatized as well.

One may ask, “Why haven’t I heard about these cases of corporate exploitation?”  Are the previous cases mentioned just outliers in a capitalist system that raises the living standards of so many people around the world?  The answer to the first question lies in the fact that mainstream media outlets such as Fox, CNN and ABC are all owned by corporations with vast interests outside of the news media itself.  These corporations’ interests are loyal first and foremost to the viability of their collective enterprise.  This includes, in addition to their news channels, holdings in everything from sports teams and airline companies to nuclear power plants and transportation systems.  Aside from that, media outlets depend heavily on advertising from thousands of other corporations who purchase air-time in between news breaks to promote their own product or service they are selling.  So, news about the exploitation of workers in the Dominican Republic won’t be making headlines while news channels are depending on revenue supplied in this case by Nike’s purchasing of CNN’s or Fox’s advertising air-time.  In other words, news that could in any manner negatively affect the image of, and thus the corporate interests of Nike will not be presented to the public simply because the profit motives of both the news channel and the sporting company come first in both cases.  The answer to the second question is lucidly explained with multiple examples of exploitation by different corporations in the documentary.  Examples include IBM and Coca Cola’s relationships with Nazi Germany and the chemical company, Monsanto’s hazardous antibiotic, rBGH, used in the production of milk.

By now you are probably asking yourself, “Where is morality in all of this?”  The problem with any psychopath or corporation is that their belief system is non-existent.  This special kind of “person” is concerned for and liable only to their stockholders.  The global community and workforce are not brought into the equation.  So in essence, there is only one overwhelming motivation: profit.  In simple terms, the corporation’s slogan can be expressed as profit over everything.

One must question the future implications that are linked to the influence which corporations possess.  The “personal” characteristics that define the very nature of a corporation imply a dark reality in which exploitation of the person and environment is permitted by law.  One must also question where and how any type of significant change is to occur when the supposed “watchdog” media is so deeply entrenched in a mutually defined relationship based on corporate interests.  The Corporation implies the need for a systemic change involving the relationships of corporations and other dominant institutions of the world.  In addition, it also advocates for a redefining of the fundamental capitalist principles that determine the overall functioning and objectives of modern corporations.   The film serves as an invaluable tool that will increase your understanding of how our complex world works and is much recommended.

– Bryant Anderson, MPT Intern

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