Google escalates blacklisting of left-wing web sites and journalists

By Andre Damon
20 October 2017

In a sweeping expansion of its moves to censor the Internet, Google has removed leading left-wing websites and journalists from its popular news aggregation platform, Google News.

At the time of publication, a search for “World Socialist Web Site” on news.google.com does not return a single article published on the WSWS. A search for the exact title of any of the articles published during that period likewise returns no results.

Over the past seven days, news.google.com has referred only 53 people to the World Socialist Web Site, a 92 percent decline from the weekly average of over 650 during the past year.

A Google News search for an article from Thursday’s edition of the WSWS returns no results

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges informed the WSWS Wednesday that his articles had ceased appearing on Google News. Hedges said the change occurred after the publication of his interview with the World Socialist Web Site in which he spoke out against Google’s censorship of left-wing sites.

“Sometime after I gave that interview, they blacklisted me,” said Hedges. “If you go into Google News and type my name, there are six stories, none of which have anything to do with me.”

A Google News search for Chris Hedges returns no relevant results

“I write constantly. Previously, Google News listed my columns for Truthdig and my contributions to Common Dreams and Alternet, as well as references to my books,” Hedges said. “But now it’s all gone. And I’m certain it’s because I spoke out against the Google censorship.”

Google appears to have kept an older version of its news aggregator available online, accessible by visiting google.com and clicking the “news” link below the search bar. That version of the news aggregator, which appears to be in the process of being phased out, lists 254,000 results for the search “World Socialist Web Site.”

A similar search returns 89,600 entries for “Chris Hedges.”

The changes to Google News mark a new stage in a systematic campaign of censorship and blacklisting that has been underway at least since April, when Ben Gomes, the company’s VP of engineering, said Google was seeking to promote “authoritative” news outlets over “alternative” news sources.

Since then, thirteen leading left-wing web sites have had their search traffic from Google collapse by 55 percent, with the World Socialist Web Site having had its search traffic plunge by 74 percent.

“Just speaking as a journalist, it’s terrifying,” Hedges said. “Those people who still try and do journalism, they’re the ones getting hit; especially those journalists that attempt to grapple with issues of power and the corporate state.

“This shows not only how bankrupt the state is, but how frightened it is,” Hedges said.

“Google is developing ever more intensive methods of targeting, aimed at blocking any dissenting critical voices,” said David North, the chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site.

“This is an unprecedented attack on free speech. In the history of the United States, censorship on this scale has never been imposed outside of wartime,” he added, pointing to the blocking of Trotskyist publications during World War II.

Hedges noted the precedent of political repression during World War I. “In the name of national security, for the duration of the war they shut down The Masses,” a left-wing, antiwar journal.

The intensification of Google’s crackdown on left-wing sites takes place against the backdrop of a sharp acceleration of the anti-Russian campaign led by congressional Democrats, together with sections of the Republican Party, the US intelligence agencies and leading news outlets.

On Thursday, Democratic Party senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar introduced the first piece of legislation to come out of the campaign surrounding the claim that Russia sought to “meddle” in the 2016 election by “sowing divisions” within American society, an unproven conspiracy theory aimed at creating a justification for Internet censorship.

A summary of the bill obtained by Axios stated that it requires “online platforms to make reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate,” and to maintain a database of political advertisements supposedly bought by foreigners.

In his remarks announcing the bill, Warner made clear that his aim was to use it as the starting point for more aggressive restrictions on free speech on the Internet. “What we want to try to do is start with a light touch,” Warner said.

Commenting on the step-by-step nature of the censorship regime being created in the United States, Hedges said, “If you look at any totalitarian system, their assault on the press is incremental. So even in Nazi Germany, when Hitler took power, he would ban the Social Democrats’ publications for a week and then let them get back up. He wouldn’t go in and shut it all down at once.”

“Google is involved in an out-and-out political conspiracy, in coordination with the government,” North said. “A secret censorship program has been created that is directed against opponents of American foreign policy. This is an illegal assault on constitutionally protected rights.”

Hedges added, “I can tell you from having lived in and covered despotic regimes, I think we’ve got to ring all of the alarm bells while we still have the chance, because they’re not going to stop.”

WSWS

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Objectifying Naked Male Models to Make a Statement About Sexism

NEWS & POLITICS
After all, the #1 rule of advertising is, sex sells.

Photo Credit: Suistudio

The longstanding irony of the fashion industry is that while it serves mainly female customers, it has capitalized on the decades-old advertising tradition of objectification of women. How many countless brands have used the nude female body to sell a product? In 2017, after three waves of feminist activism, one might think we’d have seen more progress by now. At least one company agrees, and to prove it, they’re using nude male bodies to turn the tables on objectification.

A new campaign for women’s business wear brand Suistudio features chiseled naked men—most of them faceless—lounging around a penthouse apartment while women in well-cut suits touch, ogle and use their bodies to prop up their stilettos. It’s obvious social commentary on the one-sided nature of sexual objectification: it flips the archaic, traditional male-female dynamic on its head by outfitting women in power suits and casting men in submissive positions.

Credit: Suistudio

Credit: Suistudio

Credit: Suistudio

Suistudio USA vice president Kristina Barricelli told UpWorthy, “There is nothing wrong with sex, the naked human body, and the inclusion of that in a campaign. Sex is a big part of fashion. The problem is that in recent history, we haven’t seen a naked man objectified in the background. How strange! Why not?”

The campaign was shot by fashion photographer Carli Hermes and is aptly titled “Not Dressing Men.” Ha.

Could a photo shoot finish the work feminists launched to reverse sexism and finally bring about women’s full equality? Probably not. But it’s fun and provocative and certainly makes a statement. Which is the whole point of fashion, after all.

Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/fashion-brand-using-naked-male-models-make-statement-about-objectification?akid=16241.265072.SHrjWu&rd=1&src=newsletter1084080&t=10

Star Trek: Discovery—The latest incarnation of the popular science fiction series

By Tom Hall
18 October 2017

Star Trek: Discovery, the seventh series in the long-running Star Trek television and movie franchise, premiered September 24 on CBS.

Set in the far future, in the mid-23rd century, shortly before the events of the original series released in 1966, Discovery follows the exploits of Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a female Starfleet officer serving aboard first the USS Shenzhou and later the USS Discovery in the midst of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the nefarious Klingon Empire.

When we first meet commander Burnham she is on a humanitarian mission with her mentor, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), the captain of the Shenzhou. Burnham’s promising career, however, is nearly ruined in the course of an encounter between the Shenzhou and the Klingons, with whom Starfleet has had no significant contact for generations.

The Klingons turn out to be a group of religious fanatics dedicated to uniting their long-fragmented empire through a religious war against the Federation. Meanwhile, Burnham, who was raised on planet Vulcan by the diplomat Sarek (James Frain), becomes convinced after consulting her stepfather that the only way to gain the Klingons’ respect and avoid an all-out war is to fire unprovoked on the Klingon vessel. Burnham attempts unsuccessfully to take control of the ship and fire on the Klingons herself and is arrested as a mutineer.

Doug Jones and Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery

Several months later, with the Federation embroiled in an all-out war with the Klingons, Burnham is on board a prison transport that breaks down and gets rescued by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) of the USS Discovery, which is conducting top-secret military research. Burnham is dragooned into working on the project, whose ultimate aim is kept hidden from her.

She eventually deduces that Lorca is developing a banned biological weapon to use against the Klingons. However, when Lorca explains its purposes, including significant civilian applications, Burnham overcomes her initial hesitations and joins the crew of Discovery. The rest of the series deals with her trials and tribulations while fighting the Klingons.

The writing, acting and directing on Star Trek: Discovery is, to put it bluntly, poor. None of the actions the characters take that set into motion the key events of the series make much sense. Why would the Klingons, for instance, who have been supposedly consumed by infighting for decades, decide suddenly to band together against the Federation after a five-minute conversation with a cult leader? How exactly is firing on the Klingons supposed to keep the peace, and why would Burnham or anyone else find this to be plausible?

The dialogue is stilted and clichéd. “I forgot who said statues are crystallized spirituality,” Burnham says to no one in particular after encountering decorative sculptures on the Klingon vessel. An anonymous crewman wanders into Shenzhou’s brig during the climactic battle and asks Burnham, unprompted, “Why are we fighting? We’re explorers.”

The tone of the show is relentlessly grim, from the darkly lit corridors on the various spaceships and the goblin-like Klingons who grunt their lines (delivered in “Klingon” and interpreted for the viewer by subtitles), to the gratuitous violence and furrowed brows and grimaces on everyone’s faces intended to demonstrate the seriousness of the proceedings. The unnaturally cheerful cadet Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who would be irritating under ordinary circumstances, provides some welcome and desperately needed levity.

Star Trek: Discovery

The show’s premise amounts to a pro-war science fiction parable that parrots all the lies with which Washington has sought to justify numerous imperialist crimes over the past quarter century. The Klingons, a warrior society modeled by the writers of previous shows on feudal Japan, and who had gained a certain psychological complexity in their depiction by the premiere of Deep Space 9 in 1993, are here reduced to sub-human religious fanatics, portrayed in a similar fashion to Islamic terrorists in numerous Hollywood blockbusters.

Burnham’s actions in the first two episodes in particular are effectively an explicit endorsement of the doctrine of pre-emptive war, i.e., there is no use negotiating with our enemies, because violence is the only language they understand.

Since first premiering in 1966, Star Trek has become something of a mass phenomenon, with tens of millions of fans throughout the world. Appearances by the former stars of the various Star Trek shows at annual conventions continue to attract significant audiences.

The principal reason for this enduring popularity has been the franchise’s optimistic view of the future and its willingness to grapple with serious human problems. By the 23rd century, in the show’s future history, all of the basic problems of contemporary society, including war, poverty and racial and national divisions, have long since been overcome. The international cooperation among the crew members of the Enterprise suggested that the wars and conflicts of the 20th century, far from representing the essential rottenness of humanity, as has become almost an article of faith in certain artistic circles, would eventually be discarded in the further social and technological development of human civilization.

Originally produced in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, Star Trek also became the first TV show to cast a black woman, Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, in a leading role. Martin Luther King, according to Nichols, was a fan of the show and urged her to continue on the show when she was thinking about quitting.

Star Trek could always be wildly uneven, even campy, but at its best, the show was capable of fairly pointed social commentary, or of exploring difficult ethical or philosophical questions. The conceit of a number of episodes was that 20th century problems, because they were grappled with by culturally more developed 23rd and 24th century humans, could be dealt with at a higher and more clarified level than could be expected in the present.

None of this finds expression thus far in Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, at times that outlook seems more or less consciously repudiated as naive by the goings-on in the show. At one point, a Starfleet admiral declares his commitment to peace only moments before he is incinerated by the Klingons. “Starfleet doesn’t fire first,” Georgiou reminds Burnham, to which the latter replies, “We have to!”

Star Trek: Discovery

In a panel discussion at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, co-creator Alex Kurtzman explained that the “defining factor of [ Star Trek creator Gene] Roddenberry’s vision is the optimistic view of the future. He envisioned a world where all species, all races came together to not only make our world better, but to make every world better.”

Kurtzman went on, “That being said … we live in very troubled times. … Star Trek has always been a mirror to the time it reflected and right now … the question is how do you preserve and protect what Starfleet is [“national security”!] in the weight of a challenge like war and the things that have to be done in war is a very interesting and dramatic problem. And it feels like a very topical one given the world where we live now.”

Star Trek: Discovery seems to have struck a chord among certain layers. They are particularly enthusiastic that the show’s bloody goings-on center around a black woman in a position of authority. It’s “beautiful,” Daily Beast reviewer Ira Madison III writes, “watching two women of color, black and Asian, navigate a realm that traditionally hasn’t included them.”

On one level, given the history of the Star Trek franchise, and indeed the science fiction genre in general, this is simply absurd. On another level, however, this expresses the essential social outlook of identity politics—an indifference to larger social issues, and support for war, together with a ferocious conflict over the spoils.

WSWS

The conspiracy to censor the Internet

18 October 2017

The political representatives of the American ruling class are engaged in a conspiracy to suppress free speech. Under the guise of combating “trolls” and “fake news” supposedly controlled by Russia, the most basic constitutional rights enumerated in the First Amendment are under direct attack.

The leading political force in this campaign is the Democratic Party, working in collaboration with sections of the Republican Party, the mass media and the military-intelligence establishment.

The Trump administration is threatening nuclear war against North Korea, escalating the assault on health care, demanding new tax cuts for the rich, waging war on immigrant workers, and eviscerating corporate and environmental regulations. This reactionary agenda is not, however, the focus of the Democratic Party. It is concentrating instead on increasingly hysterical claims that Russia is “sowing divisions” within the United States.

In the media, one report follows another, each more ludicrous than the last. The claim that Russia shifted the US election by means of $100,000 in advertisements on Facebook and Twitter has been followed by breathless reports of the Putin government’s manipulation of other forms of communication.

An “exclusive” report from CNN last week proclaimed that one organization, “Don’t Shoot Us,” which it alleges without substantiation is connected to Russia, sought to “exploit racial tensions and sow discord” on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokémon Go, a reality game played on cell phones.

Another report from CNN on Monday asserted that a Russian “troll factory” was involved in posting comments critical of Hillary Clinton as “part of President Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 election.” All of the negative commentary in news media and other publications directed at Clinton, it implied, were the product of Russian agents or people duped by Russian agents.

As during the period of Cold War McCarthyism, the absurdity of the charges goes unchallenged. They are picked up and repeated by other media outlets and by politicians to demonstrate just how far-reaching the actions of the nefarious “foreign enemy” really are.

While one aim has been to continue and escalate an anti-Russia foreign policy, the more basic purpose is emerging ever more clearly: to criminalize political dissent within the United States.

The most direct expression to date of this conspiracy against free speech was given by the anticommunist ideologue Anne Applebaum in a column published Monday in the Washington Post, “If Russia can create fake ‘Black Lives Matter’ accounts, who will next?”

Her answer: the American people. “I can imagine multiple groups, many of them proudly American, who might well want to manipulate a range of fake accounts during a riot or disaster to increase anxiety or fear,” she writes. She warns that “political groups—on the left, the right, you name it—will quickly figure out” how to use social media to spread “disinformation” and “demoralization.”

Applebaum rails against all those who seek to hide their identity online. “There is a better case than ever against anonymity, at least against anonymity in the public forums of social media and comment sections,” she writes. She continues: “The right to free speech is something that is granted to humans, not bits of computer code.” Her target, however, is not “bots” operating “fake accounts,” but anyone who seeks, fearing state repression or unjust punishment by his or her employer, to make an anonymous statement online. And that is only the opening shot in a drive to silence political dissent.

Applebaum is closely connected to the highest echelons of the capitalist state. She is a member of key foreign policy think tanks and sits on the board of directors of the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy. Married to the former foreign minister of Poland, she is a ferocious war hawk. Following the Russian annexation of Crimea, she authored a column in the Washington Postin which she called for “total war” against nuclear-armed Russia. She embodies the connection between militarism and political repression.

The implications of Applebaum’s arguments are made clear in an extraordinary article published on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times, “As US Confronts Internet’s Disruptions, China Feels Vindicated,” which takes a favorable view of China’s aggressive censorship of the Internet and implies that the United States is moving toward just such a regime.

“For years, the United States and others saw” China’s “heavy-handed censorship as a sign of political vulnerability and a barrier to China’s economic development,” the Times writes. “But as countries in the West discuss potential Internet restrictions and wring their hands over fake news, hacking and foreign meddling, some in China see a powerful affirmation of the country’s vision for the internet.”

The article goes on to assert that while “few would argue that China’s Internet control serves as a model for democratic societies… At the same time, China anticipated many of the questions now flummoxing governments from the United States to Germany to Indonesia.”

Glaringly absent from the Times article, Applebaum’s commentary and all of the endless demands for a crackdown on social media is any reference to democratic rights, free speech or the First Amendment.

The First Amendment, which asserts that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech,” is the broadest amendment in the US Constitution. Contrary to Applebaum, there is no caveat exempting anonymous speech from Constitutional protection. It is a historical fact that leaders of the American Revolution and drafters of the Constitution wrote articles under pseudonyms to avoid repression by the British authorities.

The Constitution does not give the government or powerful corporations the right to proclaim what is “fake” and what is not, what is a “conspiracy theory” and what is “authoritative.” The same arguments now being employed to crack down on social media could just as well have been used to suppress books and mass circulation newspapers that emerged with the development of the printing press.

The drive toward Internet censorship in the United States is already far advanced. Since Google announced plans to bury “alternative viewpoints” in search results earlier this year, leading left-wing sites have seen their search traffic plunge by more than 50 percent. The World Socialist Web Site’s search traffic from Google has fallen by 75 percent.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have introduced similar measures. The campaign being whipped up over Russian online activity will be used to justify even more far-reaching measures.

This is taking place as universities implement policies to give police the authority to vet campus events. There are ongoing efforts to abolish “net neutrality” so as to give giant corporations the ability to regulate Internet traffic. The intelligence agencies have demanded the ability to circumvent encryption after having been exposed for illegally monitoring the phone communications and Internet activity of the entire population.

In one “democratic” country after another governments are turning to police-state forms of rule, from France, with its permanent state of emergency, to Germany, which last month shut down a subsidiary of the left-wing political site Indymedia, to Spain, with its violent crackdown on the separatist referendum in Catalonia and arrest of separatist leaders.

The destruction of democratic rights is the political response of the corporate and financial aristocracy to the growth of working class discontent bound up with record levels of social inequality. It is intimately linked to preparations for a major escalation of imperialist violence around the world. The greatest concern of the ruling elite is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class, and the state is taking actions to prevent it.

Andre Damon and Joseph Kishore

WSWS

Thom Hartmann: The America I Knew Has Almost Disappeared

HUMAN RIGHTS
What’s left of our democratic institutions are under siege.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com / kasha_malasha

Like an alcoholic family that won’t discuss alcoholism (proving Don Quixote’s warning never to mention rope in the home of a man who’s been hanged), far too many Americans are unwilling to acknowledge or even discuss the ongoing collapse of democracy in the United States.

President Jimmy Carter took it head on when he told me on my radio program that the Citizen’s United decision:

“[V]iolates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

This “complete subversion of our political system” grew, in large part, out of Richard Nixon’s 1972 appointment of Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court.  Powell, in 1971, had authored the infamous Powell Memo to the US Chamber of Commerce, strongly suggesting that corporate leaders needed to get politically involved and, essentially, take over everything from academia to our court system to our political system.

In 1976, in the Buckley case, Powell began the final destruction of American democracy by declaring that when rich people or corporations own politicians, all that money that got transferred to the politicians wasn’t bribery but, instead, was Constitutionally-protected First Amendment-defined “Free Speech.”  The Court radically expanded that in 2010 with Citizens United.

As a result, there’s really very little democracy left in our democracy.  Our votes are handled in secret by private, unaccountable for-profit corporations.  Our laws are written, more often than not, by corporate lawyers/lobbyists or representatives of billionaire-level wealth.  And our media is owned by the same class of investors/stockholders, so it’s a stretch to expect them to do much critical reporting on the situation.

In his book The Decline of the West, first published in German in 1918 and then in English in 1926, Oswald Spengler suggested that what we call Western civilization was then beginning to enter a “hardening” or “classical” phase in which all the nurturing and supportive structures of culture would become, instead, instruments of the exploitation of a growing peasant class to feed the wealth of a new and strengthening aristocracy.

Culture would become a parody of itself, average people’s expectations would decline while their wants would grow, and a new peasantry would emerge, which would cause the culture to stabilize in a “classic form” that, while Spengler doesn’t use the term, seems very much like feudalism—the medieval system in which the lord owned the land and everyone else was a vassal (a tenant who owed loyalty to the landlord).

Or its more modern incarnation: fascism.

Spengler, considering himself an aristocrat, didn’t see this as a bad thing. In 1926 he prophesied that once the boom of the Roaring Twenties was over, a great bust would wash over the Western world. While this bust had the potential to create chaos, its most likely outcome would be a return to the classic, stable form of social organization, what Spengler calls “high culture” and I call neofeudalism and/or fascism.

He wrote:

In all high Cultures, therefore, there is a peasantry, which is breed stock, in the broad sense (and thus to a certain extent nature herself), and a society which is assertively and emphatically “in form.” It is a set of classes or Estates, and no doubt artificial and transitory. But the history of these classes and estates is world history at highest potential.

Twentieth and 21st century cultural observers, ranging from billionaire George Soros in his book The Crisis of Global Capitalism, to professor Noreena Hertz in The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy, have pointed to deep cracks in the foundational structure of Western civilization, traceable in part to the current legal status of corporations versus humans.

Most recently, Jane Mayer has laid out in painful detail how the Koch Network and a few other political-minded billionaires have essentially taken over the entire Republican Party in her book Dark Money as has Nancy MacLean with her new book Democracy in Chains.  The extent of the problems within our political and economic structures are laid bare with startling and sometimes frightening clarity.

As a result, Princeton scholars Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page famously foundthat the odds of average Americans’ political desires being translated into policy are about the same as random noise, whereas what they referred to as “economic elites” frequently get everything they want from the political class.

They wrote that we still have the “features” of democracy like elections, but ended their paper with this cautionary note: “[W]e believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

It seems that America has arrived at the point Spengler saw in early 20th century Europe, and, indeed, there are some concerning parallels, particularly with the late 1920s and early 1930s.  Italy, Germany, and Spain all lost their democracies and moved to fascism, while many of Spengler’s acolytes cheered.

And, indeed, it was one of FDR’s biggest challenges in the early 1930s – steering America through a “middle course” between communism (which was then growingly popular) and fascism (also growingly popular).  He pulled it off with small (compared to Europe) nods to democratic socialism, instituting programs like Social Security, the minimum wage, and establishing the right to unionize (among other things).

Mark Twain is often quoted as saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.  Many look at the all-out war being waged against American government right now by the hard right, from Trump and his cronies to the billionaire networks funding right-wing propaganda and lobbying outlets, and think “it can’t happen here.”

They’re wrong.  It can happen here.

We now have police intervening in electionsprivatized corporate votingsystems, and a massive voter suppression campaign to prevent elderly, young, and non-white Americans from being able to vote.

Meanwhile, as Lee Fong reported, Republican politicians and the billionaires who own them are now dropping any pretense at all to caring about the fate and future of our country’s fiscal health, so long as they get their tax cuts NOW.

In summary, what’s left of our democratic institutions are under siege.

Add to that a largely billionaire-funded/owned right-wing media machine that’s willing to regularly and openly deceive American voters (documented daily by Media Matters and Newshounds), and you have the perfect setup for a neofeudalist/fascist takeover of our government.

Or, as President Carter so correctly called it, oligarchy.

 

Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

Mounting political crisis in Washington amidst talk of removal of Trump

By Patrick Martin
12 October 2017

The conflict within the American state apparatus reached a new level of intensity this week, after a leading Senate Republican, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, warned that President Trump was risking “World War III,” and Trump responded to media reports about internal conflict within his administration by suggesting that NBC could have its broadcast license revoked.

The recriminations between the White House and Congress and within the Trump administration itself are particularly explosive since they take place amid rising tensions between the US government and North Korea, in the wake of Trump’s repeated threats of nuclear war against the regime of Kim Jong-un.

Corker made the warning about Trump’s foreign policy producing World War III, and he has previously criticized what he called the lack of stability and competence in the Trump presidency. Trump responded with vulgar insults on Twitter, while White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders falsely claimed that Corker was responsible for the US nuclear agreement with Iran, which Trump appears ready to revoke as early as today.

Insider accounts of seemingly uncontrolled rages and wild mood swings on the part of the “commander in chief” have fueled a new round of discussion in the corporate media about the possibility of removing Trump from office, either through impeachment, which requires a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds vote in the Senate, or through invoking the 25th Amendment, under which the vice president and a majority of the cabinet can declare the president incompetent to continue in office.

An extraordinary editorial published Tuesday in the Post was run under the headline, “What to do with an unfit president.”

The editorial concluded that impeachment was not likely, and urged congressional action to counteract Trump’s policies in a range of areas (all important to corporate interests), including reinforcing US trade deals like NAFTA, and maintaining foreign aid programs that spread US political influence abroad.

That the leading newspaper in the country’s capital—read by everyone in Congress and the Trump administration—proclaimed the president “unfit” for office reflects the extraordinarily sharp divisions within the ruling class, only hinted at in the Post editorial.

The corporate media has been targeting the Trump White House, in part because of concerns over his expressions of sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin and professed reluctance to continue the Obama administration’s campaign of confronting Russia in Syria, Eastern Europe and the Baltic.

But there is a deeper concern that the policies and methods of the Trump administration, and particularly its increasing appeals to ultra-right, racist and fascistic forces, such as those which rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia two months ago, risk destabilizing the United States politically.

There is particular concern in corporate and banking circles that Trump’s deteriorating relations with top Senate Republicans like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker may hamper efforts to push through a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, the main item on the agenda of the Republican-controlled Congress this fall.

On Wednesday a group of six right-wing lobbies allied to the White House, including the Tea Party Patriots, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, the Media Research Center and ConservativeHQ.com, called for McConnell to step down due to the failure to repeal Obamacare or enact other right-wing measures, and threatened campaigns against incumbent Republicans in primary elections next year.

They were echoing former White House counselor Steve Bannon, who is threatening to back anti-McConnell candidates in the Republican primaries, and who called Tuesday for Corker’s immediate resignation.

NBC triggered the latest round of internecine warfare with a report last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” after a high-level discussion of foreign policy and nuclear strategy on July 20 at the Pentagon. This was followed by a series of denials by Tillerson and tirades by Trump, culminating in his remark Tuesday, in an interview with Forbesmagazine, that if IQ tests were administered to the two men, he would come out on top.

On Wednesday the network added further details, reporting that Tillerson was provoked to an explosion of frustration by Trump’s suggestion that the US should reverse 50 years of declining numbers in its nuclear weapons stockpile, and revert to the level of weaponry amassed in the 1960s, which would require a ten-fold increase.

Trump then launched into a diatribe against NBC, claiming that it was fabricating “fake news” about his administration, and calling for the network’s broadcast license to be revoked, apparently ignorant of the fact that there are no licenses for the networks and the federal government has no such legal authority.

This was not merely a manifestation of Trump’s authoritarian proclivities. The White House is in deep internal crisis, with top officials leaking unflattering and alarmed comments about Trump’s state of mind, inability to maintain a coherent policy, and tendency to fly off the handle over any public criticism.

The NBC report was based, according to the network, on three officials who attended the top-secret Pentagon meeting in the war room, and heard both Trump’s remarks about nuclear weapons and Tillerson’s “moron” comment.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday, in a remarkable front-page article, on the president “lashing out, rupturing alliances and imperiling his legislative agenda,” citing “numerous White House officials and outside advisers.

“Trump in recent days has shown flashes of fury and left his aides, including White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, scrambling to manage his outbursts,” the Post reported. “One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. ‘I think we are in pressure cooker territory,’ said this person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.”

At least one of the “18 White House officials, outside advisers and other Trump associates” interviewed for this highly unflattering portrait was identified the following day as Thomas Barrack, a real-estate multi-millionaire and longtime Trump crony and adviser, who chaired the fundraising committee for his inauguration, but now describes himself as “appalled” by the tone of Trump’s tweetstorms.

WSWS